Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Eric M. Bergerud on " Fetishizing the enemy "

Back in 2013 I wrote an 'opinion piece' in response to a 'Sprue Cutters Union' debate on what would not pass across your workbench. One respondent wrote '..Luftwaffe aircraft - I won't model anything with a swastika on it...' Part of my response to this follows;

".. the amount of fuss and brouhaha made over some newly kitted Luftwaffe aircraft types - the Me 262 and of course the latest Bf 109 kits spring to mind - is often I feel inappropriate. The fuss heralding the new Zoukei Moura Heinkel He 219 is typical of this sort of unhealthy fan-worship - the He 219 was a relatively inauspicious type, constructed in low numbers with only a handful of combat feats to its name, yet it is unfailingly and unceasingly built up as some sort of charismatic, even 'sexy' aircraft. I don't for the life of me know why. Ditto for the Tiger tank. A great big slab-sided monster that invariably had to be scuppered by its crews as they couldn't move it when it broke down - which was often. Nearly all the 120 Tigers deployed in Normandy for example were lost within eight weeks of the D-Day landings. Of course in many instances some of the fuss that we modelers make over these subjects is reserved for the sheer quality of the kit itself - as modelers we can simply admire and appreciate a super new tool for the technology involved in producing it and the finesse and incredible detail of the parts.  On a wider level we may even recognise the quality of the technology the Germans developed in 1944-45; after all even if the V-2 rocket (for example) was a terrible waste of resources and lives and achieved next to nothing, it undeniably helped put man on the moon. Of course war drives technological change and advancement. One point never to be forgotten though - German industrial prowess during the war years owes everything to the massive deployment of foreign and slave labour in appalling conditions -between 1942 and 1944 over 650,000 Frenchmen alone went to work in German factories. Despite this however many German pilots and crews were completely apolitical- some brave souls even removed the Hakenkreuze from their aircraft- and certainly not all Germans were Nazis ( a British term designed as an insult - not used by Germans themselves ) and many had deep misgivings about the regime. Possibly none of the leading Luftwaffe aces such as Hartmann and Barkhorn, Steinhoff etc were Nazis either - after all men such as these were instrumental in re-launching the Bundesluftwaffe in the 1950s as a bulwark against Soviet Communism. Nor can you deny the place of some German aircraft types in history - 33,000 examples of the Bf 109 constructed makes it an important type whoever deployed it. As a modeler what I try not to do is portray Spitfires and P-51s with swastikas on them (captured examples); that does appear to me to be purely gratuitous. To respond to your point about 'non-modelers' looking askance at us Luftwaffe modelers I can simply point to the huge efforts deployed here in the UK recently to raise the last surviving Dornier Do 17 bomber from the waters of the English Channel, where we put it over 70 years ago during the Battle of Britain! The editorial in the current edition of the German aircraft magazine "Flugzeug Classic" even thanks the British for doing this and argues that gestures like this towards former enemies serve to advance the cause of peace. My feeling is that while there is of course generally speaking huge antipathy towards the swastika and all it stands for, the machines themselves even though developed under that evil regime can still largely be appreciated..and modeled.."

Over on Doog's blogspot this same theme was pursued under the header " Fetishizing the enemy ". Recently author of the monumental work on the Pacific Air War "Fire in the Sky" Eric M. Bergerud posted a contribution to the debate which I reproduce below..

"....In past years I’ve taught and written military history for a living – WWII and Vietnam mostly so I’ve thought about the pull German topics have often. Among people like me who were born in the wake of WWII, there’s an undoubted interest in things German. Newly invented TV was deluged with WWII series – I’d guess everyone my age knew what Hitler looked like by age 10. And everyone’s father was in the war – most fighting Germans. I lived in Alexandria VA in 1975 and there was a big military memorabilia store – German stuff was top dollar – especially anything SS. I sold books via the Military Book Club and they always had entries like “SS Daggers.” I suppose it appealed to some “blood and soil” wannabees. The SS, and German tankers, also wore black uniforms – quite nicely tailored also (this was intentional – Himmler has fashion consultants) and were keen on images – the swastika is powerful, ditto the “deaths head.” I actually doubt there have ever been many American neo-Storm Troopers out there – in my experience it’s a rare American who knows much about history. But there’s something baddass, or counter cultural (think biker gangs with German helmets and swastikas) that has its appeal. (Wonder how much money a good Luger would bring at auction?)

As to models, you’ve on to something. You could have pointed to ships also. I share your fondness for ScaleHobbist – and if you want to buy a 1/350 battleship, there are more German selections than US. So the unbalance is real enough. I have no idea why German aircraft have such attraction except, as you note, the bad guys made very good looking machines. (Gotta think Darth Vader and the Empire here – Lucas fashioned them after the SS – complete with Storm Troopers). The FW and 109 are lovely planes. The 262 is also a splendid bird with deep history. (And, to be fair, German ships were very easy on the eye.) But the other bad guys had neat planes too. To my eyes, the Zero has nearly perfect lines – the wings and tail are particularly graceful – it’s my aesthetically favorite warplane. The Macchi 202/205 is also a beautiful plane – but there aren’t dozens of kits Japanese or Italian planes. (Hasegawa and Tamiya do have a home market of course.) All fighters are neat – high performance planes are a little like high performance boats/ships – rather look at a 12 meter yacht or a fishing trawler? a modern frigate or an oil tanker? Yet I don’t share the universal admiration for the Spitfire look – the wing is just too much. Our planes all have kind of a business-like appeal, but don’t win beauty contests. The P 51 reminds me of a guppy; the 38 is two planes stuck together; some pilots called the Corsair “hose nose” for a reason; the Hellcat/Wildcat – successful uglies. The Jug is the quintessential US fighter – it evokes Detroit iron and a couple thousand machine gun bullets – a flying sledgehammer. But lines aside, the allies made more distinct types than did the Germans. (The Japanese had more fighter types than the Germans, although only the Zero and Oscar were produced in WWII type numbers.) And worse – many are not well represented by model makers. The P-38 begs for a new rendition in 1/48 – be a whopper in 1/32. Eduard finally did a proper Tempest, but we do need a good Typhoon. The B-26 has no in print model period. There’s no good B-24 in 1/72 or 1/48. (Guess Hobbyboss has just released a 1/32: unfortunately I need my garage for a car.) The Soviets intentionally kept their variants to a minimum – but I’d think the LA-5 and IL2 would both deserve multiple kits.

 A couple of things go on in the armor world I think. First, in this regard the Germans really did lead the field in subjects to model. Since the 50s experts on military technology have criticized the Germans for their ceaseless tinkering with weapons which was extremely inefficient. (Albert Speer admitted he was never able to stop over-engineering – but Nazi German was not an efficient place – thankfully.) After the 1941 “T-34/KV shock” there was this desire to put a 75mm gun on anything that could move and you do get a lot of weapons. Here the contrast is marked with the allies. The Russians always believed in “keep it simple stupid.” (There were serious doubts about the T-34 in 1940 – ended on June 21 the next year.) The US was reluctant to make big changes because of efficiency, but also because of logistics. The Brits made quite a few – mainly because they couldn’t come up with a good one until 1945. And unless you’re a “Shermaholic” there is a certain limit to what a modeler can do in US olive drab, UK khaki green or Rooskie green. I like Panzergrau, but it’s the late war German kits that wrack up the numbers – and the very nature of the 3 color scheme meant that there are an almost unlimited way to paint a German tank. (I’m a WWII partisan, and would avoid SS stuff – but I think that would mean not building most Tiger Is and all Tiger IIs. Fortunately Wehrmacht artillery kept their mits on Stugs which prevented the SS from getting their pick of those.) Also, I think Chinese firms have something of a herd mentality. Dragon makes German models. So, last year alone Rye Field, Tacom and Meng all came out with Panthers – two with full interiors (yikes). To be fair, Tacom has done a very nice Grant/Lee and it was needed. (note- Eric fails to mention the huge and horrible Model Collect E 100 'land cruiser')

Yet if history means anything to a modeler, there are some major allied weapons that are mostly on the shelf. Where are US half-tracks and scout cars? How about US and Soviet tank destroyers? If a modeler has five Tigers and no Stalins; or five Panthers and no T-34/85s that’s a way of saying history isn’t very important. (No real reason it should be of course.)

There’s one port in the storm. Tamiya continues to amaze. I’ve never made a Panther, and I’m working on Tamiya’s new Panther D right now – splendid kit. But look at their recent “new tool” armor kits. There’s a US M-10 and Sherman “Easy Eight” (Tamiya’s version – not to be confused with the brief Tamiya rebox of a Tasca); a Lend Lease M5 Stuart and US Scout Car; a jaw-dropping WWI MK IV (with an electric motor), a Valentine and an Archer. Maybe best of all, they took their super-neat BT-7 and turned it into a SU-76 – the second most produced Soviet AFV of the war and a very effective weapon. All of this against one Panther. Why a new Tamiya Spitfire and 109 in 1/48? Maybe it was simply to bring their 1/32 technology to the more common 1/48 scale and put everyone else in their place. I’ve got both along with the new Hein and they’re beauts. I know many wanted a 1/32 Jug, but Tamiya ration their kits. Maybe next year. But, I hope, Tamiya picks a 1/48 Lightning – that would sell. (Might as well plug the “new Airfix” – their kits of the last five years aren’t without flaws, but they’ve competently covered some really neat subjects and not German dominated – just finished their P-40B and C-47. And they’ve just come out with a new Wellington – a very important plane that has inspired some lame models up till now.)...."