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Hell's Angels: The True Story of the 303rd Bomb Group in World War II.

Hell's Angels: The True Story of the 303rd Bomb Group in World War II by Jay A. Stout, Berkley, 464 pages, $27.95

IN Hell's Angels, author Jay Stout views the Allied strategic bombing campaign through the lens of one particular bombardment group within the US Eighth Army Air Force: the 303rd. Stout follows the exciting and terrifying history of this storied unit from its inception in 1942 to the end of World War II. It is an account filled with the tragedies and triumphs of the young men who manned the missions and faced death every time they flew over German-held territory.

Stout, a retired marine lieutenant colonel and former fighter pilot, states in his preface that as a fighter pilot he enjoyed a sense of freedom and control bomber crews never had. It was their courage, determination, and loyalty that compelled him to write this book, he says. He chose the 303rd for several reasons: it had an outstanding combat record, it was one of the first units to engage in strategic bombing against Germany, it was the first unit to pass the 25-mission mark, and the veterans and their families kept an extensive collection of records.

Stout presents a crisp, riveting narrative that will appeal to anyone interested in the history of the Eighth Air Force. But his book's greatest appeal is that it reminds readers that it was sons, husbands, and brothers who manned the bombers of the 303rd. It was flesh and blood against boredom, bureaucracy, flak, and desperate Luftwaffe fighter pilots. And it was a brotherhood of sorrow whenever members watched a wounded B-17 drop out of formation, counted the parachutes, and hoped no other bomber would fall.

This point hits home when Stout recounts the fate of the B-17 Spirit of Flak Wolf. On April 9, 1944, the Spirit of Flak Wolf flew from the 303rd's home field, England's Royal Air Force Station Molesworth, near western Cambridgeshire, to participate in a mission to Marienburg, Germany. The bomber and her crew never reached the target. The skies over occupied Europe were deadly, but air warfare wasn't always the main problem. It was mechanical failure that caused the Spirit of Flak Wolf to crash shortly after takeoff, just two and a half miles from the end of the runway. Six of her 10 men died.

The history of the 303rd isn't confined to tragedies, missions, and losses, however. It is an account of a diverse group of Americans who worked together to destroy Nazi Germany from the air. Dropping bombs was the sole reason for the unit's existence, but that required more than just on-board crews. So Stout includes the experiences of ground crews and other support staff, all of whom were instrumental in supporting the bombing campaign. Stout begins his first chapter with the story of Van White, a young man who joined the army in January 1941 and planned to serve as a pilot. A talent for typing kept him as "a chair borne trooper in the paragraph corps." But his work, however unexciting it may seem, was important.

For those seeking gripping yarns of air combat, Stout does not disappoint. His stories of air war are clear and concise, with little to no hyperbole. Hell's Angels is a compelling read for those with an interest in WWII air warfare.

--Michael Edwards

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Author:Edwards, Michael
Publication:America in WWII
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2015
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