- Martin W Bowman
- ARRSE Rating
- 4.5 Mushroom Heads
The author has written a book which is not the usual military history, in this case the air war against Berlin between 1943 and 1945 by RAF Bomber Command. It is a book of some 400 pages long of a relatively small font which if larger would have produced a book considerably greater in size. This book has taken me a considerable period of time to read as I found I had to put the book down fairly frequently due to reading of the enormity of the tragedies, risks and hazards the crews faced.
Mr Bowman in this book has not detailed the higher strategy or command direction of Bomber Command but the very personal and human cost in the main to the crews of the aircraft taking part in the offensive but also some of the effects on the people in Berlin as well. The author must have spent many many months researching and looking for the human side of the lives, loves and deaths of those who took part. He has told the stories of the individuals and unusually for a military history has given the participants a human personality which in many histories is not shown. As Bomber Command like all aircrew positions in the RAF, it was an all-volunteer force and the young age of many participants was between 18 and 28, with Squadron commanders at the age of 23 to 28 as a Wing Commander.
The main body of the book deals with the heavy bomber part of the Command and the last couple of chapters relating the activities of the Mosquito Squadrons of the Light Night Strike Force. The Mosquito Squadrons loss rate was but a fraction of their heavy bomber colleagues. Bomber Command crews served a number of operations together known as 'tours' which encompassed 30 operations before they were 'rested'. The Mosquito squadrons of the light Night Strike Force flew up to 50 operations before they were rested. At the height of the battle only 25% of the heavy bomber crews survived their tour of 30 operations.
A loss rate of 20 to 30 out of a force of several hundred aircraft per night was deemed an acceptable and sustainable loss rate which meant the loss of up to 200 plus lives per night of operations as the chances of survivability from a burning bomber by baling out were quite slim. Within this loss rate the dangers were just not over enemy territory but on return home to England weather conditions over the home airfields could be and were extremely difficult due to in particular winter fog and low visibility over the flat fen lands of Cambridgeshire Norfolk Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire. There were numerous losses due to crashes either due to mid-air collisions, combat damage or flying into the ground in such poor conditions on returning home or just that airfields in this region were so close together.
Bomber Command served in World War Two from day one on the 3rd September 1939 to the end in May 1945 with the loss of 57205 killed (46% mortality rate) 8403 wounded and 9838 as prisoners of war. This book tells some of the stories of the courage and fortitude of the men who flew operations knowing even in the deepest recesses of their minds the chance of survival was at best 50/50, but still they climbed into their aircraft and flew operations.