POINTBLANK DIRECTIVE – Review by Mark Barnes

We’ve been plugging away at this books lark for a while now and I hope you’ll stick with us. You will note the team has expanded to a sort of dirty half-dozen. We are trying to cover a lot of ground and we put a lot of work into this gig. With this in mind we are really pleased to welcome Osprey to the list of major publishers working with us. The first bundle of books arrived at WHO Towers and I decided to dive straight in with this paperback edition of a book by the seasoned writer L Douglas Keeney.

A quote on the cover from a reviewer tells us it is “Fast-paced and exciting.” It certainly cuts along at a rapid almost breathless pace in a dizzykaleidoscope of well-crafted colours. This is the story of the American contribution to Pointblank, the pre D-Day campaign by the Allies to interdict German transport and air defence systems that could hamper the landings of 6th June 1944. This is a story of profound importance to the concept of the Allied landings in Normandy and how the Anglo-Americans faced up to dealing with the threat of the Luftwaffe before a single precious boot was on the ground in France.

The author wastes no time with anything but the briefest sketch of what the British were doing or, indeed, gives much time to the experience of American airmen “over here”. I don’t have a problem with this at all. It is immediately apparent the author has fixed his audience to be in the United States and his rapid fire prose cuts to the chase without ceremony.  He knows who he is aiming his story at and on that basis it works very well.

Nor does the author waste ink on the minutiae of hardware and warfare. He has worked out it just complicates things and all this technical gubbins is the stuff of anoraks. He is consistent in his approach from first to last. This is a very disciplined and sharply edited piece of writing. Quite whether this makes for a satisfying read is something of a moot point.  I did like the pen portraits of important figures and the author’s pride in the men he writes about literally pours from the pages. While we naturally hear most from American airmen, there is a strong emphasis on the German experience and this sort of balance is essential to any truly respectable history writing.  The book is celebratory and bullish but does its best to draw the line at being gung-ho. If this is the sort of reading you like then fill your boots.

I’m not so sure that an account of the wider story of Pointblank might have worked a bit better. A story that effectively behaves like a whole arm of Allied airpower scarcely existed does not give the book an enduring appeal as far as I am concerned. The book is billed as being an untold story, but here we really only get half of it. But, on the basis of the story the author is telling it is exactly what the person from San Francisco said – fast paced and exciting. You will read some better and a lot worse books. I have certainly fought my way through some far inferior fayre this year. Ultimately this is an exercise in popular history well told and professionally packaged with high quality illustrations on proper paper as opposed to those flat images mixed with the text we see a lot of these days.

So, this is a history for an American audience.  The huge sacrifice made by the US air forces in Europe is something deserving of immense pride and respect. There is a grave of an American airman in the main British cemetery at Arras that I always make a beeline for when I visit. It all comes down to a simple matter of saying thanks. The author of this book finds countless way to say thanks, too and all power to him.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.

The Untold Story of the Daring Plan That Saved D-Day
By L Douglas Keeney
Osprey Publishing
ISBN: 978 1 78200 895 8

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.