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The German Aces Speak II: World War II Through the Eyes of Four More of the Most Important Commanders

by Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis, Zenith Press, Minneapolis, Minn., 2014, $30

Erich Hartmann (352 aerial victories) said he became a pilot “for probably the same reason as most boys—to recapture the glory of the aces in the Great War.” Johannes Steinhoff (176 victories) “detested” Nazi leaders like Hermann Göring, but thought British fighter pilots were “born fighters, very tough, well trained and very enthusiastic.” Günther Rall (275) said he “was an idiot and did not pay attention” when a Soviet I-16 fighter almost shot him down. Dieter Hrabak (125) similarly survived an ambush from French Curtiss Hawk 75As despite admitting to being “stupid,” and he discovered that “you learn from each fight.” In The German Aces Speak II, the sequel to a 2011 book, Colin D. Heaton and Anne-Marie Lewis have compiled the views of four top aces, showcasing firsthand accounts of World War II combat and much more.

Each of the aces entered combat in the Messerschmitt Me-109E “Emil” and graduated to other fighters. All shared the eyesight, hand/eye coordination and magic on the stick that separates the high-scoring fighter ace from everybody else. Each had a distinct personality, so the space devoted to their upbringing—who knew that Hartmann spent much of his youth in China?— is certainly not wasted.

What counts most, though, is that they describe aerial combat versus the best the Allies could put up against them, with each man explaining his own ways of overcoming the challenges he faced—how he learned and prevailed while others fell in flames around him. If you enjoy reading accounts by aggressive pilots talking about themselves, The German Aces Speak II will keep you turning pages.


Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.