How to Buy
All our books are available to buy from CASEMATE PUBLISHING
www.casematepublishing.co.uk (UK, EU and ROW)
AND www.casematepublishing.com (USA, CANADA)
They are also available from all good bookstores and all leadingonline retailers
'Ops' can now be purchased ine-bookformat
Victory at all Costs: On operations over Hitler's Reich with the
crews of Bomber Command - Their War - Their Words
Andrew R.B. Simpson
(now available globally in e-book format from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Overdrive, Sony & Google and other international e-tailers)
Printed book ISBN: 978-0-9555977-6-3
Ebook digital ISBN: 978-0-9555977-9-4
Read interview with the author here
'Waterstones' says of 'Ops' :
... Hence this outstanding book, ‘Ops’. There are no wizard prangs here. This is the bomber offensive at its most authentic, vivid and compelling. Aircrew are drummed out for LMF - ‘lack of moral fibre’. They drink, they swear. Their hands tremble so much they can barely write. Elsan toilets fling their disgusting contents all over the aircraft when it dives. Former POWs talk candidly about the grasses and moles, their own people, who hung around the camps trying to make them talk...
...To go out night after night, knowing with bleak mathematical certainty that the odds of survival diminished every time, knowing that all it took was too much ice on the wing, or a moment’s drowsiness by the rear gunner, or a slip of the navigator’s pencil taking you over a flak belt, or a Luftwaffe ace creeping invisibly beneath you with his ‘schragemusik’, his upwards-pointing guns, to send your aircraft plummeting from the sky – to do all this, knowing all that, required fortitude on a scale we in the 21st century can barely conceive....
...Richard Dimbleby put it best: ‘I only wish there were some way of telling people in Britain what all these men are doing for them’. Seventy years later, Andrew R.B. Simpson has found a way. His book is among the most impressive on this subject I have yet read; it matches in print what the Bomber Command Memorial achieves in bronze and stone... Read the full review here
Amazon reader review (5.0 out of 5 stars)
Mixing oral history and operational history, this book takes a look at the Commonwealth night bomber offensive on Germany from the perspective of the bomber crews. While higher level strategy and operations are discussed to give context, the core of the book is extensive interviews conducted with surviving Australian Bomber Command air crew.
While the author only started interviews in 2007, more than 60 years after the war, survivors made use of photos and diaries and vivid memories to leave stories that at once feel authentic, moving and appalling.
The book is organized chronologically, as the aircrew would have experienced the war, from volunteering to fight, to training, to operations, being shot down, evading capture, life in the prisoner of war camps, escape attempts and then adjusting to peace. In each segment, stories are vivid. A few examples: the nearest pub to one airbase was run by three women, hence dubbed 'The Six Tits' by the aircrew. Pilot after pilot dieing at the controls of their doomed bomber to give aircrew a few extra seconds to escape. The letters received in the prisoner of war camps from girlfriends giving the news that they'd found someone else. The stories give colour and flavour to a place and time so close to our own, yet almost incomprehensible.
Of 110,000 who joined as Bomber Command aircrew, over 55,000 were killed. Many among the survivors became prisoners of war as the grim mathematics of operations meant few veterans escaped the war unscathed. This appalling rate of casualties was well understood by the aircrew themselves. While most continued on despite this knowledge, many could not. 'Lack of Moral Fibre' (LMF), where aircrew broke down and refused to fly anymore is also discussed, with one of the survivors speaking candidly of his LMF experience.
The book is well written and engaging. While peripheral to the main story about the aircrew experience itself, the descriptions of operational history and high command controversies summarize well current consensus and provide just enough context to connect the veterans' stories.
Amazon reader review (5.0 out of 5 stars)
A different spin on the life of a bomber crew. very comprehensive. I would recommend this book to those with an interest in the deeds of Bomber Command in WW2.
'Warfare' online magazine says of 'Ops' :
... 'Ops' is also a labour of love; running as a thread through the unfolding narrative are the experiences of Laurie Simpson, the author's father ... The story ... develops along a chronological line, covering training, life on squadron, ops, escape and evasion and life as a POW; each liberably ‘salted’ with personal accounts to make a very readable book...
... I, for one, am satisfied and the book will be on my 'go to' shelf.'
'Classic Wings' says of 'Ops' :
This year a Bomber Command Memorial was opened by the Queen in London in what was a long overdue tribute to the loss of some 55,000 aircrew of the service during the Second World War. With much controversy post war about the effectiveness and necessity of the RAF's bombing strategy, the fact that the crews were 'doing their job' has been lost in the fog. If anyone has ever doubted that this memorial is fitting they should read this outstanding work ... this book offers a unique and extraordinary insight into arguably the most stressful operations of the last war, where men faced the probability of death without flinching from their duty.'
'Military History Monthly' says of 'Ops' :
Andrew Simpson's 'Ops' bears all the hallmarks of becoming the definitive work on bomber operations during WWII.
Read the full review here.
'Ops' has also been nominated as 'Book of the Month' by 'Britain at War' magazine. Read the review by John Grehan here.
Andrew R.B. Simpson's compelling study of RAF Bomber Command at war was the subject of a feature by Peter Davies in 'The Times' of Saturday, 15 September 2012. Read the article.
'The Americans would burst into tears when one of their mates got shot down, but we just used to say, Sailor's got the chop has he? That's hard luck; he shouldn't have joined if he couldn't take a joke. Let's have a pint. And had we not adopted that attitude we'd never have been able to get through it.'
Many books have been written about Bomber Command's war, from the highest levels of command to the experiences of the lowest WAAF, but only a few have been able to reveal truthfully the highly-charged, grim, dogged and often humorous human side of the bomber crews' experience.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings. In reality, J.G. Magee's celebrated poem of 1941 offers a somewhat over-romantic view of operational flying in the wartime RAF. From 1939 to 1945, of 125,000 men who volunteered for operations with Bomber Command, 55,573 were killed, the slaughter being at the almost unprecedented level of 41 per cent losses. The total British Empire and Commonwealth fatalities from 1939 to 1945 were 452,000. Thus, approximately 13 per cent of all British and Commonwealth deaths during the Second World War were among bomber crews.
Based upon many personal interviews, correspondence and archival sources, Andrew Simpson's Ops - Victory at All Costs is an important, compelling and absorbing documentary record of what the men of RAF Bomber Command went through from initial training and crew formation, to descriptions of life on squadron and on their extremely dangerous and draining operations, to the numbing effect of morale breakdown.
These very ordinary men were asked to take on an almost suicidal task, with slim chance of survival, and they generally volunteered for the job; a phenomenon that continued until the cessation of hostilities. After the fighting was over no campaign medal was ever struck for the air and ground crews of Bomber Command. Most had to content themselves with the Defence Medal for fighting a six-year offensive which was highly significant in the destruction of the Third Reich.
Air Marshal Arthur Harris, the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, never forgave the government for this. Such was his disgust at the lack of official recognition of the effort of his men, a task they faced up to for all this period that, when he was awarded the CGB in 1946, it caused him great distress and embarrassment, and he refused to accept a peerage. Harris felt particularly strongly for his ground crews who had to work at all hours, in often abominable conditions, to keep his vitally needed aircraft flying and, with his air crews, to win the war.
This book, written by the son of a Lancaster pilot, is the result of years of intense research. It contains many personal accounts from air crew from those that survived as well as from those that did not. The author also examines the technology of bombing and how this form of aerial warfare evolved in terms of aircraft design, navigation, bombing methods, tactics and gunnery as used in, and as deployed by, the Hampden, Whitley and Wellington medium bombers, and the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster heavies which equipped Bomber Command's squadrons.
For anyone with a desire to learn more about Britain at war or for those seeking to understand more about the operations of Bomber Command, this book offers a unique and extraordinary insight into a momentous period of history.
'Suddenly, just after passing the Kiel Canal, there was a double explosion: the left wing was hit and the whole aircraft blown on its side. Inside there was considerable damage: the intercom system was down and the wireless antenna gone. Carter was practically scalped by shrapnel, Taylor was hit in a vulnerable spot and unable to sit down for the rest of the trip, and Weyles' wrist watch had been blown off without even a bruise to the skin...'
Andrew Simpson trained as an architect and has an Honours Degree in History. A Friend of the Royal Air Forces Association, he has been interested in aviation and the Second World War since an early age. His fascination with T.E. Lawrence led to his first book, Another Life: Lawrence after Arabia, a full length examination of Lawrence's life after the First World War and his time in the RAF.
Shortly before this book was published, Andrew's father died and as a second book, he set out to record his father's experiences as an Australian Lancaster pilot in World War Two. In order to make the book more comprehensive he contacted over 300 veterans of Bomber Command and interviewed some 20 or so personally to find out more about their experiences. The sum total of this, together with archive research and personal correspondence with the sons of his father's old crews in England and Australia, became Ops: Victory at All Costs, an examination of the bomber war and all that it was like to fly on operations.
A five-minute interview with Andrew R.B. Simpson, author of ‘Ops – Victory at all Costs’
The Tattered Flag: Andrew – very many thanks for agreeing to talk with us. Perhaps you can tell us what prompted you to embark upon such a major work as a book on Bomber Command?
Andrew R.B. Simpson: ‘Ops’ had its origins way back in the 1980s when I wrote an article on 460 Squadron, RAAF, for the Aeroplane magazine that was never actually published. I had a lot of talks with my father, Laurie, about his experiences in Bomber Command and as a POW, but I knew that because so many other veterans had similar experiences there was very little chance of a book being published.
I’d always been interested in writing ever since I was quite young and have, since about the age of nine, been an avid book reader. I can’t understand people who don’t read, for I feel that books enlarge the mind – a bit like travel.
If there was any inspiration for ‘Ops’ it was an American biographical war story called Flags of Our Fathers about the experiences of John Bradley’s father in the Marine Corps on Iwo Jima. Of course this was an entirely different subject, and a different theatre of war, but the type of research he was doing – interviewing veterans, using diary sources etc – was similar to what I ended up doing. The fact that it was a best-seller was incidental.
TTF: So when you eventually started writing, how did you find the process?
ARBS: The writing of ‘Ops’ was very haphazard as, initially, I had very little idea about how it was going to develop. The only real original sources I had were my father’s Service Diary from World War Two and his RAAF Flying Log Book, plus some taped conversations I’d kept. But these were hardly sufficient for a full length book. I was aware that there was a lot of competition ‘out there’, and so I felt there was, initially, little chance of it getting published.
The other main trump I had in my hand was the complete membership list of the RAF Ex-POW Association, of which my father had been the local secretary (nobody else wanted to do it). And so very early on I wrote literally hundreds of letters to as many members of this as I could.
TTF: How was the response?
ARBS: Well, of course, quite a number of them had died by then, so I kept getting letters from widows and sad relatives that only contained patchy biographical details. Of all the replies I received only one was acerbic: I was ‘besmirching the name of such great heroes for my own gain’ etc. I think the chap actually served in the medical branch of the RAF and so was on non-flying duties. Nobody else seemed to mind. But his assumption was entirely wrong: money didn’t come into my thinking at all at this stage; I simply wanted to produce a memorial to all the chaps who died, and record the great deeds they’d performed.
TTF: But did you manage to conduct personal interviews as well?
ARBS: Yes. I was fortunate that five of my father’s personal friends who lived locally were willing to share their experiences, which helped. Although many veterans sent me their own personal memoirs, there really isn’t any substitute for meeting people face-to-face, when you can get a better picture of what they experienced, and ask questions at leisure. The main problem was that time was getting short, as many of them were in their late eighties, so I had to find as many as I could before they passed on. In fact, unfortunately, five or six of them died after I’d talked to them. The other problem was a logistical one: I was restricted by geography, i.e. I could only visit those who were in limited range. Obviously the further away they were the more costly and time consuming it would be to visit them, and so I was not able to interview anyone north of Bristol really. I did make a special visit to London to talk to Les Whitton, who had written to say that he had been in Stalag Luft III with Laurie, and had known him personally. This resulted in a special moment for me; although Les’s memory was fading with age, he did know of two of my father’s second crew.
Andrew Simpson’s father, Laurie (third from left), with his crew at Binbrook in 1944
So, of course, the more I researched it, the more I was able to piece together a structure of sorts. Because my dad was Australian the majority of his crew-mates were from that country and, by then, all but one, Ron Searle, had died, so I really didn’t have any ‘live’ addresses. But Ron had been in regular contact and sent me a couple of lengthy emails which helped clear up some points. He had also kept a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings during the Battle of the Ruhr, which proved very useful. There was one character on my father’s second tour crew nicknamed ‘Schrocky’ whom I didn’t know much about. All I knew was that my dad didn’t really like him and that he had had a penchant for the ladies. But I knew he had originated from Townsville, Queensland and so, on an off chance, I wrote to the Mayor of the town to ask if he recognised the name. By good fortune his son, Arthur Schrock (Jnr.) was a partner in an architectural practice there and the Mayor’s office put me in touch with him. This led to quite an emotional exchange, as they were pleased someone was interested in Arthur Snr. who had died some years before. So I ended up digging up ‘ghosts’ before they all disappeared from memory. I was also able to contact one of my father’s pre-war girlfriends who gave me some insight into his character at that time. This is all detailed in the preliminary chapters of the book.
TTF: Tell me about when you came seriously to think about a book and your experience of the publishing process.
ARBS: Although I was able to produce something to send to publishers after about two years, initially I received four rejections, mainly because the material was too similar to what was already ‘out there’. Thus I became quite disheartened, and decided to print off 90 of my own A5 copies of the book and get them ‘perfect bound’. This I did, and sold them all within two weeks (all to veterans). I realised then that it wasn’t that bad. Things picked up a bit after that. I got an offer from a firm who said they were interested, but they would have published it very quickly, by the end of that year. Also my editor at The History Press (who’d published my earlier book on T.E. Lawrence) told me that the firm didn’t have a very good reputation for quality, i.e. ‘they will do it’, but it won’t be very good. That left me on tenterhooks a bit: obviously I would have accepted this if there was no other outlet.
Then I had a bit of luck. Through the RAF ex-POW association, I was contacted by a policeman who had written a book on German night fighters who wanted to talk to me about Bomber Command. I took a very rough copy of ‘Ops’ with me when I went to see him. He sent this on to Robert Forsyth, owner of Tattered Flag Press who, as I understand it, was knocked out by it. Anyway, as a result of this, I received an offer of a contract almost immediately. So I was very lucky.
Laurie Simpson’s Lancaster photographed at Breighton during the Battle of the Ruhr in 1943
TTF: Given the highly personal link between you and the subject of the book, did you feel any sense of catharsis in the writing process?
ARBS: I suppose you could say that I tried to inject my own experiences of ‘real life’ into the book. I questioned veterans about what it was really like to live in a prison camp day in, day out with other men for long periods. Howard Pearce said he simply went into ‘a shell’ to get away from things. Relationships in crews could also be difficult: if members of a crew didn’t ‘get on’, which occasionally happened, the crew was split up and they went their separate ways. Also I’d served in the ranks of the TAVR for a short time. Admittedly this wasn’t as tough as the Regulars, but it was still pretty tough. I met a number of quite ‘hard’ people, which opened my eyes to a way of thinking I hadn’t experienced before. I realised that Hollywood and the movies tried to ‘glamorize’ things that can in reality be quite bestial and horrific. This made me question what it was really like to serve as aircrew.
There was also the question of the memoirs. Apart from interviews and archive files, my main sources were letters I received and the memoirs that many veterans had written for their grandchildren – the common sad finding is that the majority of ‘the general public’ isn’t interested in these because they are all so similar and sometimes relatively dull. I received a number of these from relations, the most notable of which were those of John Nunn, Lewis Parsons, and Derek Hodgkinson, who’d been quite high up in the command structure of the East Camp at Stalag Luft III. Many other veterans also sent me lengthy letters, such as Alec Marsh and ‘Sandy’ Rowe, and helped with my questions. I felt that if I could link the recollections in the memoirs together with other sources I would be able to produce something much more interesting, which was what happened. Also, amazingly, some veterans recorded the same event from different perspectives. There was one particular incident on 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds in 1943 when a bomb dropped out of a stationary Lancaster and exploded. ‘Sandy’ Rowe’s crew was bombing up immediately next to this and he had his own recollection of the event. But also, on the opposite side of the airfield, John Nunn’s crew was just about to take off, and he recorded his impression of it: this sort of thing happened in the text a number of times.
TTF: Andrew, very many thanks – most interesting.
ARBS: Thanks. I hope your readers enjoy it.