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Hostile Skies

June 2024
1min read

Clash of Wings
World War II in the Air


by Walter J. Boyne, Simon & Schuster, 415 pages, $25.00 . CODE: SAS-8

The air war began with a trio of Stuka dive bombers attacking Polish railroad bridges and ended with a lone B-29 opening its bomb-bay doors over Nagasaki. “The difference in capability between the slow, angular Stuka,” writes the veteran airman Walter J. Boyne, “its very shape a swastika in the sky, and the beautiful silver B-29 cruising high over Japan is a perfect example of the expansion of airpower that took place in six years of war. The relatively small 250kilogram bombs the Stukas used at Dirschau related directly to the past; the 23-kiloton yield of the ‘Fat Man’ bomb used at Nagasaki cast a terrible shadow for the future.”

What happened in between those two events is an immensely complicated tale made admirably clear by Boyne and told with vigor and conviction. His brisk, well-written history finds a nice balance between the technical elements and the human ones while it retells the familiar (but endlessly absorbing) story of the Battle of Britain, retrieves the woefully underappreciated efforts of the Russian air force, nods to the futile and forgotten gallantry of the Italian fliers, and follows America’s airborne fortunes from the hapless early days of the appropriately named Boeing P-26 Peashooter to the unchallengeable might of the Superfortresses.

The succinct appendix of aircraft types that closes the book gives the Douglas SBD Dauntless an epitaph any warplane would be proud to call its own: “Low-wing, all-metal, Ed Heinemann-designed dive-bomber; won Battle of Midway, and with it, Pacific war.”

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