Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
The German Fighter Pilot’s Experience in the Second World War
Patrick G. Eriksson Amberley 2019 (paperback)
This is the first of three volumes by this author which relate in chronological order the fighter pilot war in WW2 from the German perspective. This volume covers the battle in NW Europe from 1940 to 1945. From the viewpoint of a British reader, we rarely learn of the other side of the coin.
This book sets out how at squadron level, the tribulations of a fighter pilot were similar on both sides of the Channel. But it also describes, in increasingly harrowing tones, how the German pilot was ever more hampered by a shortage of assets, and by rigid and insane orders at both a tactical and strategic level. The advent of the P-51 Mustang, as the escort fighter par excellence, is a blow from which the Luftwaffe could not recover. Germany’s introduction of the Me 262 was too little, too late.
The book contains many bits of information that are revelatory, at least for this semi-tutored reader. Did you know, for example, that Reinhold Heydrich, who later gained notoriety with the SS in Czechoslovakia was, in 1940, a Me109 pilot? According to Eriksson, Goering was pessimistic about Germany’s chances of victory almost from the outset of the war. He is quoted as having even gloomier thoughts in early 1941 when asked the chances if the USA were to enter the war. Examples are given of German pilots treated very harshly by the French when captured during the Battle of France; the boot was usually, however, on the other foot.
Goering’s fixation that Me109s should fly closely to the bombers they were escorting was an eternal irritation for its pilots, just serving to exaggerate its innate poor fuel endurance. There are few pilots in this book supporting their supreme commander. The perils of trying to fight in Kentish skies with low fuel states are mentioned by many of the author’s sources. On the other hand he provides plenty of evidence from the German side that Keith Park was right, and the Big Wing tactic was doomed. Eriksson makes some interesting observations on the causes of Germany’s failure in the Battle of Britain.
By the end of 1940 the paucity of trained fighter pilots in the Luftwaffe is beginning to hurt, and the author gives plenty of examples of declining morale. Eriksson also reminds us of the fragility of the FW190’s engine, and the increasing daftness of Goering’s orders by 1945.
There are plenty of tables of casualty numbers, and the UK reader will be fascinated to learn of the degree of over-claiming of victories by the 8th Air Force’s gunners. By 1944 the strains of commanding a Luftwaffe fighter squadron are made very plain, and the poor quality of its high command more evident.
Some recollections of German pilots are too short to be of much use. But one makes the interesting point: “There [the USA] the industry had to produce the fighters that the air force wanted. With us it was exactly the opposite. We were equipped with what resulted from the conflict of interest between industry and the politicians.”
This book has many interesting observations, however its style is turgid. I suspect that most readers, certainly those who are not familiar with the Luftwaffe’s command and rank structure, will find it hard going. The index is poor.