Share This Article

Mission to Berlin: The American Airmen Who Struck the Heart of Hitler’s Reich  By Robert F. Dorr. 336 pp. Zenith Press, 2011. $28.

On February 3, 1945, more than a thousand heavy bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force, protected by 948 fighters, delivered a devastating blow to the center of the Nazi capital. Some regard this raid as a turning point in the U.S. air effort, a shift away from precision strikes on military targets and toward the area bombing of population centers. In this beautifully written account of that day’s actions, veteran airpower historian Robert F. Dorr confronts that debate, but his main focus is on the American combat leaders, pilots, crewmen, and machines, and the hostile environment in which they operated.

Dorr’s central purpose here is to capture the human drama of the Berlin mission—and a type of combat not likely to be seen again. He has succeeded superbly. Mission To Berlin is based on a remarkable collection of 182 interviews with dozens of mission veterans, family members, and historians. Dorr is a master at respectfully reconciling often-conflicting versions of events gleaned from human memory, contemporary documents, and postwar research—the art at the core of oral history. At points, he candidly notes that some eyewitness accounts he cites cannot be verified.

Every few chapters, Dorr intersperses a reasonable—if familiar—historical overview of the entire bombing campaign from 1942 to 1945 to provide context for the general reader. But his narrative of the Berlin mission is what shines. He deftly weaves accounts about aircraft and crews from all parts of the vast bomber stream, augmented with details of the fighter escort and a secondary raid against Magdeburg that same day. By 1945, the Eighth was powerful enough to strike multiple targets in great strength. Conspicuously absent was the Luftwaffe’s fighter arm: German fighters failed to engage the American armada. Still, flak fire— especially from Berlin’s six hulking flak towers—took a considerable toll in casualties, as well as in destroyed and damaged aircraft. (Oddly, Dorr omits a concise tally of the raid’s total cost.) Even this late in the war, bombing Hitler’s ruined capital was no milk run.

Originally published in the February 2012 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.