This time around we take a look at three notable books, all deserving some extra attention.
deZeng, Henry L. and Douglas G. Stankey. Dive-Bomber and Ground-Attack Units of the Luftwaffe 1933-1945, volume 1. Hinckley, UK: Classic Publications, 2009
Preface; Conventions; Abbreviations and Translations; Introduction; photos; color emblems
This marks the third volume in the Units of the Luftwaffe series by deZeng and Stankey, and the first of two covering dive-bombers and ground-attack units. Having already reviewed the first two books very favorably, we were looking forward to this one. Unfortunately, following its publication in the UK a significant gap occurred before its arrival for distribution in the US, and then we faced a bit of a mix-up before finally receiving a review copy. Hence, these notes are not terribly timely.
Nevertheless, the book proves worth the wait, and we're pleased to finally have it on hand.
As noted previously, despite the multiplicity of books containing thumbnail histories (stations, commanders, aircraft, operations) of units of the RAF (such as those by Rawlings, Moyes, Jefford, Sturtivant, and Lewis) and the USAAF (such as those by the redundantly named Maurer Maurer), prior to the work of Stankey and deZeng that sort of thing has always been a void in the roster of publications about the Luftwaffe, at least in English. Our pair of intrepid researchers, fortunately, has been hard at work filling the vacuum with these excellent resources on geschwaders and gruppen.
This volume follows the same format as the first two. Each chapter covers a specific geschwader. These include Sturzkampfgeschwader 1, Sturzkampfgeschwader 2, etc, (fifteen StGs altogether), plus Schlachtgeschwader 1 and Schlachtgeschwader 2, plus a few miscellaneous formations. Within each chapter, sections deal with individual gruppen of the geschwader. The section for each gruppe contains multiple headings for fronts where the unit served and "Formation and Training." For each of those headings, rather compressedbut completeentries detail dates of deployment and movement, bases, equipment, operations, and other notes.
Here's a very short example for I./St.G.1 (first formation):
West Phoney War and Standby (October 1939 - March 1940). October: relocated from Insterburg to Koln-Wahn in western Germany. October 1939 - March 1940: activities unknown but presumably involved in training as were most other units of the Luftwaffe. January 1940: moved to Koblenz-Karthause. March: transferred to Delmenhorst in North Germany where the Gruppe was outfitted with new Ju 87R models equipped with jettisonable auxiliary fuel tanks for long-range anti-shipping missions, the first Stuka unit to receive these.
That's an especially short example, because in some cases the entries for an individual heading (such as "Air offensive against Britain" or "Attack on the Soviet Union") span a full column or more.
The data for each gruppe also notes aircraft codes and postal numbers along with names, ranks, and dates served for commanding officers. Most also sport a full-color unit emblem. To round out each chapter, deZeng and Stankey provide the same kinds of information about the stab and other miscellaneous units attached to the geschwader, geschwader commanders, and a detailed list of published and unpublished sources. Each chapter also includes photos and occasional sidebars.
As with the first two volumes, this constitutes a rich vein of very useful information about each unit, neatly packaged, highly accessible, and unequaled elsewhere in the plethora of English-language works on the Luftwaffe.
Douglas Stankey recently notified us that volume two of this set (the fourth in the series) is complete and has been in the hands of the publisher for several months, but the release date has been pushed back for one reason or another. Worse, we're also informed that Henry deZeng's health has made it impossible for him to continue with the project at this time, so it's unlikely the series can be continued after the second volume of dive-bombers and ground-attack units.
That's rotten luck all the way around. We can only hope that health issues are resolved, the publisher sees the light, and this important series pushes through to completion.
Meanwhile, we can highly recommend this volume (as well as the earlier ones) and suggest everyone should grab a copy while they're still available.
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Mary, Jean-Yves, Alain Hohnadel and Jacques Sicard. Hommes et Ouvrages de la Ligne Maginot, tome 5. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2010
Photos; diagrams; charts; tables; maps; Epilogue; Bibliography; Errata; Acknowledgments
Quite a lengthy gap existed between the release of volumes three and four in this series, but this one arrived hard on the heels of its predecessor.
With that quick arrival, volume five completes the set, and does so in fine style. In some ways the first four volumes seem like complete coverage of the Maginot Line, but the new book adds extra information and flourishesand looks a bit farther afieldto wind up things on a high note.
As with the previous volumes, this one is of course written entirely in French. Like the others, however, generous amounts of photos, diagrams, blueprints, tables, and other illustrations make it very useful even for non-francophones. Even if you can't, as we like to say, order a beer in Paris, there's plenty of data here that will make sense with little or no effort.
Nevertheless, this volume takes an approach slightly different from the remainder of the series.
Tome Cinq divides into eight chapters:
- Situation in June 1940 facing Italy
- Engineers and special troops
- Defenses in Corsica
- Italian operations against the Alps and southern France
- French fortifications in Tunisia
- The Maginot Line under German occupation
- The Allied re-conquest of the Maginot Line
- The Maginot Line and NATO
Of particular interest, Mary and his co-authors do a great job surveying French fortifications in Tunisia (the Mareth Line) and Corsica, which is pretty darn obscure stuff. Not many other books illustrate the range and coverage of French guns protecting Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio, or provide a detailed OB of troops defending the island, or list all Italian air raids against targets there.
Also, the authors deal with the oft-forgotten Italian offensive in June 1940. This chapter measures almost twenty pages. Despite ample maps and photos, it relies more on pure text than most components of the book (and the series), making it tougher to digest for those unable to read French. That's too bad, because these pages provide a great example of the Maginot Line in combat, as defending troops repel the Italian offensive. At a time when France seemed defeated and shamed, French troops in the Alps felt victorious. Great stuff for anyone who can decipher it, and an excellent complement to, for example, La Bataille des Alpes by Plan and Lefevre, andfrom the other perspectivethe Italian official history volume by Vincenzo Gallinari.
The Epilogue discusses the post-war, post-NATO grassroots effort to refurbish the Maginot Line and open ouvrages to the public as living museums and memorials. Like all other parts of the series, the Epilogue features a great selection of photos. Finally, volume five includes an extensive bibliography of books about the Maginot Line plus a page of additions and errata for the first four installments.
Overall, this is in many ways the pick of the litter in the series. It's a great set of books and anyone with an interest in the Maginot Line or the campaign in France in 1940 will want all five volumes. This one, however, tops the others in terms of the most information that's almost impossible to access anywhere else, such as the Mareth Line and fortifications on Corsica. Highly recommended.
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Gyllenhaal, Lars and Lennart Westberg. Swedes at War: Willing Warriors of a Neutral Nation, 1914-1945. Bedford, PA: Aberjona Press, 2010
xx + 394 pages
Foreword; Preface; Chronology; Rank Equivalents; photos; maps; Endnotes; Sources; Index of Names
After the untimely death of Keith Bonn, Aberjona Press seems to have, understandably, taken a bit of time to get back on its feet. That means we haven't seen many WWII titles from them lately, so it came as a pleasure to find Swedes at War in our mailbox.
While dates in the sub-title, "1914-1945," might at first glance seem like a typo, the book in fact covers Swedes at war throughout most of the Twentieth Century, not just in the Second World War. The opening seven chapters deal with Swedes in action before WWI, in Persian service from 1911 through 1916, with Germany during WWI, with the Allies during WWI, during the Russian Civil War, in Ethiopia from 1934 through 1936, and in the Spanish Civil War.
For those more interested in the Second World War, the action begins after those seven chapters.
Chapter 8 (about 60 pages) deals with Swedes serving with the western Allies. This mostly includes service in Norwegian forces in 1940 (about 300 men, notably at Narvik, including some who had recently returned from Finland), with the British (including Intelligence, special ops, pilots, etc), and with American forces. In addition to Swedish citizens, Gyllenhaal and Westberg take note of the many citizens of the US, Canada, and Australia who were Swedish immigrants or children of Swedish immigrants. They list, for example, Capt. Erik Hakansson at Pearl Harbor in 1941, General John E. Dahlquist (vice Chief of Staff to Eisenhower and then commanding US 36th Infantry Division), "nine very Swedish names among recipients of...the Medal of Honor," etc.
Chapter 9 (about 40 pages) covers Swedish volunteers in Finland during 1939-1945. In addition to Swedes who volunteered to serve in the Finnish Army during the Winter Warthe Swedish Volunteer CorpsSwedish pilots also served with Finland, and volunteers manned Swedish labor units. After the Winter War, Swedes returned to Finland to serve again during the Continuation War. Finnish recruiting policies proved much more rigorous in 1941. Although more than 4000 men volunteered for the Svenska Frivilligbataljonen (Swedish Volunteer Battalion), "only 811 could pass the standards to enter the battalion." This unit began deploying around Hango in August, andaccording to the authorsSwedish troops were the first to enter the village following Soviet evacuation. The battalion was disbanded and repatriated in December 1941. A smaller volunteer force, the Svir Company, deployed on the Svir Front in February 1942 and served until September 1944.
Chapter 10 (about 60 pages) looks at Swedes in German service during the war. This goes into a fair amount of detail on SS recruiting in Sweden and Swedes serving with the Wiking Division and Nordland Division. Given the number of works on foreign troops in Waffen-SS formations, these are probably the most familiar stories. However, the authors go on to write about the involvement of Swedes in the Holocaust, war crimes, the Gestapo, the Todt Organization, and so on, including notes about Swedish doctors, deserters, and post-war repatriation. Gyllenhaal and Westberg also follow the stories of some individual Swedish soldiers in the SS.
Chapter 11 (about 20 pages) handles the limited number of Swedish citizens (and former citizens) serving in the Red Army. "Several of the at least thirty Swedes in Soviet war service," the authors explain, "were in special forces or other units where language skills were vital. Among them was a group that prepared to fight against fellow countrymen in the Swedish Volunteer Corps in Finland. In addition to Swedish citizens and former Swedish citizens, many more ethnic Swedes from Estonia and Ukraine were conscripted into the Red Army." The cases in this chapter are among the most unique in the book, including a group of pro-Soviet Swedish veterans of the Spanish Civil War who trained to undertake sabotage operations in northern Finland during the Winter War.
In all chapters the authors give an overview of conditions that led to Swedish citizens serving outside their homeland, notes about formation of expatriate units, and interesting thumbnails about individuals in a wide variety of operations on almost every front in the war.
The last two chapters deal briefly with Swedish volunteers in campaigns after 1945 and reflect on all the threads of Swedes in the uniforms of other countries. The authors expound on the relative proportions of populations of various neutrals volunteering for military service with belligerents during the war, and compare the numbers of Swedes who served each of the main combatants during WWII. They close with this paragraph:
Since the end of the 1980s the Swedes in the Waffen-SS have received a lot of attention. We hope that our book will contribute to putting the Swedish SS phenomenon into proportion to the several other and much larger categories of Swedes in foreign war service. From our point of view these proportions reflect the true sympathies of the Swedish people. The traditionally pro-German orientation among certain groups in Swedish society never resulted in strong public support for Germany. Between 1914 and 1945 the overwhelming majority of Swedish citizens in foreign wars served either under the flags of Finland or the WWII Allies.
Swedes at War proves to be a book full of unusual information and personal stories, and one that fans of oddball WWII material won't want to miss.
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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 20 June 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone