Saturday, 13 July 2013

Flughafen Tempelhof - Chronik des Berliner Werkes der "Weser" Flugzeugbau GmbH, Bremen

 photo Wenz_FlughafenTempelhof.jpg

[Full title: Flughafen Tempelhof - Chronik des Berliner Werkes der "Weser" Flugzeugbau GmbH, Bremen - Einrichtung eines Flugzeugwerkes - Umbau von Flugzeugen und Produktion der Kriegsflugzeuge Ju 87-Stuka und Focke-Wulf Fw 190, 1939-1945] F.-Herbert Wenz, Stedinger Verlag, Lemwerder, Germany, 2000, ISBN 3-927697-24-9. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Stedinger Verlag, 2000.

Although destined to perpetually remain in the shadows of other, more widely recognized companies such as Messerschmitt, Junkers, or Focke-Wulf, Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH was one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in Germany during the Second World War. While Weser’s own aircraft designs remained obscure or unbuilt, the company was contracted to convert, repair, and mass-produce aircraft of other manufacturers, such as the Junkers Ju 86 and Ju 87, Focke-Wulf Fw 190, Junkers Ju 388, or Focke Achgelis Fa 223. At its plant at Tempelhof airport in Berlin, for example, Weser eventually conducted two thirds of the entire Ju 87 production.

Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH’s Tempelhof facilities are the focus of F.-Herbert Wenz’ somewhat cumbersomely titled Flughafen Tempelhof - Chronik des Berliner Werkes der "Weser" Flugzeugbau GmbH, Bremen - Einrichtung eines Flugzeugwerkes - Umbau von Flugzeugen und Produktion der Kriegsflugzeuge Ju 87-Stuka und Focke-Wulf Fw 190, 1939-1945 [Tempelhof Airport - History Of The Berlin Plant Of The "Weser" Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation, Bremen - Establishment Of An Aircraft Manufacturing Plant - Aircraft Conversion And Production Of Ju 87 Stuka And Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Warplanes, 1939-1945]. The book is something of a companion volume to the same author’s indispensable Chronik des Lemwerder Flugzeugwerkes 1935-1963: Band 1 - "Weser" Flugzeugbau GmbH [History Of The Lemwerder Aircraft Manufacturing Plant 1935-1963: Volume 1 - "Weser" Flugzeugbau GmbH], released by the same publishing house in 1995.

Though only slightly more than half as extensive at 160 printed pages (versus the earlier publication's 256 pages), Flughafen Tempelhof is designed in a similar layout and style, and it serves to further complete the examination of Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH's various undertakings. It is actually rather unfortunate that Wenz' follow-up is a thinner book, as one might be drawn to imagine that the past existence of the massive manufacturing facilities at Tempelhof airport, including all related issues, would have warranted the inclusion of far more material and images (the book features 130 photos). Moreover, the book's design could be a bit more modern.

In spite of such desires, Wenz' Flughafen Tempelhof truly is a captivating compendium of information on the operations of a wartime German aircraft factory and the various special interests affecting it. Following brief descriptions of the establishment of Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH and the construction of the completely redesigned Tempelhof airport (see also Der Flughafen Tempelhof in Entwurfszeichnungen und Modellen), Wenz describes the actual repair, conversion, and production of aircraft at the airport. The switch to this new location was implemented because Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH's earlier facility at Lemwerder was utterly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work it was allocated. This is evidenced, for example, by two striking photos on pages 25 and 26 of the book, one of them showing an aerial view of the access road to Lemwerder. The road itself is barely visible due to the fact that it was used as an improvised parking area for numerous Junkers Ju 86 aircraft.

Flughafen Tempelhof contains countless interesting photos depicting the activities at the Tempelhof facility, from conversion work on Heinkel He 111s and Ju 86s to the series production of the Ju 87 and the repair of the Fw 190. Some of the photos show the damage caused by bombing attacks as well as the measures taken to limit such damage in the future. In addition to the narrative, floor plans and images depicting aircraft components and various manufacturing and assembly areas help the reader to gain a visual understanding of operations in a fairly typical German aircraft plant of the period. Unfortunately, the text is at times a bit generic. An example is the description of the intention to commence production of the Fa 223 helicopter; this is basically a brief summary on the aircraft and provides hardly any details regarding the intended production.

Wenz further portrays the individuals managing operations at the Tempelhof manufacturing facility and then, on nine pages, touches upon the omnipresent topic of forced labour. It is this latter point which has led certain circles to express criticism regarding the book. Wenz' account was blamed for being too cursory and too apologetic on behalf of the plant. The issue of forced labour at Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH is indeed of tremendous significance. To say that Wenz is trivializing this subject matter would be too strong, but it is certainly true that the brevity of the chapter in question means that many thoroughly drastic aspects of the topic are merely hinted at or even outright excluded. The utter arrogance and ignorance exhibited by the German leadership (from the highest to the lowest level) with regard to employing forced labour defies description, and this is exactly why attempts must be made to describe it.

Flughafen Tempelhof concludes with an account of the collapse of plant operations at the end of the war, and the occupation by American troops. Perhaps it is futile to expect a book with such a limited page count to provide a highly detailed study, regardless of whether this concerns aircraft manufacturing or forced labour issues. This is why it is somewhat frustrating that this book isn't a more extensive work and why the text actually included is at times slightly sketchy.

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