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Nations at war
Francois, Dominique. Normandy: Breaching the Atlantic Wall: From D-Day to the Breakout and Liberation. St Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2008
Acknowledgments; Introduction; sidebars; photos; maps; Epilogue; Bibliography; Index
Appendices: The Battlefield Then and Now; Unit Insignia
Dominique Francois includes among his credentials ten years of writing about and researching the Normandy campaign. More poignantly, his grandfathera farmer and WWI veteranwas killed in his home in Normandy in an Allied bombing raid on 6 June 1944. The book is dedicated to the former cavalry officer.
From a physical standpoint, this tome stands out as a weighty package with heavy, sparkling white pages and crisp black and white photographs. Indeed, the photos prove to be the highlight of the book. Assembled from a variety of sources (French, US, British, and German), some familiar and some not, they all display eye-catching sharpness and focus. As a photo album, Normandy: Breaching the Atlantic Wall succeeds nicely.
The author strives to deliver more than just a photo album, however, and his original French text has been translated into flawless English. Despite the title, the chapters actually begin with the defeat of France in 1940, the Occupation, and construction of the Atlantic Wall. Francois goes on to set the scene with German forces in Normandy and Allied preparations for the invasion. About seventy pages cover the airborne and seaborne landings. The remainder of the book follows the campaign in Normandy, the breakout at St Lo, the Mortain counter-offensive, the Falaise pocket, and the advance to Paris. There's little to fault in the discourse, but the author doesn't offer much in the way of new perspective, fresh detail, or compelling narrative. Readers must settle for pleasantries and earnestness.
Heavy bombing of target areas on the beaches began at 5:50 a.m. and continued
until 6:30 a.m. Bombs fell on the beach exits, and destroyers took aim on the major points
of defense. Unfortunately, it was impossible to actually observe the results of the attack,
for if they had been known, it may well have changed the course of the battle. Most of
the navy's firepower missed its objectives. When the first GIs hit the beach, German
defenses largely remained intact.
The mission of the 1st Infantry Division was to wage a frontal assault with two
reinforced infantry regiments on the western side of Omaha Beach. The 16th Regimental
Combat Team (RCT) landed in the eastern subsectors (Easy Red and Fox Green) of the
front, an area three thousand meters wide, with two battalions leading the charge and a
battalion of reinforcements assigned to the three subsectors. The Provisional Ranger
force, composed of the 2nd Ranger Battalion and the 5th Ranger Battalion, was attached
to the 116th Infantry Regiment and assigned to the right flank. Three companies of the
2nd Ranger Battalion attacked Pointe du Hoc, while one company of the battalion was
engaged on Charlie (codename for Omaha Beach's western sector).
Five minutes before H-Hour, duplex-drive (DD) tanks from B and C Companies of
the 743rd Tank Battalion were planned to land on Dog Green and Dog White. Equipped
with propellers and flotation skirts, the amphibious tanks could be launched into the
waves six kilometers from shore and, once ashore, engage the enemy to cover the assault
of first-wave troops.
Such was the plan envisioned by the Allied high command. The men who landed on
the beaches quickly discovered a different reality.
Francois breaks up his pages with numerous sidebars (mostly biographical, including notes about Ike, Montgomery, and the usual suspects) and some very nice maps. The first appendix contains seven pairs of "then and now" photos of recognizable scenes from the campaign. The second appendix includes two pages with about thirty photos of unit insignia.
While the author might have devoted ten years to researching the book, his bibliography lists only fifteen sources, which might be related to the rather thin, generic nature of his prose. This oversize volume will certainly look impressive on a coffee table, and the photos are definitely worth a peek, but the heft of the book belies a superficial approach to the topic, and the author's paragraphsaside from the story of his grandfatheraren't nearly as evocative as the photos.
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Norton, Bill. U.S. Experimental and Prototype Aircraft Projects: Fighters 1939-1945. North Branch, MN: Specialty Press, 2008
Acknowledgements; Introduction; Glossary; Acronyms; photos; line drawings; specifications; Endnotes; Bibliography; Index
Although generously illustrated, Bill Norton's work is by no means a picture book. Nor is it a book about aerial combat. Partly a history of the evolution of the American aeronautical industry, partly a chronicle of the development of new aircraft systems (such as weapons, avionics, engines, and canopies), and partly an inventory of designs, prototypes, and limited production models that (for the most part) never made it to the front lines, U.S. Experimental and Prototype Aircraft Projects packs its pages with hard facts, accurate numbers, and expert opinion.
Unlike the world of the 21st Century, the pre-war period and war years found the United States with a plethora of manufacturers of warplanes, including Bell, Boeing, Brewster, Douglas, Lockheed, North American, and Republic. Not only were they ramping up production as the Roosevelt administration gradually prepared the nation to face the reality of global conflict, the aircraft companies were also competing with new and improved products to sell to the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.
Readers familiar with the Luftwaffeor at least readers who have glanced at shelves groaning with books about various models of Luftwaffe aircraft, some of which were in reality little more than rough sketches on crumpled napkinsknow that Goering's air force worked with German industry to design and produce an endless stream of new types and models of fighters and bombers. North's Introduction exhibits a bit of displeasure with all those books about Luftwaffe flugzeuge, especially "secret" projects. "Many recent books have lavishly reviewed [Luftwaffe] "projects" or designs that were fantastic to the point of infeasibility, too far ahead of the state of the art in materials, structures, propulsion, stability, and control technology to be realized in a wartime environment. Yet, these publications show detailed drawings and computer-generated art for many concepts that never advanced beyond the stage of a notional sketch.... The perception of some that Germany was far advanced of the Allies in aviation technology...is far from true."
Although the tale is seldom told and the designs not as well known, the US aircraft industry seems to have been no less prolific in cranking out new concepts than the vaunted Luftwaffe. North investigates what the armed forces wanted and what industry tried to produce in thirteen chapters, each devoted mostly to a specific areasuch as Navy fighters, night fighters, and jetswith some catchy titles such as "Army Miscreants" and "Army Aberrations." Among the planes covered in the latter chapter, the XP-82a pair of P-51 Mustangs mated side-by-sidestands out. Here's what North writes about the "Twin."
Sometimes even the strangest aeronautical incarnations can be
successful. This is true of the North American Aviation P-82 Twin
Mustang that began as a sketch on 21 October 1943 by chief designer Edgar Schmued. It showed two P-51 fuselages joined like Siamese twins via a constant-chord center wing section and rectangular horizontal tail. This, it was estimated, might provide the long range sought for B-29 escort to Japan and back, launched from
Saipan or other remote islands. The "Twin"as it was known
around North American Aviationwould provide a relief pilot in
one of the cockpits during the very lengthy missions in addition to
the over-water safety of two engines. Propellers would turn in opposite directions to cancel torque effects. The preliminary design
group then prepared a proposal for what became NA-120. It was
shown to Gen. Arnold when he visited the plant on 7 January 1944,
and he approved it on the spot!
The Materiel Division staff then had to follow-up on the general's autocratic decision. Nevertheless, they found the NAA design
had high potential to solve the nagging escort problem. The two
cockpits addressed the physiological problems of such long missions with a single pilot. It could also be equipped for ground attack duties. After Arnold's impromptu go-ahead, two XP-82
prototypes (44-83886/7, MX-485), a pair of XP-82As (44-83888/9),
and a static test article were formally ordered on 8 February 1944.
The XP-82 would be powered by 1,380-hp V-1650-11/12s with
2,270 hp (water) at 4,000 feet. The XP-82As would use 1,500-hp
V-1710-119s. A production contract for 500 P-82Bs (NA-123, 44-65160/659) followed on 8 March, a year away from first flight, with 1,380-hp V-1650-19/21s and outboard wing hardpoints for up to
4,000 pounds of tanks and bombs, and more rockets.
Ultimately, the P-82 had almost no parts in common with the P-51.
The fuselages bore a resemblance to P-51F bodies, although extended 57 inches aft of the air scoop, but with almost entirely new
structure that included a dorsal fin extension and ventral strake. It
actually ended up with V-1650-23/25s with counter-rotation. A main
gear strut under each fuselage, ahead of the cooling intake, retracted
inboard into the fuselage and center wing. A tail wheel retracted into
each aft fuselage. The outboard wing halves were similar to the
P-51H but with slightly larger chord lengths. The inboard laminar-flow section was fitted with a flap. Aero surfaces had the latest thermal de-icing features.
The idea was for the relief pilot to occupy the starboard cockpit,
with only essential instruments and controls, who would also assist with navigation duties. There was initial concern that pilots
seven feet off centerline would suffer spatial disorientation during
high-rate rolls. A ground rig was constructed to explore this potential, and the fears were shown to be unfounded. Systems were installed to permit all-weather operations. Six .50-cal. machine guns in
the center wing had 400 rpg. A pod with eight .50s mounted on the
centerline of the center wing was also tested.
The work proceeded under project engineer George Gehrkens.
The first XP-82 was completed in May 1945. First flight was attempted on 15 April, but this and other tries through June found
the aircraft refused to leave the ground. Only by off-loading fuel to
reduce weight did the aircraft reluctantly takeoff for a brief first
flight from Mines Field on 16 June with Joe Barton at the controls.
The engineers suspected an adverse flow phenomenon that stalled
the inboard wing section with the propellers turning inboard. Only
when the prop rotations were reversed by swapping the engines
side-to-side (-23 on port side, -25 starboard) did the aircraft behave
properly, as demonstrated on 26 June by Bob Chilton. The second
XP-82 flew on 30 August. Only the first XP-82A was completed,
hampered by backfiring problems with the Allison. Oddly, those
engines all turned in the same direction.
At war's end, the remaining XP-82A was cancelled and the P-82B
order was reduced to 20 (44-65160/79). However, production was
eventually resumed as the last new propeller-driven and tail-wheel
fighter bought by the Air Forces. A very fine postwar night fighter
and attack aircraft resulted.
North's account of the XP-82 also includes two photographs of the plane and a sidebar with specifications such as wingspan, wing area, ceiling, maximum speed, range, etc.
The book affords the same substantive treatment for an uncounted number of prototypes and experiments. Endnotes and an extensive bibliography accompany the text, photos, drawings, and specs.
This is great stuff from front to back, full of interesting and obscure aircraft, and nothing else quite like it seems to exist for US warplanes of the WWII era. Indispensable for any fan of WWII aviation, and quite a potent antidote to all those books about Luftwaffe secret projects.
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Saiz, Agustin. Deutsche Soldaten: Uniforms, Equipment, and Personal Items of the German Soldier, 1939-45. Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2008
Prologue; Introduction; photos; Epilogue; Bibliography
Deutsche Soldaten is all about Anton Imgrund.
Well, not exactly.
It's unclear if Anton really existed. The author writes about Anton in text that shifts between present tense and past tense and includes various photos and identity papers belonging to the landser, but Anton is mostly used as a German everyman for adding some personality to the catalog of artifacts comprising the vast majority of the book.
Those items, Agustin Saiz explains, have the power to draw collectors and readers into the life of this everyman.
Agustin encounters the life force of the infantry
soldier; enters his soul and, through personal objects,
clothing, combat gear has re-created the profile of
someone who finds himself immersed in a universal
conflict without reason or argument that might afford
comfort for his presence in the face of horror. Through
the following pages, we delve into the soldier's everyday
life and personality; we can even infer something about
his vital spirit; we can penetrate his solitude, his fears,
his silent heroism, his fear as a faithful companion, his
sense of survival, the drive of courage and fury, his
hopes and dreams during the times he is in the
rearguard, his thoughts with no future, his wishes to live,
kill or die.
Forty years of research and reconstructing, by means
of magical and concentric circles from the epicentre of
his naked soul, the experiences of the infantry soldier, of
combatants from various countries, of people with the
same certainties of identity as you yourself, reader of
this great work, enjoy at this precise moment. There are
no anonymous characters; this marvelous, educational
collection offers an exceptional testimony of a man in
the name of all men who were made protagonists very
much in spite of themselves. After the publication of this
great work, that man is no longer unknown to us.
Thus, Agustin devotes to Anton an eight-page Introduction and a three-page Epilogue, telling about the obergefreiter's early life and his demise on the Russian front in 1943. In between, Anton appears occasionally in various notes about equipment and clothing (such as pants: "Anton marched to war wearing trousers cut in a straight pattern with a very high waist and suspenders in the 19th century style...."), but for the most part the author leaves it to the reader to make the mystical connection between Herr Imgrund and all the photographs of gear.
And, Anton or no Anton, the book is really about photos of gear. Lots of photos of gear, divided into these chapters:
- Belts and buckles
- Gas masks
- Field equipment
- Observation, orientation, and communication
- Health and hygiene
- Leave and leisure time
Saiz packs each chapter with an abundance of photos of items from his own extensive collection, and there's no shortage of pictures of belt buckles and trousers and lanterns and goggles and shovels and mess kits and much, much more. The author indicates that his personal collection is "more in keeping with that of a dedicated museum," and that might well be the case.
The page for feldflasche, for example, contains photos with the following captions:
112. First model of canteen of 1 litre capacity, for mountain troops and nurses. The quality of the whole is outstanding.
113. Initials of a manufacturer and year of production (JSD 1940). The aluminum cup, painted black, had a capacity of 0.15 litres and was used exclusively with this type of canteen.
114. Milled aluminum top. This type of top was characteristic of models prior to 1939.
115. Detail of markings on strap.
116. The carrying harness was complete and very robust. As can be seen, during production, the manufacturer did not skimp with respect to buckles.
117. Late model of a canteen for mountain troops and medical personnel to be carried in a bandolier over the left shoulder. The differences from the previous model are notable. This type of canteen generally had a capacity of 1 litre. Production ceased in 1944.
Leaving aside any magical connection readers might make with Anton Imgrund, what we have here is not an exhaustive, encyclopedic accounting of any one type of canteen, helmet, uniform, belt, or anything else, let along a complete survey of all the equipment Anton and his comrades carried with them in the field. More than anything else, the book serves as an attractive, nicely photographed inventory of WWII paraphernalia belonging to Agustin Saiz.
Collectors will probably drool over such a wealth of gloves and spoons and cigarette lighters and boots, but less acquisitive readers might be left wondering if any of this stuff actually belonged to Anton and if the photos of batteries and pipes and gas masks and socks can really induce anyone to "encounter the life force of the infantry soldier."
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Ullmann, Michael. Luftwaffe Colours, 1935-1945. Manchester, UK: Hikoki Publications, 2008
Acknowledgements; Introduction; photos; line drawings; color profiles; Sources; Index
Holy Roy G. Biv!
For our colorblind friends, don't bother with this one, or with Ullmann's 2002 edition, for that matter. We thought the previous incarnation was the last word on the subjectto quote ourselves from our review of that edition: "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"but the author is back with a bigger, better, updated version of his work.
He begins the same way, with a chapter posing the question "What is color?" After discussing shade, saturation, and brightness, as well as the Hindi origins of the word lacquer and then identifying the Asian lac insect, Laccifer lacca, as the source of shellac, Ullmann begins to move a little closer to the subject at hand:
To arrive at a general understanding of the
problems of Luftwaffe colours and to put them
to a logical assessment with a view to working
up the material for this book, the underlying
facts obtained during research for this chapter
are listed below. Analysisand assessmentespecially when using contemporary images
requires a special knowledge, the broad lines
of which are set out in this chapter.
Colour photos, especially those in the early
period of colour photography (the '30s and
'40s of the past century) are not reliable
documents. They were not immediately when
taken and much less so 40 to 50 years on.
Every hobby photographer knows the effect
when he takes scenes with the same camera
and under the same lighting conditions but
with films from different manufacturers. The
differences are surprising. Sometimes, the film
has a green tone, at other times it is bluish.
Conclusion: a colour photo is not a document
of particular relevance for our purposes and
can serve only as a guide.
Nor are original remains of colour on
aircraft parts reliable evidence. The colour
changes through oxidation with the air and
through oxidation, grease or fuel. The
nesting of debris in the earth similarly alters
the colour. Colour fades through the effects
of ultraviolet light.
Because of the different ingredients,
binders and production methods compared
with present-day colour manufacturers, the
colour reproduction of an established shade
did not have the quality we know today or
expect on the basis of the standards. This
means that, at the time, colour could differ
slightly from one batch to another,
especially if the paint was produced by
different manufacturers. The L.Dv. 521/1 of
November 1941 that I have used in fact
supports this statement. It says:
They are made by a number of leading
paint firms under licence according to the
recipes of an original producer.
It also says regarding the painting of
... minor differences in the shade are
acceptable as against the RLM colour card
when painting pipes.
People's memory of colour is unreliable
and everyone experiences colour differently.
With that question about color firmly resolved to everyone's satisfaction, Ullmann's chapters tackle some general subjects, such as Luftwaffe Paints 1935-1945, which repeats, for example, the detailed discussion from the 2002 edition about the difference between RLM 02 and RLM 63. (See the quote in our original review). The chapters also deal with some specific topics, such as Tropical Colours, Maritime Aircraft, Snow Camouflage, Night Camouflage, Export Colours, and so on.
Those chapters combine fastidious text with black and white photos, black and white line drawings, and detailed profiles showing exact colors and patterns on almost every warplane imaginable. In addition, the chapter on Markings and Insignia runs to almost fifty pages while another eight pages are devoted to aircraft interiors. Later chapters cover Caring for Aircraft Paintwork and Simplifying Surface Protection. A further series of chapters present translations of the official documents specifying nomenclature and exact methods of applying and maintaining paint. "Surplus sealant settling on metal on sealing rivet sets must be immediately removed and not left until further preservation."
Of course, Ullmann delights, as always, in issues such as the "mystery" colors in his chapter Shades RLM 81, 82 and 83.
Another possible origin of RLM 81/82/83 could
be that these colours are the reincarnation of
the pre-war colours 61/62/64. Comparing
pieces of RLM 81/82/83 with existing RLM
colour charts that contain RLM 61/62/64 reveal
that these colours are nearly the same. Too
identical to occur by chance. Remember that
early RLM colours are very near or identical to
RAL colours. RAL colours had to use raw
materials that could be produced in Germany.
Could that be the reason for the reintroduction
of these pre-war-colours? Perhaps the
question should be why the reintroduced
colours had the Number 81/82/83? When
something obsolete is reintroduced, typical
German behaviour means that it is given a new
number to prevent mix up of unusable old
stocks with new stocks. Unfortunately,
however, I can find no documentary evidence
to support my thesis.
There are only a few original documents
available today that deal with RLM 81/82. But
it is very important to note that they are
influenced by the orders of Sammelmitteilung
1 and 2.
The earliest document known to the author
was the minutes of meeting, dated 20 July
1944, concerning the airworthiness
acceptance of the Me 262 B-1, on 18. and 19.
July 1944 in Hamburg at the Blohm & Voss
facility. Between many technical comments
was an important hidden message: The
camouflage of the topside had to be 81/82
(smooth surface) and on the underside, 65.
As a bonus, Hikoki includes a separate sheet of 44 color samples, each with its RLM number and name, such as hellgrau, schwarzgrau, graugrun, hellblau, sandgelb, and dunkelgrun.
This is a book with an extremely narrow, almost fanatical focus. As we concluded in our review of the 2002 edition, hardcore modeling enthusiasts will love it, as will anyone with an Me-109 sitting around in the backyard and in need of a fresh coat of paint. Most readers, however, will want to approach a purchasing decision with a certain amount of caution. Compared to, for example, the Luftwaffe Colors series from Classic Publications, Ullmann's work is considerably more scientific and scholarly. On the other hand, this book, like its earlier incarnations, can't compare with the much more accessible approach of the Classic series on colors, markings, and insignia with its emphasis on the more glamorous aspects of aircraft and air operations.
So, despite another diligent job by the author, don't order this one sight unseen unless your fingers and clothes are already permanently stained with various shades of grau and grun.
Or, as the wise old Roy G. Biv once said, "Color my world feldgrau."
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Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from the publishers.
Thanks to the publishers and their distributors for providing these review copies.
Reviewed 16 November 2008
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone