The best books on British Bomber Command in World War 2

The Books I Picked & Why

Yesterday's Gone

By N. J. Crisp

Yesterday's Gone

Why this book?

The book tells the story of the fictional Squadron Leader David Kirby, from the slums of Southampton, to flying training in Oklahoma, to his final operation in command of a Lancaster. Crisp was one of the most prolific stage and TV writers of his generation (credits include Secret Army, Colditz, and Enemy at the Door), and his novel has all of the authenticity of a man who clearly went through many of the experiences he describes. If you know nothing about Bomber Command and want to bring some meaning to the experiences they went through and the places they trained, and distinguish between your ITWs and OTUs, this is a great way of doing it with a fabulous story besides.


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Pathfinder

By Don Bennett

Pathfinder

Why this book?

My personal favourite is the book by the man himself – Pathfinder by Air Vice Marshal Donald Bennett. No-one could be better placed to chart the history and success of PFF than the C-in-C 8 Group himself, and his brilliantly direct style and merciless assassination of some of his contemporaries makes me wince and smile every time I read it. His thinly veiled attacks on 5 Group, 617 Squadron and Sir Ralph Cochrane (whose name is misspelled throughout!) are well-worth reading, though he is rather economical with the truth on occasion to support his own arguments and prejudices. If you never knew about the conflict between Bennett and Cochrane, and how betrayed Bennett felt by Harris when the latter supported the 5 Group method of target marking later in the war, this will open your eyes. And see if you don’t laugh out loud as I did when Bennett says he considers Cochrane a friend! Genius.


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Eighth Passenger: A Flight of Recollection & Discovery

By Miles Tripp

Eighth Passenger: A Flight of Recollection & Discovery

Why this book?

My favourite autobiography is The Eighth Passenger by Miles Tripp. First published in 1969, the book charts the author’s journey to re-discover his former crewmates 30-years after they had last met and flown operations. He seeks to discover how they felt both then and now, and whether his experiences were shared. What really comes across is how extraordinarily ‘ordinary’ they all were, and yet how they gelled into an expert crew. One of their numbers is black, a rarity at the time and adding a certain significance today, and another proves particularly elusive such that you wonder whether he will ever be found. The author very cleverly weaves in the past and the present, their experiences as a Lancaster crew, and what happened after demob and a return to civilian life. It’s a very intelligent book that will ultimately lead you to the identity of The Eighth Passenger.


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Night Bombing

By Hector Hawton

Night Bombing

Why this book?

My favourite reference book is another wartime publication, the little-known Night Bombing by Hector Hawton (who also wrote The Men who Fly). First published in 1944, the tiny volume looks at the history and principles of air bombing, including the technical aspects, and goes on to explore methods of attack, targets, and the effectiveness of enemy defences including the ballistic characteristics of various flak guns. It feels and reads like a contemporary handbook for bomber captains, and the fact that my copy still bears the signature of the original owner, a Flight Lieutenant with the DFC, probably tells you everything you need to know about its authenticity and importance.


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The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany 1939-1945

By Sir Charles Webster, Noble Frankland

The Strategic Air Offensive against Germany 1939-1945

Why this book?

There is really only one book that is essential reading, and that’s the Official History of the Strategic Air Offensive against Germany 1939-1945 by Charles Webster and Noble Frankland. First published in 1961, the history, over three volumes with a further dedicated volume of appendices, is a true Magnum Opus, a very detailed account of Bomber Command’s part in the war, from the first, costly daylight attacks on enemy shipping to the final onslaught when the Command could regularly lay on a force well in excess of 1,000 bombers over Germany virtually at will. Brilliantly researched and wonderfully written, the read is well worth the investment in time and money.


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