Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Appointment in London..., I've not been travelling this was the title of a film that was one of a slew of free DVD's that a UK paper was giving away a couple of weeks ago.. can imagine that as they were free, there were some fair old clangers amongst them, but there were also some nuggets... Reach for The Sky, In Which We Serve, Aces High, Above Us The Waves, Battle of The River Plate etc. One of them however, I'd not seen before and turned out be an absolute cracker..

"Appointment in London" (click here) is set in 1943 and is about RAF Bomber Command. At that time the chances of bomber aircrew surviving a tour of 30 missions was just one in three. Dirk Bogarde stars as a wing commander approaching his 90th mission (so 3 tours under his belt) and the film is about the mental stresses of being in the position he is, how his superiors dealt with it, etc.

What made it for me however, was the extraordinary quality of the flying scenes - I read afterwards that the Dirk Bogarde character was based on Guy Gibson (of Dam Busters fame) and that actual veterans of Bomber Command were consulted during the production at every stage - it certainly shows... the film also depicts at length the methods used by bomber command to mark targets using different coloured flares, and how bombers were directed to the target often on differing routes so as to eliminate "creepback" (the tendency because of the danger was for bombers at the end of the group to drop their bombs earlier than those at the front - causing impact further and further away from the primary target)

The Dirk Bogarde character also acts as the "master bomber" a role taken by one of the crews, and tasked with ensuring bombs are dropped as efficiently as possible and on the correct targets.

Absolutely brilliant film and was then the cause of me finally picking up a book that has been on my "to read" pile for too long.. "Bomber Boys" (click here) is by Patrick Bishop, and I have to say is one of those books that you occasionally get where there is a genuine sense of disappointment when you finish the book - this was one of them, it's un-put-downable and I finished it in about two days....

Without a doubt my favourite military historians are those that deal with the individual - I am far more interested in the tactical than the strategic, and I am fascinated by first person accounts of the people who were actually there. Richard Holmes & John Keegan are masters, and I would add Patrick Bishop to their ranks.. the book is about the guys that flew bombers, he covers their training, the missions, the fear, the relationships, the weapons, tactics, bomb development, strategy, why bomber command targeted the cities, etc etc. There is huge amounts of personal detail from diaries, journals and letters - and it is absolutely fascinating..

The air crew were fantastically brave (I gave the odds just above), and the book is a fitting tribute, whilst also not avoiding the obverse side of the coin which was the huge damage dealt out to Dresden, Cologne, and many other German cities, some of which were of very limited military benefit.. "Bomber" Harris has taken much of the blame for this, the book shows how he was just the personal face of decisions that had been taken much higher than him (although he pursued those directives aggressively)...

So, also absolutely recommended for anyone interested in military history, and the stories of men at war...

Finally - seems a pity not to stand the hairs up on the back of your neck - have a look at the following and listen to those engines - fantastic....


  1. Speaking of Dambusters, there was some talk a few months back about Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) remaking it with a 2010 release date.

  2. The bombing of German cities was an effective means of breaking the German peoples adherence to the Nazi cause. Without it and the consequent demoralising effect on the army and populace the outcome and length of the war could have been quite different. It is difficult, and IMHO, wrong to apply modern virtues to past events (there are exceptions I grant you). But all the same whatever your feelings about the missions conducted you cannot doubt the bravery and heroism of those who flew them.
    Bomber Command is frequently overlooked when it comes to honours and citations. This takes away the sacrifice of the young men who flew in outdated aircraft against difficult opposition.

  3. Paul - couldn't agree more... and even more astounding, every one of them was a volunteer....

  4. I completely agree with Paul too. It's easy to forget when sitting in the comfort of our armchairs that even in December 1945 the war looked far from over. Anything that hastened the collapse of Nazi Germany and saved Allied lives was 100% justified, IMHO.

    I hadn't heard of that film - sounds a bit like a Gregory Peck film called "Ten O-Clock High" or something like that.

  5. I have looked at that ‘Bomber Boys’ book a couple of times in WH Smiths so I may give it a go on your recommendation. Have you read ‘Wild Blue’ by Stephen Ambrose?
    My father (now 88) was a volunteer RAF navigator and flew long-range strike operations on Beaufighters in Burma throughout 1944. The Far East Air Command is even more forgotten than Bomber Command although they suffered a comparable rate of attrition. If you are interested follow the link to my fathers page on the 211 Squadron website from my blog.

  6. ...thanks for your comments Stryker, I got my copy as I was doing the weekly shop at Tesco's - they are beginning to have a reasonable selection of military history, and being Tesco's it was a good price.. :o))

    I've read "Wild Blue" - also an excellent read... how the American crews faced up to daylight raids before they got the long range escorts I can't even imagine.. I seem to remember that James Stewart (the actor) was one of the bomber pilots???

    Will check your web site...

  7. Almost every time I have to go to London I walk intentionally past the church in the middle of the Strand near the Law Courts with the statutes of Harris and other RAF commanders from WWII. I am always pleasantly surprised to see fresh flowers and wreaths. Reading these books and the obits in the newspapers just reminds us how young and increadibly brave the aircrews were.