Blood and Fears
How America’s Bomber Boys of the 8th Air Force Saved World War II
Pegasus Books, New York, 2017, 560 pages
Book Review published on: June 23, 2017
British journalist Kevin Wilson, whose previous works explored British Bomber Command, now looks at the American role in the around-the-clock bombing campaign of Germany. Blood and Fear focuses on the trials and sacrifices of the 8th Air Force from the winter of 1943-44 through the return of the bomber groups to America following the war. The author briefly covers the “training and clumsy experimentation” of the first two years of the campaign, providing context for his main emphasis. The majority of the book is a sweeping history of the time period that includes the decisions to keep attacking, despite the losses. It captures not only the experiences of the bomber crews but also the British population, the U.S. fighter squadrons providing escort, and the ground support personnel. Many people generally believe that with the arrival of the P51 Mustang in late 1943, bomber losses declined. Wilson shows this was not the case, as the Luftwaffe could and did inflict serious casualties on the bombers. He concentrates on this time period because it coincides with the influx of bombers and crews to England and the 8th Air Force’s decision to shift its strategy to German fighter production in preparation for D-Day. Wilson explores this and the subsequent strategic shifts in terms of crew survivability and bombing effects. Discussed are numerous aspects of the air campaign: bailing out of crippled aircraft, air-sea rescue, capture and escape, crew recreation, the effects on the local population and on British society in general, and even the technical difficulties of assembling the vast air armada.
The book is well written and easy to read. Extensively researched, it incorporates many personal accounts selected from diaries, letters, and interviews of the different participants from not only the air crews but also from the Women’s Army Corps and the Red Cross. Although he includes stories of some famous people—Jimmy Stewart, Joe Kennedy, and Glenn Miller among them—Wilson mostly concentrates on ordinary people. The strength of this book is the author’s effective integration of the firsthand accounts. Wilson’s skill at integrating these personal accounts provides the reader a genuine feel for the stresses and strains on the leaders and crew members as they fought the war of attrition and battled the Luftwaffe for air supremacy in Europe. The author effectively captures the emotions of those involved, but the central feature of the book is the overwhelming sense of sacrifice and loss among the crews, whether due to combat or accident. He convincingly shows the butcher’s bill was high for the personnel of the 8th Air Force.
The author’s admiration for the courage, sacrifice, and skill of the bomber crews is evident in every chapter. Readers cannot help but admire their accomplishments and resilience in overcoming the many obstacles to defeat Germany and win the war. I highly recommend this book for those readers interested in World War II, the air war in Europe, or aviation history.
Book Review written by: Robert J. Rielly, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas