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The Road to Big Week

by Eric Hammel, Pacifica Military History, Pacifica, Calif., 2009, $32.95.

In his excellent new book, Eric Hammel maintains his usual rigorous standards of research and writing in telling the complete story of the struggle for daylight air superiority over Western Europe. Starting at the correct, though often overlooked, starting point—November 12, 1918— Hammel takes readers through the development of the U.S. Army Air Service and Army Air Corps, analyzing the leadership, equipment and tactics that led the United States to make exactly the wrong decisions about air power well into World War II. He explains how sincere bomber advocates controlled the spending of the minuscule military budgets during the pre-WWII years, and how they firmly believed heavily armed bombers could fight their way through enemy defenses and do decisive damage.

They were of course quite wrong, for while the bombers could always get through, they could not achieve their planners’ aims—for a variety of reasons. No one anticipated just how effective the Luftwaffe would be in defending its homeland. No one had any idea how weather would adversely affect missions. There was no real concept of the genuine damage that 500-pound bombs could do to industrial structures. The existing concepts of “precision bombing” were all valid on the test ranges in California, but of far less worth in combat. And no one had any idea how resilient civilian populations would be in the face of continual bombing, night and day.

There are two almost mandatory reasons to buy this book. First, it precisely details the events leading to victory in the air in Europe. Second, given that many of publishing’s venerable institutions—mega bookstores, huge publishing houses, large advances, big print runs, book tours—are disappearing in the wake of the flagging economy and the advent of electronic publishing, Hammel has chosen a different route to print. He published this book himself, and you can buy it directly from him. I predict that in five years most books will be written, sold and published this way, and Hammel has set a great example.


Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.