Night Fighters: Luftwaffe and RAF Air Combat over Europe 1939-1945.

Author:Simonsen, Daniel J.
Position:Book review

Night Fighters: Luftwaffe and RAF Air Combat over Europe 1939-1945. By Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2008. Photographs. Appendices. Index. Bibliography. Pp. xiv, 188. $27.95 ISBN: 1-59114-360-4

In the blackened skies over Europe, the British Royal Air Force and German Luftwaffe waged nightly battles of survival. Using extensive interviews and research, the authors discuss this nocturnal portion of World War II. Laid out somewhat chronologically, with ventures into specific areas such as technology and tactics, the book begins by describing the initial air war that would lead the RAF to carry on its air war under the protective cover of night. This is definitely not a "there I was" type of book nor was it intended to be such. Rather, it focuses on an analytical approach of understanding the nocturnal air war.

After suffering extremely high losses during a severely flawed attack on Wilhelmshaven in December 1939, RAF Bomber Command switched to a night bombing campaign. Early results of the new tactic campaign were less than desired (primarily as a result of the difficulties locating targets at night). RAF losses were still significant. This would result Arthur "Bomber" Harris being given command of Bomber Command. Heaton and Lewis provide solid insight into the British political issues of acceptable losses and public support. Prime Minister Churchill's involvement in these issues is thoroughly discussed.

Recognizing the difficulty in effectively targeting industrial sites, Harris modified RAF targeting tactics to focus on "dehousing" the German industrial population to "cripple German industry by proxy." Additional tactics modifications included compressing the bomber stream to minimize its overall exposure to Luftwaffe night fighters and using pathfinders to visually highlight the target to increase bomber accuracy.

Bomber Command's switch to a night focus resulted in a Luftwaffe counter. The book outlines the Luftwaffe focus at great length, detailing the organizational structure, assets used, and personalities involved. The Luftwaffe's efforts can best be described as innovative and effective but ultimately hampered by a chronic battle for assets and the flawed leadership of Goering and Hitler. First, the Luftwaffe implemented a radar and flak ring around Germany, followed by multi engine radarguided night fighters. Later they would adapt a "Wilde Sau" approach with had German cities brightly...

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