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 clichés 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, January 22, 2021

"There was a bloody great free-for-all..." -- An excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"

 In an earlier entry, I noted that in the air war during World War Two victories claims on all sides were greatly exaggerated. Aerial combat was fast-paced and highly confusing, leading to many false and multiple claims. This excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew" is intended to highlight the issue.


(Setting: RAF Tangmere, Late August 1940)

 "I understand you got a Heinkel, Woody." [The CO addressed one one of his pilots.]

"Yes, sir."

"Well done. I saw you put one engine on fire on your first pass. Did you go back around for it?"

"Ah. No. Actually, I didn't even see that. I was afterwards. I broke left and chased after another one. It spun out of control and I saw two of the crew jump."


"Well done. Donohue?"

"I got in some good bursts at a 110 and saw the starboard engine catch fire, but I didn't see him go in. Got distracted by a Messerschmitt."

“Eton?" 

“There was a bloody great free-for-all after you – I mean – we came out the other side of the bomber formation and got jumped on by a horde of Messerschmitts. It can’t have been the ones that had been following us. They had to come from somewhere else. F/O Ware tried to climb into them like you said, but they were already coming down, and one cut in front of me. I got in a good squirt and when I looked back, there he was streaking down with a long tail of smoke. I know he went in.”

“Very likely, but the 109s were coming down because they’d been engaged by Spitfires at higher altitude,” Priestman pointed out. “You probably shot at an already dead pilot.”

Eton frowned. “But, sir, he passed right through my sights.”

“What speed do you think he was going?”

“400 mph at least, sir!”

“And how far away was he?”

“Maybe five hundred yards – six hundred at the most.”

The others just burst out laughing. Priestman waited for them to quiet down. “Eton, do you want to step inside and let me give you a short lesson on the Browning machine gun.”

It was not a question, and the boy looked decidedly disheartened as he stepped into the comparatively dim light of the dispersal hut.

“Trigonometry wouldn’t hurt either, sir,” Sutton called after them.

 

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

 




Friday, January 15, 2021

The Battle of Britain: Claims and Counter-Claims

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the years much has been made of the “exaggerated” claims made by the RAF during the Battle of Britain — far too much.

It is the nature of all aerial dog-fighting that it is very fast, brief and confused. Pilots were flying at the extreme limits of their physical capabilities and the limits of their machines (instances of aircraft breaking up and pilots being killed by the force of gravity alone are documented). Under the circumstances it was difficult to get in more than a quick “squirt” of fire. Usually one or both aircraft took violent evasive action after an exchange of fire.

If seconds later the fighter pilot saw an enemy aircraft crashing, then it was an easy mistake to think it was the one he had just shot at. The larger the number of aircraft involved, the more likely it was that several pilots fired at the same target. The result was multiple claims made for the same downed aircraft. Thus, on September 15, when the Big Wings of 12 Group were engaged over London, the RAF claimed 185 enemy aircraft shot down when, in fact, Luftwaffe lost only 56 air. In fact, it was on this day that no less than 9 pilots put in claims for the same Dornier.

The key problem at the time was that claims were made to squadron intelligence officers by excited young men (the pilots were generally between 18 and 22 years old) immediately after combat. The squadron intelligence officers usually weeded out the duplications and contradictions and implausible claims put in by their own pilots, but squadron intelligence officers did not compare notes between squadrons. Instead, squadron claims were simply added up, and so the above kind of multiple claims for the same aircraft crept into the official figures.

At the time, however, British morale benefited from these exaggerated claims, and no one had any particular interest in double checking much less correcting the filed claims. The bottom line is that the British shooting down more German aircraft than they were losing — even if by a far lower margin than claimed. Ultimately, that was all that mattered because it was enough. The RAF entered the Battle of Britain as the under-dog, and it won the Battle of Britain against all the odds. 

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

 



Friday, January 8, 2021

"The whole system stinks!" -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"

 

(Setting: Jagdgeschader 23 following a particularly bloody air battle with high bomber losses, late August 1940)

 “Where were you?”

“I went to see Major Schulz-Heyn.”

“Who’s that?”

“The acting Geschwaderkommandeur of KG 51 – after their previous CO, Dr. Fisser, bought it yesterday. Do you know how many kites they lost yesterday? Ten! Ten aircraft and crew because that arsehole Bartels wanted to run up his own damned score against the RAF. He can’t bloody take it that Galland and Mölders have left him standing!”

Ernst was appalled by the losses, but he still didn’t think Christian should be talking like this about their CO.

“The whole system stinks!” Christian told him before Ernst had decided what to answer. “They only give away medals and promotions for kills.”

Ernst decided it was better not to enter this discussion. He rather suspected Christian might be less contemptuous about rewarding kills if only he had one or two of his own. So, Ernst changed the subject. “The ground crews are saying you’re going to be put before a court martial.”

“Only the ground crews?”

“They heard the CO threaten you after you landed yesterday and were pretty shaken up. Dieter and Busso, however, say they can’t afford to ground you. We’re too short of pilots. They said the CO was just blustering.”

“See. Nothing to worry about.” Christian grinned and shrugged – unconvincingly, Ernst thought.

“They don’t have to ground you to court-martial you, Christian. They could let you fly ops until your trial.”

Christian shrugged. “When I walked into the mess at KG 51, you would have thought I was a Jew. They all stared at me. Not one man nodded in greeting, much less smiled. They just stared at me. It was the coldest reception I’ve ever had in my life. And they were right.”

“No, they weren’t! You did your best! It’s not your fault that so many of them got slaughtered.”

“I didn’t hit a damn thing – again. Not one goddamnned English fighter!”

“You fire too soon, Christian.” Ernst said it softly, wincing even as he spoke, afraid Christian would be mad at him for criticising.

“What was that?”

“You fire too soon, before you’re in range.” Christian considered Ernst for a long moment, his head cocked. “Just when did you notice this?”

Ernst shuffled his feet unhappily and shrugged. “We’ve been flying together for weeks.”

“You could have said something earlier.” Christian sounded annoyed, but not angry.

Ernst took a deep breath and risked looking at him squarely. He answered honestly, “What right have I got to criticise? Most sorties I don’t even fire my guns – just like yesterday. I certainly haven’t hit anything. At least you try. And you scared the Hurricanes away yesterday. They broke in all directions at the sight of your tracer.”

Christian smiled sadly. “Thanks, Ernst.”

“It’s true.”

“Jein. They broke in all directions and some of our bombers made it home – yesterday. But the Hurricanes will be just as numerous today because I didn’t get any of them. Maybe they’ll get a Junkers today – because I didn’t get any of them yesterday. We can’t beat the RAF by scaring them off.  We’ve got to destroy their aircraft and pilots faster than they can be replaced. It’s as simple as that.”

“Then the system of rewarding kills is right after all?” Ernst said it with a little whimsical smile, expecting a heated denial.

But Christian sighed and agreed, “Yes, it’s right after all….” 

 

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