Ace of the Black Cross
The Memoirs of Ernst Udet
By Ernst Udet
Introduced by Professor Richard Overy
Frontline Books (www.frontline-books.com)
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Ernst Udet was born in 1896 and he joined the infant German Air Service in 1915. He went on to win the Iron Cross First Class and the highly prestigious Pour le Merite (commonly called the “Blue Max” by the Allies). In the inter-war years he had a career as a test pilot and an internationally renowned stunt flyer. During 1939 he was placed in charge of air force development and production which sadly culminated in him committing suicide two years later.
In short, Udet had an outstanding career as an aviator and this volume documents his rise. Udet flew above the mud and misery of the Great War’s trenches on the Western Front. The early air battles fought between primitive aircraft were played out like medieval knights at a tournament. These deadly contests are brought evocatively to light in Udet’s memoirs. He was one of the German’s “ace of aces” and his tally was second only to that of the “Red Baron”.
Udet uses a jaunty young-man’s style of writing and he captures what many of the young pilots felt. Every day they flew off into combat ready to duel with the enemy and the elements whilst using unreliable yet pioneering technology. Udet had numerous scrapes with death whilst flying and was lucky to survive the conflict. His outstanding achievements were recognised and he attainted Germany’s highest honour – the Blue Max.
He had a varied inter-war career which encompassed being a stunt pilot, involved with light aircraft manufacturing (the “Udet Aircraft Factory”), a star of the “silver screen” and being a playboy. After Hitler came to power in 1933 Udet joined the Nazi Party that same year. Whilst being a Party member he became involved with the early development of the “new” German Air Force called the “Luftwaffe”. From this date on until his unfortunate suicide he was intricately linked to the rise of this new arm of the Wehrmacht (the German Armed Forces).
By the time the war started with the invasion of Poland in 1939 Udet had risen to the post of Director-General of Equipment for the Luftwaffe. This position was anything but chivalric for this highly decorated former ace. He was ill-suited to this role and he increasingly turned to drink. A depressed and disillusioned Udet shot himself in 1941 and he wrote a suicide note on a wall to Hermann Goring “Iron man you have betrayed me”. Sadly that is how Udet’s life ended.
This memoir is a fascinating account of his First World War experiences, his inter-war career and his subsequent rise with the Nazis. He was a key Luftwaffe personality until his death and any serious student of the history of the Luftwaffe should read this volume. It comes highly recommended.