Bomber Command. By Max Hastings. Minneapolis, Minn.: Zenith Press, 2013. Maps. Tables. Diagrams. Illustrations. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxix, 370. $19.99 paperback ISBN: 978-0-7603-4520-7
This is a reprint of a classic text of the air war in Europe. Hastings not only chronicles the efforts of Bomber Command throughout World War II but also delves into the ongoing debate about the usefulness and morality of area bombing. Hastings accessed many of key personalities including Sir Arthur Harris, wartime commander of Bomber Command and then crafted a well-documented, but controversial, perspective on the campaign. Many airmen did not welcome his conclusions; Gen. Ira Eaker urged Harris to sue Hastings for libel.
The narrative in many ways parallels those of writers today who praise the courage of the troops while decrying the ends and, in some cases, methods they were called upon to use. This is interesting: in 1979, there was not the nearly universal impetus among the U.S. and British publics to show support for their fighting men and women. Hastings recognized the crews' courage and sacrifices while questioning, as any thoughtful observer must, whether desired goals were met. Hasting argues they were not. Area bombing did not accomplish Sir Hugh Trenchard's vision, shared by Harris, of demoralizing the enemy civilian population to the point they either openly rebelled or, at the very least, refused to continue to work, thereby crippling the regime.
Hastings provides personal stories and background for his discussions of tactics and strategy. Thus, he kept the very human face of the average bomber crew before the reader while developing his theme concerning the efficacy and morality of RAF bombing. The reader meets leaders such as Leonard Cheshire, VC, and Micky Martin--men who not only survived the war but also contributed throughout to developing tactics and procedures in a never-ending quest to make bombing more effective. We also meet faceless replacements who never made it past their first sortie--men who, within just a few days survivors could not even recall.
However, the book's most important contribution is not aircrew stories but Hasting's discussion of area bombing's strategic impact. He attacks it from several perspectives: civilian and military morale in both the UK and Germany, the propaganda impact, the economic impact of Britain committing to building her own indigenous bomber force...