D-Day: The Air Battle – Book Review

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Product summary Title D-Day: The Air Battle Author Ken Delve Published by Crowood Press ISBN 9781 861 267 047 Format Hardcover; 24 x 19 ...

Product summary

Title D-Day: The Air Battle
Author Ken Delve
Published by Crowood Press
ISBN 9781 861 267 047
Format Hardcover; 24 x 19 cm; 199 pages
Price Recommended Retail Price £17.00, now available at bargain prices.

I have just finished reading D-Day: The Air Battle written by one of the more prolific aviation authors of recent years, Ken Delve. One of his recent works is The Story of the Spitfire: An Operational and Combat History which has been on my shopping list for a while; this is one of his earlier publications.

Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of occupied France – began in the opening minutes of 6 June 1944. By the end of the day a bridgehead had been won and gradually the Allied Forces extended their grip, developing the bridgehead and winning the build-up race during the following weeks. None of this would have been possible without massive air support and overwhelming air superiority on the part of the Allies.

D-Day: The Air Battle is not a new book; first published in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of Allied invasion in Normandy, it was reissued in the revised, hardback edition ten years later, for another anniversary of the same. It is the latter edition which I purchased recently at a bargain bookstore. Should you desire your own copy it should not be hard to find through Amazon or other large online booksellers.

The author attempts to provide a comprehensive description of the air battle over Normandy and northern France in the months preceding the invasion and during the period immediately following it, ending with 18 June 1944.

At first glance, the choice of subject may seem rather ordinary but this is not the case. Although the tactical air battle over Normandy was undoubtedly very significant for the success of Operation Overlord, it did not previously attract much attention from the historians and book writers alike.

I can suspect the reason for this gap. Unlike the bombing offensive over Germany, the Allied air power met hardly any aerial opposition in France. It would seem that there is something unglamorous about daily tactical bombing, the dangers of flak on rodeo missions or the absence of enemy fighters in the air. Dramatic stories of aerial combat sell books; ground strafing does not.

Thus, to my knowledge, Delve is one of the first authors to attempt a complete coverage of air events over Normandy. It is a commendable initiative. In fact, the choice of subject was alone sufficient to attract me to a purchase of this book.

The book is organized into two rather different parts. The first one deals with preparation to the invasion. Strategic planning of the air component of operation Overlord is discussed in depth, starting as early as the COSSAC plan of 1942. The author provides insight into the massive build-up of airfields, equipment, logistics and resources which started as early as Spring 1943. An interesting part is also an analysis of the conflict of ideas about the “right” strategy for air war among the top Allied air commanders, leading to much friction among the top brass.

In the weeks and months leading up to D-Day, the “transportation plan” was accepted and RAF and USAAF waged a concerted campaign against German fighter bases, troop depots, road and rail junctions and ammunition and fuel dumps. A good outline of this campaign is provided.

The second part of the book details air operations in conjunction with and after the invasion itself. It is a detailed day-by-day description of air operations starting with 5 June and ending on 18 June when the initial bridgeheads were consolidated and expanded.

It is an interesting read. While generally staying within the realms of strategic and command perspective on the developments (most notably through frequent reference to ACM Leigh-Mallory’s diaries), the author occasionally gets into one or two details of more interesting missions, quoted from squadrons’ operational record books.

The hardcover second edition of D-Day: The Air Battle is richly illustrated with photos

The book is also well served by over 200 archive photographs, maps, photo reconnaissance images and various tables. A series of appendices at the end provide useful reference for the researchers.

If there is anything missing in Delve’s account its the German perspective; although the Luftwaffe opposition over the bridgehead failed to meet both sides’ expectations, I would like to see a more detailed description of the German effort, even if it failed so miserably. As it is, the book presents the battle only from the Allied perspective.

Also, the author’s conclusions at the end of the book are rather scarce, leaving the reader with the picture of events, but no final analysis. Could anything be done better? Was Leigh-Mallory’s strategy right, despite the criticism which it sustained from other high commanders at  the time? Could the air power be used in closer cooperation with the Army to break the British stalemate at Caen? What were the other general lessons?

In sum, D-Day: The Air Battle is an well-researched, comprehensive and readable book which falls a bit short of being a definitive coverage of the subject. That said, it provides an unique insight into operations of the RAF and USAAF over France and as such, is well worth recommending.

The review copy has been purchased by the reviewer

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