The Pathfinders: The Elite RAF Force That Turned the Tide of WWII Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
Brought to you by Penguin.
Military History Matters Book of the Year Bronze Award Winner
The incredible story of the crack team of men and women who transformed RAF Bomber Command and helped the Allies deliver decisive victory over Nazi Germany.
The Pathfinders were ordinary men and women from a range of nations who revolutionised the efficiency of the Allies' air campaign over mainland Europe. They elevated Bomber Command—initially the only part of the Allied war effort capable of attacking the heart of Nazi Germany—from an impotent force on the cusp of disintegration in 1942 to one capable of razing whole German cities to the ground in a single night, striking with devastating accuracy, inspiring fear and loathing in Hitler's senior command.
With exclusive interviews with remaining survivors, personal diaries and previously classified records, The Pathfinders brings to life the characters of the airmen and women—many barely out of their teens—who took to the skies in legendary British aircraft such as the Lancaster and the Mosquito, facing almost unimaginable levels of violence from enemy fighter planes to strike at the heart of the Nazi war machine.
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|Listening Length||16 hours and 17 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com.au Release Date||15 July 2021|
|Best Sellers Rank|| 8,671 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
8 in Air Forces Military History
26 in History of Military Air Forces
201 in World War II History (Books)
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The first chapters cover the Luftwaffes equivalent unit, KG100, and why the RAF had a need of such a force. Before moving on to covering the men, the development of the tactics and the rest of the war. It also includes some very harrowing passages of what it was like to be on the receiving end of a bombing raid (both in Coventry and German cities). Similar to other modern works it has a clear cast of characters who are followed throughout the book. The end has what happened to the survivors and the ones left behind by those who did not and a very fair and balanced conclusion about the success of the bombing campaign.
I found the book very easy and enjoyable (if that's the right word) to read to the point I just wanted to carry on reading it and reading it. That said, the occasionally dramatic or sweeping statements could be annoying and the odd proof reading error were noticeable but these are just minor quibbles in an otherwise excellent book.
For the reader with an appetite for the human experience - the terror, the relief, the ‘survivor guilt’, the joy of family and spousal reunion, this book is a barren wasteland with wooden, two-dimensional beings moving through it. There are better books on the subject - R.V.JONES to name but one. Read them.
The author begins by explaining that essentially RAF bomber command could not hit the broadside of a barn. Raid after raid was plagued by inaccurate bombing. The crews were courageous to a fault, but the tools provided were not up to the job.
One man, an Australian called Don Bennett, thought he had the answer to the problem; experienced crews, expert navigators who would accurately mark the target for the main effort. Typically, for wartime Britain, he faced resistance from those in command, principally Arthur Harris the commanding officer of Bomber Command, to his radical proposal.
Eventually official resistance was overcome, and the Pathfinder force was created, although that resistance never really relented and continued to push back throughout the entire war. By the end of the war the Pathfinders had become formidably effective, allowing Bomber Command to strike with extraordinary precision for the time. The effort was not without technical setbacks and significant losses.
The book is replete with the stories of remarkable courage in the air and on the ground. Iredale reminds the reader of the key role of men and women who worked tirelessly to provide the technology and support to the bomber crews on the front line. As with a great many stories of the Second World War it was very much a team effort encompassing the efforts of thousands of men and women. The cosmopolitan make up of Bomber Command is a feature of the story, airmen from all the globe served in the colours of the RAF.
The role of luck in warfare is a feature of the story of aerial combat. Iredale makes it clear that the most experienced crews could still be lost to sheer bad luck. Airmen in whom the reader is invested will not survive the war; it is pitiless.
As I have done elsewhere, I shall stipulate that the Germans are the villains of the piece and move on. The author does not shy away from detailing the carnage inflicted upon German cities and civilians and the consequences thereof. Readers should be under no illusions about the destructive abilities of the RAF and USAAF (sic). And as I said in my review of ‘Above Us, The Stars’ there is no revelling in the deaths of Germans. Iredale does address the oft asked question of the morality of area bombing.
Iredale also argues that the Strategic Bombing campaign made a valuable contribution to the defeat of NAZI Germany, pushing back against some modern narratives. I am conflicted on the subject. A debate that I suspect will remain unresolved.
I think it was the Battle of Britain veteran who said that the airmen did not need medals, to be thanked. They wanted to be remembered. This book is a very fitting memorial to the Pathfinders and deserves your attention.
However, if there is a disappointment with the work it stems from the fact that Will Iredale is a journalist and not a historian. He is no Martin Middlebrook or Antony Beevor, and thus a fault line is evident throughout in the narrative. The book contains embellishments, factual errors and over-simplistic explanations which wouldn’t sully the work of a serious study. It may be useful for a Sun reader to know that Scarborough is ‘the seaside resort on the east coast of Yorkshire’, that Newcastle is ‘in north-east England’, or that 1944 was of ‘an age before social media’, but most readers won’t need to be told. In trying to add colour to the narrative the author describes some actual conversations, notably verbal disagreements among senior RAF officers, but for the most part these were not recorded and so are only conjecture. It’s a practice which though interesting cannot be taken as factual. Nevertheless we do get descriptions of the Hollywood stars that some trainee airmen met, and a vivid description of the sartorial elegance of the wife of the Pathfinders commanding officer, although these facts have little to do with the theme of the book.
In terms of real WW2 detail (anorak at the ready) apparently the Junkers 88 was a ‘feared dive bomber’. Perhaps you mean the Ju 87? Guy Gibson flying a Lancaster dropped an 8,000 lb bomb on Saarbrücken, which was pretty clever since the maximum a Lancaster could carry was 4,000 lbs. Similarly during 1945 the British and Americans ‘dropped bombs on Germany, France and the Low Countries' - which must have annoyed the French as they had been liberated by then. Apparently one drunk pilot flew his Lancaster bomber underneath ‘the Severn bridge in Shropshire’ which may be true, but as a Lanc is twenty feet high and a hundred wide it stretches credulity. And for those with short memories, the armament of the Me 110 is mentioned twice, and readers will lose count of the times they are told that ‘Bomber’ Harris’ HQ was in High Wycombe.
It’s fair to say that these are minor points, but they do raise the issue of what else is questionable?
But don’t get me wrong, it is a book worth reading. I read it from cover to cover and enjoyed it. It filled in a lot of the gaps in my knowledge. It’s just that with a more rigorous and learned approach and a little less journalese and sloppiness it could have been a great book.
After reading this splendid book, I now fully understand what he was talking about. There were four buildings named 'Swales', 'Bazalgette', 'Palmer' and 'Bennett'. I was in Swales, and I found it hard to look Captain Edwin Swales, VC, in the eye in his portrait in the foyer. Reading the description below of what he'd done, I didn't feel worthy.
I really didn't know anything about the other three men; now I do, and it's humbling. Don Bennett is a constant feature of the book, and I feel that I ought to have tried to find out more about him and the others at the time.
There's a one star review grumbling about the lack of detail about H2S, Oboe, etc. Well hard luck mate. There's plenty of information about all of them available elsewhere, and this isn't meant to be a technical manual. It's a fantastic, un-put-downable read, bringing back into the limelight the incredible efforts of the Pathfinders and how they helped turn Bomber Command from a failing fighting force into one of the major factors in the ultimate success of the Allies.
Buy it, read it, and give thanks that you are free, in part because of the efforts of these magnificent people.