About The Book

Under a Bomber’s Moon is the true story of a New Zealand navigator-bomb aimer with the Royal Air Force and a German night fighter pilot as they fight for success and survival over night time Germany during the bitterest years of the Second World War. In early 1944, after completing one tour of operations and winning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exploits, the New Zealander, Colwyn Jones, was killed during a raid on Berlin.


About The Night War Over Europe

During the Second World War the night sky over Europe was one of the most lethal places to wage war. By 1945 almost half of the airmen who flew with Bomber Command and a third of the Luftwaffe night fighter crew pitted against them had been killed. Many German cities became moonscapes of rubble, their inhabitants the first to experience the reality of ‘total war’ – itself a glimpse of the destructive potential of the nuclear age about to explode in the Far East.



To read a particular review of Under A Bomber's Moon simply scroll down or click on one of the headers listed below:

•    Precious Family Legacy Shared - Review by David Gunby, emeritus professor of English of the University of Canterbury.
•    A Different View of WWII Air Warfare - Review by Dave Blanshard of the Oamaru Mail
•    Australian Aircrew Review - Review by Andy Wright
•    Otago Daily Times - Review by Chris Isaacs
•    Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum (OPENS IN NEW WINDOW)
•    Australian War Memorial Magazine - Review by Peter Pedersen
•    Boomerang Books - Review by Boomert

Precious Family Legacy Shared - Review by David Gunby, emeritus professor of English of the University of Canterbury.

At just after 5pm on the evening of February 14,1944, an RAF Lancaster bomber took off from Oakington, near Cambridge, to bomb Berlin. Four hours later its crew perished when the aircraft crashed just north of the city. One of those killed was the Air Bomber, New Zealander Flight Lieutenant Frank Colwyn Jones.
Then flying the first of what would have been 20 operations to complete a second tour, he had in 1941-2 flown a first tour of 30, which had included a crash landing and a ditching in the North Sea as well as several other (in RAF parlance) "shaky dos". Merely by surviving a first tour he had beaten terrifying odds; in volunteering for a second (his superiors wished to retain him as an instructor) he knew he would almost certainly be killed.
In civilian life a reporter for the Auckland Star, Jones wrote easily and well. He kept a richly informative diary and wrote long and lively letters home. These, and photos he took, form a rich archive from which his great-nephew, Stephen Harris, himself once a journalist and now a diplomat, drew the bulk of the material illuminating this account of his great-uncle's life.
But Under a Bomber's Moon is not just about Jones, but also about Otto-Heinrich Fries, a German night fighter pilot, whom Harris met when serving as a diplomat at the New Zealand Embassy in Berlin. From that meeting, followed by many others, came the decision that makes Under a Bomber's Moon so remarkable. It is, as the subtitle puts it, "The true story of two airmen at war over Germany".
Like Jones, Fries survived several "shakydos". He was shot down three times and on another occasion had to crash land his crippled aircraft. For the German night fighter crews, the odds on survival may not have been so desperately bad as for the crews of Bomber Command, but there was no "tour" for Luftwaffe crews; they simply flew until they were killed, or incapacitated. Hence few of his friends and colleagues survived the war. Professor Fries recalled that 10 new crews arrived on his squadron in October 1944. By Christmas all 20 men were dead.
For Harris, writing ,this book was clearly a profoundly important experience. Jones' mother was devastated by the loss of her only son and it left his two sisters with a permanent sense of loss, transmitted, clearly, to Harris himself. In carrying out the research that enabled him to determine exactly how and where his uncle died, he in some measure assuages that loss.
Attending in October 2008 the burial of a young RAF airman shot down in 1944, but whose remains had only recently been discovered, Harris reflects on "how fortunate I had been to discover in my own journey my great-uncle's fate - a man I had come to know through his writing, a precious legacy that keeps him alive in our family's memory".
In Under a Bomber's Moon Harris shares that "precious legacy" with us, but also, in an act of generosity, enriches it immeasurably by linking Jones' war with that of an adversary, Fries, whom equally he honours. This is a book to read, to reflect upon, and to cherish.


A Different View of WWII Air Warfare - Review by Dave Blanshard of the Oamaru Mail

Much has been written about the enormous risks faced by allied bomber crews in the night skies over Europe during World War II.
Generally, the focus is on risks of anti- aircraft fire, powerful searchlights, bad weather and mid- air collisions.
Passing references are sometimes made to the need to evade German night fighters intent on disrupting streams of bombers. But those fighters were in reality major players in the battle.
Here, former journalist Harris traces the opposing wars of his Kiwi great uncle, Flight Lt. Colwyn Jones DFC - navigator/ bomb aimer in Stirling and Lancaster heavy bombers - who participated in many of the great raids over Germany, and Otto - Heinrich Fries, an experienced night fighter pilot.
Colwyn Jones died in action during his second operational tour when his damaged Lancaster apparently blew up mid-air at low altitude.
The author was able to take advantage of a diplomatic posting in Germany to track down the crash site and try to establish the cause.
Fries, now in his 90s, survived the war in spite of being shot down three times, and was happy to share his own memories of those dangerous nights.
The result is a unique tale about two young men, each doing their duty as best as they could.
It will never be known if the pair actually clashed in the air. Their respective logbooks prove nothing. But they were undoubtedly in the vicinity of one another more than once.
Combatants in this aerial cat- and- mouse game were never more than fleeting shadows to each other - with occasional exchanges of machine gun fire.
Under A Bomber's Moon includes two well- chosen sections of black and white photos of the combatants, their aircraft and other relevant subjects.


Australian Aircrew Review - Review by Andy Wright

Every book is a journey. A good writer can make even a seemingly mundane assignment riveting to the point the reader is right there with him or her. But what about the ‘professional’ author, the enthusiast or the newcomer to the genre - none of whom lived the events they describe? Sure they are recounting the experiences of others but what about their journey from initial idea to published author? Often it is touched upon in the introduction and the rest of the book is dedicated to the subject matter. There is always a story behind the story. One might think it would distract from the main focus and, in some cases, no doubt this conclusion is correct. With Stephen Harris’ Under A Bomber’s Moon, however, what is really three stories in one works to enhance the reader’s experience.

UABM is as much a story of the author’s education in the bomber war as it is a tale of two airmen involved in that war. A journalist in Germany at the start of this century, the author in some respects brings several desirable skills to his quest – professional research and writing and the ability to speak German.

His project begins with family stories about his great uncle Colwyn Jones. These stories are ably supported by beautifully written letters by Col to his mother in New Zealand. Also a journalist – having completed a Master of Arts and working at the Auckland Star for 11 years – Col joins up and becomes a navigator with 149 Squadron. He is significantly older than the majority of Bomber Command aircrew and, to some extent, this is reflected in his observations and comments. He completes a hectic tour (more of that later) of 33 ops with 149, is awarded the DFC, serves as bombing leader with 1651 HCU and is then posted to 115 Squadron to serve as navigation officer. He flew one op during his seven month stay with 115 before losing his life on his first trip with 7 Squadron Pathfinder Force. Posthumously awarded a Mention In Dispatches I will tell you now his death left me feeling empty. He was a talented writer and navigator and was one of those people who everyone just seemed to warm to. Of course he had his close friends, many of whom were lost while he continued on, and Col’s letters (and the author’s writing) capture everything from immense joy to terrible sadness. The first, full-page photograph reproduced in the book is a portrait of Col and the big, toothy smile, tidy moustache, bright, smiling eyes and cap at a slight angle tell you almost everything you need to know about this man.

The letters written by Col are at the core of this book and, naturally, the author has expanded on them with contextual research. This research led – as research often does – to several instances of pure luck and, effectively, being in the right place at the right time. Early on, the author recounts the story of Col’s crew ditching their Stirling in the North Sea after an epic trip to Essen in early June 1942. In the course of his research Stephen acquires a CD of wartime BBC radio recordings of bomber crew broadcasting their experiences. Imagine his surprise when one of these recordings proves to be Col’s skipper, Eric Whitney, talking about the ditching. Having two personal recollections of such an event would be a boon for any aviation writer and the author certainly makes good use of this opportunity. However perhaps the most fortuitous opportunity to ‘cross his bows’ was the chance to meet and interview Otto Fries – a former Luftwaffe night fighter pilot whose tally of RAF bombers shot down is well into double figures. Otto’s story is given equal weight to Col’s and in many ways acts as a fascinating foil to what otherwise would have been ‘another’ well-written account of ‘another’ remarkable Commonwealth airman.

Otto flew the Me 110 and He 219 during his night fighter career but, while he obviously made an impact, his war was certainly not one-sided. Remarkably he and his radar operator survived being shot down several times by both RAF night fighters and the defensive guns of the bombers they hunted. Indeed his war could just as easily have made a book on its own. While I am familiar with the aircraft used by the Luftwaffe and their general ‘MO’, this was definitely the first time I had had a window into the minutae of a German flier’s life. What I knew already was that young fliers, no matter what nationality, were essentially all the same. It was just the uniforms, language and aircraft that were different. However, Otto’s memories and experiences also make a serious contribution that is not often encountered in books about Commonwealth aircrew – he gives the Germans a face. How often are Germans referred to as just a Ju 88 or Me 109 or even mere trucks or trains on the ground? This is usually out of necessity and due to a story being told by the person who experienced it (and all they would have seen was the machine). It is refreshing, therefore, to see what the night skies over Germany were like for ‘the other side’ especially when applied to the context of an Allied airman’s war.

While the biographies of either flier could easily take up another few paragraphs it is the writing and structure of this book that I really want to cover – the actual review as it were. Stephen Harris weaves his journey of discovery about Col and the bomber war in general with that of Col’s operational tour. He visits Col’s old airfields and haunts and gets to grips with the time and Col’s contemporaries (there’s a fascinating link to Middleton VC as uncovered in Col’s letters). However he casts an understandably modern eye over the bomber war and the destruction it caused. He is critical of the effectiveness and comes within a hair’s breadth of questioning the morality of it all before countering with reference to the persecution of the Europeans and the Germans' own contribution to large-scale bombing tactics (here he uses Col’s letters referring to exacting some revenge for the bombing of London and Coventry). That the author is new to this ‘world’ is evident – more of that later – and this fact is certainly not lost on him as he writes. It was clear he realised he was looking at events of 60 years ago with 21st Century ideals so his balanced approach stretches far beyond telling the story of an Allied AND a German airman.

An earlier review of this book featured in a military history magazine took offence to the use of ‘arsonists’ when referring to the bomber crews. At the time I was still reading the book and had yet to encounter that passage so reserved judgment while thinking perhaps the ‘modern’ ideals had ‘won out’ for a brief period of time during Stephen’s writing. My natural reaction to the use of this term is one of considerable frustration so I was relieved to discover its use at the start of Chapter Nine – a chapter that is devoted to Otto’s flying and his first victory – was to illustrate the opinion of a confused night fighter pilot over the burning cities of Cologne and Hamburg. While very much a controversial word to use in this genre, this is perhaps the tamest but maybe most relevant use I have seen. It was certainly not intended to stir!

The writing itself is easy to follow but the careers of both airmen might feel somewhat disjointed (and that’s not because of the various chapters dedicated to one or the other). The author, particularly with Col’s service, uses major career events to illustrate the bomber war itself (tactics, equipment etc) and these can jump around a little in terms of chronology. That said, this ties in with the author’s own discoveries and learning and is what makes the book as accessible and understandable to ‘novice’ readers as it is to Bomber Command regulars. It introduces the major factors influencing each force’s operations while providing enough gritty detail.

As alluded to previously the author is new to aviation and the bomber war in particular. His experience as a journalist overcomes most of the issues that this would bring but the occasional hiccup does get through. An aircraft’s horizontal stabiliser is referred to on several occasions as the “tail’s cross-piece” while the airspeed indicator becomes a “speedometer”. Little picky things, yes, but both serve to remind you that this is all new to the author while reinforcing the generally superb effort he clearly put in.

His journalistic skills come to the fore when using square brackets ([…]) to clarify jargon or tidy up running references in correspondence. You may recall my opinion of these was quite scathing in the review of Ford-Jones’ Desert Flyer but in UABM they are used expertly although occasionally there is a bit of over-kill – “…flying at 600ft [altitude]…”.

The handling of the news of Col’s death is understated (although the investigation and first-hand accounts of the incident are very well done) with the author simply relating the facts of what various family members did while leaving the emotion to those who knew Col best. Indeed, Chapter 14 includes more text from letters of condolence than it does descriptive text and is wonderfully constructed and a perfect epitaph.

With excellently laid-out endpapers UABM continues a tradition I’ve noticed with paperbacks about New Zealand aircrew – it looks superb. The thick card covers include flaps front and rear and the artwork is attractive … but quite improbable. With an He 219 in that position the mid-upper gunner on the visibly undamaged Stirling would be hammering away at the German aircraft and/or the bomber would be standing on a wingtip to evade. As I progressed through the book, though, my impression of the cover changed. Rather than this being an interception the cover is of two aircraft flying together in the night sky – comrades-in-arms as it were. In many respects that’s exactly what these opposing airmen were.

While on the subject of illustrations the two sections of photos – 36 in all – are wonderfully reproduced on glossy paper while several maps appear on the high-quality ‘text’ pages. The photos are excellent, were all new to me and cover both airmen’s experiences while also including recent photographs taken during the author’s investigations.

So, now that we’ve traveled through a review that barely scratches the surface of UABM, what have we got? The stories of three men – Col, Otto and the author – and their journeys of discovery, one of which was cut far too short. In a sense, the author continues Col’s story and breathes life into what otherwise would have been one of the many lost airmen who will never have anything written about them. In so doing he turns a remarkable journey into a very special one. While it is not known whether Otto and Col shared the same piece of sky like they do on the cover, the inclusion of Otto’s experiences not only opens the reader’s eyes to the German experience but adds to the understanding of the dangers Col, and the thousands of young men just like him, faced in the night skies over Europe. I can only hope Stephen Harris builds on the journey he has undertaken and applies his knowledge to another aspect of the bomber war. If it’s anything like UABM, it will be worth the read.
As I have said this is a superb looking book and, although a paperback, would easily compete with a hardback in terms of quality of production. Exisle Publishing is new to me and I do not think they have published any other books in this genre. Here’s hoping they get the chance.

This review copy came direct from Exisle and it is available from them online – Exisle Publishing. I have also seen it in several chain bookstores and museum gift shops so it is readily available. At more than 200 pages it is an easy size to read and is crammed full of information which makes it a very worthwhile purchase.


Otago Daily Times - Review by Clark Isaacs

In writing about the savagery of conflict between the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe over the night skies of Germany in World War 2, Stephen Harris has focused on the exploits of two brave airmen on the opposing sides.
Relying greatly on the diary and letters home of his great-uncle Colwyn (Col) Jones, a reporter on the Auckland Star, who joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force at the age of 32 and became a navigator-bomb aimer in the RAF, the author undertook considerable research in the areas over which Col risked his life.
But this is the story too of Otto-Heinrich Fries, a German fighter pilot, who survived the war and with whom the author had many conversations.
Halfway through Col's first tour of operations, he wrote in his diary, "Essen again and coming back shot to pieces, lost the rear gunner, collided with a Wellington, shot up by a fighter, went down in the sea and none the worse."
Awarded the DFC in October 1942, Col made his final (33rd) op with 149 Squadron a few days later. It was when he began his second tour of operations in February 1944, in an Avro Lancaster, that he was killed in action.
His aircraft was among 43 bombers lost on this single raid - four of them from his own 7 Squadron, which suffered the highest losses that night. He was unusual "in that his superiors were trying to prevent him flying again because, it seems, as navigator officer for 115 Squadron he was doing a particularly good job of training navigators".
Unlike the RAF, the Luftwaffe did not screen, or ground crews, after a set number of operations, so the policy of "fly until you die" claimed many of the most seasoned pilots by the war's end.
Fighter pilot Otto (who in later life became a professor of architecture and was 90 last year), after having survived being shot down once, had his life saved by parachute three more times, as the tables were turned against the Luftwaffe.
New Zealand lost 1850 of the 6000 men who left its shores to serve in Bomber Command.
Under a Bomber's Moon delves deeply into the wartime exploits and personal backgrounds of the Kiwi and German flyer foes, as well as providing detailed and heart-rending descriptions of the savage, perilous encounters in which they courageously participated.
The well-documented book contains 36 monochrome photographs.
- Clarke Isaacs is a former chief of staff of the Otago Daily Times.

Article Link to Otago Times Website


Wings Over New Zealand Aviation Forum


Australian War Memorial Magazine - Review by Peter Pedersen

New Zealander Stephen Harris's book recounts his quest, during several years spent as a journalist/diplomat in Germany, to piece together the wartime career of his great uncle, Colwyn Jones, who died as a bomb aimer in a Pathfinder Lancaster over Berlin on 15-16 February 1944. He visits the places that Colwyn knew in Britain, some of the targets that he struck, and the German village outside which his bomber came down. Colwyn had just started his second operational tour.

Along the way, Harris becomes friendly with German night fighter pilot Otto Fries, who makes abundantly clear that the night fighters had to battle many of the same enemies as their bomber prey - such as bad weather, other night fighters (British ones!) and sometimes their own flak. Their losses were substantial.

Incidentally, Fries did not despatch Colwyn's Lancaster.

Harris has some interesting things to say about the Lancaster, widely regarded as the greatest bomber of the war. The German night fighter pilots apparently called it "the flying coffin", a label that is well justified as the survival rate from stricken Lancasters bears them out. One in six crewmen escaped from the type, as opposed to one in four from other British bombers. As a rule, though, Harris touches on the great issues surrounding the bomber offensive only when context is needed.

You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover but that's hard when the subtitle assures us that what follows is a "true story". This isn't supposed to be tabloid sensationalism, is it? As a routine anecdotal history, based on Colwyn's letters and diaries, and Fries's recollections, it might have been more reasonably subtitled Two airmen at war over Germany. Then again, Harris does call Bomber Command aircrew "arsonists", so perhaps there is a sensationalist dimension after all.


Boomerang Books Review - Review by Boomert

While there are plenty of World War II books, few exist that concurrently tell and draw comparisons between, the apparently dissimilar stories of New Zealand and German airmen. Former journalistnow diplomat Stephen Harris, was inspired to write Under A Bomber’s Moon after he was posted to Berlin and read the letters and diaries of his great uncle, a navigator-bomber who died during a raid on the same city in 1944. Experiencing the war through his great uncle’s words, Harris felt compelled to find out about the man and the history of the country in which he now lived. The investigation led him not just to find out more about his uncle, but also to meet a German airman who had survived the war. The result is a deeply personal, non-judgmental book that explores the similarities between the men and the complexities of war. Told through excerpts from Harris’ great uncles’ diaries and letters and interviews with German Otto-Heinrich Fries, Under A Bomber’s Moon offers more than tales of daring bombing raids--it tells the stories of two men who could be our relatives and, as with the recently released WW I related Wolf, provides a new and human insight into a much-documented war.
This review from Australian Bookseller & Publisher magazine (October 2009, Vol 89, No. 3) is reproduced by kind permission of Thorpe-Bowker, a division of R R Bowker LLC. © Copyright 2009, Thorpe-Bowker.