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Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945 Paperback – April 26, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Tillman, who has written many books on WWII aviation, scales from histories of particular types of warplane up to, in this volume, a history of an entire air war. Spanning the American air campaign against the Japanese home islands, which began with the famous Doolittle Raid of April 1942 and concluded with several conventional attacks mounted after the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tillman centers on the B-29 bomber as the war-winning weapon. Hampered by technical problems in development, the plane’s effectiveness was also limited by its initial basing in India and China and its operators’ doctrinal fixation on high-altitude “precision” bombing. As Tillman recounts, only when based in the Mariana Islands and commanded by a general (of whom Tillman is a biographer, LeMay,2005) who firebombed enemy cities from low altitude did the B-29 vindicate its fearsome potential. Also recounting attacks by American carrier aircraft and the atomic bombings, Tillman tenders his verdicts on controversies about their strategic utility or justification, and embeds combat experiences in a narrative sure to engross WWII readers. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Advance Praise for


"Sweeping and authoritative, Barrett Tillman's "Whirlwind "puts the reader in the cockpit as Allied and Japanese airmen battle to the death in the broad skies of the Pacific, but never loses sight of the larger strategic issues and perspectives of the war, nor of the human cost that it extracted." --Richard Hallion, former chief historian of the U.S. Air Force

"Barrett Tillman's "Whirlwind" is a concise, rigorous and authoritative miracle of military history. It's also a great read. I couldn't put it down." --Stephen Hunter, author of "I, Sniper" and "The 47th Samurai"


"Whirlwind" is the most authoritative account ever of the terrifying American air war against Japan, which both forced Tokyo's surrender and saved countless lives in the long run. This powerful book should put an end to the misguided moralizing to the contrary." --Andrew Nagorski, author of "The Greatest Battle

"""Whirlwind" has the critical elements to separate it from the pack of cockpit and command aviation histories: it is vivid, lucid and human. But it is something much more: it provides the essential foundation for the examination of the impact of conventional airpower as a fundamental cause of Japan's surrender." --Richard B. Frank, author of "Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire"

"A sparkling tale of one of the most fascinating battlefronts of World War II. Tillman pulls together the aerial battles, planning sessions, kills and sacrifices into a coherent narrative that will leave readers pondering the fate of nations and individuals in war, when the call is often to perform the impossible and the call is met with surprising frequency." --Robert W. Merry, author of "A Country of Vast Designs"

"This is a story of great heroism and of technological triumph on a grand scale--the building of the B-29 alone is worth a book--and of the vindication of air power as the ultimate weapon of war. "Whirlwind" isf

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416584412
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416584414
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Barrett Tillman (b. 1948) was born into a NE Oregon ranching family and developed an early interest in aviation history. He learned to fly as a teenager, was first published at age 15, and graduated from the University of Oregon with a journalism degree in 1971. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, book publisher, and magazine editor, but has been self employed all but seven years since graduating from college. Though best known for his histories of US naval aviation, he also has published six novels plus short stories, and has sold a screenplay.

Tillman continues writing nonfiction books and has written more than 550 articles in the US and abroad. He frequently appears as a commentator on TV documentaries in addition to his speaking appearances. The recipient of six writing awards, he lives with his wife in Arizona.

Tillman's web site and blog are found at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Russell on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Here is the whole story of the aerial assault on the Japanese home islands from 1942 to 1945. There have been other excellent works on various aspects of the campaign, but Barrett Tillman's latest effort encompasses the entire story, covering virtually every mission against the home islands flown by both American and British forces during the war.

When I first learned that this book was in the works, I initially thought that it was going to be another lengthy tome on the B-29s that carried the vast majority of the bombload against Japan. Instead, I was pleased to see that Tillman has included the entire story, from the Doolittle raid barely 3 months after the Pearl Harbor attack to last photoreconnaissance sortie over Japan after the surrender in 1945.

While the B-29 saga is not the entire book, the plane's development, deployment, and operations are nonetheless thoroughly covered. Tillman doesn't hold anything back on that score, since the B-29 story was mostly one of failure until General LeMay made a drastic, almost bizarre change in mission tactics months after the first bomb fell from a Superfort. The advent of nighttime low-level firebombing by massed B-29 formations literally changed the campaign from one of failed expectations to stunning success.

Some reviewers have given Tillman's other aviation history books low marks because of his somewhat casual writing style and his bias towards nonstop action as opposed to a more scholarly approach to the subject. It would be regrettable to see that here as other reviews accumulate, because it's Tillman's unique style that makes Whirlwind a truly great read. If you want scholarly history on the bombing of Japan or any other element of World War II, voluminous references abound.
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49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Check Six on February 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
When I saw the first ads for this book I thought that somebody MUST have covered all allied air operations over Japan in one volume before--but apparently not. At least I couldn't find it. In that regard alone, Whirlwind fills a gap in military/naval/aviation history that has existed for 65 years.

It's understandable that most of what's been published focuses on B-29 missions from China and the Marianas. But Tillman does an excellent job of merging all the air forces that flew over the Japanese home islands, and the often overlooked US Navy, Marine Corps and British units receive much deserved attention. The background chapters describing the evolution of army and naval aviation are thorough without being excessive, and the author does an especially good job describing the individuals who produced operating doctrine and procedures as well as influencing the hardware: aircraft and ships.

Probably the least known aspect of the Japanese air campaign is covered in a short appendix: Army and Navy operations from the Aleutian Islands to the Kuriles. The book would not have suffered much from omitting that section, but it's definitely enhanced by the inclusion of the "Empire Express" missions.

The photo section is interesting in itself: a fine variety with good quality reproduction.

It's obvious that Tillman knows his subject, and he reports its sacrifice and horror chillingly, as in a memorable passage describing the March 1945 fire bombing of Tokyo. We can be thankful that he and other "last minute" historians are recording such stories while there are still some WW II veterans to relate their tales. A quick look at the contributors shows that many are already deceased, so this book probably could not have been written in another five years.
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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Walter J. Boyne on March 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Author Barrett Tillman has produced a welcome reminder of the efficacy of air power in Whirlwind. The most authentic and interesting presentation yet of the powerful 1945 air campaign in which true air power was realized for the first time, Whirlwind achieves every author's aim by being both scholarly and immensely readable. In telling the story of the U.S.A.A.F.'s pell-mell growth first to maturity and then to ascendancy in the skies over Japan, Tillman combines history in painstaking detail with the warm human drama of the conflict. One unusual, difficult but very valuable contribution is the care he takes to present both the American and the Japanese points of view at every level, from combat crewmember to commander.

The author covers all aspects of the air campaign against Japan, from Jimmy Doolittle's famous strike through the searing power of General LeMay's intensive fire-bombing campaign and le coup de grace of two atomic bombs. The accounts of the remarkable results from the B-29 aerial mining campaign are a welcome addition to the book, reminding us again of just how versatile the big Boeing bomber proved to be.

Tillman pulls no punches, laying out in detail just how destructive the bombing raids were but also reminding us of what a dreadful enemy the Japanese military proved to be with their heartless slaughter of captured airmen and their demonstrated intent to use every able civilian to repel an invasion. There is much to be learned from this book about World War II, and perhaps even more on the proper conduct of warfare at the present time, when the exercise of air power seems to be shelved in favor of futile attempts to win hearts and minds.
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