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Four recent aviation-related books struck our fancy this week. Here are some notes about them.
Rehr, Louis S. with Carleton R. Rehr. Marauder: Memoir of a B-26 Pilot in Europe in World War II. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2003
x + 220 pages
Acknowledgments; Foreword; photos; maps; Afterward; Military History of Louis S. Rehr; Index
Appendices: Tribute to the Marauder; Biographies; Citations Received
After two years as an instructor stateside, Louis Rehr's much-requested transfer finally came through and he flew his B-26 Marauder and its crew from Florida to England via Puerto Rico, Trinidad, British Guiana, Brazil, Ascension Island, Liberia, Senegal, and French North Africa. Rehr and his crew arrived in the UK in May 1944 just as the preparations for Operation Overlord where shifting into high gear but, despite Rehr's hankering for action, it wasn't until shortly after D-Day that he and his crew began flying with the 456th Squadron of the 323rd Bombardment Group.
Rehr went on to fly sixty missions and in February 1945 he became CO of the 456th. Almost sixty years later he's produced a better-than-average memoir, one enhanced by his position as CO (which offered more than a pilot's view of the proceedings) as well as, interestingly, his pre-war travels in Europe. Among the most memorable of his many adventures during the last eleven months of the war, he encountered Me 262s during a mission on 20 April 1945.
Our initial point was a town called Kempten, south of Memmingen. Here we
tightened up our individual groups of six for a four-minute bomb run. We opened
the bomb bays and held steady. Arcs of light flak, probably from positions in the
higher terrain, crossed our path. Fifteen more seconds until the drop.
Suddenly, an aircraft ripped the skies directly overhead. Instantly, all hell broke
loose. Within seconds, flames billowed from the left engine of a Marauder flying
directly behind box leader Smith. Pieces of wing and fuselage blew past. The Marauder behind the damaged bomber barely avoided a mid-air collision. Then the ill-fated plane rolled over and dropped beneath the formation. Calls from other pilots
to bail out went unheeded.
Simultaneously, the Me-262 pulled straight up as it passed over the formation.
Then he abruptly reversed direction and came at us head on. What a hell of a mess.
He dove underneath preparing for another strike. For an instant, I wanted to break
formation, chase him, knock him out of the sky with my forward firing guns. Somebody had to do something.
Stick to the rules. Stay tight. Concentrate the firepower. Follow the leader.
Now, bombs away!
A couple of P-51s flew past with their guns blasting. Two more jets zoomed up
from beneath passing 100 yards to my right. Gunners and P-51s diverted them from
taking aim at Smith.
Their sport did not end with the attack at the front of the formation. As the last
six Marauders passed over the IP, a swarm of jets struck. Three jets following one
another in 10-second intervals zoomed up from the six o'clock position, then dove on
the formation. The first and second jets barely cleared the lead Marauder flown by
1st. Lt. James Hansen. The third jet would have collided with Hanson's bomber, but
at the last second, the German dove his jet under the Marauders right propeller. Half
the jets rudder flew off, and the aircraft fell away. Hanson was lucky He managed to
keep both engines running. But every other Marauder that followed was in trouble.
The last Marauder in his group of six took a hit and lost both engines. Then
the right engine burst into flames, and the bomber dropped through the clouds. Fortunately, its crew managed to bail out over friendly territory.
Guns from another jet sent an explosion into the cockpit of the number 5
Marauder. The pilot, 1st Lt. James Vining, bled profusely from his lower right leg,
where the blast had nearly severed his foot from his ankle. The jet's guns also knocked
out his right engine. His copilot managed to crashland the plane, but it ran into a
camouflaged tank trap. The aircraft broke into three pieces, killing the turret gunner and seriously injuring the others. The number 3 Marauder lost part of a propeller and continued flying on single engine. Numbers 2 and 4 had damage, but kept
going. P-51s arrived on the scene, but they were too little, too late.
We ended the day with one of the highest casualty lists in the history of the
323rd. 1st Lt. Dale Sanders and his entire crew perished in the Marauder that blew
up in front of me. In all, we lost seven men and three aircraft. Another seven men
were wounded and seven aircraft damaged. From the waist of my bomber, Wolfe
shot what may be the only photo of Marauders under attack by Me-262s. It is not
easy to see the jets, which have dived well beneath us preparing for their treacherous climbs. Given the surprise and the speed of these attacks, it is a miracle there
is any photo. Several of our gunners claimed hits on the jets, but at the end of the
day, it was difficult to reconstruct those seconds of confusion and response.
That day, however, the Germans lost no men. Eduard Schallmoser, the Me-262
pilot with the severed rudder, managed to parachute to safety. Several gunners fired
on Schallmoser's jet, as did pilot Vining, who used his forward guns. Vining later
admitted that as he took aim, he loosened his position in the formation. This made
him an easy target for the German aces. Schallmoser claims that he dropped into
his mother's garden with an injured knee. Before heading back to the base and then
a hospital, he enjoyed a plateful of her pancakes.
That same story, by the way, from Schallmoser's perspective can be found in Me 262, volume four by J. Richard Smith and Eddie Creek.
Marauder is a solid book that transcends the "joy of flying, how much I drank last night, and what I ate for breakfast" genre of pilot memoirs. Dare we suggest a real distinction between the memoirs of fighter pilots and bomber pilots? Rehr's book certainly resonates with more restraint, responsibility, and vision than most pilot memoirs. In any event, the author, assisted by his wife, has turned in work as meritorious as his service in the skies over Europe in 1944-1945.
Hermann, Dietmar, Ulrich Leverenz and
Eberhard Weber. Focke-Wulf Fw 190A: An Illustrated History of the Luftwaffe's Legendary Fighter Aircraft. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2004
Acknowledgments; Foreword; photos; charts; tables; diagrams; scale drawings; color profiles
Dietmar Hermann has ample experience describing the design and development histories of Luftwaffe warplanes, and he puts that experience to good use in his new book on the Fw 190A. As in his earlier books on German aircraft, Hermann in many cases zooms to an almost microscopic level of detail. For example, he quotes a report which suggests, among other things, increasing the length of a particular toggle switch in the cockpit to make it easier for the pilot to manipulate.
In addition to that kind of detail, the book also takes a broader view of the design and development of the plane. Hermann and his co-authors quote the original Luftwaffe specifications for a new fighter and go on to follow the design team as they produced the first prototype.
By the summer of 1939 the first prototype of the new Fw
190 was ready to fly. At the Bremen factory preparations for
the first flight proceeded at a high tempo. Had the enormous
efforts by Focke-Wulf in development, design and prototype
construction paid off? During initial taxiing trials, test pilot
Hans Sander, who was to make the first flight, methodically
familiarized himself with the new machine.
On 1 June 1939 all was ready. Focke-Wulf personnel
pushed the Fw 190 V1, D-OPZE, out of the hangar in Bremen.
Hans Sander started the BMW radial engine and taxied slowly
to the runway. He advanced the throttle and after a run of
about 300 meters the V1 lifted from the ground.
From the very beginning, Hans Sander was enthusiastic
about the machine. The Fw 190 behaved magnificently in the
air. Powered by the 1,550 h.p. BMW 139 radial engine, the
aircraft accelerated quickly and on its very first flight demonstrated its excellent rate of climb. Sander flew the V1 twice
on that day. The design appeared to be a success.
Chief designer Rudolf Blaser felt a great weight lifted
from his shoulders. He identified himself very strongly with
the design, but now his exhaustion became noticeable and he
had to be sent away to rest and recuperate. All was not well
with the new aircraft, however. Hans Sander very soon came
to feel the almost unbearable heat in the cockpit, especially
in the area of the feet. No provision had been made for cockpit ventilation. Inadequately sealed joints allowed exhaust
gases to enter the cockpit, forcing the pilot to wear his oxygen mask. Problems were also encountered with retraction of
the undercarriage. After a handful of flights, and the elimination of the undercarriage problem, the V1 was ordered flown
to the test station at Rechlin.
On 3 July 1939 a so-called "Fuhrer Demonstration" took
place at Rechlin, where the latest aircraft developments were
shown to Hitler, Goring, Udet and other senior officials. By
order of the supreme command of the Luftwaffe, the fastest
German fighter aircraft and most modern bombers were put
on display and in some cases flown. Among the types on display were aircraft still in the prototype phase, such as the
190, which could not be expected to enter service in the near
future. Two months later the Second World War began.
Much ink is devoted to test flights, and each chapter contains the recollections of at least one eyewitness, often pilots, notably Focke Wulf chief test pilot Hans Sander who provided first-hand information during preparation of the book. (Sander died in 2000, "...the last of the Focke-Wulf test pilots.")
Although the original design was considered quite successful during testing, the BMW air-cooled radial engine proved unsuitable and the aircraft required considerable re-design in order to accommodate the new version of the BMW engine. Despite conducting the first Fw 190 test flight in June 1939, revisions necessitated by the new power plant were partly responsible for delaying combat deployment until 1942. As the aircraft went into action, it became increasingly clear that the Fw 190 was a superior weapon.
As usual, Hermann has produced a fine technical history with a great supporting cast of photos, color profiles, line drawings, cockpit views, diagrams, etc. Readers interested in the aircraft themselves, rather than their employment in battle, will be especially pleased with this book.
Wadman, David and Martin Pegg. Luftwaffe Colours, Volume Four, Section 1: Jagdwaffe Holding the West, 1941-43. Crowborough, UK: Classic Publications, 2003
Acknowledgments; photos; color profiles; sidebars; tables; OBs
The Luftwaffe Colours series from Classic Publications is still going strong almost five years after the first volume was released, and the booksincluding this onecontinue to measure up to the highest standards, especially in the craftsmanship of their design and layout.
This volume looks at western Europe in the relatively quiet years between the Battle of Britain and the Normandy invasion, although "quiet" might not really be the word to describe the almost daily clashes between German fighters and the RAF, with the latter eventually joined by the USAAF. The main narrative looks at the evolution of fighter-to-fighter combat, particularly as the Luftwaffe introduced the Fw 190 and gained the upper hand in air-to-air combat despite its reduced strength in the West. Along the way, Wadman and Pegg provide multi-page sidebars on topics such as Operation Donnerkeil (protecting the Channel Dash), the air battle over Dieppe, and German pilots such as Georg-Peter Eder and Walter Oesau. The authors also discuss various tactical and technological innovations:
During the raids carried out on 21 May, the
Wilhelmshaven force reported the first definite use of
German fighters launching air-to-air mortars to further
disrupt and separate the formations. Launched from well
beyond the range of the bombers' guns, the mortar had a
delayed fuse which detonated once the projectile had
travelled 800 metres after firing and were designed to break
up the tight bomber formations. The mortar attacks on the
21st are thought to have been carried out by
Erprobungskommando 25, but another early user of these
'Stovepipes' was I./JG 1, which received them in June 1943,
followed by JG 11 and two Staffeln of III./JG 26. At first,
these mortars were quite successful, for although they
adversely affected the performance of the fighters, attacks
were intended to be carried out after the range of the US
fighter escorts had compelled them to turn back. In practice,
however, they were simply too heavy and after just six weeks
use, JG 1 had already removed them from its aircraft. A
better solution was to fit the mortars to twin-engined Bf 110s
and Me 410s which were able to carry four tubes per aircraft
and from August 1943, twin-engined Zerstorer units were
transferred from other areas to North-West Germany where
they were fitted with the mortar tubes. Held back until the US
bombers were well beyond range of their fighter escort,
these aircraft at first proved particularly effective when
backed up by single-engined fighters which attacked
bombers forced out of formation by the action of the
Zerstorer units. They remained so for as long as the bombers
were not accompanied by escort fighters.
Although the authors provide highlights of operations, sketches of leading pilots, and even some order-of-battle data, as always the Luftwaffe Colours books are mostly about the planes and their colors, markings, and emblems. In that regard this volume proves visually pleasing and full of interesting images.
We're always glad to see volumes from this series, so we're not complaining, but for some reason these books always make us wonder when someone is going to put together a complete unit-by-unit OB for the Luftwaffe along the lines of what Maurer Maurer did for the USAAF and several researchers, including Jefford, Lewis, and Rawlings have done for the RAF.
Jelavic, Tino. No. 352 (Y) R.A.F. Squadron. Zagreb: Tino Jelavic, 2003
Foreword; Introduction; photos; maps; tables; color profiles; Bibliography; Abbreviations and Terminology; Model Kits; Uniforms and Insignia
We receive quite a few books from all over the globe, but it's not every day one arrives from Croatia. Besides its unusual origin, Tino Jelavic's bookwritten entirely in English is probably the most ambitious of this lot and certainly the most fascinating, covering as it does the obscure Yugoslav-manned No. 352 squadron of the RAF.
The book actually begins with the disintegration of the Yugoslav Royal Air Force at the time of the Axis invasion in 1941 and goes on to discuss Yugoslav pilots in Axis service and the first Yugoslav pilots serving with the British. In the Med, the RAF utilized the Yugoslavs (along with the planes with which they had escaped) on maritime reconnaissance missions and then for ferrying new aircraft across the Tokaradi air route and elsewhere. Initial efforts to form a force of Yugoslavs into a complete RAF unit were hampered by continued political squabbles. Nonetheless, by February 1944 the British had agreed to support Tito's partisans by forming Yugoslav squadrons. Training began at Benina airfield near Benghazi and in August 1944 the squadron transferred with its Spitfires to Canne airfield near Termoli, Italy to join 281 Wing of the multi-national Balkan Air Force.
A few days later 352 Squadron commenced operations flying bomber escort, fighter sweeps, and ground attack missions. Jelavic provides day-by-day, mission-by-mission details of the Yugoslav sorties. Here's an example of some of the early logs:
August 28 1944. Out of 11 fighters in the squadron, 10 are in working order
- First sortie: 3 Spitfires with Popov, Kovacic and Srdanovic as the pilots take off at 06:00 a.m. for the mission of bombing Obrovac. All bombs hit the targets mostly in the west part of town. After that, the group returns and Lands at 08:00 a.m.
- Second sortie: 2 Spitfires with Pajic and Kluz as the pilots take off at 06:05 a.m. for the mission of escorting the convoy on the Mljet-Vis stretch. They Land at 08:10 a.m. with reporting no activities
-Third sortie: 3 Spitfires with Ivanisevic, Ankon and Tomsic as the pilots take off at 14:20 p.m. for the mission of armed reconnaissance on the Travnik-Bugojno-Kupres communication. Moderate heavy AAA is noted above Travnik. After that, they discover and attack a freight train with six carriages on Goles but without direct hits after which they return and Land at 16:10 p.m.
August 29 1944 Out of 11 fighters in the squadron, 8 are in working order
- First sortie: 4 Spitfires with the following pilot crew: Delic, Semolic, Vukovic and Okanovic, take
off at 00:55 p.m. for the mission of bombing targets at Han Pijesak. After all bombs hit the aimed targets, the group returns and lands at 03:20 p.m.
- Second sortie: 4 Spitfires with the following pilot crew: Soic, Kraus, Radulovic and Losic take off
at 01:55 p.m. for the sweep mission on the Klin-Pristina-Kacanik stretch. Due to malfunction,
Radulovic and Losic break off their mission and land at 02:25 p.m. Soic and Kraus continue alone
and two miles eastern from Klin attack and destroy a freight train. No other transport is noticed
so the aircraft return and Land at Canne at 04:55 p.m. This mission, designated No. 29 is the only combat task of the squadron over Kosovo and Serbia.
August 30, 1944. Out of 11 fighters in the squadron, 9 are in working order
- First sortie: 6 Spitfires with the following pilot crew: Popov, Kovacic, Srdanovic, Fabijamc,
Jovanovic and Rugi take off at 09:05 a.m. for the mission of bombing Bileca. After landing at
12:00 a.m. all bombs are reported to have hit the aimed targets.
- Second sortie: 2 Spitfires with Ankon and Ivanisevic as the pilots take off at 04:35 p.m. for the
mission of providing fighter protection during the aircraft SAR mission over the sea. They land at
06:55 p.m. with no report on any special actions.
In addition to copious amounts of information about daily missions, the author also discusses other events, such as defections of pilots from the German satellite air forces to join the Yugoslavs. He also tracks the progress of Tito's partisan campaign, support of which was an important goal for the squadron. In addition, the book is packed with tables, charts, and statistical data about the unit's participation in the air war. The book includes ten pages of color aircraft profiles, several pages of data and examples of uniforms, insignia, and medals, three pages of Osprey-style illustrations of airmen in wartime garb, and the whole is liberally sprinkled with interesting photographs, of which very few are likely to be familiar to readers.
In sum, Jelavic has done a good job with an unusual subject, displaying all the best elements of "amateur" publishing by someone devoted to preserving a colorful piece of history. The English is not always as clear as it could be and sometimes requires careful study, but that's a small price to pay for so much information that seems impossible to find elsewhere. This looks like a self-publisher who deserves some attention and support.
All of these books are available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers or their distributors.
Thanks to the publishers and distributors for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 8 February 2004
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in anyform without written permission of Stone & Stone