To Kingdom Come
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 11 Jun 2011
Full Title: To Kingdom Come: An Epic Saga of Survival in the Air War Over Germany
On 6 Sep 1943, over 300 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers took from Britain for a deep-penetration raid against the ball bearing factories in Stuttgart, Germany. The combination of the lack of long range fighter escorts, the long distance, and the need to make multiple passes over the target area caused a significantly high rate of loss: 45 bombers failed to return. This particular raid was the climax of Robert Mrazek's To Kingdom Come.
Mrazek began the book by introducing the background stories of each of the key players of the raid, including the pilots, crewmen, the generals, and others. As their independent stories converged in Britain, a description of the Stuttgart raid vividly brought out the helplessness of flying through anti-aircraft barrages and the intensity of fighting off German fighter attacks without the aid of friendly fighters. As many of the crews were shot down, the other half of the story had only begun, as the surviving airmen, scattered throughout Germany, France, and even Switzerland, faced a wide array of obstacles in their efforts to return to Britain. Mrazek did a good job from the perspective of those who directed operations from behind the front lines as well, detailing General Ira Eaker's frustration in being pressured to launch large scale deep penetration raids from his superior General Henry "Hap" Arnold, but yet not being supplied with enough fighters to support the mission; to that end, however, he seemed to be expressing a personal bias, taking on Eaker's side. The tales of the downed airmen, whether it was a story in captivity or a story of escape, were narrated by the author skillfully and dramatically. He successfully maintained a good balance between the history of the Stuttgart raid and the memoirs of mission participants. The book described the technical side of a bombing mission as well, covering everything from staggered flying formations of the bombers (as well as tactics employed by German fighters to attack such formations) to the use of "Tokyo tanks" to extend the range of flight.
I had reviewed the book in its audio format. David Drummond did a fine job with the reading, even attempting to imitate the various accents, whether it was the American Southern Drawl or French. The accents were not always perfect, but through his attempt he added personality to the quotes of many among the cast of characters.
The bombing war in WW2 was cold and impersonal. The airmen far up in the skies released bombs at factories and cities, destroying and killing without ever coming face-to-face with their victims. Though one-sided, as this book focused nearly entirely on the American side of the story, To Kingdom Come nevertheless did a fine job in adding names and faces to remind us that the bombing war was not just about machines and buildings. This book would complement well with titles that touches upon witnesses of such raids from the ground on the receiving end.
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Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, at Guadalcanal