ARCHIVED THREADS > WW2 aviators' biographies: need recommendations

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 20, 2008 08:45AM) (new)

Hi all,
Please give your recommendations on WW2 aviators' biographies, both Allied and Axis aviators, or even from neutral countries, as long as it is from the WW2 period. If the book has a goodreads page, please kindly give the link also.
I just want to enlarge my wishlist :D

Many thanks in advance


message 2: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments James,

Let me strike first by recommending two books on Greg "Pappy" Boyington, Commanding Officer of the Black Sheep Squadron of the UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS. Pappy Boyington certainly had a variety of experiences in WW2, including:

- service with the Flying Tigers in China before the US was even officially in the war
- service in the South Pacific as a Commander of the Black Sheep, during which he shot down 14 enemy planes in 32 days. He eventually shot down a total of 26.
- being shot down himself in January 1944 and being captured by a Japanese submarine. he spent the rest of the war in a prisoner camp near Tokyo.
- Once liberated, he received the Medal of Honor, which is the US's highest military honor

More on Pappy, from Wikipedia:


Here's the link to his autobigraphy BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP, which is the most famous book about him. It was later the basis for an American TV show:

Here's the link to a more recent and balanced biography about him: BLACK SHEEP ONE by Bruce Gamble.

Pappy was a real maverick and he tended to exaggerate or leave out details as he saw fit, so reading both books might be useful to get a feel for his personality and the truth about what really happened.

These books shouldn't be too hard to find. Both were published in mass market paperback editions.

message 3: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments Next recommendation:

CARL "TOOEY" SPAATZ. Spaatz was the American commander of US Eighth Air Force in the North African campaigns, and later became head of the US Strategic Air Force in Europe, serving under Eisenhower and directing the strategic bombing campaigns against Germany. In 1945, with the end of the war in the Eurpoean Theater imminent, he was transferred to a similar position in the Pacific, and directed the final stages of the strategic bombing against Japan, including the dropping of the two atomic bombs. Eisenhower supposedly rated Spaatz as the best American combat leader in Europe, though I can't verify that - there must be some context to that statement that I'm missing.

Anyway, here's Wikipedia on Spaatz:

Here's a useful link to an entry on Spaatz from the US Air Force's Air University (this article also describes the strengths and weaknesses of the biographies available on Spaatz):

Here's a Goodread link to the book MASTER OF AIRPOWER, which I have in my collection:

That's a pretty weak link, so here's more on the same book at Amazon:

Ignore that Amazon price -- I found this in a used bookstore in Brisbane for about $5 US while on deployment - you should be able to find it cheap.

More later...this is a great topic...

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Many thanks Patrick,
keep them coming :)

message 5: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments Yesterday after posting these I wrote to a Goodreads friend who is a former military pilot and asked for some recommendation as well.

There are a ton of options out there, but most of my recommendation will be about American and maybe some British aviators.

The best book I'm aware of for the German experience is Williamson Murray's LUFTWAFFE: Strategy for Defeat. Here are two editions.

This is often required reading for American military professionals in our aviation branches (in addition to our US Air Force, our Army, Navy, and Marine Corps all have their own internal aviation arm).

I don't know how much the Murray book goes into individual experiences for the Germans, but there might be some good suggestions in the bibliography.

message 6: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments By the way, how did you develop your interest in this?

And are you looking for anything dealing with aviation in World War II, or do you just want biographies of individual aviators? Most of I have seen out there is a history of a unit or an air campaign, rather than a biography or an autobiography. But I think they're just as useful and as compelling for you as stories of individual aviators.

message 7: by Ian (new)

Ian | 86 comments James,

The following are biographies I have or have read on WW2 fliers:

Reach for the Sky - Paul Brickhill's biography of Douglas Bader (British)
The Big Show - Pierre Clostermann. A French Pilot with the RAF
I was a Kamikaze - Ryuji Nagatsuka
No Passing Glory - biography of Lenard Cheshire V.C. (British) - Andrew Boyle
Dambuster - biography of Guy Gibson (British) by Susan Ottaway

Of varying literary quality & age since first publication but all interesting & all available from Amazon.



message 8: by Christopher (new)

Christopher | 13 comments The most recent book I've read for in this category was "The Few" by Kershaw.

It focused on the American volunteers who got to England early enough to be participate in the Battle of Britain.

It is a bit hit-or-miss and suffers from American-centrism (see other discussions of Ambrose). Apparently Hollywood is working on a film adaptation.

message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 21, 2008 06:18AM) (new)

Thank you guys, never thought there would be so many :)
@Patrick: This is just for fun, wholly for fun. I'm not an historian. I just reading books. What I want is biography or autobiography of aviators, not account of battles or theories of dogfights etc. But again, I thank you for your recommendations.
Presently I only have Raymond Toliver's The Blond Knight of Germany and Jean Zumbach's Auto Biography, and have read Stephen Ambrose's The Wild Blue. Now I want some more :D

message 10: by Patrick (last edited Jan 21, 2008 06:59AM) (new)

Patrick | 16 comments So you haven't read James Bradley's Flyboys? I think that's the most recent popular bestseller here in the States on this subject. Bradley writes in a style similar to Ambrose, focuing mainly on people and their personal experiences. Here's the link:

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of books out there on this subject. One reason is that so many people across the world were involved in World War II as participants. Another reason is that aviation forces expanded rapidly and immensely to meet the new demands of this war, and so lots of very normal, regular guys who showed intelligence and good reflexes got sent from their ground forces induction camps over to aviation training without regard for previous experience, aptitude tests, or college degrees.

So there were plenty of regular joes who ended up flying in World War II -- since then, nearly every country's aviation service has tightened up their recruitment and initial training programs. After the war, as each country shrunk their aviation service, these guys ended up right back out of the military, and most never were involved in aviation again.

World War II was a really unique time for military aviation history. Air combat, strategic bombing, and other military aviation functions had barely come into development in the previous war - "World" War I in Europe, so the possibilities were untapped, and the military and government leaders didn't realize the potential that aviation presented for support of military operations.

in the twenty years between the wars most of the theories on what air services could do were worked out and popularized, mainly by an Italian named Douhet but also by military officers who had briefly served in aviation during the last days of the war, such as the U. S.'s Billy Mitchell.

But the governments were strapped for cash, and popular opinion did not support any expansion or research and development of new military concepts, so military aviation languished during that period, as did other new developments such as tanks, trucks, and larger artillery pieces.

The German firebombing of targets during the Spanish Civil War is what really caught the attention of the governments of the world, and made them realize that aviation would be a major component of future military operations, which were now clearly on the horizon.

Even so, there was little popular sentiment for expanding any country's military until just before the Nazis started to take over nearby countries. Then, once opinion swiftly turned and preaparing for war became the top priority, the expansion of the air services happened pretty much overnight to meet the emergency. As a result, the air services pretty much grabbed anyone they thought had potential and who was willing to volunteer just to meet their manpower demands.

Just my thoughts on why there are so many good personal accounts of World War II aviation experience out there.

If anyone reading this wants to elaborate on what I've said, feel free - I know I left a lot of detail out!

message 11: by Patrick (new)

Patrick | 16 comments Here's a good book on an area of the war that doesn't get much coverage: the American transport service that flew military personnel and supplies over the Himalayas between British bases in India and Chinese airfields in China.

This was arguably the most dangerous regular flight service during the war. Who in the world would be nutty enough to fly regularly over the highest mountains in the world on a routine basis?

The book's a first person account by the commander of the service, William H. Tunner. The title is OVER THE HUMP

This book was published in 1964 by the US Air Force, so it doesn't seem to be on Goodreads.

Here's a short bio on Tunner, who also commanded the Berlin Airlift in 1948:

Wikipedia info on the Hump operation:

Amazon has the book, but no photo of the cover:

plenty of more info available on line if you want to look for it!

message 12: by Perry (new)

Perry | 7 comments I would echo the comments about The Wild Blue by Ambrose and Flyboys by Bradley. Great reads.

message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 22, 2008 09:40AM) (new)

the himalayas bit is fascinating
i love this group
now all i need is time to read and money to buy all these books
i have several uncles (all deceased) who were in WW II, one as a bombadier who i beleive spent most of his time in the pacific theatre and who received an award for heroism for saving his plane by crawling back into the tail and holding the steering mechanism in place as they crash landed (the hydralics had been damaged by flak) and the other an engineer who blew up and built bridges across europe through most of the major battles
i would love to find out more about the bridge engineers
i will ask my father the name of his company etc. but if anyone knows a good resource...?

message 14: by Conrad (new)

Conrad Another book with a pretty singular take on WWII aviation: "Night Witches," by Bruce Myles. It's a biography of a bunch of female pilots from the USSR who were charged with defending Stalingrad. It's been awhile since I read it, but as I recall, they were underequipped, underfunded and underfed, and were working under some of the most horrifying conditions of pretty much any Allied pilots in the war. Many of them died but they lasted much longer on average than RAF pilots, and one or two were bona fide aces.

message 15: by James (new)

James | 61 comments That sounds interesting. Have to look into it.

message 16: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 11, 2008 10:47AM) (new)

Many thanks to all. I'll summarize below what you guys have recommended:

Ambrose, Stephen, The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany, recommended by me and Perry, link here.
Bradley, James, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, about Grumman Avenger boys I believe (it seemed so from the cover), recommended by Patrick and Perry, link here.
Brickhill, Paul, Reach for the Sky, a biography of Douglas Bader, recommended by Ian, link here.
Boyington, Greg, Baa Baa Black Sheep, autobiography of Pappy Boyington, recommended by Patrick, link here.
Boyle, Andrew, No Passing Glory, biography of Lennard Cheshire, a recipient of the Victoria Cross, recommended by Ian, link here.
Clostermann, Pierre, The Big Show, a French pilot with the RAF, recommended by Ian, 3 Goodreads editions in English (!): here, here, and here.
Gamble, Bruce, Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, recommended by Patrick, link here.
Kershaw, Alex, The Few: The American Knights of the Air Who Risked Everything to Save Britain in the Summer of 1940, recommended by Christopher, link here.
Mets, David R., Master of Air Power: General Carl A. Spaatz, a biography of the general, recommended by Patrick, link here.
Murray, Williamson, Strategy for Defeat: The Luftwaffe 1933-45, recommended by Patrick, two editions on Goodreads, links here and here.
Myles, Bruce, Night Witches, about Soviet female pilots, recommended by Conrad, link here.
Nagatsuka, Ryuji, I Was a Kamikaze, the title says it all, recommended by Ian, link here.
Ottaway, Susan, Dambuster: A Life of Guy Gibson VC, biography of Guy Gibson (RAF), recommended by Ian, link here.
Toliver, Raymond, The Blond Knight of Germany, about the top German ace Erich Hartmann, recommended by me, link here.
Tunner, William H., Over the Hump, the story of the USAAC air transport service servicing bases in China from India, recommended by Patrick, no info on Goodreads yet.
Zumbach, Jean, On Wings of War: My Life as a Pilot Adventurer, autobiography of the Swiss-Polish pilot that served with the RAF during WW2 and became a mercenary, recommended by me, link here.

message 17: by James (new)

James | 61 comments A couple more - these are about the late Col. John Boyd, USAF, whose career extended from the WW2 years through the Korean and Vietnam war eras, one of the most influential thinkers in the field of fighter tactics among other things: Boyd, by Robert Coram, which is the best biography of Boyd himself, and The Mind of War, by Grant Hammond, which is about Boyd's career and impact on the US defense establishment. Boyd was a multifaceted genius - as an instructor giving advanced training to Air Force pilots, he had a standing bet that he could start with any other pilot directly on his 6 o'clock and could reverse the situation and get in position to shoot them down within 40 seconds - he never lost. He was the primary designer for the F-15 and F-16, and he introduced the concept of speeding up the "OODA Loop" (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) as a way of introducing blitzkrieg tactics to fighter tactics and outmaneuvering the enemy in time as well as in space.
He made a lot of enemies in the Air Force because he was abrasive and not tactful, but as a retired Marine I can affirm that he's a folk hero in the Corps. The Commandant wrote an eloquent eulogy when Boyd died in 1991.

message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, after googling about something totally not connected with WW2, I came across an online MA thesis from Florida State U by Jessica Leigh Bhuvasorakul titled, "Unit Cohesion among the three Soviet Women's Air Regiments during World War II" here.
The author cited several critical opinions about Bruce Myles' Night Witches, some from the veteran pilots themselves, in which words like "careless" and even "falsification" were used.
I enjoyed reading the thesis. I hope it can be expanded somehow into a book to our benefit, of course :D I still want to read Myles' book though :)

message 19: by MEK (new)

MEK (marilou) Hello,

I've just joined this group as I am a fan of WWII non-fiction (European theatre only, so far). I "collect" obits of WWII heroes from the Telegraph ( As I've read through these over the last few years, I've found references to many books written by these members of the "Greatest Generation." Here's a link to one author who has focused on airmen: I've read a number of memoirs of that generation, not airmen as much as OSS and SOE members. Look forward to perusing this group's posts and finding more books!

message 20: by James (new)

James | 61 comments Another memoir by a man who was in the OSS is "You're Stepping On My Cloak and Dagger" by Roger Hall. He tells the story mostly as comedy, but not completely, and his book was supposedly off-limits to CIA officers in training for decades. I read it as a teenager and recently reread it, and unlike a lot of books I liked when much younger it was just as much fun from the perspective of middle age.

message 21: by MEK (new)

MEK (marilou) James, thanks for the recommendation. I skimmed this book a long time ago but have just placed it on hold at the library. I look forward to reading it again, at "middle age"!

message 22: by James (new)

James | 61 comments James (other James, who started this discussion),
There are several good books on military aviation by Mike Spick: you might like Luftwaffe Fighter Aces and Aces of the Reich about WW2, also The Ace Factor, which looks at the experiences and tactics of pilots from WWI on and tries to pick out the most important factors that made pilots successful.

message 23: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 10 comments I joined Goodreads two days ago and now this group.

I hope I am not coming on too strongly, but as a friend of the late Colonel Raymond F. Toliver, USAF, Historian for the Fighter Aces Association, I can recommend several of his books.

The Blond Knight of Germany, about Erich Hartmann top ace of all aces.

Fighter Aces of the USA and Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe have brief bios of leading pilots.

The Interrogator is the story of the Luftwaffe officer who interrogated captured U.S. fliers.

Fighter General is the bio of Adolf Galland.

Mike Spick mentioned above is more a secondary source who rehashes what Toliver and others had written.

Toliver knew the pilots personally. At his home decades ago, I met U.S. aces Bud Mahurin, Jim Brooks, Battle of Briain ace Sanford Tuck, Interrogator Hannes Scharff, and Adolf Galland among many others. My wife translated a postcard Hartmann wrote to his wife from the Soviet Gulag for Toliver.

Also, there is a wonderful site hosted by Jan Safarik on the internet. He has a comprehensive list of all aces of all wars from all countries, including the two Soviet female aces.

message 24: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) Female aces? Hell, that should be interesting ;p
I wonder if there's a book about female aviators from countries other than Russia.

message 25: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 10 comments The Safarik web site does include bibiliographies. You can contact him as well. I cannot recommend his site enough.

Lidia Litvak, who shot down between 12-15 German planes before she bought it, was immortalized by the USSR as the White Rose of Stalingrad, and a play has been written about her.

The Germans called the female Soviet fliers "Night Witches."

message 26: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) thanks, just sent him an email :)

message 27: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 10 comments He generally responds quickly.

message 28: by Stefan (new)

Stefan (stefan44) Stuka Pilot by Hans Ulrich Rudel is a well written biography of Germany's leading stuka ace.

Tale of a guinea pig by Geoffrey Page is a well written biography of a British fighter pilot.

The First and the Last by Adolf Galland (commander of the German Fighter Forces during the Second World War) is a well written biography.

The Greatest Aces by Edward H. Sims gives several brief biographies on leading American aces during the Second World War.

The Divine Wind by Rikihei Inoguchi and Tadashi Nakajima is a well written eye witness account of the Japanese kamikaze forces during the Second World War.

Combat Crew by John Comer is a well written memoir of an American bomber crew during the Second World War.

Duel Under The Stars by Wilhelm Johnen is a interesting autobiography of a German night fighter pilot during World War Two.

Horrido by Raymond F. Toliver and Trevor J. Constable is a well written book that covers several of the Germans leading aces during World War Two.

I could never be so lucky again by James H. Doolittle and Carroll V. Glines is a excellent autobiography of the famous raid.

Flying for the Fatherland by Judy Lomax is an superb biography of Germany's most famous female pilot, Hanna Reitsch, who became famous for testing the first jet aircraft.

Hope these titles are useful.

message 29: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 10 comments Stefan, Horrido by Toliver and Constable was updated in a larger format with many more photos titled Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe.

message 30: by Paul (new)

Paul (paul_gephart) | 352 comments I didn't see this mentioned anywhere else; forgive me if someone else did already. One of the best books I read as a kid is "God is My Co-Pilot" by Col. Robert L. Scott (written during the war). Scott flew transports over the Himalayan "hump", then became one of General Chennault's Flying Tigers. He also flew P-51s in Europe, as I recall. Scott also wrote a biography of Chennault (who also was a pilot, as well as the commander).

Another book I read as a teen was "Roar of the Tiger" by James Howard, which has similar experiences - Flying Tigers at the outset of the war, then P-51s in Europe.

"Sole Survivor" by George S. Gay is pretty good, but only about the first half pertains to the fighting. After that, he is reassigned as a test pilot/trainer in the states, and he recaps that, too.

"Samurai" by Saburo Sakai is another book that I enjoyed a great deal.

I hope those help!


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

So sorry it took me so long to look up this thread again. Thank you all for your recommendations. Christmas is coming near :D

message 32: by Zachary (new)

Zachary | 1 comments I would also recommend Lopez's Into the Teeth of the Tiger, the story of his experiences flying in China and his stateside training.

message 33: by Donald (new)

Donald (donroc) | 10 comments Thee is also The Blond Knight of Germany, Holt Hartmann vom Himmel in Germany, by Toliver and Constable about the all time top fighter ace of all wars, Erich Hartmann.

message 34: by David (new)

David (warreader) I would recommend "Baa Baa Black Sheep" also.

message 35: by Míceál (new)

Míceál  Ó Gealbháin (miceal) These two book are not about a specific flier but are both excellent accounts of the 8th & 9th airforce in WWII:
Masters Of The Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought The Air War Against Nazi Germany by Donald L. Miller and Into The Fire: Ploesti, The Most Fateful Mission Of WWII by Duane Schultz.

message 37: by Mansoor (new)

Mansoor Azam (azam69) | 42 comments God's Samurai Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (The Warriors) by Gordon W. Prange God's Samurai Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor

A well written autobiography.

message 38: by Dimitri (new)

Dimitri | 1291 comments Patrick wrote: "Yesterday after posting these I wrote to a Goodreads friend who is a former military pilot and asked for some recommendation as well.

There are a ton of options out there, but most of my recommend..."

online version for W. Murray's Strategy for Defeat

message 39: by Colin (new)

Colin Heaton (colin1962) | 1891 comments Donald wrote: "Thee is also The Blond Knight of Germany, Holt Hartmann vom Himmel in Germany, by Toliver and Constable about the all time top fighter ace of all wars, Erich Hartmann."

Ray Toliver died years ago, and his wonderful wife Jan, and they were good friends, but Trevor is still living in San Pedro, CA. It was Ray and Trevor who opened doors for me many years ago, resulting in my many books on aviation and interviews with the pilots.

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