Date: 2017-08-05 09:14 pm (UTC)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)
From: [personal profile] sholio
I really enjoyed Reach for the Sky, about Douglas Bader, WWII flying ace and POW who lost both legs in an accident in the early 1930s and taught himself to fly fighter planes anyway. It's a biography, not an autobiography, but it was written about ten years post-war and the author obviously interviewed Bader and had a lot of contact with him. In some ways this results in a somewhat more glowing portrait of him than you'd probably get in a book written decades later (from other accounts, he was apparently kind of an asshole, although a charismatic asshole), but it's very close to the subject and goes into a lot of detail on exactly how he adjusted to his disability in a 1930s/1940s world, which I found very interesting.

Another one I really liked was The Last Flight of Bomber 31, about the WWII bombing runs staged from the Aleutian Islands across Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula towards Japan. Obviously this one fascinated me in part because of the Alaskan historical connection, but it's also a really interesting account of trying to conduct an air war over large amounts of territory with extremely long supply lines and the logistical difficulties they faced. The Americans could just barely manage to reach Japan's northernmost acquisition, a rocky island of no interest to anyone except as a strategic point of attack on the main part of Japan, by stripping down their planes of all extraneous weight and adding an extra fuel tank, but even under good conditions they were flying on fumes by the time they made it back to the easternmost tip of the Aleutians, so anything from a headwind to minor damage to their planes tended to result in crash-landing in Kamchatka. This was awkward for the Russians, who were trying to maintain their neutrality with regards to Japan so as not to have to fight a war on two fronts, so they took the American pilots as POWs because they didn't really have a choice, but negotiated a sort of informal "escape route" across Siberia to release their (alleged) POWs in the Middle East and allow them to get back into the fighting.

The author also strikes a pretty good balance between the American and Japanese perspectives, and deals fairly with the ordinary Japanese soldiers who were stuck in the middle of nowhere with Americans dropping bombs on their heads all night long, some of whom had pretty interesting stories too -- like one guy who kind of broke my heart - born in the U.S. of Japanese origin, his family was visiting relatives in Japan when the war broke out, and he ended up drafted on the side he didn't want to be on, and stuck on this barren rock in the middle of nowhere, then imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp for several years post-war rather than being repatriated back to the U.S. like he was hoping.
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