Book Review: Operation Chastise: The RAF's Most Brilliant Attack of World War II


by Max Hastings

New York: Harper, Collins, 2020. Pp. xxxv, 380+. Illus., chron., appends., notes, biblio., index.. $30.00. ISBN: 006295363X

A Fresh Look at the “Dam Busters”

Many people have seen the classic 1955 film The Dambusters, but probably wish Sir Peter Jackson had gone on to make his factually-corrected remake.

It turns out, however, that Sir Peter may be fortunate not to have done so yet. Because he might yet want to option Sir Max Hastings' recent book, titled in Britain Chastise: The Dambusters Story. A British friend recommended it to this reviewer recently, and I decided to get it regardless of my first thought "Another Dam busters book? Are the Brits ever going to let go of that?" Well, as it turns out, they saved the best for last.

Alone of all the people who have written a history of the subject, Hastings – through the interviews he did in the 1970s that resulted in his magnificent Bomber Command – had personal contact with all the then-living first-person sources on the topic, including all the surviving crews, all the commanders, and Sir Barnes Wallis, who designed the famous “bouncing bomb” – and did so as a trained journalist and historian. As a result, the book is very much "people powered", unlike James Holland's excellent "technically oriented" 2018 Dam Busters (In fact, if you take them together, between them they cover all the bases). But the main thing with Hastings' book is that everything you think you know about The Dambusters is 180 degrees out from the truth. And the truth is way more interesting than Paul Brickhill's RAF propaganda, as well written as it was. Hastings even manages to demonstrate how Wing Commander Guy Gibson (who was 180 very different degrees different from Richard Todd, who portrayed him) was "a little English schoolboy shit" who managed to attract all those people who didn't really need something else in their record to confirm their status as "legends" into going along with him.

And again, it's Sir Max Hastings, so why am I selling it to you to read this? His name on the cover is the guarantee of quality.

Our Reviewer: Thomas McKlevy Cleaver, is the author of numerous works in aviation, Marine Corps, and World War II history, such as The Frozen Chosen: The 1st Marine Division and the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir and Pacific Thunder: The US Navy's Central Pacific Campaign, August 1943–October 1944.




Note: Operation Chastise is also available in audio- and e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: Tom Cleaver   

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