MY AVIATION LEGENDS
There are certainly different paths to an interest
in aviation history and scale modeling. Mine, as
with many other people, was set by memoirs of
famous aviators. I'm talking about the legends
that influenced me when I was a teenager. Famous aviator is a relative term, it can vary by
country of origin, cultural background, or personal preference of the individual.
My initial, almost thrilling experience was Pierre Clostermann's The Big Show. In the mid-1980s, a friend of mine in high school lent me
this novel, and I would say that to that day I have
read few books that have drawn me into the plot
as much as The Big Show. The battles against
the Luftwaffe, the mentions of names like “von
Graf” and Nowotny, the final stage actions over
Germany, that all shaped my interest in aerialwar. The Big Show was published in Czechoslovakia for the first time in 1968, and then again
in 1970, before the so-called normalization (and
associated censorship) began to restrict or ban
such a venture. Borrowing the book and taking
notes therefore had a bit of a conspiratorial air.
I understood that it was far from easy during the
clashes with the Luftwaffe and the German armed forces. Some of the movies on Czechoslovak TV and in the cinemas at the time portrayed
the adversaries a bit like targets for a practice,
but I didn't really go to believe it at all.
Also, our Czechoslovakian compatriots, former World War Two airmen and also authors of
memoirs like Antonín Liška or František Fajtl
were heroes for me. I understood it took a lot
of courage to go into exile and fight against
the enemy that occupied their native country.
Surviving the post-war communist camps was
usually as difficult, as to survive German POW
camps. If not even worse… This was double true
in the case of Fajtl, who became RAF Squadron
Leader and managed to return to the UK after
being shot down over occupied Europe. In 1944,
he commanded the Czechoslovak independent
fighter regiment that was operating Soviet fighter planes in the rear of the enemy during the
Slovak National Uprising. With a story like that,
a movie producer might have fired the screenwriter because he felt that such a story could
not happen. Fajtl also ended up in a communist
concentration camp after the war.
Later I managed to get hold of the book “Sloužím vlasti” (I Serve My Country) from 1950,
illustrated by famous Czech painter Zdeněk Burian. It was written by Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub.
It interested me a lot because he was the most
successful Allied fighter pilot with 62 victories
to his credit. I liked the book very much, it showed between the lines that it was not easy to
fight against Luftwaffe even from 1943, because
that was the time Kozhedub arrived to the frontlines. I liked the guy a lot, and still I do.
INFO Eduard - December 2021
Another high school classmate helped me to get
access to an unusual book. It was published by
Czechoslovak magazine Letectví a kosmonautika (Aviation and Space) as a series in 1968 and
1969. The author was a Japanese naval fighter
pilot Saburō Sakai. There were many interesting books that were allowed to be published in
our country in late 1960s. Of course, there were
limits, which is why the book was not published
under its original title “Samurai!” but as “Zera
and Pacifikem” (Zeros over the Pacific). These
exotic memories came to me on photocopied
pages almost twenty years after their publication which was still the era, when “xeroxes” were
strictly controlled in order to avoid copying of
any anti-state printed matter. Sakai's memoirs
were published in shortened form here, but they
were almost as fascinating as Clostermann´s
The Big Show to me. Saburō Sakai may have
been on the opposite side of the barricade from
the Allied airmen, but for many reasons that are
captured in the lines of his memoirs, he has become a legend to me. And he had two more victories to his credit than Kozhedub. The needle of
my aviation compass pointed to Japan, and still
partly points there today.
At the end of 1989, the communist regime
collapsed in our country, and anything could be
published. On the other way, many people started to ignore everything of the Soviet origin,
which is usually synonymous with Russian by
many here. I come from anti-communist family,
so I understand their mood, but I also feel it's
just not fair in case of the service and sacrifices
of Soviet airmen.
When the book “Křídla v boji” (Wings in Combat),
written by fighter pilot Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin, came out in 1990, I jumped on it. He
had been flying since the beginning of the war,
which was June 1941 in his case. It was written
about him that he had 59 victories and was second in the ranking to Kozhedub. I devoured
the memoirs, taking notes as I went through it.
If I remember correctly, the book could count
about 75 of Pokryshkin's individual victories!
I was impressed and felt a little sorry for him
too. I had the feeling that his combat results
were crossed off from above.
Thirty years have passed since then and I have
read many more memoirs, publications, and documents, I met war veterans and wrote a little
too. I also experienced many surprises during
this period of life.
Clostermann used for some parts of his book
other people's reports, accounts, or experiences as if he had experienced these himself. The
number of his victories was less than originally
reported. And whether he had all the command
posts he recounts in his novel is still discussed
today. The confrontation with contemporary records is indeed interesting.
Saburō Sakai didn't have 64 victories and even
stated several times that he didn't know where that number came from. He said himself that
he might have scored approximately 28 victories in total. Historical records available today
show that such a number roughly corresponds
to actuality if we add up all kind of victories he
achieved alone or in collaboration with other
pilots. Some of the events described in the English edition of his memoirs did not happen and
Sakai did not authorize them. For example, the
group aerobatics over an enemy airfield is probably a fabrication.
In the past decade, historians from the former
Soviet Union have taken a close look at newly
available contemporary records. It seems that
Ivan Kozhedub achieved as many as 64 individual victories, but Pokryshkin, originally the
second one in the order, shot down only 45
opponents. Today it is known that there were
five other fighter pilots on the list between the
two. To my surprise, one of them even had more
than 60 individual kills. His name was Grigory
Analyses of air battles and comparisons of claimed victories with losses of the opponents are
a separate chapter. This is an important and adventurous discipline, but I do not want to mention it here. We could get bogged down in arguments about how many planes Erich Hartmann
actually shot down, or how many Luftwaffe planes were downed by Czechoslovak fighters, for
Does this all mean that Clostermann, Sakai or
Pokryshkin are less of legends for me today?
Not at all. Regardless of whether serious research and critical insight reduces or increases
the actual number of victories, their memoirs
are still great and powerful stories worth reading, studying, and passing on. And while doing
that it is an opportunity to experience own research story as a result.