Hell above Earth: The Incredible True Story of an American WWII Bomber Commander and the Copilot Ordered to Kill Him

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Overview

Hell Above Earth tells an unforgettable story of two World War II American bomber pilots who forged an unexpected but enduring bond in the flak-filled skies over Nazi Germany. But there's a twist: one of them was related to the head of the Luftwaffe, Reich Marshal Herman Goering, and the other had secret orders from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to kill him if anything went wrong during their missions. A heart-wrenching Greatest Generation buddy story, an adrenaline-filled account of aerial combat, and a work of ...

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Hell above Earth: The Incredible True Story of an American WWII Bomber Commander and the Copilot Ordered to Kill Him

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Overview

Hell Above Earth tells an unforgettable story of two World War II American bomber pilots who forged an unexpected but enduring bond in the flak-filled skies over Nazi Germany. But there's a twist: one of them was related to the head of the Luftwaffe, Reich Marshal Herman Goering, and the other had secret orders from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to kill him if anything went wrong during their missions. A heart-wrenching Greatest Generation buddy story, an adrenaline-filled account of aerial combat, and a work of popular history, Hell Above Earth centers around the author's discovery of a half-century old secret that has far-reaching and deeply personal repercussions for the pilots, and profound consequences for the FBI and the "Mighty" Eighth Air Force.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"After the twists and turns in Goering's many missions, Frater finishes with a stunning revelation. . . the author delivers an exciting read full of little-known facts about the war. A WWII thrill ride." —Kirkus
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452637150
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/26/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Pete Larkin is an AudioFile Earphones Award winner and a 2014 Audie Award finalist. He has worked in virtually all media. He was the public address announcer for the New York Mets from 1988 to 1993, served as host of WNEW-FM's highly rated "Saturday Morning Sixties" program, and has done hundreds of commercials, promos, and narrations.

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Read an Excerpt

1

“NOW TERROR, TRULY”

 

The thundering ships took off one behind the other. At 5,000 feet they made their formation. The men sat quietly at their stations, their eyes fixed. And the deep growl of the engines shook the air, shook the world and shook the future.

—John Steinbeck, 1942

Perhaps it was the scale, as well as the horror of it all, that still boggles the mind. Before WWII no one had seen anything like the terrifying spectacle of hundred-mile-long armadas of 2,000-plus bombers and fighters regularly and methodically razing the continent. Day after day, night after night, airmen took flight over Europe, bombing and strafing factories, ports, and cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process.

  Between 1940 and 1945, the United States, with the help of more than 3 million workers hustled onto assembly lines, produced 296,000 airplanes at a cost of $44 billion—more than a quarter of the war’s $180 billion munitions bill. The gross national product soared 60 percent from 1938 to 1942. Five million new jobs were created. GM employed half a million persons and accounted for a tenth of all wartime production. At the peak, Boeing was making sixteen new Flying Fortresses a day, and its 40,000 employees literally worked around the clock. Boeing lost $3 million in the five years before 1941 but enjoyed net wartime profits of $27.6 million. “Ford alone produced more military equipment … than Italy.”

  Across Nazi-occupied Europe, a calculated mixture of incendiary and high-explosive bombs obliterated buildings that had stood for centuries. Fire-driven, oxygen-sucking winds whipped flames into pyres of biblical proportions; some were hundreds of feet high and as wide as city blocks—convenient homing beacons for subsequent waves of bombers. Automobiles and streetcars melted in temperatures above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Asphalt ignited and flowed like lava. People who sought safety in water towers, ponds, and fountains were trapped and “boiled alive.” Others, who sought safety belowground, suffocated from a lack of oxygen.

  In 1945, Newsweek, referring to civilian bombing, published an article entitled “Now Terror, Truly.” Dresden historian Marshall De Bruhl wrote that “in less than fourteen hours, the work of centuries had been undone.” The scene was similar in all major German cities. Most of Berlin was demolished. Toward the end, it was ceaseless: almost three-quarters of all the Allied bombs dropped on Europe fell during the final twelve months of the war. By May 1945, up to 80 percent of most of Germany’s urban centers were wiped out and up to 650,000 civilians lay dead, 16 percent of them children. Another 800,000 were wounded. In France, 70,000 civilians died, in Italy another 50,000. England, by comparison, suffered 60,000 civilian deaths at the hands of the Luftwaffe. During the war, the Allies killed “two or three German civilians by bombing for every German soldier they killed on the battlefield.” It was literally hell on earth.

  The air battle over Nazi-occupied Europe was a different kind of fresh hell. It lasted about three years for the Americans and about double that for the English. It was the longest battle of the war, during which an average of about 115 Allied airmen died daily, as did about 650 civilians, including women, children, pensioners, and slave laborers, most of who died following the United States’ entry into the war.

  In his 1942 book, Bombs Away, Stanford University dropout John Steinbeck neatly summed up the challenge facing bomber crews and their commanders.

  Of all branches … the Air Force must act with the least precedent, the least tradition. Nearly all tactics and formations of infantry have been tested over ten thousand years.… But the Air Force has no centuries of trial and error to study; it must feel its way, making its errors and correcting them.

The errors and corrections were recorded in blood. About 26,000 men and women died in aircraft accidents during the war. In the British-based U.S. Army’s Eighth Air Force alone, another 26,000 Americans, or 12.3 percent of the third of a million men who flew, were killed in action—more than the total U.S. Marines death count for the entire war. Only the United States’ Pacific submariners suffered higher fatality rates—more than 20 percent. Yet in total numbers, the Eighth Air Force alone lost more than seven times the global number of U.S. submariner fatalities. The Mighty Eighth suffered 26,000 combat deaths out of its 350,000 officers and men who flew. By comparison, the U.S. Navy suffered 37,000 deaths out of the 4.1 million who served in the WWII Navy. The battle also cost the British Royal Air Force 56,000 dead. If wounded and captured airmen totals are included, the Eighth Air Force had “the highest casualty rate in the American Armed Forces in WWII.”

  Allied saturation bombing shattered not only Nazi Germany’s industrial spine but also American notions of isolationalism in a rabid war. It washed away all naivety regarding the human and moral costs of industrial war in which the cogs of the machine are not only soldiers but also the civilians supplying their material needs. Air war was, in large part, about the substitution of capital for labor—of machinery for men. A single crew of trained fliers could hope to kill a very large number of Germans even if they flew only twenty successful missions before being killed or captured themselves.

The men who devastated Nazi Germany from the air are dying daily. With them dies the personal experience of setting a continent aflame. Few other men in history have deployed such devastating force for as long as the crews of the U.S. Army Air Force did over Europe: 1,042 days, from 1942 to 1945. The air battle over Europe, one of the longest and costliest of any war, heralded not only the nearly complete devastation of the world’s cultural cradle but also the controversial decision by Western democracies to engage in industrial-scale terror bombing on civilian populations. It neatly ushered in atomic-age rationale for a new corps of battle planners, such as Maj. Curtis E. “Old Iron Ass” LeMay, to whom the wholesale destruction of cities was a near-daily personal routine.

  The men and boys, like Werner and Jack, who carried out these attacks, almost on a daily basis, weather permitting, were truly a unique breed of highly trained specialists utilizing the world’s most sophisticated weapons platforms of the era. To combat the terror in the skies they faced, and Nazi terror on the ground, they were ordered to create a literal hell on earth for enemy military, industrial and, ultimately, civilian targets.

  Although they slept in clean sheets and ate hot meals every day bomber crews flew, even while training, was like D-day, exacting tremendous amounts of emotional uncertainty and trauma. Some men, like Werner, accepted this, even thrived on and welcomed the adrenaline rush. Werner knew death could come in a variety of ways: an unlucky flak burst, Luftwaffe fighters that could appear anywhere at any time, pilot error while flying less than fifteen feet apart. Even the air they breathed four miles above the earth was deadly. Others suffered more as their mission totals mounted; the risks of air combat harrowed them fiercely as they neared the magic number that would allow them to return home, duty done.

  Werner was an exceptional pilot. Gifted. His nerves of steel, combined with his unwavering ability to make split-second decisions, saw his crew safely home, mission after grueling mission. But for Werner, there was an added danger: he didn’t realize that at any moment his family name could cost him his life.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Stephen Frater

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Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Acknowledgments xi

Preface xiii

Prologue 1

1 "Now Terror, Truly" 5

2 The Bottom Rung 10

3 German Americans in WWII 23

4 J. Edgar Hoover 27

5 A Matter of National Security 33

6 Jack "Poverty-Stricken" Rencher 39

7 Bootleggers, Bodyguards, and Bank Robbers 44

8 Officer, Gentleman, and Pilot 49

9 Tex Rankin 53

10 Flight Training 57

11 The Nazi's Nephew 60

12 To Arms 70

13 Fruit of a Poisoned Tree 75

14 The Blue Max 77

15 Molesworth 81

16 Into the Fray 84

17 What Fresh Hell Is This 87

18 Hell of a Mess 90

19 Assassin's Dilemma 97

20 Murdersburg 102

21 Iron Ass 114

22 The Fort 128

23 Bloodred Sky 131

24 Heaving the Monster 137

25 Homeward 144

26 The Final Flight of Jersey Bounce Jr. 149

27 The Battle to Live 156

28 Gone with the Water 159

29 The Hell's Angels 163

30 Aero Medicine 166

21 The Writing 69th 173

32 Meier's Trumpets 178

33 Squeezing the Nazis Dry 181

34 Piss on the General 187

35 End of the Contract 193

36 Dresden 196

37 Fog and Fire 203

38 Götterdämmerung: Twilight of the Gods 208

39 Cloak, Dagger, and Camera 213

40 Strategic Air Command 216

41 Africa 222

42 Reichskommissar Göring 225

43 Addis Ababa 28

44 The Lion of Judah 230

45 Whiz Kids and Civilian Life 236

46 Jack's Postwar Years 238

47 2009 241

48 Tucson 243

49 "The Devil's Count" Is Resurrected 250

50 Epilogue: The Men I Never Met 255

Notes 257

Bibliography 271

Index 285

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 23 )
Rating Distribution

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(12)

4 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 11, 2012

    Being a student of 8th Air Force history in WW II, there was no

    Being a student of 8th Air Force history in WW II, there was no doubt that I would explore this story of utter dedication and emotion. It is clear, from the beginning, Mr. Frater has researched the lives of Werner Goering and, his co-pilot, Jack Rencher to the "N"th degree. This book is wrought with dedication displayed by both the author and the main subject, Werner Goering. The diligence of Mr. Frater's research , partly of which is corroborated and verified extensively in other historical publications I own regarding history of the 303rd Bomb Group, Eighth Air Force, is nothing short of outstanding. Likewise, the dedication Werner Goering displayed in service to the USAAF and, postwar USAF, despite allegations of being Hermann Goering's nephew was without question! Regardless of the fact that he was bombing the homeland of his mother and father, at the risk of killing close relatives and, speculating that his co-pilot had higher HQ orders to 'dispatch' him IF anything went awry during any missions, he persevered and carried out his orders without prejudice.

    This book was clearly tough to put down, but I had to sleep and work. I am proud to say that it holds a high place within my own Eighth Air Force library...needless to say, I HIGHLY recommend it!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2012

    Thumbs down

    I found, some, interesting facts in the book. As I read the book,I began to wonder if those facts were correct. The author failed to research his material. He misidentified a basic military unit. He spoke about playing russian roulette with an automatic pistol. If the author failed to get these two basic facts correct, then what other facts did he get wrong. Nothing bothers me more, than, reading material that is so incorrect. All it would have taken, to correct some of these problems, would be to have a person knowleable in the most rudimentary military facts, proof read the book.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 14, 2013

    I really want to like this book but there are credibility issues

    I really want to like this book but there are credibility issues that have given me reasons to doubt the veracity of the research eg:
    How does one play "Russian Roulette" with a magazine fed weapon- Cold .45, further along a Flyer yells "They're Tango Uniform" Tango and Uniform were not part of the WWII phonetic alphabet (T-Tare ,U-Uncle ). One more issue and I'll toss the book.



    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2012

    Riveting story with great detail about life aboard B-17 bomber

    Werner Goering was a B-17 pilot who completed 49 daylight bombing missions over Germany during World War II. What he didn’t know was that co-pilot Jack Rencher had orders from the FBI to kill him rather than allow him to land his plane or be taken as a prisoner of war in Germany. Why? The pilot was the nephew of the Nazi second-in-command Hermann Göring. His falling into German hands, either as a defector or POW, would have been a propaganda coup for the Nazis.

    Although I’ve read quite a lot about the Eighth Air Force, which my father served in as a B-17 mechanic, none brought home the sacrifices the men made in such vivid detail as Hell above Earth. I loved the detailed explanations the author provided about the flight training, the conditions aboard the bombers, even about the Quonset huts that housed the airmen in England and elsewhere.

    I also liked the author’s writing style, and that he occasionally allowed his narrative to veer into the moderately crude language that was part and parcel of the airmen’s lives. Stephen Frater writes as a journalist, not as an historian, so the text is not interrupted with footnotes, although readers will find adequate sourcing in the back notes. The bibliography gave me a few ideas for further reading, including a book, The Writing 69th (by Jim Hamilton), about war correspondents.

    Although I hate it when reviewers mention a surprise ending, I will say the author’s dogged pursuit of the story leads to quite a surprise at the end. Hell above Earth was an altogether engaging read, one that will give readers new appreciation of the sacrifices of The Greatest Generation.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2012

    Stephen Frater's Hell Above Earth is the surprising true story a

    Stephen Frater's Hell Above Earth is the surprising true story about a US 8th Air Force pilot who is related to the Reichs Marshall of the Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering. Werner Goering's family left Germany in the early 1920s and settled in Utah. It's a hard life for Werner as he is growing up; schooling does not come easy and his family has to scratch out a living in a very economically poor area of the country. But when the US becomes involved in WWII, Werner applies himself when he joins the Army Air Corp and becomes one of the best B-17 pilots around. At the same time, at another field, Jack Rencher is also training as a pilot and becomes an instructor for men learning to fly the B-17. He's approached by the FBI and asked to fly as Werner's co-pilot overseas with orders to kill him if the B-17 looks like it might go down on a bombing mission over Germany. Jack kept this secret from Werner and the crew primarily because he learns to respect Werner and his abilities, and in a strange way, they become friends. They both survive the war, with Werner completing 49 missions, and then goes on to an exciting USAF career as a spy stationed in East Germany during the cold war.
    The writing style is captivating, easy and expressive, but fair warning here, some scenes are very graphic...just as real combat was. Stephen doesn't pull any punches and puts you in the aircraft as it is being shot to pieces. Blood and gore will surround you and you can almost hear the last gasps of the dying crewmen. (None of them are aboard Werner and Jack's B-17, it is the men of other aircraft in their unit from which he relates the stories, to give you an up close and personal view and experience of what these extraordinary men went through.) You will come out the other end of the book with a thorough understanding of what combat was like the last year of the war from 20,000 to 30,000 feet up.
    A very well done, well researched, emotionally-impacting and riveting book.

    Gary C. Warne
    Author of the award-winning novel "The Kaiser's Yanks"

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2012

    Great Service!

    Book came just as promised, great condition and timely shipping!

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Impres­sive His­tor­i­cal Detail and Unfor­get­table Char­ac­ters

    Hell Above Earth: The Incred­i­ble True Story of an Amer­i­can WWII Bomber Com­man­der and the Copi­lot Ordered to Kill Him by Stephen Frater is a non-fiction book telling another amaz­ing story to come out of World War II. This is an easy to read, per­sonal and grat­i­fy­ing mil­i­tary his­tory book which is not for mil­i­tary buffs only.

    Werner Goer­ing, a United States B-17 pilot dur­ing World War II for the Mighty 8th Air Force, had a hur­dle to over­come – his uncle is Reich Mar­shal Her­mann Göring, head of the Luft­waffe and Hitler’s sec­ond in com­mand. Unbe­known to him, Goering’s co-pilot, Jack Rencher had a stand­ing order from J. Edgar Hoover to kill Werner in-case they got shot down or if he was try­ing to com­mit an act of treason.

    Jack, a poor boy with a dif­fi­cult child­hood, found Werner to be a soul mate, his only friend in life. The author’s research brings this decades old secret, which is pro­found and deeply per­sonal, to light

    Hell Above Earth: The Incred­i­ble True Story of an Amer­i­can WWII Bomber Com­man­der and the Copi­lot Ordered to Kill Him by Stephen Frater is an excit­ing book which proves the old adage that “truth is stranger than fic­tion”. This is an epic buddy story which would have seemed absolutely ridicu­lous, if it wasn’t true.

    Werner Goer­ing, nephew to Reich Mar­shal Her­mann Göring, head of the Luft­waffe and Hitler’s sec­ond in com­mand, and his co-pilot Jack Rencher flew 48 mis­sions bomb­ing Ger­man cities. While Cap­tain Goer­ing was rec­og­nized as a brave, highly skilled, com­pe­tent and excep­tional pilot he was con­sid­ered a pro­pa­ganda risk and Lt. Rencher was secretly ordered to shoot him if downed over Nazi territory.

    Mr. Frater takes grue­some air com­bat sto­ries and packs them with impres­sive his­tor­i­cal detail and unfor­get­table char­ac­ters. The ter­ror men faced in the air for hours at a time comes across in this out­stand­ing work.

    Using clear writ­ing and end­ing in an unex­pected twist, this book not only cap­tures the drama in the air but also the inner tur­moil of men. This is his­tory at its best, a grip­ping tale of adven­ture while mix­ing an array of gen­eral his­tory top­ics with­out inun­dat­ing the reader with many mind bog­gling, eye pop­ping statistics.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2015

    Great read

    This needs to bee made into a movie.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2015

    Erik

    Of course not he says

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2015

    Joshua

    "Sounds like a pretty rough day. No puppy. No nick. No idol. " gtg.. i might be rp tomorrow...idk.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2014

    Fascinating!

    This was a unique book because of who was involved in the story. The pilot of this B-17 was related to Hermann Goring. Quite an enjoyable story when your consider what was at stake and the loyalties that could have been split between America and Germany.

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  • Posted November 22, 2013

    Very detailed

    The book read more like a compilation of facts. Was disjointed but overall very informative about the WWII air battle.

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  • Posted March 10, 2013

    I liked this book. Certainly, it had the technical errors and r

    I liked this book. Certainly, it had the technical errors and research booboo's pointed out by others, but I hope they'll be cleaned up in the next edition (assuming there will BE a next edition). But this book is quite readable, and I recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    A Different View of Things - and Very Enjoyable

    A well written (yes, there may have been a few technical errors, but, really - nothing to get all worked up over) story of a very involved plot - an excellent aviator, with ties to the Nazi Hierarchy, the FBI that is not 100% trusting, and another pilot that is recruited, and accepts, the mission to kill the pilot should it look like he is going to fall into German hands. Should be on the reading list of any WW II buff.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2012

    Pretty good

    Not a bad book at all. Worth a read

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  • Posted August 6, 2012

    Highly recommended

    It was a good read. It was well-researched story-line and anti-climatic, in that what you see is not necessarily what you get

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2012

    Disappointment

    Stephen Frater's book should be retitled HELL ABOVE EARTH-AMERICAN BOMBER PILOTS OVER NAZI GERMANY IN WORLD WAR II. This book was not what I expected, the subject of Werner Goering was very interesting but not well done. As an amateur historian I was looking for great things but they just were not delivered by Mr. Frater. This book rambled, got side tracked by interesting but unrelated anecdotes. Mr. Frater does not know organiztional facts about the U.S. Army Air Forces in WWII. Mr. Frater must have been in the Army because multiple times he refered to " the Eight Army" instead of the "Eight Air Force" He referred to "squads" when they should have been "squadrons" In the WWII USAAF organisation was along the lines of "air division, wing, group. squadron and flight" An example of "...heavy bombers used in Europe were the B-17, B-24 and B-29." The B-29 was not used operationally over Nazi Germany. This book had alot of research but it was not put down on paper well at all. Not enough information on Werner Goering and Jack Rencher. Mr. Frater should stay with writing about what he knows, HELL ABOVE EARTH is not it.

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  • Posted June 10, 2012

    Not finished yet but

    Well written, but I think I prefer personal experience or biographic true stories. This one seems more like a history book to me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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