Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clich├ęs and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into 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 29, 2021

The Battle of Britain: Women on the Front Lines


If ground crews are only rarely mentioned in accounts of the Battle of Britain, the women who actively took part in the battle are all but invisible. Yet both the RAF and the Luftwaffe employed women auxiliaries in highly responsible positions.  

The RAF’s positive attitude towards women was exceptional among the services. The RAF actively encouraged the establishment of a Women’s Auxiliary, which by the end of the war served alongside the RAF in virtually all noncombat functions. 

Even before the start of the war, however, the vital and highly technical jobs of radar operator and operations room plotter, as well as various jobs associated with these activities, were identified as trades especially suited to women. The C-in-C of Fighter Commander, ACM Dowding, personally insisted that the talented women who did these jobs move up into supervisory positions – and be commissioned accordingly.

During the Battle of Britain over 17,000 WAAF served with the RAF, nearly 4,500 of them with Fighter Command. A number of WAAF were killed and injured and six airwomen were awarded the Military Medal during the Battle.

Despite Nazi ideology about the place of women being exclusively in the home, the Wehrmacht was also forced to rely increasingly on women auxiliaries. The expansion began after the dramatic victories in the West in May/June 1940 and continued throughout the war. The number of women serving with  the Wehrmacht increased from roughly 35,000 women in uniform in 1941 to over 150,000 when Germany surrendered. General conscription for women, industrial and military, was introduced in Germany after the loss of an entire Army at Stalingrad in early 1943, but the bulk of the women serving in the women’s auxiliary forces before 1945 were volunteers. These women are far too often forgotten entirely in accounts of the Second World War. 

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



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."


“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