The best spitfire books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about spitfire and why they recommend each book.

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Under the Wire

By William Ash, Brendan Foley,

Book cover of Under the Wire: The Wartime Memoir of a Spitfire Pilot, Legendary Escape Artist and "Cooler King"

One of the great "characters" of World War 2 escapes, "Tex" Ash was an American who travelled from his home state to Canada in order to enlist in the RCAF and fight the Nazis before the US entered the war.  A Spitfire pilot of great bravery, Ash was shot down and captured in France. His tale of wild and woolly escapes and escapades makes for a rollicking good read. Some might say that his story is too far-fetched to be true; I believe every word of it.


Who am I?

My father, Squadron Leader Peter Stevens MC, died in 1979, when I was 22 years old, before I'd had the chance to speak with him man-to-man about his war. I later began researching his wartime exploits, which would consume a good part of 18 years of my life. I initially had no intention of writing a book; I just wanted to find the original document that recommended him for the Military Cross. I finally located it in Britain's National Archives in 2006. Along the way, I discovered that my father had actually been born a German Jew (he had told his immediate family in Canada that he was British and Anglican), and that some 15-20 family members had been murdered in the Holocaust. Further research showed that Dad had been the ONLY German-Jewish bomber pilot in the RAF, and that he had been the object of a country-wide manhunt by the British Police as a possible enemy spy. 


I wrote...

Escape, Evasion and Revenge

By Marc H. Stevens,

Book cover of Escape, Evasion and Revenge

What is my book about?

The true-life story of the only German-Jewish bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War 2.  Georg Hein was sent to safety in London by his widowed mother in 1934; he committed identity theft in order to enlist at the outbreak of hostilities, stealing the name of a dead London high schoolmate, Peter Stevens.  He trained to become a bomber pilot, and flew 22 combat missions before his plane was damaged by flak over Berlin.

Captured by the Nazis 12 hours after he landed in a Dutch farmer's field, he spent the next 3 years and 8 months as a POW in his own country, without ANY protection whatsoever under the Geneva Convention.  Had the Nazis ever discovered his true identity, the consequences would have proven unpleasantly fatal.  Escape became his raison d'etre, and he made 9 escape attempts, getting outside the wire on three occasions. After the war, Stevens was one of only 69 members of RAF aircrew to be awarded Britain's Military Cross for gallantry in WW2. He went on to serve 5 years as an MI6 spy in East Germany at the height of the Cold War.

Spitfire

By John Nichol,

Book cover of Spitfire

The book is well named. The Spitfire invokes a visceral response in most people, amplified in those that feel even the slightest cultural connection to the events that unfolded in the Kentish skies in 1940. Nichol centres his book on this emotional premise, conveying the feelings of the pilots who flew the Spitfire, including the ladies of the Air Transport Auxiliary, and the crews that maintained them. We learn about the development of this most beautiful of all warbirds and follow it into all the world’s theatres of war, a story expressed through the first-hand accounts of many veterans who flew and fought behind the roar of the Merlin. This is as close as most of us will come to being inside the cockpit of a Spitfire.


Who am I?

It all started in the cinema of a seaside town in 1970 when, as a young boy, I sat open-mouthed in front of a sparkling Technicolour movie. Before my eyes, the very foundations of British life were defended from tyranny by dashing pilots riding in sleek, powerful fighter planes. The film, The Battle of Britain, instilled a life-long fascination with the events of 1940. Years later I discovered one of The Few had grown up in my hometown and was buried in our local graveyard. I started to research the life and times of this man and his story became the foundations of my first novel, Bluebirds.


I wrote...

Bluebirds: A Battle of Britain Novel

By Melvyn Fickling,

Book cover of Bluebirds: A Battle of Britain Novel

What is my book about?

My Battle of Britain novel is based on the true stories of an East Anglian RAF airman and an American volunteer, arguably the first from his nation to fire guns in anger against the Nazis.

The Battle of Britain defined the future for Britain, Europe, and America. Bluebirds tells the story of the ordinary young men who are thrown together into deadly jeopardy as Hitler plunges Europe into its darkest ever hours. Andrew Francis and Gerry Donaldson were born on different sides of the Atlantic just before The Great War. Together with the mildly psychotic Bryan Hale, they fly Spitfires through the summer of 1940 when invasion is imminent and Britain faces almost certain defeat. This is the first book of the Bluebird Series.

Tally-Ho! A Yankee in a Spitfire

By Arthur Donahue,

Book cover of Tally-Ho! A Yankee in a Spitfire

Art Donahue is the inspiration for my character, Gerry Donaldson, in my book, and Tally-Ho! is the book he wrote about his life while the Battle of Britain was still raging around him. Art was one of many Americans who volunteered at the risk of losing US citizenship, but as a fully qualified flying instructor he jumped the queue and very quickly found himself in a Spitfire cockpit flying into hostile skies with 64 Squadron. Donahue went on to fight in other theatres and write further on his experiences. Sadly, he did not survive the war, but this unique and vibrant document serves as a memorial and a celebration of a true American pioneer.


Who am I?

It all started in the cinema of a seaside town in 1970 when, as a young boy, I sat open-mouthed in front of a sparkling Technicolour movie. Before my eyes, the very foundations of British life were defended from tyranny by dashing pilots riding in sleek, powerful fighter planes. The film, The Battle of Britain, instilled a life-long fascination with the events of 1940. Years later I discovered one of The Few had grown up in my hometown and was buried in our local graveyard. I started to research the life and times of this man and his story became the foundations of my first novel, Bluebirds.


I wrote...

Bluebirds: A Battle of Britain Novel

By Melvyn Fickling,

Book cover of Bluebirds: A Battle of Britain Novel

What is my book about?

My Battle of Britain novel is based on the true stories of an East Anglian RAF airman and an American volunteer, arguably the first from his nation to fire guns in anger against the Nazis.

The Battle of Britain defined the future for Britain, Europe, and America. Bluebirds tells the story of the ordinary young men who are thrown together into deadly jeopardy as Hitler plunges Europe into its darkest ever hours. Andrew Francis and Gerry Donaldson were born on different sides of the Atlantic just before The Great War. Together with the mildly psychotic Bryan Hale, they fly Spitfires through the summer of 1940 when invasion is imminent and Britain faces almost certain defeat. This is the first book of the Bluebird Series.

A Spitfire Girl

By Mary Ellis, Melody Foreman,

Book cover of A Spitfire Girl: One of the World's Greatest Female Ata Ferry Pilots Tells Her Story

There are several fascinating memoirs by ATA pilots including those by Diana Barnato Walker and the fittingly named Nancy Bird, but I was lucky enough to know Mary Ellis so her words speak most directly to me. A life recounted in sensible tones, reading this book it is easy to imagine you are settled into an armchair across from Mary, while at the same time realising that she would be much more comfortable in the cockpit of a Spitfire. By the end of the war she had delivered 400 Spitfires and flown 72 different types of aircraft. ‘Who needs love’, Ellis wrote, ‘when there is the ultimate thrill of speed, the sky, and the orgasmic experience of piloting the best fighter aircraft in the world?’ Enough said.


Who am I?

Clare Mulley is the award-winning author of three books re-examining the history of the First and Second World War through the lives of remarkable women. The Woman Who Saved the Children, about child rights pioneer Eglantyne Jebb, won the Daily Mail Biographers' Club Prize and is now under option. Polish-born Second World War special agent Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, is the subject of the Spy Who Loved, a book that led to Clare being decorated with Poland’s national honour, the Bene Merito. Clare's third book, The Women Who Flew for Hitler, long-listed for the Historical Writers Association prize, tells the extraordinary story of Nazi Germany’s only two female test pilots, whose choices and actions put them on opposite sides of history. Clare reviews for the Telegraph, Spectator, and History Today. A popular public speaker, she has given a TEDx talk at Stormont, and recent TV includes news appearances for the BBC, Sky, and Channel 5 as well as various Second World War history series.


I wrote...

The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry

By Clare Mulley,

Book cover of The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry

What is my book about?

The Women Who Flew For Hitler tells the extraordinary story of the only two women to serve Nazi Germany as test pilots, both of whom received the Iron Cross, yet who ended their lives on opposite sides of history. Brilliant pilot Hanna Reitsch was the world’s first woman to fly a helicopter, and later tested rocket planes and even a manned version of a prototype cruise missile - the V1 flying bomb or doodlebug. A fanatical Nazi, in the last days of the war she begged Hitler to let her fly him to safety from his Berlin bunker. Her nemesis, Melitta von Stauffenberg, an exceptional aeronautical engineer and test pilot for the Stuka dive bombers that were synonymous with the Blitzkrieg, was secretly part Jewish. In July 1944 Melitta was at the heart of the most famous attempt on Hitler's life, the Valkyrie bomb plot.

Free As a Running Fox

By T.D. Calnan,

Book cover of Free As a Running Fox

Tommy Calnan was as brave as they come.  Flying an unarmed Spitfire of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, Calnan's plane was hit by flak and set afire.  He bailed out, but was badly burned in the process. Barely surviving his wounds, including third-degree burns to his face and hands, Calnan spent several months recovering in a German hospital. One might think that he had done enough for the Allied cause, but despite his face being badly scarred, Calnan became a serial escaper of great courage and determination.


Who am I?

My father, Squadron Leader Peter Stevens MC, died in 1979, when I was 22 years old, before I'd had the chance to speak with him man-to-man about his war. I later began researching his wartime exploits, which would consume a good part of 18 years of my life. I initially had no intention of writing a book; I just wanted to find the original document that recommended him for the Military Cross. I finally located it in Britain's National Archives in 2006. Along the way, I discovered that my father had actually been born a German Jew (he had told his immediate family in Canada that he was British and Anglican), and that some 15-20 family members had been murdered in the Holocaust. Further research showed that Dad had been the ONLY German-Jewish bomber pilot in the RAF, and that he had been the object of a country-wide manhunt by the British Police as a possible enemy spy. 


I wrote...

Escape, Evasion and Revenge

By Marc H. Stevens,

Book cover of Escape, Evasion and Revenge

What is my book about?

The true-life story of the only German-Jewish bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War 2.  Georg Hein was sent to safety in London by his widowed mother in 1934; he committed identity theft in order to enlist at the outbreak of hostilities, stealing the name of a dead London high schoolmate, Peter Stevens.  He trained to become a bomber pilot, and flew 22 combat missions before his plane was damaged by flak over Berlin.

Captured by the Nazis 12 hours after he landed in a Dutch farmer's field, he spent the next 3 years and 8 months as a POW in his own country, without ANY protection whatsoever under the Geneva Convention.  Had the Nazis ever discovered his true identity, the consequences would have proven unpleasantly fatal.  Escape became his raison d'etre, and he made 9 escape attempts, getting outside the wire on three occasions. After the war, Stevens was one of only 69 members of RAF aircrew to be awarded Britain's Military Cross for gallantry in WW2. He went on to serve 5 years as an MI6 spy in East Germany at the height of the Cold War.

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