Bombers over Berlin: the RAF offensive, November 1943-March 1944

Just Finished my 44th Book Review of the Year!!

Reviewer: Martin Koenigsberg

Author: Alan W. Cooper

In late 1943, with large numbers of Lancasters finally at his disposal, “Bomber” Harris- the leader of the RAF’s Bomber Command thought it was time to take the war to Berlin. There had been raiding over the German Capital before- but now the Empire could throw 400- 700 huge 4 engine bombers over a target- the thousand bomber raids would come later- and really use their variety of techniques and protocols to test the German Night defenses. Alan W. Cooper, a writer and researcher on RAF topics, takes us on a tick tock of the campaign, raid after raid, and shows you what it took to fly over the Reich at night- whether you were in a Lancaster, Halifax (Coming online for these raids- a few flying on most), or Mosquitos- or a Ju 88, FW 190, Me 110, Me 410, or Me 109 Night fighter trying to stem the bomber flow. This was the beginning of Electronic Measure/countermeasure warfare in the Air- the British using radio beams to mark the target, pathfinder bombers to drop the pivotal first bombs and fire starting projectiles, flares to blind the Germans and numerous close in means to jam the German fighters. The Germans in turn were directed to the Bomber stream by ground Radar, coordinated with Ground Flak and Searchlights . Added to this delightful melange of death was the fact that it took place in the worst weather period of the year in Northern Europe, so some nights both sides’ efforts were paltry compared to Mother Nature’s whims.

For every raid, we get the basics of the brief, maps of the main bomber Stream route planned- actual- and then the German Reaction. Cooper then gives a few of the anecdotes from the Debriefings or Memoirs for each raid- on both sides- and then the results and costs. It was a real cat and mouse game between fighters and bombers- but also a chess game between technologies in the air- each move with a new machine bringing a response in tactics- or a new machine for the other side. There are lots of B/W pics all through the book. I had not known that some Bombers carried an extra Crewman and an extra Radio to give fluent German counter orders to the incoming “Nachtjager” (night hunter) pilots. That’s only a slice of all the tactics and technologies employed- I was really interested to see how sophisticated the protocols and black boxes were- as I found that topic fascinating a generation later with the Vietnam war. It makes the bomber war so much more complicated than the -find target- drop bombs- the novice might have thought was going on. I also found the feeling of the pace of operations helps one understand how taxing this all was. Cooper is always reminding us that no matter the drama of one raid- another was coming in a day or so- all borne by these wonderful young men from all over the Empire.

With few adult themes, but some graphic injury and casualty passages, this is best read by the Junior reader over about 12/13, with an interest in Aviation, and History, For the Gamer /Modeler/Military Enthusiast, this is good stuff. The Gamer gets a real look at the mechanics of raids- planning and how they can be changed by circumstances- for a serious Blood Red Skies /Aces High/ WWII Aerial Wargame player. This is, after all , the War where we discovered the Jet Streams at the higher elevations- and a real shock they were too! The Modeler get a plethora of ideas for particular kites to model or diorama drama. The Military enthusiast gets what we always really seek- the facts about the wars we study. Cooper takes us into the sausage making of long distance aerial bombardment by night in the 1940s- with all its complexity and technological limitations- and one comes out of the lesson with a real appreciation of just how hard it was to fight on this front of WWII. The British bombed the Germans, the German hunted the British, and the Weather played havoc with everyone. Cooper is sure that this campaign shortened the war- and gives a case to back it up- but modern readers may feel otherwise. What they will feel is how those boys all gave their best in the freezing air…

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