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 26, 2021

The Battle of Britain Through German Eyes -- An Introduction

 Britain won the Battle of Britain and it is well-known that the victors write history. As a result, most accounts of the Battle of Britain are written from the British perspective. Yet looking at German expectations, strategy, and responses provides insight and shading which are lost when looking at the events of the Summer of 1940 only through British eyes. In a five-part series, I propose to look at the Battle of Britain from the German point-of-view starting today with an introduction. In coming weeks, I will consider from the German perspective each of the three main phases into which the Battle is conventionally divided: 1) the Channel Battle, 2) Attacks on British Air Defences (Phases I and II) and 3) the Raids on London.

 

On June 22, 1940 France capitulated to Nazi Germany. Hitler had revenged the humiliation of the First World War — forcing the French military leadership to sign the armistice in the same railway car used for Germany’s surrender in 1918. In less than ten months Hitler had defeated Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France militarily. A non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union secured his rear in the east, and his ally Italy dominated Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Hitler was master of Europe.

Of course, Britain was technically still at war with Germany, but it had been defeated on the battlefield. Its army had managed to slip across the Channel in a surprise (but highly amateurish) operation involving massive numbers of small boats manned by civilians (hardly a show of military might!) and it had left all its heavy equipment behind. The Royal Navy, while still formidable, had been badly mauled defending the vessels engaged in evacuating British forces from Dunkirk. Six destroyers had been sunk and nineteen damaged, while 200 lesser vessels had also been lost. What remained of the Royal Navy was needed — desperately — to defend the “Atlantic Lifeline” from German U-Boats and air attacks in the confined waters around Britain’s coast. In short, Britain was in no position to undertake an offensive against Germany and many doubted if it could successfully ward off a German invasion. Britain had not been so vulnerable since Napoleon had dominated Europe more than a hundred years earlier.

However, in June 1940 the Germans had no plans for an invasion of Great Britain. Hitler had long harbored admiration for Britain. In Mein Kampf Britain and the British Empire was singled out for rare praise, and Hitler comparatively accurately described British foreign policy as one of maintaining a balance of power on the Continent which was not inherently anti-German. He criticized the German Imperial government for building a High Seas Fleet and seeking Colonies because they needlessly provoked British ire. Hitler not only saw the British as fellow Aryans, members of the "Master Race," he saw the British Empire as a natural ally of Nazi Germany. His ideological goals were the destruction of "World Jewry" and the defeat of Communism, while his military ambitions were focused on the  destruction of "subjugation of the Soviet Union.

Because the British had acquiesced in Hitler’s annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland as well as his invasion of Czechoslovakia, Hitler had not expected a British declaration of war following his invasion of Poland. He was allegedly angry, but not unduly upset. The “Phony War” between September 1939 and April 1940 reinforced Hitler's assumptions about British reluctance to fight him. The short work made of the British Expeditionary Force in May-June 1940 served to convince him that Britain was not a threat to him or his continental ambitions. It has even been suggested that Hitler stopped his panzers from crushing the BEF at Dunkirk because he did not want to humiliate Britain. Certainly, he assumed that now that the French had been knocked out of the war, the British would “come to their senses.” Allegedly, Hitler told his senior military leaders: “The British have lost the war, they just don’t know it yet. We need to give them time, and they will come around.”

Hitler was not alone in his expectations. It was widely assumed in Washington, Moscow, Tokyo and elsewhere that Britain would sue for peace. Indeed, members of Parliament, senior British diplomats, even members of Churchill’s war cabinet including his Foreign Minister Lord Halifax favored a “peaceful resolution” of the differences between Britain and Germany. In late-June 1940, Churchill was politically more isolated than is commonly recognized, and the attitude of the British public had not yet to be tested.

When the expected peace overtures did not materialize, however, the Oberkommando der Wehrmach (OKW) drafted a memorandum on a possible invasion of Great Britain. This was not a detailed invasion plan. It bore no resemblance whatsoever to the careful preparations that would go into the Allied landings in Normandie four years later. Nevertheless, it formed the basis of a “Fuehrer Directive,” ordering preparations for the invasion of England, an operation code-named “Sea Lion.” While the Army and Navy were tasked with developing more detailed plans (even as army divisions were disbanded or put on a peacetime footing), the Luftwaffe was directed to take action to pave the way for an invasion by establishing air superiority over the South of England.  

In other words, the Luftwaffe offensive of 1940 was never intended as strategic bombing campaign to destroy British industrial capacity. Nor was it a terror bombing campaign intended to destroy British morale. Rather, it was a tactical offensive in which the Luftwaffe was expected to play its now traditional role of supporting the other branches of the Wehrmacht.

Starting in mid-July 1940, the German Navy halfheartedly came up with plans to land on a narrow front and collected a variety of largely unsuitable barges in the French channel ports. For its part, the German Army argued for landing troops on a broad front and did even less to mobilize resources. Hitler did not to resolve the differences in strategic approach and otherwise demonstrated only lukewarm interest in the campaign — beyond saying everything should be ready by Sept. 15.

What Hitler, the German Navy and the German Army leadership all hoped was that the mere show of force, “sabre rattling” in the form of an air offensive, would frighten Britain to the negotiating table. Hitler’s directive explicitly stated: “I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England, and if necessary, to carry it out.” (Italics added.) 

The key to making sure it wasn’t “necessary” was an air offensive intended to convince the British government to sue for peace. The Luftwaffe was expected to achieve this objective within a few weeks.


“Where Eagles Never Flew” shows the Battle of Britain from both sides of the Channel by following the fate of German characters as well as British ones. In addition, it highlights the elements in British society favored a peace with Hitler. Find out more about “Where Eagles Never Flew” at:  https://crossseaspress.com/where-eagles-never-flew

 

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Friday, March 19, 2021

"Lack of Moral Fibre" (LMF) - The RAF and Aircrew Morale in WWII

The term “Lack of Moral Fibre” was introduced into RAF vocabulary in April 1940 and was ‘designed to stigmatize aircrew who refused to fly without a medical reason.’ [1] While it is now most commonly associated with ‘shell-shocked’ bomber crews, in fact aircrew from all commands could be and were categorized as LMF in the course of the war. Humiliating as the concept was, the myths about the treatment of LMF were more terrifying than the facts.

 



The RAF entered the war confident that its volunteer aircrew, all viewed as the finest human material available, would not suffer from any crisis in morale. Yet already by January 1940, attrition rates of over 50% in Bomber Command, triggered a crisis in confidence among commanders and crews. At the same time, Coastal Command morale was undermined by unreliable engines and unarmed aircraft that proved extremely vulnerable to Luftwaffe attack.

On March 21, 1940 the Air Member for Personnel met with senior RAF commanders to develop a procedure for dealing with flying personnel who refused to ‘face operational risks.’ The concern of these senior officers was that the refusal to fly would become more widespread, debilitating the RAF. The RAF’s dilemma was that flying was ‘voluntary,’ hence the refusal to fly was not technically a breach of the military code.

The RAF needed an alternative means of punishing and deterring refusals to fly on the part of trained aircrew. Furthermore, because of the on-going crisis, the procedures for dealing with the problem were required immediately. There was no time for lengthy study into the causes or best practices for treatment. Over time the polices on LMF were modified significantly and increasingly discredited. Yet it is telling that at the height of the Battle of Britain, AVM Sir Keith Park strongly advocated the policy, emphasizing that aircrew deemed LMF should ‘be removed immediately from the precincts of the squadron or station.’[i]

Furthermore, while nowadays LMF is most commonly associated with bomber crews, the statistics show a that only one third of LMF cases came from Bomber Command. Surprisingly, fully a third came from Training Command, while both Coastal and Fighter Commands also had their share of LMF cases. Fighter Ace Air Commodore Al Deere describes in detail a case of a pilot from No 54 Squadron who avoided combat and was later ejected from the squadron for being “yellow.”[ii] Fighter Ace Wing Commander Bob Doe records another incident towards the end of the Battle of Battle of Britain in which a Squadron Leader conspicuously avoided combat, but because the Squadron Leader was from a different squadron, no action was taken.[iii]

For the men who continued flying operations, the fate of those ‘expeditiously’ posted away from a squadron for LMF was largely shrouded in mystery. Legends about LMF abound. During the war itself, it was widely believed that aircrew found LMF were humiliated, demoted, court-martialed, and dishonorably discharged. There were rumors of former aircrew being transferred to the infantry, sent to work in the mines, and forced to do demeaning tasks. Aircrew expected to have their records and discharge papers stamped “LMF” or “W” (for Waverer) with implications for their post-war employment opportunities.

Long before the war was over, however, the very concept of LMF was harshly criticized and increasingly discredited. In the post-war era, popular perceptions conflated LMF with “shell shock” in the First World War and with the more modern concept/diagnosis of Post Traumatic Shock Disorder/Syndrome PTSD/S. In literature — from Len Deighton’s Bomber to Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 — aircrew were increasingly depicted as victims of a cruel war machine making excessive and senseless demands upon the helpless airmen. Doubts about the overall efficacy of strategic bombing, horror stories depicting the effects of terror bombing on civilians, and general pacifism in the post-war era have all contributed to these cliches.

In reality, LMF was a more complex and nuanced issue. First, although there are documented instances of aircrew being humiliated in a parade during which flying and rank badges were stripped off, such public ceremonies were extremely rare. The vast majority of references to such public spectacles are second hand; that is, the witness heard about such procedures at a different station or squadron. Historical analysis of the records, on the other hand, show almost no evidence of widespread humiliation. Furthermore, over the course of the war, less than one percent of aircrew were posted LMF, and of these the vast majority were partially or completely rehabilitated.  Only a tiny fraction were actually designated LMF or the equivalent. (The term used for describing aircrew deemed cowardly varied over time, including the terms “waverer” and “lack of confidence.”) Furthermore, the process for determining whether aircrew were LMF or not was far more humane than the myths of immediate and public humiliation suggest.

While the decision to remove a member of aircrew from a unit was an executive decision, applied when member of aircrew had “lost the confidence of his commanding officer,” the subsequent treatment was largely medical/psychiatric. Thus, while a Squadron Leader or Station Commander was authorized — and expected! — to remove any officer or airman who endangered the lives or undermined the morale of others by his attitude or behavior, a man found LMF at squadron level was not automatically treated as such by the RAF medical establishment.

On the contrary, RAF medical personnel were at pains to point out that LMF was not a medical diagnosis at all! It was a term invented by senior RAF commanders in order to deal with a phenomenon they observed — and feared.  In consequence, once a man had been posted away from his active unit, he found himself inside the medical establishment that employed Not Yet Diagnosed Nervous (NYDN) centers to examine and to a lesser extent treat individuals who had “lost the confidence of their commanding officers.”

The medical and psychiatric officers at the NYDN centers (of which there were no less than 12) were at pains to understand the causes of any breakdown. They did not assume the men sent to them were inherently malingerers or cowards. On the contrary, as a result of their work they made a major contribution to understanding — and helping the RAF leadership to understand — the causes for a beak-down in morale. These included not only inadequate periods of rest, but irresponsible leadership, lack of confidence in aircraft, and issues of group cohesion and integration. As a result of their interviews with air crew that had been posted LMF, for example, the medical professionals were able to convince Bombing Command to reduce the number of missions per tour and to exempt aircrew on second tours from the LMF procedures altogether.


Meanwhile, more than 30% of the aircrew referred to NYDNs returned to full operational flying (35% in 1942 and 32% in 1943-1945), another 5-7% returned to limited flying duties, and between 55% and 60% were assigned to ground duties. Less than 2% were completely discharged.

In addition, there is considerable circumstantial evidence that at the unit level, pains were taken to avoid the stigma of “LMF.” No one understood the stresses of combat better than those who were subjected to them. It was the comrades and commanders, who were themselves flying operationally, who recognized both the symptoms and understood the consequences of flying stress. These men largely sympathized with those who were seen to have done their part. Certainly, men on a second tour of operations were treated substantially differently — at both operational units and at NYDNs — than men still in training or at the start of their first tour.

Fighter Ace Air Commodore Al Deere, DSO, OBE, DFC and Bar posed the dilemma as follows: “The question ‘when does a man lack the moral courage for battle?’ poses a tricky problem and one that has never been satisfactorily solved. There are so many intangibles; if he funks once, will he next time? How many men in similar circumstances would react in exactly the same way? And so on. There can be no definite yardstick, each case must be judged on its merits as each set of circumstances will differ.”[iv] (Photo below courtesy of Chris Goss)


While conditions varied over time, from station to station, and from commander to commander, on the whole RAF flying personnel did not seek to punish or humiliate a comrade who in the past had pulled his weight. Instead, informal means of dealing with cases of men who “got the twitch” — other than posting them LFM — were practiced. Precisely because such practices were “informal” they are almost impossible to quantify, yet the specific cases documented are almost certainly only the tip of the iceberg.

This is not to say that LMF policies did not have a powerful impact on RAF culture. The fact that so many aircrew knew about LMF and had heard rumors of humiliating practices for dealing with LMF demonstrates that the possibility of being designated LMF was an ominous reality to aircrews. Because of the draconian punishment expected based on the myths surrounding LMF, the threat of being designated LMF acted as a deterrent to willful or casual malingering. Tragically, the threat of humiliation may also have pushed some men to keep flying when they had already passed their breaking point, leading to errors, accidents, and loss of life.

Deere noted: “In my first tour [during the height of the Battle of Britain], despite the many narrow escapes I was always confident that I could come through alright. In contrast, throughout [a later tour], although it was far less hectic, there was always uppermost in my mind the thought that I would be killed….I don’t think I was any more frightened than previously, and it can only be that I had returned to operations too soon after so many nerve-racking experiences…. The result was a lack of confidence, not so much in my ability to meet the enemy on equal terms, but in myself (or my luck).”[v] He admitted that by the time he was relieved of his command and sent on a publicity tour to the United States he was, in fact, overdue for another rest.

During the Second World War, psychiatric professionals increasingly came to recognize that “courage was akin to a bank account. Each action reduced a man’s reserves and because rest periods never fully replenished all that was spent, eventually all would run into deficit. To punish or shame an individual who had exhausted his courage over an extended period of combat was increasingly regarded as unethical and detrimental to the general military culture.”[vi]


Yet we should not forget that behind the notion of LMF was the deeply embedded belief that courage was the ultimate manly virtue and that a man who lacked courage was inferior to the man who had it. RAF aircrew were all volunteers. They were viewed and treated as an elite. Membership in any elite is always dependent on the fulfilment of certain criteria. Since the age of the Iliad courage has been — and remains — the most fundamental characteristic expected of military elites around the world. And it probably always will be.

 A case of LMF is highlighted in and contributes pivotally to the plot of “Where Eagles Never Flew.” You can see a video teaser of "Eagles" at: Where Eagles Never Flew Video

Buy now!

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[1] Edgar Jones, “LMF: The Use of Psychiatric Stigma in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War,” The Journal of Military history 70 (April 2006). 439

[i] Jones, 446.

[ii] Deere, Alan C. Nine Lives. Crecy Publishing. 1959. 111-119.

[iii] Doe, Bob. Fighter Pilot. CCB Aviation Books, 2004. 44.

[iv] Deere, 112-113.

[v] Deere, 232.

[vi] Jones, 456. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

AVM Sir Keith Park -- The Man who could have lost the Battle of Britain

 While Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding forged the instruments for fighting the Battle of Britain, it was AVM Sir Keith Park who used the tools Dowding had given him to obtain victory. Park alone could not and did not win the Battle. Without the courage of the pilots and the dedication of the ground crews, the Battle of Britain would still have been lost. But all the courage and dedication in the world would not have been enough for victory, if Park had not used his resources so brilliantly. 



Keith Park was born in a small town in New Zealand in 1892, the son of Scottish immigrants. He grew up in New Zealand and started his adult life by joining the Union Steam Ship Company as a cadet purser. Already an enthusiastic hobby sailor, he seemed destined for a career at sea. WWI changed his fate. 

In December 1914, Park volunteered for the New Zealand army. He participated in the Gallipoli campaign as a corporal in the artillery. He was commissioned in July 2015 and on September 1 transferred to the British Army. As a second lieutenant in the horse artillery, he took part in the Battle of the Somme. In late October 1916, he was severely wounded by shell-fire and evacuated to England. After a short spell instructing at the Artillery Depot, his transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, which he had been seeking for months, was granted and his flying career began. After learning to fly, he joined 48 Squadron in France in July 1917. By the end of the war, he was credited with twenty aerial victories and had been promoted to Major and appointed commanding officer of No 48 Squadron.

After the war, Park sought positions in New Zealand's fledgling aviation industry, but opportunities were few and competition stiff, so he remained in the UK and the RAF. He was one of the first men selected to attend the world's first air force staff college.  From 1923 to 1925, he served in Egypt, but in mid-1925 he was asked to join the staff of the newly create Air Defense of Great Britain (ADGB). The latter was the first attempt by the RAF to formulate doctrine for the air defence of the realm, coordinating the efforts of anti-aircraft, observer corps, searchlights and aircraft as well developing means of communication suitable to escalating speed of contemporary aircraft. The work of the ADGB staff laid the foundations on which Dowding later built Fighter Command. 

In November 1927, Park was allowed to leave this staff job for what many RAF officers consider the best job in the service: command of a squadron. Park was "given" No 111 (Fighter) Squadron stationed at Duxford and later Hornchurch. However, the interlude was typically short, and starting in March 1929, Park was back into a staff job, this time at the HQ of the Fighting Area based in Uxbridge. He returned to an operational job as Station Commander Northolt from January 1931 to August 1932, followed by a stint as Chief  Instructor for the Oxford University Squadron, an extremely prestigious post for a "Colonial." In all these assignments, Park endeavored to fly as often and as many different aircraft as possible, amassing nearly 1,000 hours flying time despite the peacetime conditions. 

From 1934 - 1936, Park was the British Air Attache in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in 1937 served as an Air Aide-de-Campe to His Majesty King George VI before being named Station Commander at the foreword fighter station Tangmere. A severe illness in April 1938, however, cut short this satisfying assignment and also caused the Air Ministry to re-think a planned assignment to Palestine. Because of his illness, the Air Ministry sent Arthur Harris, later famous as the wartime commander of Bomber Command, in Park’s stead, while Park landed in the job initially intended for Harris: Deputy to ACM Hugh Dowding at Fighter Command. It was May 1938.

As Dowding’s second-in-command, Park was responsible for developing fighter tactics. Park rapidly grasped the need to delegate tactical decisions to the station and even squadron level. He saw the role of Fighter Command as one of collecting and sharing information, ensuring inter-group reinforcement and providing broad strategic direction rather than attempting firm control over individual units. By September 1938, the possibility of war with Germany had become obvious to all but the most naïve. Park recognized that Fighter Command lacked squadrons and, above all, modern aircraft; only five squadrons were equipped with monoplane fighters, and advocated eloquently for funds to redress the shortcomings.  He also noted that radar and wireless communications were woefully inadequate, making an effective defense of Britain impossible without massive investment. Meanwhile, fighter tactics in the new environment were hotly debated.

Park recognized the need for exercises and was frustrated by Bomber Command’s lack of interest, which resulted in far too few bombers being committed to the exercises. Nevertheless, a number of weaknesses in Figter Command’s defensive tactics were identified and corrected. Park also developed the vitally important practice of first filtering “plots” (reports of hostile aircraft) before putting them on the operational map. This practice enabled duplicates and mistaken plots to be eliminated without confusing the “picture” presented to the controller. Another pressing issue was the allocation of squadrons to Groups (regions) and stations. Park successfully resisted attempts by the Commander of 12 Group to concentrate 29 of Fighter Command’s 41 squadrons in his own group, leaving only 12 for the defense of London.


In April 1940, Park was appointed commander of 11 Group, the Fighter Command unit responsible for the protection of the Southeast England from Southampton to Colchester. This area included such prime targets as the seat of the Royal Navy (Portsmouth) and the British capital. Park had not been in his position three weeks, when the Germans launched their major offensive in the West, rolling over Holland, Belgium and sweeping into France. Although the RAF had already deployed six squadrons to France at the start of the war, after the opening of the German offensive, pressure mounted for more and more RAF units to assist Britain’s allies on the Continent. Soon the RAF had deployed the equivalent of twelve squadrons to France, while four more were operating in theater from bases in England. Fortunately for Britain’s future, Dowding convinced the War Cabinet that no more pilots or aircraft could be spared if the defence of Great Britain was to be viable.

As the French army fell back and the German panzers advanced, Park and Fighter Command faced their first serious challenge. The British troops found themselves cut off on the Channel coast, and the Royal Navy launched a massive attempt to evacuate them off the continent and bring them back to England. The troops and vessels were crammed together within a small perimeter and during the embarkation process, they were both unprotected and immobile. The thus offered ideal targets to the Luftwaffe’s bombers, dive-bombers and strafing-fighters. Goering promised Hitler that his Luftwaffe would put an end to the British operation “Dynamo”.

Park and the fighters of his Group were charged with providing air protection for the evacuation. Yet, British single engine fighters of this period did not have the fuel range to remain in the skies over Dunkirk for more than a few minutes. Instead, Park attempted to use radar plots to direct his UK-based fighters to intercept and destroy the Luftwaffe’s bombers. While the RAF caused significant damage, it often engaged above cloud or at a distance from Dunkirk where their actions could not be witnessed by the troops being evacuated. Meanwhile, the bulk of the bombers were getting through. Thus, The British Army and Royal Navy suffered enormous losses during the tedious process of embarking nearly 340,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. Many of the troops on the ground and their officers felt that the RAF had left them in the lurch. Throughout the war, Park encountered Army officers who blamed him for not doing enough at Dunkirk.

 y mid-June, as Churchill put it, the Battle of France was over, and the Battle of Britain was about to begin. In the four months that followed from mid-June to mid-October, the German Luftwaffe attempted to establish air superiority in the skies over Great Britain. It started the Battle with a marked superiority of force. Fighter Command possessed only 600 fighters; the German Luftwaffe could deplpoy 900 single-engined fighters and 300 twin-engined fighters to protect their fleet of 1,300 bombers.

The course of the Battle of Britain is widely recorded and is not the subject of this short essay. To summarize, although the RAF succeeded in destroying more German aircraft overall, the Luftwaffe fighters badly mauled the RAF. Massive increases in aircraft production enabled the RAF to replace lost fighters, but pilots could not be produced on assembly lines and casualty-rates in frontline squadrons — Park’s squadrons — rose to close to 70%. Young and inexperienced pilots were more likely to be shot down than experienced pilots, but by the end of the Battle, exhaustion was taking its toll on the experienced Flight and Squadron Leaders as well. The Battle of Britain was a very close-run battle that could easily have been lost.

Many factors contributed to victory: the courage and skill of the pilots, the dedication of the ground crews, the technological sophistication of the aircraft and the effective command-and-control system based on radar and radio communications. Too often forgotten is the leadership of AVM Park.

Park was not only making the day-to-day and minute-to-minute decisions about how many aircraft to deploy when and where, he was also making the critical decisions about squadron rotations. Because new units, unfamiliar with the conditions were usually decimated with in a short time after arrival and because experienced squadrons tended to have higher victory-to-loss ratios, rotating too many squadrons too soon would have been counter-productive. Yet even the best squadrons eventually became too exhausted and depleted to contribute to the war effort.

Park’s genius was in consistently meeting the Luftwaffe even as it changed tactics again and again. Over the four months of the Battle, the Luftwaffe altered the targets/objectives of its raids, starting with shipping and the Royal Navy, then focusing more on the radar chain, the airfields, aircraft factories and other war industries and finally on London. The Luftwaffe also experimented with a variety of types of raids: high and low altitude raids, large and small raids, diving bombing, and fighter-bombers.  It tried to overwhelm Parks defenses by attacking nearly  simultaneously in widely separated areas and by attacking the same targets repeatedly in successive raids. It sometimes provided massive fighter escorts for a few bombers and at other times sent over fighters on “sweeps” alone without bombers.

Whatever the Luftwaffe did, Park needed to respond within minutes. He did not have the luxury to “wait and see.” Contrary to what Park’s rival Leigh-Mallory claimed, it was not good enough to destroy the bombers after they had delivered their loads. Until the Luftwaffe started targeting London, the targets themselves were vital to Britain’s ability to repel an invasion. Had Leigh-Mallory’s tactics of assembling large gaggles of aircraft been employed, the result would have been more bomb damage to vital installations such as radar, aircraft factories, naval ships (needed to defend the Channel against invasion) and fighter airfields with their vital command and control functions and maintenance infrastructure.

In short, a different commander making wrong calls on a daily basis could have rendered Great Britain indefensible. Even with the same pilots, ground crews and aircraft, the Battle of Britain could have been lost. Another commander might have allowed pilots and aircraft to be destroyed on the ground by, for example, launching his entire force against a first raid, only for the Luftwaffe to catch them all refueling during a second. Another commander might have been over-hasty in rotating squadrons out and paid the price in lost pilots and lower kill-rates. Alternatively, another commander might have rotated squadrons too slowly, resulting in a collapse of front-line morale. Yet another commander still might have tried to hoard his fighters, avoiding confrontation with the Luftwaffe at the price of radar being knocked out, aircraft production interrupted or lamed, and the Royal Navy shattered. Undoubtedly, Park made mistakes too. No one is perfect and no one can make the right decisions all the time over four months of intense action. Yet Park was evidently right more often than he was wrong, or the Battle of Britain would have been lost.

That this was no fluke, is best demonstrated by Park’s subsequent career. In January 1942, after a year in Training Command (a critical albeit non-operational assignment), Park was commander of British air forces in Egypt, the main base for British operations in the Near East. On July 8, he was sent to take over the defense of Malta. Just two weeks after his arrival, Park launched an offensive that effectively brought an end to the daylight bombing raids on the island. At a time when Rommel was having things his way in the North African desert, Park’s defiance and successes were a major boost to British morale and duly lionized.


Park ended the war as Air Commander-in-Chief in Southeast Asia. He was highly respected and praised both publicly and privately. Over the course of his career he was awarded the DFC, MC and Bar, KBE and finally GCB. He retired with the rank of Air Chief Marshall in December 1946. Thereafter he was active in civil aviation in New Zealand. He died Feb. 6, 1975. 


Although Park has only a "cameo" role in "Where Eagles Never Flew," I attempt to do credit to his leadership through discussions and references on the part of other characters to his actions and leadership style. 



Monday, March 8, 2021

"The Herr Reichsmarschall!" -- An Excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew"

 Hermann Goering, C-in-C of the German Luftwaffe, was a larger-than-life character in the first decade of the Nazi regime. Widely seen as Hitler's deputy, his very flamboyance and extravagance made him seem more 'human' than the other Nazi leaders such as Goebbels, Himmler or even Hitler himself. Goering with his love of beautiful women, fast cars, yachts and aircraft was someone many could identify with. He also admired for his evident competence as the rapid expansion and successes of the Luftwaffe followed his spectacular performance as Minister of Economics overseeing the apparent wonder of economic recovery it he mid-1930s.

In this excerpt, Herman Goering has come to visit a frontline Stuka Group during the early days of the Battle of Britain. 


Goering came and went in a whirlwind. He flew in with what seemed like a huge entourage. He waddled (that was really the only word for it) over to Jako, who stood in front of his pilots saluting. He patted him on the shoulder, apparently cracked a joke, and everyone within hearing laughed with him. Klaudia, Rosa and Brigitte weren’t close enough to hear, but they watched it all from the Communications Center (or CC) along with the NCOs on  duty.

Was it less than a fortnight since Klaudia had been excited by the thought of seeing Goering personally? Was it less than a fortnight since she had been thrilled to think she knew a man who could ask favours of a man so powerful and favoured that the Reichstag had created a new rank just for him, Reichsmarschall”? It seemed a lifetime ago. The intervening fortnight had been such a roller-coaster of alternating ecstasy and despair. The expected roses and proposal had not come, but then Jako was the Gruppenkommandeur of a crack Luftwaffe unit in the midst of war. Klaudia kept telling herself she should not expect too much. He had sent for her a couple of times after duty, and his ardour and compliments reassured her again of her place in his heart. And yet…

Now, as she watched Jako grinning and nodding beside the Reichsmarshall, she felt intense – almost unbearable – pride. That was her man that the Reichsmarshall was jesting with like an old friend! Nor had Jako ever looked more splendid than now in his tailored uniform, grey gloves and leather riding boots that gleamed in the sun.

“He’s coming this way!” someone called out.

Instantly the personnel of the CC bolted back to their respective places. By the time the Reichsmarshall reached the door, they were all intent upon their respective tasks. A loud “Achtung!” preceded the C-in-C into the room. Everyone sprang to attention.

Staff officers poured in, and then came Goering himself with Paschinger still beside him. He greeted the staff of the CC by touching his glittering marshal’s baton to the peak of his cap. He was smiling and nodding, and then he caught sight of the Helferinnen. “Ah, so you have some of our charming, brave Helferinnen here! How are they working out?”

Jawohl, Herr Reichsmarschall. Very well, so far. May I introduce the Herr Reichsmarschall?” Jako led Goering directly to Klaudia.

There she stood, rigidly at attention, hardly daring to breathe. What could be a better sign of Jako’s good intentions than the fact that he brought the Reichsmarshall himself over to introduce him to her? She sucked in her stomach and kept her chin up; she wanted to do Jako proud. “This here is Klaudia von Richthofen.”

“Ah ha!” Goering was delighted. “I didn’t realise Wolfram had a niece! How do you like it here, Fräulein? Are my young eagles treating you properly?”

Klaudia couldn’t help smiling. “Jawohl, Herr Reichsmarschall.”

“Good, good. Glad to hear it.” Already Goering was moving on. Turning away from Klaudia and addressing Jako, he remarked, “Seeing these lovely girls reminds me of your own charming wife, Jako. How is she doing these days?”

“In her seventh month now, Herr Reichsmarshall,” Jako answered happily, his back to Klaudia as if she didn’t exist.

“Ha!” Goering laughed approvingly. “A Christmas leave baby.”

Jawohl, Herr Reichsmarshall,” Jako agreed, “and I hope we will have tamed the English lion in time for me to be with her at the birth.”

“Certainly, certainly,” Goering agreed as they moved away. Klaudia wanted to scream – or just fade away into nothingness. He was married. He had been married the whole time. Not once, not even for a moment, had his intentions been honourable. He had used her. That was all. Used her like a common whore! Rosa had been right about him the whole time. She couldn’t cope with the implications. She was ruined! Absolutely ruined. She could never go home and face her parents.





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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