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Nations at war
This week we present a foursome of aviation titles covering a wide range of topics, some of which we've been meaning to showcase here for quite awhile.
Isby, David C. (editor). Fighting the Bombers: The Luftwaffe's Struggle against the Allied Bomber Offensive. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003
Introduction; Contributors; photos; maps; diagrams; tables; Glossary
David Isby has been making his name with a series of books using post-war reports prepared by German officers under Allied supervision (plus some transcripts of interrogations), a series including Fighting the Invasion: The German Army at D-Day and Fighting in Normandy: The German Army from D-Day to Villers-Bocage. Like those two titles, this is a valuable but uneven compilation of accounts from men who planned and commanded operations against the western Allies.
This time Isby turns his attention to Germany's battle against the Allied strategic bombers. Contributors include Adolf Galland, Josef Kammhuber, Willi Messerschmitt, Beppo Schmid, and seven others. Although many of the authors were fighter pilots, these are not stories about air-to-air combat. The writers view the campaign against the Allied bombers not from the cockpit, but from headquarters and from the ops room, so they generally examine the evolving doctrine, tactics, and technology employed in the air war.
The book organizes its material into four parts plus a final summing up. The first part mostly provides an overview of the campaign against the bombers, the middle two concentrate on technology (including communications, radar, ground-based control of fighters, and the development of the Me 262), while the final part mostly covers the nitty-gritty of nightfighter tactics. Each part contains from three to eight chapters by assorted contributors. Here's an example from one chapter by Kammhuber:
The first decisive improvement was effected by the appearance of the
"Wurzburg A" radar set. This device had already been developed before the
war and ordered by the Ob.d.L. (Chief NVW) as a radio location set. At its
appearance in October 1940, it was at once obtained by the flak to replace the
"Flakschiessgeraet," the development of which had not been completed in time.
Now to these demands, that of nightfighters was added, for which up until then
detection sets had been envisaged. Since deliveries were very scanty in the
beginning (approx. 20 sets per month) the sets had to be distributed by the
Ob.d.L. personally, with the natural result that none of the interested parties
could actually be satisfied.
On 16 October 1940, the first set of the Wurzburg A type was installed for
operation in nightfighting in the neighborhood of Zytphon, Holland. The first
trial failed as nobody was able to operate the set and there were no clear
conceptions whatever about its tactical application and purpose.
Therefore, the technical and tactical possibilities for use at the front had to
be tested next along with the training of the necessary personnel.
Plotting tables invented by the operating personnel were constructed, but
owing to their varying accuracy, they did not always meet the requirements. In
the beginning of November, the second test was run, this time successfully.
The most important task (as will be appreciated from the foregoing) was to
check upon the position of our own nightfighter and to lead him from the
ground by mean of R/T, i.e. to bring him into combat with such enemy aircraft
as were actually picked up by the searchlights and were flying in his proximity
in a position suitable for an attack. As long as the scarcity of these sets prevailed,
one "Wurzburg A" set was put into operation for leading our own nightfighters
within the sector of one searchlight battalion. Since the position of the
nightfighter was now known and could be transmitted to the searchlights by
telephone, the waiting zone could be placed into the center of the searchlight
zone without confusing the [sic] own accoustic [sic] aircraft detecting service. Hereby the
time of approach was cut in half at [sic] the nightfighter could reach all sides very
As more sets became available, a second "Wurzburg" set was placed at the
far edge of each searchlight battalion, in order to pick up enemy approach at a
greater distance and to be able to send up [our] own fighters earlier, to have them close
at hand as soon as the searchlights picked up the enemy aircraft.
As still more sets became available, a third "Wurzburg" set was placed at the
rear edge of each searchlight battalion, in order to have the same advantage on
These Luftwaffe reports and interrogations (and Isby's other compilations in this genre) predate the later, lengthier, and more polished historical studies from some of the same writers commissioned by the US Air Force, including titles such as The German Air Force versus Russia, 1941 and Airpower and Russian Partisan Warfare.
As with Isby's other two titles, the accounts presented here all have their strengths and their weaknesses. One of the most formidable strengths of the accounts, their immediacy, in some cases also proves to be a weakness. The bulk of these pieces were written by Luftwaffe officers strictly from memory while they were prisoners of war without access to their own records or other documents. It must also be remembered that since the officers were POWs, they might have unconsciouslyor otherwisewritten what they thought their captors wanted to hear, or what they thought would be most beneficial for themselves. Consequently, it's necessary to read these accounts carefully and critically.
Isby points out that the authors made their share of factual mistakes, but he doesn't say where. He explains, "[t]here has been no attempt to correct the accounts, even where the authors get things wrong, or to insert more recent or superior knowledge." (That lack of editorial intervention seems also to extend to typographical errors.) That approach sharply decreases the utility of this book and, it must be said, seems to indicate the editor was unable or unwilling to do his job properly. Important as these kinds of historical documents might be, they could be far more valuable if the editor had taken the time to annotate them. Without that kind of editorial effort, this book will help preserve and propagate not only the priceless firsthand knowledge of these Luftwaffe officers, but also their uncorrected inaccuracies.
George, Robert H. Army Air Forces Historical Studies, No 36: Ninth Air Force: April to November, 1944. Reno, NV: Historica Aviation Publications, 2002
Foreword; Historica Preface; maps; tables; charts; diagrams; Glossary; Notes; Bibliographic Note; Appendices
Much as the US Air Force attempted to learn from its defeated enemies at the end of the war, it also attempted to study and preserve its own experiences. In addition to the official series from Craven and Cate, the Air Force prepared a series of historical studies mostly for internal use. Michael Fletcher of Reno, Nevada has recently begun reprinting some of those original USAAF publications, and he was kind enough to send along this photocopied, spiral-bound volume on the Ninth Air Force. In this case as in many others, the copy shop printing and binding are far less important than the contents.
In some ways, this book is much like Isby's compilation of German accounts. However, Ninth Air Force was assembled by a single author, Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. George, from his own experience as historical officer of the Ninth Air Force and from reports by other officers at the front. Unlike the German writers, George also had the luxury of time, research facilities, and other resources to produce a more comprehensive and complete account.
George begins his volume with a discussion of the Ninth Air Force's part in the Overlord plan, breaking down the planning for IX Tactical Air Command, IX Bomber Command, IX Troop Carrier Command, etc. The second chapter examines preparatory operations in April and May, including attacks on railway centers, bridges, rolling stock, coastal batteries, etc. The third chapter covers Ninth Air Force operations from D-Day through the end of June 1944. Following chapters cover activities on a more-or-less month-by-month basis through the end of November 1944. For the most part, each chapter is divided into a dozen or more bite-sized chunks of one to three pages in length. Here's an example of one of the shorter topics in Chapter Three:
All of the assignments to IX Bomber Command for the assault phase were
carried out. Zero hour had been fixed at 0630. Accordingly the first aircraft
involved took off at 0343, the last at 0500 on 6 June. Under these circumstances
it was well that much effort had been expended in training flying personnel in
formating just before dawn.
Weather and pathfinder difficulties reduced the attack on the targets in the
21st Army Group Area. Only one aircraft was over Benerville and 11 were over
the two batteries at Ouistrehem. The attacks took place between 0515 0550, with
1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs being used.
The attack on the batteries Pointe du Hoe, Montfarville and Massy I took
place between 0625 and 0645. The results in the first instance were unobserved; in the other two the targets were well covered by the bursts of 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs dropped visually by single boxes accompanied by pathfinder
Owing to weather conditions the visual attack on the seven defended
localities in the Utah beach area were made at unusual levels between
3,500 and 7,000 feet. They were delivered by 18 boxes, distributed as planned,
and took place between 0605 and 0624. To avoid heavy cratering, 250-pound
bombs were employed. Calculations based upon experimental bombing at
Brancaster on 11 and 23 May had determined this selection. A total of 269
aircraft dropped 523.63 tons of 250-pound bombs.
Assessment of the results of these bombing attacks is extremely difficult.
Poor photographic conditions prevailed which limited the results to be obtained
from strike photographs. Later examination on the ground yielded rather unsatisfactory
conclusions since the small craters were obscured by the effects of naval
gunfire, by later fighting, and by still later cleaning-up operations. Operational
Research Section, however, calculated on the basis of 3 located bomb-falls in
the Utah beach area that 16 percent of the bombs fell in the target areas of the
seven defended localities, 43 percent within 500 feet of the target areas, and
34 percent on land, and 34 percent between high tide and water line. It should
be remembered that in an attack by two boxes of 18 aircraft each on such
targets, the chance of a machine gun's being put out of action are .064. The
chance of a direct hit on a pillbox is less than 2 percent. It is to be observed,
however, that reports from the ground commander in the Utah area stated that
the pinpoint of the bombing of the beach targets was excellent, and that he
later transmitted a commendation to IX Bomber Command. In particular the light
resistance encountered by a unit of the 101st Airborne Division in occupying a
battery west of St. Martin de Varreville was declared by a ground observer to be
"due to the excellent air force bombing."
In attacks against coastal batteries, usually housed in heavy concrete
emplacements, hits were reported in the vicinity of the guns, but no physical
damage attributable to the bombing was discovered at a later date. It is noteworthy that in all bombing of such targets the effect of other than direct hits
might have disrupted controls and communications and demoralized personnel,
thus effectively neutralizing the gun position at a critical period.
In addition to the narrative report, George includes nineteen appendices ranging from OBs and TOEs to maps of Ninth Air Force installations and unit deployments to statistical summaries, and so on.
Much like Isby's German officers, George, in writing for other USAAF professionals, doesn't always pause to define his terminology or explain unfamiliar concepts. But, far more than the uncorrected German accounts, Ninth Air Force provides a wealth of data that, while not absolutely perfect, combines the immediacy of personal experience with a process of research, reflection, and revision.
Fletcher, by the way, has already reprinted several of these volumes and apparently intends to expand that number. We wish him well and hope to have the opportunity to review more of Historica's studies.
Gallagher, James P. With the Fifth Army Air Force: Photos from the Pacific Theater. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001
Foreword; Preface; Acknowledgements; photos; maps; Epilogue; Index;
Where the first two books look at air operations from the somewhat detached perspective of analyzing operations and doctrine and technology, James Gallagher provides an entirely personal approach to his three years in the USAAF. Not a pilot, the author served as a staff officer and communications specialist with the Fifth Air Force in New Guinea, the Philippines, Okinawa, and during the post-war occupation of Japan.
Gallagher writes about the same kinds of things as most veterans: chow, friends, homesickness, and daily duties. As with most GIs, he witnessed a number of unusual events and met some unusual characters along the way. For example, not many other GIs ever knew about, let alone met, pilots of the 201st Fighter Squadron of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force. Another acquaintance was Captain Louis Curdes:
Curdes's aircraft carried symbols of
victories over German, Italian, and
Japanese pilots, making his plane a
subject of much admiration. But the
question so often arose, "What the
heck is the story on that American
marking?" The story traces to the middle of February 1945, when Curdes flew
over Formosa as a member of a four-plane sweep (downing one Japanese
plane). On the way home, the flight
decided to do a little work on the small
island of Batan. This enemy-held island
(not to be confused with Bataan, the
site of a death march the victorious
Japanese forced the defenders of Corrigidor [sic] to make in early 1942) was
located about 150 miles north of Luzon,
known as Basco strip. During the
attack ground fire hit one of the Mustangs, and a few minutes later an
American pilot was floating around in
a rubber dinghy. One of the 51s headed
high to send out an SOS and a fix,
while the other two headed home for
Circling low in a protective pattern,
Curdes spotted a C-47 heading to
Batan, apparently believing the airstrip
to be under U.S. control. Curdes felt
he had to intervene, lest the transport
and all aboard fall into enemy hands.
Unable to make radio contact with the
C-47 or any American base nearby, he
shot out one, then two, of the plane's
engines, sending the C-47 into a water
landing. He flew over the scene long
enough to notice a dozen Americans,
including nurses, in the rubber raft.
He headed home, having done all he
could, good or bad. The story ends
well. The next morning he and a wingman flew out at daybreak to cover the
rescue of the Americans. As the 51s
circled protectively over the downed
people, a PBY Catalina picked them
all up, including the downed Mustang
pilot. The pilot of the C-47 had indeed expected to land on Basco strip.
Curdes actually won the Distinguished
Flying Cross for shooting down one of
our own C-47s.
Overall, the text is workmanlike, but what really makes this book such a stand-out is something else altogether. Gallagher carried with him during his days in the Pacific a camera with which he snapped many rolls of film. All those wartime snapshots have produced over 250 vivid, amazingly evocative photographs of his wartime life. In some ways reminiscent of The World War II Black Regiment That Built the Alaska Military Highway: A Photographic History by William Griggs, these photos look equally professional but cover a much broader range of locales and subjects. Among many other subjects, Gallagher's snaps show the living conditions of GIs, the surrounding jungle, natives, aircraft nose art, nighttime bombing by Japanese intruders, air attacks against a troop convoy in which Gallagher was travelling, the devastation left behind by battles on land, and scenes in Japan after the war.
Were this book nothing more than Gallagher's written memories of the Pacific, no one would consider it especially spectacular or inspired. Coupled with such a wonderful array of his own photos, however, With the Fifth Air Force stands out as something special among memoirs.
Mankau, Heinz and Peter Petrick. Messerschmitt Bf 110 / Me 210 / Me 410: An Illustrated History. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2003
Foreword; photos; diagrams; charts; tables; documents; Bibliography
Last but far from least, Heinz Mankau and Peter Petrick have produced another of Schiffer's patented heavy-weight aircraft tomes. As with other volumes from Schiffernotably Karl-Heniz Regnat's Dornier Do 335: An Illustrated History and Dietmar Hermann's Focke-Wulf Fw 187: An Illustrated Historythis oversize offering weighs a ton and comes absolutely packed with technical data and supporting materials, including a great many photos and wartime illustrations. Despite all the photos and illustrations, this is not a coffee table book of colorful aircraft profiles. Instead, it contains just about everything anyone could want to know about the technical development and specifications of these aircraft.
To begin with, the authors include a "chronicle" for each of the three designations. Gleaned from 8000 pages of "minutes of meetings held either at or within the ministry of Generalfeldmarschall Milch," these quotations and summaries typically run from a paragraph or two up to several pages apiece, amounting in total to almost 150 pages of extracts from primary sources in chronological order. Given the relentless torrent of factoid after factoid, most writers would have fashioned their own narrative and used these quotations in supporting footnotes. Like Isby, Mankau and Petrick have preferred to simply present the original material. The drawback to this mass of documentary evidence about the planes is a lack of context andas with Isby's booka lack of editorial annotation to tie everything together and enhance the whole. As raw source material, these detailed entries have much value, but they also produce a very pointillistic image of many disconnected parts rather than a clear, integrated portrait. Here's an excerpt:
The oil slinger has not yet been fitted into
the Bf 110 because the oil cooler is inadequate. Up to now Messerschmitt has always
ordered the old one, even though the new one
has been technologically feasible for over a
year. Messerschmitt has been vague when it
comes to installation of the new coolers in
production plans. Messerschmitt's contract
called for taking care of all issues for incorporating components into the engines of the
Bf 109, 110, and 410. He himself confessed
that by taking on new tasks he has not pushed
basic issues for old matters as much as he
perhaps should be doing. Generalfeldmarschall Milch recommends getting that in
Following what is essentially a recitation of research notes, the authors look at each model in a more orthodox manner, describing in narrative fashion the development of the airplane and in particular discussing the variants, produced or not, of each. These prove exceedingly numerous and sometimes quite esoteric. The Bf 110 C included, for example, Bf 110 C-1, Bf 110 C-1/B, Bf 110 C-1/U1 (tow plane), Bf 110 C-2, Bf 110 C-2/B, Bf 110 C-2/U1, Bf 110 C-3, and so on. For each of these, the authors discuss the role of the aircraft, modifications to the basic design, nuances of electronics and armaments, and distinguishing features. Ample illustrations accompany them all. This part of the book comprises approximately another 150 pages. Here's a short example:
Bf 110 G-4/U7, Night Fighter
As Bf 110 G-4, but
Fuel: additional 440 kg GM 1 for 45 min
Flexible armament: without MG 81 Z
Armor: none in aft compartment
Compare with Bf 110 G-2/U7. The first
ten Bf 110 G-4/U7 high altitude night fighters for combating Mosquitos were delivered
in June 1943, and were in fact converted Bf
110 G-4s. The General Staff ordered that 50%
of the aircraft be so equipped on 6/29/43.
According to a report in the RLM, the field
considered the GM 1 systems to be useless
and potentially dangerous ballast in some
cases and, since the British never flew at altitudes above 8000 m, these were largely removed. At this time the systems had not yet
been fully developed. Trials with Bf 110 G-4/U7 W.Nr. 5457, NM+SE at Messerschmitt's
Augsburg facility showed that the aircraft
with full GM 1 tank and without ammunition was tail-heavy and unstable at higher
altitudes. This effect was exaggerated with
extended landing flaps, making any second
pass after an aborted approach nearly impossible.
The next main portion of the book examines engines in similar detail: engines for prototypes, first-generation engines, second-generation engines, third-generation engines, and standard powerplants. Other sections of the book cover "Me 410 Conversion Kits" (for creating more than three dozen specialized sub-models), "Variants, serial numbers, and quantities," and "Prototypes and testbeds."
Authoritative and comprehensive as this work might be, it's definitely not intended to be an introduction to the subject. The authors seem to assume that readers will already have a basic familiarity with the topic, so they provide no introductory essay or real overview of the aircraft in question. In the book as a whole, as with the "chronicle" section, there are far too many trees in the way to allow a good view of the forest. However, for anyone who wants to examine individual branches and twigs, Mankau and Petrick offer a potent package full of thorough documentation that far outclasses anything else on this topic about which we're aware. The shortcoming of this book is the very unorthodox structure of the material, the utility of which is somewhat limited by the absence of an index. This makes it impossible to find, for example, every reference to "oil slingers" without thumbing through the whole book. There's so much good stuff here that it's not fair to criticize the authors, but it appears this book has been produced strictly for serious researchers.
All of these books are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers or their distributors.
Thanks to the publishers and/or distributors for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 8 June 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone