Nachtjagd Defenders of the Reich, Martin W. Bowman

Nachtjagd Defenders of the Reich, Martin W. Bowman

Bomber Command's strategic bombing campaign is one of the best documented parts of the British war effort, the topic of countless books. The German response to it isn't quite as well studied, so this account of the night fighter war is to be welcomed. It covers the period between the start of Bomber Command's campaign in 1940 and the Battle of Berlin of late 1943-early 1944 - the heart of the night bombing campaign (1944 saw Bomber Command diverted to support Operation Overlord, and by the time the strategic bombing resumed the Luftwaffe had almost collapsed).

The majority of accounts are from the point of view of the night fighter crews, although there are plenty of accounts from British bomber crews. In both cases we see the cost of the campaign, with very few crews surviving intact if they were shot down, and many of the night fighter pilots being shot down on several occasions.

The book can be a bit repetitive. It contains a huge amount of often very similar eyewitness accounts, and it would probably have been more readable with fewer, carefully selected representative accounts and more analysis.

Some variety comes from the accounts from German intruder crews, who at one point posed a real threat to British bomber crews operating close to home, before they were scaled down on the grounds that there was a greater morale boost to be had from shooting bombers down over Germany.

The accounts cover all of the night fighting techniques used during this period, from the very controlled Kammhuber Line to the free roving 'Wild Sow' technique. This involved single engined aircraft to intercept enemy bombers using the light from searchlights over targets, and after some initial success turned into a costly disaster, as an increasing number of almost irreplaceable day fighter pilots were lost operating at night. There is also interesting material on the counter-measures used by the Allies. It is also interesting to read the German crew's views on the fighting - this includes a rather hypocritical quote used to start chapter two in which one of the pilots complains about the Allied bombardment of towns and cities, forgetting that the Luftwaffe used that tactic first, and a rather different view of the Battle of Berlin, which is often portrayed as a failure in histories of Bomber Command.

Overall this is a useful book, packed with valuable eyewitness accounts, but perhaps not as readable as it could have been.

1 - 'Night Fighting! It Will Never Come To That!'
2 - The Early Experten
3 - 'The Other Prinz'
4 - Defence of the Reich 1942
5 - Under Cover of Darkness
6 - The Common Danger
7 - 'Das Nachtgespenst'
8 - The 'Wilde Sau'
9 - 'Emil-Emil'
10 - Gomorrah
11 - Deadly Nacht Musik
12 - Hydra
13 - 'Zahme Sau'
14 - Once the Most Beautiful City in the World

Author: Martin W. Bowman
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2016

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