The Mighty Eighth at War, Martin W. Bowman

The Mighty Eighth at War, Martin W. Bowman

US 8th Air Force Bombers versus the Luftwaffe, 1943-1945

This book is built around a large number of first-hand accounts written by the bomber crews of the US Eighth Air Force, recounting their experiences flying Liberators and Flying Fortresses over occupied Europe and Nazi Germany. These first hand accounts are linked by Bowman's excellent text, which explains the background to the individual raids being flown and their place in the evolving battle between the Allied bombers and the German defences and in the Allied strategic bombing campaign.

I do have two minor problems with this book. The prologue is credited to Bruce Sanders, but without any explanation of who this was or when the text was written. It very quickly becomes clear that this text was produced during the war, and after some checking I discovered that Bruce Sanders was the pen name for Leonard R. Gribble, a mystery writer who worked for the British government during the Second World War, essentially writing propaganda. I have no problem at all with the use of Sanders' work in the prologue, but Bowman really needs to have included a brief introduction to explain where this text came from.

The second problem comes with the footnotes. The book uses chapter end notes, an approach that is fine when the footnotes only include references, but here many of the notes contain some important historical information, and in this case page footnotes would have been much more useful.

These are minor quibbles. The main text is utterly compelling, providing us with the authentic voices of the bomber crews of the Eighth Air Force as they took part in the seemingly endless and costly bombing campaign over Germany. Don't expect a detailed history of the Eighth Air Force's role in the strategic bombing campaign - that isn't Bowman's aim. Instead, this provides us with some insight into the experiences of the men who flew the bombers, and some of the most important developments in that campaign.

It is interesting to compare this book with Bowman's similar book on the Mosquito, 'Mosquito Mayhem'. In the Mosquito book one gets more of a sense of adventure, while here the mood is often sombre and the tone one of loss. The 8th Air Force suffered much heavier losses than the RAF's Mosquito squadrons, but they were also often suffered in full view of other aircraft in the bomber stream, so many of the eyewitness statements include accounts of watching other bombers being destroyed. The heavy bombers also carried many more men than the Mosquito, so each loss was a major tragedy. On the positive side there is more of a feeling of a team effort here, both within the large crews and within each unit. The heavy bombers relied on each other's firepower for protection, and so there was a real sense of the squadron as a single combat unit.

Prologue: The Forts Fly High
1 - Mission 115
2 - Black Thursday
3 - 127 Ways to Die
4 - Big B and Beyond
5 - Assaulting the Westwall
6 - The Oil Campaign
7 - Milk Runs to France
8 - Blood and Oil
9 - Days of Reckoning

Author: Martin W. Bowman
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 282
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2010

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