Friday, 25 November 2011

Nachtjagdleitschiff Togo

Kurt Petsch, Preußischer Militär-Verlag, Reutlingen, Germany, 1988; ISBN 3-927292-00-1. Illustrated, hardcover, 215 x 150 mm, 212 printed pages, published in German.

Cover image © by Preußischer Militär-Verlag, 1988.

NJL Togo (NJL = Nachtjagdleitschiff = night fighter guide ship) was quite a unique ship, and its significance with regard to the Luftwaffe’s night fighter operations warrants the inclusion of this book within the scope of this blog.

NJL Togo was the last night fighter guide ship of the German Kriegsmarine (navy) and Luftwaffe in World War II. Launched as a merchant vessel (M/S Togo) in 1938, it was absorbed into the Kriegsmarine after the commencement of hostilities and initially converted into a minelayer and then into an auxiliary cruiser. It also served as a minesweeper, and as a merchant harassment cruiser. In late 1943, after the loss of the Kriegsmarine’s first night fighter guide ship, NJL Kreta, the vessel was converted to a radar ship. It subsequently served as a night fighter guide ship until the end of the war, although its final missions also included refugee evacuation in the Bay of Danzig.

The operations of NJL Togo were directed by the Luftwaffe. Intended to close gaps in the German radar network, the ship was stationed in the Baltic Sea. It carried a Freya long-range radar and a Würzburg-Riese medium-range radar. The large parabolic dish of the Würzburg-Riese radar was a prominent feature of the ship’s silhouette after its conversion to a radar ship. NJL Togo was also fitted with significant flak artillery. The ship was operated jointly by two crews. A Kriegsmarine crew ran the ship, while 74 Luftwaffe radar specialists were in charge of the night fighter guide equipment.

This little known but highly fascinating component of the World War II Luftwaffe is covered in great detail in Kurt Petsch's Nachtjagdleitschiff Togo. The book is a veritable treasure trove of information and illustrations. While it contains a number of photos of the actual NJL Togo, there are also numerous drawings, cross-sections, maps, and original documents. The text itself first details the ship and its installations and then reproduces the contents of the ship's log, from October 1943 to March 16, 1945. An assortment of brief reports of various incidents during NJL Togo's operations completes the narrative.

It is impossible, however, to review this book without voicing a number of serious reservations. Even though Nachtjagdleitschiff Togo was published by what seems to be a proper publishing house, the book's layout is somewhat deficient and often even amateurish. Moreover, a good number of illustrations were either created freehand or captioned by hand, which makes much intriguing content look rather unprofessional. Most puzzling, however, is that the entire text of the book, including all photo captions, has been printed in the old Fraktur [blackletter] script. This renders the text very tedious to read for modern eyes. What a shame.

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