A probing, technical exploration of the competition between the two eldest Kennedy brothers that probably drove Joe Jr. to volunteer for his last fatal flying mission.
Author of a range of histories, biographies and management books, Axelrod (Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies, 2014, etc.) offers both a thorough chronicle of this celebrated family during the years of Joseph Sr.’s stint as ambassador to London as well as a highly specialized look inside the technology that produced the pilotless V weapons (“vengeance weapons”) that terrorized London toward the end of the war. As ambassador from 1938 to 1940—a plum assignment for the former chair of the Maritime Commission that kept him out of President Roosevelt’s hair and far from running for office—Kennedy was known for his pro-appeasement, defeatist stance regarding Britain’s ability to withstand a German onslaught. While his shining eldest son, Joe. Jr., largely held his same isolationist views, his sickly second son, Jack, showed more backbone, according to Axelrod’s assessment of JFK’s 1940 Harvard thesis–turned–first book, Why England Slept. Nonetheless, when war broke out, the two sons vied to volunteer for the more dangerous mission: Jack became a PT boat jockey and made a spectacularly heroic mission in the Solomon Islands when his PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. Joe Jr., on the other hand, jealous, bitter and itching to distinguish himself, went from training to fly the Martin PBM Mariner “flying boat” to joining the top-secret Project Anvil/Operation Aphrodite strategic flying mission, which targeted the launching fortresses of the V weapons at Pas-de-Calais, France. Using recycled, war-weary B-17s equipped with bombs, the mission employed highly experimental remote-control technology that frequently backfired—in Joe Jr.’s case, on Aug. 12, 1944, his PB4Y-1 blew up over Suffolk. Throughout the book, Axelrod chronicles both the Kennedy family dynamics and the technology of the aircraft.
Within the frame of this sad family drama, the author delivers deeply technical details of aviation and bomb-making.