Thursday, 30 May 2013

Messerschmitt Me 209 - Der Weg zum schnellsten Propellerflugzeug der Welt

 photo Kaumlsmann_MesserschmittMe209sm.jpg

Ferdinand C.W. Käsmann, Aviatic Verlag GmbH, Oberhaching, Germany, 2012, ISBN 978-3-942645-03-4. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Aviatic Verlag GmbH, 2012.

When I came across the news regarding the publication of this book last year, I felt elated. The Messerschmitt Me 209 record aircraft had always intrigued me greatly, and I also entertained a faint hope that the author might perhaps have managed to uncover some new information regarding the later and very elusive V5 and V6 fighter prototypes bearing the same Me 209 designation. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but not necessarily an unrealistic expectation.

It was thus a somewhat sobering moment when I finally held Messerschmitt Me 209 - Der Weg zum schnellsten Propellerflugzeug der Welt [Messerschmitt Me 209 - The Path Towards The Fastest Propeller Aircraft In The World] in my hands. To speak of a disappointment is perhaps too harsh, but in this day and age, one tends to expect more from a specialist publication, and, not least, from a publishing house that has provided the enthusiast with milestone works such as Vernaleken/Handig's indispensable Junkers Ju 388 or Kössler/Ott's Die grossen Dessauer (covering the Junkers Ju 89, Ju 90, Ju 290, and Ju 390 family of aircraft), to name but two.

The first impression was that Käsmann's Messerschmitt Me 209 was deficient in exactly the content advertised by its title. What usually fills an introductory chapter in monographs by Monogram Aviation Publications or Classic Publications, for example, takes the space of 47 out of a total of 119 pages in Käsmann's work. In other words, close to half of the rather slim book is dedicated to an introduction to the topic. It is understood that material on the Me 209 is somewhat scarce (not least given that only four prototypes of the original Me 209 design were built), and the book's subtitle hints at an examination of the larger context. Nonetheless, I don't think it is wrong to expect the majority of this book to be about the actual aircraft mentioned in the title.

Käsmann's description of the quest for speed in aviation and earlier high performance aircraft designs at least has a direct connection to the Me 209's gestation, and this is thus a far more consistent approach than the irritating practice implemented by authors such as David Myhra or Horst Lommel, whose books are often filled with vastly disjointed and unrelated material or badly rendered computer graphics, apparently to simply enhance the page count if no authentic and directly related material could be found.

Expecting the definite history of the Messerschmitt Me 209 will leave the reader feel strangely dissatisfied. In addition, the wording of the text is sometimes feels strange. At certain points, it's almost like a novel, rather than a documentation or factual report. Perhaps this may be explained by the simple fact that the author is of a different generation (he was 84 years old when the book was published) than many of the authors who have published the seminal Luftwaffe works of the past two decades.

Messerschmitt Me 209 does provide the reader with what is perhaps the most comprehensive collection of Me 209 photos in one single source. The illustrations include countless very interesting detail shots as well as period drawings, facsimile documents, newspaper clippings, and drawings by Günter Sengfelder. All illustrations are printed in black & white (even the photos of the sole surviving Me 209), and there are no color profiles. The layout of the book is utterly uninspired, however, and a far cry from what could be achieved today.

The Messerschmitt part of the book closes with scant information on the Me 309 (some of it contradictory) and a mere five sentences (along with the only known, familiar photo) on the Me 209 V5 and V6. The narrative then departs again for the final pages, to focus on the quest for aviation speed records after World War II.

It's not surprising, then, that one is prompted to have very mixed feelings about this publication. It's is nice to have a single, hardcover compilation of so many Me 209 photos and drawings. But given the page count of this book, I did expect significantly more comprehensive research on the aircraft itself instead of such a balance towards context.