BIG WEEK by James Holland
Kirkus Star


The Biggest Air Battle of World War II
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A highly detailed account of the crucial week in February 1944 when American and British air forces conducted a series of air raids on German industrial and military targets.

Military historian and novelist Holland (The Allies Strike Back, 1941-1943, 2017, etc.) looks at the campaign both in its context as preparation for the Normandy invasion later that year and in its impact on the American, British, and German fighter and bomber crewmen who took part in it. In the fall of 1943, U.S. and British air corps generals were operating under the belief that the war could be won by bombing alone. To that end, they were running steady missions against German targets, with the U.S. bombing by daylight and the British at night. However, a shortage of long-range fighter planes meant that the bombers were exposed for much of their missions, and the resulting high attrition was unsustainable. Worse yet, unless the Luftwaffe could be reduced in strength, a successful Normandy invasion was a pipe dream. The answer came both in a change in tactics—making destruction of the Luftwaffe the top priority—and in the introduction of a new weapon, the P-51 Mustang long-range fighter. With the P-51 accompanying them, bombers could reach their German targets without leaving behind fighter protection, and the fighters, instead of shepherding the bombers to their targets, were set free to confront their Luftwaffe counterparts. All this came together in a week of raids in the third week of February 1944. Holland follows several individuals from all sides of the war, including Jimmy Stewart, who served as a major and flew several missions; Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, who took over command of the 8th Air Force; and German ace Heinz Knoke, who survived the war despite being shot down several times. The interplay of personal stories with the broader strategic picture makes the book especially illuminating, and the author also provides a few pages of helpful diagrams and maps.

A fascinating must-read for World War II aficionados.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2839-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2018


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