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, March 5, 2021

Dowding's Counter-Part - Hermann Goering

 In the Battle of Britain, Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding faced a Luftwaffe led by Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering. As overall C-in-C of the Luftwaffe, Goering was not technically Dowding's military counterpart. Yet Goering's interference in the Battle and his high-profile leadership style make if fair to say that Goering and Dowding faced off against one another. 

Two more different men are hard to imagine. While Dowding was retiring and unassuming almost to a fault, Goering was bombastic and loved the limelight. Yet it would be wrong to dismiss Goering as a clown or a fat buffoon. He was far more dangerous, sinister and complex than such a portrayal suggests.

Goering was born into the ruling elite and raised in a castle belonging to his mother's Jewish lover. He was commissioned in the Army at aged 19, two years before the start of WWI. During the war he transferred to the fledgling air force, and as a fighter pilot had twenty-two credited victories, for which he was awarded the "Pour le Merite" or "Blue Max" -- the highest German medal at that time. He took over command of Manfred von Richthofen's famous fighter wing after Richthofen's death in July 1918.

Goering could not come to terms with Germany's defeat and went into voluntary exile in Sweden, where his good looks and daring flying won him admirers and social success -- including captivating the wealthy Swedish baroness, Carin von Rosen. Their affair scandalized the Swedes, however, and they fled to Bavaria where they married in 1923 after Carin divorced her first husband. Meanwhile, Goering had met and become mesmerized by Hitler, whom he met in 1922. Despite their differences of class and personality, the bond between the two men was to hold almost to the last day of Hitler's life. Despite his later failings, Goering always retained a place of privilege in Hitler's inner circle that neither Goebbels or Himmler could displace. 

Goering earned that place with his early dedication, sacrifices and effectiveness. Goering took over the Sturm Abteilung (SA) -- Hitler's thugs -- and turned them into a (comparatively) disciplined troop capable of much more effective disruption, brutality and intimidation. Despite his best efforts, however, the SA did not prove a match for the Bavarian police and Goering was wounded in the groin during the abortive "Beer Hall Putch" of 1923. 

While convalescing, he was forced to surrender command of the SA to Ernst Roehm. His treatment, furthermore, entailed morphine and he soon became addicted. The addiction caused mood swings, weight gain, and led him to the brink of ruin. He was twice institutionalized for addiction in Sweden, and meanwhile he and his wife bankrupted themselves with donations to the Nazi Party. 

In May 1928, however, he was one of only 12 men elected to the Reichstag on the Nazi Party slate. This provided not only a salary, but respectability and a platform from which to work. He proved to be a gifted fund-raiser and recruiter, equally at ease in upper-class cocktail parties or out haranguing workers and farmers. By September 1930, the Nazi party had increased its seats in the Reichstag to 107. Two years later it was 230 -- and Goering was the President of the Reichstag (equivalent to the Speaker of the House in the U.S.). 

Goering used his position to systematically undermine democracy, something he managed in part because of his good relationship with the increasingly senile Paul von Hindenburg, the official Head of State or Reichspraesident. When Hitler, as the leader of the largest faction in the Reichstag, was appointed Reichschancellor, Goering was appointed Minister of the Interior in Prussia, a position he used to establish the Gestapo and the first concentration camps. He may also have played a role in orchestrating the fire in the Reichstag that became the pretext for Hitler demanding -- and receiving -- dictatorial powers. 

In the first years of the Nazi regime, Goering was Hitler's unquestioned "right-hand-man" and his bulwark. In addition to using the Gestapo and Concentration Camps to purge the country of opposition leaders, independent journalists and other democratic elements, he used threats and bribery to bludgeon and seduce support from Germany's industrial elite. In 1934 he took his revenge on Roehm for replacing him as head of the SA by masterminding the slaughter of the SA leadership during the completely fabricated "Roehm Putch" -- an orgy of murder against some of the Nazi party's most loyal (and brutal) supporters. The purge has gone down in history as the "Night of the Long Knives" although it lasted three days. (Below Ernst Roehm.)

Although Goering surrendered control of the security apparatus to Himmler in the aftermath of this purge, in 1936 he was entrusted with ramping up Germany's synthetic oil and rubber production. He was so successful that Hilter appointed him Minister of Economics in 1937. He used this position not only to build autobahns, ramp up steel production, improve harvests and reduce unemployment, but to build up armaments, stockpile munitions and other war materiel -- and to enrich himself. 

His appetite for luxury and display along with fine art, fine wine and good food was insatiable. He designed ever more flamboyant uniforms for himself, built a huge hunting lodge, maintained dozens of personal cars, had a personal armed train with a hospital car (among other things). He wore rings on every finger, and when he remarried in 1935 (his beloved wife Carin had died of a heart attack in 1931, aged only 38), he had a wedding parade with 30,000 soldiers. 

All the while he was head of Germany's civil aviation and the secret Luftwaffe, which came out of hiding in 1935. Goering attracted highly competent men to the new and prestigious organization, men like Walter Wever, Hans Jeshonnek, Ernst Udet and Erhard Milch. The Luftwaffe also enjoyed priority in recruitment and huge budgets. It grew rapidly and benefitted from a sophisticated German aeronautics industry. The Spanish Civil War provided an excellent testing ground for men and machines before the outbreak of WWII. Among other things it demonstrated that the Stuka dive bomber (shown below) could be a highly successful ground support and terror weapon.

The Luftwaffe, whose machines and tactics had largely been devised for close combat support roles, was instrumental in Germany's victories over Poland and France. These successes combined with Goering inflated sense of self-worth led him to promise Hitler that the Luftwaffe would destroy the BEF at Dunkirk and then that it would force Britain to surrender. 

But Goering had never been more than a captain (Squadron Leader). He had never gone to staff college, much less served in a staff position. He had no first hand experience with modern aircraft, and no understanding of modern fighter tactics. His interference in the direction of the Battle of Britain was counterproductive -- including backing Kesselring's demands to attack London. Goering probably did so for political reasons -- to bolster his own prestige (which was tarnished by RAF attacks on Berlin and other German cities, although these raids were no more than pinpricks at the time). He was also motivated by the need to regain favor with Hitler, who wanted revenge for the attacks on Germany. Whatever his reasons, the targeting of London took the pressure off Fighter Command's airfields and helped ensure RAF withstood the attacks long enough to force a postponement of the invasion.

The Luftwaffe never regained it's mastery -- despite such brilliant technical advances as the FW190 (that for nearly a year out-classed all allied fighters) or even the ME262, which was   even more superior. Technical genius could not make good the steady attrition in machines, men and morale that set in on the Western front. Meanwhile success in the East was also ephemeral. Despite much higher kill-to-loss ratios, the sheer size of the task and the weather eventually took its toll. Goering, meanwhile, remained out of touch with reality and vastly overestimated his own and the Luftwaffe's capabilities. Among other errors, he promised to supply the Sixth Army, trapped at Stalingrad, entirely by air. It couldn't be done. Goering -- and the Luftwaffe --  "failed" again. 

Goering played only a nominal role in the waning years of the Third Reich. He was tried at Nuremburg and condemned to death. His sentence was earned many times over. He had been ruthless, undemocratic, and corrupt ever since the Nazis came to power. He was personally responsible for a variety of crimes from the establishment of the Gestapo and the early concentration camps to the murder of hundreds in the purge of 1934. 

Yet while he shamelessly stole assets from Jews, he also held his hand over those he personally liked (or thought useful) with the famous phrase: "Wer Jude ist bestimme ich." (I decide who is a Jew.) Likewise, a glimmer of honor emerges from his refusal to expel air force personnel implicated in the July 20th Plot from the Luftwaffe. Unlike the army that unceremoniously threw their former comrades to the Gestapo and so knowingly allowed them to be tortured and executed, Goering  had all Luftwaffe officers tried before military tribunals. They were not tortured and some were allowed to "redeem themselves" on the front. 

Goering took his own life rather than facing being hanged like a common criminal on Oct. 15, 1946.

Goering has only a cameo role in "Where Eagles Never Flew."

Monday, March 1, 2021

A very dim view of scandal - An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"

 Earlier I talked about Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding's critical role in the Battle of Britain. I argued that he has been under-appreciated. Part of the reason for that --  although he was brilliant and conscientious -- he lacked charisma. He did not have the kind of personality that enable him to connect readily with his young pilots. 

In this excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew," Squadron Leader "Robin" Priestman, commanding a frontline Hurricane squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain has been caught on camera kissing a famous socialite -- and he doesn't think it is going to go down well with the C-in-C of Fighter Command...

The telephone rang in the dispersal, and everyone tensed. The orderly clerk emerged. “Sir,” he addressed Robin respectfully, “it’s the AOC.”

Robin dropped his head in his hands, then shoved them through his hair and dragged himself out of the deck chair onto his feet. As he disappeared into the dispersal, all the others watched him go.

“They wouldn’t really cashier him for something like this, would they?”

“Rather depends on what they think of him generally, I suppose. Stuffy strikes me as the type to take a very dim view of scandal. I’d say he’s going to get a packet.”

“On the other hand, experienced Squadron Leaders don’t  grow on trees.”

Robin swallowed before picking up the receiver, which had been laid beside the phone on the orderly’s desk. In a tone of complete resignation, he reported, “Priestman.”

“Park. Would you like to give me your version of what happened?”

“I was told there were some reporters in my office who wanted to interview me, and that the Station Commander had already approved the interview. As I came through the door, Virginia threw herself at me and the photographer started snapping shots. I disengaged as soon as I could and got behind the desk. I did not drink a drop of the champagne, and I pushed off rather abruptly when the klaxon went.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Park remarked, “You called her Virginia just now. Do you know her   well?”

“We went out a few times before the war, when I was flying in air shows, and once or twice this past winter.”

“I see. And what does your fiancée have to say about the whole thing?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet.” Robin admitted feeling ill.

“Well, I hope for your sake and the sake of your squadron – that she’s sensible and doesn’t make too much of this. Boret reported that you were sitting behind your desk and very correct for the part of the interview he witnessed. He praised your answers, and I quite agree that the Times article without photo is really quite good. I particularly liked what you said about Hurricanes, and you fielded the question about claims deftly. Your Adjutant, incidentally, gave the same version of events as you, but I have to tell you that the C-in-C is not amused. He feels it lends credence to those who portray all fighter pilots as frivolous and irresponsible. He also remarked that it wasn’t the first time you’ve been impulsive and undisciplined.”

Robin ruffled his hair with his free hand, but there was nothing he could say to that. He sighed. Park continued. “I think it will all blow over very quickly. There are more important things on our plates at the moment, to say the least. Nevertheless, I would appreciate it, if you would try to keep a low profile for a bit; would you?”

“I didn’t ask for the interview, sir.”

“I understand. Boret said you were clearly annoyed by it all. He was afraid you might be too blunt about just how difficult things are at the moment.” There was a pause, and then Park added in a notably more friendly tone, “The PM was rather pleased, actually.”

“The Prime Minister saw it?!” Robin couldn’t grasp his misfortune. It had only appeared in the local Portsmouth papers, after all.

“He has a large staff that sifts through the papers, looking for anything that might be of interest to him. He rang me up about 30 minutes ago and growled at me that things couldn’t be as bad as I was making them out to be if my front-line squadron leaders had time for champagne and socialites.” Park paused and then added with obvious amusement, “He was tickled pink.”

Robin could hear Park’s amusement, but it didn’t make him feel much better. Churchill might be amused, but Dowding and Emily held his future in their hands and he was afraid that Emily was going to react more like “Stuffy” Dowding than the amiable Churchill.

Watch a video teaser of "Where Eagles Never Flew" at: Eagles Video Teaser FINAL - YouTube

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Friday, February 26, 2021

One of the Greatest -- and Least Appreciated -- Commanders of WWII: Air Chief Marshal Dowding

 To the extent that we consider the Battle of Britain pivotal to Allied success in WWII, the mastermind behind the RAF's success deserves far more credit and fame than he has been given to date. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding

ACM Dowding was not only the commanding officer of Fighter Command during the entire Battle of Britain, he was the man who had envisioned, created, shaped and molded Fighter Command into an instrument capable of withstanding the onslaught of the Luftwaffe in 1940. Dowding had been instrumental in Training Command in the inter-war years, and for six years headed the Supply and Research Office of the Air Ministry, in which capacity he was instrumental in fostering the development of radar. He was directly responsible for inviting private tenders for ‘the fastest machines they could build’ resulting in the design of the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire respectively. (Hurricanes are in the photo above; below the Spitfire.)

But technology and weapons are nearly worthless if they are improperly used or misused. Neither fighter nor radar would have saved England from invasion in 1940, if the institutional structures and fundamental strategy for the defense of Great Britain had not be evolved by Sir Hugh Dowding. In 1936, Dowding was appointed the first commander of the newly created Fighter Command. In this capacity, he ensured both the establishment of coastal radar stations (then known as RDF), and evolved the system of communications and control that linked that early warning system to the fighters that needed to respond. 

The complex yet efficient system in which radar stations were connected by telephone directly with Fighter Command HQ, where a Filter Room sifted through and made sense of the plethora of reports and this information was converted into comprehensible plots on a map, was Dowding’s invention. The segmentation of British airspace into sectors, each protected by designated squadrons controlled and directed from a Sector Airfield with its own Control Room, was Dowding’s concept.

All the technology in the world and the best fighters would have been worthless it the information was not brought together in a timely and coherent manner that enabled commanders to make intelligent and informed decisions. The RAF did not — anc could not build with the resources at hand — sufficient fighters to patrol the skies of the UK at all times. Without this system and the military doctrine behind it, Fighter Command would have been overwhelmed in 1940.

Dowding also demonstrated foresight in advocating the training of women on radar and employing them as plotters and filterers. Women (WAAF) proved to be extremely competent, reliable and unflappable.

Last but not least, Dowding must be given credit for withstanding the immense political pressure to send more and more RAF fighter squadrons to France as the German offensive systematically overwhelmed French defenses. Had Dowding not vehemently insisted on the need to retain sufficient squadrons in Britain to ensure the defense of the realm, too many British aircraft and pilots might have been squandered in the lost Battle of France.

For all these reasons, Dowding deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest military leaders of the 20th century along with Air Vice Marshal Park, who commanded 11 Group during the Battle — but that is a different story and would require a second entry. 

Dowding has only a cameo role in "Where Eagles Never Flew" which views the battle from the perspective of the frontline rather than HQ.

Friday, February 19, 2021

"All in a days' work" -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"


The feeling of queasiness as he approached his Hurricane was familiar to Ginger now. It was his fourth patrol this week. So far, all had been uneventful, but after the fight yesterday, he was certain they were in for it now.

Ginger reached his Hurricane, and Sanders swung himself out of the cockpit and offered Ginger a hand as usual. Ginger took it gratefully with a nod and a smile of thanks. Sanders had kept his word, and “Q” had been sent back to a Maintenance Unit for a complete re-fit. Sanders was now assigned to Ginger’s new aircraft, “H,” along with the rigger, Tufnel.

Ginger no longer felt shy with either of them; they were both first-rate blokes. They seemed to like their work and were proud to keep their aircraft in the best possible condition. Sanders smiled as he helped Ginger pull the straps tight. “I hear Jerry’s getting cheeky. The blokes from 43 Squadron were telling us their pilots bagged a couple of Stukas that were going for a convoy right off the Needles.”

“I guess it had to come sometime. France surrendered a month ago,” Ginger answered stoically. Somehow when he’d joined the RAF, all he’d thought about was flying – not killing and dying.

“Good luck then, sir!” Sanders flashed him a last smile and jumped down off the wing.

“Thanks!” Ginger called after him, and then turned and waved to Tufnel to pull the chocks away. Tufnel was looking tired. He’d been up half the night helping the CO’s rigger repair the CO’s kite.

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


Friday, February 12, 2021

The Battle of Britain - The Unsung Heroes: "Erks"

 It was not the pilots alone who won the Battle of Britain. The RAF worked hard to ensure that its pilots were supported by some of the best trained ground crews in the world.

With an ‘apprentice’ program, the RAF had attracted technically minded young men early and provided them with extensive training throughout the inter-war years. In some ways, ground crews were better educated than many pilots.

Under the circumstances and given the fact that many pilots came up from the ranks themselves, it is hardly surprising that the relations between pilots and crews were on the whole excellent. The RAF had a notoriously relaxed attitude towards discipline in any case, and this further worked to break down barriers.

Last but not least, at this stage of the war, individual crews looked after individual aircraft and so specific pilots. The ground crews identified strongly with their unit – and ‘their’ pilots. After the bombing of the airfields started in mid-August, the ground crews were themselves under attack, suffering casualties and working under deplorable conditions – often without hot food, dry beds, adequate sleep and no leave. The ground crews never failed their squadrons. Aircraft were turned around – rearmed, re-fuelled, and thoroughly checked – in just minutes. 

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