Document created: 10 December 01
Published Aerospace Power Journal - Winter 2001
Winter Journey through the Ninth: The Story of Tactical Air Power as Illustrated by the Exploits of the Ninth Air Force in Europe by Harry A. Franck. Prince of the Road Press (http://www. p-ndesigns.com), 8987 E. Tanque Verde, no. 309-155, Tucson, Arizona 85749-9399, 2001, 305 pages, $21.95.
In November 1944, the Army Air Forces (AAF) had Harry Franck write the story of its Ninth Air Force, the tactical air force supporting US troops in the European campaign. The author was unusual: in his 60s, he had served 19 months in World War I and earned his living writing travel books about his extensive journeys. His experience, writing skills, and language abilities made him a natural to turn this book out quickly. The military granted Franck exceptional latitude by allowing him to interview its top leaders—the numerous air and ground generals in the theater—as well as many group and squadron commanders and aces. The book was finished by May 1945 but was not published. Franck’s grandson and wife annotated the book and published it in 2001.
Winter Journey is a narrative of the author’s experience from the time he departed the United States in the fall of 1944 to his service in newly defeated Germany in May 1945. It does have pictures, a name index, explanations of the origins of the book, and an epilogue written 50 years later by Franck’s subordinate and traveling companion. The body of the book consists of vignettes of the author’s experiences during his travels across western Europe and conversations with both the famous and those “who also served.” Franck was a true adventurer, flying on one medium-bomber mission and suffering a slight wound in the last days of the war as he watched a tank-artillery duel in a German town. Writing in a journalist style that includes long quotations from GIs and generals, he notes the varied background of AAF officers and their youth, especially relative to their rank. Throughout the book, he displays his language skills by using French and German phrases. Concerning the language issue, Franck is critical of Americans, decrying their inability to speak foreign tongues: “Evidently even worse taught now in the United States than they were back in the days of World War I.” He also deplores Americans who speak French “with a sophomoric ineptitude that emphasizes our provincialism” (p. 81).
The result is a unique work because of its candor, detail, and viewpoint. Franck is candid and critical in describing a number of American problems, attitudes, and failures. He details poor AAF bombing accuracy and instances of US aircraft bombing friendly forces; he also mentions an American study which found that the claims of vehicle destruction in the famous Falaise-Argentan pocket were only 10 percent accurate. Also noted is the callous talk of American pilots who believed that “any living thing east of the Rhine was fair game” (p. 150). In Franck’s words, “Most fighter-bomber pilots reminded me . . . of high school boys, basketball players more than anything else; naïve and uncultured, even a little ill at ease, like most American kids outside their own business—which is flying—but at that were superbly conscious of their competency” (p. 151). One Army general lived quite well, in “almost barbarian splendor,” while others’ accommodations were more spartan. Another commander had “a Lincolnesque gentleness or sweetness . . . which is all too rare among regular Army officers” (p. 63).
Franck includes details seldom mentioned in other accounts, such as the AAF’s lack of training, fear of flying, and less than admirable officers. The author also mentions German and American atrocities, as well as American looting. He repeats the views of aircrews about fighting and flying, together with the virtues and vices of various AAF tactical (medium) bombers and fighters. The book makes clear that AAF losses seemed both substantial and almost arbitrary: one B-26 unit lost only 13 men in 11 months of action but also had 61 men missing in one day.
The book and story are not above reproach, however. Winter Journey’s oftentimes heavy prose and richness of detail may prove slow going for some readers. Some of the author’s feelings, words, and attitudes may strike a sour note with a modern audience since they occasionally betray his “ugly American” views. But one must keep in mind that this annotated, unedited (uncensored) publication is the product of a 62-year-old man writing 55 years ago.
In sum, this book is a firsthand account of the American tactical air war in France during the last months of World War II by a careful, experienced, nonflying observer. The author conveys both the spirit of the day and details available nowhere else, giving us feelings and facts about the last months of the war from an American perspective. Although overly long and tedious at times, Winter Journey offers refreshing and often critical views on some familiar subjects while adding a number of interesting details. As such, students of tactical airpower in World War II should consider this book a “must” addition to their libraries.
Kenneth P. Werrell
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.