History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 19-20

Hey, readers – can you believe how far we’ve come in this giant book? I’m learning on every page. Are you?

Here are the notes for Chapters 19 and 20 in Max Hasting’s one volume history of World War II. Just as a reminder – although you’ve probably got this figured out by now – the book is for a mature audience, but chapter notes here on the blog are family-friendly.

Today, we’re talking about the bombing campaigns in Europe and the atrocities of the war…

Chapter 19: War In The Sky

  • Many pilots believed in the “romance” of  their role in the war, often not thinking of the destruction their bombs or bullets caused.
  • After the beginning years of the war, many Allied pilots received extensive training – sometimes two years – before actually flying in combat.
  • While the Axis aviation skill started strong and declined, the Allied air forces steadily gained strength, better technology, and skill as the war progressed.
  • Losses were heavy, especially in the bomber commands.
  • Although Allied bombing flights created positive press for their cause, in reality they were not quite as effective and on target as some crews and the public were led to believe.

  • The types of casualties witnessed by surviving pilots caused mental and emotional challenges and often unrecognized cases of PTSD.
  • The bombing raids diverted German Air power attention with less than significant other results until 1943.
  • From 1943 to 1945 the allied bombs caused 350,000 deaths along with unknown numbers of Pow and slave labor casualties.
  • The attack on the Ruhr Dams in May 1943 marked a high point of aero-innovation.
  • 1943 was the year that Allied bombing significant impacted German War production.
  • Lack of military intelligence and limited precision bombing resulted in few on target results.
  • Strategic bombing did not always “place” the bombs on the targets; cities were destroyed, and German civilians spent days in air raid shelters.

Quote of the week: “I experienced an exhilaration that I cannot recall ever having felt before. It’s like one of those wonderful dreams, a Peter Pan sort of dream. The whole thing feels unreal… What a pity…that an aeroplane that can impart such a glorious feeling of sheer joy and beauty has got to be used to fight somebody.” Geoff Wellum, eighteen-year-old British pilot. (page 455)

Chapter 20: Victims

  • Although much of focus of World War II is on the battlefields and military aspects, millions of civilians were affected and died because of the conflict.
  • We often think of those 6 million Jews murdered in the Nazi atrocities known as the Holocaust, and it is also important to recall the evils committed by others during World War II. For example, the Soviets deported 1.5 millions Poles in their own version of ethnic cleansing.
  • About 20 million people were displaced from their homes by World War II in Europe alone.
  • Deaths far from the battlefields were still deaths or murders.
  • Conquered nations under the rule of the Germans participated in the deportation of Jews and others on the Nazi “undesirable” lists.

Auschwitz, May 1944

  • German civilians were not always as innocent and ignorant of war crimes and atrocities as they latter claimed to be.
  • Allied leaders heard stories about the Holocaust but did not believe or realize the extent of the horrors until their armies entered and found the situation and proof.
  • Though the concentration camps and gas chambers are most often associated with the Holocaust, ghettos, mass shootings, and slavery were also part of the Nazis systematic crimes.
  • Though the Allies would adopt the role of liberators, anti-Semitism plagued their own countries, evidenced by an unwillingness to bring Jewish refugees from Europe, curse insults, and discrimination.

Quote of the chapter: “I saw these people being rounded up and then just had to look away, as they were clubbed to death right before our eyes…A great many German soldiers, as well as Lithuanians, stood there watching. They did not express either assent or disapproval – they just stood, totally indifferent.” German Ordinance Sergeant. (page 492)


The emphasis in the chapter of the idealism and realities of flying and ariel bombing was particularly poignant. I think it’s easy to develop this wrong perspective that the troops on the ground fought “hedge to hedge” while the planes soared overhead. The pilots and crews fought a war different than that on the ground, but it was far from “easy.” Infantry and other ground troops have often joshed the air force for their “luxury lives,” but the mental strain, difficulty, and distance created combat that was different than the ground fight but just as intense.

Earlier this year, I had the solemn privilege to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. This quote from a Lutheran minister (see photo) stands out in my mind as I read this chapter about the atrocities and discrimination committed by different nations during the war.

Image from U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

Your Opinion?

What’s on your mind after these too chapters? Let’s talk in the comments.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Don’t forget to read Chapters 21 & 22 for next week…

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