#GuestReview for Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot by Helmut Mahlke #HelmutMahlke #MemoirsofaStukaPilot @penswordbooks

After recounting his early days as a naval cadet, including a voyage to the Far East aboard the cruiser Koln, and as the navigator/observer of the floatplane carried by the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer during the Spanish Civil War, the author describes his flying training as a Stuka pilot.

The author’s naval dive-bomber Gruppe was incorporated into the Luftwaffe upon the outbreak of war. What follows is a fascinating Stuka pilot’s-eye-view of some of the most famous and historic battles and campaigns of the early war years: the Blitzkrieg in France, the Dunkirk Evacuation, the Battle of Britain, the bombing of Malta, North Africa, Tobruk, Crete and, finally, the invasion of the Soviet Union.

The author also takes the reader behind the scenes into the day-to-day life of his unit and brings the members of his Gruppe to vivid life; describing their off-duty antics and mourning their loss in action. The story ends when he himself is shot down in flames by a Soviet fighter and severely burned. He was to spend the remainder of the war in various staff appointments.



Today I am delighted to be able to hand over my blog to my husband, Mark so he can share with you his review for Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot!

“This was, without doubt, one of the most accessible and eminently readable accounts of Stuka operations in Western and Eastern Europe that I have had the pleasure to read.

This autobiographical work is broad ranging, and begins with the Author’s formative years growing up in post Weimar Germany. With an ascendant Nazi party underpinning the political and economic developments both inside and outside Germany, a career in the military was perhaps inevitable. The Author’s insights into the “how” and “why” Nazism took root in German society, whilst brief, are valuable, depicting a socio-economic backdrop of hopelessness; nihilism, and a sense of national embarrassment which underpinned virtually every transaction. Whilst the Author offers no defence of this, the conjured zeitgeist underpins the early phase of the Author’s military career in the Kreigsmarine as a pilot / observer prior to his transfer to the Luftwaffe when war finally breaks out. The ambassadorial played by the Koln and Admiral Scheer on their various tours are at the forefront of the Author’s mind at this time, representing as they did, a notion of rebirth.

For enthusiasts of the JU87, the chapter covering training on the Stuka is as detailed as it is captivating and gives the reader a tangible insight into how skilled, and brave, the aircrews were.  It soon becomes apparent how taxing and terrifying the dive procedure was, with a 70 degree angle, and a rapidly spinning altimeter, and rapidly approaching target in pilot’s line of sight the authors account of dive-bombing demonstrates that whilst precise, flying the JU87 required almost superhuman feats of endurance which were frequently met with tragedy. The Author’s deep held affection for the JU87 shines through, both as a potent weapon, and as a psychological device at the spearhead of Blitzkreig, instilling fear into anyone on the receiving end. The aircrafts limitations, whilst apparent, do not yet scream obsolescence.

The Author’s Luftwaffe operational career commences with the Battle of France as Staffelkapitan; Gruppenkommandeur during the Battle of Britain, travels through Malta; North Africa and Crete and concludes with Operation Barbarossa in the Soviet Union.

 The Author’s narrative weaves through every aspect of life on a frontline squadron during the highs and lows of both Luftwaffe and Stuka fortunes.  The leading role played by the Stuka in a variety of wartime theatres is brought to the fore and goes a considerable way to restating the utility of the JU87, and it’s crews, in the combat environment. The Author’s gripping accounts of sorties over Dunkirk; Southern England, Luqa and the Soviet Union are particularly memorable as they stand in stark relief to the prevailing narrative that the Stuka was outmoded and defenceless from it’s inception. 

Indeed, the author’s encounters with the RAF over France and in Great Britain throw fresh light on Stuka offensive and defensive measures, and just how aggressive these were,  as well as the confusion and ineptitude at senior levels in terms of maximising the operational returns delivered by the JU87 crews.  Some of the encounters are redolent with World War One notions of chivalry and gallantry, others with a mechanical brutality as the close support role played by the Stuka is honed.

However, what is never far from view is an essential humanity on the part of the Author, and an appreciation of the suffering and devastation meted out by the Stuka. Whereas other Authors de-humanise targets, reducing them to buildings; vehicles, or aircraft, the Author is fully aware of the human cost behind his actions. Whilst there is a generalised desire to conclude the war quickly, particularly on the Soviet front, this is buttressed against the Author’s admiration for his own personal “Iolantha” and revelry in the comradeship between the Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht.

In summary, the author provides a human and thought-provoking account of man; machine, and comradeship during some of the pivotal battles of World War 2.  The emergent portrait is an honest one which doesn’t pull its punches when the emotions of war are considered.  The limitations of both man and machine are both on full display, as is an admiration for one of the most potent aerial weapons of World War 2.”