Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Best Books on the Personalities of the 1914-1918 Air War


Alan Winslow, Douglas Campbell, Raoul Lufbery

Contributed by aviation historian Steve Suddaby and the editors. Steve is four-time winner of the Thornton D. Hooper Award for Excellence in Aviation History and past president of the World War One Historical Association. He is the editor of French Strategic and Tactical Bombardment Forces of World War I and the compiler of the World War I Bombing Mission Database (Link).

****All of these works can be ordered from Amazon by**** clicking on the links down below.

1.  Flying Corps Headquarters 1914-1918

Maurice Baring, 1920. The multilingual Maurice Baring was Gen Hugh “Boom” Trenchard's righthand man through most of the war. He translated the inarticulate RFC commander's mutterings into English or French and later wrote this entertaining and literate story of life at RFC HQ

2.  Zeppelins Over England

Freiherr Treusch von Buttlar Brandenfels, 1931. A rare first-person account by a zeppelin commander. Difficult to find, but a treasure.

3.  Igor Sikorsky: The Russian Years

K.N. Finne, 1987. Excellent story of the visionary designer and his airplanes.

4.  Richthofen: Beyond the Legend of the Red Baron

Peter Kilduff, 1993. Simply the best biography of Manfred von Richthofen, the most important personality of WWI aviation.

5.  Sagittarius Rising

Cecil Lewis, 1936. This is justifiably the most well known pilot autobiography in English. If it's not in your library, you're missing out. 

6.  Horses Don't Fly

Frederick Libby, 2000. Amazing and humorous autobiography of a Colorado cowpuncher who joined the RFC via Canada.

7.  Falcons of France

Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall, 1929. A slightly fictionalized account using a composite character to describe their experiences in the Lafayette Flying Corps. These famous authors tell a more interesting story than most regular autobiographies without compromising historical accuracy. 

8.   Lost Eagles: One Man's Mission to Find Missing Airmen in Two World Wars

Blaine Pardoe, 2010. Biography of Frederick Zinn (Lafayette Flying Corps, USAS, OSS), a genuine American hero who devoted his life to bringing closure to the families of missing U.S. fliers. 

9.  Gatchina Days: Reminiscences of a Russian Pilot 
Alexander Riaboff, 1986. Riaboff flew for the Imperial Russian Air Service and later for the Red Air Fleet before escaping the Soviet Union. 


10. Home Fires Burning: The Great War Diaries of Georgina Lee

Gavin Roynon, ed., 2006. Georgina Lee was a very literate and politically well-connected Londoner. She kept a diary throughout the war years for her infant son. The impact of the zeppelin and Gotha air raids on England, often viewed as merely a nuisance, is astounding when seen from her perspective. 

11. Wings of War 

Rudolf Stark, 1933. Stark was a German fighter pilot in 1918; his own paintings illustrate the book. 

12. Fighting the Flying Circus

Captain Eddie V. Rickenbacker, Doubleday, 2001.  Rickenbacker was the most successful American fighter ace in World War I, with 26 aerial victories to his name. A Medal of Honor recipient, he was a government consultant in military matters after the war, and the longtime head of Eastern Air Lines. He died in 1973.


  1. “Falcons of France”. Possibly my most favorite book. Thank you for acknowledging it.

  2. Von Buttlar's "Zeppelins over England" is well worth a read, but take the history with a pinch of salt! Almost none of his claims of attacks on targets can be verified by research; quite possibly he never hit anything of value. As we say in England, he seems to have been a whopping fibber! The fact that he was one of the few Zeppelin commanders to survive the war was possibly not unconnected with British Intelligence assessment of him as "overly cautious".

    On a more positive note, there are some very good books to add to the list.

    "Flying Fury", originally published as "Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps"; the autobiography of ace James McCudden VC, published just before his death in July 1918. (fairly easily obtainable as republished frequently).

    "Fights and Flights", the autobiograply of Charles Rumney Samson, RNAS/RAF, pioneer Naval aviator - unfortunately very difficult to find now.

    and of recent publications:

    "Aces Falling", Peter Hart, Phoenix Books 2008.