This book covers the air war over Germany during the last year of World War II. With the Americans and British closing in on the Third Reich from the west, and the Soviets moving in from the east, the Germans had worked themselves into an impossible situation, and it seems that many of them were as much interested in preparing as comfortable a defeat as possible by avoiding as much contact with the Russians as they could, as they were in preserving their lives and way of life as much as possible. In no way was this truer than in the air. It had to have been obvious to nearly everyone concerned that time was running out, and that even though newer, high-tech weaponry was slowly becoming available, the end was near. The ground forces were moving relentlessly towards the German capital, and although some of the most fanatical Nazis still fought on, the majority of the German military and population was probably preparing for what was to come.
This book is a very readable and thought provoking discussion of some of the specific events in the air war that marked the beginning of the end. The author did an amazing job of collecting some true stories that occurred involving both Allied and Axis forces that occurred at the end, many narrated and illustrated by the very people involved. The Allies had almost complete air supremacy, and could send out bombing raids at will, and with their escorting fighters, there wasn’t much the Germans could do about it without sustaining prohibitive losses. With the German fuel situation getting more desperate every day, training and operational standards were declining, allowing more freedom of movement for the Allied Forces. Although the Germans were in the process of producing more advanced aircraft, they never had the ability to produce everything they needed, even with slave labor, and although they managed to score some outstanding production accomplishments, nothing was going to alter the final outcome.
The author begins with an analysis of the Luftwaffe’s capabilities at the war’s end, and discusses such programs as the Mistel project, pilotless bombers used as flying bombs guided by control fighters mounted above, the development of jet and rocket fighter aircraft, dispersed production facilities, and projects designed to reduce the use of fuel. One very informative section is the author’s detailed analysis of the various types of fighter planes used by the Americans, British, and Russians, and his conclusions as to which was actually the best. He comes up with a trio, the North American P-51D, the Spitfire Mk. XIV, and the Messerschmitt ME-262 jet fighter.
Another area of discussion is the discussion of new strategies and tactics used in air combat. The Allied bomber offensive was a difficult problem for the Luftwaffe to handle, and although the Germans used ground mounted flak, gun-armed interceptors, rocket firing heavy fighters, and even fighter design to bring down bombers by ramming them, in the long run, every solution was ineffective. Even the last ditch development of interceptors such as the Heinkel HE-162 and Messerschmitt ME-163 had no real effect, and conventional jet fighters like the ME-262, although excellent aircraft, were not available in numbers sufficient to have any real effect.
Towards the end of the book, the author relates some very interesting stories that happened to various individuals during this stage of the war. The story of the first test flight of the Bachem Natter rocket fighter is related, along with the project to develop fighter units devoted to ramming bombers in order to bring them down. The failure of Operation Bodenplatte, a large scale Luftwaffe raid on Allied airfields in Western Europe intended to destroy the Tactical Air Force, is covered. The role of Gen. Adolf Galland in the last weeks of the war in his belated attempts to develop an elite unit using the Messerschmitt ME-262 shows how the Nazi bureaucracy had deteriorated towards the end. Even the story of the Heinkel HE-162 Volksjager is related in detail, showing why so many were built and so few did anything substantial.
The last section of the books deals with the aftermath. One remarkable feature is the list of Luftwaffe aircraft captured by the Western Allies, including positive identification, serial numbers, and any exterior markings. This would be very useful for anyone who is looking for information on specific airplanes.
Aside from a very well written text, the book is filled with photos, some in color, most of which I have not seen published before, and a few good color drawings which would be very useful for modelers inspired by the stories. There isn’t a lot of information specifically aimed at modelers, but the value of this book is that if you read through it, you’ll say to yourself over and over again, “I’ve got to build a model of that plane in my scale.” So reading can become addicting. Be careful.
I feel that this is a fascinating little book. Once I started it, I found it was very difficult to put down. Even though it told a story I have heard many times before, it told it very persuasively, and you’ll want to keep it around for future reference. Don’t pass this one up. This one’s a keeper. Highly recommended.