The role of the RAF aircrew, who manned the Bomber Command aircraft that inflicted indescribable destruction on the cities of Hitler’s Germany, has been highlighted by a wave of new books on the Second World War in the air, many published to mark the sixtieth anniversary of that conflict’s end.
Most have been written in English, but an increasing number have appeared in German. Chief, or perhaps most notorious, among these German writers has been Jörg Friedrich. The Fire (German: Der Brand), first published in 2002 and recently translated (see LR, March), is a thorough and – when he stops beating the drum of victimhood – affecting account of the sufferings of Germany’s civilians, around half a million of whom died as a result of Allied bombing. The Fire is based on secondary sources and oral history collections, often gathered years after the war by local history groups. Almost all of this material had been available in specialist and regional studies, but Herr Friedrich did the general public a service by collecting it into a single volume.
The trouble is that, perhaps at the behest of Bild-Zeitung, the right-wing German newspaper (comparable to the British Sun) which serialised his book and gave it a decisive shove on the road to bestseller status, Friedrich succumbed to the temptation of making attention-seizing generalisations about the nature of air warfare.