Skies of Thunder: The Deadly World War II Mission Over the Roof of the World

Viking. May 2024. 496p. ISBN 9781984879233. $32. MILITARY HISTORY
The Japanese occupation of eastern China in 1942 cut off foreign support to Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese nationalist forces. In order to keep China in World War II, U.S. and British planners promised to ferry supplies, weapons, and ammunition to Chinese forces. The British would complete the Ledo Road, a supply route along the border of China and Burma. Americans chose an air route over the Himalayan foothills, a route that came to be known as “the Hump.” Journalist Alexander (The Bounty) details the heroic efforts by American and British soldiers and flyers, Indigenous Burmese people, and Chinese people to ferry supplies through inhospitable terrain, monsoons, and dense jungles while fighting Japanese incursions. Alexander weaves together a wide array of primary sources to describe the conditions faced by pilots—freezing temperatures, ice buildup, buffeting winds, and peaks higher than the plane’s flight path—to show the challenges troops needed to overcome. However, strategic advances in the eastern Pacific made both routes redundant by 1945, and in the postwar world, Truman did not view securing China as a priority.
VERDICT Readers interested in the China-Burma-India Theater of World War II and Asian history will enjoy Alexander’s detailed and beautifully written account.
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