A Classic Tale of Fighters in Action
Author: Wing Commander J R D "Bob" Braham
Publisher: Greenhill Books: New edition 2021, RRP £13.99
ISBN: 9781 78438 670 2
J R D "Bob" Braham was an outstanding and much decorated RAF night fighter pilot who qualified for the Battle of Britain Clasp flying with No 29 Squadron. Later he commanded another squadron which had flown in the Battle, No 141, restoring damaged morale and achieving a considerable improvement in performance.
Braham was one of those who wanted to keep flying on operations come what may, even when officially in a staff role. Eventually, on June 25 1944, his Mosquito was shot down over Denmark by a Focke-Wulf Fw190 flown by Leutnant Robert Spreckels. As a PoW, Braham decided that his demise had been due to combat fatigue. In peacetime he, Speckels and their wives became friends.
After the war Braham served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He died from a brain tumour in 1974. In 1961 his wartime memoirs were published. Their latest manifestation is an edition produced by Greenhill Books with a preface by Professor Richard Overy.
The book is a classic tale of fighters in action in the Second World War. Inevitably there is much about the author's considerable achievements in combat, but Bob Braham was also capable of introspection. He admits to at least some of his mistakes and recounts a significant moment when he cried.
An occasion when he had cause for reflection occurred on the night of August 17/18 1943, when Bomber Command mounted a maximum effort seeking to wipe out much of the V-2 development set-up (V-1 facilities were not attacked) at Peenemünde on Germany's Baltic coast. A second objective was to kill the top scientists who worked there.
Fighter Command was required to mount its own big effort, with 38 Beaufighters and Mosquitos flying intruder sorties to reduce the ability of the Luftwaffe night fighters to intervene in the raid.
Piloting a 141 Squadron Beaufighter, Wing Commander Braham shot down two Messerschmitt Bf110s. In describing one of those victories he recorded that, "I saw in the light of the moon a parachute floating gently down ........ I called Jacko (Flight Lieutenant Henry Jacobs, Braham's operator and another Battle of Britain veteran) on the intercom, 'one of the bastards must have been blown clear, I'm going to finish him off.'"
The response from Jacko was, "Bob, let the poor blighter alone."
Braham followed that advice, felt "ashamed" and reflected that he wished he could tell the man underneath the parachute, "that his life had been spared because of the compassion of ........ a Jew like many of those the Nazis had slaughtered in the ghettoes and concentration camps of Europe."
According to the author Martin Middlebrook, the man under the parachute was not rescued from the sea. The debate about the morality of shooting aircrew as they descended continued on the Allied and German sides throughout the war.
Anyone interested in Fighter Command should read this book. Researchers are likely to regret the absence of an index, chapter headings and a list of contents.