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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Friday, June 19, 2020

An Eagle´s Odyssey

Ju 52 and Bf 110 are highlighted but in the end the author commanded Bf 109s.

Luftwaffe pilot memoirs are not rare but An Eagle´s Odyssey by Johannes Kaufman deserves special attention. Kaufmann was an extremely experienced pilot when the war ended and tells his story with precision.

Johannes Kaufmann´s first training flights took place in 1935. Ten years later, in April 1945, he escorted colleagues on Kamikaze type missions. What you get from reading An Eagle´s Odyssey is a real insider´s account of what life in the Third Reich´s Luftwaffe was like, from the incredibly fast rise to the ferocious end.

Professor Richard Overy provides a fitting foreword to this piece of air power history and I find it hard to not agree with him both about the great value of the book and also what it is lacking. It is a book that is very, very focused on the Luftwaffe pilot´s training, tools and combat experience. It is almost as if the war beyond the view from the cockpit did not exist. But the author explains this somewhat in passage about when news reached him of Hitler´s order to unleash war upon the West in 1940:

“All hopes of an early end to the war appeared to be dashed. Every radio bulletin was followed with keen interest. There was a definite feeling of apprehension, not to say concern [but] nobody expressed their misgivings out loud. We had already reached the stage where most of us were beginning to think it prudent to keep our views on current events to ourselves.”

Well, if you are aware of the book´s focus on aircraft and flying and are trying to understand e.g. the German side of some event in the air war, then you will be rewarded. To begin with, Johannes Kaufmann will take you along to the Luftwaffe´s early version of basic flying training. Then he flies Ju 52s during the war against Poland, becomes a flight instructor and is put in charge of collecting captured aircraft from all over France. All the time Kaufmann vividly describes his flights.

Messerschmitt´s twin-engined long-range Zerstörer (destroyer), i.e. heavy fighter, the Bf 110, then comes alive. This is thanks to Kaufmann´s posting to the Zerstörerschule (destroyer school) Schleissheim. Then follows a pilot´s view of the Eastern Front and here is a quote from the book to illustrate the early missions over the Soviet Union: “First we dive-bombed the hangars and technical sites, and then went in low to strafe the few aircraft dispersed about the field.”

Of great interest to UK readers should be Kaufmann´s words about how the RAF performed, and how he viewed the Spitfire. The real gem, though, in my opinion, is his time in Jagdgeschwader 4 and especially what he writes about the German Kamikaze equivalents, in German called SO pilots, SO meaning Selbstopfer = self-sacrifice.

This book was first published in German in 1989 but only last year appeared also in English. I have a strong feeling that the translation has captured both the meaning and style of the original text. It has also been somewhat updated, I understand. There are only four photos, on the back cover, but the text is the richest I have so far come across about a Luftwaffe pilot´s flight experiences.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

New LRDG Field Research Expedition

The issue includes two LRDG buff expeditions and some remarkable barn finds.

The times are strange and more trouble seems to be brewing. Still, there is some good news for fans of the early Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and Special Air Service (SAS) - in the June 2020 issue of Classic Military Vehicle.

CMV has put together a very special LRDG 80th anniversary issue. It starts with a terrific and very visual summary by Toby Savage about the Egyptian LRDG field research trip featured in-depth in Karl-Gunnar Noréns and my book The Long Range Desert Group: History & Legacy, which is also shown in the article.

Very happy too see our book and the LRDG Preservation Society in CMV.

Toby brought along a kite on the trip and took aerial photographs with it and his article starts with a stunning example. The same CMV issue contains a complete surprise for me, an article by James Davis and Martin Spriggs about their Tunisia expedition in late 2019 to find LRDG patrol vehicles. While no complete vehicles were found, LRDG buffs will still find the article of interest and the finds they did make prove that there is more out there to be found. Good to learn about this and that the search in the area will continue.

I was chuffed to bits that CMV editor Andrew Stone was also able to do an interview with LRDG veteran Jack Mann, who was present at our book launch in London last year. Just before Stone was to meet the amazing Mann the pandemic changed everything. But IMHO the interview, mainly by telephone, turned out nicely and above all transmits some of Jack Mann´s remarkable attitude. No wonder he later served with the SAS.

Another morale-boosting section of this CMV issue is the "Military Vehicle Market" that includes some really inspiring barn finds. If you too have a soft spot for the Daimler Dingo - well, then you will just love the issue´s Dingo story. Now, don´t tell me that you also appreciate the odd Panzer? Well, the June issue also has a great Jagdpanzer 38 article that of course also has a Swedish connection. If you have trouble finding CMV for sale where you live, you might consider getting a (digital) CMV subscription.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Hitler´s Spanish Division

This book covers more units than the "Blue Division" of Spanish volunteers.

One of the baffling things about foreigners in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS is how the really large categories are often ignored, like the Spaniards. This is not least true if we look at articles and books produced here in Scandinavia. Hitler´s Spanish Division provides a surprisingly rich visual overview of the different units with Spanish volunteers.

To give an idea of just how popular it initially was in Spain to volunteer for service in German units on the Eastern Front we can start by just looking at the number of Spanish volunteers in the Luftwaffe, 659 men. That in itself is many more than the number of Swedes in all types of German formations 1939-1945 - there were about 200 Swedes all in all. However, the vast majority of Spaniards of course served in German Army (Heer) units, more than 46,000. Well, if one adds up these with Spains Luftwaffe volunteers and the Spaniards in the Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS and various Wehrmachtsgefolge (Wehrmacht auxiliaries) like Organisation Todt, then the total figure is around 48,000 Spanish men and women.

Hitler´s Spanish Division by Pablo Sagarra, Óscar González and Lucas Molina make clear just how large the Spanish contribution to Operation Barbarossa was. This they do in an unexpected way - not by focusing on the actions of the German 250th Infantry Division more commonly known as the Blue Division (blue = colour of Spain´s Falangist/Fascist Party) and other German units with Spaniards, but by looking at a select number of individual volunteers. The first chapter is about the three Spanish generals on the Eastern Front, the next about three of the sixteen Spanish colonels in German uniform. I bet you can guess what the third chapter is about. After the two chapters about NCOs and men follows a short but fascinating chapter about the Blue Legion, the successor of the Blue Division (the legion was more like a regiment). The remainder of the book briefly covers Spaniards in the Waffen-SS, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine etc.

The strength of the book lies in the many Eastern Front photos, studio portraits and Osprey-style colour illustrations by Ramiro Bueiro. A large number of original artifacts from volunteers are also shown in colour, mainly decorations and documents. The uniforms demonstrate that the look of the Spaniards could differ quite a lot from German regulations.

In other words, this is a book above all for readers who are into militaria and scale models. But readers more interested in studying volunteer movements, especially Falangist/Fascist volunteers, are at the same time provided with an overview of the Spanish presence on the Eastern Front, plus a rather good glimpse into how much Eastern Front veterans affected the postwar Spanish Armed Forces.