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Books about airpower and aircraft continue to arrive here at a rapid pace. Here are brief notes about four recent air-related titles from a variety of publishers.
Ransom, Stephen and Hans-Hermann Cammann. Me 163 Rocket Interceptor, volume 1. Crowborough, UK: Classic Publications, 2002
Introduction and Acknowledgements; Foreword; photos; diagrams; tables; maps; Abbreviations; Sources; Index
Appendices: Personnel; Selected Biographies; Flying Log
Another spectacular effort from Classic! These guys seem to have a magic touch with books about German aircraft, and the same formula that worked so well on the Me 262 series and other Classic titles works perfectly here.
Chapters cover the early development of tailless aircraft, experiments with rocket propulsion, the Me 163 design, development, and production program, testing and training, and the very earliest operational sorties. The text is punctuated with many interesting photos, all informatively captioned, and occasional sidebars, all neatly laid out. The authors present a great deal of data from many sources. For example, a two-page spread brings together a "Mission Summary Report" from the 479th Fighter Group, a "Combat Report" from the 434th Fighter Squadron of the 479th detailing a P-38's victory over an Me 163, an accompanying "Statement in Support of Combat Claim" by another pilot of the 434th, clarifying notes by Ransom and Cammann, and a post-war "Statement on the Report" by Staffelkapitan Robert Olejnik explaining how it was not possible for an Me 163 to have been lost on that date at that location.
Here's an example of some typical material from Chapter six:
Operational pilot training was hampered throughout February by poor weather and the presence of enemy aircraft during the good weather. Eighty-six flights were made with the Me 163 A and 82 flights with the Me 163 B. EKdo 16 considered that 13 pilots did not need to make any more powered take-offs with the Me 163 B, and that the remaining 10 pilots were almost as far advanced. Hptm. Robert Olejnik, who was to take command of the first unit, made his first "sharp" start with an Me 163 B during this month.
Hptm. Olejnik received his orders to prepare for the establishment of the first operational unit during a visit to the General der Jagdflieger at Berlin-Gatow on 20 February 1944. The personnel, pilots and ground crews to be transferred from EKdo 16, had already been selected. All of them were transferred to the new unit, which was to be based at Deelen, with effect from 1 March 1944. After that date the unit became a fully autonomous unit in accordance with orders issued by the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe. While preparations for transfer to the new airfield were being made, Olejnik received a secret telex from the office of the General der Jagdflieger informing him that, because of its position, Deelen could no longer be used for Me 163 operations and that the unit would be based at Wittmundhafen instead. Everything then had to be rearranged as quickly as possible and the advance party had to be recalled from Deelen.
Soon afterwards, Olejnik received another telex from the office of the General der Jagdflieger confirming the establishment of the unit with effect from 1 March 1944 and naming it 1./JG 400.
Great stuff. At least one more volume in this Me 163 series is forthcoming from Classic. Distributed in the US by Specialty Press.
Loza, Dmitriy. Attack of the Airacobras: Soviet Aces, American P-39s, and the Air War against Germany. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2001
Foreword; Preface; Introduction; Prologue; photos; Notes; Index
Appendices: Order of the People's Commissar of Defence; Soviet Aces Who Flew the P-39 Airacobra; Lineage of the 216th (9th Guards) Fighter Division
Although Loza focuses on "the coupling of capitalist planes and Marxist pilots" (to quote from the dustjacket) and especially the 216th Fighter Division (later the 9th Guards Fighter Division), this is really a book which offers a great deal of wider information about the Red Air Force at the level of pilots, aircraft, and air tactics.
The 216th in the fall of 1942 near Baku converted to Lend-Lease P-39s delivered via Iran. In the spring of 1943 the unit moved back to the front and commenced operations in its new aircraft. These ops, in addition to some tank-busting and ground support, mostly took the form of intercepting German bombers and dogfighting with Luftwaffe escorts. As the Red Army advanced from the western Ukraine toward the heart of Germany, the division of P-39s constantly displaced forward from airstrip to airstrip and remained in combat until the end of the war. Loza's account shows how the airmen of the 216th trained, perfected effective tactics with their short-range, low-ceiling planes, conducted missions over the battlefield, and how the unit performed in what was essentially a constant, never-ending campaign of air-to-air engagements. While the spotlight shines mostly on the pilots and their missions, Loza also takes care to describe the activities of the ground crews and to detail the day-to-day life of the men of the 216th. He also discusses how the 216th utilized radios, homing beacons, and other technologies not usually associated with the "primitive" Soviet Air Force during the Great Patriotic War.
The forces of 1st Ukrainian Front began the breakthrough of the enemy's defenses on 13 July 1944. On this day the 9th Guards Fighter Division had the mission to cover the combat formations of 3d Guards Combined Arms Army with continuous patrolling in the areas of Bluduv, Svinyukhi, and Porvanche. An additional assigned mission was to support the forces of the 13th Army in the area of Gorokhov, Tsekhuv, Podbereze, and Stoyanuv.
All of the division's regiments provided from eight to fourteen aircraft from 0430 to 2130 daily for continuous support of these missions. The coverage zones were located some thirty-five to forty miles from the 9th Guards Fighter Division's airfields. The flight to and from the coverage zones took approximately twenty-five minutes in each direction. Therefore, during the mission planning it was recognized that each patrol could not loiter in the mission area for more than twenty-five minutes
When during the course of the offensive the distance to the coverage regions was extended beyond forty-two miles, the patrols could remain in the assigned coverage zones no longer than twenty minutes. Therefore, three patrols were required to provide one hour of continuous coverage over the battlefield. When the distance from the airfields to the coverage zone exceeded sixty miles, the number of patrols per hour was increased to four. This led to a situation in which the division, though operating at full-strength in aircraft and at maximum sortie rate, had to limit the size of its patrols to four to six aircraft. This force was clearly inadequate for successful accomplishment of the assigned missions.
During the morning and evening hours, when enemy air activity sharply increased, and particularly during the breakthrough of his initial defensive belt, the commitment of mobile groups, and the struggle for a bridgehead on the western bank of the San River, the patrols were increased to twelve to sixteen P-39s. This surge in the size of fighter groups, achieved by a reduction in group size during the day, was justified in practice. As a rule, these groups had to conduct aerial engagements with superior enemy forces, but even in these cases the Airacobra pilots inflicted significant losses on the enemy.
Recommended not only for the terrific account of the 216th, but also the broader insights into the VVS. Very nicely translated and edited by James Gebhardt.
Kolln, Jeff. The 421st Night Fighter Squadron in World War II. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military Book, 2001
Foreword; photos; maps; Bibliography
Appendices: 421st Night Fighter Members (1943-1947); 421st Mission List; Aircraft Log (1943-1947); Nose Art and Names; Chronology of 421st Aircraft (1943-1947)
The folks at Schiffer turn out so many books on such a variety of WWII-related topics that it's too easy to overlook their excellent USAAF unit histories. These group and squadron histories always do a great job of capturing the flavor of the wartime experience while also revealing much of wider historical interest.
Jeff Kolln's history of the 421st Night Fighter Squadron very much fits into that mold. Chapters cover the formation and training of the squadron, deployment to the Pacific, transitioning to the P-61 Black Widow, continued operations in the Philippines, at Ie Shima, and against Japan, and a final chapter on the squadron's immediate post-war days. As one of only a handful of night fighter squadrons in the American arsenal, the 421st's tasks mostly involved defending against Japanese night intruders and attacking Japanese positions and installations under the stars. By August 1945, the Black Widows were conducting missions against the Japanese homeland.
The flight crews were taken to their new area and were settled into their new living quarters. Time for re-acquaintance, however, was cut short by order of 5th Fighter Command; something big was being planned for the P-61s and their crews. The squadrons were given orders to load up their P-61s and begin the bombing of Kyushu, Japan.
The first of these missions took place on the 8th, involving six aircraft and again carrying two 500-lb. bombs per plane. Crews were briefed, aircraft loaded, and the crews made their way to their planes. However, due to the late mission order the planes could not be bombed up in time for a one-flight take-off. Take-offs were staggered in time as the aircraft were made ready. Lt. Robert E. Savaria with his crew Lt. George A. Freeman, his R/O, and Sgt. Davis, his gunner, were the first crew to take to the air at 8:15 that night. Following them, more aircraft would take-off at 9:3O, 10:25, 11:OO, 11:05, and the last aircraft at 11:45. The stars were out in full array, an advantage for them in navigation and finding the target. As it turned out, this was not the case over the target area, however, which was covered with low clouds.
At about 1:10 in the morning Lt. Savaria's plane was heard calling the tower for landing instructions. It circled and landed without incident. Most of the ground troops were anxious to find out what had happened, but they had to wait until all the planes had returned and the crews had been debriefed. Two of the aircraft had been fired on by anti-aircraft over the target, one of which had three searchlights directed nearly to the night fighter. The crew felt that in this case they may have been radar controlled. The anti-aircraft itself was slight to moderate, and as far as Japanese aircraft, one of the P-61s had a bogie on his tail warning radar. The pilot dropped his belly tanks and started evasive maneuvers, after which the bogie disappeared. All six planes dropped their two 550-lb. bombs over Kumamoto City and Kyushu Airdrome. Solid overcast from 3,000 to 6,000 feet prohibited visual bombing or observation. Four of the aircraft bombed by radar, and the other two by estimations. All the planes bombed from about 8,000 feet and came in from different headings. On their way back home all the crews reported the entire Miyakono area was burning heavily, causing each crew to believe that the B-29s had previously bombed this target. All the crews returned with pretty much the same reports, and they were informed by Headquarters that they were to continue these bombing missions.
The first ten chapters are accompanied by copious photos while chapters eleven and twelve are strictly photo albums of aircraft, crews, individuals, and assorted locations where the squadron served. The last fourteen or so pages include a gallery of color snapshots.
A good unit history about an unusual squadron.
Ullmann, Michael. Luftwaffe Colours, 1935-1945. Ottringham, UK: Hikoki Publications, 2002
Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; tables; diagrams; Sources; Paint Chart; Colour Supplement
Hikoki has been making a name for itself over the last couple of years with some strong offerings in the field of serious aviation titles for serious students of aircraft and airpower. This long-awaited and long-delayed title, translated from the original German, is another example of Hikoki's devotion to going beyond the superficial.
That this is not a book for the casual fan can be quickly determined by the opening chapter: "What Is Colour?" From that rather metaphysical beginning the author moves to a more prosaic but no less rigorous investigation of "Regulations and Historical Documents" to build an underlying foundation for what will follow. The next chapter covers paints used on zeppelins and Lufthansa aircraft from 1935 through 1945. The fourth chapter finally delves into the exact shades of color, the nomenclature for those colors, and the patterns of those colors as used on Luftwaffe aircraft during the war. Here's an example of the sort of technical detail Ullmann presents:
Paints from the early period of the Luftwaffe always give rise to speculation. RLM 02 and RLM 63 were described as identical shades. DKH grey L40/52 or Avionorm Nitro-paint 7375 matt grey were also described as RLM 63 Hellgrau. In my earlier work I designated these two colours as RLM 63a through lack of documentary evidence, in order to mark the difference from the true RLM 63. It can now be stated:
RLM 02 and RLM 63 were two different shades.
RLM 02 was identified as RAL 7003 in the Paint Companies Handbook of 1944, and RLM 63 as RAL 7004 (old). Both RLM colours are very similar but nonetheless different. RLM 02 and 63 have the same colour shade except that RLM 63 is somewhat lighter than RLM 02. A very good reproduction of RAL 7004 (old) is the present RAL 7033. It is a very good match with RLM 63.
To the confusion of everyone, because of the absence of documentation, DKH L40/52 grey (or Avionorm nitropaint 7375 matt grey) was designated RLM 63 light grey. Aircraft painted in L 40/52 (or Avionorm nitro-paint 7375 matt grey) were in service at the same time as aircraft whose OS lists stated that they were painted in RLM 02. As the clearly evident differences could not be explained, the two shades were designated RLM 63, based on a wrong interpretation of the OS list for the He 52, in the absence of further information. Dated photos show that the light grey paints L 40/52 (or Avionorm 7375 matt grey) were widely used in 1935 but the number of RLM 02 paints rose steadily thereafter, in accordance with L.Dv 521/1, until the light grey paints had disappeared. After the remainders of L 40/52 (or Avionorm 7375 matt grey) had been used up and until the next basic overhaul of the exterior paintwork was due, aircraft painted in this way retained their light grey colour. The front-line machines were then painted in the regulation two-tone (70/71) or three-tone (61/62/63) colours. This explains the initially high proportion of light grey aircraft which then were consistently reduced until they had quite disappeared (from combat units at least) by 1939.
Enthusiasts are generally unaware that while RLM numbered shades certainly existed before the 1938 edition of the L.Dv 521/1, aircraft paints were also standardised within the RLM only when the 1938 edition appeared. The aviation lacquer groups were no longer coded with manufacturer's data but aircraft material numbers were now allocated (e.g. 7115.02 or 7136.70; the last two digits designating the shade under the RLM, i.e. in this case Grau 02 or Schwarzgrun 70).
Ullmann includes a plethora of black and white photos illustrating general paint schemes, about sixteen pages of 1/144 scale drawings illustrating specific camouflage patterns, and numerous diagrams of aircraft markings and codes. The book concludes by quoting many official documents about paints, caring for paintwork, handling paints, etc. Finally, a full-page chart with about 45 chips, augmented by a tipped-in addenda sheet with another ten paint chips, illustrates Luftwaffe paint colors from 1935 through 1945.
Specialists and hardcore modeling enthusiasts are going to love this book, but general readerseven Luftwaffe aficionadosmight be overwhelmed by so much depth on such an arcane subject.
All of these books are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Thanks to the publishers for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 26 May 2002
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone