IN TOTAL, ERIC BROWN spent ten years of his life in Germany, both during the build-up to World War II, and then after the German defeat.
IN TOTAL, ERIC BROWN spent ten years of his life in Germany, both during the build-up to World War II, and then after the German defeat. At the start of the war he was ‘bundled unceremoniously’ out of Germany and called up by the RAF, transferring to the Fleet Air Arm where he found himself in combat against the very aircraft he had so admired previously. Having survived operational flying he became the Royal Navy’s Chief Test Pilot, based at Farnborough. (Eric Brown was the subject of a ‘Pilot Profile’ in November 1997Ed.)
Given his background it is hardly surprising he was chosen to interrogate German pilots and test captured enemy aircraft, both during and, particularly, after the war. Thus it was that he flew in total 55 different German aircraft, and the copious handling notes he made at the time were the source for this book, first published in 1977.
Of the seventeen types featured, many are well-known to anyone with an interest in WWII aircraft and it is interesting to hear Eric Brown’s views on how they compared with their British adversaries. I have always thought the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, in its BMW radial-engined guise, was a beautiful looking aircraft and his comment that it ‘probably came as close to perfection by the standards of the day as any contemporary’ would seem to bear this out. He was surprised to find that the Stuka ‘was a genuine 90 deg[ree] screamer’, while other dive bombers were rarely dived past 70 degrees.
He also flew many of the most advanced jet-engined fighters and bombers which had been developed by the Germans. He found the Me 163 Komet ‘probably more lethal to its pilots than to its enemies’, but felt that the Me 262 was ‘unquestionably the foremost warplane of its day’, which makes one wonder what would have been the outcome had the Germans had more of them, plus the fuel to fly them operationally!
It is interesting to note that he flew most of these aircraft without the benefit of technical information. All records had been destroyed before the capitulation, so apart from the sometimes dubious information gleaned from sullen POWs he had no idea if the aircraft he was about to fly had new engines or time-expired ones. For the most part he was lucky, although he admits to a few heart-stopping moments.
I felt the book could have benefited from having a glossary. As the author is a fluent German speaker the text is littered with technical expressions and names, not all of which are translated, which I found confusing. The cutaway drawings are very good, if occasionally wrongly labelled. These minor gripes apart, I found the book gave a good, balanced appraisal of enemy aircraft, written by a man whose experience of flying aircraft from both sides of the conflict was absolutely unrivalled.