First off, I'm so grateful that the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek agreed to loan their copy to my library. I originally requested this for my uncle, the...moreFirst off, I'm so grateful that the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek agreed to loan their copy to my library. I originally requested this for my uncle, then decided to read (most of) it myself, so their generosity has made two people very happy. :)
I only read up through 1953, where Rall becomes a Major in the new German air force. By then, the era of history I'm most interested in was over, and the book was becoming extremely heavy to hold. Oversized hardcovers with thick glossy pages tend to do that. My wrists couldn't take it anymore.
But for what I read, I greatly enjoyed myself. There were some very dry patches as squadron movements along the front were described and pilots' commands were shifted around, as well as the nuts and bolts of the planes themselves. I know the differences between the Messerschmidt F & G series and the details do interest me, but the cold paragraphs of specs made my eyes glaze sometimes. It was like listening to someone tell you about their awesome new car. So I skimmed over those parts to get back to the "story."
Prior to this book, I didn't know much about Rall apart from his huge victory tally on the Eastern Front, and that he got his thumb shot off near the end of the war. Despite this being a memoir, he still seemed a bit standoffish at points, but overall came across as a very even-handed, modest, and likable person. He admits to ambivalent feelings about some of this colleagues (Erich Hartmann, Johannes Steinhoff, Walter Krupinski) but it's done without any malice. His comments about Hermann Goering, however....
I also liked the glimpses into his rather hectic early married life. It was definitely the "human interest" part of this book. His wife Hertha was the doctor who tended him after a crash that fractured his spine in 3 places. They married soon after and were kept constantly apart by the war. Her pre-war "activities" of helping a few Jewish families escape to England threatened her freedom and his career, but he stood by her and the matter was dropped with intervention by his superiors.
The one thing that came across loud and clear was the "special" bond shared by all pilots, no matter which side they fought on. It wasn't about killing the other person, but winning. Those pilots who wanted to make sure their opponent was dead (shot while parachuting, for example) weren't looked upon kindly. It's the same attitude I've read about the aces of the First World War, that chivalry might have been dead in the trenches, but it was alive in the air. A noble sentiment, even if it didn't always end well.
I'm not as up on Luftwaffe history as I was a decade ago, but this was still an interesting read. Try to get it via library loan unless you're a hardcore historian, because this book sells for $120 from the publisher. However, all copies are signed by Rall, so at least it's got some resale value.(less)
Either I wasn't in the mood, or this is one of those epistolary novels we're warned about. The main character's journal entries read like combat repor...moreEither I wasn't in the mood, or this is one of those epistolary novels we're warned about. The main character's journal entries read like combat reports with an emphasis on the technical, and the letters between the family members weren't thrilling either. If we're going to get minutae about ammunition and plane specs and step-by-step progression of the war from a pilot's perspective, I'd rather read NF about actual Luftwaffe pilots: Mölders, Novotny, Marseille, Galland, Hartmann, et al.
An odd book coming from an author whose bibliography is primarily books about dance and Hollywood, but maybe this is a side interest of his. I wanted to enjoy it, but it was too plodding and pedantic to grab me.(less)