Blood and Fears: How Amer­ica’s Bomber Boys of the 8th Air Force Saved World War II

Flight Journal - - BRUSHSTROKES -

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

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