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From Military Aviator to High Command
The Memoirs of Luftwaffe General Alfred Mahncke 1910-1945
'This is the book of the year...' Cross & Cockade International: Journal of The First World War Aviation Historical Society Read the full review here
'A far cry from any other book of its kind... This rare memoir is unique in the sense that very few books that surface today concerning the war attempt to "set the record straight", but this factual narrative does just that... A great, factual and interesting read.' 'Warfare' Magazine
Also available globally in e-book format from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Overdrive, Sony & Google and other international e-tailers.
Printed book ISBN: 978-0-9555977-4-9
Ebook digital ISBN: 978-0-9555977-7-0
This is a unique and very important account by one of the world's first military aviators who went on to become a general in the Luftwaffe. Not only does it give new and valuable insights into the German defeat at Stalingrad, the subsequent German retreat through much of the areas previously conquered in the East, and many other episodes during the last World War, but, rarely, these very well-written memoirs also reveal to us the attitudes, views and personality of a man whose social background led him to seek a senior military career in the Third Reich, thus providing an even broader historical perspective. Highly recommended.
Christer Bergstrom, author of Stalingrad The Air Battle and Black Cross Red Star The Air War over the Eastern Front
The autobiography of a lesser known Luftwaffe general would not normally be worthy of much notice, but General der Flieger Alfred Mahncke's 'For Kaiser and Hitler' is a treasure trove. For Mahncke was to quote the title of Adolf Galland's autobiography, truly the First and the Last in German aviation. He was one of Germany's earliest military pilots and provides a fascinating account of life before and during the Great War during which he knew key members of the German Army air leadership. His account of his early days in military aviation is truly an eye-opener with many surprising revelations.
A policeman between the wars before rejoining the colours, he served in the Luftwaffe largely in an administrative role, but was highly regarded by that most demanding of leaders, Wolfram von Richthofen. He also provides a fascinating insight into the problems which the Luftwaffe faced, both in Russia and in Italy. Mahncke not only provides much information on the background to German air power, but some interesting comments on the personalities and situations which it faced. This is combined with a revealing social background about life for an officer and ex-officer in Imperial, Weimar and post-war Germany and a fascinating career change which began as a prisoner and led to a new life.
This is a fresh and fascinating account of German air power written by someone who was neither at the top, nor the bottom, and therefore provides a new perspective. For anyone interested in the evolution of German air power, it is essential reading.
E.R.Hooton, author of War over the Trenches Air Power and the Western Front Campaigns 1916-1918, The Luftwaffe: A Study in Air Power 1933-1945, Phoenix Triumphant and Eagle in Flames
The memoirs of General der Flieger a.D. Alfred Mahncke are the first from a former General of the German Luftwaffe to be published in the English language since those of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring in 1953. Since then, thousands of books have been written on every aspect of the Luftwaffe's history, development, personalities, aircraft, campaigns, operations and ultimate defeat. But the historiography has lacked a fresh, detailed and personal insight into the leadership and command of the Luftwaffe from its earliest years through to the period of crisis which ensued after the tragedy of Stalingrad. Alfred Mahncke's For Kaiser and Hitler rectifies this omission, providing those with an interest in the history of the German military machine with an absorbing, detailed, highly readable and evocative account of life within the Luftwaffe at senior command level.
Yet Mahncke's account is much more than that for, as he states, his is a story spanning the national autocracy of the Monarchy and the unsuccessful parliamentary democracy of the Weimar Republic, to the failed National Socialist dictatorship.
It is also a chronicle of the very beginnings of military aviation. Mahncke was among the first German military aviators and flew with the Kaiser's fledgling air unit in 1911, witnessing and experiencing the exhilaration and dangers of flying in some of the earliest military aeroplanes. He met the Kaiser, the German Crown Prince and various members of the Imperial royal family, as well as Hindenburg and many prominent German political and military figures. He flew in an early Zeppelin airship. By the outbreak of the First World War, Mahncke was an experienced pilot and he flew subsequently over the Western and Eastern Fronts, before assuming staff positions in France and Russia where he controlled tactical air operations. He went on a dive in a German U-boat in 1915 and later travelled to Palestine. He also suffered, and describes in highly graphic and emotional terms, the carnage and horror of the trench warfare on the Western Front in 1917.
In the dark years of the interwar period following in the wake of the Versailles Treaty, Mahncke served in senior positions with the military police and his writing offers a valuable insight into life in the Weimar Republic and of the uncomfortable rise of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler, whom he first met in 1933, from the viewpoint of the German conservative middle classes and the military. He met Charles Lindbergh and attended the controversial 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin as well as the Nuremberg rallies where he shared a podium with the Fuhrer.
In 1935, he joined the fledgling Luftwaffe, experiencing from his position as overseer and champion of air sport in the Third Reich at first-hand the politics, personalities and measures of stealth used to re-build German air power under Nazi control. He witnessed, and describes vividly, the emergence of an awesome but not flawless new force in aviation and its eventual deployment in Hitler's invasion of Russia in June 1941, culminating in the drive into the Caucasus and Crimea and the advance on the Volga. Mahncke was deeply involved in Luftwaffe operations at Stalingrad and later in the Kuban in 1943, before moving to Italy, where he co-ordinated the desperate German air defence of Sicily ahead of the slow, tenacious defence and ultimate retreat through the Italian mainland throughout 1943 and 1944.
Mahncke met and worked with Goering, Udet, Milch, Kesselring, Jeschonnek, von Richthofen and many other senior commanders of the Luftwaffe and German armed forces. He describes their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their vision or lack of it.
For Kaiser and Hitler is unapologetic, honest, readable and engaging. It provides an intriguing insight for those with an interest in the air power and military history of the First World War and the Third Reich and forms an important resource for scholarship.
Jochen O.E.O. (John) Mahncke was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia in 1926. While attending high school in Berlin, he was conscripted as an anti-aircraft auxiliary in the Flak defence of Berlin from February 1943 to mid-1944. He joined the Wehrmacht as a Panzergrenadier in 1944 and was despatched to Italy where he served as an NCO (Officer Cadet) taking part in actions against Italian partisans to keep the Pasubio Pass open for retreating German forces before and after 2 May 1945.
He was taken Prisoner of War by the Americans in May 1945 and handed over to the British later that year and was shipped to North Africa. He was held in various PoW camps at El Dabbah, near El Alamein, until 1947. In mid-1947 he was moved to Cairo and then to the Suez Canal Zone where he served in a guard unit intended to protect British troops in their camps. By the time he was repatriated to Germany at the end of 1948, he was working as an assistant paymaster in No.156 Transit Camp at Port Said/Port Fouad for British troops passing through to and from Palestine.
Upon returning to Germany he took up an apprenticeship with an import/export business in Hamburg, but emigrated to South Africa in 1957 where he now lives with his wife and where he worked in the printing and packaging industry in Johannesburg and Cape Town until retirement in 1992. He has two sons and four grandchildren.
Jochen Mahncke is author of U-Boats and Spies in Southern Africa: Anecdotes, Legends, Stories (Cape Town, 2007) and is an Honorary Life Member of the South African Military History Society.
A five-minute interview with Jochen Mahncke
Jochen Mahncke is the son of the late General der Flieger Alfred Mahncke, the former Luftwaffe general whose memoirs are published for the first time by Tattered Flag Press. ‘For Kaiser and Hitler’ has been described by E.R.Hooton as ‘…. a fresh and fascinating account of German air power... For anyone interested in the evolution of German air power, it is essential reading…’ Aviation historian Christer Bergström has commented that the book forms ‘…a unique and very important account…. Highly recommended…’
The Tattered Flag asked Herr Mahncke, as the translator of these important memoirs, what it was like to work on the text:
The Tattered Flag: Thank you for allowing this interview. Can you explain why and how your father came to write his memoirs?
Jochen Mahncke: When my father eventually received his Ruhegehalt (government pension) in 1952, we, the family, decided that he should write his memoirs. We did this not only to keep him mentally active but also to inspire him to record his experiences and comments about one of the most turbulent, traumatic and varied periods of history from the turn of the century to 1945. He did this willingly, although not realizing at the time what a monumental task he faced over many years; but I believe he enjoyed reliving and remembering old times. As a by-product he carefully recorded our family genealogy.
TTF: Can you describe your father’s personality? How do you remember him?
Jochen Mahncke: He was a stern taskmaster with an (occasionally) soft core, inside his family as well as outside. As an officer his service duties came first – at all times – and he loved flying. He disliked incompetence, shirkers and disorder, but those of his officers who served him, and the Luftwaffe well, he looked after. The family loved him with respect and he loved us back. In his later years he enjoyed walking and observing nature and its animals and kept up-to-date with current affairs of the world.
TTF: Do you believe that your father’s memoirs will form a valuable addition to the existing historiography of German air power and leadership between 1914-1945?
Jochen Mahncke: Most certainly. The years he writes about are fading fast from people's memories and tend to be forgotten. His writings enable the reader to evaluate and compare tempi passati with the present and hopefully correct the many misconceptions and erroneous opinions that have tarnished German history, the German people and the German soldier since 1945.
Alfred Mahncke (far right) walks away from his Albatros biplane in 1911
TTF: What would you say was the high point of your father’s military career?
Jochen Mahncke: There were a number of high points in his career, promotions and, during World War Two, the mention in dispatches. But one he did like very much was the tattoo his Geschwader Hindenburg performed in his honour when he left them prior to his promotion to Generalmajor.
TTF: Was there a low point?
Jochen Mahncke: Yes, there was a very low point when after the end of World War Two he became a PoW of the British and was forced to discard his General’s uniform and put on prison clothes.
TTF: How was the experience of translating his memoirs for you personally?
Jochen Mahncke: I did not translate all of the 770 A4 pages (unspaced) as this would have created too big a book, but left out irrelevant paragraphs and descriptions of cities, European history and royalties. Instead I concentrated on the Imperial German Air Service and the Luftwaffe plus all chapters of his military career, especially the years of World War One and World War Two.
TTF: Did you learn more about your father’s life as a result of the translation?
General Mahncke in a pre-war photograph
Jochen Mahncke: Yes.We were both not as close and intimate as mine and the following generations of fathers are today. It was a quasi-Victorian upbringing with the mothers dispensing love and care, although in his recollections my father shows that he also cared although in a different, manly way.
TTF: If you had to identify the most historically important or interesting part or moment in the book, what would it be?
Jochen Mahncke: These are really two separate questions. One: his promotion to Reichsluftsportführer had historical consequences in that he began promoting flying as a sport at all levels in Germany. Two: the most interesting part was his trip to Palestine during World War One to connect with the German units fighing with Turkish forces.
TTF: Has any aspect of your father’s memoirs caused you to revise or reassess the way you view the events of either the First or Second World War – or the leading German military personalities?
Jochen Mahncke: Yes. Definitely. He wrote his memoirs candidly for himself and his family and not for a wider readership and I very much hope he will forgive me for making his memoirs public with a book. But I am of the opinion that the yardsticks he set are worth discussing and copying by todays’ generations. As far as past military personalities are concerned I believe it is wrong to be critical of them – after the events. Most of them acted and gave their orders to the best of their abilities and knowledge of the situations confronting them, even in the face of Hitler’s disapproval.
TTF: Many thanks for your time.