Following on from his best-selling 'Fighter Boys', in this very different book, Patrick Bishop looks back at the lives, human realities and the extraordinary risks that the painfully young pilots took during the strategic air-offensive against Germany from 1939-1945.
In 'Fighter Boys', Patrick Bishop brought to life the pilots who flew Spitfires throughout the summer of 1940, the men who fought and won the Battle of Britain, saving the nation from German invasion. His story in this, his new book, is very different. Unlike the Battle of Britain, there was nothing romantic about bombing German cities, and, after the war, the crews became a political embarrassment. Their huge losses were overlooked and their courage obscured by a controversy that still rages over the morality of their actions.
The prospect for survival for a Bomber Command flier was slim. They flew, mostly without complaint, because they were told their efforts were critical to the success of the war effort, their bombs falling on armaments factories, or railway lines. In fact, their bombs killed and maimed thousands of civilian casualties, an unavoidable fact of war as viewed by their military and political masters. The fliers were amongst Britain's brightest and best. Often barely out of childhood, they lived for months at a time in damp Nissan huts, flying night after night from the windswept airbases in the east of England to drop bombs on Berlin, or the Ruhr valley, or Brussels, facing a deadly prospect every time the planes took off. Tours were for 30 operations. With a life expectancy shorter than an infantry soldier on the Somme in 1916, most didn't make it to the end, dying in flaming balls of steel as they exploded at 20,000 feet above enemy territory.
This book seeks to place the emphasis back on the men who fought aggressively and with extraordinary courage, comradeship and fortitude. It is a brilliant work of history that reminds us of the generation who dealt in death whilst trying with all their might to cheat it. Who drank, and laughed, and played cards during the day, before taking off at night on their deadly and terrifying missions. A generation who didn't dare think about that mystical thing called a 'future' until the war was won.