/ Published October 22, 2019
Luftwaffe Eagle: From the Me109 to the Me262 by Walter Schuck. Crecy Publishing, 2015, 260 pp.
Luftwaffe Eagle: From the Me109 to the Me262 is a biographical account of Walter Schuck, a World War II Luftwaffe pilot, stationed initially in Northern Norway and flying the Me-109 before he deployed to Germany and Czechoslovakia to fly the Me-262 jet fighter.
The book is written in first-person as a personal account of the author’s own experience. Schuck vividly describes his participation in the conflict, providing extensive details regarding the operation of his aircraft, their missions, and their operational environment. Moreover, Schuck provides a detailed first-person description of his and his fellow pilots’ emotions as they celebrated victories, mourned lost fellow pilots and crew, dealt with the military bureaucracy and adapted to rapidly changing conditions at their forward operating bases and at home in Germany.
The author’s anecdotes are particularly good at describing the progress of the conflict, from the ease of early victories over an inexperienced Soviet Air Force to the collapse of Germany and its Luftwaffe in the war’s waning days. As an example, early in the conflict, the Russian Air Force employed older, obsolete P-40 Warhawk and Hawker Hurricane fighters provided by the US and Great Britain. Inexperienced Soviet pilots, having suffered heavy losses at the beginning of the conflict, struggled against more highly skilled Luftwaffe pilots. As a result, Soviet losses were significantly higher than German losses.
As the conflict progressed, however, more modern American and Soviet-built fighters and a significantly larger number of combat experienced pilots began to appear in the battle space. At the same time, the Luftwaffe was suffering higher losses in both aircraft and pilots. Over time, the Soviet Air Force, in conjunction with other Allied air forces, gained the upper hand in the war over northern Norway, forcing a retreat to strongholds in the south and ultimately to Germany itself.
The book continues with fascinating anecdotes and descriptions of the air war as it came to a close. Schuck, now flying over Central and Eastern Europe, describes his transition to the world’s first operational jet fighter, the Me-262. His description of its operation and employment provides an excellent example of military doctrine lagging behind technological innovation. The increased speed of the Me-262 necessitated the development of new tactics and procedures to leverage its improved capabilities while mitigating the issues associated with operating the first jet aircraft. Jet engines, for example, provide more thrust but take longer to reach full power.
In another anecdote, Schuck described the issues associated with bailing out of a high-speed jet aircraft. After being hit by an Allied fighter, he was forced to bail out of his Me-262. As the aircraft fell out of the sky, he attempted to climb out of the cockpit and fall over the wing as he would have in a conventional propeller driven fighter. Instead, he found himself pinned in the cockpit by the significantly stronger slipstream of the faster jet aircraft. Upon realizing he would not be able to bail out normally, he forced his way out of the cockpit, finally pushing on the canopy with his boots to get clear of the aircraft. This anecdote foretold the creation of the modern ejection seat as a critical requirement for safe ejection from a crippled jet aircraft.
Schuck’s narratives do not stop with the Me-262. His description of the eventual collapse of the Luftwaffe and its effect on the morale of his troops provide a fascinating description of the difficulties faced by leaders who must motivate their forces in the face of certain defeat. From calling out his young pilots for their lack of military bearing to the dissolution of his command and base as enemy forces closed in, Schuck illustrated the importance of good order and discipline, no matter the situation. The book concludes with Schuck’s first-person account of postwar Germany and the rebuilding process.
Luftwaffe Eagle: From the Me109 to the Me262 is very well-written. The book is primarily written from a first-person point of view, as if the author is telling the story to friends over a beer at his local gasthaus. While the book could easily be used as a historical reference, it reads like a novel. Moreover, the historical nature of Schuck’s anecdotes and descriptions was so intriguing that I found myself returning to the internet over and over to collect more information on the Soviet Air Force, Axis and Allied operations in northern Norway, the collapse of the Third Reich, and the other stars of the book—the Me-109 and Me-262. Anyone interested in aviation will find the book captivating and difficult to put down—an excellent read.
Dr. John L. Mahaffey
600 Chennault Circle
Maxwell AFB, AL 36112-6010