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griphos

Best book?

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Okay, I'm way behind. I haven't read anything about WWI air combat. From what I hear around here, I'm missing out on quite a lot of interesting reading.

 

So, what are the top one or two or three books to read on WWI air combat? What's the best one to read first, best in terms of rich historical detail, well-written, and a jolly good read?

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I have read 2:

Saggitarius Rising by Cecil A Lewis. It is a masterpiece. Period.

But if you are blood thirsty and you wanna see lots of action, fire, explosions and more, read Winged Warfare by William "Billy" Bishop.

As a book SR is 100 times better. But since Bishop has more than 70 victories, you will read about maany dogfights in WW.

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IMHO there isn't just a few "best book(s)". There are so many very good ones, and each overs a different topic.

 

What do you want to read about? Individual pilot anecdotes (scout or 2-seater), tactical evolution, hardware evolution, discussions of various campaigns, details of who shot down whom? There are great books on all these subjects.

 

There used to be a sticky book list with a large number of good recommendations.

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Thanks Gous. I've heard of both of those, and will track them down.

 

BH, I'm interested in narratives of the experience of being a WWI fighter pilot. Not so much analysis or history of development or warfare, but the personal perspectives of participants. I looked for that sticky and couldn't find it among the topics. Maybe it's still over at SOH?

Edited by griphos

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I must agree with Bullethead, there are just way more than a few best books. I also agree with Gous on the two he mentioned, they are both outstanding narratives. Smokey, I have not read the one you noted but I will find it and do so. And since you asked griphos, here are a few more, (in alphabetical order, not order of preference):

 

**"A Flying Fighter", E.M. Roberts

"Airmen O' War", Boyd Cable

**"An Airman Marches", Harold Balfour

**"An Aviator's Field Book", Oswald Bolcke

"Cavalry of the Clouds", Alan 'Contact' Bott

**"Double-Decker C.666", Haupt Heydemarck

**"Fighting the Flying Circus", Edward Rickenbacker

**"Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps", James McCudden

**"Flying for France", by James McConnell

"Go Get 'Em!", William Wellman

**"Guynemer, Knight of the Air", Henry Bordeaux

**"Heaven High, Hell Deep", Norman Archibald

**"High Adventure", James Norman Hall

**"Letters From a Flying Officer", Rothsay Stuart Wortlrey

"Memories of World War 1", William Mitchell

"Night Bombing with the Bedouins", Robert Reece

"Nocturne Militaire", Elliot White Springs

"Rovers of the Night Sky", W.J. 'Night-Hawk' Harvey

**"The Flying Poilu", Marcel Nadaud

"The Red Knight of Germany", Floyd Gibbons

**"The Way of the Eagle", Charles Biddle

"Up And At 'Em", Harold Hartney

"War Birds; Diary of an Unknown Aviator", Elliot White Springs

**"Wind in the Wires", Duncan Grinnell-Milne

 

The ones with ** are the personal narratives and/or published journals I would highly recommend on this list. They are all good, but these are exceptional IMHO, either because of their content, style, or just overall "feel".

 

Enjoy.

 

Cheers!

 

Lou

Edited by RAF_Louvert

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I haven't read anything about WWI air combat.

 

Is that a serious statement? :biggrin: Just yankin' yer chain Griphos.

 

Some of my favorite WW1 books are:

 

Fighting The Flying Circus by Capt. E.V.Rickenbacker (as mentioned by Lou)

 

Ace of the Iron Cross by Ernst Udet

 

And one that I've just picked up, although I should've read it a loooong time ago, Biggles: The Camels Are Coming. Im in the middle of reading this one and its a great read, Im ripping right through it (The chapters are more like short stories). This one is a fictional tale of the British hero's time flying Camels in WW1, but it was written by Capt. W.E. Johns, who flew with the RFC. It's filled with stories of things that "could've happened", but the tales are "stretched" a little bit.

 

-Rooster

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I think it was Gimpyguy that linked to these on the old forum. I am currently in the middle of the Rickenbacker memoir... great stuff. That site has a lot of other great stuff too.

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Best writing? Cecil Lewis' book: "Sagittarius Rising." Beautiful prose, almost poetry.

 

Best oral history: "Voices in Flight" by Anna Malinovska and Muriel Joslyn. Interviews with surviving British RFC/RNAS vets conducted in the 1970s but never before made public until the book was published in 2006.

 

Best overview (tie): "The First Air War" by Lee Kennett and "The First Air Campaign" by Eric and Jane Lawson. Somewhat different takes on the same stuff, both well worth reading.

 

Best flim documentary (available in a hundreds of little pieces on YouTube but the whole set is well worth the price): http://raindesert.com/great_war/great_war_buy_film.htm

 

One I would avoid: Billy Bishop's book. Most of his victories (including the one for which he was awarded the VC) had zero witnesses. Not a bad read but I really question how much is fiction.

 

Rickenbacker's book is a good (but not great) read and available on line: http://richthofen.com/rickenbacker/

 

Finally, best on line resource and the first place I go to look stuff up (including a huge book list): http://www.theaerodrome.com/

 

Come back when you've finished.

 

There will be quiz!

 

:drag:

 

ttt

Edited by tttiger

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My copy of Biddle's book was called Fighting Airman, not "The Way of the Eagle". I don't know, maybe they're different books. But Fighting Airman definitely rocks.

 

I came across a book by a Quirk pilot once. IIRC, it was called The Wind in the Wires or something like that.

 

Rene Fonck also wrote his memoirs, but like Bishop's you really have to wonder how much is true.

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Hey everybody. Thanks for all the suggestions. I see there are a few that crop up a few times, so I'll probably start with those. Cecil Lewis seems to be on many people's top 10 list, and tttiger's endorsement is hard to resist. But, there are several that sound very appealing. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me! I'm looking forward to it, though. I read all of O'Brian's work (20 Aubrey novels and two or three others...I can't remember). I love historical narrative and fiction.

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Oh now your talking, O'brian. Masterful that author and series. Loved those immensely. I have a monster collection of historical fiction and have actually read a great deal of them. I find I get much more from the fiction by knowing more of the facts so I have a huge non-fiction section as well. And I am a modeller of WWI aircraft and ships from the age of sail. I barely exist in the present day, haha.

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I love historical narrative and fiction.

 

A very good but unfortunately rather obscure WW1 airplane historical fiction work is The Two-Headed Eagle, by John Biggins. This the 4th (and sadly, the last) book of his "Otto Prohaska" series. In this book, Otto (a Czech per-war naval officer fighting for Austria-Hungary) is seconded to the army air corps on the Isonzo front in the 2nd 1/2 of 1916 as a 2-seater observer. Later, he gets back in the navy's flying boats in early 1917.

 

The other books of the series are:

  • A Sailor of Austria, about Otto's main wartime job of being a U-boat skipper (before and after his flying stint).
  • The Emperor's Colored Coat, about Otto's 1912-1914 adventures in the Danube Flotilla, getting tangled up with the Serbian assassins, and ended up at the siege of Tsingtao.
  • Tomorrow the World, about Otto's disastrous 1904-1905 naval cadet cruise around the world in a sailing ship.

The books have been likened to the Flashman series, in that they are extremely well-researched, well-written, and fairly humorous. However, Otto's a decent guy and sympathetic character, not a complete jerk like Harry.

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I am expecting "The Red Baron-Beyond the Legend" by Peter Kilduff in the mail any day now. Kilduff specializes in MVR. If anyone can find "Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War" by W.M. Lamberton they should pick it up. It contains many pics and drawingsof famous plane types and many one of's that did not go into production. Good reference for modelling.

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Here are 5 of my favorites

 

The way of the Eagle ( John Biddle , an amazing almost day by day week by week account of a fighter pilot in the thick of it, it would be hard to top for what you are looking as far as what it was like to be a pilot because it was taken from his own writing on the days the stuff happened)

 

I flew for the Lafayette Escadrille (Edwin C. Parsons, a grand adventure and a book that really brings home the sacrifices that fighter pilots must make in order to do what they feel is right, a literal blow by blow account on how the Lafayette heroes fell one by one, very funny at times as well as very sad...the book had it all)

 

Ace of the Iron Cross (Ernst Udet, a dark and fascinating book that is a Harbringer of things to come for Udet, and almost rivals the Rickenbacker book for flat out adventures outside of WW1)

 

Ace of Aces (the story of who could be maybe the best ace ever....Rene Fonck...when you start taking into account that 73 of his 75 kills were individual kills and not shared...also confirmed by army as well as flight mates due to the french system of awarding victories...that he was not liked and that it actually worked against him , that he never got even one enemy bullet hit his plane...well..you marvel at his exploits and his final score.)

 

Rickenbacker (Eddie Rickenbacker , very fascinating with great WW1 stuff...Indiana Jones had nothing on this guy, famous race car driver, famous WW1 ace, famous WW2 secret envoy lost at sea in a raft for a month as well as inside a bunker at the front lines when the battle of Kursk started on the eastern front , famous CEO and founder of eastern air lines ..., you could not make this crazy stuff up , fact really is stranger than fiction with him).

 

 

The best book though is The Stand http://www.indysquadron.com/thestandfrankluke/ an amazing piece of historical work.

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I am expecting "The Red Baron-Beyond the Legend" by Peter Kilduff in the mail any day now. Kilduff specializes in MVR. If anyone can find "Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War" by W.M. Lamberton they should pick it up. It contains many pics and drawingsof famous plane types and many one of's that did not go into production. Good reference for modelling.

 

You're going to enjoy that book. Not the easiest read (lots of dates, notes, numbers, references etc...) but I heard it was the book on The Man.

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Almost all the books mentioned above (great as they are) have been written from memory by the author (or a ghost writer), often several years after the war ended with the aid of perhaps a diary, most often simply using log books. As such they lack an immediacy in describing a highly tenuous lifestyle and (to varying degree's) take on a somewhat romantic view of 'life as it was'.

 

If you want to get down and dirty, to know exactly what life was like on a daily basis in a Squadron on the Western Front, you can't go past two books.

 

One's been mentioned by Smokey earlier and that is "No Parachute" by Arthur Gould Lee. It is, IMO, the most accurate book on life in a scout squadron. Lee keep a detailed record at the time with the aim, in his words: "They were written by a husband of twenty-two to a girl he has impetuously wed in the heady atmosphere of war. They were written to satisfy, first her concern, and second his urge to describe on paper the great, great adventure. they were written in the ardour and immediacy of the hour. They contain neither heroics nor fine writing. They simply record the day-to-day happenings, in the air and on the ground, in a fighter squadron of average renown during eight months of 1917." Lee covers it all, the attitude towards death, popular expressions, views on higher authority, how the aeroplanes handled - their strenghts and weaknesses, weather, Mess high jinks - the lot.

 

The other book (in a similar vein) is "In The Teeth Of The Wind" by C.P.O. Bartlett. Again through highly descriptive letters and diary Bartlett draws you into the life of a two-seater pilot in the RNAS, first flying Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters and later D.H.4's over the Western Front.

 

If you read the above two books you'll know, exactly, what life was like flying aeroplanes in WWI.

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Pips, I have both the books you mention on my "must read" list and hope to get to them soon. I do take slight exception however when you say that most of the other books listed do not give an accurate account of a flyer's life in the Great War. While some do indeed romaticize it, many others were written directly from the pilots' own daily journals and/or letters home so they most certainly capture the personal details of what transpired on any given day at the front, but more importantly it shows how they felt about it. Biddle's "Way of the Eagle", as MK2 notes, is outstanding, (BTW MK2, his first name is Charles, his middle name is John, just to split a hair). Also, McCudden's "Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps" is amazing in the fact that it takes you on his entire journey from air mechanic to ace, in his own words. And Gibbons' "Red Knight of Germany" is well worth the read because of the author's entries of Richthofen's personal letters home to his mother. Here is still another, (not mentioned so far): If you want an over-the-top collection of a whole variety of pilots letters and journal notes from the war, get your hands on the two-volume set "The Lafayette Flying Corps", by James Hall and Charles Nordhoff. The second volume is a 360-page collection of personal narratives from Esc 124 flyers, most of which were written during the war. I have the 1964 Kennikat Press edition and have read through it numerous times. And if you want more of the German perspective try "Double-Decker C.666" by Haupt Heydemarck. While this one does get a tad reminiscent, it still provides great insight.

 

Ooooh....there are just too many books, and not enought time.

 

Cheers!

 

Lou

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Well, ask and you shall receive! Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions.

 

I've ordered Lewis' book, and also one called Winged Victory by Yeates, as the reviews just looked great. While I'm waiting, I'll start on Rickenbacker's book online.

 

I've looked up all of the ones listed so far. Quite a few seem harder to find/get. But a number are readily available. It seems that Biddles' Way of the Eagle got several votes, so that'll go on the list. I'll probably order No Parachute right away as well. Sounds very good. The Fonck book seems like a must read. And the Parsons book on the Lafayette Escadrille is probably a must have for me as well. Fascinating unit. Voices in Flight is very intriguing, as is the Otto series. The First Air War is at my library, so I'll get that today. And I'll probably get the Udet book if I can find it, since I've been interested in him ever since I saw The Great Waldo Pepper.

 

So, like I said, I have my work cut out for me. If someone can put together a quiz based on those books to start with....or should I just do book reports (new sticky??)?

 

Thanks for all the help! I'm really looking forward to diving in.

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