Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot

The author has provided a fascinating memoir that includes his childhood, his time as a naval cadet and his service aboard KMS Graf Spee as a float plane observer before his time flying Stukas. This book provides a great deal of information together with some very interesting photo-plate sections – Highly Recommended.

NAME: Memoirs of a Stuka Pilot
FILE: R2994
AUTHOR: Helmut Mahlke
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, frontline books
BINDING: soft back
PRICE: £16.99
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Dive bombers, tank killers, Luftwaffe, WWII, Second World War, World 
War Two, pilots, autobiography, Junkers, blitzkrieg, Western campaigns, Eastern 
Front, ground attack, flying artillery, close support

ISBN: 1-52676-078-9

IMAGE: B2994.jpg

DESCRIPTION: The author has provided a fascinating memoir that includes his 
childhood, his time as a naval cadet and his service aboard KMS Graf Spee as a float 
plane observer before his time flying Stukas. This book provides a great deal of 
information together with some very interesting photo-plate sections – Highly 

The Stuka was part of the wide-spread fashion for dive bombing that swept air forces during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Although it was able to carry bombs on underwing racks and, initially had two rifle calibre wing-mounted forward firing machine guns and a flexibly mounted machine gun for the radio operator, it was primarily intended to carry a single large bomb on a launching system on the fuselage centreline to be dropped during a steep diving attack. By 1939 it was vulnerable to the new single seat monoplane fighters. As a result, the height of its effectiveness was during the blitzkrieg operations in the opening stages of the war. During the German invasions of its neighbours, the Stuka did not face a well-organized and well-directed fighter force, most commonly, a Stuka formation would meet scattered fighter opposition, often where the fighters were obsolescent designs. As a result, Stuka pilots were able to concentrate on serving as flying artillery supporting rapidly advancing armoured formations.

The vulnerability of the Stuka was exposed during the opening stages of the Battle of Britain, where it met radar-directed Hurricanes and Spitfires that not only had a strong performance edge over the Stuka, but were flying in some numbers. That led to the rapid withdrawal of the Stuka from the Battle of Britain, but it served on effectively in the Balkans and on the Eastern Front, where fighter opposition was not well-directed, smaller numbers of fighters were initially encountered and where initially they were obsolete or obsolescent designs. The opposing fighters also frequently lacked the performance of British and American aircraft, and pilots were often poorly trained.

This book was written by a German pilot who flew through the early glory years and on into the tougher times. That he became a Luftwaffe Stuka pilot is largely because only one of the aircraft carriers were built and it never reached operational status with its modified Me109 and Ju87 air wings.

Strangely, this is one of only two books to be written by Stuka pilots. It follows the book written by Germany’s highest decorated pilot who flew mainly on Stukas, but also on the ground attack version of the FW-190. Col Hans-Ulrich Rudel flew only on the Eastern Front and specialized very effectively in killing Russian tanks, achieving more than 1,000 kills by some estimates. Helmut Mahlke had a wider and longer experience, mainly in the dive bombing role. Both pilots were extraordinary airmen. Mahlke fought through the Battle of France and, after the brief Stuka campaign during the Battle of Britain, went South to the Mediterranean, Greece, the air assault on Crete, the campaign against Malta and the North African campaigns, before being deployed to the Eastern Front.

The book is well-written and holds the reader’s attention. There are also some excellent images, including colour sketches from the battlefield. It is a pilot’s view, but includes the detail and flavour of life within a squadron. It is best read against the other Stuka Pilot book by Rudel, contrasting the two sets of experiences with their differences and similarities. Between them, the two writers show why the Stuka could continue beyond its prime life and why it became such a powerful icon of World War Two.

The Stuka was designed to operate from rough fields close to the advancing German armour. It was rugged and able to tolerate conditions that many contemporary aircraft designs would have found very difficult. On the Eastern front, there are several events where Stukas took off to attack Soviet tanks and infantry on the edge of their airfield. That is a fair indication of how low the operating altitude could be. Even during the Battle of France, when Stukas were deliberately used to strafe refugees to create road chaos for the enemy forces, it was rare to fly above 10,000 feet and much of the flying was below 500 feet.

The Stuka was a relatively large aircraft and for most of the roles it was deployed in, the second crewman could have been omitted. His contribution to the aircraft’s defence was minimal because even in the early days, his single flexibly-mounted rifle calibre machine gun would have faced an attacker armed with more than four forward firing machines guns, two of which might have been a heavier calibre. Relatively soon, the Stuka would be attacked by fighters equipped with eight forward firing rifle calibre machine guns or a mixture of canon and machine guns. That advantage of weight of fire was also extended because the radio operator in the Stuka had a narrow field of fire that required the attacking fighter to be higher than the Stuka’s tailplane, but where the fighter would be free to attack from a wide arc and even from below the aircraft. The pilot was also bomb aimer and therefore had little freedom to dodge an attacking fighter. On the Eastern Front, it was rare for the Stuka to dive from altitude in its intended attack format during the later years. More commonly, it would be used with anti-tank guns, and in low dive angle bombing, of large Russian armoured formations, taking advantage of low altitude to prevent fighters from attacking from below and hoping for friendly fighters to fly top-cover.

This is an engaging book and a rare personal view of flying one of the most iconic aircraft of WWII. There are also many interesting differences between Mahlke’s perceptions and those expressed by Rudel in his 1950s Stuka Pilot book. That may in part be a result of the different backgrounds of the two pilots. Mahlke was very much the professional pilot, taking part in WWII from the beginning. Rudel had very strong NSDP affiliations, was initially considered a poor pilot, being left behind when his squadron deployed to the Balkans and Crete, but eventually becoming a highly proficient Stuka pilot who ended up flying with an artificial leg made by one of his squadron engineers.

Rudel became a favourite of Hitler and received a decoration specifically created to be awarded to him. After 1945, Rudel was named on several watch lists that recorded the movement of individuals considered to be unreformed Nazis. Against that background for Rudel, Mahlke began his career as a naval pilot intended to serve on the aircraft carrier KMS Graf Zeppelin. When it was decided not to complete the carrier, or intended sister ships, the air group was disbanded and the pilots transferred to the Luftwaffe. The carriers were expected to be equipped with Stukas and Me 109s, incorporating some naval modifications. That meant that Mahlke was transferred to a Luftwaffe squadron flying standard Stuka dive bombers. Having been shot down and badly burned on the Eastern Front, Mahlke ended up in staff positions during the latter stages of the war.