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WWII Book Reviews and Summaries

by Jonathan Tracy

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The Fall Of Fortresses book cover

Book review of The Fall Of Fortresses

Bendiner, Elmer 1980
G. P. Putnam’s Sons
258 pages, Hardback
ISBN 0-399-12372-5

This is an account of Elmer Bendiner’s experiences as a navigator aboard four engine B-17 bombers known as Flying Fortresses, stationed in Britain in the Second World War. These bombers attacked targets primarily in Germany and occupied France, and they were part of a larger unit called the U. S. Army Eighth Air Force.

The book has three focal points: 1) The telling of Elmer Bendiner’s experiences in the United States Army Air Force; 2) An examination of the process of selecting Schweinfurt as a high priority target (a target that proved very expensive in terms of lost Flying Fortresses and aircrews); 3) A discussion of the effectiveness of daytime American bombing of Germany as an effective war weapon.

Bendiner’s discussion of the effectiveness of American daytime bombing of Germany rings very true to me, but also is incomplete. I agree with Bendiner’s assessment that the blind faith in air power articulated by Douhet, Billy Mitchell, Hap Arnold and other air force officer’s was false. The belief that German morale would crack and Germany could be bombed into submission without the need for a physical invasion of the continent was simply not justified in the Second World War. Neither was the belief in strategic air bombing as a means to physically force Germany to surrender for lack of production capability a realistic strategy. German records and Albert Speer’s testimony that German industrial production increased every year of the war through 1944, right up until the time that the Russians captured the Ploesti oil fields in Romania show that strategic air bombing did not do the job. However, Albert Speer’s testimony that Allied bombing compelled Germany to keep 900,000 men employed manning 10,000 antiaircraft artillery pieces (about 5,000 of them the famous German 88s) in Western Europe clearly deprived Germany of significant resources that might have turned the tide on the Russian front, also rings true. It also appears to me that the use of long range fighters, primarily the P-51 Mustang, to attack German fighters in advance of the approach of Allied bombers took a tremendous toll on German pilots. Ultimately the lack of trained pilots drained the Luftwaffe from the skies over Western Europe, in spite of the steady supply of replacement aircraft. This in turn, made the D-day landings possible with only token resistance offered by the Luftwaffe. So it appears that the Allied bombing of Germany was an effective strategy, but not for any of the reasons offered by the Allied Bomber Command.

Where Bendiner’s discussion is incomplete is a total lack of analysis regarding the necessity of incurring such large loses in the Allied bombing program. The question is not asked: Would the Germans have been induced to devote such large resources to the defense of Germany if the American Air Force had simply joined the British night-time bombing campaign? Also, would the German response to bombing attack have been diminished if the day-time bombing campaign had been restricted to the radius of Allied fighter protection? An alternative phrasing of the second question is: Would development of long range Allied fighters have occurred substantially sooner if the American Bomber Command simply acknowledged the need for such aircraft at the outset?


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