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Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys…

Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against… (2006)

by Donald L. Miller

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I read the subtitle of this book and assumed it was a collection of war stories from 8th Air Force crewmen. I'm not a huge fan of oral history but decided to give it a shot anyway. Wow was I pleasantly surprised. It is much, much more than an oral history. MASTERS OF THE AIR examines the entire experience of the 8th AF from POWs to its portrayal in movies and books to race relations to the effect of the American air bases on the social fabric of the English countryside to the whole question of the viability of strategic bombardment. Miller is incredibly well read on a vast amount of literature relating to the air campaign over Europe and draws on many of these sources to produce a rich first-rate history. There is something in MASTERS for any fan of history.

I particularly enjoyed his handling of the sticky question of whether strategic bombing was a success. From the point of view of the pre-war bomber barons the answer is "no". Heavy bombers alone were not able to defeat Germany. But the more important question is whether the damage they did inflict was worth the effort put forth and the answer to that is a resounding "yes".

Miller does a fine job though of making clear that the strategic bombing was not the sole mission of the 8th. Throughout late 1943 and early 1944 the main mission of the 8th was too break the Luftwaffe fighter force by hitting targets the Jagdwaffe would be forced to defend and then shooting down the German fighters. Destruction of the Luftwaffe was a pre-requisite for Operation Overlord and the 8th was the only force able to carry it out. German fighters routinely avoided combat with Allied fighters- it took attacks on key targets by bombers to bring them out where American escorts could get them.

Coincidently this campaign against German airpower also paved the way for later campaigns against oil and transportation targets in Germany. This is where strategic bombing came into it's own. It was never able to win the war alone but it severely curtailed German production efforts in the last months of the war and shortened the war by months.

I'm only touching the surface of what MASTERS offers. If you have any interest in the air war over Europe or the 8th Air Force I strongly recommend this book. It is sure to be the standard history of the 8th ( )
  mburdette | Jan 5, 2015 |
Book describes just what the title says...from training to bombing missions to POW status and everything in between. It's well researched and well written with personal vignettes that are illuminating and illustrative. It's mostly about 8AF and 15AF (the other European numbered air force) gets short shrift in the deal. Probably, the book would have been too long. I enjoyed learning more about that time in history. ( )
  buffalogr | Mar 29, 2014 |
I had a mixed reaction to this book. Although I love historical first-person narrative as well as "straight history," I am not crazy about the combination of the two. When Miller does straight history, he is usually pretty good. When he suddenly takes the "mole's eye view" to recount an important historical event from the perspective of just one person, the viewpoint swings too wildly from the telephoto lens to the microscope. I find it distracting rather than enriching of the text. ( )
  idealist_in_blue | Feb 5, 2012 |
I bought this book while in Missoula, Montana in between visits to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks last month. It’s a fat book about World War II. I seem to be reading lots of books about World War II recently. This one is particularly interesting because my father served in the Eighth Air Force, the history of which Masters of the Air Covers, and he named me after a B-17 “Flying Fortress.”

Masters of the Air is a readable account of the Eighth, which did daylight bombing runs over Germany from bases in England. It had a high casualty rate and today only a few of the thousands of B-17s that made up its fleet remain intact and flying.

Although the author does get into some details about strategy, mostly he tells stories – of the men who flew and the generals who strategized. My father’s stories about his service in World War II were always funny. The stories in Masters of the Air are mostly not funny.

What did I learn from Masters of the Air? That the Flying Fortresses were anything but fortresses. That, although the mighty Eighth Air Force did eventually play a key role in winning World War II in Europe, in the early days, generals engaged in flawed thinking. That for air crews, highly trained as they were, it was mostly on-the-job training. That in order to win the war, the Eighth Air Force engaged in what can only be called “terror bombing.”

Masters of the Air is an incredible history: well researched and written in a style accessible to readers who don’t know much about World War II history or military strategy. Of its 671 pages, almost 150 are devoted to back notes (a format I prefer over footnotes), bibliography and index. ( )
  NewsieQ | Jul 25, 2011 |
Not bad but it was a little dry in my opinion. ( )
  historybuff17 | Sep 11, 2007 |
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London, October 9, 1943. Maj. John Egan's private war began at breakfast in a London hotel. (Prologue)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743235444, Hardcover)

Masters of the Air is the deeply personal story of the American bomber boys in World War II who brought the war to Hitler's doorstep. With the narrative power of fiction, Donald Miller takes readers on a harrowing ride through the fire-filled skies over Berlin, Hanover, and Dresden and describes the terrible cost of bombing for the German people.

Fighting at 25,000 feet in thin, freezing air that no warriors had ever encountered before, bomber crews battled new kinds of assaults on body and mind. Air combat was deadly but intermittent: periods of inactivity and anxiety were followed by short bursts of fire and fear. Unlike infantrymen, bomber boys slept on clean sheets, drank beer in local pubs, and danced to the swing music of Glenn Miller's Air Force band, which toured U.S. air bases in England. But they had a much greater chance of dying than ground soldiers. In 1943, an American bomber crewman stood only a one-in-five chance of surviving his tour of duty, twenty-five missions. The Eighth Air Force lost more men in the war than the U.S. Marine Corps.

The bomber crews were an elite group of warriors who were a microcosm of America -- white America, anyway. (African-Americans could not serve in the Eighth Air Force except in a support capacity.) The actor Jimmy Stewart was a bomber boy, and so was the "King of Hollywood," Clark Gable. And the air war was filmed by Oscar-winning director William Wyler and covered by reporters like Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite, all of whom flew combat missions with the men. The Anglo-American bombing campaign against Nazi Germany was the longest military campaign of World War II, a war within a war. Until Allied soldiers crossed into Germany in the final months of the war, it was the only battle fought inside the German homeland.

Strategic bombing did not win the war, but the war could not have been won without it. American airpower destroyed the rail facilities and oil refineries that supplied the German war machine. The bombing campaign was a shared enterprise: the British flew under the cover of night while American bombers attacked by day, a technique that British commanders thought was suicidal.

Masters of the Air is a story, as well, of life in wartime England and in the German prison camps, where tens of thousands of airmen spent part of the war. It ends with a vivid description of the grisly hunger marches captured airmen were forced to make near the end of the war through the country their bombs destroyed.

Drawn from recent interviews, oral histories, and American, British, German, and other archives, Masters of the Air is an authoritative, deeply moving account of the world's first and only bomber war.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:38 -0400)

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Chronicle of the U.S. 8th Air Force's daylight bombing campaign over Europe during World War II, from its genesis to the end of the war.

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