Book Review: The German Aces Speak
Posted on March 1st, 2013
Something out of the ordinary happened recently….I read a book. I know, that sounds really bad, right? I don't read books much anymore. I read tons of "stuff" every day online of course, but given my gnat-like attention span, actually sitting down and plowing through a full book is a rarity for me these days. So the fact that I got through The German Aces Speak should impress you.
I'm a big-time WW2 aviation enthusiast. I love the P-51 Mustang like Charlie Manson loves being bat shit crazy - we're talking unhealthy levels of obsession here folks. I have studied the lives and histories of many of the men who flew the Mustang in WW2, so it's not a stretch to think that I could be equally, if not more fascinated by the men they flew against in combat. One of their prime rivals was of course the Air Force of Nazi Germany.
When I think of my Mustang-flying idols, they fit nicely into the "hero" box. As mere kids they went to war far away from home, defeated our enemies, saved the world, came home and went back to work. Tom Brokaw called them "The Greatest Generation," and rightly so. It's easy to cast them in the light of "heroes." But what about their enemies?
This book chronicles the WW2 aviation exploits of 4 of the Luftwaffe's most exemplary officers and pilots. Each gets a chapter where their stories are told in the first person - just the way I like it. There are stories of combat, but the most entertaining stories are those where these men - field leaders all, and each respected by their fellow officers and men - had to interact with the top brass of the Nazi party - Hermann Goering (head of the Air Force) in particular. There are great stories that color what a legitimately psychopathic monster Goering was, while simultaneously distinguishing these professional airmen from those monsters. There are several interactions with Hitler himself chronicled as well.
Now, I know what any self respecting Jew (or any human being who understands anything about the whole Nazi movement) would be asking…
What did these guys know?
When did they know it?
Where they "Nazis" per se or just loyal Germans fighting for their country?
Needless to say, to a man, each of the authors at the very least emphasize that they were never really big on the whole Nazi party movement. Some, shockingly, actually quite disdained it. Even to the point of rebelling against various ridiculous Nazi rules of conduct, much to the chagrin of the Reich.
Given my propensity to color any combat pilot as a hero, even ones that are enemies to my heroes, you can take my thoughts with a grain of salt. My feeling on these men is that they have been royally screwed by the circumstances of their time and place in history.
By their own accounts, these four men flew and led with same level of nobility, chivalry, and straight up logic and good sense that won the war for the allies. These guys however had the sad reality of operating under a regime of evil lunatics. And because the human psyche seems unable to separate individuals from the herds, these four brave pilots (and many others just like them) are associated forever with that evil lunacy….wether they like it or not.
Indicative of this is the fact that their own homeland (Germany) is still not willing to forgive them. I think it was Galland that pointed out that when he came to the US to do speaking engagements (usually with other WW2 pilots) the auditoriums were packed with enthusiasts looking to hear his stories and viewpoints. However the same speeches in Germany incited protests. Can you imagine a group of US WW2 vets getting together to speak in the US and there being protests against them? That was a pretty stark example for me of the difference between the victor and he vanquished…and the longer ranging effects what being vanquished can have on a nation. Germany will live under the cloud of her past for generations, and in the minds of her people there is zero room for forgiveness of those who were participants in that past at any level, even if they had nothing to do with the genocide.
All the pilots in this book (I believe) at the time I'm writing this have passed on. This book stands as their last hope for clearing their names. So again; what did these guys know about the atrocities that Nazis were committing? When did they know it? If their words are true (and I believe they are, and you might too after reading this book) I think these are some truly great men who simply wanted to maximize their unique skills to help the country that they loved be all it could be. Sadly that goal/dream was hijacked by some of the most evil men history has ever known.
If you like WW2 flying, definitely read this as it's a perspective not often found in most writings on the subject. If you are intrigued by WW2 history in general, or the rise and fall of the Third Reich in particular, this book is still a very interesting viewpoint, set against the backdrop of the Luftwaffe. I can't recommend this read enough.