Monday, 14 November 2011

Zwischen Leipzig und der Mulde - Flugplatz Brandis 1935-1945

Stephen Ransom, Stedinger Verlag, Lemwerder, Germany, 1996, ISBN 3-927697-09-5. Illustrated, softcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Stedinger Verlag, 1996.

This remarkable little book (112 pages, format 240 x 170mm, 90 illustrations) managed to turn quite a few heads in the Luftwaffe research community upon its release in the second half of the 1990s. There are quite a number of publications dealing with the airfields used by the Luftwaffe in World War II, most of them released in Germany. This is a very specialized field of interest, and most of these publications thus see only very small print-runs and are generally overlooked by the larger World War II aviation enthusiast audience, in favor of books on far more popular topics, such as Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, Messerschmitt Bf 109s, et al.

Many of these airfield publications are compiled by local historians in an effort to preserve parts of their town's history. They are typically created on a shoe-string budget (and sometimes without a professional design staff), they are frequently hampered by a lack of available/surviving photographic material, and they are often either published by small local publishing houses or even self-published. And yet they are a crucial part of Luftwaffe research, and they sometimes contain surprising new bits of information or unexpected photographic treasures. Typical examples of the above are, perhaps, Uwe-Rolf Hinze's Start und Ziel Neuruppin (Edition Rieger, Germany, 1996), Tony Haderer's Der Militärflugplatz Zerbst (Extrapost Verlag für Heimatliteratur, Germany, 2002), or Heiner Wittrock's Fliegerhorst Wunstorf - Teil 1: Der Fliegerhorst des Dritten Reichs: 1934 - 1945 (Libri Books/Heiner Wittrock, Germany, 1995). There are literally uncounted more.

One could thus be forgiven for assuming that Stephen Ransom's Zwischen Leipzig und der Mulde is simply another interesting yet unspectacular such release. But it isn't; the book's contents were simply breathtaking at the time of its publication, and, to some extent, they still are today. To begin with, not only is Zwischen Leipzig und der Mulde a very professionally made book, released by a well-known publishing house specialized in works of outstanding quality, but Brandis ranks among the Luftwaffe's most fascinating airfields. This is not least due to its use as a location of aircraft trials and test flights by Junkers and others.

In his introduction, Ransom writes that this book basically came into existence as a byproduct of information uncovered during his extensive studies of the Junkers Ju 287 forward-swept wing jet bomber. Zwischen Leipzig und der Mulde is thus filled with well-researched, solid information, augmented by often spectacular pictures. This begins already with the book's very cover which depicts the wrecks of Messerschmitt Me 163 B V45 rocket fighter prototype and a Henschel Hs 130 A high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

Focusing on the final events of the war at Brandis, Ransom details the Allied reconnaissance over and the subsequent advances towards the airfield. Many of the most poignant photos reproduced in the book were taken by the US troops occupying Brandis in 1945. Interspersed for historical context are photos and illustrations depicting the earlier history of the airfield, such as Luftwaffe staff and aircraft in the second half of the 1930s und during the initial years of the war. While many of these photos are superb and fascinatingly detailed (such as the two hangar shots on pages 42 and 43, for example), it is probably the picture content from the final phase of the war which is most captivating. This includes German anti-aircraft guns, Jumo 004 jet engines on rail cars, as well as advanced and/or unusual aircraft such as the Me 262, Me 163, Ho 229 V1, or AS 6.

Most interesting, however, is the series of photos depicting the Ju 287. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time an author was able to publish a number of remarkable and conclusive images (as well as the associated analysis) of both initial Ju 287 prototypes, the V1 and V2. Stephen Ransom has in the meantime of course expanded on that topic, by writing, together with Peter Korrell and Peter D. Evans, his milestone study Junkers Ju 287 - Germany's Forward Swept Wing Bomber (Classic Publications/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., England, 2008).

Zwischen Leipzig und der Mulde is thus a truly noteworthy and important book, even if it has since become slightly outclassed by its author's own subsequent work. There are only a few nitpicks to note. In my humble opinion, for example, the photo on page 23 does not depict the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 88 in the foreground but rather that of a Heinkel He 177. Also, my copy of the book, purchased in March 1997, now shows signs of pages coming loose where they were glued to the spine. This in spite of explicitly careful handling over the years.

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