Yanks Over Europe: American Flyers in World War II, by Jerome Klinkowitz, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1996, $19.95.

This is a little gem of a book, and that praise is not bestowed lightly. It is short, barely 137 pages, but the writing is hard and concise, and each of the stories is a glittering facet of the history of U.S. air combat during World War II in Europe.

How does the author do all this in such a short work? His secret is that he discusses and evaluates, analyzes and compares the accounts of fighter pilots and bomber crews who write firsthand accounts of their experiences. There are 81 titles listed in the bibliography. The purpose of the book is not simply to recount stories already told–though there are more than enough references to missions and air battles to satisfy the most action-oriented reader–but instead to tell the story of why and how American airmen were able to perform the duties they were called upon to do.

What was their motivation? Having learned how deadly their occupation was, both to their enemies and to themselves, how did they bring themselves to continue to fly into harm’s way? How did they react to and rationalize the loss of friends, wing mates and crew mates? And–the most basic question of all–how did they survive the murderous attacks of the German defenders? Some of the answers Klinkowitz offers make perfect sense, some border on the unbelievable, but some of these questions remain unanswerable.

One reason the author has such a rich vein of material to draw from is that many of the works he cites are relatively recent, written in the 1980s and 1990s. Adding these works to those written during and shortly after World War II makes for a fascinating study.

One of the most astounding observations Klinkowitz makes is that, despite facing savage fighter and flak defenses throughout most of the war, no U.S. bomber force in the European theater, or even a single bomber, ever turned away from a target because of enemy opposition.

John I. Witmer