The Crucible of War, 1939-1945: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Vol. 3


1096 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-0574-8
DDC 358.4'00971




Illustrations by Maps by William R. Constable
Reviewed by Trevor S. Raymond

Trevor S. Raymond is a teacher and librarian with the Peel Board of Education and editor of Canadian Holmes.


Whereas Volume 2 (1986) of the series covered the wartime RCAF in the
Western hemisphere, Volume 3 covers the RCAF command overseas. This
meticulously documented work (2457 references in 125 pages of notes)
contains five sections. Each section is about one branch of the air
force and begins with an introductory summary. (Some overlap is
unavoidable, but it is minor.) “Air Policy” deals with the politics
of how men and women in the RCAF in Britain were organized, assigned to
bases, paid, and even promoted. The struggle for and the arguments about
the formation of all-Canadian squadrons, first discussed here, remains a
thread throughout the book. “The Maritime Air War” and “Air
Transport” (the shortest sections) are about the lives of the airmen
from these two groups, who may not have been as celebrated as those in
Fighter or Bomber Command, but who nonetheless here receive the lasting
tribute they deserve.

The longest section deals with Bomber Command. Although it emphasises
the RCAF role, it examines in detail the evolution of bombing policies
from very limited objectives at the beginning of the war to a time when
“killing and injuring civilians as much as the destruction of built-up
areas was becoming the principal purpose of bomber Command.” That
policy, doggedly defended by Sir Arthur Harris, is thoroughly documented
here. But the book completely exonerates him of one charge; it refutes
the perception held by many that the RCAF was given obsolescent
equipment and planes while the newest technology went to the RAF.

There are about 70 maps, charts, graphs, and tables; a useful list of
abbreviations and acronyms; and appendices listing RCAF casualties and
important appointments from cabinet ministers to senior commanders. This
book is for specialists and not for readers of popular history.


Greenhouse, Brereton, et al., “The Crucible of War, 1939-1945: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Vol. 3,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 20, 2024,