Combat Crew is one of the best memoirs about the air war over Europe ever written. John Comer kept a journal of the twenty-five missions he flew in 1943 when the casualty rate on his base was close to 80%. After each raid Comer gathered the crew together and pieced together the air battle from a 360-degree perspective. His book is handwritten history, recorded within hours after the battles occurred.
Comer vividly creates his experiences as top-turret gunner/flight engineer in a B-17 Squadron that was thrown against the best pilots the Luftwaffe could offer. In 1943 the Germans were more experienced than the Americans and the Army Air Force had no long-range fighters to protect the B-17’s as they flew deep into enemy territory. That Comer survived is a testament to his crew’s skill and his luck; his 533rd Squadron (8th Air Force, 1st Division, 381st Group) lost three out of every four men on combat status during the six months Comer flew his first twenty-five missions.
Comer’s powerful narrative is devoted to the men who flew the planes, dropped the bombs, and fired the guns. Their everyday life was filled with terror, friendship, and fatigue. Comer recorded it all in his diary. The reader shares the fears of flight crew as they wonder if their heavily loaded bomber can actually lift off the runway. Many planes didn’t make it. Then there are the freezing temperatures in unheated planes (63 degrees below zero with the bomb-bay doors open and 200 M.P.H. winds blowing through the aircraft). There are missed targets, faulty equipment, red-hot shrapnel from antiaircraft fire, and what it was like to look German fighter pilots in the eye as they barreled in with cannons blazing. Above all, there is the horror of watching friends being shot down on every bomb run — no matter how “easy” the mission might have been.
Immediate, straightforward, compelling, Combat Crew is destined to become a classic of aerial warfare.