Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Terror From the Sky: The Doodlebug War (Four Stars)

During the last stages of WWII Germany launched a weapon it called the V1, an unmanned flying bomb which was the predecessor of today's cruise missiles. London, the primary target of the V1s at the beginning of Hitler's terror campaign, had already taken the brunt of Hitler's "Blitz" and Air Defence Great Britain rose to this new challenge.

When reading the book you have to keep in mind that there were two means of defense against the "buzz bombs:" ground-based and air-interception. The ground-based defense was provided by Anti-Aircraft Command and the guns which hammered away at the V1s, using shrapnel and high-explosives to bring them down. The other was air interception, the use of high-speed fighters which had only the narrowest of an edge on the bombs. The Tempests, Spitfires and Mustangs were guided by controllers on the ground to shoot down the V1s before they reached London.

Thomas does a good job discussing the problem the defenders were faced with: where should the interceptions take place... should they be over the Channel? Should they be over the countriside between London and the coast? And where should the AAA be placed? Leaving it in London did the Germans' job for them: ensuring that the bombs fell on the city. Should the guns be placed around London as a last-ditch defense? Or should the guns be placed along the coast, which would result in damaged V1s landing in the Channel or (hopefully) empty fields short of London? In the end, hard decisions were made which seemed to optimize all elements of air defense.

With that being said, the book is primarily concerned with the interceptors, especially Tempests. The airmen who flew in these interception missions are to be commended... the destruction of a V1 required skill to intercept and nerves of steel to pursue and fire into the machine, which was likely to explode only a few hundred yards in front of the fighter. However, Thomas has listed interception after interception of V1s, making for a bit of deja vu as the reader tries to get through it all. Obviously not every interception of a V1 is listed in this book but after a while it feels like it. In the meantime, interesting tidbits like the V1 painted to look like a U.S. Air Force plane (!) get buried in the details. Also, specifics about ground interception techniques and coordination measures between the fighters and the AAA are sketchy... I felt this would have made for a more interesting book.

The book is well-written and illustrated with period photographs.

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