Big Week: The Biggest Air Battle of World War II

Big Week: The Biggest Air Battle of World War II

by James Holland


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During the third week of February 1944, the combined Allied air forces based in Britain and Italy launched their first round-the-clock bomber offensive against Germany. Their goal: to smash the main factories and production centers of the Luftwaffe while also drawing German planes into an aerial battle of attrition to neutralize the Luftwaffe as a fighting force prior to the cross-channel invasion, planned for a few months later. Officially called Operation ARGUMENT, this aerial offensive quickly became known as “Big Week,” and it was one of the turning-point engagements of World War II.

In Big Week, acclaimed World War II historian James Holland chronicles the massive air battle through the experiences of those who lived and died during it. Prior to Big Week, the air forces on both sides were in crisis. Allied raids into Germany were being decimated, but German resources—fuel and pilots—were strained to the breaking point. Ultimately new Allied aircraft—especially the American long-range P-51 Mustang—and superior tactics won out during Big Week. Through interviews, oral histories, diaries, and official records, Holland follows the fortunes of pilots, crew, and civilians on both sides, taking readers from command headquarters to fighter cockpits to anti-aircraft positions and civilian chaos on the ground, vividly recreating the campaign as it was conceived and unfolded. In the end, the six days of intense air battles largely cleared the skies of enemy aircraft when the invasion took place on June 6, 1944—D-Day.

Big Week is both an original contribution to WWII literature and a brilliant piece of narrative history, recapturing a largely forgotten campaign that was one of the most critically important periods of the entire war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802128393
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 492,656
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

James Holland is a historian, writer, and broadcaster. The author of The Rise of Germany, 1939-1941 and The Allies Strike Back, 1941-1943, the first two books in The War in the West series, as well as the bestselling Fortress Malta, Battle of Britain, and Dam Busters, he has also written numerous works of historical fiction. Holland regularly appears on television and radio and has written and presented the BAFTA-shortlisted documentaries Battle of Britain and Dam Busters for the BBC, among others. His writing has appeared in magazines and newspapers including the Sunday Telegraph, for whom he went to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, the Times, Daily Mail, and BBC History Magazine. A fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and cofounder and program director of the hugely successful Chalke Valley History Festival, Holland has also advised the British government on history curriculum and has his own collection at the Imperial War Museum.

Read an Excerpt

February 19, 1944

Some 170 miles away to the south at US Strategic Air Force Headquarters at Bushey Park, General Toohey Spaatz was taking direct control of Operation ARGUMENT. While he still believed air power alone could bring about the defeat of Germany, he had accepted that OVERLORD was going to happen and that from April, his strategic air forces—and those of the RAF—would come under the direct authority of Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander.

Yet for OVERLORD to be successful, that all-important criteria—air superiority over much of France and northern Europe—remained. Since the start of the year, Eighth Air Force had been chipping away at the Luftwaffe. Doolittle’s and Kepner’s new fighter tactics were bearing fruit and with more long-range Mustangs on their way, the time was right for a much more concentrated and sustained assault on the Luftwaffe. No longer was it a matter of bombers heading to a target, dropping bombs and heading back. It was also now a matter of using the bomber formations as bait to entice the German fighters into combat with their own increasingly large fighter force. Strategic air power had always been about bombers. Now, six months after the first deep-penetration bombing raids, that belief had been cast aside, because perhaps even more important than the bombers were the fighters. Fighters piloted by men of superior skill and training. Fighter aircraft that had greater speed and agility than those of the enemy and in greater numbers. Fighters that had greater endurance too, that could maraud deep into Germany, hammering the beleaguered enemy in the air and on the ground.

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