Blood and Fears: How America’s Bomber Boys of the 8th Air Force Saved World War II
By Kevin Wilson (Pegasus Books, 560 pages, $23.66) While I was growing up as a “baby boomer,” I remember the stories my father (a WW II veteran) told me about his experiences during the war. We often watched war movies and TV shows together, and my favorite was 12 O’Clock
High. With its grainy black-and-white combat footage showing the crews of countless B-17s bringing the war to the doorsteps of the Third Reich, I never truly appreciated what was happening. All the shiny warbirds and fighter pilots got all the glory, but the bomber crews allowed the Allied forces to ultimately defeat the Nazi war machine in Europe.
I found Blood and Fears, by British journalist Kevin Wilson, an excellent telling of the 8th Air Force’s strategic-bombing campaigns. Coming into its own in 1944, the 8th Air Force (with a new commander) was eager to demonstrate its true potential. From Operation Argument in February, which started targeting German aircraft-production plants, to taking on the
Luftwaffe over Berlin, the combined U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force, in a round-the-clock campaign, successfully slowed the German army’s ability to be truly effective. Wilson highlights the various bombing missions from before D-Day to the fall of Berlin. Familiar names pepper the pages, including European commander Carl Spaatz, combat leader Jimmy Doolittle, bomber pilot Joe Kennedy Jr., flying movie star Jimmy Stewart, and the future breaker of the sound barrier Chuck Yeager.
But for the most part, the author drills down to talk about the ordinary pilots and crewmen, detailing their missions high over Europe.
Wilson reveals in this action-packed 560-page book not only the bloodshed and historic heroism of the 8th Air Force but also the personal stories and efforts of the Women’s Army Corps and Red Cross women who served in England along with the “bomber boys.” He also does not downplay the nonstop bombing that shocked and devastated German civilians, details other wartime books often gloss over. Working from eyewitness accounts in letters, diaries, and personal interviews, the author paints an amazingly detailed story of the extreme bravery, heroism, and heartbreak that ultimately turned the tide of World War II in favor of the Allies.
The many personal accounts make you feel, by the end of the book, as if you actually know some of the characters, many of whom find themselves in dire straits. From interrogations by the Gestapo and photos of crewmen used for German propaganda to the Nazi Party encouraging the German civilians to seek out, lynch, and execute downed Allied airmen, the stories of all concerned are gripping, to say the least. Every detail—from the names of the pilots and crewmen, the specific fighter and bomber groups, the aircraft designations, and the specific German cities and targets involved—is presented precisely and accurately. Wilson’s amazing book is engaging and written with heart; the facts you learn along the way are an added bonus.
Add to the fascinating narrative a 16-page section filled with amazing wartime photographs and a multipage index that makes it easy to find the information you want to read about, I think
Blood and Fears is a great addition for anyone’s library on World War II history.— Gerry Yarrish