Title: The Men Who Killed the Luftwaffe: The U.S. Army Air Forces Against Germany in World War II
Author: Jay A Stout
Genre: Military History
Pages: 420
Binding: Hard cover
Extra Features: Table of Contents, Chapter notes, bibliography, and index.
Published by: Stackpole Books, 2010

Article Type: Review
Article Date: December 13, 2010
Review By: Douglas Helmer

The Men Who Killed The Luftwaffe: The U.S. Army Air Forces Against Germany in World War II is a detailed account about the transformation of the US Army Air Corps from 45,000 men and a few aircraft in 1939 to one with 193,000 pilots, hundreds of thousands of support crew, and hundreds of thousands of aircraft in 1945, and how it was able to kill Germany's mighty Luftwaffe air force.

Author Stout relates the tale of the USAAF's efforts to kill the Luftwaffe through an analysis of historical government documents, after action reports, first-hand accounts of pilots and crew, memoirs of the leading political figures of the time, newspaper coverage, and the works of dozens of other authors who have published books and articles on the air war over Europe and North Africa.

The book is written in Stout's informal and engaging style that uses personal, first-hand accounts of the bomber and fighter pilots and their crews to illustrate the gritty realities of the broader strategic mission. Here is just one such example, as recounted by B-17 bombardier, Richard Cooke, about bailing out of his stricken aircraft:

Baxendale (the B-17's pilot) made his way over to Cooke, threw his arms around Cooke's neck and torso, and shouted at him to jump: "Let's go Dick! I'll see you on the ground! The pair, wrapped tightly together, fell clear of the bomber. Cooke described their fall:

I didn't understand why Baxendale jumped with me like that. I thought he was going to stay together with me to get free of the plane. We jumped and free fell for several thousand feet. He never spoke. He never let go. As I pulled my chute at about ten thousand feet, the impact broke his grip, and he fell away. I watched him, waiting for his chute to open. It never did. "Oh, god," I thought, "he doesn't have a chute!"

Along with the first-hand accounts, Stout includes plenty of fascinating statistics about numbers of aircraft produced during various stages of the war on both sides of the conflict, as well, Stout includes an impressive amount of interesting details about the mind-numbingly huge and complex logistics that were required to produce a third of a million aircraft and train hundreds of thousands of young American pilots and their support crews. And yet, despite the avalanche of facts and figures throughout the book, it never gets bogged down in those facts and I found myself unable to put the book down at times.

So well documented is the book—Stout draws upon 88 separate books, diaries, government documents, Internet sites, and periodicals—that it could be used as a textbook for teaching or as a reference for other scholarly works.

The book starts out with the initial formation and buildup of the USAAF along with the lives of the principal leaders of the USAAF, namely, Henry "Hap" Arnold, Ira Eaker, Carl "Tooey" Spaatz, and James Doolittle. It also covers the initial buildup of the Luftwaffe and the personalities and conflicts they had in their formative years.

From the personalities, the book covers the USAAF's first tentative daylight bombing missions and stuttering buildup in England where there was some initial friction between the British and the Americans about the best way to utilize the 8th Air force. Stout recounts how every time the 8th got some aircraft they would get siphoned off for other missions and objectives not in keeping with the 8th's stated plans to bomb Germany, as was the case with operation Torch in North Africa.

From there the book settles down into a rhythm of alternating chapters: one chapter about a significant mission or two within a larger operation such as Operation TORCH, TIDALWAVE, FRANTIC, or POINTBLANK as told through personal accounts of the politicians, military leaders, and the pilots and air crews from both sides of the conflict, and then a chapter about some fascinating aspect of the behind-the-scenes war.

The behind-the-scenes chapters include details on gunner training, pilot training, the importance of the support crews, the concept of phased fighter escorts, fighter-on-fighter combat, or the lucky and unlucky things that happen in the chaos of battle. In fact, the book has one of the best descriptions of Germany's flak defenses, the technology behind it, and both its obvious and more subtle effect on pilots and crews, that I have ever read.

The book's text is complimented with over 80 black and white photographs from the time showing the planes, the pilots, the leaders of both the USAAF and the Luftwaffe, and many photos of actual combat depicting mortally wounded bomber and fighter aircraft. It is a shame there are no maps, however.

With respect to the author's writing style, Stout, known for his strong (some say politically incorrect) opinions in earlier books, rarely injects his own views into the narrative preferring to let the first-hand accounts of the pilots and crews inform the reader as to what was good, bad, or downright ugly and stupid about the air war over Europe.

There is one notable exception, however, where Stout recounts the story of a General who piloted and led one of the largest assemblages of B-17 bombers on a raid into Germany to bomb an airfield in Babenhausen. While enroute to the target, the General's bomber was shot down by Luftwaffe fighters. The general, along with three of his nine crewmen, died when they failed to bail out of the burning aircraft. This General was subsequently awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. It is with this story that Stout offers his personal views on the "problematic" nature of the award. Any other writer probably wouldn't have offered his views on such a sacred honor, especially negative ones, but because he was once a combat fighter pilot himself, Stout can make these critical observations and is certainly justified in doing so.

What I also like about Stout's writing style is the time he takes to recount those little moments that had a big impact on the war effort. One particular story is the one Stout relates of how a single, almost offhand comment by James Doolittle while inspecting a fighter plane base, may have actually had more to do with the USAAF's eventual triumph over the Luftwaffe than any other single factor. It's these types of historic exchanges that only a former fighter pilot like Stout could appreciate and relate with such clarity to the non-historian readers like myself.

Now, as a Canadian, I must take a moment to point out that I am not offended in anyway by the title of Stout's book. In preparing this review, I spoke with some of my fellow Canadians about the book and they were initially outraged at the arrogance of this book's title. "How could Stout say," they asked, "that it was the USAAF alone that killed the Luftwaffe?"

I, too, was initially skeptical of the title, but Stout does a very good job of defending his assertion in his book's introduction that it was indeed the USAAF that hunted down and killed the Luftwaffe. Stout does say, however, that the USAAF would have never been able to kill the Luftwaffe had the RAF not maintained and defended the bases from which it launched its operations that struck deep into the heart of Germany. Not being a military historian myself, I can accept Stout's arguments at face value, but there may be others with more intimate knowledge of the facts who might dispute his claim.

I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book. It's a fascinating and well-told story of the monumental effort the United States mounted and executed with skill and determination to eradicate the Luftwaffe so that the Allied ground troops could defeat Hitler's Germany unmolested from the skies above. I highly recommend it!

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Other books by Jay A. Stout:

About Jay A. Stout:

Jay A. Stout is a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot. An Indiana native and graduate of Purdue University, he was commissioned during June 1981 and was designated a naval aviator on 13 May 1983. His first fleet assignment was to F-4S Phantoms at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. Following a stint as an instructor pilot at NAS Chase Field Texas from 1986 to 1989, he transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet. He flew the Hornet from bases on both coasts and ultimately retired from MCAS Miramar during 2001.

Aside from his flying assignments, he served as the executive officer of 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, and in a variety of additional assignments with various staffs around the world. During his twenty-year career he flew more than 4,500 flight hours, including 37 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm.

Following his military career Stout worked for a very short time as an airline pilot before being furloughed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He subsequently flew for the Kuwait Air Force for a year before returning to the States where he now works as a senior analyst for a leading defense contractor.

Lieutenant Colonel Stout's writing has been read on the floor of the U.S. Senate and has been published in various professional journals and newspapers around the nation. Works published while he was on active duty addressed controversial topics (women in the military, the MV-22 Osprey, effectiveness of the AV-8B Harrier, etc.) and took viewpoints that were often at odds with senior military leadership. Nevertheless, his cogent arguments and forthrightness contributed considerably to his credibility. Indeed, his expertise as a tactical aviator is recognized by Fox's national news network, which has hosted him twice as a combat aviation expert.

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