Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Heinkel He 219 "Uhu"

 photo Franks_TheHeinkelHe219Uhusm.jpg

[Full title: The Heinkel He 219 "Uhu" - A Detailed Guide To The Luftwaffe's Ultimate Nightfighter], Airframe Album 1, Richard A. Franks, Valiant Wings Publishing Ltd., Bedford, England, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9567198-4-3. Illustrated, softcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Valiant Wings Publishing Ltd., 2012.

I am under the distinct impression that deciding to publish a book about the Heinkel He 219 nightfighter equals walking into a veritable minefield of uncertainty and inconsistency. In spite of the many years that have passed since these aircraft took to the sky, a definitive monograph on the type has yet to appear. Instead, the He 219 books so far published are often marred by contradictions, inaccuracies, and assumptions. Moreover, there's always a marked feel of incompleteness. Even some of the contents of what is currently probably the most thoroughly researched publication on the He 219, the third edition of R. Francis Ferguson's excellent The Heinkel He 219 - A Research Paper (which itself only works in conjunction with earlier publications), have recently been debated.

It's against this background that Richard A. Franks has put together his Detailed Guide on the He 219. That subtitle is quite a bold statement, given that truly reliable information on this aircraft seems so hard to come by. Does assembling and publishing a very large number of detail photos really equal a solid and fully dependable reference work? Well, the result of Franks' efforts is impressive, but also occasionally ambiguous.

Aimed primarily at the model builder, The Heinkel He 219 "Uhu" is for the most part a meticulous examination of the aircraft's technical details, using a combination of original period documentation, illustrations from the aircraft's handbook, and photos taken of what is currently the only complete surviving example, the NASM He 219. As thus expected, the actual history of the aircraft's development is covered only as a two-page summary. The next 43 pages provide a plethora of very valuable reference images, subdivided into sections on fuselage (including cockpit), undercarriage, tail, control surfaces, wings, engines and nacelles (which unfortunately does not include any photos depicting engines actually installed on an airframe), weapons, electrical installations, and access panels. It should be pointed out that some of the photos do show incomplete components.

In the following chapter, titled "Evolution", Franks makes an ambitious attempt to identify and distinguish most all variants of the He 219, whether they reached the actual manufacturing stage or remained mere projects. For a modeler seeking as many images of details as possible, this is perhaps of secondary importance. To me personally, however, this section was of greatest interest. Unfortunately, it is also the section of the book which fails to succeed.

While exactly such a visual depiction of all variants was long overdue and most welcome, it is somewhat pointless if attempted by small isometric drawings which offer only a single cursory view of each type. While author and publisher would probably argue that the inclusion of any further visual information would lead beyond the scope of this book, I do feel that if one actually endeavors to describe the differences between variants in detail, one also needs to provide illustrations to clearly depict them. Why even embark, if one is not prepared to walk the full mile? In this case, this would comprise, for example, drawings which are substantially more comprehensive, including views of the underside (including the weapons tray), and/or detail drawings of the areas of note which differentiate the individual variants.

This very same section of the book contains some further ambiguity. The He 219 V2 is described to have had "contra-rotating propellers/engines" (page 55). The correct description would be "counter-rotating", as "contra-rotating" is something entirely different and not found on the He 219. The text on the He 219 V1 on the previous page is clearer, but still technically incorrect. Due to the lack of actual period images, the isometric views at times also contain elements of speculation, such as the installation of turrets or braking parachutes. This is mostly pointed out, however.

An additional chapter sheds light of the NASM's He 219 A-2. As stated earlier, many photos in this book were taken during the restoration of this aircraft. Incidentally, some of these photos provide evidence of just how crudely the NASM staff proceeded when attempting to recreate the camouflage of this particular He 219. This is somewhat incomprehensible, as portions of the original camouflage had been preserved on the aircraft's skin.

The final chapter dealing with the historic aspect of the He 219 provides information on camouflage and markings. This is augmented by a series of beautiful color profiles by Richard Caruana. These don't always conform to the latest state of research, however. Ernst-Wilhelm Modrow's He 219 G9+FK (page 88), for example, did not carry the letter "U" on the underside of the starboard wing, nor was its Werknummer 190012, apparently (see Ferguson, page 16).

The closing section of The Heinkel He 219 "Uhu" contains a list of He 219 scale models and accessories, and a review of the Revell 1/32nd scale kit. Regrettably, the review in question fails to identify the various shape and accuracy issues that have since been the subject of extensive online discussions. Accordingly, it is of little use to the serious model builder.

With some reservations, Richard A. Franks' The Heinkel He 219 "Uhu" is thus a welcome and very absorbing publication.

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