Messerschmitts Over Sicily Book Review

DSC_7751

Messerschmitts Over Sicily: Diary of a Luftwaffe Fighter Commander

By Johannes Steinhoff

Softcover, 271 pages, bibliography, and index

Published by Stackpole Books August 2004

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0811731596

ISBN-13: 978-081173159

Dimensions: 6.0 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches

Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff was one of the legends of the Luftwaffe, having flown throughout the entire war from beginning to end on every major front and surviving.  He flew a total of 993 sorties and was credited with 176 victories.  He was shot down himself on twelve occasions but only bailed out once, preferring to crash land his aircraft due to a mis-trust of parachutes.  He achieved most of his successes flying with JG 52 against the Soviets in the East but in March 1943 he was transferred to North Africa to lead JG 77 as Geschwaderkommodore.  He arrived just in time to move what remained of the Geschwader (Wing) from North Africa to Sicily.

Messerschmitts Over Sicily is Steinhoff’s autobiographical account of JG 77’s fight against the Allies during the summer of 1943.  The Luftwaffe faced over 5,000 American and British aircraft with only 350 of their own.  The German airfields were well within range of Allied fighters and were subjected to almost daily bombings by medium bombers.  This kept the German fliers on the move and resulted in material shortages, the Germans were often forced to utilize improvised landing fields to escape the attentions of prowling Allied aircraft.

A problem which the Luftwaffe never solved in the Italian Theater was how to deal with the American heavy bomber formations.  While Jagdwaffe units defending the Reich enjoyed some notable successes, American Flying Fortresses operated over Italy with relative impunity.  The proximity of Allied bases greatly reduced warning times which frustrated German attempts to mass and direct intercepting fighters, and the bomber boxes were able to be escorted by defending fighters all the way to their targets.  These obstacles, exasperated by the generally poor logistical situation, were not appreciated by the Luftwaffe high command.  Reichsmarschall Göring attributed the lack of success to cowardice on the part of his pilots which only served to reduce morale further.

This is an interesting study of command and leadership under adversity.  It reveals the complexities of managing the daily administrative responsibilities of managing a military unit while dealing with unrealistic expectations from superiors and also leading men in combat.  An interesting book and well worth a read, recommended.

DSC_7752

5 thoughts on “Messerschmitts Over Sicily Book Review

  1. I remember reading about his fiery crash in the book A Higher Call…

    When a member of Jagdverband-44 (JV-44), Steinhoff was permanently disfigured after receiving major burns across most of his body after crashing his Me-262 after a failed takeoff. On 18 April 1945, Steinhoff’s Me 262 crashed on take-off from München-Riem airfield. His flight leader’s left wheel blew out and caused him to make a sharp left turn, careening into Steinhoff and causing him to run off the runway and rupturing the fuel tanks located in front, under, and behind him. Steinhoff and the men he was going up with that day were armed with an experimental under-wing rocket which, along with the cannon ammunition Steinhoff was carrying, made escape more difficult due to the amount ordnance exploding around him. According to ace fighter pilot and member of JV-44 Franz Stigler, “In a matter of seconds, Steinhoff had turned into a human torch.” Steinhoff’s chances of survival were slim but he pulled through in the end, though left with horrible scarring for the rest of his life. Steinhoff suffered severe burns, spending two years in hospital, which left him visibly scarred despite years of reconstructive surgery. His eyelids were rebuilt by a British surgeon after the war.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was not all that uncommon amongst the Luftwaffe’s highest-scoring pilots to be shot down several times themselves. Another strange thing is many who survived the war were killed in automobile accidents afterwards.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s