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review 2017-01-02 04:24
FROM FLEDGLING TO OLD BIRD
Ace - SPENCER DUNMORE

"ACE" in some ways reminded me of the novel "THE BLUE MAX", which I had read (and loved) as a teenager. It begins with a war-weary Luftwaffe fighter ace, Major Ernst Brehme, aloft in his sleek Focke-Wulf 190 fighter in late December 1944, about to tackle an American B-17 bomber, one of the toughest planes in the enemy's arsenal to take on, much less shot down. Stephen Dunmore beautifully describes the process in which Brehme evades a couple of enemy fighters, bravely takes on the enemy bomber, and after a short, sharp fight, shoots the bomber down. Greatly fatigued, Brehme lands at his home base, where, after a short rest, he awakes to find a note to meet with a visiting high-ranking Luftwaffe general at 1900 hours. From the general, Brehme learns that on New Year's Day, the Luftwaffe fighter arm on the Western Front will have as its mission, the destruction of the enemy air forces opposing them by attacking at dawn at tree-top level a select number of Allied airfields in the Low Countries. This leaves Brehme in shock. His war has been a long one and he knows that the Fighter Arm is threadbare, with many of its top flyers either dead or incapacitated. Yet, despite these losses, the Luftwaffe has managed over many months to amass a reserve of 3,000 fighters. Even so, Brehme is doubtful of the success of this mission and while pondering the odds, is drawn back to his earliest days as a fledgling fighter pilot on the Kanalfront in August 1940 during the Battle of Britain.

 

Brehme does just about everything wrong on his first mission over Britain. Upon landing back at his base in France, his wing leader, Wolff, subjects him to a severe tongue lashing, upbraiding him for failing as a Katschmarek (wingman) to provide cover for Wolff in the midst of a dogfight with British fighters. Brehme then walks dejectedly to his quarters, where he is consoled by Dietrich, one of the old hands in the squadron, who is a bit of a bon vivant with a roving eye for the ladies. Brehme at 20, is one of the youngest pilots in the unit. He has a girlfriend at home. But as Dietrich discovers (after urging Brehme to come with him to a nearby brothel), is highly inexperienced in the ways of love.

 

Months go by and Brehme manages to survive many more harrowing missions over Southeast England and the English Channel against the enemy. He becomes more proficient with his flying. But still has problems finding his shooting eye. It frustrates him to have been on operations for months and only secured a couple of aerial victories. Then there is a mission in which his Messerschmitt Bf 109E "Emil" has sustained some battle damage and is running low on fuel. He manages to barely get back across the Channel, but lands along a beach with such a hard impact that his fighter turns over on its back, trapping him inside by a canal. Brehme manages to slightly open the cockpit canopy, but can't get out of the plane. He is fearful of fire and possibly being burned alive by some random spark setting off the remaining fuel in his fighter. Luckily for Brehme, a young Frenchman, seeing his plight, is able to get some equipment, which frees himself from the plane. Brehme, who speaks French fluently (thanks to his mother, herself a French speaker, who had spent some time in Lyon in younger days and had urged her son to learn the language), strikes up a friendship with the young man, Georges, who is crazy about aviation. Through this friendship, Brehme meets Georges' mother, a widow 10 years older than him, who regards him warily, with disgust. After all, Brehme is a Boche, a part of the military force occupying France.

 

Eventually, Brehme and Georges' mother Jeanne, develop a rapport over their mutual love of art which blossoms into something much more passionate and binding between them.  But Brehme and Jeanne are soon forced far apart by events. The fighter wing, of which Brehme is a part, is transferred to Poland in preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, which takes place on June 22, 1941. The author provides the reader with many vivid scenes of the scale of the fighting, both on the ground and in the air over Russia. Brehme manages to maintain a discreet correspondence with Jeanne through a coding system that both had devised while he was in France. Thus, her letters come across as innocuous, an exchange between 2 people with a shared love for art and painting.

 

The war in Russia comes to dominate most of the novel. Brehme finds his shooting eye there, and within the following year, becomes one of the Luftwaffe's top fighter aces and receives the coveted Knight's Cross from the hands of Hermann Göring himself. In the process, Brehme's star rises considerably, thanks to the efforts of the propaganda machine in Berlin to extoll the virtues of a newfound hero. Brehme is ideal, given his movie star looks, and fits the bill. Yet, as the war goes on, Brehme endures the losses of some of his comrades, as well as the stresses of combat flying. His unit takes part in the later stages of the horrific battle of Stalingrad. Brehme barely survives and is sent back to Germany to recover from his wounds and rest for several months. During this time, he is put on a tour speaking with workers in factories and with students in schools across Germany. Brehme is now one of the nation's idols, adored and lusted after by legions of women, while admired by men, young and old alike. But he isn't comfortable with all the attention and the fame. Though still dating his girlfriend back home, he hopes to find a way to be reunited with Jeanne. Do they reunite? You have to read the novel to find out.

 

Eventually, Brehme is drawn back to the upcoming mission set for January 1, 1945. The novel's denouement takes place here, with lots of highly descriptive, exciting passages depicting the hazards of low-level combat flying.

 

I don't know if Stephen Dunmore is a pilot or has ever flown a plane. But he shows in "ACE" that he has a good feel for relating to the reader what air combat during the Second World War was like for a Jagdflieger (fighter pilot). That is what made "ACE" pretty gripping stuff for me.

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review 2016-08-27 04:04
TARGET TOBRUK
Target Tobruk: Yeoman in the Western Desert - Robert Jackson

In "TARGET TOBRUK", George Yeoman, whom we first met as a greenhorn fighter pilot in 'Hurricane Squadron', is now a full-blooded ace and combat veteran. The time is April 1941 and Yeoman has been assigned to a fighter squadron in North Africa, where British and Commonwealth forces are locked in a great battle with German and Italian forces for control of the Mediterranean Sea and its surrounding land masses. The fighting is often desperate, for Britain is still very much fighting for its survival. To that end, Yeoman, after flying a number of close support missions, strafing Axis troops and installations, is ordered into Tobruk, a key port stoutly defended by mainly Australian forces, though surrounded by German forces set on capturing it. His task: to fly tactical reconnaissance missions deep inside enemy territory in a Hawker Hurricane fighter.

 

As with the other books in the Yeoman Series, this one has plenty of heart-stopping action and adventure. His subsequent experiences take him to the island of Crete, in a vain attempt to stop the German juggernaut from overrunning it and thus establishing its dominance over the Eastern Mediterranean. Any reader in search of a story to thoroughly enthrall the imagination will savor reading "TARGET TOBRUK."

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review 2016-07-04 01:09
"PER ARDUA AD ASTRA"
Flight of Youth - Ron Graham

"FLIGHT OF YOUTH" is a well-written, poignant novel about a young man of humble origins from Northern England (Bill Proctor) who joins the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during World War I, trains as an air mechanic, and by virtue of his proven mechanical skills, advances to become an observer/gunner in 2-seat aircraft in combat, and thus earns the opportunity to receive pilot training back in England. He returns to France as a pilot in an observation squadron during 1917 and 1918. The novel also shares with the reader various aspects of Bill's personal life away from the Front.

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review 2016-06-20 01:49
WHERE EAGLES & FALCONS CLASH
Hurricane Squadron - Robert Jackson

"Hurricane Squadron" gives the reader a tangible view and penetrating insight into the life of George Yeoman, a 20-year old Sergeant Pilot in the Royal Air Force, as well as the frontline fighter squadron (No. 505) to which he has been assigned.

 

The time is May 1940. Yeoman is arriving at the airbase of 505 Squadron in Châlons, France in a brand spanking new Hawker Hurricane fighter. He has had a leisurely flight from Britain, putting his navigational skills to the test. From the time he was a boy, his one abiding dream was to become a pilot. This was at a time when aircraft were not so common as is the case today. Aviation was largely a preserve for the privileged and well-to-do. Yeoman before the war had worked as a clerk in his native Yorkshire and used whatever money he could save to pay for flying lessons on the side. It was not easy, because he didn't earn a lot of money. But if anything, Yeoman was determined. Within a year, he had earned his private pilot's license. From there, he managed to earn a slot in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) at the time of the Munich Crisis of September 1938, where he received more intensive training, including flying some of the latest military aircraft in the RAF. So, with the outbreak of war, Yeoman's training took on more of an urgency. He earned his wings in January 1940 and spent the next 4 months in reserve in Britain.

 

The Hurricane Yeoman was flying to 505 Squadron in France was to replace one that had been lost in action. The so-called 'Phoney War' was still going on between the Allies (Britain and France) and Germany, with both sides occasionally meeting in infrequent and sporadic air battles on the frontline or just over the German border. But for Yeoman, this situation would soon change, for he had hardly touched down at Châlons and taxied in the Hurricane than 505 Squadron found itself under attack by the Luftwaffe. The German Blitzkrieg in the West had begun. The day was Friday, May 10, 1940.

 

Yeoman barely survives his first day at war. The book goes on to convey to the reader the full fury of the German offensive as experienced by Yeoman, his squadron mates, some members of the squadron administrative and ground crews, and the various civilians in the surrounding areas who figured prominently in the life of 505 Squadron.

 

There are depictions of intensive air battles across France and Belgium, Yeoman's painfully quick evolution from rookie pilot to seasoned ace over the next month of the battle, and the frenzied efforts made by refugees trying to escape the seemingly unstoppable German advance only to be strafed by German fighters and dive bombers - which, in their own vicious manner, sowed further confusion and chaos for Allied soldiers and civilians alike. The author also provides the reader with a glimpse into the other side through a young Luftwaffe fighter pilot, Joachim Richter, who, like Yeoman, is keen to prove his mettle as a combat pilot in one of the finest fighter planes in the world, the Messerschmitt Bf 109E "Emil".

 

At 130 pages, "Hurricane Squadron" succeeds brilliantly in imparting to the reader a real sense of the personal cost the Battle of France exacted upon that country and those who vainly tried to save it from an unstoppable German juggernaut.

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review 2016-05-15 01:45
ICARUS RISES
The Blue Max - Jack D. Hunter

I picked up this novel in an airport after having seen on TV during the 1970s the movie adaptation of "The Blue Max", which impressed me a lot.

The novel is centered on Bruno Stachel, a young man of humble origins (his father worked in a modest hotel in the Black Forest), who had transferred from the infantry to the Imperial German Air Service. As a newly minted fighter pilot, he arrives at a Jasta (fighter squadron) situated not far from the Front. It is early 1918, several weeks before Germany would embark on a series of offensives to win the war before the Americans could arrive in strength and help ensure an Allied victory. Stachel is a bit ill-at-ease for he is the new guy at the Jasta, the greenhorn. So he puts up a brave front with his comrades. He wants so much to be the hero and join the pantheon of the great German aces (e.g., Boelcke, Immelmann, and Manfred von Richthofen aka The Red Baron) by earning Imperial Germany's highest award for bravery: the Order Pour le Mérite. Better known as the Blue Max.

But in order to earn the Blue Max -- not an easy feat --- a fighter pilot has to earn his mettle through the crucible of air combat by shooting down a significant number of enemy aircraft. Stachel is on a steep learning curve and has to prove himself. So, his commander, Hauptmann Heidemann (himself a holder of the Blue Max) assigns him a Pfalz DIII, which though graceful in appearance, is one of the unit's cast offs, a marked contrast to the standard Albatros and Fokker Triplane fighters with which the majority of the Jasta is equipped.

As the novel progresses, the reader experiences the ups and downs of life at the Front (with some views of life back in Germany), as well as Stachel's burning ambition to be the best fighter pilot in the Jasta. It is an ambition that alienates Stachel from many of his comrades, who resent his growing arrogance as he grows in experience and skill as a combat pilot.

This is a novel that I -- as a student of World War I air combat -- thoroughly enjoyed reading. It's packed with adventure, excitement, raw human emotions, and tragedy. And it's well-written. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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