Werner Goering was a B-17 pilot who completed 49 daylight bombing missions over Germany during World War II. What he didn’t know was that co-pilot Jack Rencher had orders from the FBI to kill him rather than allow him to land his plane or be taken as a prisoner of war in Germany. Why? The pilot was the nephew of the Nazi second-in-command Hermann Göring. His falling into German hands, either as a defector or POW, would have been a propaganda coup for the Nazis.
Although I’ve read quite a lot about the Eighth Air Force, which my father served in as a B-17 mechanic, none brought home the sacrifices the men made in such vivid detail as Hell above Earth. I loved the detailed explanations the author provided about the flight training, the conditions aboard the bombers, even about the Quonset huts that housed the airmen in England and elsewhere.
I also liked the author’s writing style, and that he occasionally allowed his narrative to veer into the moderately crude language that was part and parcel of the airmen’s lives. Stephen Frater writes as a journalist, not as an historian, so the text is not interrupted with footnotes, although readers will find adequate sourcing in the back notes. The bibliography gave me a few ideas for further reading, including a book, The Writing 69th (by Jim Hamilton), about war correspondents.
Although I hate it when reviewers mention a surprise ending, I will say the author’s dogged pursuit of the story leads to quite a surprise at the end. Hell above Earth was an altogether engaging read, one that will give readers new appreciation of the sacrifices of “The Greatest Generation”