Failed to Return

Canada’s Bomber Command Sacrifice in the Second World War

Reviewed by Tim Cook

Posted July 11, 2022

In the desperate war against the Nazis, many Canadians served because they understood the necessity of defeating the fascists. But the generation that fought the Second World War already knew of the horrors of trench warfare in the Great War, because their fathers and uncles had wallowed in the mud and filth of the trenches while suffering under shellfire and chemical agents on a stalemated front.

The heroes of that war were the airmen like Billy Bishop and William Collishaw, and so tens of thousands of Canadian men enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1939 to 1945 to engage in the thrill of flight and to take the war to the enemy. There were indeed thrill and action in the bomber war, but also the terror of nighttime sorties that involved threading the German defences and dealing out death from above as bombs were dropped on the cities and infrastructure below.

In Failed to Return, editor Keith C. Ogilvie has drawn together sixteen stories of Canadians who served in Bomber Command and who died on operations. While Bomber Command played an essential role in the all-out war effort, the casualties to the bomber crews were witheringly high, as the Germans pulled back more than a million soldiers to operate tens of thousands of anti-aircraft guns to slow the aerial onslaught.

The contributors shed light on some of the nearly ten thousand Canadians who died in the air or in fiery crashes, thereby revealing the terrible human cost of war to Allied airmen.

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This article originally appeared in the August-September 2022 issue of Canada’s History.

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