A cogent analysis of the morally complex technological, political, and strategic decisions made by the Allied air forces during the war against Nazi Germany.
Former Royal Marines Commando and military historian Neillands (The Conquest of the Reich, not reviewed, etc.) notes that many current histories single out the Allied leaders as war criminals responsible for the notorious “terror” bombing of German civilians. By uncovering and presenting the pragmatic challenges faced by the bomber commanders, he argues that these authors fail to understand the historical context in which leaders like Air Marshal Arthur Harris directed these raids. Neillands details the technological race between the Allied and Axis forces as they struggled to overcome navigational challenges and develop effective bombsights that would improve bombing accuracy. He also shows how combat conditions encouraged the aircrews to release their bomb-loads quickly in order to preserve their own lives. Drawing on extensive interviews with British, American, and German pilots, he brings to life the intensity of the aerial combat that resulted in casualties in more than half the men who served in the British Bomber Command during WWII. These factors lead Neillands to conclude that the only way to affect Germany’s wartime industry was to use the area bombing methods that killed tens of thousands of civilians in and around the industrial and transportation centers of Hamburg, Berlin, and Dresden. By the end, Neillands admits to the murky moral nature of the Allied strategic bombing campaign. Recognition of this moral ambiguity is his ultimate goal: to move the discourse about the bombing away from self-righteous moral platitudes and toward more thoughtful consideration of the campaign’s historical context.
Well-researched and thoughtfully argued, scholars and afficionados of WWII history and readers interested in the moral philosophy of war will find this compelling reading.