Saturday, June 1, 2013

eBook Review: Luftwaffe Fighter Ace

Norbert Hannig, Luftwaffe Fighter Ace

Product Details

  • File Size: 2109 KB (photos account for the large file size)
  • Print Length: 192 pages 
  • Publisher: Grub Street (November 19, 2004) 
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars (19 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $9.34
1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Norbert Hannig's personal account of his war. John Weal's editing and translation are outstanding. He knew what to leave in German and what to translate. I have never seen better.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coaster.
Cheap at twice the price.

2.2. What I did not like: The formatting. There is an appendix that gives the Luftwaffe's rules for airmen. The 'Tweet that you have finished' showed up after the first page of the appendix. Caused my Kindle to hang. Could not page back, could not go home, could not turn off. Had to wait for it to time out.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat history fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes, surprisingly.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Norbert Hannig wrote Was gilt denn unser Leben (What are our lives worth?) but 1) it was printed only in German and 2) is currently unavailable. John Weal has more than fifty books available at Amazon.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     Surprisingly, there is a plot.
     NH was a high school student in Silesia when the war began. He saw that, unless he took steps, he would be drafted to the infantry. He joined the local gliding club and volunteered for the Luftwaffe.
     NH cheated to pass his physical exam -- something about albumin in his urine. He passed his first flying school and chose the Russian Front for his service. This choice determined his fighter training school.
    March, 1943, NH was posted to Jagdgruppe 54 (JG54) near Leningrad. This was his first combat assignment. He began flying the Me 109 but soon transitioned to the Focke Wulf 190.

Okay, it is not Norbert's FW, but it is one like the last FW model he flew.

    After a long apprenticeship as wingman, NH took a lead position. JG54 supported the Wehrmacht in the Ukraine at the Battle of Kursk. NH reported that several times his Jagdstaffel (squadron) left an airfield moments ahead of the advancing Red Army. At least once he saw Soviet tanks below him before he was wheels-up.
    January, 1944, NH returned to Germany to train new pilots. By this time, American bombers and long-range fighters dominated the skies over Germany. After instruction was done, NH and other instructors had to sit 'ready flight' in armed fighters to scramble against the bombers. On one scramble, NH shot down a bomber and a P51.
     October, 1944, NH returned to JG54 in the Courland Pocket. For a while, NH was acting Staffelfuehrer of 1/JG54.
     April, 1945, NH was trained to fly the Me 262. This training consisted of lectures, book study, and one -- count 'em -- one flight, and that a stolen flight.
     After the war, NH surrendered to the first Western Allied officer he could find. Turned out that was a Canadian. Who turned NH over to the Americans. The Americans processed and 'discharged' him as fast as they could. 'Discharged', NH searched for his family and his fiancee. (NH and Gisela became engaged 14 February 1945.) NH traveled back to Silesia, which was in the Russian Sector, to find his family. He reported to the Soviet authorities there. The Soviets tore up his American discharge, interrogated him, and issued him a Soviet discharge with the condition that he report to the local authorities each month. During his time under Soviet occupation, he married Gisela (Christmas 1945). On his monthly report in January, 1946, the German clerk informed NH that his file had been requested, the precursor to transporting him to the USSR. NH guessed this was because he had flown the Me 262. NH slipped away that night and headed west.
     Back in a western sector, NH worked as a farmhand until a friend persuaded him to surrender to the British and join one of their work crews in order to be fed. He did so and bossed a work gang for the British until June 1946 when the British 'discharged' him. During this time, his wife and family joined him.
     NH returned to flying in 1955 with the Bundesluftwaffe.
     All tallied, NH scored 42 confirmed kills.

 2.7. Other:
     NH gave fairly detailed accounts of his glider training.
     NH reported that in 1944 the Luftwaffe abandoned bombers and zerstoerers and re-assigned the pilots of those. Those who could make the transition became fighter pilots. Those who could not joined Luftwaffe ground units. (The Luftwaffe had its own infantry and also manned the flak batteries.) NH told the tale of three bomber jockeys whose flying habits were great for bombers but were not suitable for fighters. He convinced them by way of a mock dogfight that, for them, flying a fighter against the Americans was suicide. They changed to ground units.
     NH wrote that his rations consisted of one hot midday meal and a short loaf of bread, a pat of butter, and an apple; cold rations from which he made his breakfast and supper. Whatever else he could scrounge, he did.
     I was gobsmacked when I read that NH, a commissioned officer, flew wingman to a Feldwebel, a German sergeant. Most of my previous reading has been of the RAF. In the RAF, the officer always flew lead. Not so in the Luftwaffe. The more experienced pilot flew lead.
     Oh, and NH was quartered with the men of his Schwarm, including the sergeants. Officers and NCOs bunked together and messed together. (cf: Spitfires, Thunderbolts, and Warm Beer).

     NH reported that he was shocked when he saw the prisoners of Dachau. Maybe he was. I read Hans Ulrich Rudel, Stuka Pilot, too, and Uli said he knew nothing of concentration or extermination camps. I have never heard a German of that time say they knew of any such camps. That includes my German relatives.
     You did not notice that one day there were Jews in town and the next day they were gone? Did you think Tinker Bell flew them away to Neverland?

     In the interview at the link, NH said the English version came first and the German version later. NH did not authorize some of the changes in the German version and explicitly disapproved it.

     John Weal evidently compiled the book from interviews with NH. It is a masterpiece of biography. You editor-wannabees out there would do well to study this book. The editing is outstanding.

     The photos in the book are from NH's private collection.


2.8. Links: Norbert Hannig

2.9. Buy the book: Luftwaffe Fighter Ace

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