...on operations with Bomber Command
Title: 'Ops' Victory at all Costs
Author: Andrew R B Simpson
Publisher: Tattered Flag Press
...on operations over Hitler's Reich with the crews of Bomber Command. THEIR WAR - THEIR WORDS
With over 400 pages this is a substantial but quite entrancing read. The author's father was a Lancaster pilot, Laurie Simpson, who was eventually shot down and finished the war in a German POW camp. He was clearly a huge influence on his son, and Andrew has used his father's diaries, along with accounts from over 300 Bomber Command Crew members to tell this story by assembling their recollections. How appropriate it seems to have this book published in the same year that a memorial to those Bomber Command crews has finally been unveiled here in the UK, one that has been so long overdue.
It takes you through from those early stages, what the peoples backgrounds were and why they decided to join up for bomber crew. On through the selection process and then the extensive training, where aptitudes for the different roles in the crew were identified. Some did go on to become pilots, then with the introduction of the larger 4-engined aircraft, so a need for Flight Engineers, plus navigators,bomb aimers, wireless operators and gunners. Fatal accidents happened even during training, so the training had to be thorough. It covers the enjoyment of passing out and the disappointment of failure and transfer to another role.
Then on to squadron life. Some enjoyed comfortable pre-war airfields with comfortable accommodation, while others had wartime construction airfields and life in more primitive accommodation on their bases to come back to.
That was the other question, if they came back. The casualty rate was high and odds were not favorable that a crew would complete a full tour of 30 missions. They explain the experiences in flying the likes of Wellingtons and Whitleys, before going on to Halifax and Stirling, plus of course the Lancaster. Then there was the politics of strategy, and the guidance of 'Bomber' Harris. The view from the other side, as German defensive tactics changed and developments in radar and Night Fighter techniques and equipment. What is was like to be attacked by aircraft you couldn't see, as they used upward firing canon, or Shrage Musik to knock out a bomber from underneath. What was it like to participate on the series of raids on Berlin or Hamburg. Then in 1944, the move to transportation targets as they prepared for D-Day.
Then there are the stores of being shot down, attempts to evade, and the mixed experiences upon capture. The skill of the interrogation team at the Dulag Luft before crews went on to other camps. These included the camp that Laurie Simpson went to, Stalag Luft III in Upper Silesia. The authors father was there and played his part as one of the 'stooges', watching the German Guards who entered the compound, and passed on warnings to the team involved in tunneling for the Great Escape. There is some fascinating detail about the camps and the true story of the Great Escape itself which makes for very interesting reading.
In the closing stages of the war, thousands of POWs, including those from Stalag Luft III were forced to march hundreds of miles in harsh winter weather as they were moved away from advancing Russian troops. The conditions were appalling and many failed to stand up to it. The privations they suffered during this period were suffered knowing that the end of the war was near. All in all I found this a super book to read, and it brought to life the varied experiences and the characters involved in the war with Bomber Command in a period that has attracted a good deal of controversy since. At the end of the day these were ordinary people, fighting for their country in the best way they knew. Casualties were high and the psychological effects for many were long lasting. At the end of it all was, if you were lucky, settling back to 'normal' family life, but their lives had been changed for ever.
Thanks to Casemate Publishing, the distributors in the UK for our example, it is available now.
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