Aces of the Reich - The Making of a Luftwaffe Fighter-Pilot, Mike Spick

Aces of the Reich - The Making of a Luftwaffe Fighter-Pilot, Mike Spick

Books on this topic tend to fall into one of two camps. The most common is the 'aces' book, focusing very heavily on either potted biographies of individual pilots, or on the fighting on an individual front. The alternative is a history of the German fighter force, focusing on leadership and strategy, and often sidelining the actual pilots.

The German fighter force differed from their western opponents in one important way. In the RAF and USAAF pilots flew a limited number of operations before they were rested, and a fixed number of tours before they were withdrawn from the front line. The top British ace was 'Johnnie' Johnson, with 34 individual victories and 7 shared victories. The top US ace was Richard Bong, with at least 40 victories. Allied victories were spread out quite widely amongst their fighter pilots.

In contrast Luftwaffe pilots flew until they were killed or badly wounded, or survived the war. More than one hundred Luftwaffe pilots were credited with 100 or more victories, fifteen with over 200 and two with over 300. This group of 100 or so pilots with credited with 15,000 of the 70,000 total Luftwaffe victories. Another 20,000 went to pilots with between 40 and 100 victories and 15,000 to pilots between 20 and 40 victories. As a result these Experten were very important to the success of the Luftwaffe, and a look at their careers thus tells us quite a big about the organisation.

This book falls between the two camps. We start with a series of thematic chapters - on the First World War legacy, the senior commanders who shaped the Luftwaffe, the pre-war fighter force, and its aircraft and tactics.

This is followed by six chapters tracing the course of the air war, from the early period of success, through the long years of defensive fighting and on to the destruction of the Luftwaffe in the last year of the war. These chapters provide an overview of events, and trace the careers of the relevant experten. Finally three chapters provide potted biographies of many of the major experten, looking at several 'types'.

I found this book to be an interesting read, providing more context than is often the case in an 'aces' type of book, but not as dry as some formal histories of the Luftwaffe. The section on the aircraft and tactics is interesting, with some good data comparing Allied and Axis aircraft. The six campaign chapters are the heart of the book, showing how the Luftwaffe was structured, how it fought its battles, the role of the Experten, and how the Luftwaffe was slowly overwhelmed.

1 - The Richthofen Legacy
2 - The Commanders
3 - The Fledglings
4 - The Fighter Force
5 - Victory by Day
6 - The Conflict Widens
7 - Strategic Defence
8 - The Net Closes
9 - New Weapons, Old Errors
10 - Five Minutes to Midnight
11 - The Experten (1)
12 - The Experten (2)
13 - The Experten (3)

Author: Mike Spick
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 240
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2013 edition of 2006 original

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