Fighters of the Iron Cross Book Review

Fighters of the Iron Cross: Men and Machines of the Jagdwaffe

Written by Jerry Crandall, Illustrated by James Bently and Thomas A. Tullis

Hardcover in dustjacket, 360 pages, bibliography, and index

Published by Eagle Editions Ltd, 2021

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-9761034-7-8

ISBN-13: 978-0-9761034-7-9

Dimensions: 9.3 x 12.3 x1.2 inches

Jerry Crandal is well known to scale modelers and aviation enthusiasts as the publisher of Eagle Editions books and EagleCals decals.  This book contains much material which will be familiar to anyone who has purchased his Jagdwaffe decals, as the pilots profiled here also flew many of the subject aircraft.  This is no coincidence, as the author has fostered personal relationships with many Jagdwaffe pilots over the years.  He has conducted extensive interviews and preserved documents and photographs, several of which have not been published previously.

This is collection of the stories of twelve Luftwaffe pilots, much of them told in their own words.  Included in each are copies or transcripts of original documents, along with several photographs from the personal collections of the Experten.  These are reproduced clearly on glossy paper, making them especially valuable for modelers.  The real prizes of this work are the full-color aircraft side profiles which accompany each chapter and the detailed notes which explain them.

The binding is in a large format, and is well-printed on glossy paper.  The layout and quality of the artwork will be familiar to anyone who has purchased Crandall’s previous publications.  While not cheap, this is a substantial book and a top-quality work all around, so you get what you pay for.  If you are a Jagdwaffe enthusiast you will be delighted by this book, highly recommended.

Pilots profiled:

Hauptmann Karl Leonhard

Major Diethelm von Eichel-Streiber

Feldwebel Horst Petzschler

Oberleutnant Manfred Dieterle

Leutnant Herbert Schlüter

Leutnant Karl Albert Helm

Major Rolf-Günther Hermichen

Oberleutnant Gerhard Thyben

Leutnant Elias Paul Kühlein

Feldwebel Hans Langer

Feldwebel Oskar Bösch

Leutnant Willi Unger

Major Wilhelm Moritz

Major Georg-Peder Eder

Regrettably, Jerry Crandall passed away on 12JUN22.

Hero of the Empire Audio Book Review

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

Authored by Candice Millard, Narrated by Simon Vance

Audiobook, 10 hours and 14 minutes

Published by Random House Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B01J6GNLB8

Born into English aristocracy, Winston Churchill was always convinced he was destined for greatness.  He determined that the surest path to political success was being publicly recognized for audacity on the battlefield, and at the end of the 1800s England did not lack for battlefields in the far reaches of her sprawling Empire.  Churchill served as a junior officer in India and the Sudan, but the medals he so desperately sought eluded him.  Resigning his commission, he relied on his writing skills as a military correspondent in Cuba, and his oratory skills in a failed run for Parliament.  Still craving adventure and the recognition which would propel him to greatness, he sailed to South Africa to cover the Boer War as a journalist in 1899.  He was 24 at the time.

The Boers soon proved to be worthy opponents for the mighty British Army.  A pioneering people, they turned their frontier skills and knowledge into formidable weapons, fighting a successful guerilla war and handing the British several defeats.  Churchill was with a formation which was bottled up in Estcourt, harassed by invisible Boer fighters.  The garrison sent out an armored train on a daily patrol.  Churchill rode along on the day the train was ambushed.  He saw this as an opportunity, and directed the men in responding to the ambush, attempting to get the train underway again.  The British were eventually overwhelmed, the survivors being captured and taken to Pretoria, the Boer capitol.

Churchill chaffed at his captivity.  He joined a small party who were planning an escape, but wound up being the only member to go over the wall unnoticed.  There he found himself alone deep in enemy territory, lacking adequate provisions, a map, or even a plan.  With no other acceptable options, he set out.

This book is part biographical history and part adventure story, an excellent combination.  While I was familiar with Churchill’s background in broad terms, the details of his escape are fascinating.  This is not a dry history and the author’s style is engaging, resulting in a real “page turner”.  I was surprised at Churchill’s unreserved ambition, and conviction from an early age that he was destined for greatness.  One wonders how the world might have turned out differently today if things had worked out differently for him, and there certainly were multiple opportunities for things to have gone wrong.  Highly recommended.

Focke-Wulf Ta 154 Book Review

Focke-Wulf Ta 154: Luftwaffe Reich Defence Day and Night Interceptor

Series:  Luftwaffe Classics #31

By Dietmar Hermann

Hardcover in dustjacket, 224 pages, bibliography, appendices, and index

Published by Crecy Publishing, October 2021

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1-91080-994-5

Dimensions: 9.0 x 0.9 x 12.0 inches

The Focke-Wulf Ta 154 was a twin-engine Luftwaffe fighter design.  With over half of its airframe weight being made of wood it is often compared to the Royal Air Force’s de Havilland Mosquito, to the point it is generally referred to as the “Moskito”, a name which the author points out was never mentioned in Focke-Wulf or Luftwaffe documents.  While the prototypes were impressive performers, the design had little room for development due to the decision to keep size to a minimum, and performance suffered as equipment such as armament and radar were added to the airframe.

The prototype’s first flight was in July 1943, which was unfortunate timing.  As Allied bombing raids against the Reich intensified in strength, frequency, and effectiveness, the German aircraft industry was directed to concentrate on producing single-engined fighters to combat the Allied bomber streams.  An assessment of the Ta 154s’ strengths versus limitations resulted in only slightly more than a few dozen being completed and entering service before the program was terminated.

The book is a fascinating design study of the development of the Ta 154, using original factory drawings and documentation, as well as seemingly every photo of the aircraft ever taken.  These are reproduced in large format on glossy paper so every detail can be seen, a boon for modelers.  In some places the text suffers from translation from the original German, a reflection of the difficulty in technical aeronautical engineering terms.  Aviation enthusiasts should be able to discern the intended meaning, in others instances the errors should have been caught by the editorial team, such as the misspelling in the sub-title.

The Luftwaffe Classics series are well-researched, quality publications and this volume is no exception.  The high production standards, artwork, research, and reliance on primary sources ensure that these volumes represent the definitive works on their subjects.  If you have any interest in the subject aircraft, buy the book while it is still in print.  You will not be disappointed, and these volumes reliably go for stupid money on the collectors’ market after they go out of print.  Recommended.

Yokosuka D4Y “Judy” Units Book Review

Yokosuka D4Y “Judy” Units

Series:  Osprey Combat Aircraft 140

By Mark Chambers, Illustrated by Jim Laurier

Softcover, 96 pages, index, 30 color profiles

Published by Osprey Publishing, September 2021

ISBN-10: ‎1472845048

ISBN-13: ‎978-1472845047

Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.2 x 9.8 inches

The D4Y Suisei (Comet) was a Japanese carrier-based dive bomber, designed to replace the Aichi D3A “Val”.  It was initially powered by a license-built Daimler-Benz DB 601 twelve-cylinder inline engine which gave it an impressive speed and sleek profile.  Later versions were powered by a Mitsubishi Kinsei 42 fourteen-cylinder radial engine due to reliability and maintenance issues with the inlines.  The type suffered from an unusually long developmental period while various bugs were worked out, which delayed its service introduction until the middle of the Pacific War.  By then Japan had suffered numerous setbacks, and the general decline in pilot training and loss of aircraft carriers reduced the potential impact of the design.

The book covers the Judy’s design history and operational service, along with reconnaissance, dive bombing, nightfighter, and Kamikaze variants.  The type was first used operationally when a developmental aircraft was used for reconnaissance, flying from Soryu during the Battle of Midway.  Similarly, the fourth prototype operated from Shokaku during the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942.  Notable successes were the sinking of USS Princeton (CVL-23) by a Judy Kamikaze, and the near-sinking of the USS Franklin (CV-13) by conventional dive-bombing attack.  Kamikaze operations are covered in detail, with a number of pages devoted to the tactics and procedures which they employed.  The final section is devoted to the use of the Judy as a nightfighter.

Like the rest of the Osprey Aircraft of the Aces series the highlight of the book is the full-color profiles.  These are well-rendered and thoroughly researched.  However, like most Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft, the camouflage was limited to the green over gray scheme with only some variation in the standard markings so there is not much variety.  The earliest profiles are of 1943 machines, so if you’re looking for the Midway or Santa Cruz Judys you’ll need to keep looking.  Despite that the book is well-researched and enlightening, and any book on Japanese aircraft (particularly in English) is most welcome.  Recommended.

The Daughters of Kobani Audio Book Review

The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice

Authored and Narrated by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Audiobook, 6 hours and 49 minutes

Published by Penguin House Audio, February 2021

Language: English

ASIN: B08BCTY84Y

The Yekîneyên Parastina Jin (YPJ) are all-female militia battalions known as Women’s Protection Units in English.  Ethnically they are comprised mainly of Kurds, although other Syrian groups and foreign volunteers are also in their ranks.  They share equal status with their male counterparts, the YPG.  During the on-going war in Syria, the YPJ/YPG were instrumental in the defeat of ISIS, and were supported by U.S. airpower in their campaigns to liberate their homeland.

Philosophically, the YPJ follows the teachings of Abdullah Öcalan, a Marxist who advocates equality for women, a radical belief within the Islamic sphere.  His desire for an independent Kurdish state spawned the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), whose attacks against Turkey resulted in the PKK being designated a terrorist organization and the imprisonment of Öcalan.

In this book, author Gayle Lemmon attempts to explain the complex history of the Kurdish people in the twentieth century, the role of Abdullah Öcalan, and the war in Syria.  A tall order on its own, and then she weaves in the individual stories of a few YPJ protagonists against this background.  Often the focuses on the very real oppression of women in Islamic societies.

I was hoping for a military history of the YPJ, along with an explanation of their tactics and organizational structure.  I was also curious about their relationship with their male counterparts in the YPG and how they were viewed by ISIS.  I am still wondering.  The combat performance of the YPJ is not discussed until halfway through the book.  Then it is from the perspective of a few protagonists, seen through the author’s lens of a feminist struggle against the patriarchy.  Islam is not mentioned, even though an extreme fundamentalist interpretation was the motivation behind the atrocities committed against both men and women who had the misfortune to fall under the rule of the Islamic State.  In the end there is far too much politics and not enough analysis of the YPJ as a fighting force, skip this one if you are interested in military history.

Up Front Book Review

Up Front

By Bill Mauldin

Hardcover in dustjacket, 228 pages, numerous illustrations

Published by The World Publishing Company, August 1945

Language: English

Dimensions:  6.0 x 9.0 x 0.7 inches

Bill Mauldin started drawing his famous cartoon panels for the 45th Division’s newspaper before the war.  His illustrations depicted Army life from the perspective of the common soldier.  The featured characters Willie and Joe are seen before the Division landed at Sicily, but became more defined as the war in Italy progressed.  They came to represent the common Dogface, dirty and tired, and Mauldin used them to satirize life in the Army from the infantryman’s perspective.  In many ways his cartoons have withstood the test of time and are still relevant today.

Mauldin was a cartoonist by trade, not a trained journalist.  His Up Front is not a masterpiece of historical literature, but is written in the style of a soldier relating his experiences over a pitcher of beer.  The text is a series of anecdotes and his own experiences, illustrated with several of his Willie and Joe cartoons.  The narrative often detours off to explain what was happening in the Italian campaign or in Southern France, and why Mauldin chose to draw what he did.  He also reveals the reactions to his work and the political fallout when he hit a nerve.  There are no chapter breaks, the text jumps from one story to another.

Mauldin was 23 when he wrote Up Front, and he had been in the Army since he was 18.  His cartoons are very relatable.  The text is interesting, but there is no central plotline or developing story, it reads almost like a series of letters home and I would not be surprised if that were not the inspiration behind several parts of this book.  Still, I found it very engaging and a good compliment to the many cartoons.  I finished the book in one sitting (bookmarks are for quitters!)  My copy was from one of the printings made just as the war ended, it has been reprinted several times and is still easily found today.  Recommended!

This is said to be Mauldin’s favorite cartoon.
This one is my favorite. It would make an outstanding diorama subject if you could make Willie & Joe easily visible.

Bill Mauldin Book Review

Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front

By Todd DePastino

Hardcover in dustjacket, 325 pages, notes, and index.  Illustrated.

Published by W. W. Norton & Company, May 2009

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0-393-06183-3

Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches

Bill Mauldin grew up during the Great Depression in New Mexico.  His parents had an unstable marriage, he and his brother Sid could be described as “wild children” who often were left to fend for themselves.  He joined the Arizona National Guard’s 45th Division in 1940 as America began to mobilize for the Second World War.  His artistic talents soon led him to work part-time as a cartoonist for the Division’s newspaper in addition to his other military duties.

The 45th was part of the U.S. invasion force which landed in Sicily in 1943.  By this time Mauldin was a Sergeant and on the Division paper’s staff full-time.  It was here that Mauldin created his best-known characters, Willie & Joe, two infantrymen.  Mauldin depicted his characters tired, wet, and unshaven, and used them to point out the ironies and petty inequities of Army life, always on the side of the common soldier.  He was given great editorial latitude and his own Jeep, which allowed him to venture to the front for inspiration and to scrounge for supplies to draw his cartoons and engrave them for printing.

Mauldin’s work was picked up by the Stars and Stripes and was syndicated to papers back in the States.  He moved from the Italian Front to France as the war progressed.  While he enjoyed the support of much of the high brass who saw his work as a way for the average “dogface” to let off steam, some saw the unmilitary appearance and attitudes of Willie and Joe as an affront to military discipline, most notably General Patton.  Mauldin famously had a meeting with Patton who had threatened to throw him in the stockade, but Eisenhower sided with Mauldin.

After the war Mauldin won the Pulitzer for Willie and Joe, and published a book named “Up Front” with his cartoons which was a best seller.  He continued as an editorial cartoonist for a variety of papers, authored several articles, acted, and ran for Congress but lost.  He won a second Pulitzer for a cartoon depicting Soviet author Boris Pasternik in a Gulag.  Perhaps his best-known drawing is of a weeping statue at the Lincoln Memorial after the Kennedy assassination.  Mauldin died in 2003.

This book pulls no punches with Mauldin’s life, and shows all the highs and lows, the struggles and successes.  Mauldin was married three times, and often got in his own way both personally and professionally.  Nobody is perfect, and author DePastino portrays his human side well.  The book is illustrated with photographs and several cartoons.  Recommended.

Geniuses at War Audio Book Review

Geniuses at War: Bletchley Park, Colossus, and the Dawn of the Digital Age

By David A. Price, Narrated by John Lee

Audiobook, 5 hours and 44 minutes

Published by Random House Audio

Language: English

ASIN:  B08L9MJX98

During the Second World War Germany used two major types of encryption for their messages.  Enigma was used by the German military, each service had their own particular variations of the Enigma coding machine and operating procedures.  It used a series of ten wheels to encode a message, each letter of the original could be represented by a different letter each time it occurred, resulting in millions of potential variations.  Lorenz was an encryption used at the highest level of Nazi diplomatic and military communications.  As complex as Enigma was, Lorenz was dozens of orders of magnitude more sophisticated.

British codebreaking efforts centered around an estate called Bletchley Park.  Poland had broken the early version of the Enigma machine and shared the secrets with the British who continued the work as the machines were changed throughout the war.  To deal with the ever-increasing complexity and volume of message traffic Bletchley Park eventually grew to employ 8,700 people, many of them WRENs and ATS women.  The codebreakers worked in separate buildings, each building was assigned a specific problem and work proceeded in shifts twenty-four hours per day.

Alan Turing is today considered to be one of the fathers of modern computing, his “Turing Test” is still one method used to assess the sophistication of Artificial Intelligence.  Turing invented an analog device dubbed “the Bombe” which was able to replicate the functions of the Enigma machine and reverse-engineer new cyphers, given time and the occasional lucky break.  To crack Lorenz, Bletchely’s director hired a telephone engineer named Tommy Flowers.  Given a team and a deadline to be done before June, 1944, Flowers designed a binary computing device built around hundreds of vacuum tubes named Colossus – the world’s first digital computer.  He then went about producing improved models to speed up the work and allow more messages to be read.

After decades of state-imposed secrecy the stories of the codebreakers are finally being told.  Such was the desire for secrecy that the Colossus machines were disassembled after the war, their records burned, and operators sworn to silence.  One has to wonder what would have been the result if Colossus had been preserved, further improved, and mass produced – thereby beginning the Computer Age in 1946.  This is an intriguing story, recommended.

Warplanes of the Luftwaffe Book Review

Warplanes of the Luftwaffe: A Complete Guide to the Combat Aircraft of Hitler’s Luftwaffe from 1939 to 1945

Edited By David Donald

Hardcover in dustjacket, 254 pages, index

Published by AIRtime Publishing, January 1997

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎ 1-880588-10-2

Dimensions: ‎ 9.5 x 0.75 x 12.5 inches

The German Air Force operated a wide variety of aircraft types during the Second World War, Warplanes of the Luftwaffe documents the operational types.  Fans of “Luft 46”, experimental types, or “Napkinwaffe” should look elsewhere.  While I am not usually a fan of broad survey books, this one is an exception due to the high production values and subject matter.

The book is printed on glossy paper using a large format.  Each aircraft type is listed by manufacturer.  The text describes the developmental and service history, along with the variants and evolution of the design.  Well-captioned photographs, many in color, are included throughout.  This is supplemented by color profiles, large-format three-views, and cut-away drawings by John Weal.  To cover minor types such as the Heinkel He 51 this may take as little as half a page, while the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Bf 109 take fourteen pages each. 

AIRtime is the publisher of the World Airpower Journal and Wings of Fame series among other high-quality publications, editor David Donald brings all that expertise to bear on this work.  The artistic values are high throughout, with ample space given to the color profiles and cut-away drawings which gives the reader the ability to appreciate their quality.

This book is still in print, and is regularly available on the secondary market at a reduced price.  For the quality and quantity of information it is a bargain.  I return to my copy regularly; it is useful as a quick history and the artwork is an inspiration.  The cut-aways have often proven helpful in identifying the odd “thingy” or antenna commonly found protruding from combat aircraft.  In several cases the information in this book is more useful than that contained in a monograph devoted to a specific type – plus you get the rest of the Luftwaffe as a bonus.  If you have even a passing interest in Luftwaffe aircraft, this book should be in your library.

Warrior Queens Book Review

Warrior Queens:  The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in World War II

By Danial Allen Butler

Hardcover in dustjacket, 180 pages, photographs, sources, and index

Published by Stackpole Books, February 2002

Language: English

ISBN-10: ‎0-8117-1645-7

ISBN-13: ‎978-0-8117-1645-1

Dimensions: ‎6.0 x 1.0 x 9.0 inches

As the world began to emerge from the Great Depression in the 1930s, the British Cunard White-Star Line began building two gigantic ocean liners for the trans-Atlantic route.  Together, the two ships were to provide weekly service between Southampton, Cherbourg, and New York.  The ships were to be the largest and fastest liners ever built, displacing over 80,000 tons with speeds of 32 knots.

Germany’s invasion of Poland ended the commercial trans-Atlantic passenger trade.  Queen Mary was in service and remained safe in the then neutral port of New York, along with the ill-fated French liner Normandie.  Queen Elizabeth was not yet in service, fitting out at Clydebank, Scotland.  To be safe from Luftwaffe bombers, Queen Elizabeth departed in great secrecy to join Queen Mary in New York.  It was decided to convert both ships into troop transports in Australia, and they were used to transport Australian and New Zealand troops to North Africa, with wounded soldiers and Axis PoW’s embarked on the return trips.  Designed for the North Atlantic route, the ships were not provided with adequate air conditioning equipment for the tropics which made the trips Down Under uncomfortable and occasionally fatal.

With America’s entry into the war the ships’ troop-carrying capacity was increased, allowing over 15,000 to be carried.  This was enough to transport an entire infantry division, a task which had previously required a 21-ship convoy and taken twice as long.  The Queen’s great speeds allowed them to make the passage unescorted and in complete radio silence which made them an almost impossible target for German U-boats.  Administratively the passage was treated as a single-ship convoy, requiring only local escort upon entering or leaving port.

On only two occasions did the Queens encounter trouble.  On 02OCT42, in fair weather with good visibility, the Queen Mary cut the escorting anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Curacoa in half with the loss of 239 sailors.  This chapter was a hard read for a former ship-driver, as a series of mistakes were made on both bridges and the collision could have been easily avoided.  The second incident occurred just two months later, when Queen Mary was struck by a rouge wave off Scotland.  This caused her to heal over to within a few degrees of capsizing (think of the Poseidon Adventure movie).  This could have easily resulted in her loss with all aboard, and as she was steaming alone it might have remained one of the great mysteries of the sea to this day.

My sole criticism of this book is that it was lacking in personal interviews and anecdotes, which might have added a more human aspect to the stories of these ships.  Overall though this is an interesting and well-written work which describes the use of two very glamorous ships pressed into the very un-glamorous role of troop transport.  Churchill credited the ships with shortening the war by a year, as between them they transported well over a million U.S. and Canadian troops to England.  Recommended for all readers interested in ships and the sea.