Cross & Cockade International
The First World War Aviation Historical Society
Summer 2011 Vol 42/2
FOR KAISER AND HITLER
General Alfred Mahncke, trans by Jochen Mahncke
Tattered Flag Press, PO Box 2240, Pulborough, RH20 9AL
288 pp 160x240mm, hardback
ISBN 978-0-9555977-4-9, £25.00
This book is based on the personal diaries and notes of General der Flieger Alfred Mahncke, made during his long and active life in German military service. These have been translated into English by his son, Jochen, who has added personal details and a chronology of the general’s career and decorations. This purely personal reminiscence of a service career was published after Mahncke’s death in 1979. Unlike many earlier books written by or about German soldiers and airmen it doesn’t seek to justify the author’s involvement in events but it does express some very candid opinions. (Not the least of these being about his treatment in a British POW camp post 1945).
Alfred Mahncke was born on 18 March 1888 and joined the Prussian army on 1 April 1908 in Berlin, initially serving with Railway Regiment No 1 as an officer cadet. Commissioned as a Leutnant in 1909 and fascinated by early aviation, he learned to fly in 1911 becoming one of Germany’s earliest military pilots. He transferred to Flieger Bataillon Nr 2 at Posen in West Prussia in 1913 and, between 1914 and 1918, served in various capacities on all of the war fronts – Russia, France and Palestine. He flew as a reconnaissance pilot and later commanded observation, reconnaissance and bomber squadrons. Promoted to the staff he served in the Armeeoberkommando 2 and later for the Kommandierender der Luftsreitkrafte (Kogenluft) – the Commanding General of the Air Force. He also undertook a fact-finding visit to the German pilots attached to the Turkish air force. His personal contacts were many and ranged from pilots, Oswald Boelcke and Manfred von Richthofen to Major Herman von der Lieth-Thomson, General Ludendorf and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
With the defeat of Germany he resigned from the army in 1919 and for a short period tried to earn a living on the family’s farm in Prussia. Finding this impossible, he joined the police force. Again he served in a number of varied posts and rose to the rank of colonel.
In April 1935 he transferred in that rank first to the Reichswehr and then, in May, to the newly formed Luftwaffe in which service he remained until 1947, holding a variety of staff appointments. Still a keen pilot, he flew a variety of aeroplanes and once, flying a Fieseler Storch, was shot down by a British Spitfire over Sicily. His personal contacts now included Hanna Reitsch, Adolf Hitler, Herman Göring, Ernst Udet and Wolfram von Richthofen, the latter of whom he served with in Russia and Italy and with whom he developed very close ties.
On 8 May 1945 he became a prisoner of war of the British and remained so with varying degrees of captivity until he was released in May 1947. Following this, having gained some training in horticulture during his imprisonment, he managed a fruit farm until he finally retired in 1952.
Having been involved with the growth of German military aviation in both its earliest days and then again during its renaissance in the 1930s and then demise in 1945, he has much to say. He does not mince his words and thus provides a truly fascinating story with some very critical comments of both German and Allied organisations. Told from the inside, this story brings to light many of the problems faced by the German people and forces between 1914 and 1945.
There are many fascinating photographs representative of all of the periods of Mahncke’s life (the one of him in immaculate uniform seated nervously at the controls of an early Albatros biplane about to start his first solo flight is a gem). The book includes a glossary of German military terms and abbreviations, reproductions of various documents, maps of the areas covered, excellent footnotes and a good index of names.
This is an unusual personal window into events between 1908 and 1952. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and cannot recommend it enough. To my mind, this is the book of the year.