I bought this book while in Missoula, Montana in between visits to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks last month. It’s a fat book about World War II. I seem to be reading lots of books about World War II recently. This one is particularly interesting because my father served in the Eighth Air Force, the history of which Masters of the Air covers, and he named me after a B-17 “Flying Fortress.”
Masters of the Air is a readable account of the Eighth, which did daylight bombing runs over Germany from bases in England. It had a high casualty rate and today only a few of the thousands of B-17s that made up its fleet remain intact and flying.
Although the author does get into some details about strategy, mostly he tells stories – of the men who flew and the generals who strategized. My father’s stories about his service in World War II were always funny. The stories in Masters of the Air are mostly not funny.
What did I learn from Masters of the Air? That the Flying Fortresses were anything but fortresses. That, although the mighty Eighth Air Force did eventually play a key role in winning World War II in Europe, in the early days, generals engaged in flawed thinking. That for air crews, highly trained as they were, it was mostly on-the-job training. That in order to win the war, the Eighth Air Force engaged in what can only be called “terror bombing.”
Masters of the Air is an incredible history: well researched and written in a style accessible to readers who don’t know much about World War II history or military strategy. Of its 671 pages, almost 150 are devoted to back notes (a format I prefer over footnotes), bibliography and index. There’s enough documentation for the pickiest of readers.