The outcome of World War 2 is simultaneously one of the most positive turning points in the history of modern times yet also a culmination of some of the worst acts and atrocities ever recorded in human history. This makes it a rich subject for historical literature, of course, and the historical fascination with WWII fighter pilots and the aerial battles continues to burn strongly even today. Below you’ll encounter my selection of what I believe to be the most fascinating and informative accounts of WWII pilots’ accounts of the aerial battles of the conflict. You’ll encounter essential reading like the first-hand account from a skilled pilot in Wings on My Sleeve to the detailed roster of pilots and servicemen that fills the pages of Men of the Battle of Britain.
Wings on My Sleeve: The World's Greatest Test Pilot tells his story
The extraordinary life of Eric “Winkle” brown is documented in Wings on My Sleeve, an autobiography that’s as useful as an historical source as it is a thrilling read. Aviation enthusiasts will likely already know of Browns towering reputation. After all, he is regarded as one of the greatest and most experienced test pilots in history, having flown a variety of planes greater than any other documented pilot.
This book is far more than just a pilot’s musings and recollections, however. It documents everything from his arrest in Germany in 1939 (his captors weren’t aware of his position in the RAF) before moving swiftly onto his experiences as a pilot. Meticulous documented and thrillingly told, his 2500+ flights are written about here from the most reliable and fascinating perspective possible.
A Higher Call: The Incredible True Story of Heroism and Chivalry During the Second World War
Adam Makos’ telling of an airborne story of compassion and humanity during wartime is quite remarkable. It recounts the story of Franz Stigler, a decorated Luftwaffe pilot, and his encounter with a heavily damaged allied bomber and its surviving crew. Lt. Charlie Brown, the allied bomber’s pilot, was flying a plane that somehow remained in the sky. Instead of taking the plane down, Stigler displayed the utmost compassion and humanity by facilitating their escape from enemy skies.
A Higher Call is the stunningly-written book that not only recounts this tale, but also tells of Brown’s mission as well as Stigler and Brown’s reunion nearly half a decade on. This is a unique story in that it explores in incredible depth the aerial perspective of WWII from both sides of the European theatre of combat.
The Last British Dambuster: One man's extraordinary life and the raid that changed history
Any book covering one of the most famous aerial missions in modern history is going to be popular, but the autobiographical The Last British Dambuster lends a personal touch to the narrative that no one writing from a third-person perspective could ever match.
George “Johnny” Johnson, who at the time of release was the last surviving member of Operation Chastise (see http://www.dambusters.org.uk/ for more information), recalls his early life and the events leading up to him joining the RAF. Most importantly, his book recounts in detail the particulars of Operation Chastise, allowing the book to serve as an important historical document as well as exist as a thrilling narrative of one of the most famous wartime missions in history.
The Red Line: The Gripping Story of the RAF's Bloodiest Raid on Hitler's Germany
While the selling point of many books is their recounting of victory, The Red Line’s narrative is one of horror, loss, and defeat. Those familiar with history will know the events of the book as the infamous 1944 Nuremberg raid, an aerial mission that resulted in the loss of 95 plans and a staggering 545 men. These events are told in The Red Line by Former RAF Navigator and Gulf War veteran John Nichol.
The Red Line is an important book that allows the voices of the incredibly brave British and German pilots to be heard. Nichols’ interviews with these pilots give them a voice that is often drowned out by criticism of the tactics of Bomber Command during WWII.
Spitfire Pilot’s contribution to aerial WWII history is its recounting of one of the most notorious battles from WII: The Battle of Britain. Rather than offering a second or third-hand account, however, Spitfire Pilot was written by David Crook – a pilot in the 609 squadron famed for downing around 100 German planes during the battle - who recounts not only the victories by the losses suffered by the squadron.
This is a book whose poignant telling of the events of the Battle of Britain, told from the first-hand perspective, is rendered even more hard-hitting due to the fact it was also written during the throes of the battle in 1940.
Tail-End Charlies: The Last Battles of the Bomber War 1944-45
Not to be confused with children’s book Tail End Charlie, John Nichols’ and Tony Rennell’s Tail End Charlies is a book telling of the story of the provocative battles undertaken by Bomber Command during the tail end of the WWII conflict.
Though it only covers in detail the events and activities of Bomber Command in 1944 and 1945, it is arguably one of the most detailed and complete historical sources for aerial warfare during this specific time period. offering first-hand accounts of the survivors and their simultaneously harrowing and heroic stories of victory, loves, and losses during the conflict.
They Flew Hurricanes
The Hawker Hurricane, in conjunction with the Spitfire, went down in history as one of the most successful and also the most famous aircraft ever to be flown during combat. They Flew Hurricanes is a unique perspective of the many battles in which the Hurricane model was part of.
In this book, Adrian Stewart manages to recreate an incredible atmosphere of admiration, recalling for the reader the many stages of the Hurricane’s production and use. This book is much more focused in its perspective than many on this list, but the focus on the famous Hurricane takes the reader from the aircraft’s production to its use in the many theatres of conflict, from its protective duties in the Arctic to the more well-known battles of the war. Its collection of incredible photographs also adds to the appeal of this book.
Scramble: The Dramatic Story of a Young Fighter Pilot's Experiences During the Battle of Britain & the Siege of Malta
Tom Neil’s’ first-hand accounts of various battles between the years of 1938 and 1942 are a fascinating read. Not only does Neil recall his rigorous training and the lead-up to the war, but his surviving and retelling of the Battle of Britain and the lesser-known Siege of Malta is difficult to put down.
At the time of release, Tom Neil was one of just 25 surviving veterans from the Battle of Britain, which makes Scramble all the more valuable as a great read and an historical source. His vivid recollection of two of the most pivotal battles of WWII from the fighter-pilot perspective is invaluable.
Spitfire Ace: My Life as a Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot
Gordon Olive’s credentials speak for themselves: a flight commander at the commencement of WWII, Spitfire pilot, and winner of the Distinguished Flying Cross are just a few of his achievements. Dennis Newton and Gordon Olive’s Spitfire Ace is a gripping perspective on experiences of the outnumbered allied aircraft during some of the major battles of WWII.
Olive flew well over 100 missions, but the most compelling aspects of the book come from his description of the details of his flights, including the aroma of the cordite from the ammunition of the plane’s guns to the vivid recollection of the G-forces he experienced during the conflict, in which he shot down ten enemy aircraft.
Men of the Battle of Britain
Men of the Battle of Britain isn’t a unified narrative, but rather a rigorous documentation of the identities and, where available, stories and biographical information of those who fought in WWII’s most famous battle. This is a book that has become valued as an historical source by historians and academics worldwide due to the rigorous documentation of and information about the people who fought during the battle.
This book lists the men – around 3000 in total – that formed part of the aerial teams of the battle. The book documents pilots as well as radio operators, mechanics, and gunners, listing their identities as well as photographs and biographical information where available. This is a great historical source, but also a very sobering and thought-provoking read to even the most casual of readers.
Fighter Pilot: The Life of Battle of Britain Ace Bob Doe
This biography of Bob Doe’s extraordinary experience in and around the Battle of Britain was penned by renowned historian Helen Doe. As a result of the author’s profession, Bob Doe’s story is not only recounted impressively but also with a high degree of historical accuracy and awareness
The story itself has twinges of hope and self-belief, telling of Bob Doe’s self-doubt about his own piloting skills before going on to become a highly decorated hero of the Battle of Britain. What better author to tell his story, then, than his daughter and professional historian Helen Doe? The book also includes Bob Doe’s leadership of the Indian aerial forces in Burma, offering a perspective on the Battle of Britain that many history books cannot.
Luck of a Lancaster: 107 Operations, 244 Crew, 103 Killed in Action
Though Bomber Command’s actions, victories, and losses are well documented by historians, Gordon Thorburn’s Luck of a Lancaster draws on a number of sources in order to present a more unique perspective on the action.
This is a book comprised of source material ranging from real-life crew log books to interviews of those who flew aboard the AJ-J Johnny Lancaster, as well as information drawn from public records. This is by no means general book about WWII aerial conflict, but rather a well-researched account of some of the most dangerous and historically significant missions carried out by RAF Bomber Command.