Tuesday 30 October 2018

The story behind the Luftwaffe book(s) - a Luftwaffe blog interview with Jochen Prien

Hello Jochen, thank you for being willing to appear on the Luftwaffe blog and for answering my questions. Could you please relate a little about yourself as writer and historian?  How did you come to write the history of JG 53 ?

Well, there are two different questions there! What can I say about myself as a writer and historian ? That's a difficult one. I’m not an educated historian, just someone very much interested in recent German history, in particular that of the Luftwaffe. I have commented on my motivation in several earlier posts on TOCH and LRG – suffice it here to say that a main drive of my occupation with the Luftwaffe fighter force is the fact that I’m truly grateful to live in a time in which so far no one has fired a shot at me other than my father’s generation which was deprived of their youth and had to go through the war instead. Therefore I feel obliged to try to create a forum where the names of those which fell victim to the war are preserved.  And one thing I can say for certain as a writer is that I want to come as near to the actual facts as possible; at the same time I want to overcome long living legends and most of all the remnants of Propaganda and Nazi ideology which is still evident in several publications dealing with the Luftwaffe up to this day.  

As for JG 53 – well, I certainly did not wake up one day being struck by the idea that I should write the unit history of JG 53. In fact it was much rather a matter of coincidence. In 1985 I was asked to team with Gero von Langsdorff, Hans Ring and Winfried Bock to research and write the history of JG 3, this being a project of the verterans association of the Udet Geschwader. It ended in dismal failure as the association and in paticular its president proved to be totally incapable of any sort of reasonable co-operation and support and, what was even worse, aiming at censoring the manuscript to bring it in line with their perception of history. So, deeply frustrated we quit this project.

While this was still going on and with nothing at hand to spend time on the JG 3 project, I continued my search for material for my collection. In mid 1986 I came into contact with Julius – Jule – Meimberg who invited me to his home asking me to show him what material I had on JGs 2 and 53. Back then it was still possible to stuff all of it in a laundry basket and so I drove to Münster. I returned with all of his albums and documents but had to leave my material with him as security. Two weeks later I swapped my binders for his material. On this occasion he sort of casually enquired why I shouldn’t write the unit history of JG 53 – he had an uncanny persuasiveness and on the background of my JG 3 frustration he quickly talked me into his project so that I accepted.

Next time we met – around September 1986 - Jule had gathered four more JG 53 veterans, Helmut Bennemann, former Kommodore, Alfred Hammer, long time Staffelkapitän of 6./JG 53 and former Gruppenkommandeur of IV./JG 53, Wolfgang Dreifke, former Geschwader-Adjutant and finally Walter Rupp, flamboyant former Kapitän of 3rd Staffel. Together they signed a recommendation addressed at all former members of JG 53 to help me research and write the history of their Geschwader. This document over the next year opened the vaults of several hundred former pilots and ground-crew men of JG 53, leading to a steady flow of both documents and photos. The year 1988 was spent with writing the manuscript, the first part of which was published in 1989 if I remember it correctly. Unfortunately the printing and binding quality of Vol. 1 produced by Flugzeug Verlag was so bad that I decided to publish the remaining two volumes myself with the help of Struve Druck, generously assisted by a loan given by Jule and the other four sponsors – they gave it with the provision that only as much had to be refunded as the sales of the books allowed, the rest à fond perdu. It was paid back in total.

What was your first published article/book? 

My first published article / book  ? – that’s an easy one! In Luftfahrt International Issue 11/ 1980 I published an article dealing with the red bands on the engine cowlings of JG 53’s Bf 109 Es during the BoB entitled "Rote Ringe - Jagdgeschwader 53". Looking back at it now it was sort of poking in the mist yet it alerted the late Michael Payne who became a very good friend for many years.

How did your interest in the Luftwaffe develop - your father won the Ritterkreuz but was not an aviator I believe? 

My father was in fact responsible for my interest in Luftwaffe matters in general and in the Bf 109 in particular, not because of his own war-time experience as a tank officer but because he started to build scale models in the early fifties, lining them up on a nylon thread above my bed. So when I went to bed and when I woke up as a child there were always a string of aircraft models dangling from the ceiling above me. This of course triggered my interest to build models on my own – and the Bf 109 was the most appealing in my eyes ( and still is ).               

How do you recall writing and researching in the pre-internet pre-personal computer era? The jacket ‘blurb’ on the original German language edition of both the JG 53 and JG  77 histories if I remember correctly explained that the text was type-written and photo-statted to produce the finished work? 

It was totally different in many ways. Research was done by going personally to as many archives and museums as possible, in Germany and abroad, such as the Studiengruppe Luftwaffe, the Bundesarchiv and the BA/Bildarchiv, the BA at Kornelimünster, Sammlung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, IWM, ECPA to name just a few. Archives in the US could only be approached by writing letters. The most comprehensive means of information were micro-films with lots of original Luftwaffe documents stored but it was quite a cumbersome procedure to exploit the information. Most of the work was done by writing letters and using the telephone. It was all much slower than today and the waiting for a return letter was often enervating. There can be no doubt however that it was much more difficult then to create a comprehensive representation of for instance a unit history.

One thing however was much better then – there were still many former pilots and ground-crew men around who were willing to help and still had a good memory.

Yes, it is true that all three volumes of JG 53 and the first two of JG 77 were written with a simple NEC writing system with the text being stored on numerous floppy-discs. The text was printed and the photos inserted by Struve Druck.        

Just how much time is devoted to the writing and research of your JfV series? how is the work load shared with your collaborators? There are now some 18-20 volumes in this series..is the ‘end’ in sight or is it still ‘open-ended’?

Don’t ask me how much time is devoted to writing and research – a lot! In our team I’m responsible for the text and the photos, whereas Gerhard checks the loss lists and Winfried contributes the information for the claims lists and re-checks the loss lists and the text. Of course we constantly discuss many issues underway. 

The end of the JFV series is in sight. After Vol. 13/IV, V and VI containing the statistical parts of the service over Germany and France in 1944 as well as Norway against the Western allies  there will be most likely either one big or two medium volumes covering the Mediterrannean ToW in 1944. The final major chunk dealing with 1944 will be the East, most likely two or three volumes. That will leave us with 1945 – no idea yet how best to tackle this.    

Some of your work has been published in English, but most of it has not - why is this ? Would you not achieve a wider readership if you published in English for example? 

Well, I’m a native German dealing with a German topic so it is not entirely unusual that this is done in German. But yes, I would be very happy if at least the JFV series could be published in English but so far it has been impossible to find a publisher for such an undertaking, even less so as there is no guarantee that the series will actually ever be completed. Even the prospect of a substantial up-dating of the manuscript and an equally substantial addition of new photo material has so far not triggered any tangible interest. 

What do you think of the Osprey ‘Aces’ series - more to the point would you ever consider writing a book for Osprey, as some otherwise serious researchers have started to do. And people like Erik Mombeeck have launched their own book series such as ‘Luftwaffe Gallery’. Would you ever consider releasing your research/collection in this more ‘accessible’ type of format?

Well, I'd certainly be prepared to offer my material gathered over the last 20 years for a revised English version of the JFV series but I’m not planning anything like Mombeek’s Luftwaffe Gallery. 

I have never seen a copy of the Osprey “ Aces “ series so I cannot comment on that. Yet I cannot imagine to write something about aces as this is a subject I do positively dislike for several reasons.

That's an interesting comment. I suspect you dislike the fact that many of the aces achievements may be taken out of context and inflated in importance as they possibly were by wartime propaganda?

In my opinion there is way too much emphasis being laid on the phenomenon of German fighter aces and their scores in Luftwaffe publications, often not far away from wartime propaganda; to me they were just a part of the overall picture and certainly not the most important one. From  a distance of almost 80 years the number of claims filed should no longer be sufficient reason to focus on this small group of pilots: it seems more appropriate to acknowledge the fact that all pilots, the old hares like the young newcomers, had but one life to lose and that the unnamed pilots that perished in the war deserve the same space in the history of the German fighter arm as do the so-called aces. At the end of the day the number of claims a fighter pilot scored for me is not enough – at least even to this day - to elevate him above the rest.        

You also comment in your Gruppen histories from time to time on the German fighter aces 'naivety' and their naive 'world view' (cf. letter from Badum in JG 77 Teil II where he describes Russia as being 'dirty'). In your Intro to JG 27 you of course also recognise that the ace pilots were part of the Wehrmacht which made possible AH's policy of conquest  ..among other things..

When I comment on the naivety of the German fighter pilots in Hitler’s war on several occasions this is in most cases not intended to be critical in the sense of an accusation; nobody who was not around then or in any comparable situation since and had to go through the same experience is entitled to criticize those young men for their perception of the countries and the population they were sent to. It’s just very striking in many cases to see just how much they were caught in the results of their (school-) education, intensively formed by the Nazi ideology, being led by a spirit of German superiority that left no space for scepticism or even criticism with respect to the part Germany played in the war. Another frequently encountered theme was the comparison between the social and economical situation in several – predominantly eastern and south-eastern – countries and the circumstances back home, almost inevitably leading to the conclusion that Germany was the superior nation. In not really few cases this comparison and the resulting high self-esteem led to the credo that Germany through the Wehrmacht was in fact called upon to bring order to the occupied countries. The tragedy was just how far the often – really or just imagined - good intentions were from the reality of the Nazis' war aims. A very wide field indeed and certainly too much to be addressed here comprehensively.              
 I read a while ago that you were updating your Gruppe unit histories?

That‘s just a side-line – it’s true that in the spare time between the completion of another volume and the start of the next I have started to re-write the histories of JGs 53 and 77 on the basis of the vast amount of new information which has become available over the last 20 or so years. Work on JG 53 has reached the end of 1940, that on JG 77 early October 1941. I cannot say whether these efforts will ever lead to complete new unit histories – it’s just very interesting and helpful to amalgamate the wealth of new information with the old manuscript.   

Jochen, I believe you are a partner in a law firm and work as a barrister. What are you planning for your retirement and will you have more or less time for research and writing ?

Retirement is not yet an issue with three sons still to finish school or university; and honestly I have no concrete plans other than – if possible – to retire in 2021.  

We hear a lot about today’s generation having little or no interest in the events of 75 years ago that shaped our world -are your own sons interested in your work/ the subject area at all?’

My three sons, different as they are, are all interested in German history but not directly through my work and not in Luftwaffe matters in particular. They all made feeble attempts at modelling but this didn’t last long. But we can – and do – discuss historical issues for hours on end which is great fun and quite inspiring at times.

Which of your many publications are you most proud of ? Could you describe the most rewarding aspects of the book production process? And some of the frustrations?

I’m not particularly proud of any of the books I have published – for me it’s not a matter of pride. When I sometimes re-read some of the older volumes I arrive at thinking that it wasn’t really bad but given time and the necessary means most of it could have been done better.

The most rewarding aspects certainly were the many postive, sometimes very personal reactions from former pilots and ground-crew men who felt that the the unit histories had done their service and their deprivations justice. This of course mainly applies to the unit histories of JG 1 / 11, 53 and 77 and – to a lesser extent – those of JGs 3 and 27. Work on the unit histories brought me in touch with a number of very interesting, sometimes outstandig personalties, the most prominent one being Julius Meimberg. Just as rewarding was the fact that through my occupation with the Bf 109 and the Luftwaffe fighter units I made friends with many very decent fellow historians all over the world – if I started to name them here I fear that I might forget one and therefore refrain from it. But they are many and I’m glad to have made their acquaintance or even gained their friendship.

Frustrations – yes, there are many but they don’t go deep and are not worth to go into detail here. As my good friend John Beaman once put it – swatting gnats.        

Thank you Jochen for responding to an approach from the Luftwaffe blog and on behalf of the air warfare enthusiast fraternity, thank you for your work!

"...You're welcome. One last thing .. the photo of myself was taken today (03 September 2018) on the North Sea coast on the island of Sylt where my wife and I spent a most enjoyable short weekend. And no, I have no photos either of Gerhard or Winfried – as far as I know Gerhard and Winfried have never met personally, the three of us have most definitely never met up together. So no photos of the crew - I'm not sure that they would be a sales incentive anyway!..."

Below; the latest volume in the huge ‘Luftwaffe fighter unit‘ series from Jochen Prien....Volume 13 part 3, nearly 700 A-4 pages covering Jan-Sept 1944, entitled "Operations in the West".
The Jagdfliegerverbände series and Jochen Prien's individual Gruppen histories are available via his website at http://jagdgeschwader.net

Paypal accepted and orders are expertly packaged and processed rapidly!

Also on this blog; more stories behind the Luftwaffe books!

author interviews with  Eddie Creek
                                      Robert Forsyth
                                      Jean-Yves Lorant
                                      John Vasco
                                      Jan Forsgren
                                      Alexander Steenbeck

Sunday 28 October 2018

Fw 190 A-8 W.Nr 682204 (red 1) of Lt Bretschneider of 5./JG 300 - Reichsverteidigung Limited Edition Eduard 48th scale. Luftwaffe models

via a poster on the 12 o clock high forum;

"...I have recently purchased the new Eduard model of the "Sturmbock". One of the seven options on the decal sheet is for the Fw 190 A-8 W.Nr 682204 (red 1) of Lt Bretschneider of 5./JG 300 in late 1944. Pictures of this machine can be found in most references covering the history of JG 300 especially page 70/71 of volume 2 of the history of this unit written and compiled by Jean-Yves Lorant and entitled "Bataille dans le ciel d'Allemagne" Alternatively see page 363 of "Focke Wulf Jagdflugzeug..." by Peter Rodeike. The instructions in the Eduard kit state that "according to new sources, the inscription below the cockpit (Rauhbautz VII) was yellow with red shadowing... and the spinner carries a white spiral on a red background...".

 As far as I know there are no new sources as such - but modellers have been finishing kits of Bretschneider's machine in this fashion for many years. That said the Rauhbautz VII inscription on the Sturmbock of Lt Klaus Bretschneider is usually depicted as being red, according to one expert " a lighter red than the RV-band (which was wine red) with dark shadows ". At least this is the colour that the veterans recall. However some modellers have preferred to depict the inscription in yellow with a dark outline. Two examples from Chris Wauchop and Floyd Werner to name just two..

 So while I tend to doubt there are any new sources as such which could confirm the colours either way Eduard have wisely chosen to provide the modeller with both options in their kit. However take a look at the three images below which are well known. Note the yellow ring on the rear cowl edge signifying the Notleistung emergency power boost. Note how it corresponds more or less to the inscription  - which is outlined in a darker colour. And of course on some types of film yellow is one of those colours that does look a little dark as the experts are always telling us. Equally panchromatic film can turn red a much paler shade - virtually white - in certain lighting conditions - the images of oxen pulling machines of III./JG 300 with 'white' fuselage bands and gear legs comes to mind here. Here are three images where the 'Rauhbautz'  inscription appears to be quite 'light' in shade..

On 24 December 1944 the acting Kommandeur of II.(Sturm)/JG 300, Klaus Bretschneider was shot down and killed by Mustangs. Call sign Specht Anton - Bretschneider- scrambled at the head of JG 300 against an 8th AF raid - was easy prey for the aces of the 357th FG. His Schwarm had been directed right into the path of the aggressively flown P-51 Mustangs. His Sturmbock Fw 190 A-8 (W.Nr. 682204) was  a specialist bomber destroyer variant fitted with cockpit armour and 30mm cannon and entirely unsuited to dogfighting. The hapless German pilot plummeted to earth near Kassel, almost certainly dead at the controls. His loss was a hard blow for his pilots. Klaus Bretschneider flew Wilde Sau sorties with JG 300 in July 1943 with 6. Staffel then 5. Staffel, claiming 14 victories by night. Before being appointed Kapitän of 5. Staffel and serving as acting Kommandeur, Klaus Bretschneider served also in the Stab II./JG 300 and Stab/JG 300 and by the time of his death he had claimed 20 additional victories against US aircraft by day. The 'eternal Leutnant' had been promoted to the rank of Oberleutnant and, by late 1944, was a rare Defence of the Reich fighter leader to wear the Knights Cross.

Both Chris and Floyd's superlative model builds can be seen on hyperscale.

More Ebay Emils! (and the odd Friedrich) Kommandeur machine II./JG 3 1940 Erich von Selle - ebay photo find 291

Gruppenkommandeur II./JG 27 in January 1940, Erich von Selle was appointed to command II./JG 3 in February 1940. He fought in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, claiming a Spitfire over the Thames on 26 August 1940, two more Spitfires on 30 August over Dungeness and on 7 September over London as well as a Hurricane on 29 September south of London. On 1 October 1940, Hauptmann von Selle took up a staff position with Nachtjagddivison. In July 1941 he was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 54 on the Eastern Front, until December the same year. Promoted to Major, von Selle became Geschwaderkommodore JG 1 during the period January 1942 – August 1942. Oberstleutnant von Selle commanded JG 101 fighter training wing from December 1942 - April 1944. He then commanded Zerstörergeschwader 1 until July 1944. He is credited with 7 aerial victories.

Below;  Hptm. Werner Machold's 7./JG 2 Bf 109 E-4. Note the 71/02 fuselage mottle, late September 1940.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Bf 109 G-14 of 5./JG 5 (13./JG 4) Reinsdorf, Finsterwalde September- November 1944 - ebay photo find 290

Above; Reinsdorf, September 1944. Pilots of 5./ JG 5 soon to become 13./JG 4 in the defence of the Reich. Pilots named in the photo above (see caption reverse below) include Uffz. Friedrich Zink, WIA 2 November, Staka 5./JG 5 Lt. Paul Weitzberg KIA 2 November and Ofw. Hermann Holtkötter. G-14/AS background left, note Morane antenna under the port wing and deeper oil cooler just visible. (see below) - edit; picture sold for 431 euros.

16 October 1944 was the last day the unit fought under the designation "II./JG 5"- two pilots were killed, a single pilot was wounded and no less than sixteen aircraft were lost. Four days later an order emanating from Luftflotte Reich re-designated II./JG 5 as IV./JG 4. The Gruppe, still at Finsterwalde, was organised as follows;

 IV./JG 4 (ex-II./JG 5): Hptm. Franz Wienhusen,

13./JG 4 (ex-5./JG 5): Lt. Paul Weitzberg,
14./JG 4 (ex-6./JG 5): Lt. Ernst Scheufele,
15./JG 4 (ex-4./JG 5): Oblt. Lothar Wolff,
16./JG 4 (ex-8./JG 5): Oblt. Hans Schleef.

Staffelkapitän of 5./JG 5 since 1942, Hptm. Franz Wienhusen had spent several months at Lamsdorf in Upper Silesia as an instructor before being appointed to command II./JG 5 in September 1944. He had achieved around twelve victories in air combat.

 Lt. Paul Weitzberg had been posted to 4./JG 5 when the unit was still in Norway during 1943 before succeeding Hptm. Franz Wienhusen at the head of 5. Staffel during the spring of 1944. He was KIA on 2 November 1944. Among his pilots was the experienced Ofw. Hermann Holtkötter who had flown for a long period with I./JG 5 prior to moving to 5./JG 5.

13./JG 4 on 2 November 1944 on this blog

Uffz. Friedrich Zenk third from right. Also in the line-up of 5./JG 5 (13./JG 4) at 30-minute readiness in Reinsdorf is Ofw. Hermann Holtkötter (4th from left) and Staka Lt. Paul Weitzberg next to him on the right. Most of the pilots here are "gef."  (gefallen - KIA)

Below; on 2 November 1944 Uffz. Friedrich Zenk was shot down and wounded in his G-14/AS  'white 4' 'Christel' WNr. 460337. The photo was taken the previous day in Finsterwalde.

Also reproduced in Eric Mombeek's  two volume history of JG 4 " Sturmjäger ", translated as 'Storming the bombers' by this blog writer.

Go to the author's web site here

Friday 12 October 2018

Alarmstart Norwegen JG 5 - Ebay photo find #289

via Oliver Rogge, link below

on offer here

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Bf 109 Friedrich Heinz Bär RKT I./JG 77, Staffelkapitän 7./JG 2, Oblt Egon Mayer - Ebay photo find # 288

Appointed Kommandeur I./JG 77 on 11 May 1942 Heinz Bär achieved his 100th on 19 May 1942 over the Crimea, downing five Ratas over the Kerch peninsula for his 99- 103 victories. The following day's OKW Bericht reported " Hptm. Baer, Gruppenkommandeur in einem Jagdgeschwader yesterday achieved his victories 99 - 103...Das Jagdgeschwader 77 has now raised its victory total to 2,011..**"  - views of his F-4 (W.Nr 13376) shortly after passing this milestone . I./JG 77 was ordered to Sicily in late June 1942 to fly missions against Malta.

** Stab =22, I. =538, II. =711, III. =734, ErgGr. =6  (page 1021 in Prien, Geschichte des Jagdgeschwaders 77, Teil 2)

on offer here

After the Staffelkapitän 7./JG 2, Oblt. Werner Machold, had been shot down over England on 9 June 1941 and taken captive, Oblt. Egon Mayer was appointed his successor the following day, 10 June 1941. He was photographed here in front of his 'white 1' sometime shortly afterwards. He was awarded the Knight's Cross, on 5 September 1940 after 21 victories, a figure that had risen to 32 by the time Machold was lost. Just visible in this shot is the pennant attached to the antenna mast displaying the badge of 7./JG 2. These pennants indicated the machine of the Staffelkapitän. Note the yellow lower engine cowl and the pilot’s footwear.

More on this blog

III./JG 2 convert onto the Fw 190 May-June 1942 - 7. Staffel Kapitän Oblt. Egon Mayer