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Operation Millennium

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Operation Millennium. "Bomber" Harris's Raid on Cologne May 1942. By Eric Taylor. (Spellmount: 2004. Pg. 242.) ISBN : 1862272301.

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - January 22, 2007

The carpet bombing of German cities wrought a terrible toll on the civilian population of Germany, and on the men who carried out these devastating raids. In part, the carpet bombings were in direct response to the Blitz, Nazi Germany's bombing of London. However they were also used as a tactical strategy aimed at demoralizing the German people, and at disrupting the economic and social life of the country. The effectiveness of these raids, in terms of hastening the end of the war, will perhaps never be accurately quantified. Nor will the discussion, on whether precision bombings of strategic targets would have been a better use of machines and manpower, ever be stilled. What is known is the toll these raids took in terms of civilian causalities and physical damage to the German infrastructure, as well as to the toll it took in terms of the British and American planes that were lost or damaged, and the crewman killed, wounded, or captured in these actions.

In Operation Millennium, Eric Taylor takes a hard look at one raid, the one against Cologne in May of 1942, led by Arthur "Bomber" Harris. In gripping detail he examines how the raid was carried out, the reasons for the raid, the effect that it had on the men who carried it out, and the devastating impact it had on the city of Cologne, and its people. Touted as one of the thousand-bomber raids, this one raid saw the near destruction of Cologne and upwards to 95% of its people either killed or displaced.

Code named Operation Millennium, this raid was the first of the British carpet-bombing raids leveled against the Germans. It was a massive undertaking that included more than 1,000 bombers manned by more than 6,000 crewmen. Spearheaded by Bomber Harris, this was to be a trial run to test out this new strategic technique of flying in at night and obliterating a single city. This test was horrifically successful, and the fire storm that ravaged Cologne incinerated so many of the dead that the true death toll was destined never to be known. Building upon this 'successful' test run, the British Bomber Command embarked on a series of night time, carpet bombing raids, primarily aimed at civilian population centers. Leaving the daytime free for American flyers to make precision bombing runs against military and strategic targets. Combined, this dual tactic kept up a savage, around the clock bombardment of Germany.

Taylor, in writing this book, interviewed countless survivors of the Cologne bombing, Nazi officers, the men who flew on the raid, and British military and political officials. These witnesses provided Taylor with a unique understanding and appreciation of the toll that this raid took, on both sides. Operation Millennium paints a gripping picture of what the raid was like for those on the ground, and it also illustrates the tremendous psychological and physical toll that the raid took on the airmen who carried it out. Taylor also examines history of the carpet-bombing raids, and the strenuous efforts that the Royal Air Force took to ensure that every man tasked to participate in the raids did 'his duty' no matter how scared he was and no matter any moral or ethical feelings he had about the legitimacy of what he was being forced to carry out.

Operation Millennium is an edifying, objective book that presents both sides of the story without making any judgements against any of the participants in this horrific event. Any judgements that are to be made are left up to the reader. What this book does is to humanize the raid on Cologne, giving a face and a voice to both the civilians who endured it and to the men compelled to carry it out.

Operation Millennium is a book that will find a ready audience among those who lived through these terrible events, and among those who study them. This is also a book that will help readers understand the reasons why these horrific bombing raids were carried out, and how they were organized. Taylor also takes pains to humanize this story, to show what life was like for the airmen before the bombing and to show what life was like for the residents of Cologne in the days and hours before their world was forever changed. He does this by presenting their stories, introducing people by name, giving you a brief glimpse into their lives - what they ate, who their children were, how they were living. In short, he puts a face on the bland statistics of war, while at the same time telling the gripping story of a monumental raid that heralded an entirely new and devastating military strategy. Operation Millennium is a must read for anyone with an interest in World War II or Military History.

Related Reviews:

Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden, by Marshall De Bruhl.
A compelling, and unbiased account of the carpet bombing of Dresden in 1945, that explored why this campaign was so controversial, and how it affected the outcome of the war.

Combat Nurse, By Eric Taylor.
During World War II, numerous women volunteered to serve as military nurses. Often their jobs placed them at grave risk of injury or capture by the enemy, and all too often they met their deaths while doing their duty. In Combat Nurse, Eric Taylor has woven a riveting book that describes what is it was like to be a British nurse, serving in combat areas, during World War II.

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