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I Flew for the Fuhrer: Story of a German Airman (Greenhill Military Paperback) Paperback – 28 Feb 1997
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Famous memoir by German fighter ace, illustrated with his personal photos. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Heinze Knoke was above all a patriotic soldier. He believed passionately in the German cause to the extent that his sympathies with the Nazi ideologies are thinly disguised. While his views hardly change my opinions of that regime, it does to an extent show that the conflict was not quite so black and white as is usually portrayed.
Putting the politics aside, Knoke clearly was an extremely talented pilot and deserves our respect. Pity he was on the wrong side!
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.
and finally,to humilliating defeat. Though Heinz Knoke was obviously a fantastic pilot he alone, could not stop the march of history.From his early life, to joining the Luftwaffe, to the harsh training, this is a charming book which chronicles the characters and the organisation that went to form a flight of ME 109,s, hell bent on stopping the bombers of the Allies. His account of a frontal attack on a Flying Fortress at some 600mph closing speed made the hairs on the back ofmy neck stand up.The book has an ironic ending too, that I won,t spoil for the readers of this great book.
Using his diary and logs, Heinz Knoke recalls life in the Luftwaffe as a 109 fighter pilot. He takes you through his life from the start of his career right up to the end of the war in Europe.
It is interesting to see the contrast between his early years and the last, with the ultimate destruction of the Luftwaffe as a fighting force. I often found myself wondering how somebody could survive so many close calls, when all around him were not returning to base.
Knoke describes his encounters with Liberators and B.17s in formations of hundreds, later with heavy fighter escort. I don't want to spoil it, but it is hard to imagine yourself as a lone pilot attacking a B.17 from the front, with eight enemy fighters on your tail.
Although fighting for the "other" side, I admire his skill and determination in defending his country. Having not lived through it, I found myself sympathising with somebody that was shooting down aircraft that fought for "our" side.
After reading the book I was interested in seeing what he was doing today, only to be saddened to read of his and his wifes death some years ago.
A true fighter Ace.
An unusual and well written book!
It gives a fantastic feel of the overwhelming power of the allied bomber offensive and gradual failure to combat it.
The steady change in tone of the book from confidence through determination to forlorn hope can only be gained from a person who fought on the 'wrong' side, and is an interesting microcosm of the experiences of the defeated. As a tale of aerial combat, however, it is very surprisingly similar to equivalent works by other successful (and surviving)fighter pilots of both the allies and axis air arms.
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