on February 2, 2010
Over the years Martin Bowman has written a number of excellent books on the 8th AF, in most respects taking the unofficial '8th AF historian' crown away from the late and much-respected Roger Freeman. ON THE HIGHWAYS OF THE SKIES may be Bowman's crowning achievement, being an exhaustive 360-page ode to the Mighty Eighth. Packed with hundreds of first-person accounts, it tells the story of the 8th AF's war as no other book has. Eighth Air Force fans will want to add this prize to their collection.
ON THE HIGHWAYS OF THE SKIES is a multi-dimensional portrait of 8th AF ops. By that, I mean Bowman includes accounts, some quite lengthy, from 8th AF bomber crewmen, 8th AF fighter pilots, Luftwaffe pilots, German flak gunners, etc. to give the reader a 'from-all-sides' perspective of the missions flown and air battles waged by the Mighty Eighth. Though Bowman charts the development of the 8th, he doesn't devote much space to organizational changes, technical matters, camouflages and markings, etc. as, for instance, Freeman did in his magnum opus THE MIGHTY EIGHTH. Rather Bowman's thrust is "men at war" and he does a marvelous job of immersing the reader in the excitement, terror and drudgery of 8th AF ops.
The book is illustrated with 64 pages of b&w and color photographs of 8th AF and Luftwaffe aircrews, B-17s, B-24s, P-51s, P-38s, P-47s, Bf 109s, FW 190s, air combat scenes, crash sites, flight-line activity, etc. The photos are included in three inserts rather than being incorporated with the text.
As much as I love this book, I had to give it four stars. (I would have given it 4 1/2 stars if possible). Two reasons why. First, no index! ON THE HIGHWAYS OF THE SKIES is serious history. Hundreds of men, American and German, and dozens of units are featured; an index is an absolute necessity! Secondly, there is no final summation at the end of the book of the Mighty Eighth's record. After all that history, it would have been fitting to tell the reader what it all meant, what was accomplished and the cost. As written, the war ends, the men/groups depart, boom, the end.
Those criticisms aside, ON THE HIGHWAYS OF THE SKIES is THE definitive story of the Mighty Eighth at war. Through the many, many first-person reminiscences he has compiled, Bowman offers air combat buffs an unparalleled 'in-the-cockpit' view of 8th AF ops. It's a masterful accomplishment, a great read and a first-rate tribute to those brave, young men who made history so many decades ago. Highly recommended.