The Royal Air Force Hero and the Luftwaffe General
Britain fought for her life.
Hitler’s armies prepared
For an invasion of England.
Savage air battles took place
Over the skies of Albion.
Then a miracle happened:
In the summer and autumn of 1940
The Royal Air Force defeated
The numerically superior Luftwaffe.
This was a turning point in the war.
Lacking adequate air support,
The Fuehrer could not carry out
His invasion plans.
Deeply touched by the heroism
Of the pilots, Winston Churchill said:
“Never in the field of human conflict
Was so much owed by so many
To so few”.
Only three thousand young aviators
Defended the skies of England;
Among them scores of Jewish pilots.
The British ace pilot Robert Stanford Tuck
Was one of the outstanding Jewish heroes
Of World War II. He was born in 1917
And grew up in the Greater London district
Of Catford. In 1935 the 18-year-old Robert
Joined the RAF. During the war
He distinguished himself in the skies
Of Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain.
A Flight Lieutenant and Wing Commander
With 92 and 257 Squadrons, Tuck became
One of the top ace aviators of the RAF,
Credited with 29 confirmed victories
Of downed enemy airplanes. Flying a Spitfire,
He had first engaged in aerial combat during
The Battle of France and claimed
His first plane kills over Dunkirk.
In September 1940,
As the Battle of Britain
Tuck was promoted
To lead the 257 Squadron
Of Hawker Hurricanes.
He had an exceedingly eventful
Combat experience; was shot down
Four times, collided twice, crash landed,
Got dunked in the English Channel
And was wounded twice.
On an August day of 1940
Tuck was on patrol in his Spitfire
And got into a dogfight
With a Junker 88 over Kent.
His plane was hit by enemy fire.
He managed to bail out
While the aircraft crashed
On a nearby farmland.
Tuck found himself descending
with his parachute towards Plovers
In Horsmonden. He reached ground
On the estate of Lord Cornwallis.
The Lord was curious to see
The unexpected visitor.
He gave a warm welcome
To the vertically arrived guest
From the sky and then invited him
For a cup of tea.
One day in the winter of 1942
Tuck flew over northern France
Outside Boulogne when his airplane
Was hit by enemy flak.
He force landed and was captured
By the same German units
That he strafed just a short time earlier.
The Nazis knew very well
That Tuck was an ace pilot of the RAF.
General Adolf Galland himself came
To interrogate him.
One of the top pilots of Hitler,
The general was a war criminal.
He developed carpet-bombing tactics,
Which he tested during the Spanish Civil War.
He flew with the Condor Legion
Of the Luftwaffe and participated
in the terror bombing of Guernica.
By the way, the 1937 horrors
of that Fascist atrocity moved Picasso
to paint one of the grand cultural icons
of the 20th century, titled “Guernica”.
Now dissatisfied with the performance
Of his air force in the Battle of Britain,
Goering promoted Galland to the rank
Of Inspector General of the Luftwaffe.
When Tuck fell into Nazi hands,
Galland was curious to meet him.
The Luftwaffe general
Treated the British ace pilot with respect
And even provided him with a slap-up meal.
Tuck became a prisoner of war
But in February 1945
He succeeded to escape.
Walking eastwards he reached
The Soviet Red Army lines.
The Russians allowed him to travel
To Moscow where he showed up
At the British Embassy.
He returned to England via Odessa.
After the war, it was Tuck’s turn
To interrogate Galland.
Then a curious thing happened:
The former German Nazi
And the British Jew
Became close friends.
In celebrating the metamorphoses
Of a new era wherein former enemies
Turn into allies, Galland made Tuck
An honorary member
Of his old German flying squadron.
Tuck and Galland struck a lasting friendship
And instead of shooting at each other
They went together for game hunting.
Then the year of 1969 arrived
And they both accepted the role
Of serving as technical advisors
For the film of the Battle of Britain.
The war became a movie.
Robert Stanford Tuck died in May 1987.
A few days after his death an obituary
In The Los Angeles Times said that
Many consider Tuck “as the greatest
Spitfire pilot of all times”.
The article paid homage to the courage
Of the ace pilot who went to combat
Facing death in the eyes with the bravura
Of a guarded levity of the heart
Combining it with excellent technical aptitude
And sterling flying skills.
In 1940 the King personally awarded Tuck
With the Distinguished Flying Cross,
Stressing the aviator’s initiative
And personal example over Dunkirk.
During the war Tuck was also decorated
With the medal of the Distinguished Service Order.
The life of Robert Stanford Tuck affords intriguing
Insights into the strange peculiarities of wars
And the irrational nature of human conflicts.
It poses an array of inquisitive questions
regarding the historical context and futility
of organized violence, the unnecessary sufferings
and avoidable horrors that we humans inflict upon
It also reveals some bizarre ironies
Of the Holocaust. After all, a friendship
Between a Nazi Luftwaffe general
And a Jewish ace pilot of the RAF
Stands out as a very odd alliance.
Yet human history offers
Countless bizarre stories.
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Comments about this poem (The Royal Air Force Hero and the Luftwaffe General by Paul Hartal )
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