Monday, 11 January 2010

Focke Wulf Fw 190 A/F/G, Part 1 (A Quick Reference Guide To The Colors & Markings)

Thomas A. Tullis, Meteor Productions, Merrifield/VA, USA, 1998, Colortech #1, ISBN 0-9629146-2-2. Illustrated, softcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Meteor Productions, 1998.

This small booklet is a true gem. Irrespective of its size (14 x 22 cm/5.5 x 8.5") and page-count (24 pages), it is a comprehensive, beautifully-made, and very useful work of reference. As well-known author Thomas A. Tullis states in the booklet's introduction, it was created to provide the reader with a quick reference guide to color schemes and markings of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A/F/G, utilizing the (then) latest information available.

Given the condensed nature of space available in such a small format, Focke Wulf Fw 190 A/F/G, Part 1 (note that Focke-Wulf is spelled without the hyphen in the book) begins without further ado with a surprisingly thorough discussion of the camouflage colors used on the Fw 190. Also included is a brief section on interior colors. Tullis' beautiful color illustrations, along with plentiful text, then show the Fw 190's standard factory camouflage pattern, the colors of propeller and spinners, the color schemes found on the cowl (including some of the more fanciful examples), the various black schemes applied to the exhaust area, the recognition markings on the tail section, the fuselage bands and the defense of the Reich bands, the colors and/or unpainted sections of the wings, and even the frequently seen whitewall tail wheel.

This is followed by seven immaculate color profiles of Fw 190 As and Fs, each printed across a full page and featuring a detailed caption with reference section. The astonishing booklet concludes with lists of common Fw 190 colors, Luftwaffe color cross references, and related third party reference works.

All in all, quite fantastic. One might be tempted to say that even at its diminutive size, Focke Wulf Fw 190 A/F/G, Part 1 is in some ways superior to a number of much more substantial Luftwaffe publications.

To the best of my knowledge, no further Colortechs were ever published, in spite of an announcement on the inside of the front cover, listing planned future titles on the Fw 190 D, Me 262 A/B, Bf 109 G/K, and Fw 190 A/F/G (the proposed continuation of Part 1). What a shame!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Messerschmitt Me 264 Amerika Bomber -
The Luftwaffe's Lost Transatlantic Bomber

Robert Forsyth & Eddie J. Creek, Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., Hersham, England, 2006, ISBN 978-1-903223-65-9. Illustrated, hardcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., 2006.

Much more than just a book about the aircraft mentioned in its title, Robert Forsyth and Eddie J. Creek's Messerschmitt Me 264 Amerika Bomber is a chronicle of the drama that was the Luftwaffe's development effort for a long-range bomber. The existence of the Me 264 is of course utterly inseparable from such context, and the authors have succeeded in producing a book comprehensive enough to meld a detailed background story with a thorough analysis of the actual aircraft.

Beginning their account even before the German airship bombing raids against England in World War I, Forsyth and Creek subsequently describe the rise of the Luftwaffe in the Third Reich, including erstwhile efforts to add a strategic bomber to the new air force's inventory. After a brief look at other German long-range aircraft of the period, the focus shifts to the actual Amerikabomber project. Supported by uncounted rare and often astonishingly clear photos as well as numerous original drawings, the Me 264's development, flight trials, and fate are presented in unprecedented depth.

Whereas one previously had to make do with brief and entirely incomplete glimpses at the story of the Me 264 in books dedicated to other topics or rely on Manfred Griehl's inevitably incomplete development history as published in Germany's Flugzeug magazine in 1996 (issues 2, 3, and 4, 1996), Messerschmitt Me 264 Amerika Bomber merges the many scraps of information in a coherent and skilled manner to yield an amazingly riveting and visually delightful book. Every aspect of the aircraft is covered, from technical details to the armament to the construction of the prototype to the various evolved versions of the bomber as projected by its designers. Equally revealed are the political and industrial machinations without which the gestation and demise of this aesthetically pleasing aircraft cannot be properly understood. A number of sidebars provide additional information, such as on technical minutiae or people involved. Also included are beautiful color drawings of the Me 264 and some of the projects derived from its design.

There are only very few minor amendments one could offer. The caption regarding the jettisonable additional main wheel on page 46 could be slightly clearer, for example. The description of "the ... single main wheel" is a bit confusing; the actual installation as auxiliary main gear in case of a higher take-off weight can be seen on the next page. Also on said next page, the lower drawing has been erroneously captioned as showing additional flaps, when the wartime German caption clearly refers to additional ailerons. But such corrections really amount to being finicky in the face of what is actually a magnificent publication (as is fortunately so often the case with Classic Publications' output).

This is a truly remarkable book, and its absolutely stunning photo content renders it even more indispensable for both the serious Luftwaffe enthusiast and the modeler.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Projekt RAK - Das Raketenzeitalter begann in Rüsselsheim

Klaus F. Filthaut, Aero-Verlag-GmbH, Petershausen, Germany, 1999, ISBN 3-934596-00-2. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Aero-Verlag-GmbH, 1999.

This very beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated book is only partially an aviation publication. Its full purpose is to document the abundance of rocket propulsion experiments conducted by a small circle of dedicated people around Fritz von Opel in Germany in the 1920s, and it also attempts to provide an assessment of the legacy of these activities.

The first half of Projekt RAK is thus focused on Opel's trials involving various combinations of rocket motors and race cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and rail mounted vehicles. It is immediately clear that the author has produced a thoroughly researched and very comprehensive labor of love. The text is well written and full of absorbing detail and anecdotes. The reproduction of the often spectacular photos is almost always very crisp (the only exceptions are photos of which there survived only inferior quality copies), and there are numerous period drawings and documents to complete the narrative.

It is really the second half of the book, however, which falls within the scope of this blog. Starting on page 106, Filthaut focuses on the early experiments with rocket-powered aircraft. This includes the Opel-RK 22, the Lippisch Model Nr. 4 Storch, the Rhön-Rossitten-Gesellschaft Ente (with which the first manned rocket flights were undertaken on June 11, 1928), the Lippisch Raketenpfeilflügelflugzeug, the Flugzeugbau Gebrüder Müller GMG Raketenflugzeug (the world's first liquid-fuel rocket-powered aircraft), and the comparatively well-known Opel-Sander-Rak 1/Hatry-Raketenflugzeug.

Projekt RAK explores pioneering research conducted against the backdrop of a very unique time inbetween the two world wars in Germany. This book is truly a hidden treasure, an insider tip of sorts. Not only does it provide a prolific record of historically important events, it is also astonishing on account of the sheer amount of period photos that have survived to this day - the remarkable number of photos showing the Opel-Sander-Rak 1, during maintenance work, on its launch rail, in powered flight, and after its crash, for instance.

Some of the photos contained in Projekt RAK are truly stunning, both for the technical details and the situations they reveal. There is a double-page spread on pages 142/143, for example, which shows the GMG Raketenflugzeug during a static test of its liquid-fuel rocket engine. Apparently oblivious of the inherent danger of such a test, the image shows three of the protagonists standing a mere three meters from the operational rocket motor, without any protection. It was not least a similarly casual attitude which led to the death of rocket pioneer and erstwhile Opel companion, Max Valier, on May 17, 1930.

This remarkable book concludes with an illustrated summary, biographies of the main characters involved, and an appendix with bibliography.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Various Publications: REIMAHG Me 262 Underground Manufacturing Plant At Kahla, 1944/1945

Deckname Lachs - Die Geschichte der unterirdischen Fertigung der Me 262 im Walpersberg bei Kahla 1944/45

Klaus W. Müller & Willy Schilling, Heinrich-Jung-Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Zella-Mehlis/Meiningen, Germany, 1995, ISBN 3-930-588-30-7. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

One of the most extraordinary and in equal parts intriguing and drastic German armament industry projects of World War II was the conversion of the Walpersberg mountain in Thuringia, Germany, into an underground jet fighter manufacturing plant with a full mountaintop runway. The plant was to be operated by the REIMAHG works (Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring Werke). Although still vastly uncompleted by war's end, construction work inside and around the mountain was at an advanced state, and the plant became partially operational. Originally intended for the production of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, Focke-Wulf Ta 152s, and Messerschmitt Me 262s, plans changed in early 1945, and the plant was subsequently intended to focus on manufacturing the jet-powered Me 262 and Horten Ho XVIII.

The runway on top of the Walpersberg mountain, originally 900 meters long but later extended to 1,200 meters, was completed in February 1945 and actually used for RATO-assisted take-offs of freshly assembled Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters. The aircraft reached the top of the mountain by means of an inclined and open elevator which ran along the mountainside for 200 meters, at an angle of 27 degrees, thus bridging a vertical height of approximately 85 meters.

Klaus W. Müller and Willy Schilling's Deckname Lachs was likely the first specialized study of this massive project to be published for the general Luftwaffe historian. A small hardback book of 88 pages, it is still a very detailed look at the entire history of REIMAHG's Walpersberg undertaking. Deckname Lachs investigates the early discussions about the possible protection of the German military aircraft production from Allied bombing, the actual construction of the tunnels and bunkers of the REIMAHG plant, the slave labor used during the construction work, the facilities of the plant, the plant's runway, and the arrival of the American military at the plant at the end of the war.

The book contains a number of back & white photos and drawings of the REIMAHG plant, the most interesting ones, in my opinion, being those of the runway and the inclined elevator.

REIMAHG - From Sandpit To Armament Factory (History of Hitler's Secret Underground Factory)

Claus Reuter, Publications of the German-Canadian Museum of Applied History, Brunswick, Germany/S. R. Research and Publishing, Ontario, Canada, ISBN 0-96961-7-X. Illustrated, softcover/ring binding, published in English.

Very little information is available about this publication. It has a definite underground feel about it, consisting of 134 small-format pages held together by plastic ring binding. The text is very comprehensive, however, including not only information on the REIMAHG plant project itself but also on the camps which held the labor force used to build the plant, the Me 262 and other aircraft intended to be produced at the plant, the occupation of the plant, and so on.

It is perhaps of significance to point out that the author at times takes a rather critical stance against certain aspects of the Allied bombing campaign. Also, the photo section at the end of this publication is a somewhat mixed blessing. Not only are the photos printed in an inferior quality and at a very small size, many of them are not directly related to the REIMAHG project at all (such as various images of Focke-Wulf Fw 190 prototypes or drawings and photos of technical details of the Me 262).

All in all, a publication which has left me unconvinced. It is rendered valuable primarily due to the fact that the text is in English.

Düsenjäger über dem Walpersberg (Die Geschichte des unterirdischen Flugzeugwerkes "REIMAHG" bei Kahla/Thüringen)

Markus Gleichmann & Karl-Heinz Bock, Heinrich-Jung-Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Zella-Mehlis/Meiningen, Germany, 2009, ISBN 978-3-930588-82-4. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

As I am writing this review, Düsenjäger über dem Walpersberg is the newest and most exhaustive of the studies published on the REIMAHG underground aircraft plant. The book is enormously absorbing and complete, both in its text and photo content. The result of years of research by authors Markus Gleichmann and Karl-Heinz Bock, Düsenjäger über dem Walpersberg presents a clearly structured and very detailed history of the plant. Beginning with an overview of the Allied bombing campaign against the German armament production and the subsequent German efforts to move much of such production underground, Gleichmann and Bock then chronicle the various phases of the massive construction project.

The examination of these phases is not limited to technical or logistical aspects. The authors include a detailed chapter on the forced labor workforce utilized to create the pant as well as the camps used to house this workforce and the German guards used to enforce the extreme work regimen. Owing to the chronic lack of manpower due to the war situation, these guard detachments included members of the Hitler Youth, many of whom frequently found themselves emotionally overwhelmed by the task. Needless to say, the conditions under which the workforce had to function were harrowing.

Düsenjäger über dem Walpersberg then looks at the planned aircraft assembly operation as well as at the construction of the tunnels and auxiliary bunkers and buildings of the plant. The book concludes with the discovery of the REIMAHG plant by the Allies, the subsequent Soviet disassembly of the facilities, and the fate of the site in the decades after the war. Due to the inclusion of numerous eyewitness accounts (not least in the section on forced labor and working conditions), the text often conveys far more immediacy than usually found in such studies.

A large amount of photos and drawings further serves to illustrate the various aspects of the REIMAHG project. Pages 110, 117, and 125, for example, provide views of the remarkable mountaintop runway. Unless hampered by the inferior quality of the original source photos, the photo reproduction quality is generally good. The final part of the book is dedicated to series of stunning color photos of the remnants of REIMAHG plant as they appear today. This does not just include images of the ruins of bunkers, buildings, and the inclined elevator, but it also shows the area of the runway (completely overgrown by forest), the uncompleted train lines once intended for the transport of aircraft components, and - most strikingly - various tunnels and assembly halls inside of the mountain.

A very complete, utterly intriguing, and highly recommended book.

Flugplätze der Luftwaffe 1934-1945 - und was davon übrig blieb (Band 3: Thüringen)

Jürgen Zapf, VDM Heinz Nickel, Zweibrücken, Germany, 2003, ISBN 3-925480-80-3. Illustrated, softcover, published in German.

While not strictly a publication solely dedicated to the REIMAHG project, part 3 of Jürgen Zapf's profusely researched and illustrated Flugplätze der Luftwaffe 1934-1945 - und was davon übrig blieb [Airfields Of The Luftwaffe 1934-1945 - And What Remains Of Them Today] series contains a major section (72 pages) on the REIMAHG plant and its mountaintop runway. While the text is to Zapf's usual professional and very detailed standard, it's really the photographic content which makes this publication indispensable for anyone interested in this topic (although the printing quality of the photos could perhaps be a tad better).

Numerous large color and back & white photos show the interior and exterior of the Walpersberg mountain, both as it appeared during the war and as it looks today. As can be seen, the tunnels of the plant still contain lorries (evidence that construction was never completed), electrical aircraft systems parts, and corroded cockpit instruments. The outside is dotted with crumbled bunkers, foundations, and buildings. Of particular interest are the photos which show the area of where the inclined elevator once stood as well as the overgrown runway.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Messerschmitt Me 321 Lastensegler

Messerschmitt Me 321 A-1, W2+SF, of Grossraumlastenseglergruppe 321. Camouflage is standard 65/70/71. The aircraft appears to be in factory-fresh, pristine condition. Walter RATO units can just be discerned under the wing. Location and date unknown, although it is likely that the photo was taken in summer of 1941. (Fischer collection)