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Mission to Berlin: The American Airmen Who Struck the Heart of Hitler’s Reich

 by Robert F. Dorr, Zenith, Minneapolis, 2011, $28.

 Bob Dorr follows up on his well-received book Hell Hawks (co-authored by Thomas Jones) with this masterpiece, which details the famous February 3, 1945, American daylight raid on Berlin. In doing so, Dorr has written five books in one. The obvious book relates just how daring, complex and demanding the raid was, even in the last year of the war. The second book paints a picture of the air war as a whole. The third explores the historical and technical foundations of the raid, relating how Allied and Axis aircraft and weapons were developed and how they performed over the length of the war. The fourth and perhaps most important book is a subliminal message, pointing out that while the United States in 1945 could deploy a massive arsenal of weapons—including 15,000 airmen in more than 1,000 aircraft, to deliver death to an enemy who lacked the capacity to harm Americans at home—today, faced with an enemy that threatens our homeland, we are having difficulty funding our military forces.

By virtue of his in-depth research and broad background, Dorr has far surpassed the now ubiquitous “Ambrose approach”— using personal accounts to advance a story line. He incorporates a minute-by-minute account of the raid as the book’s skeleton, driving the narrative forward as the mission progresses. He tells the stories of many of the individuals involved, from commanders such as Jimmy Doolittle down to the men piloting bombers and fighters. You learn exactly how a belly gunner operates his turret; how the pilot and copilot start, taxi, take off and fly the aircraft; how navigators plot their courses amid huge formations; and how hard bombardiers struggle—sometimes even after they have been grievously wounded—to land their bombs on target.

For any reader who’s just beginning to delve into the history of World War II air combat, Mission to Berlin is a soup-to-nuts crash course in itself. Dorr’s notes and bibliography can point anyone to comprehensive knowledge. Any expert will be gratified by the consistent manner in which the author ties the events he is describing to other lesser-known facts, such as the introduction of the Azon bomb. Dorr’s pointillist style enables him to create a great mural of the war, with thousands of tiny dots of details. The result is pure reading pleasure.


Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here