A densely detailed, chronological, frequently gruesome account of British bomber operations against Germany in 1943.
In that year, writes journalist Wilson (Blood and Fears: How America’s Bomber Boys of the Eighth Air Force Saved World War II, 2017), bomber crews “who made up only 7 percent of Britain and her empire in uniform yet took 25 percent of the total fatalities, dropped nearly four times the tonnage compared to that dropped by the Eighth Air Force. The tonnage of the USAAF, who suffered so much in Europe’s fight, would leap the following year.” The author has mined the archives and interviewed dozens of elderly survivors, so his accounts of perhaps 100 missions are rich in anecdotes as well as nuts-and-bolts technical descriptions, fireworks, blunders, courage, and death. Wilson disagrees with historians who denounce the massive air strikes of World War II. He denies that they were revenge for the Blitz because Allied airmen were already believers in strategic bombing. He also takes a dim view of postwar research that concluded the bombing was ineffective, agreeing that it was less effective than enthusiasts predicted but no more so than, say, the Italian campaign. The author admits that German war production increased throughout 1943, but he also points out that bombing made it increasingly expensive and inconvenient; air defenses required several million men, immense resources, and the majority of Luftwaffe planes that would have been better employed in Russia. Wilson’s vivid picture of the inaccuracy of nighttime bombing does not prevent him from emphasizing damage to industries from each attack—unlike most authors, who focus mostly on civilian casualties.
This record of essentially all 1943 British air operations will appeal to military buffs more than general readers, who may prefer three Martin Middlebrook masterpieces on missions from that year: The Battle of Hamburg, The Peenemünde Raid, and The Berlin Raids.