"The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces": From Hitler's Fortress Europa to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By Robert O. Harder. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2015. Illustrations. Photographs. Notes. Appendix. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 254. $39.95 ISBN: 9781-61251-902-9
Robert Harder is a former B-52 navigator-bombardier who saw extensive service during Vietnam. When he entered active duty, he met then-Col Tom Ferebee, the bombardier on Enola Gay's August 6, 1945, Hiroshima mission. From that time, he developed a great interest in Manhattan, the atomic missions of 1945, and the men involved.
The stated goal of this book is not a history of strategic bombing, the Manhattan Project, or the August 1945 atomic attacks. These are presented only as part of the story of the special bond between Paul Tibbets, Tom Ferebee, and Dutch Van Kirk--the pilot, bombardier, and navigator on August 6. But the story goes back years before, and that is the story Harder relates.
Tibbets had written several books about his life over the years (The Tibbets Story, Return of the Enola Gay) and was quite well known. Suzanne Dietz wrote an excellent biography of Dutch Van Kirk (My True Course) in 2012. Harder quotes liberally from these books. However, very little had been written about Tom Ferebee. The original research of his papers and other sources is Harder's best contribution. His first three chapters cover each of the three men individually from birth to the time they met in Sarasota, Florida, as part of the 97th Bomb Group.
The next three chapters present the 97th's training and deployment to the UK. The three become fast friends and crewmates aboard a B-17F, Red Gremlin. Harder covers the early Eighth AF missions they flew, the special missions to take Generals Eisenhower and Mark Clark to Gibraltar prior to the invasion of North Africa, and then combat missions with Twelfth AF out of North Africa. After that, the three went their separate ways for over a year until Tibbets was selected to command the 509th Composite Group, and the three men relinked.
Another of Harder's stated goals was to correct previously published errors, omissions, misperceptions, and other inaccuracies. "I have taken special pains to render the most accurate reconstruction of those two sorties [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] yet attempted." As I know something about the topic myself, I really started paying attention in the chapters "Wendover," "Tinian," "The Big One," "The Rest of...