This book is about Ernst Udet, a German ace from the Great War. It is the English transcription of the original “Mein Fliegerleben”. Ernst Udet, a top-ace from the German Luftwaffe was born in 1896. Between 1914-1918 he was accounted for 62 victories in air battles while only 19 years old in 1915. That same year he got his pilot licence, paid for by his father and he signed up for the German Luftwaffe. He was an extraordinary good fighter with a swift mind.
The first part of the book is about the war in the air itself and the victories he was accounted for. It shows us a nice picture of how things went at that time. Totally deprived of any romanticism he describes his experiences. A fine example of this is an air battle with his French opponent Guynemer, also an ace in French service, which ended in a draw. Guynemer could have shot Udet down because Udet’s machineguns blocked. Which he did not do because Guynemer understood that Udet was in trouble, fiercely trying to get his guns to work again. He flew by, saluted his enemy and went back to his own line. These are examples beyond imagine and would not ever be possible in todays battles. Not in the least because of the greater speed and distance of jets whereas eye contact is just impossible.
Udet succeeded Manfred von Richthoven (aka the “Red Baron”), also a well known ace from the Great War and commander of a squadron of fighters named Jasta 11; he received one of the highest ranks in German decorations, the “Pour le Mérite” as well as the Iron Cross for bravery. One of his comrades was Hermann Göring, later to become his supervisor during the last World War.
The second part of the book is about the period where he became a test pilot of a small company, Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, (which we now know as the legendary car and motorcycle brand BMW), between 1918 and 1930. Due to allied sanctions laid upon the defeated Germans, this had to be a concealed operation. Willy Messersmidt bought the aircraft division of BFW and Udet designed the legendary U4 for him. He became a famous stunt pilot and was well known for his daring shows at low altitudes. Besides that, he performed in motion pictures such as SOS Eisberg among others. It is quite unthinkable now that he flew such large distances in the fairly modest equipped aeroplanes of those days. This period of his life is perhaps evenly interesting compared to his fighter adventures.
Preceding WWII Udet was asked by Göring to help with the reconstruction of the Luftwaffe. He successfully did so and in function of “Generalluftzeugmeister” co-designed the legendary Ju 87 Stuka and Bf 109 Messerschmitt. He committed suicide in 1942, severe alcoholism and the huge pressure as the highest officer in rank of the German Luftwaffe sealed his fate. An epilogue in his biography, which was released after his death in 1942, stated his tragic death was a fatal accident during a test flight. The real cause of his death was anxiously hidden by the nazi’s. A squadron was named after the famous hero.
The book is well written and easy to comprehend, not in the least due to the used font of the print. It contains black and white pictures of his active career. The book can be obtained from the publishing house Pen & Sword Books Limited and is highly recommended.