Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot...

 

... from Frontline Books

 

Title: Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot

Author:Helmut Mahlke

Publisher: Frontline Books

ISBN: 978-1-52676-078-4

 

A new paperback edition of this book, one I had not read before. It is the story of Helmut Mahlke, a Stuka pilot throughout the war, while including so much more around it as well. It was first published in German way back in 1993, with an English tranlation forst done in 2013, now republished in 2019.
Spread across 15 chapters and over 300 pages in total, it is a rare personal account from a Stuka pilot in WW2. It starts before the war, when the young Helmut Mahlke dreamt of being a pilot, and got his wish thanks to the German Navy. As part of his training he did a year long training cruise on the cruiser Koln, and later flew the floatplane carried by the Admiral Scheer, and clearly impressed her captain. He was training to fly Stukas adapted for use on the Graf Zeppelin, Germany's planned aircraft carrier, but that never happened. He and his crewmates were automatically transferred to the Luftwaffe, where they were still to fly Skukas. They went through  learning phase when war broke out, as they faced combat conditions for the first time. Involved in the invasion of France in 1940, he took part in missions to attack ground targets in support of the Wehrmacht, and also shipping during the Dunkirk evacuation. Their lack of transport for their support units was a problem, but he explains how they sorted that out for themselves, and were to need to repeat the process again later. In the Battle of Britain they continued to attack shipping around the South Coast of the UK as well as land targets. They also developed their own tactics against superior RAF fighters, though ideally wanted a fighter escort. The Gruppe went on to fight in Sicily and North Africa, as well as bombing Malta. Here he coped with getting his aircraft home after serious flak damage to one wing. A photo he took at the time shows how bad the damage was. In 1941 they were moved to Russia and here he survived being shot down twice, and managing to avoid capture and get back to German advance units. Stories which are reminiscent of many RAF escapers in Europe. His 159th combat mission on 8 July 1941 is detailed, when he was badly burnt when his aircraft was literally shot down in flames. He continued in staff jobs but did not return to flying operations, though he did survive the war. He continued in the post-war Luftwaffe, and passed away in 1998.
The series of Appendices at the back include their unit losses during the war, which he clearly felt a lot. The photo section features his own archive photos, illustrating many of the stories within the book. I found this a really interesting book to read, from the author's time training as a pilot in the German Navy, the Kreigsmarine, before he was later moved into the Luftwaffe. His obvious love of flying is clear from the start, and I felt it reflected the same feelings I have seen expressed so many times before by pilots in the RAF, USAAF and other nationalities. As an aviation history enthusiast for all my life, and anyone who is familiar with the wartime reputation of the Stuka, then I think you fill also finds lots to interest you in this view from the other side of the fence, from an experienced Stuka pilot. A fine read.

Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.

Robin