Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
English language memoirs of German aircrew have a certain rarity value, and Grub Street deserve credit for bringing this to the UK market. Sommer writes well, given English is not his first language (although he did retire to Australia). There is no mention of a translator, so I presume it is the author’s English. The book gives a useful social and family context for going to war from the enemy’s perspective.
Sommer was a serious chap, but not too serious, and he certainly was no ardent Nazi. Although this was written well after the events described, and so one can be less assured of the veracity of emotions, than if it were drawn from a contemporary diary. Sommer started his Luftwaffe career, after training, as a navigator/bomb aimer in Heinkel 111s, and after the Phoney War, was first truly blooded in the Norwegian campaign. One of the interesting facets of the narrative is that it underlines to British readers that the Germans were equally, if not more, advanced than the Allies in developing and using radio-navigation aids (Sommer was using them in 1940). By late 1943 he managed to switch to the pilot role, his training having been accelerated by the number of unofficial hours' training he had already accumulated.
To add to the reader’s interest Sommer was soon flying the Arado 234 – the Germans’ first serious jet bomber (a precursor of the Canberra). He flew it on both reconnaissance and bomber missions; this was leading edge stuff. From 1943 onwards, Sommer’s tone and prose underlines that Germany was facing serious raw material shortages, and the chances of victory looked increasingly slim. His final campaign was in Italy, where he did further high-altitude recce missions. Thereafter Sommer, who could have simply flown his jet North to safety, describes the harrowing race back to Bavaria with his unit on increasingly clogged roads.
The text has no literary merit – Sommer’s style is much like that of many other airmen – and is best described as workmanlike. Nonetheless he has a very interesting tale to tell, which will inform many British readers.