Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot.

AuthorDildy, Douglas C.
PositionBook review

Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot. By Helmut Mahlke (John Weal translator). Barnsley UK: Frontline Books (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books), 2013. Photographs. Appendices. Pp. 269. $29.95. ISBN: 978-1-84882644-4

Helmut Mahlke's account of his experiences as a Luftwaffe pilot and unit commander during the early months of World War II is an engrossing and exceptionally informative book. Of the many Luftwaffe pilots who composed memoirs, only one other (the famous "tank buster" Hans Ulrich Rudel), flew the much-feared, crank-winged Stuka dive bomber, and he did so during the second half of the war. Mahlke's memoir covers in depth and detail the life and times of Stuka pilots earlier in the war, particularly during the heady invasion of France; the less sanguine Battle of Britain; Malta, Crete, and in North Africa; and the opening, halcyon weeks of Barbarossa.

Mahlke began his career as a pre-war Kriegsmarine (German navy) floatplane pilot, observer, and instructor. Joining the expanding Stuka force--initially as a member of what was planned to be the Luftwaffe's air group for the Kriegsmarine's aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin--Mahlke was a squadron commander during the French campaign and a group commander during the Battle of Britain, Mediterranean operations, and Barbarossa. Never boastful or ego-centric, his memoir consistently highlights the successful ingredients of effective leadership and command, something every USAF squadron commander should appreciate.

Shot down (for the third time) by MiG-3s near Minsk on July 8, 1941, and grounded because of extensive burn injuries, Mahlke's account ends rather abruptly with the Luftwaffe very much at, or slightly beyond, its zenith. Translator John Weal crafted an Afterword, "chronicling the Gruppe's activities during the remainder of the war and describing what later befell some of the personalities [Mahlke's] narrative brings so vividly to life."

The most engaging aspect of the story is the uncommonly thorough humanity with which it is infused, and not just in recounting flying and combat experiences...

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