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Paperback The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 Book

ISBN: 0743223098

ISBN13: 9780743223096

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45

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Book Overview

Stephen E. Ambrose, acclaimed author of Band of Brothers and Undaunted Courage , carries us along in the crowded and dangerous B-24s as their crews fought to destroy the German war machine during World War II. The young men who flew the B-24s over Germany in World War II fought against horrific odds, and, in The Wild Blue, Ambrose recounts their extraordinary heroism, skill, daring, and comradeship with vivid detail and affection. Ambrose describes...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

So Courageous...and So Young

Having read all of Ambrose's previous books, I began to read this one with certain expectations: That the nature and extent of his coverage of the subject, for example, would be comparable with his coverage of the Lewis and Clark expeditions and the construction of the Intercontinental Railroad. In fact it is not. What we seem to have is more of a briefing on rather than a definitive analysis of "the men and boys who flew the B-24s over Germany." It is a great read, combining a lucid and lively writing style with exceptionally interesting information. I had no idea how dangerous the B-24 was to fly. (Ambrose characterizes it as "sternly unforgiving.") Nor how unpleasant it was to fly in it. (According to Ambrose, the temperature in its unheated cabin was frequently sub-zero). It was called the Liberator or "Lib" for short but also had several other nicknames which included "Flying Box Car", "New York Harbor Garbage Scows with Wings", "Spam Can in the Sky", and "The Old Agony Wagon." I had forgotten that almost all of those who flew it as well as the B-17 (the "Flying Fortress") were in their early twenties. I was reminded of that fact, portrayed so vividly in the film Memphis Belle and ignored in an otherwise flawless film, Twelve O'Clock High.Ambrose devotes much of his attention to pilot Lt. George McGovern (age 22) and his crew as they struggle to stay alive long enough to fulfill their strategic obligations while completing the required 35 missions. (McGovern later served as a U.S. Senator and was the Democratic Party's candidate for President in 1972.) This is a brilliant narrative device, first because McGovern and those who flew with him in the Dakota Queen are obviously representative of thousands of B-24 bomber crews but also because the historical and technical information provided by Ambrose is anchored within a human context, one which is often poignant and at times tragic. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has read one or more of Ambrose's previous books; also to those who have a special interest in World War Two; and finally, to those who share my amazement and admiration when introduced to unexceptional people whose accomplishments are anything but.

Ambrose Hits the Patriotism Target Again

Stephen Ambrose, who has written many books about the war, has now covered the B-25 Liberator in _The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany_. Like some of his previous books, it is filled with wonder that regular American boys were able to get the job done: "From whence came such men?" This book (like Ambrose's _Citizen Soldiers_) answers the question, but doesn't diminish our sense of wonder. It is not really a history of the plane. Ambrose concentrates on one squadron flying out of Italy, and even more particularly on the plane of one pilot, George McGovern. There were those who loathed McGovern's anti-Vietnam War stance when he ran against Nixon in 1972. Some rabid right-wingers even circulated stories of his Army cowardice. Nothing could be further from the truth; McGovern was as tough as the plane he piloted."The B-24 was built like a 1930s Mack Truck," writes Ambrose. Over eighteen thousand of the planes were made, more than any other airplane ever built. It was designed simply to carry lots of heavy bombs a long distance and fast, and so it did, but there was little it offered in the way of subtlety or comfort to the crew. There was no power steering; the pilot came back from flying maybe ten hours with exhausted arms and legs from muscling the plane to behave. The seats were cramped and unpadded. There was no pressurization, so above 10,000 feet, the nine men in the crew had to wear oxygen masks. There was no heat, despite temperatures of 50 below zero at higher altitudes, and if the bomb bay doors were open, the wind cut throughout the plane. The crew had to plug their suits into electrical outlets for heating. Oxygen masks often froze to faces. There were urinals in the form of fore and aft relief tubes, but heavy layers of clothes made these hard to use without leakage, and the tubes often froze. Ambrose spends a third of the book detailing the training of the pilots and their crews to fly these primitive, effective machines, and then takes them to Europe. The crews were to fly thirty-five missions before being cycled back to the States. The odds were not good; the Fifteenth Air Force had 5,000 bombers and the Germans shot down almost half of them. The anecdotes he tells are vivid and exciting.Astonishingly, McGovern was twenty-two years old at the time, and some of his crew were teenagers. This is just the sort of tale Ambrose serves up well, that of hero worship for ordinary guys showing extraordinary heroism in an unambiguously patriotic effort against evil. When he writes, "Along with all the peoples of the Allied nations, they saved Western civilization," there is admiration, but no hyperbole. As the crews that fought the war are now leaving us, Ambrose has performed superb service in helping us acknowledge once again what we owe them. The B-24s have already left us. Of all the thousands manufactured, almost all were scrapped within a year after the war. Three are in museums, and one

Boys to men

This book has two central characters and is mostly a story about their shared experiences. The first subject is 2nd Lt. George McGovern, who in 1944 was just a typical US Army Air Force pilot; nothing here hints at the man, who, nearly 30 years later, would run for US president. The second is a machine, the B-24 Liberator, and one plane in particular - McGovern's "Dakota Queen", which he piloted on 35 bombing missions over Germany from his base in Cerignola, Italy, as part of the 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group. THE WILD BLUE then has a narrow focus and is less about the broad role of the bomber in the air war over Europe - that story about the more famous and glamorous B-17 and the 8th Air Force - has been told already in books like THE MIGHTY EIGHTH, a book which Ambrose himself read and rated highly. The Liberator comes by it's neglected treatment in history, and it's earned reputation as an ugly duckling quite fairly, as the following description of conditions in the plane attests. "Steering the four-engined airplane was difficult and exhausting, as there was no power except the pilot's muscles. It had no windshield wipers, so the pilot had to stick his head out the side window to see during a rain...there was no heat, despite temperatures that at 20,000 feet and higher got as low as 40 or 50 degrees below zero...the seats were not padded, could not be reclined, and were cramped into so small a space that a man had almost no chance to stretch and none whatsoever to relax. Absolutely nothing was done to make it comfortable for the pilot, co-pilot, or the other eight men in the crew..." Yet, as with all ugly ducklings, it had it's day and earned it's admirers. There were more B-24's built than any other US airplane and Ambrose says "it would be an exaggeration to say that the B-24 won the war for the Allies. But don't ask how they could have won the war without it."The greater emphasis of the book is on McGovern and his crew's experiences and it's in the telling of these stories where Ambrose's skills always shine; allowing the personal recollections of the participants to make the events come alive for us the readers. We follow the crew from induction through training to their arrival in Italy in 1944. There was danger from the outset. The book reveals that in basic and advanced flight training over 3,500 men lost their lives, 824 in 1943 alone; survival was an issue even before entering combat. McGovern and his crew experienced their fair share of adventures on missions. On one flight an engine quit, then another was hit by flak; on two engines he was losing altitude rapidly but McGovern managed to nurse the bomber down for an emergency landing on an airstrip less than half the length the B-24 normally required. For this feat McGovern earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. By highlighting McGovern's experiences are we to believe that the book is portraying him as exceptional? Not at all. The reality is that when he arrived in Italy in 1944,

Simply Fantastic!!

Stephan Ambrose has written something that verges upon legend. His accounting of the B-24, and George McGovern's time while assigned to the 455th is really a study in history. It also shows the tenacity with which he strives to include every detail.The B-24 is the "lost sheep" of airpower in WWII. Everyone seems to be fascinated with the B-17, primarily because of the press it received. Also at the top of the list is the B-29, primarily because of the atomic bombs. However, the role that was played by the B-24 was, in fact, much larger, and amassed more scope. It just had the poor luck not to be identified as an icon.One of the most important air raids in WWII was the raids on the Ploesti oilfields. B-24's handled this raid brilliantly. However, as history would have it, this one small fact has often been overlooked. Ask a handful of people today which bomber was used in this raid, and a large majority will not be able to tell you.In his telling of the B-24, Stephan Ambrose has gone all-out. His descriptive tone of narration is exquisite, making you feel that you are actually in every inch of the aircraft. His in-depth look at the more famous raids puts you right there with the crew . . . so much that you can almost feel the shock wave from the flak, and hear the sounds of the cannon rounds as they whiz by.All-in-all, this book is one for the ages. Finally, as the Tuskeegee Airmen book (and movie) did for those brave flyers, this book has finally given credit where it has been long overdue. The B-24 was aptly named "The Liberator", and it truly lived up to its name - liberating Europe and the world.

Making the Right Decisions

Review Summary: The Wild Blue is a five-star book from each of several perspectives. First, you will learn about how the United States went from having few aviation resources to fielding a larger air force than that of all the other nations combined in World War II. The complexities and careful thinking through of what needed to be done are most impressive. Second, you will learn about the role that strategic bombing played in the European theater of operations during that war. Third, you will learn what it was like to become a B-24 pilot, from the day a man volunteered to the day he returned home to the United States. Fourth, you will experience combat conditions against German fighters and flak in a lumbering, sluggish bomber in extremely difficult conditions. Fifth, you will find out how such a war-time experience changes a person?s view of themselves and others. Sixth, you will also learn about the formative influences of war on one of the most prominent American peace advocates, former senator George McGovern. If you are like me, you will never see the war in Europe in quite the same way again after you read The Wild Blue. Review: My father served on the ground in England as part of the famous Eighth Air Force in World War II. My father-in-law was a navigation instructor for bomber pilots during World War II. Although both men are proud of their service, they only tell the positive side of the air war in Europe. During rare moments over the years, they have alluded to some of the more personal and challenging sides of those years. My mother shares hints of some recurring nightmares from what other wives have told her at Air Force reunions. Although Professor Ambrose?s account is not as dark as the worst that I have heard, his lively and thorough narrative helped me to fill in many spaces where I lacked understanding of what these men had shared with me. For example, my dad had told me that the Fifteenth Air Force often had it worse than the Eighth late in the war. Since The Wild Blue focuses on the Fifteenth, I was able to understand what he was describing for me. I look forward to sharing this book with both my father and father-in-law and hearing what their reactions are to the material here. Very few books have ever helped me to understand these important men in my life as much as this one did. I have always been impressed by former senator McGovern?s commitment to peace and humanitarian concerns. I knew that he had been a bomber pilot in World War II, but little else about his war-time service. The book contains many interesting insights into his character that added to my admiration, and increased my understanding of the stands he has taken. As he characterized his experience of being a pilot, ?I literally exhausted every resource of mind and body and spirit that I had.? You will find these revelations more interesting if you read about them yourself, but I encourage you to pay close attention to stories about
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