Thursday, 13 June 2019

An Eagle's Odyssey - Johannes Kaufmann (trans. John Weal), Messerschmittt Bf 109 Air War Archive - new Luftwaffe books

Johannes Kaufmann enjoyed a long and diverse flying career in the Luftwaffe. He spent the first two years of the war as an instructor before flying his first combat sorties in July 1941, having retrained as a Bf 110 Zerstörer pilot with SKG 210 and ZG 1. He participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union (Barbarossa) and as a ground-attack pilot flew low-level strafing and bombing sorties against Russian tank and troop concentrations. His war ended at the controls of a Bf 109 escorting JG 4 Selbstopfer ('self sacrifice' or suicide) pilots flying against the Oder bridges. He also managed to return twelve victories including a Thunderbolt over the Ardennes and a Shturmovik in the final days of the war over the ruins of a shattered Berlin. That he survived is testament to his flying skills. His memoir 'Meine Flugberichte' ('My flight log') first appeared in German in 1989 - the cover photo depicted him being presented with a wreath to mark his 100th combat sortie in Russia. Brief extracts from his book are featured in the Classic Pubs Zerstörer volumes - and elsewhere on this blog. His career thus spans most of Hitler's war and highlights the ever-changing demands made on the Luftwaffe's pilots. In his role as a ground attack pilot in Russia he had no experience, little training and developed his 'tactical awareness' in the unforgiving apprenticeship of combat. From low-level bombing and strafing sorties, he flew at Stalingrad and subsequently went on to maritime operations over the Atlantic with KG 40, before 're-training' as a Bf 109 fighter pilot thrown into the desperate efforts to stem the Allied bomber offensive. Unfortunately while Kaufmann's account is fascinating, the original text was a 'difficult' if not to say somewhat dull read, with timings for takeoffs and landings repeated throughout, written almost exclusively from the point of view of Kaufmann's logbook. Hence the title no doubt. However translator John Weal is well aware of this and this new English edition -  revised and enlarged from the original - attempts to rectify that situation by cutting out some of the detail and incorporating more context and background information on campaigns, locations and units. So whereas, for example, Kaufmann did not fly his first sorties with JG 4 until late summer 1944 - having seen his Ju 88 ZG 1 Gruppe disbanded and reconstituted as III./ JG 4 - the translator provides an account of this JG's establishment and early history. While Kaufmann had done little combat flying with KG 40 and ZG 1 (chapters are devoted to both units) he saw rather more action flying Reich's defence sorties against the massed formations of US bombers, clashing with Mustangs on the 27 September and 02 November missions which saw heavy losses inflicted on JG 4. 

Below; cover of Johannes Kaufmann's " Meine Flugberichte " (lit. 'My flight reports..' ). 

And while Kaufmann  did not fly on the 1.1 45 Bodenplatte operation, Weal includes an account of JG 4's participation on the New Years Day attack on the Allied air forces and the subsequent changes in command at the head of III./JG 4 resulting from the charges of 'cowardice' filed against Kommandeur Eberle.

Notwithstanding the fact that the translator's 'voice' comes to the fore throughout, the result provides a good insight into the life and times of an 'ordinary' Luftwaffe pilot. While there is a good deal of 'background' on what life with a front-line combat unit was actually like, 'political' comment is notable by its almost total absence and the 'neutral' tone adopted throughout is a little disconcerting- there is no commentary whatsoever on the evolving war situation, nor is there any sense of impending defeat and chaos. Kaufmann does at one point attend one of Hitler's rallies and listens to the three-hour speech with 'rapt attention' while during a fighter leaders training course during March 1945 Kaufmann makes the point that lectures covering the German war economy and 'post-war' diplomacy are still being delivered.. Weal's writing is always a pleasure to read and if you have any of his previous translated personal accounts such as Hanning's 'Luftwaffe Fighter Ace' then this is worthy and interesting book. Rather unfortunately perhaps there are no photographs in this new edition. If you are going to add good chunks of text a photo page insert would have rounded the book out considerably.

The latest Chris Goss-compiled Luftwaffe photo book in the Frontline 'Air War Archive' series has arrived. ' Messerschmitt Bf 109 - the latter years ' covers the period 1941-1945, with a chapter devoted to each year at the front of the book and several chapters thereafter organised according to the theatre of operations, Africa, Eastern Front etc, with a brief look at Jabo operations, foreign operators and 'Captured' machines bringing up the rear.  With a page count of 178 the book represents good value with some decent images reproduced large with comprehensive captions. The main body of the work is preceded by a 19-page look at the capture by the British of Pingel's Friedrich by way of introduction. Units covered primarily include JG 1, JG 2 and JG 26, with coverage chiefly given over to JG 27, JG 53 and JG 52 for the 'theatre' chapters.  I noted just a single photo from JG 300 in the book but highlight for me is a series of very nice images of III./JG 2 Friedrichs and a number of photos of interesting JG 77 machines that were new to me.

Captured G-6s in unusual camo finish, WNr. 20790 visible on the tail fin. See pages 84-85 of 'Bf 109 - the latter years'..seen at Fassberg according to the book caption, although A.I.2(g)/131 via Michael Balss states Wunstorf.

Bf 109 F-4/B WNr 7629 10.(Jabo)/JG 2, Oblt. Frank Liesendahl admiring his rudder scoreboard May-June 1942. Liesendahl was shot down and killed on 17 July 1942 and was awarded a posthumous RK. Compare with the image reproduced on page 98 of  'Messerschmitt Bf 109 - the latter years'..

Thanks to Pen and Sword for the review copy.