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Black Fokker Leader: Carl Degelow— The First World War’s Last Airfighter Knight

 by Peter Kilduff, Grub Street Publishing, London, 2009, $39.95.

 In 1979 World War I aviation historian Peter Kilduff published a book based on the accounts of a German veteran he knew, Carl Degelow. Since then he has obtained a wealth of new documentation and photos, resulting in a thorough, more definitive biography of the 30-victory ace, commander of Royal Saxon Jagdstaffel 40 and the last German airman to be awarded the Orden Pour le Mérite before the Armistice.

Black Fokker Leader tells of Degelow’s odyssey from the trenches to two-seaters and finally fighters in Jastas 36, 7 and 40S. In the process, it includes his perspectives on the aircraft he flew and the acquaintances he made, including prewar flier and nine-victory ace Willy Rosenstein; the 48-victory commander of Jasta 7, Josef Jacobs; future Luftwaffe generals Hans Jeschonnek and Erhard Milch; and the overbearing leader of Jasta 27, Hermann Göring. Degelow, who regarded himself as woefully naive when it came to politics, resumed his military career in the Nazi Luftwaffe, but managed to maintain his sense of justice and decency—and perhaps in consequence, served primarily as a paper-shuffler, though in view of how things ended in 1945, that was just as well for him.

Profusely illustrated with photographs and drawings of the black-fuselage, white-tailed aircraft of Jasta 40S, Black Fokker Leader is lent color by a wealth of firsthand recollections. The book offers a change of pace from the usual glut of Manfred von Richthofen biographies (more than one of which has been written by Kilduff). It’s recommended for anyone interested in World War I—and also World War II—aviation.


Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here