My Review of How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II

How the War Was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II by Phillips Payson O’Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this was a great book that changed my mind on a few things. The research he did is extensive, and he builds a very persuasive case. In his view, World War II was about air and sea supremacy, and that the achievement of this supremacy by the Allies made the outcome inevitable. One area where he changed my mind was on the subject of strategic bombing. I have always considered it a waste of time and resources. After all, German output kept rising even as the bombs fell, or in the case of Britain, the Battle of Britain, and then the Vengeance weapons, never affected morale on the home front. And of course in Vietnam the US dropped more bombs than they dropped in both theaters of WWII combined without stopping the Vietnamese. But O’Brien makes a persuasive case that what matters is the strategy behind the bombing. I think he has a very low view of Arthur Harris for pursuing a bad strategy of bombing German cities, but I think he finds that bombing aimed at really strategic targets like aircraft and fuel production was quite helpful. and in the Pacific he seems to find MacArthur lacking in strategic insight, but is very admiring of Ernest King for seeing the main point of using air power to cut the lifeline of Japan to the colonies in the Dutch East Indies.

Another area where I think I got a slightly different view after reading this book was the significance of the Western Front. We all know that the largest armies were in the East, and with that the largest numbers of casualties. But virtually all of the Luftwaffe was deployed towards the West, which says something about the way Germany saw the war going. And of course that gave the Soviets air superiority on their front, which made their drive to Berlin a whole lot easier. If you are a WWII buff, this should be essential reading in my view.

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