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Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France.

Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France. By Stephen Alan Bourque. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 2018. Photographs. Notes. Maps. Diagrams. Appendices. Pp. 352. $34.95 ISBN: 978-1-61251-873-2

Study of the World War II bombing campaigns in Western Europe is a well-established field founded, even as the war ended, by the Air Force itself with the US Strategic Bombing Survey. Since then historians have explored it from a variety of perspectives. As the bombardment strategy--stretching back to Douhet, through AWPD/1 and /43--involved projected results of bombing on the industry, economy, and population of the enemy, these analyses have naturally focused on Germany. In contrast, Bourque found that most previous histories only episodically address the bombing of occupied France. Thus, it is not part of the body of commonly held and cited knowledge--the "narrative"--of the air war in the West. This book is intended to address that omission.

Bourque, Professor Emeritus at the US Army Command and General Staff College, holds a PhD from Georgia State University. He has methodically researched official USAAF and RAF records and previously untapped local archives to assemble a systematic analysis showing that occupied France was the center of an airpower war. Bombing in the country resulted in the deaths of far more civilians and destruction of property and cultural treasure than has previously been related. He details the pre-war industrial, transportation and communication infrastructure, economy, culture, and population of France to help the reader understand why it was such a magnet for bombers. Bourque quotes vivid eyewitness accounts of survivors. He is specific about historic buildings, art, neighborhoods and even whole villages that perished under the bombing. He notes that sorrow and regret at the losses of lives, homes and livelihoods temper French memories of the war.

The focus is on airpower throughout. Citing numerous secondary works and official records, the book notes that despite a declared policy of precision strikes on military targets only, World War II bombing strategy, tactics, and technology were insufficiently developed to avoid collateral damage to civilian areas. A case is painstakingly built that civilian areas were deliberately targeted in support of the D-Day landings to block enemy reinforcements from reaching the front. Bourque cites most of the major air war histories on the fierce debate within the Allied high command regarding such bombing, noting that although it finally was accepted as the price of victory, the strategic bomber force commanders did it under written protest.

The book is comprehensively footnoted, with a thorough bibliography. Carefully chosen photos of damaged or destroyed towns, rail centers, and bridges accompany the text. Detailed appendices of the sheer number of targets--factories, rail centers, and bridges--buttress Bourque's addition to the narrative: with all factors weighed in, the cumulative effects of Allied bombing, whether collateral damage or deliberate targeting, constituted an unprecedented war on an occupied, allied country. Bourque intends this volume to become a standard reference. It should be on the shelf of all scholars and readers who make a serious study of the impact of airpower in World War II.

Steven Agoratus, Hamilton NJ

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Author:Agoratus, Steven
Publication:Air Power History
Date:Dec 22, 2018
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