Book Review 13: Whirlwind by Barrett Tillman

Scholarly, readable and definitive.

Author Barrett Tillman has produced a welcome reminder of the efficacy of air power in Whirlwind. The most authentic and interesting presentation yet of the powerful 1945 air campaign in which true air power was realized for the first time, Whirlwind achieves every author’s aim by being both scholarly and immensely readable. In telling the story of the U.S.A.A.F.’s pell-mell growth first to maturity and then to ascendancy in the skies over Japan, Tillman combines history in painstaking detail with the warm human drama of the conflict. One unusual, difficult but very valuable contribution is the care he takes to present both the American and the Japanese points of view at every level, from combat crewmember to commander.

The author covers all aspects of the air campaign against Japan, from Jimmy Doolittle’s famous strike through the searing power of General LeMay’s intensive fire-bombing campaign and le coup de grace of two atomic bombs. The accounts of the remarkable results from the B-29 aerial mining campaign are a welcome addition to the book, reminding us again of just how versatile the big Boeing bomber proved to be.

Tillman pulls no punches, laying out in detail just how destructive the bombing raids were but also reminding us of what a dreadful enemy the Japanese military proved to be with their heartless slaughter of captured airmen and their demonstrated intent to use every able civilian to repel an invasion. There is much to be learned from this book about World War II, and perhaps even more on the proper conduct of warfare at the present time, when the exercise of air power seems to be shelved in favor of futile attempts to win hearts and minds.

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