Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

Helena is represented by Laurie Blum Guest at the Re-Naissance Agency.

For readers tired of clich├ęs and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, December 4, 2020

The Battle of Britain: The Cost

 

In retrospect — or from the perspective of the government — the price of victory in the Battle of Britain was clearly affordable. During the Battle of Britain, the RAF lost 1,023 aircraft compared to the Luftwaffe’s loss of 1,887 aircraft. In fact, due to the dramatic increases in aircraft production introduced by Lord Beaverbrook, the RAF ended the Battle with more front-line fighter aircraft than it had at the start of the Battle. In contrast, the Luftwaffe’s fighter strength declined by 30%. The imbalance in personnel losses was even greater: while the Luftwaffe lost 2,698 airmen during the battle (killed, wounded and captured), the RAF lost 544 pilots killed. (The number of RAF pilots taken prisoner during the Battle, which largely took place over English soil, was negligible, while the majority of wounded RAF pilots also later returned to active service and, therefore, do not weigh in the balance.)

Yet these statistics are deceptive. It must be remembered that pilots at the time were highly trained specialists who could not be easily or rapidly replaced. While the numbers were small compared to the total population, the pilot losses nevertheless represented roughly 40% of Fighter Command’s strength.

What this meant, is that from the perspective of the participants, chances of survival were barely greater than 50%. The situation was aggravated by the fact that, as a rule, the more experienced pilots had a 5-6 times greater chance of surviving than did the replacement pilots coming into the front line with very little flying and no combat experience. The most critical period for a replacement pilot was his first fortnight in the front-line squadron.

In consequence, there were a significant number of pilots who fought throughout the Battle (four full months) and survived, but many other pilots who did not survive four hours. This meant, in effect, that a smallish core of experienced pilots often watched waves of replacements arriving and then being shot-down in a short space of time. Meanwhile, sheer exhaustion wore down even the experienced pilots and by the end of the Battle it was the Squadron Leaders, Flight Lieutenants and Section Leaders who were falling victim as a result of inattention, and “sloppy flying.”

For an individual squadron engaged in the Battle of Britain the pilots who were seriously injured and hospitalised also had to be replaced, so the effective casualty rate (killed and wounded) at squadron level was closer to 70% than 50%. This situation forced ACM Dowding and AVM Park to pull entire squadrons out of the front line (i.e. 11 Group) and replace them with new squadrons when a certain — albeit very subjective — level of exhaustion and depletion had been reached. Altogether 16 squadrons were withdrawn from 11 Group in the one month between August 8 and September 8, 1940.

The problem with this rotation was that the replacement squadrons — like replacement pilots — were far more likely to suffer casualties and far less likely to destroy enemy aircraft than the tired but experienced squadrons. This was because the replacement squadrons often had no pilots with experience of the combat conditions reigning in Southeast England at the time. Without experienced leaders, these fresh squadrons were often mauled badly during their first encounters with the Luftwaffe. It was not uncommon for these squadrons to lose 5 – 6 aircraft and 3 – 4 pilots in a single engagement. 

Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew

 


 

Friday, November 27, 2020

“It would be a nice change not to be outnumbered ten to one.” -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"

 


(Setting: RAF Tangmere: A new pilot observes his comrades, Late August 1940)

The telephone went. The eruption of swearing was truly vile – not just rude but vehement. The clerk was absent for some reason, so the CO grabbed the receiver himself, still chewing. He managed a mere, “MMM.”

The others waited absolutely still, staring at him. He gestured with his hand for them to relax and they audibly unwound, starting to eat and drink more calmly. The CO was nodding. “Um hum. Um hum. OK. Thanks, Bridges.”

“Well?”

“Hornchurch was hit while 54 was still on the ground. They lost a whole section – though not the pilots, it seems – and Biggin Hill was struck again. Second time today. They also gave Debden, North Weald and Croyden a pasting. It seems Jerry really is going for the airfields around London. 12 Group was asked to patrol London and the 11 Group ‘dromes while the squadrons refuelled, but they failed to show up in time.”

“Typical 12 Group,” a man with a posh accent commented.

“Leigh-Mallory thinks his squadrons are more effective if they are flown in a wing. He likes to send them in together,” the CO explained.

“Well, I like that idea. It would be a nice change not to be outnumbered ten-to-one!”

“We never are out-numbered by that many, Woody,” the CO countered very seriously. “And the odds are identical whether we deploy in big wings or squadrons. The difference is at best psychological, and frankly I much prefer things the way they are.”

“Why?” the New Zealander asked bluntly, and by the nodding around the dispersal, Ainsworth had the impression they all wanted to know.

“Because large gaggles just get in each other’s way. Look at the 109s. We generally have somewhere over thirty or even sixty of the buggers up there when we attack, but when it comes down to it, we only fight with about a score. The others never get a chance.”

“Maybe, but frankly, once – just once – I’d like to face them on equal terms.”

 ----

Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew

 


 

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Battle of Britain: The Nazi Juggernaut vs a Handful of British Amateurs

 


A purely objective assessment of the Battle of Britain does not explain why interest in the Battle of Britain remains so high 80 years later. There were, after all, many other decisive battles in WWII from Stalingrad to Midway. The appeal of the Battle of Britain is less military and diplomatic than emotional.

In the summer of 1940, the RAF stood against an apparently invincible enemy, a juggernaut of  seemingly huge proportions, while RAF Fighter Command was tiny -- and largely composed of 18-22 year-old amateurs hastily inducted! Even including the foreign pilots flying with the RAF, there were only roughly 1,200 trained fighter pilots. (Numbers varied due to training, casualties and recruiting.) They were anything but "cannon fodder." Although very few of them were "regulars," because the process of learning to fly to the proficiency required took more than a year, fighter pilots represented a cadre that could not be readily replaced. The RAF had to beat the Luftwaffe with the few men it had.

Churchill – as so often – captured the sentiment of his countrymen when he claimed that “never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” This image of a small “band of brothers” standing up to a massive and invincible foe in a defensive battle for their homeland was reminiscent of other heroic battles – Henry V at Agincourt, Edward the Black Prince at Poitiers, Leonidas and his 300 at Thermopylae. Such battles, pitting a few defenders against a hoard of enemy, have always appealed to students of history and readers of historical fiction like almost nothing else.

Click here to see a video teaser of  Where Eagles Never Flew

 

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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Opening New Doors -- Cross Seas Press signs with Itasca

 

 

This month I signed a contract with Itasca Books for the distribution of titles released under my new imprint Cross Seas Press. The significance of this arrangement is that it enables the books to be sold in brick-and-mortar bookstores, museums, airports etc. rather than just via online platforms, as has been the case up to now. In short, it opens doors to greater sales, although it by no means ensures them. 

The first step in this process is the release of the selected titles by Cross Seas Press, a process which will take up to six weeks. When the books are ready, I will provide a link to the Itasca website, where the books can be ordered directly. The books will also go back up on the familiar online platforms at that time, tentatively mid-November.

Three of the titles that will be released with Cross Seas Press are my recent releases: Envoy of Jerusalem, Rebels against Tyranny and The Emperor Strikes Back.   In addition, to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, I will be releasing a new edition (with photos) of Where Eagles Never Flew (aka Chasing the Wind)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find out more about Cross Seas Press by visiting the website at: http://crossseaspress.com

 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

“What chances do you give the RAF of defeating the Luftwaffe?” -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"

 



 

(Setting: Operational Training Unit Harwarden: Early August 1940)

As they approached the Spitfire, one of the Americans caught sight of the approaching officers and rushed over. “Flight Lieutenant Priestman? Howard Briggs, Detroit Times. Pleasure to meet you. We’ve been hearing some great things about you.”

“All lies, then, I can assure you.”

The American started and then laughed heartily. “Love your English sense of humour! Wonderful!” He jotted something down, and Kennel raised his eyebrows at Robin. “Tell me about this kill of yours, Mr. Priestman.”

“What kill?”

“Didn’t you shoot down a Do17 the other night?”

“Yes, I shot down a Dornier 17, a twin-engine, monoplane aircraft of German manufacture. Maximum speed 250 mph – or thereabouts – range roughly 1,500 miles. All four crewmen aboard survived.”

“Uh-huh. Would you tell us about it?”

“What?”

“About the dogfight,” Briggs pressed him, a touch exasperated by Priestman’s evident reticence.

“There was no dogfight. The Dornier is not a fighter and had no fighter escort. I intercepted an enemy intruder and, in accordance with standing orders, I did my best to shoot it down. This time I was lucky.”

“How?”

“The Spitfire is equipped with eight Browning machine guns. They are quite effective. I suggest you inspect the wreckage of the Dornier for evidence of their impact.”

“Love to, but your police or Home Guard or whatever it is won’t let us near it. Top Secret. You make it sound very easy, Mr. Priestman – what’s that expression you boys use, ‘piece of cake,’ eh?” How silly it sounded in that American accent, and Robin resented the reporter even more. The reporter was continuing belligerently, “The way we hear it, Nazi planes are flying over here night after night – heard bunches of them myself – and most of them go home unmolested.”

“Have you ever flown at night?”

“Once or twice.”

“Did you find it easy to see other aircraft in the darkness?”

“Uh. I don’t think I tried. But, look, don’t you Brits have some sort of top-secret tracking device for locating aircraft?”

“I’ve heard rumours, but I wouldn’t know.”

“You mean you don’t have any means of tracking the enemy aircraft?” The second reporter, who had not introduced himself, asked with open hostility.

The reporters struck Robin as vultures. Both seemed to be hunching over their pads with their pencils poised, ready to tear him apart. “We have the Observer Corps – extremely efficient and dedicated volunteers, mostly ex-service men and women from the last war. I highly recommend visiting one or more of our observer stations – particularly on a dark night.”

It took them a moment to digest that answer and then Briggs asked, “What chances do you give the RAF of defeating the Luftwaffe?”

“None.” There was a collective gasp – and not just from the reporters. Kennel at once tried to intervene, “Now just a minute, Priestman—”

“In case you haven’t noticed, we are not attacking Germany. We don’t have to defeat the Luftwaffe. All we have to do is convince the German government that it is not worth their while trying to conquer England.”

“And you think you can do that?” the second reporter insisted skeptically.

Priestman looked at the reporter and considered his answer carefully. Then he smiled. “Let me put it this way, gentlemen. I would not want to trade places with a Luftwaffe pilot for anything in the world.”

“Why not? Don’t you think their planes are as good as yours?”

“The Me109 is a very good aircraft. I was shot down twice by 109s.”

“Then why wouldn’t you want to trade places with a Luftwaffe pilot?”

Priestman shrugged and jammed his fists deeper in his pockets. The photographer lifted his heavy camera to his face and with a flash, a photo immortalised the moment. Robin stood in front of his Spitfire staring into the camera, with a plaster over his left eye and his hair falling over the right. “Never fancied getting my arse shot off for a dictator.”

Robin was deadly serious, but for some reason the others all found the answer terribly funny.

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Click here to see a video teaser of Where Eagles Never Flew 

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