Wednesday 26 January 2011

book review - Das Flurschaden-Geschwader Die Chronik des Kampfgeschwaders KG 51 Edelweiß

With many thanks to my correspondent I. Lahiri for my copy.

Jan Horn's new self-published history of KG 51 from 01 January 1944 to war's end arrived with a thud on the door mat and, given the amount of interest this book appears to have generated on the various forums,  warrants a blog post. For what they are worth, my initial impressions then.  Horn's work is a large and imposing volume (370+ pages, A-4) written up in a war-diary format with chapters assigned to individual Gruppen. The first part of the work is entitled  "The unequal fight in the West" and describes Me 410 long-range night intruder missions carried out by  I. and II./KG 51 between February 1944 and August 1944 before the author covers III./KG 51 flying Fw.190 Jabos during the same period.  III./KG 51 is rather disconcertingly illustrated with the well-known Bundesarchiv photo sequence of I./SKG 10 Fw 190 Jabos in Normandy. (see Chris Goss 'Luftwaffe Hit-and-run raiders' )  Horn's explanation being that this unit -despite no changes in structure or personnel - had been re-designated from early July 1944.

The next chapter tells the story of the Erg.Gruppe IV./KG 51 (Jan.~Dec.1944) and includes a number of unseen images. The 'heart' of the book (pages 128 to 324) covers the Me 262; from the first arrivals to the re-equipment of I. Gruppe, from Einsatzkommando Schenk to the missions of I. and II./KG 51, from Gefechtsverband Kowalewski to " the last battles ".  Pages 131-158 cover the first operational deployment of the Me 262 as a bomber, from the chaotic dispatch of the first ground echelon in July to the arrival of the best albeit hurriedly trained jet bomber pilots of the Einsatzkommando I./KG 51 (otherwise known as Kommando Schenk) to northern France through to their withdrawal to Holland in September 1944. The first bombing sorties were flown against troop concentrations along the banks of the river Seine from 25 August 1944. The 'time-line' for KG 51's first jet bomber operations in the West established by the author represents a considerable revision to previously published material. I am not an Me 262 'specialist', but there is a certain amount of 'new' material here. I am also noticing one or two interesting 'revisions' - Horn has no combat losses for 02 October 1944, just a couple of accidents. This is the date given in most sources (Smith/Creek, Hess etc..) for the first 9th AF Me 262 victory with Ofw. 'Ronny' Lauer of 3./KG 51 as victim, forced down by 365th FG P-47s in the vicinity of Njimegen. Horn has Lauer sustaining serious injuries in 9K+NL (WNr. 170 069) crashing on take off for his second sortie of the day..
For 'collectors' of these sorts of things, each sortie description is copiously detailed with the sort of information only available from flight logs, daily situation reports, Ultra decrypts, Lw. Kdo. West telegram orders and counter-orders and so forth, no doubt carefully compiled over many years of painstaking research. There are first hand accounts, most notably from Me 262 pilots; what comes across primarily is the unreliability of the jet engines and the futility of flying combat sorties piecemeal, single machines reduced to strafing American road convoys as the airspace being defended by KG 51 towards the end shrank day by day..

" ...on 13 January 1945 Ofhr. Hans Busch taxied out in Me 262 A-1a 9K+1W WNr. 170 049. After running up his engines at the western end of the runway, he released the brakes. Busch reported

 "....halfway down the runway the machine started to veer off to the starboard side - the engine on that side was obviously still not developing full thrust. With my speed now at around 130 km/h and the jet now on the frozen-hard grass, I judged it far too risky to abort my takeoff - especially since there was a farm on the edge of the airfield which I was likely to plough into. My speed was still increasing, albeit far too slowly. At 188 km/h the farm house was so close that I could do nothing but pull back in desperation on the control column in an attempt to pull the aircraft off the ground..luckily the machine responded - we were briefly airborne. I flashed over the farmhouse roof. However the aircraft was hardly flyable - more out of control - as a result of the overly steep rotation. It started to roll - despite my desperate attempts to correct with the rudder - lost height, and the starboard wing gouged into the ground..everything then happened very quickly. The undercarriage shattered into pieces, the starboard wing broke off, the nose was torn away, followed by the port wing and then the tail, so that only the central section and the cockpit was still in one piece. As the rear tanks went up the canopy was blown off and with it my flight helmet and throat mike. I was on the ground - as if I was sitting in a chair - and quickly scrambled clear on all fours. As the ambulance drove up I was already celebrating my 'birthday'. The aircraft was 95% destroyed - I escaped with an injury to my knee, singed hair and burns to my face..I was back in the air on the 31st..."

The book concludes with pages covering pilots with RK and RK/EL and holders of the Deutsche Kreuz in Gold. There is also an incomplete list of unit leaders (Kdre,Gr.Kdr, St.Kap.) and finally a list of losses. The page of references includes many internet sites with which we are probably all familiar - but none of the forums, which I found surprising.

To conclude this first look; not a cheap book by any means  and I am very fortunate in that I was able to organise an 'exchange' to secure my copy. If you collect Luftwaffe unit histories then you will probably be quite pleased to secure yours - only 500 printed after all. The title I'm afraid not only reflects the lack of 'impact' the Geschwader had on events (' the crop damage' Geschwader) but could possibly be a metaphor for the book's contents, especially if you are looking for new accounts and photographs, although you can hardly blame the author/compiler for that. There is for example, no new info on Puttfarken's loss over the UK on 23 April 1944 - the description of his last sortie is what you could expect to read almost anywhere on the internet. Sources for the mission accounts appear to be log-books and similar data, but the sources themselves are not detailed which is a shame. You wouldn't perhaps buy this for the photo content - but equally there are some nice images. The story of this Geschwader during the last year of the war is well summed up by four photos taken during December 44/January 45 of I./KG 51 pilots seen at Hopsten; Ofw. Erich Kaiser is firstly seen at a pre-sortie briefing, looking extremely apprehensive. He is then photographed in his flight gear consulting his map and performing a walk-around check of his Me 262. The fourth image in the sequence is of his burial on 03 January 1945. He had succumbed to his injuries sustained in a crash-landing after running out of fuel following 1./KG 51's dawn attack on Eindhoven during the Bodenplatte operation on New Year's day 1945 (Manhro in 'Bodenplatte' cites this crash as having occurred on 31 December, which appears unlikely since the jets were being feverishly prepared for the following day's 'big blow'). Kaiser was an experienced combat pilot with over 300 sorties in his log.  A similar incident with a rather more satisfactory outcome is related by Leutnant Erhardt Laue who reported;

"..  In early March 1945 I was ordered to fly 170 103 from Hopsten to Burg. The airfield at Hopsten was completely bombed out - and we had been ordered to transfer the remaining machines to Burg. Preparing the aircraft and the flight out were relatively straight forward - once in the air I just had to follow the Mittelland canal. I was the last but one machine to leave. I carried no munitions, neither was the radio functioning. Only on very few occasions previously would I have made a transfer flight like this.. As I approached my destination five Spitfires hove into view. However during the course of the skirmish that followed I was forced south and fast running out of fuel stood no chance of reaching Burg. I elected to carry out an emergency wheels down landing - the field I selected to put down on looked flat enough from my height. I touched down without any problems but as the aircraft ran out and was coming to a stand the nose gear leg caught in a rut. My landing would have been perfect but for a few metres more ground. I soon found out that I had put down in a marshy area near Borkheide south of Berlin..."

I am certainly hopeful that there is much more of interest to discover in the German-language text as I read through. Perhaps I may even be able to present some of the book's accounts in English...

Author Jan Horn's web site is here for orders and details of some interesting future publications