Taylor (Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany, 2011, etc.) exposes one of the 20th century’s most savage military innovations, aerial bombing, in a well-researched, engaging book about a vicious Luftwaffe bombing in England at the beginning of World War II.
On the clear, moonlit night of Nov. 14, 1940, Luftwaffe bombers, armed with a new location system, began to drop incendiaries on the city of Coventry. The bombing continued with impunity until dawn, long after anti-aircraft defense ran out of ammunition. With almost nonexistent fighter defense, the bombing ended only when the Luftwaffe decided it was over. Britain had radar technology at the time, but their onboard radar didn’t work. The Nazi goal was to break England’s backbone of resistance, believing that “terror-bombing” the middle classes in the center of the defense industry would lead to negotiations to end the war. The author refutes the long-held belief that the government’s knowledge of plans for Coventry was withheld for secrecy. A downed German pilot’s overheard conversation provided some of the details, and England’s attempt to locate the origins of the radio waves and to jam their signals became the so-called “battle of the beams.” Unfortunately, the forewarning could only be a few hours, time only to create a panic. With sufficient personal stories to drive the horror home, Taylor proves Hitler right in thinking Coventry was the stronghold of the English. “The bombing of Coventry reveals…not just another city exposed to and devastated by new and ever more deadly military technology….Tradition-rich historic city and rapidly growing armaments-industry boom town in one,” writes the author, “Coventry represented quite a particular, and rare, place.” What Hitler didn’t understand was how they’d react: sadness, fear, regret, defiance, and stoic determination to carry on.
A superb portrait of some of the realities of World War II and the increasingly destructive technology created during that time.