Review of Serenade to the Big Bird

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Serenade to the Big Bird by Bert Stiles (4 stars)

I consider this book to be the best memoir of the American air campaign in Europe during World War Two. There are other fine memoirs but this is about the gut feelings of a young B-17 pilot and were I only going to read one memoir, I would read this one.

The reason? The author, First Lieutenant Bert Stiles, flew 35 bombing missions over Germany and German occupied Europe during the Spring and early Summer of 1944. After finishing his tour, he stayed in England and spent a month writing this extraordinary memoir.

Everything Stiles wrote about had just happened to him in the previous six months. His memories of fear, exhaustion, of boredom, German fighters and terror, of the death of friends and the subsequent sadness beyond words, of the drone of the engines on a B-17 and of how good a candy bar tasted after they were out of enemy territory; all of these memories were painfully fresh when he set them down.

And their effects on him were also fresh. He wrote about the time he came back from a mission during which he had seen at least a dozen B-17s from his Wing go down.

“…all those guys…all those good guys…shot to hell…or captured…then I came apart and cried like a little kid…”

This memoir has many virtues one of the most striking being that Stiles was a fine writer, a keen observer of human nature, and an extraordinary man with such a broad view of life that some of his observations seem out of place in not only one so young but in such a time as 1944.

Stiles was actually a pacifist but like many came to the conclusion that the Nazis threatened the entire concept of Western Civilization. This is a haunting memoir: amusing, ineffably sad, and brutally honest about the author’s emotions. At one point he was taking off active operations because he had become “flak happy.” That was the expression used in the day by the US Army Air Force for someone cracking-up from the stress.

From Serenade to the Big Bird:
“There are all kinds of people: senators and whores and barristers and bankers and dishwashers. There are Chinamen and Cockney’s and Gypsies and Negroes. There are Lesbians and cornhuskers and longshoremen. There are poets and lieutenants and shortstops and prime ministers. There are Yanks and Japs and poor whites…there are Germans and Melanesians and beggars and Holy Rollers…there are people.

And some day we are going to catch on, that no matter where people are born, or how their eyes slant, or what their blood type, they are just people…

They are not masses. They will not go on being slaves. They are just people, partly good, partly bad, mostly balancing out. And until we call them people, and know they are people, all of them, we are going to have a sick world on our hands.”
Bert Stiles had written a number of published articles and short stories before he wrote this memoir. He wanted to be a writer when the war was over. But that wasn’t to be. After completing his 35 missions in bombers, he could have gone back to the US as a flight instructor. Instead he volunteered to fly fighters which he did until he was killed in action on 26 November 1944 in a dogfight over Germany.

Stiles never saw his memoir published. He easily would have been one of the finest writers of his generation. Of the millions of small tragedies of World War Two and a lesson in how war kills men, and now women, indiscriminately.

If you want to buy the book you can click on the link in blue at the top of the page.

Vickers Wellington

This was the most modern strategic bomber the Royal Air Force had when World War Two began. Unfortunately, it was slow…220 to 235 MPH with a ceiling of 18,000 feet. Once four engine bombers went into service with Bomber Command, the Wellington’s were pushed aft to the lowest level of the bomber stream. They could barely keep up with the 4 engines and often didn’t which them extremely vulnerable to German fighters.

Dwi_wellington_front

A close-up view of a Vickers Wellington DWI (Directional Wireless Installation) on the ground at Ismailia, Egypt, showing the electromagnetic ring used to explode magnetic mines. (Original IWM caption: Close-up of a Vickers Wellington DWI Mark II of No. 1 General Reconnaissance Unit at Ismaliya, Egypt, , showing the 48-foot diameter electromagnetic ring, for exploding magnetic mines, suspended from the wings and fuselage of the aircraft. The ring weighed over two and a quarter tons.)

(This is photograph CM 5312 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums)

 

Wellington_GR_Mk_XIII_IWM_CNA_3535

IWM caption : Vickers Wellington GR Mark XIII, JA412 ‘S’, of No 221 Squadron RAF based at Kalamaki/Hassani, Greece, in flight over the Aegean Sea while on a mission to drop relief supplies over isolated villages in Macedonia.

(Baker L H (Flt Lt), Royal Air Force official photographer – This is photograph CNA 3535 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums).

 New_Zealand_Wellington_Bombers_in_England1939

 Wellington Mark I aircraft, with the original Vickers turrets, of the RNZAF — anticipating war, the New Zealand government loaned these aircraft and their aircrews to the RAF in August 1939. 

 

Beuteflugzeug, Vickers Wellington

A captured Vickers Wellington Mk.IC (RAF serial L7842) in service with the German Luftwaffe, probably at the test center at Rechlin, circa 1941. L7842 was delivered in mid-1940. It was lost on 6 February 1941 while in service with No. 311 Squadron, RAF, while on a mission to Boulogne (France).

From the BBC

A group of WWII veterans have been reunited with the world’s last remaining Wellington Bomber aircraft to have seen active service.
Surviving members of the RAF Wellington crew gathered at Brooklands Museum, in Weybridge, Surrey, to see the restored plane on Wednesday.

The plane was unearthed by a team searching for the Loch Ness monster in Scotland in 1985.

Staff at Brooklands were given an award for the restoration work.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) presented the museum with its prestigious heritage hallmark award and unveil a plaque.

‘Engineering history’

Vickers created the Wellington Bomber, which served throughout WWII, using a pioneering lattice-structure design.

The crew of the restored plane had to ditch the aircraft because of engine failure while they were flying over Loch Ness in 1940 on a training exercise.

The aircraft had not decayed despite spending decades in Loch Ness because of the lake’s fresh water.

It took staff more than 15 years to restore the plane. Its side panels have not been replaced to allow museum visitors to see the lattice structure.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/surrey/7002146.stm

World War Two: Childrens’ marbles Which led to World War Two’s Dambusters to go on sale for £600

 

A-World-War-Two-RAF-Avro-Lancaster-bomber-aircraft

A World War Two RAF Avro Lancaster bomber aircraft, complete with Guy Gibson’s serial number of AJG from 617 ‘Dambuster’ Squadron, flies past Teesside Airport  (photo Imperial War Museum)

 

 

Breathless, Inaccurate but Interesting Piece from the London Daily Mail

 

Inventor Barnes Wallis ran tests in his garden, using his daughter’s marbles and a tin bath filled with water before he came up with the daring plan.

Four marbles used to help develop the bouncing bombs dropped by the Dambusters are up for auction. Inventor Barnes Wallis ran tests in his garden, using his daughter’s marbles and a tin bath filled with water.

The 1943 raid on Germ­any’s Ruhr valley helped change the course of the Second World War. (THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE Says Charles McCain)

The remainder of the story is here:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/ordinary-marbles-led-world-war-5000622

World War Two Bomb Causes Massive Evacuation In French Town

An interesting piece from the London Daily Mail. I have often written about unexploded World War Two bombs in Europe. There are several hundreds of thousands of what used to be known as “UXBs”

 

More than 3,000 evacuate French city after massive British WWII bomb found near town hall

 

bomb

 

 

A 250kg bomb, containing approximately 70 kilos of high explosives, was discovered around Rennes’s town hall area during the works on the new metro line. Photo courtesy of www.ibtimes.co.uk)

 

Workers spent two hours defusing the aged weapon, which is believed to have been dropped by Britain’s Royal Air Force between 1943 and 1944 as the Allies fought Nazi Germany.

The discovery of a gigantic World War II bomb forced thousands of residents to flee their homes in the French city of Rennes on Sunday.

More than 3,000 people were evacuated after the potentially devastating 550-pound device was found near the city’s town hall, reports France 24.

Workers building a new metro line were stunned to unearth the aged weapon – which was packed with 155-pounds of high-grade explosives.

All homes and businesses within 300 yards of the scene were cleared, including a fire station and a home for the elderly.

Bomb disposal experts then moved in to disarm the shell, in what was described as a “very delicate operation.”

 

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/thousands-evacuate-french-city-discovery-wwii-bomb-article-1.2021466