Hell in the Heavens

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Hell in the Heavens by Lt. Col. David E. Tavel with Morton E. Tavel, MD

Published by Brighton Publishing LLC approximately 191 pages (my version EBook)

Let me begin with a little history about my family background before I review this book.  My family on both my father and mothers side are German and lived in northern Austria during the war and experienced first hand the Allies strategic bombing.  My maternal grandmother would tell me stories of these raids when I was a young man because I was fascinated by military history.  The stories were not pleasant, as you could hear the fear in her voice as she described the sky being black with American bombers from horizon to horizon.   Other stories described the destruction and suffering the raids caused.  She could never understand how someone could drop bombs on women and children.  Mostly because of these stories I have never really read a lot about the 15th Air Force in Italy as it was a little too close to home for me.  So when I was asked to review this book I agreed to do it without thinking too much about how biased I might be due to the targets of the author being “my family”.  Well here goes…

I enjoy reading history books that deal with people and not just the strategic picture or just about how many planes dropped how many bombs.  This book provides a fascinating insight into the lives of US bomber crews, Morton Tavel has used his cousin’s (Lt. Col. David E. Tavel) personal notes to complete this work.

The story follows the career of Lt. Col. David E. Tavel from his initial catching of the flying bug, through his war service and a little of his civilian life afterwards.  The chapters are broken into Lt. Col. Tavel’s own story, with a mix of chapters by Morton Tavel dealing with the strategic situation that corresponded with the story and additional information on allied and German aircraft as well as other units (Tuskegee Airmen) in Italy. I found this method of telling the story most helpful as it provided both a connected personal and impersonal view of the war, something that is often not contained in history books.

The highlight of the book for me was the way humour and more importantly humility, was used to give an insight into the life and thoughts of not only Lt. Col. Tavel but also the men around him.  There is no chest beating patriotism, just a man telling his story about what it was like to be there, from what was eaten for breakfast (not very appetizing) to battling Bf 109s and flak during a raid over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania.

Chapter sixteen of the book, “Strategic Success of Bombing Campaigns: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” endeavours to provide an answer to my Grandmother’s question, ‘Why would someone bomb women and children?’  I think she would have agreed with the answers it provides.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, as I believe that it is important that the experiences of our lesser known heroes are not forgotten. I hope that more families who have diaries or manuscripts from this era do what Morton has done and create a wonderful legacy for their relatives.

Many thanks to Morton Tavel for this wonderful book to review.  It is available through Amazon.

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