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Rise of the War Machines

17 April 2022

Rise of the War Machines: the Birth of Precision Bombing in World War II, Raymond O’Mara, 2022, ISBN 978654321, 336 pp.

Rise of the War Machines: the Birth of Strategic Bombing in World War II

O’Mara has nailed a combination one-two punch for readers of history with this book which is both in-depth and exciting to read. The title, perhaps, harkens back to 1927’s Metropolis which is poetic since O’Mara begins his study of the evolution as well as the intertwining of aircrew training and machine technology—each influencing the further development of the other—by way of the development heavy bomber strategy in the armed forces of the United States, beginning in earnest after World Water I. 

The book avoids bogging itself down in academic minutia, though it is a well researched study—and throughly cited for further study if the reader or historian wishes. O’Mara wisely brings readers along on a World War II (WW II) bombing mission, in a B-17 to a German industrial target, with each chapter a progression of that flight. No glory here, or Twelve O’Clock High simplifications for the TV, each position’s work is real and demanding both in training as well as in execution.

Insightfulness is ever present in Rise of the War Machines as readers learn about the lives of pilots, navigators and bombardiers on these World War II missions high in the Arctic-cold skies of the ETO (European Theater of Operations). We learn pilot duties evolved significantly from pre-WW II and the psychology involved as those duties at first seemed sublimated to machines but, in fact, required deeper understanding of flying. We also learn of the rise of the navigator as well as the bombardier as aircrew members—as well as how one could substitute for the other and why. Kudos for O’Mara’s explaining the differences of the aircraft’s flux-gate compass, gyro compass and magnetic compass. Readers likely will be surprised to learn the navigator would use the bombardier’s instruments at specific times of the mission. In fact, it may be more surprising to learn the navigation position was the busiest of the entire crew…so much so that the position’s machine gun would often go unused during fighter attacks.

Readers learn of details seldom mentioned by other authors, much less explained, such as: 

  • Combat wing form up times
  • How did dozens of bombers depart and get to altitude on 30-second intervals through fog and cloud?
  • How were combat boxes variously arranged and how were they maneuvered once at the target?
  • What were some of the mission errors and why?
  • How was bombing accuracy measured, back in the day, and how well did it improve during the war?
  • Why did bombardiers use table top models of the target area?
  • How did autopilots enhance bombing accuracy? 
  • What are the sources of bombing error, anyway?

O’Mara dutifully explains the above and much more, and gladly in a lively and entertaining way. The material could be as dry as desert sand but this book becomes a page turner and is worth a spot on any bookshelf devoted to aviation history as well as man-machine interface study. The Naval Institute Press again, as so often happens, offers this book which well addresses an important but unfortunetely overlooked niche in military history.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 19 April 2022 02:37

    Sounds like a good one, Joe! Thanks for the insightful review.

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