This is a quick read. It takes the form of a diary, although it was written after the war. Knoke was a high-scoring Luftwaffe pilot. He fought briefly in the Battle of Britain, and then on the Russian front, but the majority of his victories were against bombers and escort fighters during the Allied bomber operations against the Reich in 1943 and 1944. At first he approaches this task with gusto. He comes up with a scheme to drop time-delay bombs onto the American bombers, and eagerly awaits the introduction of Me262 jet fighters. As the war continues his comrades are shot out of the sky, or crash in accidents, and he is frequently ordered to send his last half-dozen Messerschmitts against thousand-strong bomber formations, guarded by Allied fighters. He is shot down several times - there is a period in 1943 where he seems to be shot down every other page, but each time he gets back into the air, escaping from hospital if needs be. He ends the war with a smashed foot, numerous minor wounds, and a crippled right leg. This is all conveyed in punchy, precise sentences. He becomes accustomed to death early in his career, during one of his first training flights, and he does not become philosophical until the final chapters.
Knoke comes across as a complicated man. He seems likeable. He enjoys flying, and writes about the beauty of Norway's mountains. But he is clearly a product of his upbringing, and of a terrible regime. He describes the invasion of Poland as a liberation of the German minority from wanton massacres - perhaps he believed that in 1939, but the book was written in 1953, and is not a literal presentation of his diaries, it is a post-war adaptation. By the end of the book he is aware that the Nazis have brought nothing but death and destruction to everything he loved, but he is still puzzled that the world hates Germans. He wants the Allied forces to team up with the Germans and fight the Soviets. The book was written in 1953, and he ends by wondering when Stalin's tanks will roll across Europe. There is a postscript from 1991, in which he contemplates the fallen Berlin Wall, but he does not mention politics.
It is interesting to compare the book with information that has emerged since it was published. The introduction credits him with fifty-two victories, but an appendix from 1997 notes that this is a mistake, and that he actually shot down thirty-three Allied aircraft. The 1997 appendix does not point out that Knoke died in 1993 (his wife, Lilo, who is mentioned throughout the book, died in 2000). There's a very informative website about Heinz Knoke's career, made by a man called Franck Ruffino. Amongst other things, it fills in some detail about Knoke's first shared kill, a Spitfire reconnaissance flight over Norway. Knoke writes that he is happy to see the pilot bale out, and later shares a brandy with him. The website identifies the RAF pilot as F/Lt Alastair Gunn. Sadly, it points out that Gunn was later executed for his part in the "great escape", something which would undoubtedly have horrified Knoke, if he had known.
The website suggests that at least one of Knoke's anecdotes in the book was actually a white lie. There is an incident where he has to belly-land his 109 onto a Norwegian glacier. Knoke attributes this to a faulty fuel system, but the website makes a convincing case, based on photographs and personal testimony from a Norwegian urchin, that Knoke and two other pilots of his flight had been flying hundreds of miles off-course, in order to take photographs of Norway's scenery, and had simply run out of fuel. He could not write this down at the time, because he would have been court-martialed, and so would his friends.
Knoke recounts a story in which he is shot down, and gets into a gunfight with some French resistance soldiers. It does not ring true. It seems very James Bond, complete with a witty quip from Knoke after he shoots a man in the head.
If you are into fighter planes, Knoke generally does not go into detail about his aircraft, although there are little titbits here and there (at one point he describes a new 30mm cannon punching holes into the side of a B17, and his 109 is equipped with unguided anti-bomber rockets on at least one occasion). He flies a 109 throughout his career, and seems to skip from an E to a G model, although he apparently flew an F model as well.