Share This Article

Nachtjagd War Diaries: An Operational History of the German Night Fighter Force in the West, Volume I, September 1939- March 1944; Volume II, April 1944-May 1945

Vol. I by Theo E.W. Boiten, Vol. II by Boiten and Roderick J. McKenzie, Red Kite, Walton-on-Thames, UK, 2008, £80 (about $135) for both volumes.

 The six-year nighttime struggle between RAF Bomber Command and the German night fighter arm, the Nachtjagd, is less understood by most modern readers than the daylight aerial battles. Yet Bomber Command’s long war has few peers in terms of duration or intensity. More than half of all Avro Lancaster bombers manufactured were destroyed in combat. During the March 30-31, 1944, Nurem berg raid alone, 545 Bomber Command airmen lost their lives, worse than Fighter Command losses during the entire Battle of Britain. And the aerial Battle of Berlin in 1943-1944 marked World War II’s last major German defensive victory.

A number of excellent general histories of the campaign have appeared, and a few (notably Gebhard Aders’ History of the German Night Fighter Force) focus on the Luftwaffe side of the struggle. But nothing matches the richness of detail contained in Theo Boiten’s magnificent two-volume, 800-page production. An accomplished air war historian, Boiten has led a team effort to produce a detailed chronology of every night on which German night fighters operated, from the first halting efforts in summer 1940 through May 3, 1945. Crisp introductory sections outline the major phases and turning points of the campaign, followed by detailed recountings of each day’s operations. German night fighter claims are cross-referenced with known Allied losses. Much of the information is necessarily statistical, but this is far more than a dry presentation of tables. The chronology is interspersed with mostly new and unpublished accounts from night fighter crewmen. These are always interesting and, as in the case of one night fighter pilot reflecting on the fate of the British crews he downed on Christmas Eve 1943, occasionally poignant. Outstanding photographs, many from crew members’ personal collections and all beautifully reproduced, illustrate both volumes.

The authors were able to match approximately 75 percent of German night fighter claims to known RAF losses—a herculean research achievement. The account traces the ebb and flow of the campaign through the Battle of the Ruhr, the Hamburg raids and the costly Battle of Berlin. Of particular note is the information on the employment of night fighters against USAAF daylight attacks; before the American escort fighters joined the fray, the night fighters were used with deadly effect. It is possible to chart the declining fortunes of the night fighter arm, as fuel shortages and less-stringent pilot training standards progressively shifted the burden onto the backs of a dwindling group of high-scoring aces. Yet even during the final months of the war, the Germans fought on, launching intruder missions into British airspace and introducing potent Messerschmitt Me-262 jet night fighters into the fray.

Nachtjagd War Diaries is certainly not for anyone seeking a general introduction to the campaign. The excellent books by Peter Hinchcliffe, Alfred Price and Martin Middle – brook, among others, serve that need well. But Boiten’s thorough coverage of German operations is truly unique. Historians and aviation enthusiasts will be devouring it for many years to come.


Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.