Victory: New Zealand Airmen and the Fall of Germany,
by Max Lambert (HarperCollins, RRP $40):
New Zealand pilots served in both the RNZAF and also the RAF during World War II, and this is an account of the heroic and often deadly role played by those Kiwi air crews during the final stages of that war.
From the invasion of Europe in 1944 to the fall of Berlin in 1945, from hunting for U-boats in the Atlantic to dropping supplies for the Resistance and towing the gliders carrying paratroopers and weapons at Normandy, Arnhem and the Rhine crossing, the New Zealand airmen played a huge and extraordinary role in the closing chapters of the war.
Max Lambert tells the story of the likes of Mosquito pilot Roy Le Long who made history when he shot down the first German aircraft destroyed on D-Day. With his navigator John “Mac” McLaren – an unflappable Englishman who, legend has it, once peeled an orange as his skipper chased down an enemy plane in a life-and-death struggle – Le Long is credited with destroying seven planes in aerial combat and a further seven on the ground or on water. Then there’s bomber pilots Ken Orman and Ray Tait, helped speed up the end of the war by way of raids on German oil refineries; Auckland pilot Bill Petersen who witnessed the Dresden fires. And, of course, Geraldine-educated teacher-turned-pilot Les Brown, who was shot down over Bordeaux in 1944 and spent the following four months evading capture and fighting Germans in south-west France before scaling the Pyrenees and heading back to England.
There are so many books covering the history of war that it’s surprising there can be anything new to learn, but there certainly is. And Lambert’s account of the action involving our flying Kiwis is so incredibly vivid, you’ll feel like you are there with them.