Sunday, 30 November 2014

Heinkel He 72

Heinkel He 72 A Kadett, D-EBIZ, Werknummer 761, of the NSFK. Aircraft is fitted with an Argus As 8 R engine. Exact date and location unknown.

The pilot in the rear cockpit appears to be Martin Mossdorf, later Gruppenkommandeur of I./StG 3 (from June to November 1942). Mossdorf was a recipient of the Deutsches Kreuz [German Cross] in gold as well as the Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes [Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross], among other awards. He survived the war in captivity. (Fischer collection)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

AGO-Flugzeugwerke. Vom Gitterrumpf zur Me 262

René Scheer, dr. ziethen verlag, Oschersleben, Germany, 2014, ISBN 978-3-86289-078-1. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by dr. ziethen verlag, 2014.

Reviewing books examining the histories of German aircraft manufacturers is unwittingly turning into a loose series among the articles published within this blog. Following books on Sablatnig (Seifert 2002), Weser Flugzeugbau GmbH (Wenz, 2000), Zeppelin (Meighörner, 2006), DKW And Erla Aircraft (Seifert, 2011), and REIMAHG (Gleichmann, 2013, and various other authors), this review focuses on René Scheer's newly released and highly anticipated AGO-Flugzeugwerke. Vom Gitterrumpf zur Me 262 [AGO Aircraft Plant. From Tube Truss Fuselage To The Me 262]. To make it short, Scheer's book is fantastic. It is a prime example for a thoroughly researched and lavishly illustrated (including many rare black & white photographs and eight colour profiles) landmark publication.

AGO-Flugzeugwerke documents AGO's inception as a relatively small and obscure aircraft manufacturer in Oschersleben, its rise to a subcontractor producing aircraft for Heinkel, Arado, Henschel, Focke-Wulf, Gotha, and Messerschmitt, and its eventual association with REIHMAG. It is a highly intriguing account by any means, and it highlights not only the aviation-technical aspects typically associated with any German aircraft manufacturer of the period, but also the omnipresent repercussions arising from economic realities and political interference.

Among the most interesting parts of the book, however, is Scheer's detailed depiction of AGO's original aircraft designs (both produced and projected) as developed by Paul Klages and his team. The elegant lines of aircraft such as the Ao 192 or Ao 225 clearly illustrate Klages' unreservedly distinctive and aesthetic approach. As interesting and important as the subsequent license production of other companies' aircraft (e.g. Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190) was in AGO's history, it is a shame that AGO's own projects never received the attention and acknowledgment they would have rightfully deserved. Germany's inevitable path towards war essentially eliminated the possibility to realize any such ambitions AGO may have harboured.

Scheers' book subsequently sheds much light on AGO's wartime activities, including flight test activities, aircraft repair operations at the front, decentralisation efforts affecting manufacturing processes back in Germany, work conditions of AGO's workforce, employment of forced labour (a topic all too frequently conveniently excluded in such monographs), effects of the air war and Allied bombing, REIHMAG's appropriation of AGO's assets, and the establishment of the underground production of Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters at the near-mythical Walpersberg facilities. AGO-Flugzeugwerke finally concludes by describing the period of occupation after the war's end as well as the futile local efforts to preserve the industrial base against the realities of a collapsed Germany, resulting in the cessation of all activities in 1950.

René Scheer, a teacher by profession, has been gathering AGO-related information and material since the 1990s, resulting in a unique collection of knowledge, documents, photographs, and data. His dedication to meticulous research, paired with the obvious enthusiasm of his publisher, Harald Ziethen, have made AGO-Flugzeugwerke an utterly indispensable case study. In spite of the complexity of the story, the 312 pages of text are easy to read (the text is perhaps a tad small, due to a book format of 23 x 23 cm). Image reproduction is very good. The book is completed by footnotes, a list of sources, an overview of abbreviations, and a brief English summary.

AGO-Flugzeugwerke. Vom Gitterrumpf zur Me 262 simply cannot be recommended highly enough.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Udet U 12

Ernst Udet's specially modified personal Udet U 12 aerobatics biplane, D-822, Werknummer 269. Aircraft was painted all red, with white trim. The two detail enlargements of the photo show the covered front seat as well as the Siemens Motor, Mobiloel, and Bayer. Flugzeugwerke AG Augsburg logos.

As can be seen in the lowermost detail enlargement, the person standing on the left in the main photo all but obscures the white flamingo painted on the fuselage between Udet's name and the aircraft's registration.

D-822 was entered in the German Luftfahrzeugrolle [aviation registry] in February 1928. It was converted from U 12 a (Spezial) to U 12 b (Spezial) standard in June of 1933, and its engine was upgraded twice, from a Siemens Sh 11 to an Sh 14 and then an Sh 14 a. The exact date of the photo and the location are currently unknown to me. (Fischer collection)

Entry amended June 9, 2015.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Focke-Wulf Fw 56

Focke-Wulf Fw 56 A Stösser [Sparrowhawk] advanced parasol-wing trainer D-IKEI. Detail enlargement of center fuselage section reveals Focke-Wulf company logo. Photo was taken during the mid-1930s, although exact date and location are currently unknown to me. (Fischer collection)

Monday, 17 November 2014

Josef Sablatnig. Der Sablatnig Flugzeugbau und sein Chefkonstrukteur Hans Seehase

Karl-Dieter Seifert, NORA Verlagsgemeinschaft Dyck & Westerheide, Berlin, Germany, 2002, GBSL Schriftenreihe 6, ISBN 3-935445-63-6. Illustrated, softcover, published in German.

Cover image © by NORA Verlagsgemeinschaft Dyck & Westerheide, 2002.

Karl-Dieter Seifert's Josef Sablatnig. Der Sablatnig Flugzeugbau und sein Chefkonstrukteur Hans Seehase [Josef Sablatnig. The Sablatnig Aircraft Plant And Its Chief Designer Hans Seehase] provides a long overdue appraisal of a little-known but nonetheless significant pioneer of German military and civil aviation. As in his later publication DKW und die Erla Me-Flugzeuge 1926 bis 1945 (2011, reviewed elsewhere in this blog), Seifert's book is a rather detailed exploration of the story of the Austrian-born protagonist whose vision led to the creation of an aircraft manufacturing operation as well as the subsequent fate of said operation and protagonist. Josef Sablatnig's name may ultimately have failed to achieve the prominence of better known contemporaries such as Hugo Junkers, Henrich Focke, or Georg Wulf (to name but a few), but both his aircraft and his path are certainly remarkable enough to warrant such a dedicated study.

Original source material about Josef Sablatnig and his aircraft is somewhat sparse. Sablatnig Flugzeugbau GmbH was formed in 1916, but Sablatnig left his struggling company already at the end of 1922, after a mere six years. Any aviation enterprise in Germany at that time was subject to the rigid provisions of the Versailles Treaty, rendering the future a rather bleak proposition. The onset of yet another world war a few years later further served to diminish memories and original documents that later could have served to fully reconstruct the existence of Sablatnig Flugzeugbau GmbH. It's to Seifert's credit that he has succeeded in assembling a sufficiently comprehensive history. This was possible, not least, because Seifert was able to establish contact to the families of Sablatnig and his former chief designer, Hans Seehase, thereby being granted access to remaining original material. This proved crucially beneficial for this book.

There are many aspects in Seifert's account of Sablatnig Flugzeugbau GmbH that are utterly fascinating, among them the description of the conditions that prevailed in post-World War I Germany. Also illuminated is Sablatnig Flugzeugbau GmbH's foundation of Luftverkehr Sablatnig, one of Germany's first airline services (later Lloyd Luftverkehr Sablatnig, jointly operated with Norddeutsche Lloyd). The book is filled with many such details, thereby providing engrossing context not only with regard to Sablatnig's own story but also pertaining to Germany's later resurgence as one of the leaders in aviation technology. Moreover, Siebert has collected a great number of period photographs which serve to greatly enhance the book's text. Photo reproduction (in black & white) is quite good, although it still could have been improved if the publisher would have provided for a better paper quality. Nonetheless, there are highly intriguing images of Sablatnig's aircraft, manufacturing operations, technical details, and occurrences and mishaps. The image content also includes original drawings and documents.

Seifert's narrative follows Sablatnig and Seehase even after Sablatnig's temporary retirement from the ailing aviation industry. Among other episodes, it chronicles Sablatnig's attempts to establish himself as a competitor in the rapidly evolving automotive industry, his affiliations with the DVL and Junkers, as well as his last years during World War II. One of the final photos in the book shows an aged but seemingly very content Josef Sablatnig with his daughter. Only five pages later, the reader learns of Sablatnig's imprisonment by the Soviets after the cessation of hostilities, on June 16, 1945. Sablatnig died at Buchenwald concentration camp in 1946.

Karl-Dieter Seifert's Josef Sablatnig. Der Sablatnig Flugzeugbau und sein Chefkonstrukteur Hans Seehase is a small but unreservedly important and fascinating contribution to the ever-continuing quest to complete a comprehensive chronology of Germany aviation history. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Gotha Go 150 Advertising

Gotha Go 150 advertising by Gothaer Waggonfabrik Aktiengesellschaft, as featured in Der Deutsche Sportflieger [The German Sport Aviator] periodical, volume 2, issue 2, February 1942, edited by Ing. Karl Seyboth and published by Postverlag Leipzig, Thuringia.

Text translates as follows: The "small Go 150" ranks among the most modern German aircraft types - a low-wing, two-seat cabin aircraft; the first light airplane equipped with two engines, yet affordable to operate (fuel consumption per 100 km = 12.7 litres) - in short: the ideal aircraft for the private citizen! (Fischer collection)

Friday, 7 November 2014

Arado Ar 66 Fliegerdenkmal

Beautifully spectacular shot of a so-called Fliegerdenkmal [aviator's monument] mishap, involving an Arado Ar 66 trainer with WL+IDEH fuselage code. It seems the aircraft came to rest in the ditch next to the airfield perimeter road, right in front of a corn field. Note the unusually small fuselage Balkenkreuz.

WL+IDEH was part of Schule/FAR 23 in Kaufbeuren, southern Bavaria, in September 1939, and this incident likely occured during that period. (Fischer collection, additional information very kindly supplied by Eric Guillaume via

Entry amended November 30, 2014.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Messerschmitt Me 323

Partially cannibalized Messerschmitt Me 323 D Gigant transport aircraft. The only recognizable part of the aircraft's code is the red letter C (or a partially obscured G or O).

Note heavy exhaust staining on wing. Engines, outer wing sections, and tail section have been removed. Two Me 323 rudders can be seen on the ground between aircraft and camera. Location is likely the Demyansk pocket, 1942. (Fischer collection)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Heinkel He 111 - An Illustrated History

[Full title: Heinkel He 111 - An Illustrated History. Design, Development, Variants, Operations, Equipment] Robert Forsyth with Eddie J. Creek, Chevron Publishing Limited/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., Hersham, England, 2014, Classic 25, ISBN 978 1 90653 747 0. Illustrated, hardcover, published in English.

Cover image © by Chevron Publishing Limited/Ian Allan Publishing Ltd., 2014.

What is, and what could have been...

It is astonishing that, to this day, no landmark study on the Heinkel He 111 exists, even after decades of serious research into German aviation of the 1930s and 1940s. It is equally astonishing that a book on a topic of this of this magnitude, by authors and a publishing house of such standing, no less, comes as a single volume of a mere 328 pages, and opens with a disclaimer. A disclaimer which reads almost like an admission of defeat or, worse, an apology for attempting to generate some business with a minimum of original research.

In 1996, when Classic Publications (the precursor of the publishing arrangement behind this release) first appeared on the scene with their book on JV 44 (JV 44 - The Galland Circus), they easily set a new standard for World War II German aviation publications. In addition to a flawless, professional, and thoroughly beautiful presentation, their books were crammed full of information, research, photos, and profiles. At the time, it was overdue that a publisher would take the topic of World War II-era German aviation to the next level and dedicate such attention to its product. I myself have often enthusiastically embraced their ventures (see the reviews elsewhere in this blog).

I am well aware, of course, that the landscape of publishing has changed dramatically since Classic's inception, rendering the conception and trade of such specialist books an extremely challenging and risky proposition. But why be so utterly boastful, then, in this new book's subtitle and in its advertising? Perhaps Heinkel He 111 - An Illustrated History actually is "the single most comprehensive study of the He 111 ever published", if compared to existing books about the He 111. But does it really fulfill that claim on its own? I personally have my doubts. There is room for much more. Volumes more. Hence the above mentioned disclaimer in the book, in the guise of "Introduction and Acknowledgments", and opening, literally, with a confession to this effect.

Make no mistake, Forsyth's Heinkel He 111 - An Illustrated History is a beautiful, high-quality book, as can be expected from the Classic series. But what really is its purpose? A compendium of as much previously published material on the He 111 as possible? In all of my years of studying German aviation of the 1920s to 1940s, I have amassed something like this myself. As Forsyth himself frankly states, access to original documentary material was limited during the gestation of the book, and he thus resorted to a great extent to secondary, published, sources. And, more than once, Forsyth openly points to the fact that the touted "comprehensive study of the He 111" actually still remains to be written, by another author.

That's all a bit of a shame. After the initial book announcement, it was reasonable to instinctively assume that this would be Classic's customary attempt at creating a landmark study, by necessity in a multi-volume format, for yet another German aircraft type currently surprisingly under-represented. I sincerely hope that this isn't a further sign of a mounting lack of dedication on the part of Chevron/Classic, as evidenced, in the past, by an increasing number of somewhat unsatisfactory publications, such as Fernández-Sommerau's Messerschmitt Bf 109 Recognition Manual, Salgado's Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, or Medcalf's Junkers Ju 88 series. Or, indeed, by the recent proliferation of misinterpretations or outright spelling errors of German language terms, something that simply should not occur in proofread specialist publications on German aircraft, several of which were co-written, not least, by an author of German descent (Eddie J. Creek, née Helmut Rudolf Nielinger). If such errors by the authors appear in text and captions after final editing, what are the implications with regard to the interpretation of original German sources and documents that are, not least, the very foundation of any serious publication on these topics? There have been indications, on other platforms, that this might indeed be a problem.

So what do we actually have in Heinkel He 111 - An Illustrated History?

The promises contained in the book's pretentious subtitle are only superficially fulfilled. Like many others, I was hoping for a detailed description and assessment of the aircraft's gestation, design, and variants, but after a cursory look at these topics, Forsyth instead focuses on the operational career of the He 111. And there again, how would it ever be possible to cover this aspect adequately within just over 300 pages? It would have served the book better to actually indeed focus on said gestation, design, and variants instead. It would have fit a single volume perfectly. In my opinion, this is the most significant missed opportunity with regard to this publication.

The book opens with the customary introduction to the aircraft manufacturer, Heinkel. A further chapter sheds light on the path which led to the design of the He 111, segueing into a look at the He 111 as an airliner. These pages are arguably the most rewarding of the book. Not only has this aircraft been under-represented in its airliner guise in many previous magazine features and publications, but the clean, pure lines of an aircraft still unencumbered by wartime requirements highlight how utterly advanced and aesthetic its design was for its time. Chevron/Classic's penchant for beautiful book layouts and lavish photographic coverage really does the book's subject justice here. Wonderful!

From chapter four on, the narrative focuses on the He 111 at war, and the technical development of the aircraft is now relegated to a mere occasional sentence or drawing. As has been noted elsewhere, a more appropriate (and honest) subtitle for the boom would have been "An Operational History". Color profiles are interspersed throughout, although upon close examination, they don't always correspond in every detail to the photos of the real aircraft portrayed.

The true value of this book lies in the photos, of which there is an abundance to be found. Many of them are beautiful with regard to scene and detail, such as the photo of the Hansa Luftbild He 111 B on page 38, the hangar shot on top of page 100, or the compilation of He 111s with anti balloon cable fenders on pages 239 and 240, to name but three examples. Much like the aforementioned spelling errors, a certain lack of an adequate quality control has crept in here, too, unfortunately. Perhaps the most glaring examples: the "He 111 test aircraft" on page 276 is actually a Focke-Wulf Fw 200. And the "He 111" cockpit gun installation on page 187, bottom right, is in fact the rear gun installation of a Focke-Wulf Fw 189 reconnaissance aircraft.

Heinkel He 111 - An Illustrated History is really a lavish, large and beautiful book. Its shortfalls, for the serious student of German aviation at least, certainly aren't its layout or photo content. Upon making the decision to indeed produce just one single volume covering a mass-produced and omni-operational aircraft such as the Heinkel He 111, Forsyth should probably have focused as much as possible on the trails less taken so far. The lack of a detailed examination of the He 111's design, technical details, variants, and capabilities is a true shame. The He 111 is of course not as exciting a topic as an Fw 190 or a Bf 109. But in a perfect world (i.e., one not driven by a decreasing book market), its existence would have warranted at least a four-volume series, if not more.