Continuing in my writings about World War II (specifically the German forces), I recently finished Jagdflieger: Luftwaffe Fighter Pilot 1939-45 by Robert F. Stedman. Stedman covers everything you ever wanted to know about the German fighter pilots in World War II – discussing the enlistment and training of the pilots and their combat adventures on the various fronts.
The fighters were highly skilled airmen. Before the war, they had two years of intense training to help them master the many different skills to fly and fight. This training period slowly shrank as the war progressed and more pilots were needed to replace attrition. Unfortunately for the Germans, this decline in training increased the loss in pilots because of their inexperience (not just in flying, but taking off and landing).
Stedman intersperses throughout the book stories by German fighters, including the third highest scoring Ace in history Gunter Rall. Their experiences add a human touch to the text.
My favorite part of the book centers around the battle experiences of the pilots. The dueling between the different fighters is fascinating – it is especially enlightening to read about how the men thought of destroying the machines (not of killing the other pilots) to cope with the destruction that their machine guns wrought. I also think that the tactics used by the fighters to break up and destroy the bomber formations is interesting.
The photographs and illustrations (by Karl Kopinski) are an added benefit to this illuminating book. The illustrations mainly highlight the equipment and uniforms of the pilots.
Although they fought for the enemy in World War II, it is hard to not admire their expertise in attacking and defending their airspace.