/ Published April 11, 2016
Robert Harder's The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces offers an intriguing look into the lives and background of the pilot (Paul Tibbets), the bombardier (Tom Ferebee), and the navigator (Ted "Dutch" Van Kirk) who flew the Enola Gay on 6 August 1945 and conducted the first combat employment of a nuclear weapon. The book follows the three men from childhood to life after the war as they made their way and left their mark on history.
What drew me to this book was the inclusion of the bombardier and navigator, as well as the pilot, and their participation in what would arguably become the most famous combat mission ever flown. The author does a fantastic job of presenting the life story and military career of each of the three men and the aftermath of their historic mission. By looking at their entire lives, readers can get a good picture of who these men were and the events that shaped their careers.
This book effectively tells the story not only of the men but also of their creation of the world's first nuclear bomber unit without really knowing what they were doing or why. Formation of this new unit was known to be significant, but readers quickly grasp that none of the crew members knew that their lives would change in such dramatic fashion. In an instant, they are transformed from simply another well-trained combat bomber crew to the focal point of international politics and debate for the rest of their lives.
I do have a small quibble with the book--specifically, the lack of criticism. Harder alludes to the point that the crew on Bockscar, the aircraft that dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, might not have been the best available, yet they were allowed to fly the mission. In the appendix (which tells the story of the second mission), he mentions the animosity that Tibbets had towards that mission's failures, but I felt that Harder was a little too kind to him. If Tibbets thought the problems were caused by a lackluster crew, then he should have shouldered more, if not all, of the responsibility since he picked them. Additionally, Harder mentions a perception of favoritism in the unit but never really offers a good explanation. In this regard, I wish the author had provided a bit more criticism of the situation.
Overall The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces is a wonderful book to read for a look into the lives of the men who flew into history on that fateful day. By presenting a narrative of the crew members' entire lives, Harder helps the reader identify with the men on a more personal level. Furthermore, this technique reveals how the crew handled the pressure, thus letting the reader walk away with an appreciation for what they really did. At the end of the day, this book is a great read for anyone who wants get a better picture of the individuals who flew those fateful missions and of how they created the world's first nuclear combat unit.
Capt Douglas G. Ruark, USAF
United States Space Command, Thule, Greenland
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."