S. Martin Shelton

Author of St. Catherine's Crown

Book Review: Engineers of Victory: The Problelm Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War

Engineers of Victory:
The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War 

engineers

 

 

Paul Kennedy, Random House, New York, 2013, 438 pp., with maps and Tables, photographs, Notes, Bibliography, and Index.

 

 

Kenny posits that there were five key tactics to the Allied victory in World War II.

  1. How to Get Convoys Safely Across the Atlantic
  2. How to Win Command of the Air
  3. How to Stop a Blitzkrieg
  4. How to Seize an EnemyShore
  5. How to Defeat the “Tyranny of Distance.”

Kennedy discusses, at great length, the singular elements in each item: intelligence, technology, tactical and long-term strategies, planning, and the civilian and military scientist and engineers who fashioned new weapons to counter the enemy’s initial advantage, and the verve of military leaders.

In item one, for example, Kennedy avers that victory over the Kriegsmarine’s U-boats—the scourge of the North Atlantic—sinking  merchantmen at an alarming rate and practically serving the life line to an isolated and embattled Great Brittan was a combination of several factors: long-range aircraft with new anti-submarine weapons, cryptographers at Bletchley Park who broke the German Navy’s Enigma code, the Hedgehogs multiple mortar weapon system, advanced and more powerful dept-charges, introduction of  Jeep aircraft carriers with their anti-submarine aircraft, and other items all combined to defeat the U-boat menace in the North Atlantic.

In item two, Kennedy details the appalling loses of the Eight Air Force’s B-17 and B-24 bombers in their 1943 daylight raids on the Third Reich—each aircraft with a ten-man crew.  For example, on the raids on the ball-bearing factories in Schweinfurt in October 1943, on just one day the Luftwaffe’s experienced pilots shot down sixty of our bombers—a staggering loss rate of twenty percent.  Dozens of other aircraft were badly damaged and limped home to their airfields in England—almost all with severely wounded airmen. For the experienced Luftwaffe pilots the Schweinfurt raids were a “turkey shoot”—some aces had over one-hundred kills at war’s end.   Simply, the United States Army Air Corps did not have a long-range fighter aircraft that could escort our bombers to their targets and return and to fend the Luftwaffe.

Meantime, the North American Company produced the P-51 fighter, powered by the Alison V1710 engine.  At best, the Allison-powered P-51 was marginally satisfactory as a low-altitude interceptor.  A Royal Air Force test pilot flew the P-51 and recognized its superior aerodynamics and very low drag.  He recommended that the Rolls Royce Merlin V-12, in-line, liquid cooled 1,500 horsepower engine be installed in the aircraft. Viola!  History was made.  Now the high-altitude P-51, fitted with two, 108 gallon drop tanks, escorted our bombers all the way to Berlin.  The slaughter of the B-17s ceased and the Luftwaffe fighter pilots suffered appalling loses.

For a comprehensive understanding of this excellent book, the reader must have an in-depth knowledge of World War II, a worldwide atlas stored in the mind, and a compelling appetite to ferret the myriad details of the five key battles of the last world war.  Clearly, Engineers of Victory is not for the average reader.  This book is more appropriate as a textbook for the military academies or a war college, or for academic researchers.

 

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