US Eighth Air Force in Europe: Vol 1 - Eager Eagles 1941-Summer 1943, Martin W. Bowman

US Eighth Air Force in Europe: Vol 1 - Eager Eagles 1941-Summer 1943, Martin W. Bowman

This is the first part of an oral history of the Eighth Air Force, looking at the formation of the force and its early operations. This is the period in which the Eighth attempted to penetrate deep into Germany without fighter escort, but before the really disastrous raids that proved the need for long range fighter escorts. Bowman starts with a look at the impact of the news of Pearl Harbor on future members of the Eighth, including some accounts from Hawaii. In the first chapter we follow the new recruits as they cross the Atlantic, and then into operations in the summer of 1942. The rest of the book looks at the following year of operations, ending in July 1943 with 'Blitz Week'.

This was the period in which the Eighth Air Force was determined to prove that unescorted daylight bombing would be possible, and before the disastrous attacks on Ploesti, Regensburg and Schweinfurt that helped prove that long-range fighter escorts were needed. In early missions the Eighth was escorted by shorter range fighters (many RAF Spitfires), but the book also covers the early missions over Germany, where the unescorted bombers were forced to take part in prolonged battles with the German fighters.

Bowman's text is a narrative oral history of these early operations - the story is told by the participants, with extracts organised chronologically, and linked by some sizable sections of explanation. The text is thus more structured than in some oral histories, where most or all of the emphasis is on the participant's words, and little or none on the wider context. There are often several different accounts of the same raid, or even the same incident (the losses of some aircraft are described from the points of views of several spectators and in some cases by the survivors), while the linking text helps explain what was significant about a particular raid - the first unescorted attack or the first attempt to attack several targets at once.

The book does end rather suddenly, making it clear that Bowman sees the entire series as a single thing - we finish at the end of 'Blitz Week' with no particular conclusion, and the story continues smoothly in volume 2, which looks at Ploesti, Regensburg and Schweinfurt. I think this is a good choice of dividing line - although the Eighth Air Force suffers some heavy losses during this period, there was still a sense that this was a job that the unescorted bombers could do.

As with all works of this nature the choice of sources is key, and Bowman has done a good job of selecting interesting first hand accounts of the costly early fighting in this formative period for the Eighth Air Force.

1 - Where the Girls are Prettier
2 - I Wanted Wings
3 - The Legion of the Doomed
4 - Maximum Effort
5 - To Hell and Back

Author: Martin W. Bowman
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 208
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2012

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