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Pegg, Martin. Hs 129 Panzerjaeger!. West Sussex, England: Classic Publications, 1997.
ISBN 0 9526867 1 6
Author's Introduction and Acknowledgements; Foreword; From the Cockpit; From the Ground; photos; maps; diagrams; technical drawings; Glossary; Ranks; Bibliography; Source Notes; Index.
Appendices: Enemy within the Camp (Captured Hs 129s); Camouflage, Markings, and Manufacturer's Data; Loss Lists; Technical and Weapons Specifications; Logbooks and Award Citations.
The Hs 129 is not the most acclaimed aircraft of WWII, not the most recognizable, and -- with somewhere between 800 and 1200 produced -- certainly not the most ubiquitous. Given this treatment by Martin Pegg and Classic Publications, however, it may soon achieve cult status.
Pegg spent ten years researching the story of the Hs 129, attending squadron reunions, interviewing pilots and ground crew, and scouring archives in Germany and elsewhere. The result is a book that looks and feels like a labor of love and marks another significant addition to the corpus of serious books about the Luftwaffe, its men, and its aircraft.
Getting the Hs 129 designed, produced, and introduced to the front was not an easy or straightforward task. Various senior Luftwaffe officials -- Milch and Goering among them -- blew hot and hold and worked at odds with each other, variously assigning the project greater or lesser priority. Von Richtofen, commanding VIII Fliegerkorps and one of the foremost proponents of ground support, was lukewarm about the aircraft's prospects as a ground attack machine. The Henschel works held insufficient capacity to produce the planes without disrupting other critical production, so much manufacturing and sub-assembly work was contracted out, notably to aircraft plants in occupied France. Factories there suffered from a lack of skilled technicians-- not least because many were rounded up and taken to aircraft plants in the Reich to make up for shortages there. Final assembly and testing was done at Henschel, but from the first production machines to the end of production in the summer of 1944 when the plants in France were overrun by the Allies, the target of 40 planes per month was never easy to achieve.
Schlachtgeschwader 1 was formed in January 1942 with Hs 129s. At the end of April the unit began gradually moving to the Russian Front to support the forthcoming offensives toward Stalingrad and the Caucasus. Initial reactions of pilots and commanders were not entirely positive, but eventually the Hs 129 was accepted as a useful ground attack machine. At the same time, the armament of the plane continued to evolve.
After the Luftwaffe's usual administrative SNAFUs, teething problems, and production difficulties, the Hs 129 was equipped with the MK 101 cannon firing tungsten-carbide core anti-tank shells. This weapon enabled the Hs 129s to assume an important role as flying tank-busters. The 30mm armor-piercing shells fired from a panzerknacker could punch through the turrets or sloping armored sides of the excellent Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks, shattering inside the vehicle and showering the crew compartment with hundreds of deadly metal fragments. Ensconced in heavily armored cockpits well-protected from AA fire, the HS 129 pilots were able to rip into formations of enemy AFVs with deadly effect. The planes and their pilots became very popular among the ground troops, and it was with good reason that many Hs 129s began sporting the infantry assault badge painted on their slanted noses.
Most of the relatively few Hs 129 squadrons were committed to the Russian Front where the infantry required all the assistance it could muster against the formidable Soviet armor. A few planes were sent to North Africa and began operating there in November 1942, but the air filter system proved completely unsuitable for desert operations. Those few survivors who managed to escape from Tunisia in 1943 were returned to the Russian Front. There the tank-busters continued plugging away until the end of the war in ever dwindling numbers as production in France suffered from continuing delays and finally halted altogether.
"At present only two aircraft are serviceable, so we are only able to piss around. When VIII Fliegerkorps orders us to fly, we ask them whether they would like us to operate our two aircraft singly or in waves! Otherwise, morale in the Staffel is quite good..."
Pegg has done an excellent job of putting together this history of the panzerknacker. He combines thorough, documented information with personal narrative, artfully intertwining technical details with day-to-day stories of sorties, successes, and funerals. Chapters include interesting information on the Hs 129 in Rumanian service (fighting alongside the Germans and then against them) and the continuing evolution (and experimentation) of armament, including rearward-firing machine-guns aimed by a rear-view periscope, the 3.7cm Flak 18, the SG 113 A mortar, and the Pak 40 75mm cannon.
Well-selected photos. Great drawings and schematics. A comprehensive list of Hs 129 losses, including this final entry:
With the publication of "Classic 1" (JV 44: The Galland Circus) and now "Classic 2", Classic Publications is emerging as an important source of high-quality books about the Luftwaffe.
Available from mail order booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Classic.
Thanks to Classic Publications for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 12 October 1997
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