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The Bridgebusters: the True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing

14 May 2016

The Bridgebusters: the True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing, Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, 2016, ISBN 9781621574880, 264 pp.

The Bridgebusters: the True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing by Thomas McKelvey Cleaver

The Bridgebusters: the True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing by
Thomas McKelvey Cleaver with cover design by John Caruso

Cleaver delivers more than what is amply promised in The Bridgebusters: the True Story of the Catch-22 Bomb Wing—so much more in both in material as well as what life was like for the  57th Bomb Wing (Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, served in it and got his inspiration from that duty station).

In The Bridgebusters the book delivers on the promised in the announcements:

  • The telling of the tragedy of a Mitchell combat crew flying one mission beyond their final 70th, never to return home
  • How a pilot managed to not bomb unsuspecting civilians though ordered to do so
  • The loathed “road block” missions
  • The likely reason why Joseph Heller was sent home after far less than the required missions
  • Life for air and ground crews while based out of Corsica
  • The above is the attractive wrapper on a fine chocolate since Cleaver tells the history of an air war waged on a neglected front close up as well as strategically—weaving a story cleverly imparting an understanding of the momentum while giving the experience of the individuals. His screenwriting abilities have the reader feeling the elation, the cold, the fear of all persons caught up in the chaotic events of war—aircrew, ground crew, Germans and civilians.

In The Bridgebusters the author has readers understand how the 57th waged an effective assault against German forces in Italy for over a year. Cleaver illustrates how General Clark extended the war in Italy by almost year for egotistical reasons and how he was rewarded for that decision though many of the foreign forces (New Zealand, Poland and Morocco for example) lost confidence in his leadership. The sense of Catch-22 prevails throughout the story of the campaign.

Cleaver charismatically teaches how the 57th lived usually flying two missions per day with each aircraft flying as many as four per day. The 57th flew tactical missions destroying rail and bridge targets to logistically starve (numbers clearly explain the effectiveness) German forces. Cleaver also precisely illustrates the skill of German antiaircraft as well as ground force strategy. The author tells so much of the everyday life of the 57th that has been forgotten and should not be. Their excellent bombing accuracy though well with range of the feared 88mm Flak gun. The number of aircraft shot down is unbelievable as is the number of parachutes which failed to open. Yet B-25 Mitchell aircrews kept flying their vital missions. Missions well above 10,000 feet without oxygen due to the intense and accurate flak they would be sure to experience—up to six radar directed volleys from 88mm cannon during each bomb run.

Get this book to best understand World War II in the Mediterranean Theater. Get this book to better understand Joseph Heller and Catch-22 (which was inspired by his service in the 57th but not a history of it). Get this book to understand how the 57th fought—always cold, or wet or dusty—whether in the air or on the ground.

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Per the publishing industry practice Regnery History provided a copy of The Bridgebusters for an objective review.

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