The wild blue : the men and boys who flew the B-24s over Germany

by Stephen E. Ambrose

Hardcover, 2001




New York : Simon & Schuster, c2001.


The stories of the Army Air Forces' B24 pilots and crews who were stationed in Italy and flew combat missions over Germany during World War II.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jcbrunner
A rather weak and unworthy effort by Stephen Ambrose, barely comparable to his other books. This book suffers from truthiness and a lack of focus. Ambrose is invested in propagating the Greatest Generation myth. By omission and commission, he offers a wrong picture of history. True, the WWII soldiers were young boys - but so were the soldiers in any other war from the boy colonel in the US Civil War to the baby-faced tankers in the Iraq War. Ambrose's exceptional claim simply is no such thing. The same is true about the mix of the boys from coast to coast. Read any US Civil War account to get a similar picture. Ambrose also paints a too rosy picture about US officers. Can you really hold up Joseph "Catch 22" Heller's claim that there were no bad officers with a straight face? These are minor points.

The major distortion, Ambrose engages in, is propagating the effectiveness of strategic bombing. The bombs destroyed many lives and much property, but it didn't cripple the German war engine. Ambrose should have realized this, when he describes the effects on the air raids on Ploesti: Only the Soviet ground forces deprived the Germans of those crucial fuel supplies. The real value of the US airforce was its tactical ground support as flying artillery. This message clashes with Ambrose's intent on glorifying the strategic bomber pilots.

Ambrose further weakens his book by choosing George McGovern as its main protagonist. Through no fault of his own, McGovern enters active war only in the final months of 1944, when the war in Europe was all but over. Whether McGovern and his crew dropped their bombs or not on target, had no effect on the outcome of the war. Furthermore, McGovern's squadron was stationed in Italy, thus in a sideshow theater of war.

Published in 2001 for 26 USD, this book was bought remaindered for 5.34 USD in a Borders store in leafy Scarsdale, NY during 2003, crossed the Atlantic and ended up in a Zurich, Switzerland used bookstore where I bought it in 2010 for 3.50 CHF/3.75 USD. After the quick plunge, the book manages to tenaciously hold on to its remaining value.
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LibraryThing member wmchamberlain
I listened to this book on audio and it was fantastic. Many times writers have trouble writing for out loud reading, but Stephen Ambrose does and excellent job. If you are interested in WWII or in flying I would suggest you read this book.
LibraryThing member legan
Audiobook. Was a little slow, but good information and kept us entertained during a long car ride
LibraryThing member jamespurcell
Outstanding book about young men going to war
LibraryThing member wadezoe
An excellent review of B-24 bomber operations from training to combat over the Third Riech. It is also a biography of George McGovern's war years as a B-24 pilot. It is an excellent listen for aviation enthusiasts, World War II readers and pilots.
LibraryThing member Choccy
This is the second Ambrose's book I've read since Band of Brothers. It tells about the experiences of B-24 bomber crews in World War II; 741st Squadron, 455th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force, to be exact. The stories are from the beginning, i.e. the crews’ background, their vigorous training (the high requirements resulted in many “washouts”), the first mission, until when the war’s over.

Thus, it’s quite an extensive piece that offers lots of interesting details. If you love aircrafts (and aerial warfare), you’ll consider this book as a classic.

Ambrose fulfilled my expectation as a war historian, the story just flows with such a flair that makes you feel like want to be in that plane. B-24, or Liberator, is one of the five bombers utilized by the US Army during the war. It requires nine crew members: pilot, co-pilot, navigator/bombardier, flight engineer, radio operator, gunners (nose, waist, tail and ball turret). One can only imagine how heavy and cramped that bomber was. Over 18,000 B-24s were built, more than any other US planes. But they destroyed German refineries, marshalling yards, factories, air fields, thus destroying German’s ability to make war.

The first impression I’ve got after finishing this book is that the airmen in World War II suffered less than the infantry soldiers. Yes, the plane is too cramped, they faced those devastating flaks, penetrating cold in 20,000 feet height, but still, they got to sleep in tents with real beds, not in foxholes, helplessly waiting for enemy’s shells and mortars to blast them to oblivion. The Army Air Force also applied a not-so-strict segregation between officers and enlisted men, as well as behaviors. No chickenshits (army term for jack-ass officers) in combats either; a different case with the infantry. Last but not least, as bomber crews they did not have to see the faces of enemy and civilians they killed.

My favorite part of the book is the chapter telling about the P-51 (Mustang) fighter pilots from the 99th Fighter Squadron, or known as the Tuskegee Airmen. They were African Americans. The US Army in World War II still practiced discrimination, but those pilots did not discriminate, as admitted by the bomber crews. The P-51 pilots are honored for their bravery, discipline and dedication in their main role to protect the bombers.

One must not forget that airplane is the most destructive tool in this war. Not only hundreds of thousands people (including civilians) were killed, but hundreds of historical buildings, residences, infrastructures were destroyed. However, one must not also forget that aerial warfare saved the Western civilization. We can only hope that the currently-used smart bombs can improve their accuracy.
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LibraryThing member lamour
There are many books about flying B-17's over Europe but fewer about what it was like to fly the B-24. Here Ambrose has gathered many stories from the men who flew them from airfields in Italy to targets over Eastern Europe concentrating on the crew of George McGovern, the 1972 Presidential candidate. As well Ambrose takes us through the adventures experienced during training in the US. There is much humour but also a great deal of terror. He also describes the bomber with all its flaws and does compare it to its more famous rival, the B-17. More B-24's were built than any other US bomber and they could carry a bigger payload farther as well.… (more)
LibraryThing member meegeekai
This is a great book and a nice match for Bradley's Flyboys as it focuses more on the strategic bombing in Europe. I just like the way Ambrose told a story. This is not his best but a great work, just the same.
LibraryThing member satyridae
Interesting and terrifying and edifying in many spots but draggy throughout. It's mostly the story of George McGovern's WWII, and I learned a lot. It's a good read, just not a gripping one- except where it's so scary and you are over enemy territory in the middle of the night and lose your engine.
LibraryThing member stillnotalice
My dad was an nose gunner in a B-24 in WW2. This gave me a good idea of what he experienced as a flyer.
LibraryThing member tillywern
Although not an exhaustive historical reference of the air war over Europe during WWII, this book provides a very good glimpse into how average citizens became part of one of the greatest conflicts in human history. Although additional detail would have been helpful, one praises the balance between detail and pace found with Ambrose writing found here. The story moves quickly enough to engage the reader and does not get bogged down. Sometimes the sheer number of different people mentioned can be overwhelming.

From a ratings perspective this book would probably be PG. There is some discussion about sexual activity but none of it overtly descriptive. Likewise there is also discussion about injuries suffered and death but it is handled well. Parents shouldn't have to worry about the content if their teen is reading this.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
The prologue to Wild Blue illustrates the constraints to flying a B-24. The very first sentence sets the stage, "The B-24 was built like a 1930s Mack Truck, except that it had an aluminum skin that could be cut with a knife" (p 21). Ambrose goes on to describe the lack of windshield wipers, heat, bathrooms, pressurization, kitchen facilities, or even room to move. Sometimes the airmen are too large for their assigned compartments and had to remove their parachutes in order to fit. Immediately upon reading this you sense the difficulties these airmen faced just flying these planes - never mind the additional dangers of flak, combat, even the weather. Chapter One introduces you to the men (in some most cases, mere boys) responsible for flying these dangerous machines. While Ambrose lists many different individuals, his main focus is on the pilots, bombardiers, navigators, radio operators and gunners. With the help of interviews with veterans like George McGovern, Ambrose takes you into the cockpit of every "Dakota Queen" McGovern flew. Subsequent chapters of Wild Blue take us through training, combat missions, D-Day, and the final mission of April 1945. There is a semi-Cinderella happy ending to Wild Blue that was almost too good to be true, but I believed it.… (more)
LibraryThing member MikeDI
HUGE, huge disappointment. I expected a book about the Liberator and it's missions, not a life of George McGovern. Who cares about him? First time I didn't finish a book and I blame it on poor research. I should have read people's reviews. Stephen Ambrose's worst book.
LibraryThing member notalice
My dad was an nose gunner in a B-24 in WW2. This gave me a good idea of what he experienced as a flyer.
LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
A well-focused little history. It gives a good overview of the B-24's significance and its contributions to the war in Europe, as well as a moving glimpse into the lives and stories of specific men and crews. The book centers on George McGovern, whose experiences as a bomber pilot were remarkable for a reader yet not unusual among his fellows. I emerged with respect and admiration for the man (as well as a wistful curiosity about what his presidency would have been like).

I've mostly read about the ground war in Europe (and heard about it from my grandfather) so this book was an intriguing look at a very different side of the war. It's a fairly quick read, not at all overloaded with aviation jargon, and full of interesting anecdotes and events that I was forced to immediately relate to my unwary friends and family.
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Local notes

ephemera: newspaper review, Wall St. Journal, Aug 24, 2001
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