Friday, 9 October 2020

La Luftwaffe en France 1939-1945, tome 1 (Arès, 2020)


Jean-Louis ROBA has just published his latest hardback, book 1 of two to cover the history of the Luftwaffe in France during the Second World War. My pre-ordered copy arrived yesterday from French publisher Arès - better 'known' apparently for their histories of French military units. This fine A-4 hardback is jam-packed with photos and data - nearly 600 images according to the publisher's blurb. The author's approach to his subject matter is geographical, chronological and global. The almost two hundred pages of text are abundantly (!) illustrated with pictures taken by the veterans themselves, providing an almost 'intimate' view of life for operational and training units stationed on French soil, in many instances far removed from the usual propaganda clichés (men of JG 2 buying crabs in Morlaix, an excursion to Mont St. Michel etc etc). There are of course multiple views of aircraft and 'personalities'. Side-bars and text boxes (blue background) include DFS 230 and Gotha Go 232 training operations from Valence, the He 111 Z of the LLG, profiles of Harlinghausen, Sperrle and the commanders of 1. and 2. Fallschirmjäger Divisionen and even 'Lion cubs in the Luftwaffe ' or 'Göring in Paris'. Unusually for this type of work and because they are so numerous and spread throughout the volume, there is an 'index of side-bars' alongside a 'conventional' list of contents - although in the typical French format this appears at the rear of the book.

This first volume covers the first half of the war, from the Phoney War to the invasion of the 'zone libre' or the 'unoccupied territory'. Individual chapters cover the fighting during operations in the West in May and June 1940, the Battle of Britain, the defense of French airspace against the RAF's 'non-Stop' offensive incursions, the organisation of Luftflotte 3 after Luftflotte 2's deployment towards the USSR, the protection of Operation Donnerkeil and the reaction to the raid on Dieppe.

Chapter I covers pre-war Franco-German relations in the aeronautical field while chapter 2 is devoted to the 'Phoney War' including a full list of Luftwaffe losses over the border areas during this period.  Chapter 3 is a daily 'diary' of the Westfeldzug combats over France principally from the view of the St.G and KG committed in operations. Aerial activity did not cease in the intermediate period between the battles of 1940 and the intensification of the Allied bombing of Germany. Chapter 4 is entitled ' the first year in France' and there are four pages devoted to the dispositions of Luftflotten 2 and 3 with side-bars devoted to the 'Nahaufklärungsgruppen' and the establishment of the air-sea rescue service (Seenot). There is a fascinating overview of the aerodromes and installations exploited and occupied by the Luftwaffe  including graveyards and their often elaborately 'decorated' honour cemeteries (pages 102-104) or Ehrenfriedhöfe. The text does not just focus on airborne units. Ground units, anti-aircraft (Flak) and parachute (Fallschirmjäger) units as well as the various administrative entities are also featured. Luftnachrichten Schule 4 is covered on one page (radio operators school). Chapter VI covers a whole range of training units including the FFS pilot training schools, the Dewoitine D.520-equipped JFS 5 at Villacoublay and the Fiat Cr.42 -equipped JG 107 at Toul. There are 'annexes' that detail JFS 5 losses and two pages of Flak claims along the Channel coast for 1941.

Activities at Pau, Blagnac, Cazaux. Rennes, Istres etc etc along with other 'secondary' airfields feature, with first-person accounts detailing daily life (if you can handle the French text..). 

Mechanic Heinz Zimmer recalled; " December 1940 I left Germany for the first time in my life and was sent to France in Cognac. I was assigned as a mechanic to the Ergänzungsstaffel 26, the operational training unit of JG 26, commanded by Oblt. Freiherr Hubertus von Holthey, a Baron. I arrived with a group of mechanics from Merseburg. We were billeted in a college. We worked on the Bf 109 Emil and Friedrich. The winter of 40/41 was very wet. The runway wasn't very good either. The Bf 109 was difficult to manoeuvre during take-off and landing. There were many accidents due to these factors. Nevertheless, as mechanics, we had many compensations in France. The climate was milder than in Central Europe and we ate much better. Eggs for breakfast but too often goulash the rest of the time.."

 The Ergänzungsgruppen established throughout France are covered in some detail. At the beginning of 1942, all the Ergänzungsgruppen subordinate to the Jagdgeschwader were disbanded and divided into four large school units, the EJG Süd, West, Ost and Nord. They were primarily established in the South of France, where the climate was more favourable for training (this was at a time and in a sector where British intrusions were very rare). Heinz Zimmer was posted to Cazaux, one of the airfields of the EJG Ost; " ..I found the climate quite debilitating. We were bored. There was no food to buy in the area and the only recreation was going to the beach at Pilloy-sur-Mer near Arcachon. In the spring of 1943, we were moved to Landes de Bussac (Ste Marie). I had barely arrived when I ran into ... Hermann Graf who recognized me, his former mechanic. He ran the school and I was delighted to run into him again. Apart from this excellent surprise, life remained the same. The track was sandy and many machines were damaged. At that time we received a visit from General Adolf Galland.."

 Another mechanic Uffz. Philip Schmelzer had re-trained to fly the Bf 110 and then moved to fighters. In May 1943 he was posted to Toulouse-Blagnac; "We arrived in Blagnac. There were only pilots in our group, since we were going to be re-trained on single-seaters. At the school we were introduced to Heinz Bär, who had been withdrawn from a front unit because of his differences with Hermann Göring after the fall of Africa. We were first trained on the Bf 109. But we had been told so many bad things about this aircraft (it was hard to fly, it's undercarriage was fragile, visibility was poor...) that we were somewhat terrified when we took the controls. Accidents were commonplace. Graf then brought us together and calmed us down by taking the drama out of this plane. After his explanations, things went much better. We then passed out on the FW 190 and I very much appreciated this machine".        


 a veteran of 1940, Oberfeldwebel Herbert Kaiser flew with III./JG 77. In late January 1943, he had been evacuated from Tunsia and sent as an instructor to the Er. JGr. Süd in Marseille. On March 14, 1943, at Marignane airfield, he was awarded the Knight's Cross for his 54 victories by the school's commander, Oberstleutnant Alfred Müller, a former Great War pilot. Kaiser returned to JG 77 and then JG 1, surviving the war with 68 victories to his credit. On the left is Oberleutnant Erwin Clausen, a JG 77 comrade also attached to the school as an instructor.  Clausen was KIA as Kommandeur I./JG 11.

There are a number of colour profile artworks distributed throughout the book (by Jean-Marie Guillou) but the content is so dense I almost failed to notice them on initial perusal. Images of period documents (and the odd newspaper report) that add so much visual interest and additional data are dotted throughout the text. And I have not yet mentioned chapters covering night fighters and the 'invasion' of the southern zone following 'Torch'. While there is a large range of material featured, the author is at pains to point out that this work is 'merely' a synthesis of the variety of subject matter that could have been included in a more 'exhaustive' work, but I have to say he has done a fabulous job with the material he has presented. The lay-out is a little 'crowded' even so and some of the images are just a little on the small side since there are so many of them. I would have liked to have seen some details of aircraft production too since a number of types went straight into Luftwaffe service from French factories - although there is some detail in the photo captions perhaps this is for part two. The text makes clear that increasingly hard-pressed resources were spread ever more thinly over larger and larger territorial areas, forcing the staffs to make choices and the hard-pressed personnel to perform  with sometimes very limited or obsolescent means. Overall though any comments or criticisms of mine are pretty minor-league and it is impossible to do justice to the book in a short review.. Congratulations to the author. If you have any interest in the history of the Luftwaffe then this work devoted to the daily life of Luftwaffe units in France is highly recommended. Hopefully Part 2 will be with us some time next year!


Hermann Göring  seemed to enjoy visiting Paris and France rather more than his Führer who preferred Rome according to most accounts. Contrary to popular opinion Göring did not visit France just to acquire artworks. Here he is seen arriving in Buc to visit 1.(F)/123 on 15 August 1941 with Barbarossa in full swing. The descent from his Fw 200 was probably a little awkward. Later in the year he met Petain at Saint-Florentin and also visited Dieppe following the abortive Canadian landing in August 1942.

Published during September 2020. Publisher's website for ordering and more page views is here

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