Recently, my research journey has taken me along a far different path of warfare than the one I traveled when researching my uncle's experiences as a tank driver for an artillery forward observer in World War II. It has taken me to a much higher level. Like 25,000 feet higher.
I have been researching the activities of the U.S. Army Air Force's Eighth Air Force during the war. Specifically, I have been trying to learn about my wife's uncle's experiences as a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. It has been an eye-opening and fascinating journey, but I have much more "traveling" to do before I reach my desired destination.
During the course of my research, I've become acquainted with a plethora of helpful source material. I've already read so many sources it's hard to choose only a few to highlight, but I'll try. You, too, might be interested in the topic, especially if you have a relative who was involved in the war.
Before I begin researching specific personal information, I always try to get "the big picture," the background story into which my subject--in this case Uncle Paul Bagosy--stepped. Perhaps the best source I've found for that is the more than 600-page tome Masters of the Air by Donald L. Miller. (Even the acclaimed David McCullough was impressed by it.)
Another part of getting the "big picture" was a stop to visit the National Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia (https://www.mightyeighth.org/). The museum is located on the left side of I-95 as you travel south, and its location there is significant in that the Eighth Air Force was established in nearby Savannah. The museum is an excellent and informative facility with impressive exhibits, including several restored World War II warplanes, the focal point for which is the B-17 The City of Savannah.
It also was there at the museum that I learned that the planes of Uncle Paul's unit were identified by a large P on the plane's vertical stabilizer. Shown in the foreground of the photo is Kentucky Colonel, one of the several planes in which he flew missions over France, Belgium, and Germany.
Next, I researched the plane in which Paul flew, the B-17. I was surprised to learn that, contrary to what the movie Memphis Belle implies, crews seldom flew the same plane on all of their missions; rather, they flew in whatever planes were available at the moment and to which they were assigned. Paul flew in 18 different planes during his 30 combat missions, but they were always and only B-17s. B-17 at War by Bill Yenne proved to be a great help to me in understanding that legendary bomber.
Then I began researching the more specific aspects of the training, duties and dangers of the individual crewmen aboard those planes. The men operated not as individual soldiers but as a crew, an interdependent team. Each crewman's very survival depended on every crewmember's doing his job well and looking out for each other.
Tom's War by James T. Hammond tells the story of a B-17 co-pilot (his father). Inferno by Joe Pappalardo describes the colorful story of a B-17 waist gunner, rebellious and recalcitrant Maynard "Snuffy" Smith, whose bravery during one mission earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. In many ways, Smith was an example of what a good soldier is NOT, but in combat, the best of valor came out of him.
The Bomber Boys by Travis L. Ayres and Coffin Corner Boys by Carole Engle Avriett both tell accounts of B-17 crewmen whose planes were shot down over enemy territory. Some of the men didn't make it. Others were captured and spent the rest of the war enduring the hardships of German prison camps. But a few managed to evade capture and, with help from the underground, escape to Spain or even back to England.
Because so much has been written about the air war over Europe, it's hard NOT to find helpful resources on this topic. What is harder is placing one individual into the midst of the conflict and experiencing (albeit vicariously) the war with him. It's even harder when the subject rarely talked about his experiences. But that adds urgency in our need to preserve and tell their stories.
Fortunately, I have more information about Paul's activities during the war than I had about my tank-driving uncle's involvement. I know every mission Paul flew, every plane in which he flew, and every target they attacked. In fact, I know the position in each mission's formation his plane flew and even, on a few occasions, which engine(s) malfunctioned, forcing them to abort the mission and return to their base at Grafton Underwood.
Stay tuned. I'll be keeping you posted on more specific details as I continue my research into Paul's wartime adventures. (He is in the front row, second from the left, in the following photo.) Meanwhile, perhaps you should check out a few of the sources I've mentioned. You might enjoy them as much as I did, especially if you have a relative who was involved in the air war over Europe in World War II.