The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany

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by Stephen E. Ambrose
     
 

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Stephen Ambrose is the acknowledged dean of the historians of World War II in Europe. In three highly acclaimed, bestselling volumes, he has told the story of the bravery, steadfastness, and ingenuity of the ordinary young men, the citizen soldiers, who fought the enemy to a standstill -- the band of brothers who endured together. The very young men who flew the B-24s…  See more details below

Overview

Stephen Ambrose is the acknowledged dean of the historians of World War II in Europe. In three highly acclaimed, bestselling volumes, he has told the story of the bravery, steadfastness, and ingenuity of the ordinary young men, the citizen soldiers, who fought the enemy to a standstill -- the band of brothers who endured together. The very young men who flew the B-24s over Germany in World War II against terrible odds were yet another exceptional band of brothers, and, in The Wild Blue, Ambrose recounts their extraordinary brand of heroism, skill, daring, and comradeship with the same vivid detail and affection. With his remarkable gift for bringing alive the action and tension of combat, Ambrose carries us along in the crowded, uncomfortable, and dangerous B-24s as their crews fought to the death through thick black smoke and deadly flak to reach their targets and destroy the German war machine.

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Master WWII military historian Stephen Ambrose, bestselling author of such classic works as Band of Brothers and D-Day, hits the front lines again with this exciting and compelling look at the courageous young men who flew the massive B-24 bombers over Germany during the last two years of World War II.

The focus of the book is on George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, who, ironically, was lambasted by the right for his anti-Vietnam stance. Here, he shines brightly as an American airborne hero, bravely piloting his huge and awkward bomber through massive German flak bombing. McGovern also comes across as a fine commanding officer, deeply caring about the men under his authority. McGovern, at the tender age of 22, wound up flying 35 missions and ultimately won the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The B-24 was not an easy machine to fly. It had a thin aluminum skin, which made it sufficiently airworthy but terribly susceptible to attack from ground-based enemy gunfire. It was a simple machine, though -- built with one purpose in mind: dropping a maximum load of 8,800 pounds of bombs. There were no windshield wipers, so a pilot like McGovern was often forced to stick his head out the window of the plane to see where he was going! Above 10,000 feet, the only way to breathe was through an oxygen mask. There was no heat, which made the bombing runs that much more arduous. And there were no bathrooms, meaning that the pilots and their crews had to use "relief tubes."

Ambrose goes into much useful detail on the origins of the pilots themselves. Interestingly, they were all volunteers -- the Army Air Corps (the precursor to the modern Air Force) did not want to make anyone take part in this difficult duty. They came from all walks of life. Some were college graduates, while others were still in high school. Many went straight from the farm to the airfield.

The pilots were treated quite well by the AAC, considering that they were part of the same armed forces that tended to dehumanize servicemen in order to get the maximum use out of them. They got to wear winged insignia on their uniforms. They got extra pay. As volunteers, they knew what they were getting into, unlike the typical draftee. Most of all, they wanted to serve -- and they wanted to fly.

Once again, Stephen Ambrose has turned his spotlight on a special and unique facet of the U.S. military and brought the heroism and courage of the American soldier back home to us. In his own way, Ambrose himself has done a great service to the American people. (Nicholas Sinisi)

Nicholas Sinisi is the Barnes&Noble.com History editor.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743203395
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
08/14/2001
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

The pilots and crews of the B-24s came from every state and territory in America. They were young, fit, eager. They were sons of workers, doctors, lawyers, farmers, businessmen, educators. A few were married, most were not. Some had an excellent education, including college, where they majored in history, literature, physics, engineering, chemistry, and more. Others were barely, if at all, out of high school.

They were all volunteers. The U.S. Army Air Corps -- after 1942 the Army Air Forces -- did not force anyone to fly. They made the choice. Most of them were between the ages of two and ten in 1927, when Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis from Long Island to Paris. For many boys, this was the first outside-the-family event to influence them. It fired their imagination. Like Lindbergh, they too wanted to fly.

In their teenage years, they drove Model T Fords, or perhaps Model A's -- if they drove at all. Many of them were farm boys. They plowed behind mules or horses. They relieved themselves in outdoor privies. They walked to school, one, two, or sometimes more miles. Most of them, including the city kids, were poor. If they were lucky enough to have jobs they earned a dollar a day, sometimes less. If they were younger sons, they wore hand-me-down clothes. In the summertime, many of them went barefoot. They seldom traveled. Many had never been out of their home counties. Even most of the more fortunate had never been out of their home states or regions. Of those who were best off, only a handful had ever been out of the country. Almost none of them had ever been up in an airplane. A surprising number had never even seen a plane. But they all wanted to fly.

There were inducements beyond the adventure of the thing. Glamour. Extra pay. The right to wear wings. Quick promotions. You got to pick your service -- no sleeping in a Navy bunk in a heaving ship or in a foxhole with someone shooting at you. They knew they would have to serve, indeed most of them wanted to serve. Their patriotism was beyond question. They wanted to be a part of smashing Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, and their thugs. But they wanted to choose how they did it. Overwhelmingly they wanted to fly.

They wanted to get off the ground, be like a bird, see the country from up high, travel faster than anyone could do while attached to the earth. More than electric lights, more than steam engines, more than telephones, more than automobiles, more even than the printing press, the airplane separated past from future. It had freed mankind from the earth and opened the skies.

They were astonishingly young. Many joined the Army Air Forces as teens. Some never got to be twenty years old before the war ended. Anyone over twenty-five was considered to be, and was called, an "old man." In the twenty-first century, adults would hardly give such youngsters the key to the family car, but in the first half of the 1940s the adults sent them out to play a critical role in saving the world.

Most wanted to be fighter pilots, but only a relatively few attained that goal. Many became pilots or co-pilots on two- or four-engine bombers. The majority became crew members, serving as gunners or radiomen or bombardiers or flight engineers or navigators. Never mind. They wanted to fly and they did.

Copyright © 2001 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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Meet the Author

Stephen E. Ambrose is the author of numerous books of history, including the New York Times number one bestseller Nothing Like It in the World, and Undaunted Courage, D-Day, and Citizen Soldiers. He lives in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and Helena, Montana. Visit his Web site at www.stephenambrose.com.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
January 10, 1936
Date of Death:
October 13, 2002
Place of Birth:
Whitewater, Wisconsin
Place of Death:
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Education:
B.A., University of Wisconsin; M.A., Louisiana State University, 1958; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, 1963

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The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany 1944-1945 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This non-fiction novel by Stephen E. Ambrose is about the crews of the B24 Liberators flown in World War II and their crews; specifically, the crew of the Dakota Queen. This book begins by explaining where the crew members of these bombers came from and has a large focus on George McGovern and his difficult training in which 124,000 out of roughly 317,000 men (after physical testing) "washed out". Washing out means that the men who aspired to be a pilot, bombardier, or a navigator could not pass one or several of various challenges or tests that were placed before them so they were sent off to either another branch of the service (such as the army) or were instead trained in being a gunner for the B24. The rest of the book outlines the missions that the Dakota Queen engaged in and also speaks of the Tuskegee Airmen who were the B24's fighter escorts for some of their missions. The major stress or theme at the beginning of this novel is the stress on the growth of the United States Army Air Force (the USAAF or the AAF for short) and the large number of young men volunteering to join in the AAF. I enjoyed this book because it contains large amounts of information about the bomber crews and their missions in World War II and it also explains the very rigorous and difficult training that the crew, especially the pilots, had to endure to become what they aspired to be. This book kept me interested throughout most of its entirety with a few exceptions. During the first few chapters the book progresses very slowly and dumps almost too much information on you as Ambrose explains the training they went through. The book soon speeds up however as Ambrose begins to describe the risky missions that the Dakota Queen partook in. This is a must read for anyone who is interested in history, planes, or a combination of the two as it is full of good information. Not only do I recommend this book but I also recommend Band of Brothers which is also written by Ambrose and is much better known. Another good book is Marine Sniper by Charles Henderson which I also read recently. This book is about the marine sniper Carlos Hathcock who recorded a record 93 confirmed kills while on his tour in Vietnam.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of Ambrose, but somehow I came away after reading The Wild Blue with mixed emotions. On the one hand you only have to look at the extensive notes section at the back of the book to realize how much research Ambrose and his son poured into this effort. The details he offers of each of the young men that fought, and sometimes died, in their B-24s is very impressive. Yet it is this same detail that causes me some disappointment. The cast of characters he offers is quite large, as witnessed by over 40 names mentioned on Page 25. As Ambrose takes us through the various stages of training, shipping over to the war, and eventually engagement in the war, he does so not just from the perspective of George McGovern, but from the perspective of many of the other characters. What this left me with was a feeling of abrupt changes, that happened continually throughout the book. I found it especially difficult to stay on top of who was who in the training chapters. Names of men, locations and thoughts wizzed by so fast I ended up just reading over the names as if they didn't exist, and concentrated more on George McGovern. Perhaps I'm alone in this thought, but I wished a few times as I read through the book that Ambrose would have fixed his incredible writing powers just on McGovern, and not brought in so many other interesting, but sadly short, perspectives. I am and will always be a big fan of Ambrose, but I feel that perhaps this was not quite his best effort. Would I recommend this book to others? Hmmm, I have mixed emotions.
GrizWA More than 1 year ago
I had an Uncle who flew B24s in WWII and had listen to some of the stories he told me. This book is truly a document of just what these men had to deal with and how close they were as family. A must read if you are interested in the AAF during the war.
Guest More than 1 year ago
These young flyers had more courage than my baby boomer generation will ever hope to have. The excerpt is about the first missions for several of the crewmembers. Dr. Ambrose has a wonderful way of putting you right there in the aircraft, enduring the horror of buddies killed and flak tearing the B-24 apart. Riveting!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not up to the author's standard in previous works, most notably Undaunted Courage and Band of Brothers.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Think I read it years ago, but it was fresh. Well done! My respect for George McGovern really went up!
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RCCnLA More than 1 year ago
I bought this book after reading " The Arsenal of Democracy" which provided great details on how Detroit and Ford Motor Company built more B-24's than any planes in WWII. I always thought the B-29 was the " hot bomber", but nothing compared in numbers like the B-24. That book also suggested the B-24 was a tough bird to fly. "The Wild Blue" filled in some details that really opened my eyes as to what WWII crews went through. As my father was in the AAF in a photo-recon unit, I gained a greater appreciation for what he had been though,something he never provided details on to me personally.This is ( another) good read filled with first person accounts from Steven Ambrose.
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woodySP More than 1 year ago
The book interesting and informative, it was also long winded.
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Just so we do not forget what our military has done for those of us to keep our country as we remember it. Freedom doesn't come cheap and our young men have freely given their lives so that we can continue to live free. We must never forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for my husband. He really enjoys historical novels and non-fiction history. He liked it from the beginning. Not dry like some historical work.
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