Randall Hansen. Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945. New York: NAL Caliber, 2009. Can't do better than to quote the blurb: 'most of the British bombing was carried out against the demands of the Allied military leadership, leading to the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians and prolonging the war. By contrast, American precision bombing almost brought the Germans to their knees. This incisive story of the American and British air campaigns reminds us of the basic idealism and principle that underpin the history of U.S. military power.'

Raphael Samuel. The Lost World of British Communism. London and New York: Verso, 2006. A trilogy of essays Samuel wrote for New Left Review in the mid-80s, recreating the culture and politics of the CPGB in the 1930s and 1940s.

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10 thoughts on “Acquisitions

  1. It will be interesting to see what you think of Hansen. I read the first 5 pages then had to put it away. In my opinion it is filled with hyperbole, inaccuracies and continues to portray out of date myths.

  2. Hansen's book may be more interesting (in addressing the gap between intent and efficacy) than the blub gives it. It wouldn't be the first book mis-sold by its blurb either.

    A quick scan online hasn't found many reviews, those available have at least enough positives to make it into the publishers 'nice to quote' list.

    Chris - apparently (according to a couple of reviews) he doesn't address the Japanese campaign contrast.

  3. Don

    I too will be interested in any (partial) review of the Hansen book. My rough view, rightly or wrongly is that the RAF/UK thought it could destroy the enemy's productive capacity by destroying everything associated with it, whilst the US/USAAF perspective was to attempt the surgical strike. That the two persectives were both riddled with executional difficulty doesn't strike down the intent. Nor does the overlay that (in due course) the two approaches were adopted into a doctrine of "Combined Bomber Offensive". Plus of course they kept the defenders busy (but that's an afterthought?).

    As to idealism ... I don't know. I'm always struck by the various Embassies here in Wellington, most are suburban houses. The US is a citadel of concrete and razor wire and guardhouses. Land of the free.

  4. Chris Williams

    I do in fact agree with Don, to a first approximation, though Bomber Command did try precision a few times: and rather a lot of 8AF raids bombed through cloud on H2X, which looks and looked like area bombing to anyone with a brain. Nevertheless, it was the Yanks what won it, although this is rather more due to the P51D than to what they were aiming the bombs at. On the other hand, the 'get them up so as to kill them' tactic was only really viable in the daytime.

    I mentioned Japan because it gives the lie to any claim about peculiarly American ways of war. If there's an underlying explanation, it's that differences in doctrine very early on (in the RAF case, informed by events such as the Wilhelmshaven raids) locked the respective air forces into a path dependency. Once they had certain weapons, they deployed them to cause the maximum damage to the enemy without regard to civilian casualties.

  5. Don - re-embassies, same in Ottawa, Canada - IIRC, they've even closed the pavement in front of it. Apparently, the Canadian embassy in Washington DC is deliberately designed to be 'open' for wandering through. Of course if you believe you're right ('free') evidence of contradiction isn't noticed.

    All good points above (who needs the book!) and I'd add to Chris' last point that there is a debate on Harris' adherence to no-longer technically necessary area bombing after technology had given Bomber Command the tools of precision.

    The P-51D story (switch to free ranging hunters from close escort, after Berlin distance escorts) is critical to wining control of the air, but was at best a stage of winning the war. The Luftwaffe was just as much crippled by fuel shortages, a vital but less aviation-buff-attractive strategic attack.

    And we must put hindsight into the weighing. As far as they knew, Germany could have collapsed "tomorrow" under the weight of bombardment from about 1940 onwards. It's absurd for us to think that because of what we know now, but the British (and later American) planners had no real idea how close (or as it was, not close) to political and social collapse and defeat Germany was. The intelligence was OK on tactical results, but iffy to useless on such amorphous but decisive morale issues.

  6. Post author

    I haven't read it yet, but having browsed through the conclusion I'd say the blurb I quote in the post is accurate enough. Hansen is fair in the sense of at least trying to address most of the foreseeable objectives to his thesis. In terms of sources, he's strongest on the British side (lots of PRO AIR stuff, for example) which is not surprising as British politics is his specialty (though more as politics than history: he is a professor of politics); more surprisingly he did dozens of interviews with German survivors of the raids, which is good to see. While he has looked at the papers of the major British and American air force commanders as well, most of his other sources seem to be the usual secondary works on bombing -- Schaffer, Biddle, and so on. (No Connelly, though.) Nothing wrong with that for a work like this, though it makes for an odd mix of primary and secondary research. But for the effects of bombing on the Germany economy he relies on Speer, which you just can't do after Tooze, and perhaps leads to his odd conclusion that British bombing prolonged the war (which he doesn't really attempt to justify that I can see). He blames Harris for most of the excess, yet doesn't seem to answer the question of why Portal and Churchill kept him in the job. (He does note that area bombing was not Harris's idea.) And he definitely idealises American bombing too much: 'When Athens was prepared to see Europe burn, Sparta spared it.' Yet it was the USAAF which did the heaviest damage to Rome, of all cities (nothing like what the RAF did to Germany's cities, of course). There is a single sentence on the bombing of Japan (though at least it does ask why American ideals of precision bombing were not adhered to there).

    Still, I think there's a lot to criticise in the British conduct of the bombing war, so I it'll be worth a read. But I suspect it's a curate's egg at best.

  7. The key problem with Hansen's book is that it is based on a predicated argument that he then seeks to provide evidence for. I hate to say it but it is a typical social scientist perspective; much like A C Grayling applying modern moral philosophy to the bombing campaign. It is a historical. Many of his sources are those used by Webster and Frankland, and while their scholarship is to be commended there were flaws that need to be at least acknowledged. His simple argument can be summed up as ‘Bomber Command bad, 8TH Air Force good’. It just does not stand up to the historical evidence. One area is the issue of area bombing; however, what needs to remembered is that the US had just as many problems with weather as Bomber Command, which caused major problems for targetting. Approximately 55% of all US sorties were against what they described as ‘Marshalling Yards’, which was a well-known euphemism for area bombing. The problem stems from the bombing surveys and post-war politics in the Air Ministry. Tedder, as CAS, using the BBSU report, which used much of its data from the much larger USSBS, wanted to argue that the Transportation, and latterly, oil plans were more effective than other operations by Bomber Command. However, during the so-called Harris-Portal controversy of late 44, where it is argued that Harris did not attack oil target, Harris did consistently go after oil targets when it was possible to i.e. when the persistently difficult weather over North-West Europe allowed him too. I’m sorry but Hansen needs to go back to many of the more modern works on the subject and reflect on the nature of the debate and some of the evidence.

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