Wednesday 7 July 2021

'German Fighters of WW II' - how exactly do you write/compile a compendium of Luftwaffe aircraft types ?


New from Chris Goss  -  a 208-page large-format compendium-type book on Luftwaffe fighters for French publisher caraktère. Continuing the series of WW II aviation encyclopedias started by Chris Ehrengardt, Caraktère's "German Fighters 1939-45" covers some thirty aircraft in depth, and features all German piston and jet-engined fighters in service between 1933 and 1945 alongside coverage of lesser types such as the Arado Ar 197, the Heinkel He 100 and the Gotha Ho 229. Given the space restrictions of the format, content is best described as pretty general but even the 'armchair' historians out there will find it a worthwhile read. Kudos to Chris for continuing the work of CJE - the book will undoubtedly look fabulous on the shelf alongside the Italian and French fighter volumes in the same series.

Compendiums or 'encyclopedias' of aircraft types appear every so often and are probably - and somewhat unfortunately - generally dismissed nowadays as being for the novice 'enthusiast'. They can on occasion be pretty 'hit-and-miss' but in this instance - as with their other encyclopedias in this series - Caraktère have lavished a deal of care and attention on this volume. During my teens I like many others grew up on these types of books and I still like to browse through all the old 'classics, for example, William Green's " Fighters and Bombers of WWII" was published in ten small-format volumes between 1960-1968 and were a benchmark series of books. As a teenager in the mid-1970s one of my hobbies was building Luftwaffe model kits - usually Airfix - their Me 262, Me 109, Fw 189 or even the Bv 141- since this was all that was available in the local branch of Woolworths. This coincided with the discovery in the local library of William Green's massive "Warplanes of the Third Reich" book. It was a book full of exotic machines and far too valuable to be loaned out of the library - you were allowed to study it in the reading room and I still recall spending at least one set of summer holidays taking copious notes from it into a small notepad - aged about 11 or 12. Well-known author and Classic Publications founder Robert Forsyth told me that his interest in the Luftwaffe was stimulated in similar fashion - but he actually got his mum to buy him a copy of 'Warplanes..' ! I've always wanted to write a blog post on " Warplanes.." but there are few if any people involved in the original production still with us today. I do recall John Weal telling me once that most of the material accumulated by Green (over two decades of research..first published 1970) and passed to Aerospace Publishing for their projected three-volume 'reprint' was lost when their basement storage flooded! And who knew then that this huge tome would be so decried nowadays. 

 Other compendiums that came out around this time were J. R. Smith's and Antony Kay's German Aircraft of the Second World War (1972), Aireview's German Military Aircraft in the Second World War (1959), and Heinz J. Nowarra's and Karlheinz Kens' Die deutschen Flugzeuge 1933-1945 (1961, with a Nachtrag by Nowarra alone in 1964). As far as I know, these were the major compendiums of the times. Green, Smith, and Nowarra were prolific writers of their time. Smith teamed up with Eddie J. Creek dating back to at least Gruppe 66 (1966) for a long and distinguished career in Luftwaffe aviation history writing. Green also wrote the Famous Fighters and Famous Bombers 2-volume sets (1957-1962), but these were restricted to the most well-known aircraft. In his day, Green was considered one of the foremost authorities on the subject of German WW II aircraft. The tendency since has been in the area of specialization, concentrating on single aircraft types, manufacturers, units, camouflages, cockpits, specialized aircraft fields, such as the jet and rocket aircraft, etc. Why the specialization? Because more and more information has become available over the years to do more complete studies.

 Since Green, many others have produced similar type compilations - encyclopedias if you will - including and not limited to Smith and Kay (Putnam), David Donald (Aerospace Publishing), Kenneth Munson and Bill Gunston. Thomas Newdick has just done it with his 'German Aircraft of WWII' for  Amber books.

The reviews looked good so I thought I'd get a copy. I then asked Thomas if he would like to talk about his new book, how he went about compiling  it and so on - but unfortunately he told me he was not in a position to respond, citing a new publisher who forbids him from discussing his old books! A shame.

 So how does anyone nowadays go about compiling a compendium? Do you just go to Wikipedia for these sorts of titles - after all there are no footnotes or references in Newdick's book at all. How do we know what is reliable and what is not with regard to all the info out there?  This was the question I put to a number of well-known Luftwaffe authors and experts - a publisher asks you for a compendium of 100 Luftwaffe aircraft. Just a page or two on each type. You get six months to write and 'research' the book. How do you go about it?  How do you judge what's accurate and what's not when consulting secondary sources, assuming especially in the current climate that this is all you would use. And how good is Thomas Newdick's latest publication?

Jean-Louis Roba; co-author of the multi-volume "Seaplanes of the Luftwaffe" published by Lela Presse

" As virtually everyone who has known any Luftwaffe aircraft up close is no longer with us, any potential author writing on the subject must: 

-locate reliable period documents in the archives;
-consult RELIABLE works (even dating back to the 60s and 70s - sometimes the best ones);
-be logical in comparing sources and discard everything that seems doubtful (but they can be cited by saying: 'However, according to one source,...');
-get it into your head that you can NEVER know the whole truth, even if you want to get as close to it as possible.
In short, be humble and do not attempt to make the reader believe that you know everything..."


Nick Beale, author of 'Ghost bombers' and 'Air war Italy' among other titles ; 

".. Go almost entirely with the material you already have. But do you include only German-built aircraft? Only those which saw service with a Luftwaffe unit? Do you include foreign types used by Luftwaffe units (Re. 2002, Avia B-534, Dewoitine D. 520, Bréguet Bizerte, B-17, Caudron C. 440 etc.). The Luftwaffe used far more Fiat CR.42s in combat than they ever did Ta 152's or 154's, after all. Do you include the exotica (Natter, Do 335, Ju 287, Me 264, Go 229) which never saw service? Arrange it by role (fighters, bombers etc.) or by year/campaign (showing how capabilities developed), or by manufacturer? Do a William Green and include every projected variant (He 219 B and C for example) whether they built any or not. Finally kill off the Ju 87 D-7, Ju 87 D-8 and He 111 H-22 (none of which I have ever found in a strength return, loss report, ULTRA or A.I.2(g) report)? .."

"..For accuracy of secondary sources, I tend to go for the most recent work by authors I’ve come to trust. I would always feel slightly guilty not doing everything myself in terms of research. I ran into this in a very minor way lately when I was looking up the dimensions of the Ju 87 D. There were minor variations (an inch or two) between a number of my sources, all of which used imperial measures which probably doesn’t help for aircraft built in metric. I honestly don’t know what the primary sources are for RAF aircraft. I’d imagine there was either a manufacturer’s spec sheet, or some Air Ministry documentation re acceptance of the type but what did the Greens or Gunstons use, back when so little was publicly available? Ring up an old RAF mate in Ministry? Either the figures we all use are the official ones or successive authors have just copied whoever was first. Nowadays you could pull all the RAE files at Kew (if they were open!) and check but has anyone actually done that? With the Luftwaffe, factory documentation is a closed book to me but some people seem to thrive on it and I take them in trust..."

There are however some actual German spec sheets for late-war types (frame 341 onwards) here: 

 I think they may (partially?) duplicate the ones I saw in 1990 in the Air Historical Branch 6 microfilms (Reel 2) at the IWM. I’d only gone up for the day, so all I noted down (in those days before portable tech) was the fuel capacities of types that served in Italy — I wanted to get a handle on how far the available fuel would go..."

David Isby, author of  one of the best books written about the Bf 109-Spitfire entitled 'Decisive Duel';

".. I am not familiar with the new Thomas Newdick book, so I will have to pass on a specific comment. I know Thomas Newdick from when he was an editor at AIR FORCES MONTHLY, where he did good work. How can you go about it? A good question. If I had an answer, I would propose such a book myself. I first considered this question some time in 1962, one evening where I was waiting for my parents to finish a boring dinner party and I had not brought a book to read. I always wondered if I could have brought any book I could imagine, what would it have looked like. It would have been of course a book on Second World War airplanes, like Green’s Famous Fighters and Famous Bombers (in 1962 these appeared brilliant) but would instead have featured a mission by each type of airplane that would explain what it was designed to do and how it operated in the context of its opponents and escorts. I would still try and write it if someone was interested. My DECISIVE DUEL book was not my idea. The publisher had the idea, mentioned it to my agent, Ian Drury (who used to be my editor at Harper Collins). Other books I have done were my idea, which often had an ulterior motive behind how I envisioned them. Other times the publisher approached me directly. That’s why I did the six volumes of German wartime documents. The publisher, Lionel Leventhal, was not offering lots of money, but he understood why we write and could make it seem like great fun. I have also been offered books that I turned down. Usually time or money was insufficient. Others I declined because the information I would need to do a good job is in archives I cannot use or in languages I cannot read well enough. Sometimes I have been asked to write about subjects when there was no real way to do the research. If I was to do such a book on wartime German aircraft, unless I had lots of time and money (which is unlikely) I would quickly try to ascertain which good recent German-language sources I could rely on to avoid simply repeating the material in an earlier generation of English-language stuff. There are lots of mistakes that have been repeated for years. When it comes to performance statistics, the sources often differ, as internet sites will show, and often omit key information. Hermann Goering did not understand what impact an airplane’s full throttle height would have on air combat, because he had flown fighters without superchargers. The reference books he read did not tell him the information he needed to know..."..

Nigel Moore;

" Goodness! How to get to Mars when all you have is a bicycle with a bent front wheel. I'm afraid I don't know any of the works by Newdick, so I'm working blind. However, from the quantity and variety of his books he has clearly evolved a formula, and can and does apply it at will. If I was taking on such a task from scratch and without being pointed at any particular model for reference (make it like ....), my first two steps would be: develop a scope and sequence outline for the coverage that I would apply to each aircraft. If you read Green carefully and you can see he did this rather well plus his writing was clear and elegant. Then look at the handbook for each aircraft - that's a lot of handbooks! There are also just a few good studies that must also be looked at. Ron Ferguson on the He 219 for one recent example (at his fourth or fifth? iteration). However, the reality is valid quality studies are virtually as rare as hen's teeth and generally confined to minor types..."

"..The secondary sources are reasonably good for details of construction and dimensions, broad operational use etc. but have either a lot of blah or plain gaps on detailed distinctions between versions and quantities produced. So you could develop a reasonable account built around airframe construction techniques, available engine developments and armament fits because these are tangibles and a lot of good work has been done on these areas over an extended period. However, it would all have to be kept pretty 'broad brush' if you wanted to avoid straying into the repetition of errors and myths..."

 "...On balance my advice would be don't do it. (Why add to the mythology, outright errors and inaccuracies?) It's the same with any area of serious historical study. The quality overview works come late and are built on a host of monographs and detailed studies of different aspects. For the Lw this pre-stage is really only just beginning and it is very time-consuming. For the RLM/Luftwaffe/German aircraft/aero-engine industry my mind picture is of a ten billion piece, three-dimensional jigsaw, where 98% of the pieces have been lost, and those that survive are in tens of thousands of different boxes. Because of the repetitions of the same information a bunch of pieces in a particular area can sometimes be put together with reasonable clarity and assurance. But having enough related pieces of the jigsaw is often down to chance. Outside of this serendipity, a lot of linkages can only be inferred until (maybe, sometimes) happily some more information resurfaces and a clearer picture emerges..."

Ron Ferguson; author of Wingleader's definitive account of the He 219;

"...I've been thinking about this - but not too sure if I can offer any useful insights. When it comes to consulting secondary sources I think the key is to look for a reliable author(s). For example, in my work on the new He 219 book I had every confidence in consulting the works of Vernaleken and Handig, Mankau and Petrick, Dr Volker Koos, Dr Theo Boiten and Roderick Mackenzie. I don't think anyone would disagree that these fellows are top-notch researchers. It's also important to recognize that as time moves on, our collective knowledge of the subject expands as new files and new photographs come to light. Vernaleken and Handig, Mankau and Petrick, Koos, Boiten and Mackenzie are 21st century sources. Most of the 20th century secondary sources - works by Nowarra, Dressel, and to a lesser degree Remp - were largely ignored. Nearly all the 20th century He 219 books rely on the Entwicklung document which is a toxic mix of fact and non-fact. The one exception to this 'rule-of-thumb' was the the work of Richard Bateson. His tiny little 1970 booklet on the He 219 was surprisingly 'clean' and dove-tailed nicely with Koos' findings. In 2012 I received a copy of Bateson's book from fellow Aussie researcher Ken Merrick (author of several books on WWII Luftwaffe camouflage and markings) which came with a note that Bateson was generally well regarded as a researcher.

Your question, You get six months to write and 'research' it. How do you go about it? This is really out of my territory. I commenced work on the new He 219 book in December 2012. It was published in 2020. I guess the answer to your question lies to some degree in defining the 'target audience'. In the early 1980s David Mondey wrote three small books on WWII aircraft - British a/c, American a/c, and Axis a/c. These works were targeted at the 'introductory level' and no doubt many readers found them good reading (I read all three volumes). But for the more knowledgeable and the more inquisitive they would have been of little interest. Also, I must confess to having 'tunnel-vision' when it comes to the He 219 (some would say obsessive). For anyone contemplating the task of writing a compendium of 100 Luftwaffe types in the time frame of six months, I would wish them good luck!.."

As for the question what is Newdick's book like, here's John Vasco's critique of the pages devoted to the Me 110;

"..I can only go by the two sample pages that I have seen on Amazon with regard to the Bf 110. First of all, he says ‘Messerschmitt Bf 110 C-4/B. This aircraft flew with II. Gruppe, Erprobungsgruppe 210, deployed in raids across the English Channel in the summer of 1940. It features the famous Wespen (“wasp”) nose markings of Zerstörergeschwader 1’ with reference to the profile on the same page. Now, the book ‘Messerschmitt Bf 110/Me210/Me410’ by Heinz Mankau and Peter Petrick (English edition published by Schiffer), page 177, simply states re the Bf 110 C-4/B: ‘Gotha supplied four machines under the designation Bf 110 C-4/B. These were later carried on the books as Bf 110 C-7s, however’. The production bomber version of the ‘C’ was the C-7. Secondly, he states ‘II Gruppe, Erprobungsgruppe 210’. Erprobungsgruppe 210 never had a II. Gruppe. Thirdly he states that: ‘It features the famous Wespen (“wasp”) nose markings’. Erprobungsgruppe 210 never carried the Wespe emblem. The only unit to carry the Wespe emblem during the Battle of Britain was III. Gruppe of Zerstörergeschwader 76, and this emblem was the original one of three small wasps above clouds.

Onto the second sample page, he says: ‘The subsequent Bf 110 D series was intended for long-range operations’. That was the case for the Dackelbauch with the additional fuel tank and oil tank housed in the Dackelbauch fairing, but was not necessarily applicable to the standard non-Dackelbauch Bf 110 D fighter and Bf 110 D fighter-bomber variants. He also says that once the Bf 110 met Spitfires and Hurricanes it was ‘hopelessly outgunned’. That’s a strange claim, since the Bf 110 carried two 20 mm cannon and four forward firing MGs, whereas the Bf 109 only has two 20 mm cannon and two forward firing MG. Of the two fighters, the 109 was outgunned more so than the 110! He also says: ‘As that campaign continued (the Battle of Britain), the type was increasingly switched to bombing and reconnaissance missions’. Now this is 100% wrong – I haven’t a clue where he got that information from! There was a single Bf 110 unit in the Battle of Britain that was deployed as a fighter-bomber: Erprobungsgruppe 210. Their first operation against British shipping was on 13th July and they continued missions throughout the Battle of Britain. No other Bf 110 unit was ‘switched’ to fighter-bomber missions during the Battle. And the Bf 110 was already in service as a reconnaissance aircraft with the various recce Staffeln from the early stages of the Battle. He also says: ‘By the winter of 1940-1941 it had found a new niche as a night-fighter. The first night fighter unit, Nachtjagdgeschwader 1, was formed under Hauptmann Wolfgang Falck, in June 1940, even before the Battle of Britain had commenced.

The caption to the photo of Bf 110s of 2./ZG 26 is incorrect. They are not C-1 sub-variants, as evidenced by the wing root aerial. They are C-2 or later.

The profile top left of the page of 3M+AB says it is a ‘C-1’, but the wing root aerial points to a C-2 or C-4.

The profile top right of 3U+NS has the extended rear fuselage but does not show the cable that ran along the top of the port fuselage to the rear which operated the release of the extended tail. Also, it has two aerials from the cockpit aerial mast (a feature of the ‘B’ variant and the ‘C-1’, but from the ‘C-2’ onwards there was only a single aerial going to the starboard fin). The cockpit area is not accurate.

The profile at the bottom of the page of S9+LP states it is a C-7. However, it has no wing root aerial, and again, this profile has two aerials from the cockpit aerial mast (a feature of the ‘B’ variant and the ‘C-1’, but from the ‘C-2’ onwards there was only a single aerial going to the starboard fin, as mentioned above). The cockpit area of this profile is also not accurate, and it has what can only be described as a silver port spinner…

To conclude: in view of all the foregoing I would not recommend this book to anyone, as it is riddled with errors from just those two sample pages concerning the Bf 110. It appears to me that the author has not drawn on any modern research which has been published, but relied on decades-old incorrect information that is STILL being accepted as fact..."

also on this blog;