Book Review: The RAF’s Road to D-Day

Review by Geoff Simpson

The RAF’s Road to D-Day

Greg Baughen

Air World: 2023

ISBN: 9781399051804

306 pp

Much research and effort has certainly gone into this volume and there is plenty to gain from reading it.

According to the publisher’s media release: “Greg Baughen follows the air and land battles in Italy, France and Germany between 1943 and early 1944, as well as the equally bitter battles behind the scenes as army and air commanders debated and argued over how the war should be won. He charts the trials, tribulations, and successes of the bomber offensive and assesses whether, in the final analysis, the bomber strategy shortened or lengthened the war. He explains how army air support went backwards after the successes of the Desert Air Force, and how this led to a failure to support the troops landing on the D-Day beaches in Normandy. He also describes the subsequent revival of tactical air support and how it went on to play a key role in the subsequent campaigns but questions whether Eisenhower, Montgomery or Tedder ever fully understood how to make best use of the massive aerial forces available to them.

“Drawing on archive documents and accounts written at the time, the author tackles some fundamental defence issues. Was RAF independence a benefit or a hindrance to the Allied cause? To what extent was the War Office to blame for shortcomings in army air support? Did Britain understand the way the methods for waging war were evolving in the twentieth century? He takes a look at how the Air Ministry was interpreting the lessons being learned during the war. Were the defence policies of the twenties and thirties still valid? Had they ever been valid?”

Wow, that’s a lot to cover in just over 300 pages and the task is probably an impossible one. What we have is a well written and informative text book on the subject, without depth on some of the issues mentioned above. Having read it I feel equipped to pass a written exam but not to stand up to a viva conducted by (say), Henry Probert, Noble Frankland, Denis Richards or Sebastian Cox. If only such an event were possible in three of those cases.

The author holds perfectly sustainable points of view and does not seem to be much in favour of the “On the one hand this and on the other hand that” style of recounting history. Generally, I think it is fair to say that Mr Baughen is not impressed with a number of the high commanders of the time. Arthur Harris does not shine here. However, these men taking great and terrible decisions lack dimensions in this account. They are often said to be, “horrified”, “embarrassed”, “furious”, “alarmed” and so on but there is little sense of personality or sitting beside them. Whatever you think of “Bert” Harris as a commander or a man, Henry Probert’s biography showed the flaws but also demonstrated that there was a human being present.

Even if it does not quite live up to the publicity (few books do) The RAF’s Road to D-Day does merit a place in any collection on the issues covered. It has been added to mine.

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