The song mentions here one of the most infamous and most controversial bombings of World War II. Dresden , that had been left unharmed until then because of its lack of military value, was indeed glowing on the night of 13th14th February 1945 . Although the damage inflicted on the town wer less extensive than, for example, in Battle of Hamburg, the apparent uselessness of such a murderous action has left a lasting trace in the history of all-out warfare.
In the black above by the cruel searchlight
Men will die men will fight
After dealing with the horrors of a bombing on the ground, we are taken here to the suffering of the airmen, who also risked their lives during such campaigns. The huge losses of bomber crews during the 194245 carpet-bombing of Germany (which began with a massive attack on Cologne, also mentioned in the song) gave Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, head of Bomber Command at that time and initiator of the switch to the destruction of civilian targets instead of military and industrial ones, the nickname of "Butcher" Harris among the RAF crewmen. Post-war, the man was considered a hero by some the man who brought Nazi Germany to her knees and forced her to surrender, thus putting an end to the horrors that were taking place there and a mass-murderer by others because of the killing of thousands of innocent civilians that his strategy implied.
No radar lock on skin and bone
The difference between air warfare during WWII and today's "push-button" combat is highlighted in this sentence. Those who fought in those days needed "guts" to do what they did. This does not diminish the courage of the airmen who fight today with the help of a more advanced technology, but it should make us realise the extent of self-sacrifice and boldness of those who contributed to end the atrocities of an evil regime.
Nail that Fokker, kill that son
Now, this line always makes me cringe a bit like the mention of dinosaurs in 'Quest For Fire' as the Germans never flew any Fokker planes during World War II (although they did in World War I, Manfred Von Richtofen, a.k.a. "The Red Baron", being the most famous example of a German ace flying a Fokker). Only the Dutch air force flew this type of plane at the beginning the conflict. However, The Netherlands were defeated in five days of war in May 1940. During that time there were 36 Fokker D.XXIs operational. Losses were heavy, but they did manage to shoot down almost 40 Junkers Ju 52 transports planes and a couple of Messerschmitt bf 109s fighters before they ran out of ammo (!). The Dutch government had tried to maintain its neutrality, like during World War I, and there was therefore a kind of short-sightedness concerning their armed forces, which resulted in a shortage of ammo. After the 5 days of war, there were still 8 aircraft operational, which were destroyed deliberately just before the surrender to Germany . The others either had been shot down, or destroyed on the ground. It is therefore obvious that the name "Fokker" has just been printed in the lyrics as crude way to get around saying "Fucker".
Tail-end Charlie in the boiling sky
It is an interesting piece of trivia to know that the common nickname for tailgunners originates from a certain Charles Cooper. He was the first commissioned rear-gunner in the RAF during the Second World War, and was subsequently nicknamed "Tail-End Charlie" by his crew. That name rapidly became adopted for all rear-gunners in the RAF. Cooper was blinded by a German bomb which fell outside his billet in 1941.
The Enola Gay was my last try
The Enola Gay is the name of the bomber flown by Paul Tibbets that dropped an atomic bomb, lovingly nicknamed the "Little Boy", on Hiroshima , on 6th August 1945 (closely followed by another atomic bombing, this time performed by another B-29 called Bock's Car which dropped the "Fat Man" on Nagasaki on 9th August 1945 ). The name of the bomber derives from the inversion of the word "alone", associated with the pilot's mother's name, Gay (and has therefore nothing to do with male homosexuality as some misinformed people may think). Like the attack on Dresden , the unleashing of nuclear power on Japan was deemed an unnecessary massacre by some, while others consider that it was the only way to end the war. The "last tailgunner", Staff Sgt. George Caron, was the only crew member on board the Enola Gay to witness the explosion, whereas Tibbets only felt a tingling in his teeth, as the bomb's radioactive forces were interacting with his fillings.
On a concluding note, it would be useful to the few individuals who have suggested that 'Tailgunner' is actually not about war at all, but is instead a 'gay' song to re-read the lyrics, as well as this commentary. The lyrics are as clear and unambiguous as they can be, and there is just no way that they can be anything other than what they seem to be any other interpretation is pure fantasy. The song's title may come from a porn film, but that's about the only link to any sexual innuendo.
Like some other Maiden songs that deal with a rather serious topic, it has that pesky 'happy' sound which creates a mood that doesn't quite match the lyrics. After listening to it many times it is possible to appreciate it more, but it would be over-reacting to call it a wonderful song.
The title came from a porno movie, about anal sex, then I thought, well I can't write the lyrics about that! So I wrote it about real tailgunners. I had some words which began "Trace your way back fifty years, to the glow of Dresden , blood and tears". I know we shouldn't mention the war but it's about the attitude of bombing people. It was real death in the skies back then. But there aren't any tailgunners on planes anymore, it's all done by computers using missiles. At least it used to be man-on-man, but now it's machine-on-machine. Who uses bullets anymore?