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Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight…

Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight of an RAF Bomber Over Germany… (original 1970; edition 1978)

by Len Deighton

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4571222,782 (4.08)14
Title:Bomber: Events Relating to the Last Flight of an RAF Bomber Over Germany on the Night of June 31st, 1943
Authors:Len Deighton (Author)
Info:St Albans: Triad Panther
Collections:Your library

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Bomber by Len Deighton (1970)


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This is the story of an RAF bombing raid--the hours leading up to the raid, the raid itself, and the aftermath, told from multiple points of view, including the pilots and crews at the RAF base, the pilots and crews at the Luftwaffe fighter base, the German radar base on the coast of the Netherlands tracking the bombers, and the inhabitants of a small Germany town--not the target but the place where the bombs were actually dropped. The novel is full of accurate historical detail, but reads like a thriller, with dozens of characters and many storylines. My interest was held through-out the book, and I read compulsively.

It's easy to forget that aviation was still in its infancy during WW II, and the mechanical detail about the difficulties of flying the planes was fascinating, even to me. Deighton conveys the sense of helplessness of the pilots flying in total darkness (the ideal circumstances for such raids and there was no such thing as night vision goggles), knowing that another plane might be only inches away, but nevertheless invisible. Navigation was also rudimentary, and there were apparently many misdirected bombs. This particular raid was directed toward the industrial Ruhr Valley, but due to mismarking of the target, the bombs were actually dropped on a small residential civilian town with no military value.

To a certain extent, the novel functions as an antiwar novel in that it graphically shows the horrors of war from both sides in presenting a single typical night of war in England, in Germany, and in the air. I recently read A God in Ruins, a novel about an RAF pilot who experienced many of the same sorts of circumstances described in this book. In that book, Teddy, the pilot, reflected many times in his later life on the implications of his actions as a bomber pilot, knowing that he was responsible for many civilian deaths.

Highly recommended.
4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Nov 14, 2015 |
To me this is a perfect synthesis of the technical and the emotional sides of war. Both sides are shown with their flaws, both mechanical and social. The brits are riven with class war, and the Germans are beginning to understand the evils of Nazi medical experiments. That night, a target marking Mosquito Bomber is shot down by a night fighter, and thus, the town, whose biggest industry is an amputee's hospital, is bombed by mistake.
It's no fun, but I find the book a perfect tragedy. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jan 10, 2014 |
The title of this book implies it's the story of a single British bomber crew flying over Germany during 1943. It's much more. Deighton, known for his in-depth research, has given us a very realistic portrayal of both sides, the families of the bomber crews, the German citizens and defenders. Soldiers on both sides are frustrated by awkward interpersonal relationships and comrades with differing motivations. Deighton follows the crews of several bombers, sent on night-time raid against the Ruhr. Lacking night-vision goggles the crews had to release their bombs guided by flares dropped by scout planes. On this raid, the scout plane is shot down and its flares released short of the intended target, on the innocuous little town of Altgarten — of no military significance.

British strategy was to drop bombs in the center of cities, usually targeting more civilians than military installations and to mix in lots of incendiaries and horrible phosphorous bombs to increase the damage. The soldiers of both sides are beleaguered by insidious forces in command. On the German side, Himmel, one of the best night-fighter pilots has stolen some medical documents that expose SS medical researchers using concentration camp as human guinea pigs in freezing experiments, so the Abwehr and Sicherheitsdienst want him arrested. In Britain, Lambert has the temerity to want to be with his wife rather than play cricket for the squadron team in an important match. He's also something of a rebel and because of that is being labeled LMF (Lacking Moral Fiber), i.e., a coward.

In the meantime, the farmers and citizens bemoan the loss of excellent farmland to huge airfields, land they know will never be returned. Neither are the citizens without flaws, as they funnel stolen and looted goods into their own pockets.

I particularly enjoyed one exchange. August Bach, a German pilot, is returning to his base with his friend, Max, when they are held up by a convoy directed by Vichy police.
"A Frenchman," said Max angrily. "They are a logical race. They should make good traffic police."
"Huh," said Max. "Logical. They put a knife between your ribs and spend an hour explaining the rational necessity of doing it."
"That sounds like a lot of Germans I know."
"No, a German puts a knife into your ribs and weeps a sea of regretful tears."
"August smiled. "And after the Englishman has wielded the knife? He says, 'Knife? What knife?' "

Sometimes the horror of war is brought home more vividly by almost dispassionately describing the raw facts. For example, a crew member’s chute fails to open after bailing out from his Lancaster. Falling from 16,000 feet at 120 miles per hour (his body's terminal velocity) he hits the ground in 90 seconds and makes an indentation 12 inches deep.

Neither side is favored in this work. Deighton read several hundred books in preparation and interviewed many survivors and the epilogue tells us where they are today. He focuses on the shared humanity and suffering, selflessness and heroism endemic to war. This book rivals Slaughterhouse Five and Hiroshima as a statement of the horror and stupidity of war. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
I really can't understand all the praise for this book.

There's very little character development and page upon page of insufferable technical detail. All the characters have exactly the same tone of voice apart from those whose accents are written with abysmal phonetics. Virtually nothing happens until over half way through. Yes, the deaths are described in cold detail, but that doesn't make them interesting.

Frankly, I found it dull from start to finish. Really not my cup of tea. ( )
  Rynooo | Sep 20, 2011 |
I went through a spy fiction/thriller phase in middle school -- partly because I enjoyed mysteries in general, and partly because I needed long books to keep me busy during the school's Drop Everything And Read periods (our teacher would not let us leave our desks for the whole time, even if we just wanted to go to the bookshelves IN THE SAME CLASSROOM and pick a new book to start!). Fortunately my dad's bookshelves were well stocked with Tom Clancy, John le Carré, and Len Deighton. I was very happy reading the first two authors but never quite made it to Deighton until I was in university and read the Game, Set and Match trilogy. Still, for all this time, familiarity on the bookshelves has given me a favourable opinion of Deighton's work (The IPCRESS File was an exception, but that was his first novel, and in retrospect reading such a demanding work on the bus was probably a bad idea), and so I was greatly pleased to hear that his 1970 novel, Bomber, had been longlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize.

The book, or at least my dad's copy (I first read this in the Silver Jubilee edition), begins with a foreword by Deighton discussing the sheer volume of research that went into this book. Since the story concerns 24 hours leading up to and encompassing an RAF bombing of a German town during the Second World War, Deighton required extensive information to get the details right, especially since the novel was essentially about one set of machines fighting another set of machines. This research paid off in spades: the mechanical, physical and even meteorological details of the 24 hours are well chosen. The weather was actually almost like a character, considering how important it was to the success or failure of a raid (and as my dad pointed out, the bomber planes were not nearly as comfortable as modern planes and so were more subject to the ravages of weather).

Details are also important in helping the reader remember characters, especially when they are as interchangeable as the young men on both sides of the battlefield, who are, as Deighton put it, "chosen for their physical, emotional and psychological similarity." Usually each character would have a nickname or some key detail about them that would stick in your mind, like Lambert is married, Cohen's nickname is "Kosher", Digby is Australian, and so on. I must confess I had a harder time keeping the Germans straight in my mind, or at least trying to remember which one belonged to which flight crew. But I did also have trouble remembering some of the British crews' airplanes (like who flew in "The Volkswagen", who had "Joe for King"), so perhaps some of the inattention came from simply reading too fast.

To give you an example of Deighton's detail-oriented writing (aren't you sick of that d-word?):

Each exploding shell hung a new black smudge in the sky but the old smoke did not disappear, it slowly turned brown and the air around them was blotched with smelly smoke like a three-dimensional disease. (168)

And when he describes the actual raid and the carnage wrought on British fighters, German fighters, and the German town being bombed, it is simultaneously horrifying and fascinating. The death of one crew as the result of a mid-air collision makes you shake your head at the senselessness of their loss, while the impact a member of another crew makes when he lands on the ground from a height of 16,000 feet provides a sickening lesson in physics. This part in particular is an example of what the back cover calls the book's "cool, merciless detail which denies the reader the protection of distance or ignorance".

By necessity, a lot of this book is devoted to setting the scene and providing character development. Once the raid starts, the action really ratchets up and keeps you turning the pages, one hand with fingers crossed, perhaps, for any characters you're particularly attached to (I became quite attached to Lambert, as may have been Deighton's intention, since he and his wife are the first characters introduced). But there are enough storylines to be cycled through that there is bound to be something to hold your interest for most of the book.

This was quite simply an excellent book. The only gripe I had with it was the almost too-seamless blending of flashbacks and other storylines with the present thread. Sometimes I would get confused about who was talking and then have to reread that section a few times to make sure I had the chronology straight. This is what led me to make my review a four-and-a-half-star review as opposed to a five-star one.

Even with all of this brilliance, Bomber did not make the shortlist for the Lost Man Booker. However, I can understand why. It was perhaps too specific a timeframe or too narrow a field of interest. I personally tend to suspect that prize committees tend to favour books with more "universal" storytelling that a wider audience can relate to... not that there is anything wrong with this line of thinking, but that is my theory as to why this book did not advance.

Still, at least making the longlist will expose this book to interested folk who may not otherwise have heard about it. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is an aviation nut (the technical descriptions of the aircraft are fascinating, even to a relatively ill-informed person such as myself) or appreciates well-written historical fiction, particularly about the Second World War. ( )
2 vote rabbitprincess | Jun 29, 2011 |
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It was a bomber's sky: dry air, wind enough to clear the smoke, cloud broken enough to recognize a few stars.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0586045449, Mass Market Paperback)

The classic novel of the Second World War that relates in devastating detail the 24-hour story of an allied bombing raid. Bomber is a novel of war. There are no victors, no vanquished. There are simply those who remain alive, and those who die. Bomber follows the progress of an Allied air raid through a period of twenty-four hours in the summer of 1943. It portrays all the participants in a terrifying drama, both in the air and on the ground, in Britain and in Germany. In its documentary style, it is unique. In its emotional power it is overwhelming. Len Deighton has been equally acclaimed as a novelist and as an historian. In Bomber he has combined both talents to produce a masterpiece.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:19 -0400)

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The classic novel of the Second World War that relates in devastating detail the 24-hour story of an allied bombing raid.

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