cover image Men of Air: The Courage and Sacrifice of Bomber Command in World War II

Men of Air: The Courage and Sacrifice of Bomber Command in World War II

Kevin Wilson. Pegasus, $29.95 (464p) ISBN 978-1-64313-006-4

This scrupulously researched account of the final stages of the Royal Air Force Bomber Command’s campaign against Nazi Germany draws heavily on accounts from the men who were part of the waning days of the air war, offering a grim portrait of the raids in the nighttime skies over occupied Europe. Wilson’s fierce, insistent focus on the ordinary heroism of the RAF crews and pilots flying unwieldy, spartan aircraft in a “pitiless war” and rightly expecting to “vanish this night or the next” is both gripping and crushingly repetitive. He recounts, for example, crewmembers who survived a raid over Mailly-le-Camp only because they ignored their orders, which were to orbit around a yellow marker on the ground; to do so in that night’s bright moonlight was, as a pilot called it, “virtual suicide.” So many of the accounts he cites are followed with a note that the flyer was killed shortly thereafter that the book begins to read like an annotated casualty list, with little energy devoted to the tactical decisions underlying the night bombing campaign over Germany. The first-person accounts from pilots, aircrew, and even German foes are rich in detail, but they are often similar details on different raids. Readers seeking command-level strategic analysis won’t find it here, but Wilson offers an intimate, frightening look at the aircrew experience. Photos. Agent: Jessica Purdue, Orion (U.K.). (Feb.)