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Day Fighters in Defence of the Reich: A War Diary, 1942-1945

by Donald Caldwell, Frontline Books, Barnsley, UK, 2012, $70.

Donald Caldwell, co-author of The Luftwaffe Over Germany, once again tackles an immense, complex subject with his usual skill. Day Fighters in Defence of the Reich is an important resource for historians, but lay readers will also find it fascinating due to the deft way in which Caldwell incorporates personal accounts.

If this book were a painting, it might be termed “pointillist” because of the way in which tens of thousands of facts chronologically portray the battle between the Luftwaffe and Allied air arms. The reader can see the initial German strategy of leaving the defense of Western Europe to a handful of fighters deployed against a relatively small number of intruding RAF aircraft. Then, mission by mission, victory by victory and loss by loss, Caldwell chronicles the growth of Allied air power. At the same time, he shows how Luftwaffe forces, diverted from the Eastern Front, were used to defend the Reich against the enemy onslaught—until they were simply overwhelmed.

Each of the first nine chapters covers a few months of the war, supported by tables detailing the defensive measures taken by the Luftwaffe on a day-by-day basis. Caldwell includes the name of each unit, types of aircraft it used, the bases and times from which it flew and recovered, and the victory claims and details of the losses. In the war’s last days, these tables reveal that a handful of Messerschmitt Me-262s was all that was left in the Luftwaffe’s arsenal. The Allied force is portrayed in similar detail with the number and type of aircraft, objective, time over target and claims and losses.

Such a staggering quantity of information would be overwhelming in less capable hands. But Caldwell spices up his tight narrative with excellent photos and informative captions. Combat reports, obviously written immediately after encounters and often relayed in an engaging, informal style, reveal the true nature of fighter-versus-bomber combat. The book includes maps for 32 major missions, depicting the points where the Luftwaffe attacked.

A final chapter features five tables that present a statistical picture of just how devastating the relentless air battle was to both sides. Here Caldwell gives a generous tribute to Roger Freeman’s work on the Eighth Air Force. In the future, Day Fighters in Defence of the Reich is likely to be honored by other historians in a similar way.


Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.