Long before he entered politics, when he was just in his early 20s, South Dakotan George McGovern flew 35 bomber missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery under fire. Stephen Ambrose, the industrious historian, focuses on McGovern and the young crew of his B-24 bomber, volunteers all, in this vivid study of the air war in Europe.
Manufactured by a consortium of companies that included Ford Motor and Douglas Aircraft, the B-24 bomber, dubbed the Liberator, was designed to drop high explosives on enemy positions well behind the front lines--and especially on the German capital, Berlin. Unheated, drafty, and only lightly armored, the planes were dangerous places to be, and indeed, only 50 percent of their crews survived to the war's end. Dangerous or not, they did their job, delivering thousand- pound bombs to targets deep within Germany and Austria.
In his fast-paced narrative, Ambrose follows many other flyers (including the Tuskegee Airmen, the African American pilots who gave the B-24s essential fighter support on some of their most dangerous missions) as they brave the long odds against them, facing moments of glory and terror alike. "It would be an exaggeration to say that the B-24 won the war for the Allies," Ambrose writes. "But don't ask how they could have won the war without it." --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Brought to life by best-selling historian Ambrose (author of more than 20 books), here is one of America's forgotten workhorse weapons of WWII the B-24 bomber. Carrying a heavier payload than the glamorous B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24, nicknamed the Liberator, also filled the skies over Germany, bombing troops, oil refineries, factories and other strategic targets. South Dakota-born George S. McGovern was 22 when he became a B-24 pilot in the 741st Bomb Squadron, based in Cerignola, Italy. Though basing the book largely on McGovern's 35 missions, for which he won the Distinguished Flying Cross, Ambrose includes many other stories about the men who flew over Germany and eastern Europe. As Ambrose makes abundantly clear, the planes were not fun to fly. The crew faced inside temperatures of 50 below zero, sat in cramped seats and suffered high casualty rates. Ambrose follows pilots and crews from start to finish where they were from, their backgrounds, training, bravery and heroism as they did their part to help win the war. Today there are only four B-24s left of the 18,300 that once made up the force. While this book leans largely toward hagiography of the everymen it depicts, it also clearly refutes lies spread about McGovern's service during the 1972 presidential campaign. Photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)Forecast: Any book with the Ambrose name should do a short stint on bestseller lists; this one should pick up some (largely unrelated) momentum from the Pearl Harbor anniversary and film. The book's release coincides with the airing of a 10-part Dreamworks/ HBO series based on Ambrose's Band of Brothers.
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