Before 1939, those who theorized about the role airplanes might play in war often insisted that an aerial bombing campaign might well make traditional warfare obsolete. The experiences of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command in the early years of World War II did not seem to vindicate these theorists. Indeed, the losses suffered by the RAF were so great that they were forced to abandon daylight precision bombing for the nighttime area bombing that made no attempt to hit anything specific in the cities the crews sometimes found at the end of the flight to Germany.
When the United States entered the war, however, it rejected the British approach and determined to attack industrial and transportation targets during the day aiming for accuracy that would eliminate Germany’s ability to wage war. Thus, in the summer of 1943, the Eighth Air Force launched the first of a series of raids deep into Germany and the slaughter began. Utilizing radar warning systems, antiaircraft batteries, and mass fighter attacks, the Luftwaffe defense reaped a harvest of blood in the skies over Europe. Even the advance of the Allied armies and the deployment of long-range escort fighters failed to eliminate the threat to the bombers and their crews. In consequence, more than fifty thousand Americans died in an aerial campaign whose fruits are still in dispute: Historians continue to debate the efficacy of the bombing campaign as well as its contribution to the war effort.
If the effectiveness of the bombing campaign against Germany is a matter for scholarly argument, the bravery and devotion to duty exhibited by those who fought the air war over Europe is not open to conflicting interpretations. COMBAT CREW is not a dispassionate account of the war in the air; it is an intensely personal, often moving account of the individual reality behind the bombing offensive. John Comer speaks with ultimate authority of enduring freezing temperatures in unheated aircraft for hours on end while being in danger from mechanical failure and enemy attack in every mile traveled to and from the target. Combat in the air is sometimes described as hours of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer, stark terror, and this book captures that characterization as few others have.