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Battle Over the Reich
The Strategic Bomber Offensive Over Germany
Volume One, 1939-1943
Volume Two, 1943-1945

Article by John Ratzenberger
 

Book Review
Battle Over the Reich -- The Strategic Bomber Offensive Over Germany
Volume One, 1939-1943
Volume Two, 1943-1945
by Dr Alfred Price

RatzenbergerBOR-1 RatzenbergerBOR-2

For each volume, unless noted:
Hardcover: 9"x12", 160 pages, glossy.
Illustrated: 250 photos(some color), 10-20 color profiles, maps, diagrams, charts, tables.
Publisher: Air War Classics
ISBN: Volume 1: 1-903223-47-4    Volume 2: 1-903223-48-2
MSRP: $49.95 each
Available from Specialty Press, www.specialtypress.com, 1-800-895-4585, ($4.95 S/H fee).

Bottom Line Up Front:
This is a very well written and illustrated summary history of the strategic air war over Germany from the perspective of the 3 main protagonists -- Germany, Britain, and the United States. I recommend it as the start point for a collection on the air war in Europe or to supplement/complete an existing collection. It is less useful if your interest is just color schemes and markings. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for the contents -- but I'm having second thoughts about the total price of $90 to $100 for both volumes.

Review:
Dr Price has been writing about aviation for several decades and is one of my favorites. This is an update of his 1973 book of the same name, a single volume of 208 8"x10" pages, containing 180 B/W photos. I don't have the original to make a comparison but the update would appear to be significant as it now totals about 320 pages and 500 photos for the 2-volume set.

Please note the title and sub-title -- the books discuss the Strategic Offensive over Germany. They do not cover the tactical air war, the Battle of Britain, the Desert Air War, the raids on the Rumanian oil fields, the war against U-Boats, etc. Dr. Price does an excellent job sticking to the subject and not straying into other topics. This is one of the things that make these books work so well -- and makes the text so informative.

sample2 Volume One starts with a brief introduction on the forces in 1939 and the few relevant actions that year. As one would expect from the dates covered, much of this volume concerns itself with the RAF Bomber Command's efforts to establish a strategic bombing program and the German efforts to counter it. Dr Price provides a very clear and logical discussion of this, covering RAF efforts to use radar and electronics to guide the bomber force and counter the German defenders; and covering the German efforts to track the attackers, guide fighters and anti-aircraft guns, and to thwart the British guidance systems.

In the latter part of Volume One, the US forces begin their contribution and Dr. Price covers this well, skipping over the early minimal efforts to get to the point where American air power and round-the-clock bombing became a significant factor and problem for the Luftwaffe. Volume One ends in October 1943, after the second major attack on Schweinfurt and neatly closes with a summary chapter that leads into Volume Two, which will allow us "to observe how events progressed in this, the largest and hardest fought air campaign in history."

sample2 Volume Two picks up in November 1943 with the US licking its wounds after Schweinfurt and building up the day bomber and fighter forces and the RAF still conducting its war at night. From there, Dr. Price nicely leads us through the strategic air war against Germany, with particular emphasis on the war of attrition on the Luftwaffe itself. Throughout Dr. Price points out that although German fighter production was still formidable the loss of trained aircrew, the reduction in fuel supplies, and the transportation problems that prevented delivery of supplies were insurmountable problems.

sample1 Although the books touch on high level decisions, and have folded in some nice individual action vignettes, the bulk of the text falls into a broad middle range, touching on development and changes in tactics and technology and discusses the tradeoffs and rationale on both sides as the air war evolved. They cover aircraft capability, flak weapons, ground and airborne radar, and other topics, all in a very logical and complimentary fashion so that one is not skipping around and changing thoughts all the time.

Volume One focuses mostly on the British and the Germans. Most of Volume Two focuses on the Germans, which is logical, the story of the Allied success is better told from the German side. The Allies were winning the war of attrition and could just keep "running at the line" to use a football analogy (and the American style of warfare); the Germans, loosing that same war of attrition, had to make more decisions, face more challenges, etc. The book concludes with a chapter on German weapons in development, but notes the shortage of fuel, parts, and adequately trained aircrews really meant they had no chance to change the course of the war.

There is very little on the downside about the text in these books. I think a brief 3-4 page chapter covering what the 3 countries brought from World War I into the 'tween war period that influenced the forces structure, equipment, and doctrine in place in 1939 would have been beneficial -- as it is one starts somewhat cold in Volume One.

sample2 Editorially, in Volume One, I found no spelling or grammatical errors in either the text or the captions -- a major plus in my view because it denotes professional concern for quality by the author and the publisher. Volume Two contains a few editing errors. The most significant is the Strength of the Luftflotte Reich chart in Chapter 10 where it appears the 10s-digit has been left off the Number Available figures for JGs 1, 3, 5, and part of JG 11. Others are minor -- in the picture on page 182, the radar aerials on the Fw190 are on the port wing, not starboard; on page 280, the Mossie serial number is given as LR503 (text) and LF503 (profile); and on page 299-300 the sole aircraft shot down by the Me163 Jagerfaust was both a Lancaster (text) and a B-17 (caption). The most annoying is the Table of Contents of Volume Two lists Appendix D, E, and F -- but the actual Appendices are A, B, and C. To make matters worse, Appendices A & B (A-D, B-E) are identical in both volumes and not really significant in either. The third appendix, C or F, covers "Code Names" and are different between the volumes, but again, not overly useful. All 3 appendices fit on one page.

The pictures are excellent -- an eclectic and well-chosen mix of aircraft, interiors, and weapons; anti-aircraft weapons, radar, and sites; leaders, pilots, and aircrew; targets before and after, operational scenes, and so on. A few of them are in color. I've seen some of these pictures before, but not so many that I felt I was getting another re-hash from the popular press. One I found very interesting (diorama prospect) was boards used to wedge a Lancaster's bomb-bay doors open, presumably to prevent them being closed on the loading crew by accident.

sample2 There are (30 total) color profiles of aircraft with caption-commentary on their color scheme. The color profiles are interesting, but add little to the book. The captions for the color profiles and their related pictures seem to have been prepared separately and not correlated. In at least one case there was a conflict (the base for the Whitleys of 102 Sqdn). Mostly I think a single caption would have worked better.

Very little hard aircraft data is given, either in tables or text, although most aircraft, weapons, and radars are completely named. Captions for the pictures contain max and cruise speed at a single altitude, take-off weight, number and type of guns. There is no range data, no crew data, no ammo capacity, no bomb load data -- and take-off weight is certainly an odd statistic to choose out of all those available.

The books provide, at 6-9 month intervals, tables showing Luftwaffe fighter strength by unit and aircraft. There is no equivalent series of tables for the Allied bomber and escort forces and I think the comparison would have been useful.

There are a couple very general maps, but I think the "usual" maps showing the general locations of German cities, industry, and air defenses along with the Allied bases and escort ranges would have enhanced the book.

The biggest omission is of footnotes and a bibliography -- given the style of the book, I can do without the former, but never the latter. The book almost begs you to chase off into more detail and a bibliography would have greatly assisted that, as well as reinforced the scholarship. I had hoped Volume Two had a bibliography, but it does not and this really brings the cost into question.

I have to wonder why this was produced in this "coffee table" format and in two volumes -- it had to drive up the expense. The chapter numbers and page numbers are contiguous, so it is more one book in two volumes than a two-volume set. While Volume One could stand on it's own, Volume Two really does not. I guess two fifty-dollar books were seen as more attractive than one 80 or 90 dollar book, I don't know. I think a less "glitzy" single volume would have resulted in a lower cost yet still highly acceptable and informative work.

Summary:
Despite the shortfalls, these are great books -- I highly recommend them to anyone with an interest in the air war over Europe during World War II. As my WW2 aviation library is heavy on the Eighth Air Force, I learned a lot about the air war at night and I appreciated the well-written story of the day actions. Both volumes are extremely well organized and written -- I do not know how one could read them and not be highly satisfied. But, while I recommend reading these books, I am not sure I can recommend paying list price for them. If you decide that you want them in your collection, you will not be wasting your money.

I would like to thank Specialty Press and IPMS for providing the review samples.

 
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