This book contains a lot of dramatic personal stories how several crewmembers of RAF bomber command experienced their nightly bomber missions in the early years of the WW2.
There are already many stories circulating about the massive bomber formations from the RAF and USAAF that were hitting Germany by night and day bombing in the last years of the war. Because of the air superiority of the allied air forces they were well protected by long range fighters and the losses were relatively manageable. This was totally different from the air war over Germany in the beginning period. Bomber operations at night were new for the RAF and tactics still had to be developed and there was no air support by fighter escorts.
At the start of WW 2 the RAF had only a limited amount of twin engine medium bombers such as the Blenheim, Hampden and Whitley. There was no pressurized cabin, no heating, limited range, limited bomb load and most important very simple navigational aids. The famous Halifax and Lancaster 4 engine bombers were still on the drawing board.
So when England declared war on Germany the RAF was not ready yet for massive bombing raids. They started with night raids to Germany distributing pamphlets but it appeared to risky and losses were rising. Slowly the air war machine at night started to roll and a stream of medium bombers was hitting towns and industrial targets. The personal stories of the air crews are really heart hitting as the circumstances in that period were terrible. The weather and the relative unexperienced crews asked their tolls and losses were high.
Personally I still wonder how the relatively ancient bombers the RAF used in the beginning could find their targets with only dead reckoning. As hundreds of bombers were sometimes send to the same target ( no formation flying allowed) how come there were not more air collisions? Did they receive dedicated altitudes and dedicated times over target? Probably not because the crews sometimes made several bomb runs when the target was obscured by clouds and how about the other bombers flying around them in the dark?
Imagine those young guys flying a bomber in pitch dark over unknown territory in terrible cold conditions, in sometimes unbelievable bad weather (no anti icing) , attacked by night fighters and fired at by AA guns over the targets. And always technical problems luring as certainly in the beginning of the war the engines were not so reliable. Some flights took more then 9 hours flying time with minimal fuel reserves left and many bombers did not return home as their fuel run out or were forced to ditch on sea.
How could the air commanders send those guys into a certain death ignoring the terrible conditions that were awaiting them? The stories told are hair raising like the chapters “The Night the Fuel ran out” and “Getting Frightened”. And the chapter telling about the motor problems with the Manchester, a new medium bomber ( the predecessor of the Lancaster ) were the crews knew that when engine problems arose during a night raid and flying om one motor meant a certain death as the Manchester could not be flown on one motor only.
Many heroic stories are told in this book and most of them very heroic but one of the best is “The Tail Gunners Story “that starts with a poem that said it all:
My brief sweet life is over,
My eyes no longer see,
No summer walks,
No Christmas trees,
No pretty girls for me,
I ’ve got the chop, I ‘ve had it,
My nightly ops are done,
Yet in a hundred years from now,
I’ll still be twenty-one.
There are many books written about the bomber night raids of the RAF but this book puts the crews that manned them in a spotlight that shows their fears and at the same time their perseverance knowing that death was a nearly certainty.