Monday, 15 June 2015

Die Geschichte der Henschel Flugzeug-Werke in Schönefeld bei Berlin, 1933-1945

Horst Materna, Verlag Rockstuhl, Bad Langensalza, Germany, 2011, ISBN 978-3-86777-049-1. Illustrated, hardcover, published in German.

Cover image © by Verlag Rockstuhl, 2011.

Even though it was largely relegated to being eclipsed by more familiar German aircraft manufacturers such as Messerschmitt, Heinkel, Junkers, or Focke-Wulf, the Henschel company produced number of highly interesting aircraft and missile types between 1933 and 1945. The somewhat modest nature of Henschel's reputation might be rooted in the fact that it was tasked as a licence manufacturer of Junkers and Dornier designs, while the aircraft Henschel designed and produced itself were rather unglamorous, rugged workhorses, as exemplified by the Hs 123 dive bomber and attack aircraft, the Hs 126 reconnaissance aircraft, and the Hs 129 ground-attack aircraft.

Nonetheless, these aircraft were of considerable significance for the Luftwaffe, given the nature of operations demanded by its command level. Henschel has traditionally always of been of interest to me, not least because it also managed to produce a number of technically highly intriguing designs, such as the high-altitude Hs 128 and Hs 130, the Hs 132 single-seat jet bomber prototype, the Hs 117 surface-to-air missile, the Hs 293 anti-ship missile, or the Hs 298 air-to-air missile.

I thus anticipated Die Geschichte der Henschel Flugzeug-Werke in Schönefeld bei Berlin, 1933-1945 [The History of the Henschel Aircraft Plant in Schönfeld near Berlin 1933-1945] with great expectations. It is indeed a worthy study of Henschel's aircraft and the company's operations at Berlin Schönefeld airfield. It not only chronicles the history of the manufacturer but also examines Henschel's individual aircraft, Henschel's license production, and Henschel's missiles. Materna's book is lavishly illustrated throughout, and it is helpful in understanding the various aspects of Henschel's story that Materna includes brief biographies of various protagonists. Moreover, plenty of space is devoted to personnel, flight operations, facsimiles of original Henschel documents and advertising, manufacturing facilities, and maps.

At the same time, Materna's book leaves much room for improvement. An example is the inclusion of the aforementioned Hs 132; it is slightly marred by Materna's decision to include the long outdated and deficient Gert Heumann pseudo photo (i.e., photorealistic drawing) and a further, rather clumsy drawing (incomprehensively even featured twice, in colour and b/w) instead of photos of the actual uncompleted prototype that have been known for quite some time. There are other such cases.

The book's relatively small size (16 x 21 cm) alone means that the available space to expand on individual topics is inevitably limited, even at 288 pages. The same applies to the number and size of the photos featured, regardless of the generous number included and the very good quality of their reproduction. Moreover, the standards applied to layout and visual attractiveness fall rather short of what is possible and customary nowadays, and what a number of competitors in the Luftwaffe publishing scene are routinely accomplishing. In fact, the layout of the book is at times even a tad bit amateurish.

That is a true shame, as Horst Materna's work really does contribute immensely towards closing a significant gap in the documentation of German aviation history. At the end of the day, Die Geschichte der Henschel Flugzeug-Werke in Schönefeld bei Berlin, 1933-1945 is thus a book one can still highly recommend. I simply wish it was larger and thus more expansive, slightly more discerning as to its image content, and a bit more modern.

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