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The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It

by Gerald Astor

Pub Date: June 10th, 1997
ISBN: 1-55611-510-5
Publisher: Donald Fine

 The history of the celebrated Eighth Air Force in WW II, by one of the leading chroniclers of that war Astor (Crisis in the Pacific, 1996, etc.) writes of the US/British agreement on the need for strategic bombing to destroy the war-making power of Nazi Germany as a prelude to a massive frontal assault by Allied troops on Fortress Europe. The US was to use precision bombing in daytime (to spare civilians) while the RAF would do ``area bombing'' at night. The Eighth, set up in England by generals Arnold, Spaatz, and Eaker had few planes and crews in place in January 1942, when Germany's enormous air power and anti- aircraft defenses were strongest. An early raid on Brest cost the loss of 10 planes and 100 men. It would get worse. As the US buildup grew, appalling losses of planes and crews from ``maximum effort'' raids alarmed the generals. During the bombing of Hamburg the Eighth's losses were 88 planes and 880 men. Few airmen could expect to survive their prescribed 35 missions. Generals Le May and Doolittle (who replaced Eaker) brought innovative tactics to reduce the human and materiel costs. Astor recounts the many raids with clarity and vigor, traces the evolution of tactics, and captures the hard experiences of these young men in combat, on the ground, and in enemy camps. His many interviews of American airmen turn up some fascinating anecdotes, catching the grim realities of air combat in a way that more conventional strategic histories cannot. After V-E Day, the Eighth, having played a crucial role in the Allied victory, flew humanitarian missions, bringing food and medical supplies to starving civilians and POWs. Revealing and vivid personal sketches of the quiet heroes in a unit that suffered more lives lost than the entire Marine Corps in WW II. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)