Facebook X YouTube Instagram Pinterest NetGalley
Google Books previews are unavailable because you have chosen to turn off third party cookies for enhanced content. Visit our cookies page to review your cookie settings.

Duel Under the Stars (Paperback)

The Memoir of a Luftwaffe Night Pilot in World War II

Aviation > WWII > Luftwaffe Military > Greenhill Books > Greenhill: WWII Military > Memoirs WWII

By Wilhelm Johnen, Foreword by James Holland, Translated by Joanna Chisholm
Greenhill Books
Pages: 320
Illustrations: 128
ISBN: 9781784385644
Published: 3rd April 2020
Last Released: 15th April 2021



You'll be £9.99 closer to your next £10.00 credit when you purchase Duel Under the Stars. What's this?
+£4.99 UK Delivery or free UK delivery if order is over £40
(click here for international delivery rates)

Need a currency converter? Check XE.com for live rates

Other formats available Price
Duel Under the Stars ePub (11.7 MB) Add to Basket £4.99

"The enemy bomber grew larger in my sights and the rear gunner was sprayed by my guns just as he opened fire. The rest was merely a matter of seconds. The bomber fell like a stone out of the sky and exploded on the ground. The nightmare came to an end."

In this enthralling memoir, the author recounts his experiences of the war years and traces the story of the ace fighter pilots from the German development of radar to the Battle of Britain.

Johnen flew his first operational mission in July 1941, having completed his blind-flying training. In his first couple of years he brought down two enemy planes. The tally went up rapidly once the air war was escalated in spring 1943, when Air Marshal Arthur Harris of the RAF Bomber Command began the campaign dubbed the Battle of the Ruhr.

During this phrase of the war Johnen’s successes were achieved against a 710-strong force of bombers. Johnen’s further successes during Harris’s subsequent Berlin offensive led to his promotion as Staffelkapitan (squadron leader) of Nachtjagdgeschwader and a move to Mainz. During a sortie from there, his Bf 110 was hit by return fire and he was forced to land in Switzerland. He and his crew were interned by the authorities. The Germans were deeply worried about leaving a sophisticatedly equipped night fighter and its important air crew in the hands of a foreign government, even if it was a neutral one. After negotiations involving Göring, the prisoners were released.

Johnen’s unit moved to Hungary and by October 1944 his score was standing at 33 aerial kills. His final one came in March the following year, once Johnen had moved back to Germany.

An interesting book to get to know firsthand what it feels like to board a fighter in full combat.

Read the full Spanish review here

Miniaturas JM

The story of the last few months is tight but there is a space of humanity towards comrades and even enemies (the story of the Soviet Colonel is very touching). The book is thus one of the most compelling memoirs and it is thanks to Greenhill Books that this text, published in Germany for the first time in 1956, returns to bookstores. A beautiful book that cannot miss on the shelves of aviation and WWII history enthusiasts.

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

These memoirs are by a young man serving his country in a desperate war where his combat was directly with the young British, Commonwealth and American air crews bombing Germany. The insights provided cover the air war and specifically the operation of night fighters from the first Allied raids, through the development of radar, command and control and tactics as the author rose to command a night fighter squadron – Very Highly Recommended.

Read the full review here


Great easy to read and gripping autobiographical account of an Me-110 night-fighter pilot's WWII experiences. A Luftwaffe equivalent in many ways - albeit on the nocturnal side of the equation - of Geoff Wellum's First Light, in its simple but compelling nature. Vivid, exciting, occasionally moving. A very enjoyable read.

Read the full review here

A Question of Scale

As featured on The View From The Turret

The View From The Turret

As featured on Scale Modelling Now

Scale Modelling Now

This book was first published 10 years after the war ended, so everything was still fresh in the author’s memory. This makes it so much more valuable than books researched decades later, often just having to rely on written documents and photos.
It also provides a very interesting and clear insight into the life of these German pilots at the time.

Read the full review here

WW2 Traces

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Since the Americans flew day missions in World War II, the German nightfighters aren’t well known. The British bore the brunt of their attacks. Even in old war movies, I recall the British bombers being caught in searchlights and shot down by flak, not fighters. Therefore, this memoir was enlightening.
Of interesting note: when the author landed his damaged plane in Switzerland, his family was arrested and jailed by the Gestapo
He frequently mentions the German anger over the Allies bombing their cities. They conveniently forget their tactics when they started the war―bombing Warsaw, Rotterdam, and other cities, slaughtering men, women, and children.
This book is well worth the time to read.

NetGalley, Terri Wangard

I highly recommend Duel under the Stars by Wilhem Johnen... I believe that we need to hear both sides of the story and this book is just incredible. As James Holland put it, ‘A fine account not of a Nazi automaton but of a young pilot whose fears, anxieties, triumphs and pain are as every bit as human as of those he was fighting against.’

Read the full review here


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reading this book broght back memories of my uncles and father talking about the Second World War which they all served in. I have always heard the Allied side of the war so looked forward to reading what the Axis pilots were all about. I was amazed and saddened by this book. It is so well written it was hard to put down and I felt compassion for the German crews which surprised me. They were men fighting to protect their families and country from attack. The author never sounds arrogant or hateful, he sounds like an honorable soldier. This makes it even more astounding to read. Especially since my generation was anything but sympathetic to the Germans. I never thought of the enemy as humans just like us. But they are.
The details in this book are so descriptive you feel like you are getting ready to take off and meet the bombers on their way to Berlin. All in all an excellent and important story that needs to be told.

NetGalley, Patrick Carmen

....Johnen’s long out-of-print memoir « Duel under the stars - a factual report from a German night fighter pilot » is recently republished by Pen and Sword imprint Greenhill. In simple, uncomplicated language which does much to preserve the ‘immediacy’ of an account first published in English in 1957 - Johnen describes his initial training, the creation of the German fighter force established to counter Bomber Command’s night offensive, his posting to NJG 1 and the first victories as the lumbering four-engine bombers are stalked through the night skies by growing numbers of ‘panther-like’ fighters bristling with cannon and stag-antler radar antennae guided by an all-embracing system of radar defence. Johnen was one of those night-time ‘stalkers’ and his book features some remarkable descriptions of night-fighting and of life on an operational air-base in war-time Germany..


As featured by

The Armourer, May 2018

...well-written and easily-read.

NZ Crown Mines

This re-issue of the war memoirs of a German pilot rests well with several other more recent translations of ‘Landser’ memoirs that place the subjects not as inhuman ‘Nazis’ but as recognisable people fighting for their country. At a certain point politics is subsumed by the need for national survival and this account adds to that understanding of why the Germans continued to fight for so long even though the outcome was increasingly certain. Written in a style that captures the imagination, describes emotion as well as actions, and delivers a very good read.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Wilhelm Johnen

Johnen enlisted in Luftwaffe in 1939 and in 1941 he joined the German night fighter force (Nachtjagd) and participated in the Defence of the Reich campaign.

He became a night fighter ace in June 1943 after achieving his fifth victory. In April 1944 Johnen was briefly interned in Switzerland when he force-landed in the country. It caused an international incident but he was repatriated with his crew some days later.

Johnen was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in October 1944 for the destruction of 33 RAF bombers. He ended the war with 34 aerial night victories. After the war he worked for Willi Messerschmitt and started his own company. He died in 2002.

More titles by James Holland

Customers who bought this title also bought...

Other titles in Greenhill Books...