Hitler’s Fall Guys, by Colonel Walker “Bud” Mahurin, Schiffer, Atglen, Pa., 1999, $29.95.
When I first saw the title Hitler’s Fall Guys, I incorrectly assumed the book would be about paratroopers. It is instead about the brave and patriotic men of the Luftwaffe who fought in a bad cause and subsequently became the fall guys for their leaders’ egregious mistakes.
This is a book that has–to my knowledge–no counterpart. In it Bud Mahurin, one of America’s greatest aces, uses his vast experience to analyze the execution of the air war by his Luftwaffe counterparts. In the past, aces such as Germany’s Adolf Galland and England’s Johnny Johnson have analzyed their own air forces or assessed the air arms of other countries based on their own experiences. Mahurin takes the insights of the German air leaders, as revealed in their postwar interrogations, and combines them with his own wartime experiences to draw conclusions about the successes and the ultimate failure of the Luftwaffe. Mahurin had access to the German leaders in the postwar years, when the old hostilities had been largely forgotten and the veterans of all air forces met in peace and harmony at reunions all around the world. His synthesis of this vast pool of knowledge and experience has resulted in a highly readable book, one that offers a view not only of the combat tactics but also of the living conditions, the morale and the political philosophies of the opposing sides.
Mahurin’s credentials are impeccable. A modest man (who was concerned during World War II that the glowing press reports on his victories might worry his mother), he is the ninth highest-scoring American ace of all time, with 20.75 victories in World War II and 3.50 victories in Korea, according to the U.S. Air Force’s revised accounting system for victories. Mahurin scored victories against the Luftwaffe, the Japanese and the North Koreans. He was also shot down by the Luftwaffe, the Japanese and the North Koreans! He evaded capture in France (gaining weight while being sheltered by the Maquis) and was picked up by American forces after being shot down in the Pacific theater.
Unfortunately, he was injured and captured after his forced landing in North Korea and subjected to long months of solitary confinement, during which he experienced starvation, threats, beatings and torture. He not only survived the brutal treatment but prevailed, going on to successful careers in the military and in civil life and becoming, in recent years, a familiar face on television.
Mahurin’s Hitler’s Fall Guys is especially valuable because it gives a broad picture of the war in the air but it is also filled with a host of fascinating insights about the internal operations of the German air force. He often underscores the point he is making by contrasting the Luftwaffe’s situation with those prevailing in Britain’s Royal Air Force or the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Mahurin’s descriptions of the various missions of the Luftwaffe at different times during the war are particularly illuminating. They show the vast gulf that existed between the men doing the fighting and those in high command, a situation with remarkable parallels in the U.S. Air Force experience during the Vietnam War.
A veteran ace himself, Mahurin is especially sensitive in his treatment of the German aces. His respect for their accomplishments under extremely difficult conditions is obvious, although he clearly never forgets that the Nazi system was evil. But Mahurin obviously feels an especially close relationship to the German aces, particularly the late and undeniably great Adolf Galland. By an ironic twist of fate in warfare, it was Mahurin who shot down the ace Major Wilhelm Ferdinand “Wutz” Galland, Adolf’s brother, on August 17, 1943.
Mahurin wrote his book with the same expertise, style and generosity with which he has lived his life. It is a tribute to all fighter pilots, and–although I’m sure he never intended this–it is also a tribute to Mahurin as well.
Walter J. Boyne