A comprehensive exploration of the Royal Air Force’s enormous toil and sacrifice in their efforts to wear down the Luftwaffe.
British journalist Wilson (Airborne in 1943: The Daring Allied Air Campaign over the North Sea, 2018, etc.) interviewed more than 100 surviving participants of these squadrons, along with members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and German fighters and witnesses, and he creates an eloquent, moving account of these relentless raids over German territory in the opening months of 1944. The author begins in medias res, with the grueling Battle of Berlin, a three month–long campaign that would grow so disastrous in numbers—6,185 crewmen lost their lives, 133 would become prisoners of war, 492 night bombers perished—that it ultimately proved a “campaign that [drained] the lifeblood from Bomber Command.” Moreover, the extent to which it contributed to the crippling of the Nazi war machine is debatable, as the damage to Berlin was relatively mild, to the dismay of Air Marshal Arthur “Butch” Harris, who had promised Prime Minister Churchill that the Berlin air campaign “would cost Germany the war.” However, unlike the firestorm that destroyed Hamburg the previous July, the wide boulevards of Berlin did not lend themselves to extensive area-bombing damage. British soldiers were further hindered by the foul weather and the ingenious “Schräge Musik” design of the German Nachtjäger planes, which were effective against the British Lancasters and Halifaxes. Wilson organizes the narrative by season, moving from winter’s heavy tolls and lowest points of morale after night campaigns over Berlin, Magdeburg, Leipzig, and Nuremberg to spring’s more successful Transportation Plan—i.e., cutting German lines of communication in northern France and Belgium in the run-up to D-Day. Ultimately, despite Harris’ resistance, it was the targeting of the oil plants in the Ruhr that would be "the war winner.”
Poignant interviews by survivors and thoughtful reflections by a skilled journalist and historian combine to create a truly touching war portrait.