In this detailed, fictionalized account, debut author Hagan captures the events leading up to Operation Tidal Wave, one of the costliest air defeats for the Americans during World War II.
Hagan starts the novel in the midst of the attempted American low-level bombing of the key Axis oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. He focuses on the flight crew of the B-24 bomber Amazing Grace, piloted by Donnie Hammonds, coming up against unanticipated opposition. Hagan then smoothly goes big-picture, describing what was happening in Europe, in Russia, even on the homefront. All contributed to what would become known as “Black Sunday”—53 American aircraft and 660 crewmen were lost. The idea for the operation came from necessity. Col. Jacob Smart is tasked with shortening the war by a year. He reads about an earlier, accidental mission to bomb the refineries, and an idea flickers: “Jake was positive that as long as they didn’t draw attention to themselves, the air corps could put 200 heavy bombers on target with complete surprise.” But Smart’s German counterpart, Gen. Maj. Alfred Gerstenberg, realizes the importance of the refineries to the Axis war effort and builds sophisticated defenses to protect them: “He wasn’t sure how much time he had, but he had a lot to do and he had a plan to get it done.” Hagan explains how the Americans chose to forgo gathering intel around Ploesti in order to maintain the element of surprise for this bombing mission. But in the end, the Americans lost because of this lack of reconnaissance, having no knowledge of the region’s defenses. Hagan also does an admirable job creating portraits of the many American airmen involved in the mission and the obstacles they faced while training in Benghazi, Libya, as well as of the world leaders that moved these living chess pieces. Readers are given enough historical context to assess why the operation was doomed long before it was undertaken, at the cost of many young lives.
An engrossing war story that shows how small miscalculations can lead to large consequences.