When I first picked up this book, I must admit that my heart sank just a little. Does the world really need another history of the Dambusters? Even within the last ten years or so we have seen a dozen of them, including an excellent and exhaustive account by James Holland, an oral history by the late Max Arthur, several reference works, biographies of the main participants and a history from the German point of view by Helmuth Euler. Can there possibly be anything new to say about this subject?
The only thing that raised my spirits was the name of the author. Max Hastings is an exceptional historian and has first-hand knowledge of the men behind this particular operation. Forty years ago he published a history of Bomber Command, which still in print today. During the course of his research for that book he interviewed several of the characters involved in Operation Chastise, the name given to the project to destroy the Ruhr dams. Such personal connections give him an immediate advantage over most of his rivals.
Chastise begins with several chapters devoted to these characters and the passions that drove them. He describes Bomber Command’s irascible commander-in-chief, Arthur Harris, as ‘a kind of madman’: he was brilliant at public relations, ruthless in his pursuit of victory, but also vicious and exceptionally narrow-minded. Harris was