Friday, 24 July 2015

After The Battle Magazine: Nordhausen

Karel Margry, After The Battle magazine no. 101, Battle of Britain International Ltd., London, England, 1998. Magazine article, illustrated, published in English.

Cover image © by Battle of Britain International Ltd., 1998.

As related in my review of Jean Paul Pallud's After The Battle magazine article First Manned Rocket Launch (issue no. 151), posted here on June 4, 2013, After The Battle is a quarterly military history specialist publication, committed to an extremely well researched and deeply absorbing "then and now" approach, and focused on the period of World War II. Moreover, After The Battle magazine's articles are abundantly illustrated, and the photos provided are expertly captioned. This is something I consider essential, but it is all too often lacking, even in dedicated special interest publications.

After The Battle no. 101 is one of the magazine's occasional issues to contain material regarding the German aerospace industry of the period. For anybody reasonably well versed in German history of the 20th century, the name Nordhausen will be inextricably linked to the abysmal existence of the Mittelwerk GmbH underground production facilities in the Kohnstein mountain and the associated Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. The Mittelwerk facility was created with the aim to protect the manufacture of some of Germany's most advanced aerospace products - Fieseler Fi 103 missiles, A4 rockets, and Junkers jet engines - from Allied bombing campaigns. It was not least the bombardment of the Peenemünde rocket research centre on the shores of the Baltic Sea in August of 1943 that revealed how vulnerable Germany had become to air attacks as the war dragged on. Mittelbau-Dora, on the other hand, housed the inmates who were forced to construct both the concentration camp itself and the tunnel system of Mittelwerk.

The enormous Mittelwerk underground manufacturing plant and the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp are prime examples of the immeasurable ruthlessness applied by the National Socialist leadership in order to vainly attempt to avert an inevitable, self-inflicted, and utterly complete defeat. The associated cost in terms of human suffering was staggering and yet of no consideration whatsoever to the powers that be. In spite of such colossal and infinitely inhuman efforts, however, both the construction of the facilities and the actual mass production of rockets, missiles, and engines at Mittelwerk came too late in the war to still effect a perceptible impact - other than the indescribable human misery perpetrated at Mittelwerk and Mittelbau-Dora, that is.

Nordhausen is the main feature of After The Battle no. 101. It is a 42-page investigation into the wartime history and subsequent fate of the Mittelwerk and the Mittelbau-Dora, written by accomplished long-time After The Battle author Karel Margry. The article is presented in the typical After the Battle format, i.e., carefully researched text, illustrated by numerous black & white photos, many of them providing interesting comparisons between wartime scenes and the very same locations as they appeared at the time the article was written (1998). In addition, four colour photos relating to the topic can be found on the magazine's cover and in the centre-spread. The article also contains various maps to provide context with regard to geographic locations, underground production facilities, and concentration camp installations.

Moreover, the deeply captivating - and frequently intensely disturbing - photo content complements Margry's competent and comprehensive narrative enormously. The images provide views of the inside and outside of the Mittelwerk production facilities as well of the situation at Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. The historic photos were taken both during the war and right after the cessation of hostilities, and the comparison with the modern day situation is often intriguing. Although much has been published about wartime Germany's underground manufacturing facilities in recent decades, images depicting the inner workings of these facilities are still somewhat rare, and Margry's Nordhausen provides a number of such extraordinary glimpses. Next to various details of the tunnel system itself, there are many shots of A4 and Fi 103 components at various assembly stages.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the article does not neglect to delve deeply into the topic of slave labour and the associated concentration camp installations, in text and pictures. This is an immensely crucial subject matter all too often willingly (and thus negligently and spinelessly) "overlooked" in uncounted otherwise competent specialist publications on the late-war German aerospace industry and its output. The construction of the camp and manufacturing plant at Nordhausen as well as the subsequent manufacturing operations resulted in a death toll of around 20,000 human beings. The rational, clean layout drawings of the camps thus stand in perverse contrast to what can only be described as drastic images depicting the fate of those unlucky enough to have been confined there.

The creation of much, if not all, of the most modern and fascinating German aerospace equipment at that stage of the war would have been impossible without the implementation of slave labour of the most barbarous kind. This is an irrevocable fact of greatest significance, and it apparently renders rather uncomfortable a number of authors specialised in the field. It is to Karel Margry's credit that he did not elect to cheaply skirt around the issue and that he instead addressed it frankly and yet without hyperbole or tendentiousness.

All back issues of After the Battle magazine, including the above reviewed issue no. 101, remain available through the publisher's website. More information regarding Mittelwerk and Mittelbau-Dora may be found in Yves Le Maner & André Sellier's remarkable Bilder aus Dora, reviewed elsewhere in this blog.

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