Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A4/V2 Rocket

Components of an Aggregat 4 (V2) long-range ballistic missile, date and location unknown, although the photo was very likely taken immediately after the cessation of hostilities. In the background: the rocket's main body (left) as well as a tail section with fins (right). In the foreground: a turbopump (left) and the corresponding rocket engine (right). (Fischer collection)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Bilder aus Dora - Zwangsarbeit im Raketentunnel 1943-1945

Yves Le Maner & André Sellier, Westkreuz-Verlag GmbH, Berlin/Bonn, Germany, 2001, ISBN 3-929-592-59-2. Illustrated, softcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Westkreuz-Verlag GmbH, 2001.

As this blog is titled "German Aviation 1919-1945", this is probably not quite a typical publication to be reviewed here. And yet this is a truly exceptional and important book, both on a human as well as on a topical level. Bilder aus Dora [Images From Dora] is examined on this website because it covers a significant subject area of the aerospace industrial complex of the Third Reich - the manufacture of the Aggregat 4 rocket (or, more popularly, the V2 rocket) during the final stages of the war. What's more, it does so using rare and truly astonishing color photographs shot by Walter Frenz in 1944; photographs which reveal a previously unseen level of detail regarding the then top secret manufacturing process of the German war machine.

Frenz was a Luftwaffe photo correspondent whose work became widely known decades after the war, not least because he was able to shoot many of his photos in color, and because he had access to the top echelon of Germany' leadership. Frenz' son, Hanns-Peter Frenz (who also contributes the introduction to Bilder aus Dora), discovered these historically infinitely significant images in 1998, in a suitcase which had once belonged to his father and had stood unopened in a room in the basement for over 50 years. Immediately before the end of the war, the SS had confiscated all of Frenz's photos depicting secret weapons manufacturing, but Frenz somehow managed to preserve a number of color slides in a nondescript envelope. These slides now yield what are the only authentic photos depicting the underground mass production of the Aggregat 4.

It is the dreadful human aspect, however, which renders Bilder aus Dora even more significantly different from the customary aircraft type monographs or technical-historical studies usually featured here. Not only do Frenz' photos depict countless scenes in which slave laborers work on various parts of the rocket, but as the book's subtitle Forced Labor In The Rocket Tunnel implies, it also goes to great lengths to relentlessly analyze this facet of what is at the same time one of Germany's greatest technological achievements and one of its most painful legacies.

In addition to the obvious color photos depicting the actual production of the rocket, there are numerous drawings of the conditions within the affiliated Dora slave labor camp run by the SS. These drawings were made by the inmates of the camp, either secretly during their imprisonment or immediately after the war, and they thus represent rare visual glimpses into the daily camp routine of intense exploitation and dying. Along with these profound illustrations, Bilder aus Dora features a detailed narrative on the history of the camp as well as on the conditions within. The contents of Bilder aus Dora are completed by maps and black & white photos (taken during and after the war) of the camp and manufacturing tunnels.

It is the inevitable and unholy connection between frequently stunning images depicting the production of an ultra modern, high-tech weapon and images depicting the ruthless subjugation and elimination of human beings to facilitate exactly such production, which makes this book insdispensable for anyone even remotely interested in German aerospace industrial processes of the Second World War.

In spite of what seems like a relatively low page count (88 pages, format 294 x 208mm), Bilder aus Dora is therefore a comprehensive study of what is a dramatic and important topic. The book was originally released as an exhibition catalog to accompany special exhibition at the Deutsches Museum in Munich in 2001. It was produced in affiliation with the French La Coupole museum, whose head, Yves Le Maner, is one of the two authors of the book. The other one, André Sellier, is a historian and himself a former deported slave laborer.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Focke-Wulf Fw 200

Focke-Wulf Fw 200 C-1, F8+DK (formerly BS+AH), Werknummer 0003, of 2./KG 40, exact date and location unknown. Camouflage is 72/73/65. Operational tally inscription on tail fin reads "Narvik [10 bars]" and "England [18 bars]". This aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire from HMS Deptford during a combat flight over the Atlantic on February 9, 1941. After an emergency landing in Portugal, it was destroyed by its crew. (Fischer collection)

Entry amended November 19, 2011.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

LO+ST - Snapshots Of The Wrecked/Captured Luftwaffe Aircraft Taken By GIs From 1944 To The Defeat Of Germany

Hideki Noro, Dai Nippon Kaiga Co., Ltd., Tokyo, Japan, 2009, ISBN 978-4-499-22992-0. Illustrated, softcover (with dust jacket), published in Japanese, photo captions in Japanese and English.

Cover image © by Dai Nippon Kaiga Co., 2009.

This truly astonishing softcover book is among the most recent exponents of what is by now a well-established and highly engaging category of Luftwaffe-related releases: the photo album-type publication. The pioneer of this concept was probably Karl Ries, whose legendary Dora Kurfürst und die rote 13 photo books (published by Verlag Dieter Hoffmann, Germany) revolutionized the presentation of the results of Luftwaffe research in the 1960s. Although obviously primitive and utterly imperfect by today's standards, the photo captions contained in Ries' books provided the reader perhaps for the first time with unprecedented photo interpretation detail.

Uwe Feist's Luftwaffe in Action series of landscape-format softcovers (published by Squadron/Signal Publications in the US), continued the concept, beginning in 1971. But it was really the distinguished Heinz Birkholz who took it to the next level. In 1974, he launched PM-Foto Revue as an offspring to Germany's Plastik Modell magazine, of which he was the editor. PM-Foto Revue featured photos submitted from the private collections of the writers and readers of Plastik Modell. Unfortunately, the publisher, G. Schmidt-Verlag, ceased operations just as PM-Foto Revue was released.

But Birkholz and his editorial team went on to found the new periodical Modell Magazin, which, starting in 1975, covered both scale models and aviation history, and subsequently became one of the most important and influential publications within the growing Luftwaffe research community. In 1976, following the example set by Plastik Modell, Modell Magazin introduced Modell Magazin Foto Archiv, its own offspring softcover photo album. Published sporadically until the early 1980s, Modell Magazin Foto Archiv again featured photos submitted by the writers and readers of the magazine and thus exposed uncounted previously unseen photographic treasures to a wider audience.

When Modell Magazin changed direction and content in the mid-1980s, Birkholz left and established a new magazine, Flugzeug, dedicated entirely to aviation, both in scale and history. In 1988, Flugzeug continued the tradition of its predecessors by launching an infrequently published offspring softcover photo album, Flugzeug Archiv. One final time, history repeated itself when Birkholz left Flugzeug to establish Jet & Prop in 1991. The by now inevitable offspring periodical, Jet & Prop Foto Archiv, was first published in 1992 and continues, sporadically, up to today.

Recent decades have seen an outright proliferation of Luftwaffe-related photo album-type publications. From Alfred Price's The Luftwaffe 1939-1945 volumes (in the Warbirds Illustrated series by Arms and Armour Press, England, 1981), for example, or the various Luftwaffe Warbirds Photo Albums (Tank Magazine special issues by Delta Publishing Co. Ltd., Japan, 1992 to 1994), to current releases such as Eagle Editions' outstanding Wings of the Black Cross or Axel Urbanke's exceptional Luftwaffe im Focus series (by Luftfahrtverlag-Start, Germany). There are many others, the concept thriving not least due to the existence of uncounted astounding photos once taken by victorious allied troops during their advance through late-war Germany.

Hideki Noro's LO+ST focuses on such late-war and post-war photos. Sized a modest 257 x 210mm, the book still feels substantial. Consisting of 192 pages, its 272 black & white photos are printed on semi-matt, high-quality paper, the book is clearly laid out and nicely designed and also features a glossy dust jacket. Its five chapters are divided by geographic location: Northern Germany, Central Germany, Southern Germany, neighboring nations, and unknown locations.

The photos presented are truly engrossing and of great interest to any student of the late-war German Luftwaffe; at times they are outright stunning due to the subject and detail contained therein. Even the very first photos of the book, one of a damaged Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-14/AS "Black 10", in Regensburg in 1945, and one of a light blue Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6/AS nightfighter with antennae, are absolutely striking. A great number of the photos have either never been published before or have only very rarely been seen.

LO+ST focuses almost exclusively on fighter aircraft. Among the aircraft covered are Fw 190 V65 CS+IA, numerous Fw 190 D-9s, JG 301 aircraft at Stendal (such as Ta 152 H-0, Werknummer 150007), Ar 234, Me 262, Ta 152 H, Ta 152 E, Bf 109 K-4, Ta 154, Fw 190 D-11 at Bad Wörishofen, He 111, and uncounted Bf 109 Gs and Fw 190 As and Fs. It will take many hours to seriously absorb and digest the wealth of photographic material presented here.

If there exists a drawback to LO+ST, it might be that the majority of the book is written in Japanese. This includes the (limited) text as well as all photo captions. Brief English translations are provided for all photo captions, but these are limited to the most crucial data (such as the aircraft type and location) and are nowhere near as detailed as the extensive Japanese captions seem to be. This is of course a pity, and it will undoubtedly keep many of those interested in the German Luftwaffe but unable to read Japanese from buying the book.

A decision to pass on LO+ST would be an utter shame, however, as is the case for many Luftwaffe-related specialist publications produced in Japan. It is my firm opinion that the professionalism and attention to detail which characterizes so many Luftwaffe books from Japan makes it readily possible to ignore the language barrier for any serious researcher or student of the Luftwaffe. In fact, the abundance of vital information available by means of the visual content of these publications is simply indispensable and easily offsets any inconvenience caused by an inability to understand the Japanese text.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Phoenix aus der Asche - Die Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung In Berlin

Michael Hundertmark & Holger Steinle, Silberstreif Verlag GmbH, Berlin, Germany, 1985, ISBN 3-924091-02-1. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Silberstreif Verlag GmbH, 1985.

The Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung [German Aviation Collection] in Berlin has attained a near-mythical status within the field of German aviation history, not least due to the fact that this exceptionally unique and utterly irreplaceable collection of aircraft and aviation artifacts was scattered and/or destroyed during ravages of World War II. Only fragments of the formerly vast collection remain today, most of them stored in Poland. An equally important contributor to the myth is that not only the hardware has largely vanished but that relatively little information about the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung has been published post-war.

While significant efforts have been made in Berlin in recent decades to at long last establish something akin to a successor collection (i.e., the outstanding permanent aviation exhibit of the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin-Kreuzberg) to preserve and display Germany's aviation heritage, the loss of the original Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung has irretrievably deprived Germany of some of its most precious and significant exponents of the country's aviation history.

Phoenix aus der Asche [Phoenix Arisen From The Ashes] grants us an at least fleeting look at the abundance of remarkable exhibits once hosted by the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung. Moreover, the book provides an exhaustive history of the institution itself as well as of the site in Berlin where the museum once stood. The authors, Michael Hundertmark (an aviation historian) and Holger Steinle (who would be crucially instrumental in establishing the new aviation exhibit of the Deutsches Technikmuseum) spent years researching the former Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung. The resulting book is thus still the definitive (if inevitably vastly incomplete) landmark study on this topic, even 25 years after its publication.

Phoenix aus der Asche begins with a look at the so-called Pulvermühle-site in Berlin's Tiergarten district in the 19th century. The detailed text, along with numerous photos and drawings, depicts the construction of the building that would much later become the main exhibition hall of the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung. Hundertmark and Steinle subsequently describe the establishment of an official German aviation collection as well as the formal opening of the associated new museum on June 20, 1936. The gloomy end of the narrative depicts the destruction of the building and some of its exhibits during the war as well as the scattering of those exhibits that had already been removed from the museum in anticipation of the impending obliteration.

The second half of Phoenix aus der Asche is dedicated to a closer portrayal of some of the noteworthy German and foreign exhibits of the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung, such as Ernst Udet's Curtiss Hawk, Horten Ho II, Levavasseur Antoinette, Heinkel He 5 e, an engine nacelle of the Zeppelin-Staaken R IV, the Messerschmitt Me 209 V1, and many more. The book concludes with an attempt to provide what was probably the most comprehensive - but openly tentative - list of the exhibits at the time of the publication of this book.

Since this book saw the light of the day in 1985, a small number of complementary articles on the Deutsche Luftfahrt Sammlung have been published, such as

- Auf der Spur der Veteranen (Die frühere Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung Berlin - viele Fragen und noch wenige Antworten), by Marian Krzyzan & Holger Steinle, in Flugzeug 5/1988,

- Wie die Do X ins Museum kam, by Prof. Dr. Dr. Holger Steinle, in Jet & Prop 3/1997,

- Die untergegangene Luftfahrtsammlung (Teil 1), by Heiko Müller, in Klassiker der Luftfahrt 1/2007, and

- Juwelen in Berlin (Teil 2), by Heiko Müller, in Klassiker der Luftfahrt 2/2007.

Phoenix aus der Asche, however, easily remains the definitive work on this fascinating and long-perished German collection of aircraft, in spite of what must be a wealth of additional information that has since been uncovered.

Article updated November 15, 2011.