4 out of 4 stars
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Hell in the Heavens: The Saga of a WW2 Bomber Pilot is a non-fiction book by Lt. Col. David E. Tavel and Morton E. Tavel, M.D. about the day to day life of a pilot during WWII.
WWII bomber pilot, David Tavel, left his memoirs to his family about his time during the war. Based on his diary entries and log books, his cousin, Morton Tavel, saw the potential for a published book, and so Hell in the Heavens was born.
The majority of the story is told in first person perspective as David recounts his experiences, but changes to third person when Morton Tavel adds extra facts about the era or David himself. David’s first-hand experiences provide a unique and emotional insight into the life, not only of a bomber pilot but all who were involved in flying the skies during the war.
The story begins with David training to become a pilot in the States in 1937, before being moved out to Italy to begin active combat in 1944. Targeting enemy strongholds of oil bases or factories, the pilots were constantly under fire from fighter planes or antiaircraft fire, as they fought to help turn the tide against the Nazis.
While the writing structure is simple and to the point, it is all the more realistic for its simplicity, not hindered by emotive adjectives or over the top imagery. The starkness further portrays the reality of war and how life-threatening situations, terror, and loss became something to deal with daily.
There is obviously a lot of focus on aircraft, as it was David’s love of flying which started off his journey and continued throughout the rest of his life. While some people may find these extra details a little tedious, I really enjoyed them, even with my limited airplane knowledge. The addition of photos taken at the time helped a lot with visualisation.
What I also found interesting is how, like in other war books which I have read, the enemy is reduced to an entity, not individual people, and that there was cause to celebrate when enemy fighters were shot down or a target was taken out. This is obviously a much needed coping technique in order to fight the way one does for their country. I found it easy to get caught up in this way of thinking, and feel glad whenever David had a successful mission, but I would catch myself every so often thinking that they were people in those planes, living similar lives just like David, yet placed on the side which made them the enemy.
I enjoyed watching David’s growth from an eager young trainee out for adventure, to that of a hardened pilot, thankful each day to return safely to the ground. He learned to cope as best he knew how, one of which was not getting to know the new recruits he was training, as it was too hard to get attached, knowing many of them would not make it back.
This book illustrates, again with its simple way, the unbelievable harsh reality these pilots had to endure, from old rickety planes that were liable to catch fire or not lift off the ground, to the amount of clothing they had to wear to avoid frostbite, to “packing up your fallen buddy’s things to be sent home”.
Overall this is an incredible personal account of the life of a bomber pilot. Well written, with no errors, this would definitely suit anyone with an interest in WWII or aircraft. Easy to read and relatively short at 196 pages, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I can never say enough about the bravery shown by the people who put their lives on the line both in the air and on the ground in WWII fighting for their country.
Hell in the Heavens: The Saga of a WW2 Bomber Pilot
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