I really enjoyed this book about the RAF's Bomber Command in the second world war. It appears to be the seminal work on British bomber activity during the war, and was somewhat controversial when it first came out because it concludes that the British bomber effort was initially poorly managed, improperly directed throughout, and in the end, did not contribute nearly what its proponents claimed it would towards eventual victory.
Having recently read a similar book on the activities of American bombers during the war, as well as the book on the dams raid, it was not completely new territory, but it was still a very interesting read (or listen) and probably required reading for anyone interested in the bomber offensive in Europe.
I don't disagree with the author's premise regarding the efficacy of the British bomber offensive, but would note that even absent a causal role in defeating Germany, the bomber offensive still played an important part in providing Britain with a way of fighting back in the first years of the war when it could not go on the offensive anywhere else, and its activities did force Germany to spend enormous sums on air defense and repair of damaged facilities, even though given the constantly increasing German war effort, it never did more than bend the upward curve of German economic growth during the war. But in addition to the loss of life in terms of skilled air crews, given that the manufacture and operation of the Lancaster heavy bomber force is estimated to have consumed approximately a third of Britain's wartime economy, Hastings makes the point that the expenditure was simply not worth the return in terms of the damage to Germany's war effort.
And all of this avoids the central issue in the minds of many – was the offensive against the cities of Germany, rather than its factories and military targets morally justified? Keep in mind, of course, there was almost no form of bombing over cloud – covered central Europe that was not going to result in some civilian casualties. But Bomber Harris deliberately targeted civilian cities for the purpose of attempting to break German morale in order to in the war earlier – something that Britain already knew at the time he began was an unsuccessful strategy when Germany tried it against Britain. And after four years of bombing, culminating in bombing during the final six months of the war of an intensity that no one could have foreseen, German morale was still unaffected.
And while in conjunction with the US strategic bomber forces operating out of Britain and Italy, the bomber offensive did eventually shut down the German war machine by attacks on its oil refineries,, that happened almost simultaneously with the final overrunning of Germany by ground forces, and thus did not have a causal effect on the end of the war. But one of the points Hastings makes is that while "area bombing" of cities was not unknown by US bomber forces, which generally intended what it called precision bombing of military targets (precision being a misnomer much of the time), Harris never had any patience for what he called "panacea targets" and intended to level Germany one city at a time as what he thought would result in a quicker end the war. He turned out to be wrong about both what he should have been attacking, and what the effect would have been. And this is why a significantly smaller British bomber force after 1942 would have been no less effective in forwarding the Allies' war effort, as Hastings sees it, admittedly in hindsight.
This is my second Hastings book, following Catastrophe about the first year of World War I and it was not nearly the painful slog that that one was, although I still think it is because the structure of that book did not lend itself to a logical ending. I would have appreciated a little more about what happened to Bomber Command after the war, as well as more about the public controversy about "terror bombing" but that is actually a different book or two, also by Hastings.