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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

by Stephen E. Ambrose

Narrated by Jeffrey DeMunn

Unabridged — 8 hours, 49 minutes

Stephen E. Ambrose
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

by Stephen E. Ambrose

Narrated by Jeffrey DeMunn

Unabridged — 8 hours, 49 minutes

Stephen E. Ambrose

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Overview

The very young men who flew the B24s over Germany in World War II against terrible odds were an exemplary band of brothers. In The Wild Blue, Stephen Ambrose recounts their extraordinary brand of heroism, skill, daring, and comradeship.

Stephen Ambrose describes how the Army Air Forces recruited, trained, and chose those few who would undertake the most demanding and dangerous jobs in the war. These are the boys -- turned pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and gunners of the B24s -- who suffered over 50 percent casualties.

Ambrose carries us along in the crowded, uncomfortable, and dangerous B24s as their crews fought to the death through thick, black, deadly flak to reach their targets and destroy the German war machine or else went down in flames. Twenty-two-year-old George McGovern who was to become a United States senator and a presidential candidate, flew thirty-five combat missions (all the Army would allow) and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. We meet him and his mates, his co-pilot killed in action, and crews of other planes -- many of whom did not come back.

As Band of Brothers and Citizen Soldiers portrayed the bravery and ultimate victory of the American soldier from Normandy on to Germany, The Wild Blue makes clear the contribution these young men of the Army Air Forces stationed in Italy made to the Allied victory.


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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Dorman T. Shindler The Denver Post [The Wild Blue] demands our attention...page-turning reading.

Calvin L. Christman The Dallas Morning News The Wild Blue is right on target...[the book] finally gives those men of the 15th Air Force the tribute they so richly earned.

Larry King USA Today Brilliant...It is a terrific story.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940170711031
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/01/2001
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

The B-24 was built like a 1930s Mack truck, except that it had an aluminum skin that could be cut with a knife. It could carry a heavy load far and fast but it had no refinements. Steering the four-engine airplane was difficult and exhausting, as there was no power except the pilot's muscles. It had no windshield wipers, so the pilot had to stick his head out the side window to see during a rain. Breathing was possible only by wearing an oxygen mask — cold and clammy, smelling of rubber and sweat — above 10,000 feet in altitude. There was no heat, despite temperatures that at 20,000 feet and higher got as low as 40 or even 50 degrees below zero. The wind blew through the airplane like fury, especially from the waist gunners' windows and whenever the bomb bay doors were open. The oxygen mask often froze to the wearer's face. If the men at the waist touched their machine guns with bare hands, the skin froze to the metal.

There were no bathrooms. To urinate there were two small relief tubes, one forward and one aft, which were almost impossible to use without spilling because of the heavy layers of clothing the men wore. Plus which the tubes were often clogged with frozen urine. Defecating could be done only in a receptacle lined with a wax paper bag. A man had to be desperate to use it because of the difficulty of removing enough clothing and exposing bare skin to the arctic cold. The bags were dropped out of the waist windows or through the open bomb bay doors. There were no kitchen facilities, no way to warm up food or coffee, but anyway there was no food unless a crew member had packed in a C ration or a sandwich. With no pressurization, pockets of gas in a man's intestinal tract could swell like balloons and cause him to double over in pain.

There was no aisle to walk down, only the eight-inch-wide catwalk running beside the bombs and over the bomb bay doors used to move forward and aft. It had to be done with care, as the aluminum doors, which rolled up into the fuselage instead of opening outward on a hinge, had only a 100-pound capacity, so if a man slipped he would break through. The seats were not padded, could not be reclined, and were cramped into so small a space that a man had almost no chance to stretch and none whatsoever to relax. Absolutely nothing was done to make it comfortable for the pilot, the co-pilot, or the other eight men in the crew, even though most flights lasted for eight hours, sometimes ten or more, seldom less than six. The plane existed and was flown for one purpose only, to carry 500 or 1,000 pound bombs and drop them accurately over enemy targets.

It was called a Liberator. That was a perhaps unusual name for a plane designed to drop high explosives on the enemy well behind the front lines, but it was nevertheless the perfect name. Consolidated Aircraft Corporation first made it, with the initial flight in 1939. When a few went over to England in 1940, the British Air Ministry wanted to know what it was called. Reuben Fleet of Consolidated answered, "Liberator." He added, "We chose the name Liberator because this airplane can carry destruction to the heart of the Hun, and thus help you and us to liberate those millions temporarily finding themselves under Hitler's yoke."

Consolidated, along with the Ford Motor Company, Douglas Aircraft Company, and North American Aviation — together called the Liberator Production Pool — made more than 18,300 Liberators, about 5,000 more than the total number of B-17s. The Liberator was not operational before World War II and was not operational after the war (nearly every B-24 was cut up into pieces of scrap in 1945 and 1946, or left to rot on Pacific islands). The number of people involved in making it, in servicing it, and in flying the B-24 outnumbered those involved with any other airplane, in any country, in any time. There were more B-24s than any other American airplane ever built.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the B-24 won the war for the Allies. But don't ask how they could have won the war without it.

The Army Air Forces needed thousands of pilots, and tens of thousands of crew members, to fly the B-24s. It needed to gather them and train them and supply them and service the planes from a country in which only a relatively small number of men knew anything at all about how to fly even a single-engine airplane, or fix it. From whence came such men?

Copyright © 2001 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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