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Luftwaffe Viermot Aces 1942-45 (Aircraft of…
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Luftwaffe Viermot Aces 1942-45 (Aircraft of the Aces)

by Robert Forsyth

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last Osprey Luftwaffe aces title ? ...probably yes, since much of the content of LUFTWAFFE VIERMOT ACES 1942-45 has been covered in detail in previous Osprey titles. That said there is some interesting new material for Osprey Aces fans here. This is the first Osprey Aces book to include details of less well known units such as JG 4 and the ZG heavy fighter Gruppen. Formed in 1942 to defend the petroleum fields of the Reich's Rumanian ally, JG 4 saw its first major combat action over the refineries of Ploesti during Operation Tidal Wave on 1 August 1943 - the cover illustration depicts 28-victory JG 4 ace Fw. Albert Palm in his `Yellow 6' downing a 44th BG B-24 during Tidal Wave on 1 August 1943. Refineries and oil were to take on a vital importance given the Reich's ever increasing fuel requirements the longer the conflict went on.

Robert Forsyth's well-written text reveals - perhaps surprisingly for a US readership - that the first Allied four-engine bomber raids mounted over Europe were the RAF's Stirling and Halifax bombers sent to attack Kriegsmarine battleships in the ports of Brittany, France, as early as July 1941 (see also Osprey Elite 'JG 2'). Although the first USAAF bomber missions, launched in mid-August 1942, were tentative affairs, the Luftwaffe would soon face the challenge of going into combat against ever-increasing numbers of heavily-armed B-17s and B-24s. In response to this growing threat, the Luftwaffe formed new fighter units and brought back battle-hardened units from other fronts to protect Germany's western borders - III./JG 3 was just one such Gruppe. Equipped with the Bf 109 G-6 mounting underwing cannon and led by Kommandeur Hauptmann Walter Dahl, III./JG 3 arrived from Russia and settled in at Munster on the western German border. Virtually their first action following their return to Germany after two years in Russia occurred on 17 August 1943 - the combined Schweinfurt Regensburg mission, the famous raid on the ball-bearing and Messerschmitt production plants. (see also Osprey 'Bf 109 aces of the Western Front') In total some 370 bombers set out on this first major USAAF daylight raid on Germany. The result was a disaster for the Americans - escorted only as far as the German border by P-47 Thunderbolts and RAF Spitfires, the Jagdgruppen launched wave after wave of attacks - some 60 B-17 fortresses were shot down, only some 135 managing to return to friendly territory undamaged ! ( As Regensburg was only 40 miles from the Czech border the 4th Bombardment Wing flew on to bases in North Africa ). Yet while the raid resulted in heavy losses for the fledging 8th Air Force bomber fleet, Schweinfurt-Regensburg proved to be an early high water mark in the Defence of the Reich. Aside from hastening the introduction of long-range US escort fighters, the Schweinfurt raid forced the German defenders to recognise their shortcomings in equipment and tactics. The American four engine bombers - Viermots in German jargon - operated close to the limits of the high altitude performance of the Bf 109 and Fw 190 fighters, and with their 40 metre wingspans the B-17s and B-24s were tough opponents, filling the Luftwaffe fighter's gun sights while they were still some way out of range and putting up a powerful defensive crossfire when in their combat 'boxes'. The favoured tactic of the German fighters was the head-on pass, yet with combined closing speeds of nearly 700 mph the conventional frontal attack was fraught with risk and required above average piloting skills. A firing pass from the rear was even riskier, leaving the attacking fighter exposed to the bomber boxes defensive fire power for a longer period.

The defenders tested any number of expedients as they sought ways of knocking down significant numbers of bombers in order to bring a halt to the offensive as detailed in this account. In August 1943 the WGr 21 was first introduced. This 21cm diameter air-to-air rocket was equipped with a time fuse and fired into the bomber formations to break up flying cohesion and the integrity of the 'boxes', thus exposing individual B-17s to fighter attack. The primary units toting these sorts of weapons were the heavy fighter or 'destroyer' Gruppen. Forsyth devotes a chapter to the heavy fighters of ZG 1, 26 and 76 including mini-bios of ZG aces such as Egon Albrecht and Peter Jenne -both of whom later converted onto single-seat fighters and were promptly KIA. Yet while German fighter armament was being upgraded to provide the punch to knock down the bombers, the impact on manoeuvrability meant that the attacking 109s, 190s, Bf 110s and Me 410s, now laden with heavy weapons, were increasingly to become prey for high performance and agile USAAF escort fighters. The Luftwaffe gradually lost air superiority over its own territory. Forsyth's text goes on to deal with other innovations introduced in German air defence - the Sturmgruppen (see also Osprey Elite 'The Sturmgruppen', 'Fw 190 aces of the Western Front'), units which adopted ramming as a combat tactic, and the first Luftwaffe jet units (see also this author's Osprey Elite 'JG 7' and 'JV 44').

During the summer and autumn of 1944 the American strategic daylight bombing offensive against the Reich was at its height. The air battles waged in the skies of Germany over this three-month period were some of the largest and most savage in the history of aerial warfare. By war's end, over 110 Luftwaffe pilots had claimed 10 or more Viermot kills. One Geschwader in particular was at the forefront of Reichs defence - JG 300. If there is to be another Luftwaffe aces title, then the publishers could certainly look at JG 300. For the first time in the Osprey Aces series aces, JG 300 aces such as Ernst Hirschfeld, Peter Jenne and Konrad Bauer are all covered in this volume, which is a fitting tribute to these less-well known Luftwaffe aces. And while this volume must be the last of Osprey's Luftwaffe aces titles, it loses two 'stars' for coverage of events already well detailed in other recent Osprey volumes. However, I would still rate this book as 'worth a purchase' for Luftwaffe 'fans' - the superlative and highly realistic profile artwork by Jim Laurier, including for the first time both port and starboard side views of the same aircraft- is worth the price of admission alone! ( )
  FalkeEins | Jan 28, 2012 |
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