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.

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