Sunday 30 August 2020

New from Éditions Arès- The Luftwaffe in France Vol I and Rogge Verlag, Jagdfliegerverbände der Deutschen Luftwaffe Teil 13 / VI

New from Éditions Arès  " The Luftwaffe in France - From the Phoney War to the invasion of the Unoccupied Zone";

From the publisher's blurb;

"...In 1939 and barely five years old, the German military air force, the Luftwaffe, was launched into what was to become World War II. With motivated and competent personnel, a strong command and good aircraft, the young Luftwaffe performed well during the first two years of the war. Forced to establish itself very largely in France in July 1940 against England, after the refusal of the British government to conclude a separate peace, it fought both day and night against Great Britain before undergoing a serious draw-down shortly before the invasion of the USSR in June 1941. The Luftwaffe was now reduced to a small size in France, but with the help of a few "key" units, the Luftwaffe continued to hold its ground against the RAF, both during the Non Stop Offensive at the end of 1941 and during the attempted Canadian landing at Dieppe in August 1942. In November 1942, the Allied landing in North Africa would force the Wehrmacht to occupy the 'zone libre' (unoccupied zone of southern France) while ensuring the air defense of Southern France. It was at this time that the lack of units and men was clearly going to be felt and, from this date, the Luftwaffe command based in France had to juggle with the meager units at its disposal. The Luftwaffe was not limited only to air detachments. In France were also present a variety of other air units - Flak, parachutists (Fallschirmjäger), airfield personnel (Fliegerhorst), signals (Nachrichten), etc. Their story is also told in this book illustrated with nearly 600 photos, many of them previously unpublished..."

Published during September 2020. Volume 1 available now for pre-order;

Publisher's website for ordering and page views is here

 Format 215 x 305 mm - Bound, hardcover, 196 pages, 600 photos, 7 color artworks. French text

Received here recently is Volume 13/VI of the enormous Jagdfliegerverbände series - indispensable for aficionadoes of the Luftwaffe fighter force, the Bf 109 or Luftwaffe history in general. Teil 13 - the defence of the Reich and operations in the West during 1944 - concludes with this latest volume from Jochen Prien and team. This volume is a 300-page large format hardback and principally covers JG 77, JG 300 and JGs 301 and 302 during 1944 in the defence of the Reich and over the 'Invasionsraum' where JG 301 in particular was active with many night-time sorties flown against the Allied bomber forces. Teil 13/VI also features additional chapters on the day fighter units operating over Norway, principally JG 5 and there is more photo material on a unit that was featured in early parts of this history, II.(J)/186 (T). Other units in this volume include the Erprobungskommando 262 and the rocket fighters of JG 400.

From Jochen Prien;

" ..JFV 13/VI, the final part of the coverage of Luftwaffe fighter operations over the Reich and the West in 1944, has now been released. It comprises 300 pages and covers Stab/JG 76, Stab, I., II. and III./JG 77, JGr. 200, Stab, I., II., III. and IV./JG 300, Stab, I., II., III. and IV./JG 301, Stab, I., II. and III./JG 302, Stab, I. and II./JG 400, Jasta Erla and EKdo. 262 as well as Stab, III., IV. and 13(Z)/JG 5 fighting against the Western allies. The addendum contains additions, corrections and several photos complementing the earlier volumes. There are in all some 180 photos. JFV 14 is in the final round of corrections and will go to the publisher before the end of September - Vol. 14 covers the operations in the Mediterranean ToW in 1944 of I./JG 2, I./JG 4, I./JG 5, Stab, III. and IV./JG 27, II./JG 51, Stab, I., II. and III./JG 53, Stab, I., II. and III./JG 77 with 10./JG 301 as well as II./JG 301. It will comprise some 460 pages and 347 photographs,so that we will have three volumes this year. And we’re approaching the end of the tunnel – just two more volumes of Part 15 – 1944 in the East -, the first already under way, and one or two for 1945. I’m really looking forward to it, and the team is determined to bring this series to a fitting conclusion.."

The publisher's Ebay sales site is here

Monday 24 August 2020

"Unser letzter Flug .." Kurland evacuation - last flight of the Luftwaffe, May 1945

The order for the capitulation of all German armed forces signed a week after the suicide of Adolf Hitler on May 7, 1945 contained a special addendum referring specifically to the Heeresgruppe Kurland and the necessity to implement an evacuation of as many personnel as possible to the West.. The following day,  May 8 1945, the Luftwaffe launched a desperate rescue mission to evacuate German wounded and troops from the 'Festung'  (the 'fortress' or rather 'pocket', the so-called Kurlandkessel) in Latvia. German forces had been effectively cut off since late 1944 by the Soviet advance. According to the Mark Felton video below, that morning - May 8, 1945 - some 35 Ju 52s flew into Grobina/Grobin in Latvia from Norway to evacuate encircled German troops from the peninsula, intending to fly the wounded troops and men with children back to Germany. Over the Baltic the transports were set upon by Soviet fighters and no fewer than 32 of the Ju 52s were set alight and downed and the mission ended in tragedy and destruction.

Mit Ju 52 aus Windau am 8 Mai 1945

".. on May 8, 1945 at around 15h00 six Ju 52s managed to get airborne from Windau and head back to Germany - Richtung Heimat! The machines were overloaded - carrying at least 30 passengers - and I needed two attempts to get airborne. Near Greifswald my machine took hits from ground fire and was set alight. I managed to make a successful crash-landing but we ended up in Soviet captivity. Did any of the comrades from that flight survive Soviet imprisonment? What became of the other five transports? Does anyone know what happened to pilots Hptm. Brettschneider and Fw. Skripitz? "

Helmut Hemmer in  Jägerblatt  magazine.

Mark Felton video -  a single click to view here

In a 1986 issue of  Jägerblatt  I./ JG 54 ace Artur Gärtner wrote;

"..I managed to get out of Kurland in a Ju 52 of Transportgeschwader 1. 1.Staffel of I./JG 54 was based in Windau but conditions on the airstrip were so bad that the Fw 190s could not get airborne. We were almost certainly bound for Soviet captivity. We were extremely thankful for the efforts of our fellow airmen in the transport units who dared to undertake those last flights into the pocket - a number of Ju 52 crews lost their lives as a result. The crews that came into Libau could have had little or no idea of the dispositions of Soviet ground forces or even the location of the front lines and many came under heavy ground fire as they flew their landing approach..."


November 1944 on the Feldflugplatz at Skrunda in Kurland - 1. Staffel pilots in front of the A-8 'white 12' flown by Staffelführer Sepp Heinzeller, fifth from the left.

For the fighters of JG 54 there were also dramatic scenes on the last day in the 'Kurlandkessel'.

In an early 1980s issue of Jägerblatt magazine, Fw. Karl Wolf,  a former II./JG 54 ground crew member, recalled;

".. in the early hours of the morning of May 8, a friend from my home town, Ogfr. Ernst Eggers of the Luftn-Truppe called me. His unit was stationed with us on the airfield at Cirawa.

" Karl, der Krieg ist aus..! - the war is over .."

I passed the news around to my comrades in our Blockhaus bunker - we were all shocked. What would happen to us now, 1200 kms from home surrounded by the Russians ('der Iwan'). It was around 02:30 when the call went out for the Staffel to assemble at our dispersal on the airfield some 4 kms distant. Transported in trucks, we were to take only what we could carry. Our 'boss' Ritterkreuzträger Oblt. Schleinhege gave out the necessary instructions and delivered a brief pep-talk confirming the war was over. There was a call of 'three cheers for the Fatherland'. At 05:00 the machines were prepared - all equipment such as radios and armament - was removed to save weight and create space. Harnesses were fitted into the fuselage spaces so that three ground crew members could be transported in each Focke Wulf 190. All remaining rations were shared out. By 07:30 the machines were ready. At 07:40 a Soviet recce machine appeared overhead - there was no flak fire and nothing moved on the airfield. A short while later as I was still in the cockpit of 'Black 8' making final checks I saw Herbert Leymann pointing to the sky to the north - it was full of Russian aircraft. Our first thought was that this was an attack on the airfield - we dashed quickly to the slit trenches and took cover as the Russians - Gott sei Dank - plastered the far side of the field. Shortly afterwards 3. Staffel flew in from Windau to make the trip home with us. We were to get airborne at 09:00. Before then several Ju 188 Fernaufklärer landed and parked up alongside the strip adding to the confusion on the small and sandy runway. At 09:00 there was another raid on the field, with no great damage and then finally at 10:00 the signal to get airborne came through ..."..Start frei.." ..I was the last of the four of us to climb into our 'black 8' retracting the footstep and giving the 'OK' signal to our pilot Ofhr. Karl Heber -  alles fertig!... "

Uffz.Karl-Heinz Höfer of 6. Staffel was another 'schwarze Mann' in the radio compartment - the so-called 'FuG-Loch'- of a Fw 190, in this particular instance Uffz. Walter's 'Yellow 12', the aircraft taking off from Libau-Nord and landing safely in Flensburg on the morning of May 8.

Below; 6.Staffel sleigh ride in Libau, 1945, Staffelkapitän Hptm. Helmut Wettstein holding the reins, Uffz.Karl-Heinz Höfer under the 'arrow', Fw. Toni Meißner on the Panjepferd.

Oblt. Gerd Thyben, Staffelkapitän of 7./JG 54 recalled the end in Kurland;

".. all sorts of rumours were circulating by the evening of May 7, 1945. When the orders for the Geschwader arrived Hptm. Findeisen, last Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 54 summoned his Staffelchefs in Libau and informed them of the surrender of all German forces and gave orders that all aircraft be made serviceable and prepared to takeoff.  In the early hours of the morning of May 8 I received the Klarmeldungen for my aircraft and Hptm. Findeisen gave us our transfer orders (Verlegungsbefehle). Takeoffs for our departure from the Courland 'fortress' were to get underway from 07:30 in Rotten or Schwarm-sized groups. Airborne that morning we set course for Kiel-holtenau  - my Katschmarek Fritze Hangebrauck was tucked in alongside me on my port side. Suddenly I spotted off to the port side in the distance and some 500 meters below us crossing our path on a northerly track a single twin-engined machine...a Soviet Pe-2..."

In a 1976 issue of Jägerblatt magazine a former Luftwaffe Techn. Inspektor based in Libau, Kurland named Wilhelm Uhlshöfer noted;

".. on May 5 I learnt that the fighter units intended to fly back to Schleswig-Holstein. However to carry out this flight each machine would need to be equipped with a 300 ltr Zusatz tank. There were plenty of drop tanks in our store. However we had none of the (hose/rack) connectors - Verbindungsteile - that ran from the tank to the machine. I knew where they had be ordered in from - a depot somewhere between Königsberg and Berlin - but the necessary telegram had to be counter-signed by a General or equivalent rank. No such person was available. I had to employ a certain amount of deceit and cunning  to get the order sent- - I forged the signature. Thanks to my underhand action a Ju 52 arrived the following day with the necessary parts, enabling some 127 fighters to fly back to Germany. When I talk to former comrades now we often wonder whether we took advantage unfairly but at the same time we saved many men from Soviet captivity...".

‘Kurland-Zeitung’ report of the 22 December 1944 action over Libau; Thyben returned five victories and his wingman Uffz. Hans Thein the 1000th for the Staffel...


15 August 1944 in Riga, Kapitän Kittel after another successful mission. (100th victory for 3.Staffel according to some sources..) He would be lost in combat during February 1945, the highest scoring Luftwaffe ace KIA. A piece on Artur Gärtner (left) in Jägerblatt 4/87 cites 14 February 1945 as Kittel's death date (source, Kurowski) as do a number of other sources. The date of Kittel's last clash with Il-2s was most probably 16 February.  Gärtner added, "..Als Otto Kittel gefallen war, wurde es für uns dunkel im Kurlandkessel.."

'Happier' times for JG 54. July 1942 in Krasnogvardeisk, Ferntrauung ('distant marriage') of Otto Kittel. This wartime ceremony allowed marriage to be contracted when the fiancé could not take leave. While the soldier signed a document with great pomp and circumstance in front of the Commander of his unit, his fiancée did the same in front of the Bürgemeister in his locality.

Sunday 23 August 2020

SG 2 pilot Feldwebel Eugen Lörcher's last flight, 8 May 1945

With the end in sight a number of Luftwaffe pilots fighting on the Eastern Front elected to flee westwards and travel home in their own machines - the highly decorated Oberst  Hans Ulrich Rudel who set off for Kitzingen in his Ju 87 is a prime example. Other pilots also took advantage of the opportunity to travel home with their machines. One of them was Feldwebel Eugen Lörcher from Altenstadt, who brought his bride with him in the 'luggage compartment' in the rear fuselage of his 5./SG 2 Fw 190 F-8 "black 3" (note - the radio compartment emptied of the kit).  Eugen Lörcher's headstone in the Altenstädter cemetery - he passed away on 1 June 2014 - is adorned with an aircraft motif and recalls the adventure that the pilot himself staged on May 8, 1945.

 "When he was still alive, we celebrated this date every year," according to his son, the Geislingen dentist Dr. Klaus-Michael Lörcher, who related the dramatic story to the local Geislingen newspaper. According to his own account, his father took off from the Kummer am See airfield near Böhmisch Leipa in the Czech Republic on 8 May 1945 at the controls of his FW 190 heading west. Rudel had issued the order to the pilots of Schlachtgeschwader 2 Immelmann to fly their machines to Kitzingen and to belly land them on the airfield. But Lörcher and his comrade Paul from Ulm wanted to get closer to home. Their brides, who were also at the Czech airfield at that time, were quickly packed into the 'luggage compartments'. The planes were full. Shortly after 5 p.m., the low level flight went along the Sudeten towards Nuremberg. There the two pilots came under anti-aircraft fire. While buddy Paul turned towards Nuremberg along the Danube, in order to arrive at Ulm, Eugen Lörcher oriented himself by the double-track railway line Nuremberg-Stuttgart. Even at no more than tree-top height he was always afraid of being much too high. "I thought I was already frustrated," he wrote in his post-war account. But then he saw the Hohenstaufen in front of him, flew along the Albtrauf in a left turn and pulled up the plane over the Helfenstein to look for a landing ground.

"At that moment my buddy Paul was rushing through under me," he recalled. He briefly waggled his wings in farewell, then headed for Aufhausen via the Schildwacht. On a large field between Türkheim and Aufhausen Eugen Lörcher set up for a gear-up landing, putting the machine down near the radar station. Pilot and bride scrambled out of the machine and made their way on foot to Eugen Lörcher's parents' house in Kantstraße 32 in Geislingen. This finally brought the war to an end for the pilot.

 Feldwebel Eugen Lörcher in front of his FW 190 F-8 "Schwarze 3" 1944 in the East (an der Ostfront). Mit dieser Maschine flog er am 8. Mai 1945 in die Heimat nach Aufhausen.

Adapted from Rahnefeld, M. (2015) ‘SO GESEHEN: Kriegsende mit Bauchlandung’,

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Hptm.Gotthard Handrick’s Bf 109 B coded 6*56 - ebay photo find #336

Hptm.Gotthard Handrick’s Bf 109 B coded 6*56. Note the letter ‘H’ inside the fuselage disc. Handrick, gold medalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, was appointed to command J/88 in July 1937 and would be credited with 5 victories. He would return 5 more during WWII and then exercise various commands, enabling him to survive the conflict. Handrick’s successor Hptm. Walter Grabmann subsequently flew this machine. Grabmann commanded J/88 from September 10, 1938.

available here

Sunday 9 August 2020

ECPA-D PK Berichter German photo archive - SG 2 Stukas

The ECPA-D claims to be one of the leading photographic archives in the world. It has an unrivalled collection of WWII German images taken by PK-Berichter. I am a little wary of reproducing such images because of the cost although I have been invited to do so - although not necessarily by ECPA-D management. Across the Rhine the Bundesarchiv has made available many thousands of low-res images water-marked that can be reproduced on-line. I'm not sure that this is ECPA-D policy. I have had this discussion with Nicolas Férard, 'documentaliste'at the ECPA-D as per my blog post of March 2019, link below. There have been various attempts to involve 'experts' and other interested parties in indexing the 'German collection'.. According to Nicolas Férard;

 "..many authors have proposed this type of arrangement ... and it is something that following a change of management may well be proposed again, especially as the ECPA-D develops its digital platform. However the institution is not yet inclined to participatory indexation but it could come...I will be doing an internship at the INA (Institut national de l'audiovisuel) in June on this topic. The problem remains and will remain the audiovisual rights to the images.."

Hptm Hendrick Stahl of SG 2

Ju.87-G "Kanonenvogel" taking off from Husi airfield, Rumania, Summer 1944. 10 Pzjägerstaffel/ Schlachtgeschwader 2 "Immelmann".

Below; caption from Georg Morrison.   Note the large "185A" on the fin, this was Ju 87D-5, "SM+ZJ", an ex-Romanian machine. "185A" had been the second "185." A mission photograph shows these to be conventional bombers, no Ju 87G 'gunbirds' are present.

More on the ECPA-D "fonds allemand" (German collection) on this blog here

The Heinkel He 219: An Illustrated History of the Third Reich’s Dedicated Home-Defence Nightfighter - new Luftwaffe books

The Heinkel He 219: An Illustrated History of the Third Reich’s Dedicated Home-Defence Nightfighter
(Air Research Publications - 6 July 2020)
by R Francis Ferguson
236 pages w/ 227 photos, 19 colour images, 47 diagrams and maps, 14 tables
Large format A-4 hardback w/ dustjacket
£ 49.95

from the blurb..

" ..The He 219 was in many respects unique. It was the world’s first series-built aircraft to be fitted as standard with an ejection seat – and not just one seat, but two. It was also unique in that it was designed and built as a dedicated nightfighter for home-defence duties. This came at a time when the prevailing military mind-set was almost exclusively fixed on the offensive role of aircraft. And, because of this mind-set, the He 219 was plagued by uncertainties that affected production and development. The He 219 was also unique for its tricycle undercarriage which came at a time when tail-draggers were common. Sometimes likened to a praying mantis, the very look of the He 219 with its nose-mounted dipoles gave just a small hint of its fearsome reputation in the night air war over continental Europe. In May 1940 RAF Bomber Command took the decision to go over to the strategic night bombing of Germany. The later introduction of four-engined heavies, the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster, into Bomber Command operations saw an increase in the frequency and intensity of bombing raids. The Heinkel He 219 with its heavy firepower was quickly rushed into frontline service but like so many weapons of the time it came too late, and in insufficient numbers, to change the course of the conflict."

Since the announcement of Ron Ferguson's newest ‘baby’ the amount of searches arriving at this blog for ‘Ron Ferguson He 219 book’ is around 50-100 individual visitors per day..which is good going. I've been blogging 'Ron Ferguson He 219' since each 'edition' has appeared, and being a ‘google’ blog I’m near the top of most search results. This latest work is possibly the most accomplished work ever published by Air Research/Wingleader and at some 160,000 words and around 230 photos one of the most comprehensive. It is the product of a lifetime interest in the subject - and extensive research spanning more than a decade. Ron published his first 'research paper' on the He 219 in 2012 and has not stopped accumulating data and photos. At that time a number of readers suggested that he should have written the definitive history of the type but having attempted a an-depth analysis - with corrections - on all the books published hitherto on the subject Ron knew that there was much more knowledge to be acquired on this unique machine and its introduction into service. The Research Paper was a “… first step in setting right the historical record” - a first step only.

However, publication of the Research Paper brought forth new photos, documents and information. This ultimately developed into this new work, which gives the reader a comprehensive and highly detailed study of the Heinkel He 219.

Subtitled an 'Illustrated history' the new work seems to me to be as complete a technical and operational history as anyone is likely to produce - especially with regard to the amount of photos, the most complete archive published thus far. One thing that struck me reading Ron's 'Introduction' - the amount of contributors to this project constitutes practically the entire air warfare/Luftwaffe enthusiast research fraternity including Beale, Coates, Nielinger, Creek, Boiten. Luminaries such as Lutz and Crow have between them contributed a large percentage of all known images of the type, while two gentlemen in particular contributed enormously to the new book: Dr Volker Koos and Thomas H Hitchcock. The latter, a Massachusetts-based researcher and author, is well known to Luftwaffe enthusiasts and researchers through his many publications of the 1970-90s. Dr Volker Koos is a Rostock-based researcher and Heinkel expert, who has written many books on Heinkel including 'Ernst Heinkel - vom Doppeldecker zum Strahltriebwerk', and 'Ernst Heinkel Flugzeugwerke 1933-1945'. Both provided many pages of material and photo-images - all of which formed a solid foundation for the new book..

The 'heart' of the book, especially perhaps if you have the three previous monographs in your library is the 'new' chapter, pages 101-180, which covers combat and service history. Entitled the " He 219 in service May 43-May 45" this includes BF and FF accounts (Bordfunker = radio operator, FF= Flugzeugfuehrer or pilot). The term 'densely written' comes to mind, reflecting the amount of detail and description employed. The author does not gloss over the problems experienced on the type as with any new machine entering front-line service - after a combat debut in early June 1943 that resulted in five claims for Lancasters shot down I./NJG 1 still had only three serviceable machines on strength by late December 1943. On page 109 the author looks at the work of the 'Heinkel Technical field Service Unit' at Venlo and considers the many (many, many..) problems affecting He 219 serviceability. The type's difficulties were 'political' as well. Throughout Junkers were pushing hard to have the type replaced with their multi-role Ju 388. As late as June 1944 Heinkel is having to stress that his machine is some 30 km/h faster - on the same engines -than the Ju 388 and is the only dedicated Mosquito-hunter (Moskito-Jagd) in the Luftwaffe's inventory. In January  1944 Kommandeur I./NJG 1 Manfred Meurer had been killed at the controls of a He 219 - the second CO to lose his life in the machine. Serviceability does not seem to have improved greatly during the whole of 1944. Ron has also done much additional work on the Commonwealth Mosquito and bomber pilots that encountered the He 219 in action and has included their reports. In total some 150 Allied machines were claimed by He 219 pilots ( but only ten Mosquitos), over 100 He 219s were lost of a production run of some 270 machines and the ejection seats were used on as many as 25 occasions! Indeed the 'new' chapter on German ejection seat development has far more detail than previously published (with accounts from the Erprobungsspringer or 'test  jumper' or parachutist). Chapter 3 (pages 58-93) assesses the 38 Versuchs or test/trial aircraft. The highest V number was V41. (not 76 as reported elsewhere). The chapter on 'Design, Development and Production' features some ten pages of detail period photographs. Pages 202- 216 are devoted to coverage of the British and US He 219s with just a single page devoted to the Smithsonian restoration which was largely covered in the Kagero monograph. Over pages 224-236 there are some 465 detailed 'End notes'..

Ron writes;

"..the new book has really taken off. The first 300 copies sold out within 3-4 days. I haven't actually seen a copy yet, so I'm still looking forward to seeing the finished product. It's like waiting for Santa Claus! The Research Paper was about 60,000 words. This latest work is about 160,000 words, so it's a major step-up. The Research Paper is still quite useful, but this latest work goes to a whole new level and corrects the 2-3 errors/misunderstandings in the Research Paper. I greatly enjoyed researching and writing the new book. More than seven years in the making..."

"Heinkel He 219: An Illustrated History of the Third Reich’s Dedicated Home-Defence Nightfighter" is distributed exclusively by Wing Leader.
Sample pages at their website here


telegram from Kammhuber 'General der Nachtjagd' to Heinkel relating the successful combat debut  ( ".. erstmalig zum Scharfeinsatz..") of the He 219 on the night of 11-12 June 1943 by Maj. Werner Steib, Kommandeur of I./NJG 1 and reporting the loss of the machine ( He 219 V9) after a heavy (crash) landing. Kammhuber urges Heinkel to speed up the rate of deliveries of the type that has just proved its worth in combat with the enemy by all means possible..

Above; post-war at Freeman field, He 219 A-0 WNr. 210903 - the figure '15' on the prop blades refers to the aircraft's loading position on HMS Reaper for the journey to the US.

And just a quick mention that Chandos has a publication on the He 219 slated for "early 2021". According to Rich Carrick's statement on this  project, his will be the "ultimate reference on the type", always assuming it even appears next year.  ".. I cannot wait to give you more details but for now the authors are busy working on the book!"

Ron Ferguson's title on the other hand is now published, it's a 'Limited Edition' so if you have any interest at all in the subject I'd respectfully suggest getting one while you can.  The author is donating his royalties to The Smith Family, a charitable institution in Australia that provides for disadvantaged children.

Monday 3 August 2020

"To defeat the Few " Dildy/Crickmore (Osprey, 2020 ) - a hefty compilation of 'old' news

To mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, Osprey has just published a voluminous book of some 400 pages on the 'Few'. The work of Doug Dildy (veteran F-15 pilot) and Paul Crickmore (SR-71 specialist), it is a curious mixture of texts. There is evidence of some decent research but also plenty of remarks that seem to come straight out of the 1960s or even earlier. The 'scene-setting' two pages on AH's life and political career are hardly necessary for anyone vaguely informed about WWII. A similar length assessment of the Me 109 as 'short-range front-line interceptor' and the contradictions inherent in the strategic bomber escort role is rather more interesting and on point. In the chapter on the Phoney War, the authors reduce the French Air Force to 'an unequal assortment ranging from the obsolete MS 406 to the modern H-75'. To 'make up for this deficiency', the RAF deployed the optimistically named 'Advanced Air Striking Force' to the Continent.  However, it is questionable whether the Gladiator, Battle and Blenheim were better than the 'old French cuckoo clocks'. The authors add that 'no squadron of modern Spitfires could be diverted to France', and there is thus no discussion of the refusal of the British authorities to commit a fighter reserved for the defence of Great Britain alone. During the campaign in the West anything between 650 and 1,000 Luftwaffe aircraft were lost. Losses on the opening day of the invasion –May 10 – exceeded the biggest daily loss during the fighting over England later that summer. Included in the total losses were around 165 Bf 109s shot down and a further 50 or so lost in accidents. Messerschmitt Regensburg was only producing around 25 new Bf 109s per month during this period. Even today some French authors maintain that the French ‘contribution’ to victory in the Battle of Britain was decisive. Dildy and Crickmore do not.

Inconsistencies and contradictions in their text are readily apparent - much like the German 'strategy' (or lack of it) for the assault on England itself.  For a start there was no clear German plan to destroy the RAF - aside from enticing the RAF up to fight, where they would 'naturally' be shot down. Post-war the always overly optimistic Kesselring wrote in his memoirs; "Our difficulty was not to bring down enemy fighters - in Galland, Molders, Oesau, Balthasar etc., we had real aces, while the huge figures of aircraft shot down are further proof - but to get the enemy to fight." Essentially, the German plan was dependent on the British committing large numbers of fighters to large air battles, allowing themselves to be bounced and shot down by the Luftwaffe's aces in their Bf 109s. Unsurprisingly, the RAF did not oblige. And the change in Luftwaffe strategy - large bomber formations requiring close escort - made fighter vs. fighter combat less likely and negated the major advantage -speed- held by the Me 109.

Whereas various 'directives' set out at the start of the Battle sought to cut Britain off from the rest of the world through attacks on shipping and ports, the UK's southern ports were soon excluded from target lists as they would be required for invasion. In Chapter IV (p.85), the authors cite the impossibility of a German landing on English coasts because of the power of the Royal Navy, which a Luftwaffe (barely six years old) could not hope to destroy or even neutralize for lack of resources. At least one commander - JG 51's Theo Osterkamp- calculated that in order to protect the invasion beaches he would need two complete Geschwader (almost 150 aircraft) over the beach head at all times. The total amount of aircraft required for such an operation was more than the Luftwaffe started the Battle with, implying zero net losses.   At a meeting convened by Goering at the Hague on August 1, the different Luftwaffe commands put forward their various and disparate plans. Bungay has described the results of this meeting as 'a confusion of banalities' - there was no 'unified' planning process and all sorts of targets - the ports, the merchant navy, infrastructure, factories - were determined and then dropped or modified.

 Once again in a text on the Battle there is no discussion of the role ‘ULTRA’ played in the ‘early warning system’. ULTRA intelligence was used in the form of briefs to relevant commands. Such 'briefs' must have come into their own  in early September with the major Luftwaffe strike operations which evidently required a certain amount of pre-planning coordination and thus communications and which ultimately played right into the hands of the British. While never identified as ULTRA as such - it was 'a reliable source' or some similar wording- it did provide tactically useful intelligence on impending raids and significantly did reveal German intentions. The 'Battle of Britain Then and Now' includes some examples of these briefs. Nor do the authors discuss in any depth the German's lack of knowledge of the Chain Home defence  - not only could CH detect an incoming raid but it could also vector an interception. With their limited resources the Luftwaffe should have been used, to quote Sebastien Cox, " first, to destroy the Chain Home radar towers, a simple task because only nine, all flimsy and highly conspicuous, guarded the coast between Southampton and Dover. The blinded RAF fighter airfields should then have been overwhelmed by round-the-clock bombing..."
. This was indeed attempted to a certain degree - on August 18, Ju 87s attacked RADAR and airfield targets and 15 were lost. That brought Ju 87 losses to 59 lost and 33 damaged. The RADAR station (Poling) attacked was severely damaged and the Chain Home RADAR was out of action until the end of August, but the Chain Home Low system was not and with this redundancy built into the system Luftwaffe losses would reach unmanageable proportions in putting it out of commission.

The authors conclusion is classic 'Mason' -  'by preventing the invasion, the 'Few' enabled Britain to continue the struggle'. Sound the trumpets, bang the drums!  In short, a dense - and often confusing - work, which sometimes gives the impression of any number of texts from the '60s, an era when there was no publicly available information about ULTRA, but where radar was the 'revolutionary invention that saved freedom'. There is little or anything 'new' here. The book is ultimately a hefty compilation of 'old' news into which the authors have thrown just about everything that might seem relevant in order to make an impression.

Sunday 2 August 2020

"Avions" issue No. 70 - Kurt Hammel JG 5/JG 77

sold this week   - £51 for issue 70 of 'Avions'  - which must be some kind of record...perhaps the buyer/winning bidder really wanted that feature article on 19-victory JG5/JG 77 ace Kurt Hammel...