The German Aces Speak – Book Review
The German Aces Speak – World War II Through the Eyes of Four of the Luftwaffe’s Most Important Commanders. Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis. Zenith Press, 2011. 354 pages, hardcover $29.00
From the 1930s to 1945, the German Luftwaffe fought with professionalism and honor for a corrupt and evil government. This fine book provides four interviews with some of the top Luftwaffe aces: Walter Krupinski (197 victories; his career lasted into the jet age); Adolf Galland (104 victories; the youngest Luftwaffe general); Eduard Newmann (13 victories; mentor to many top pilots and one of the leaders of the Fighter’s Revolt against Goering); and Wolfgang Falck (8 victories; night fighter commander). All of these men have passed into the beyond, but these interviews, which were conducted over many years, shed new light on the challenges, glory, sadness and madness of the air war in Europe.
Heaton and Lewis, in their introduction, talk about having originally conducted these interviews for publication in Aviation History, World War II and Military History magazines. (These are partner publications of Armchair General—Ed.) While interviewing these pilots, both writers eventually claimed them as friends and attended many functions with each of them. This book provides the interviews complete and uncut, with no word-count limits or other editorial constraints. Each of these uncut interviews is extremely important to our understanding of the European air war.
The authors present many facts that will be of interest to a variety of readers—including the fact that the Luftwaffe pulled its pilots from all facets of life (Officially, America required pilots to have at least two years of college, though exigencies resulted in some modification to that.), and that fact that there is no recorded instance of Luftwaffe pilots ever intentionally shooting a parachuting enemy pilot. They also provide interesting statistical data of pilot effectiveness, casualties, ranks, etc.
The first interview is with Walter Krupinski (1920 – 2000), who is very candid with his thoughts about the pilots he served with and the commanders he served under. Once, he was verbally reprimanded by Adolf Hitler when he started to light up a cigarette at a dinner party where the anti-smoking Hitler was in attendance. He originally had no interest in flying and wanted to be in the navy. But the navy transferred him to the Luftwaffe and he never looked back. He started flying on the Bf109 and speaks openly about the iconic fighter’s strengths and weaknesses. He eventually transferred to Fw190s and then to Me262 jets. He scored most of his victories over the Russian Air Force and tells about fighting their elite pilots of the Red Banner squadrons. The most haunting parts of the narrative are when he talks about a Russian pilot trapped in an out-of-control, burning airplane. Krupinski is outspoken about his disregard for the leaders of Germany and the Luftwaffe, but he served with honor in order to protect his country. Post-war, he trained to fly jets in the United States and served in the West German military.
When Krupinski was captured at the end of the war, his flight log and Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves were taken by an American soldier. He repeatedly asked that if someone should come across these items, he would like them returned; he wanted to give them to his family. Maybe an Armchair General reader can help?
The second interview is with the famous General Adolf Galland (1912 – 1996). Galland’s experiences cover flying biplanes such as the Heinkel He51 during the Spanish Civil War, flying Bf109s during the invasion of France (where he made his first kills against Hurricanes), the Battle of Britain and through the end of the European air war when he flew the Me262 jet fighter and commanded an Me262 squadron. In the course of his career, he would become the youngest general grade officer on either side in World War II.
The sense of humor that constantly caused trouble for Galland with his superiors (like Goering) is exhibited in this wonderful interview. He talks about how he had Mickey Mouse painted on his plane as a mascot, and how his love for a good cigar was so great that he had a cigar lighter and holder installed in his airplanes in case he needed a smoke while in the air!
In addition to his sense of humor, he addresses other issues such as the "stupidity" of the planning for EAGLE DAY, the Luftwaffe’s misuse of bombers during the Battle of Britain, and the shortcomings of Germany’s leaders such as Goering and Hitler. He discussed his fear of being permanently grounded after being shot down twice in one day with only three kills that day to show for it.
As stated before, Galland steadily began to lose favor with Goering and Hitler when he openly confronted them about their tactics and strategies. Goering, himself, ordered secret investigations on Galland with the intent of finding him guilty of working against the Reich and even proving that he was part Jewish in order to have him shipped off and done away with. They knew that a man as popular with the public as Galland would have to be heavily discredited in order to "make him go away."
In the course of his career, Galland met just about all the major figures in the Luftwaffe and personally recommended the rebellious 158-kills, "Star of North Africa" Hans-Joachim Marseille receive the coveted Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds for Marseille’s 17 confirmed kills in one day. Galland shared many stories about the hard-drinking, partying Marseille, who also had a large collection of banned American jazz music and had a friend who was a black South African (both of these things were strictly outlawed by the Nazi regime). Marseille and Galland seemed to have gotten along very well—two similar spirits perhaps.
After the fall of Paulus’ 6th Army at Stalingrad—Goering had insisted that his Luftwaffe could keep 6th Army supplied from the air—the loss of North Africa, and the bombing of German cities by British and American bomber fleets, Goering accused the Luftwaffe pilots of cowardice and inflating their kill claims. After Galland and others challenged Goering at a meeting in early 1943, Galland states "Goering then accused me of falsifying reports and hiding deficiencies from him. This was the last straw for me. I then stood, unhooked my Knight’s Cross, Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, and threw them onto the heavy oak table. I then took off my Wound Badge and Iron Cross, along with the Spanish Cross in Gold with Diamonds, and they went on the table also … (the other pilots at the meeting) also took off their medals from around their necks and put them on the table … I then moved my chair back and turned to leave the meeting with my fighter leaders following me. Goering yelled at us, stating that we had not been dismissed … (Gunther) Lutzow shot back ‘You can’t shoot us all.’ We were all thinking that we had just terminated our careers, if not our lives … we never heard anything further about this from Goering. My medals were sent to my office a few days later."
It is these types of dramatic narratives which make this book very difficult to put down.
The third interview is with Eduard Neumann (1911 – 2004) From his days flying during the Spanish Civil War to his time training future ace pilots such as Marseille, Neumann was a father figure to many Luftwaffe pilots in the tradition of World War I’s Oswald Boelcke. In 1945, Neumann took part in the Fighter’s Revolt against Goering. His sweeping knowledge of the logistics and training of Luftwaffe pilots is very engaging, and his candid perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the various fighters involved is very interesting. According to Neumann, the major weaknesses of the Bf109 were the coolant issues associated with its in-line engine, as well as the limited view from early 109 canopies.
Neumann also speaks at length and just as candidly about the people he met during his career including Marseille, Goering, Steinhoff and others. In fact, Neumann spends over a third of the interview discussing his criticism of Marseille, as well as his admiration for the maverick fighter pilot.
In a quote, which speaks volumes about Neumann’s character, he said "I have always believed that war may be necessary on occasions, and we men must fight. However, at no time do I believe that we must be barbaric. Gentlemanly conduct, at least among the Luftwaffe pilots, and especially in my unit, was expected, and unforgivable if violated … this is what separated us from animals."
In illustrating this concept, Neumann told a story about how Marseille "even took great care to make sure a wounded enemy pilot that he had shot down … was taken to the nearest field hospital … Marseille then made sure that a Red Cross prisoner of war card was properly completed, so that the man would be accounted for by his family."
"I wish I knew the pilot’s name, but I think he was actually an Australian."
The fourth interview is with Wolfgang Falck (1910 – 2007), who is known as the "Father of the Night Fighters." Falck was involved from the very beginning in the reformation of the Luftwaffe; his specialty was defensive operations. When the British began the night bombing operations over Germany, Falck’s skills were tapped to develop night fighter tactics and strategies.
Falck shares the offbeat sense of humor that the other subjects of these interviews exhibit (which I’m sure did not endear them to some of the Nazi officials who ran the government and the military) and he starts out his interview with "I was born August 19, 1910, in Berlin, so I am a dirty old man!"
In 1931 and ’32, Falck spent his first few years of military service at top-secret training schools set up as part of an agreement between the German and Russian governments. These units were referred to as the "Black Air Force."
In 1937, Falck was picked to fly airplanes to England and exhibit the new Luftwaffe fighters. While in England he made many friends among the RAF, which is rather ironic considering that in later years he planned defenses against RAF raids.
He flew a variety of planes, including the Bf108, 109 and 110, as well as the He112 which he rated very highly except for the fact that its design looked a little too much like a Soviet YAK—which might have caused tragedies in combat if the 112 had been picked up for mass production.
While not wracking up as many kills as the other pilots who shared their stories in this book, Falck’s eight confirmed kills are nothing to be sneered at. His first kill was during daylight fighting over Poland; many of his other kills were made while flying a Bf110. But the heart of Falck’s experiences lay in his development of night fighting tactics and strategies. His stories of the work on making day fighters and bombers into effective and deadly night fighters are fascinating. There is even an interesting connection he mentioned between his family and OPERATION VALKYRIE’s Claus von Stauffenberg.
The authors should be congratulated for making these uncut interviews available to aviation fans all over the world. These brave men may all be gone now but their stories and experiences will remain forever, thanks to works like these.
An appendix in this fine volume includes a list of all Luftwaffe pilots who scored victories in the Spanish Civil War and World War II, including the number of kills and what unit they served with. Footnotes and a bibliography round out this fascinating book.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will support the Wounded Warrior Project and the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraberfursorge e.V.
About the Reviewer
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!