Book: Masters Of The Air by Donald Miller
Published October 2006 by Simon & Schuster|671 pages
Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library
Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/History/World War 2/Military History
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.
I really love history, and thought Masters Of The Air looked really interesting. It’s a book I’ve been reading off and on for a while, but I had a hard time getting through it.
I only got about 100 pages in before deciding that this book isn’t for me. It’s not that it’s uninteresting, because I did think it was a pretty informative book. Before I picked this book up, I never thought about the Air Force not being its own entity. For me, it’s always been separate branch of the U.S. military. But it seems like there were different incarnations under the Army- at least from what I could tell. There’s this guy, William Mitchell, and he fought hard for an independent Air Force.
Another interesting thing was that a lot of the pilots experienced some form of oxygen deprivation- very few died from it, but something 50 to 60% experienced it. A lot of it was because of poor planning- there was such a focus on getting the planes (and men) into the air that they didn’t think about little things. There was a bigger focus on bombing strategy and not a lot on preparing the crews to survive in the conditions necessary to actually executing that strategy.
So why didn’t I finish it? I had a really hard time getting through it. It’s very detailed, and just from the 100 pages or so I read, it was clear to me that Miller put a lot of research and time into this book. Even randomly picking up the book and reading a chapter didn’t help- I felt like I was struggling to get through it. Since it also focuses more on military history, it’s more technical than what I’m used to reading, and that was a contributing factor in my inability to get through it. It’s not for lack of trying, and as much as I wanted to get through it, I knew it was time to put it down and walk away.
DNF. I don’t feel like it’s fair to give a star rating for something I didn’t get very far into before deciding to not finish it.