A Mighty Fortress: Lead Bomber Over Europe
Contributor: David Stubblebine
Review Date: 26 Aug 2015
In this book, the author tells his own World War II story. This fits the very definition of a remembrance type book as opposed to a history book but for me, A Mighty Fortress works equally well either way.
Charles Alling was raised in New Jersey and arrived in Britain in the fall of 1944 as a pilot of a B-17 Fortress with the 34th Bomb Group based at Mendlesham in Suffolk. After flying his initial missions over France and Germany, he was selected as a lead pilot. Sometimes that meant he flew the lead plane in one of the trailing squadrons and sometimes he flew the lead bomber in the lead squadron which was leading the entire group. A few times he was the lead pilot for the entire Eighth Air Force.
But Captain Alling did not tell his story in terms of targets or missions except to create context for his larger story, which was a very human story. He shared his vulnerabilities as he went into combat and also described how he had to wall off those feelings, to a certain extent, in order to do his job and while also keeping his sanity. One of the book's themes was Alling's deep admiration of and his camaraderie with the other members of his crew. He described some of the several instances where he and his crew narrowly avoided disaster. By extension, I took Capt Alling's story to substantially describe the private thoughts of all Eighth Air Force airmen and, indeed, everyone who went off to war from any nation. For me, this change in perspective was important and healthy; to not only look at campaigns as great swaths of armies sweeping over the map but also to consider the participants individually and the internal processes each of them had to go through to keep putting one boot in front of the other.
The book itself was a particularly easy read and came at a time when I needed a book just like that. At regular intervals throughout the book, there are single pages with a piece of poetry generally related to the topic. These pages were probably wasted on me because I am such a blockhead, but I could appreciate them just the same and I am sure other readers would get more out of them. The book is a perfect length; just long enough to say what the author started out to say but no longer (179 pages in this case) but as I got to the end, I was sorry there was no more.
I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone, but particularly to people interested in the European bombing campaign.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945