by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
This winter has seen the publication of Erik Mombeeck's latest volume in his popular Luftwaffe Gallery series. Special Album No. 3 is devoted to one of the most iconic fighter units - JG 54.
The new book maintains the successful format of previous volumes, being softbound in A4 format and printed on high quality glossy stock. The 96-page book is packed with a combination of detailed historical text, a comprehensive selection of period photos, many of which are drawn from private collections and are printed here for the first time, plus a gallery of superb colour profiles by Thierry Dekker. The text has has been translated from French and German by Neil Page, ensuring it is highly readable.
The book traces the history of JG 54 from its earliest beginnings before WWII, through to the end of the conflict. It's something of a convoluted story, with the unit's three Gruppen originating separately and the author does a great job in explaining it clearly and succinctly. What makes the tale rise above what could have been a rather dry combat diary is the inclusion of eye-witness testimony from the characters involved at key stages in the unit's history. These bring the story to life in a way that would otherwise have been impossible, and we are fortunate that so many personal recollections have been recorded.
The book traces the story in a logical chronological way, following JG 54 through the fighting in Poland, France and the Battle of Britain, the later defence of the Reich and, of course, on the Eastern Front where the unit experienced some of the harshest conditions faced by the Luftwaffe.
The photo coverage is excellent. As noted above, many of the shots included will never have been seen by the wider public before, and the bulk are certainly new to me. Taken from personal archives, they show everyday scenes of JG 54 in detail, with some really useful information included for modellers. The photos obviously vary in quality, as most were taken as "snapshots", but the reproduction is excellent and they are printed at a generous size which allows all the detail to be discerned easily. The fact that so many aren't posed scenes taken by official photographers means the photos capture a lot of incidental detail that would probably otherwise have been missed or censored out.
The photos are accompanied by detailed and informative captions. In fact, the combination of photos and their captions forms the bulk of the text content for much of the book, making this ideal for modellers as a ready reference.
JG 54 is famous for having some of the Luftwaffe's greatest aces among its cadre of pilots and, crucially from a modelling perspective, offering some of the most fascinating colour schemes as the unit exercised a great deal of leeway in its modification or over-painting of standard factory paint jobs. These field-applied schemes are some of the most interesting and challenging schemes to depict in model form and they are well covered in the book. Be it the Mäanderanstrich which classically featured irregular lines of dark paint leaving pale gaps partly filled in with a middle tone that appeared during the Battle of Britain, or the elaborate segmented patterns applied on the Eastern Front, they are all here.
Thierry Dekker's artwork is always top notch, and he has clearly taken great care in matching the camouflage and markings as closely as possible. In some other books, profiles are included almost as an afterthought, but in the Luftwaffe Gallery series, they are an intrinsic part of the contents, keyed tightly to the text and photos and bringing many of the aircraft described "back to life" on the page. Obviously, interpreting B&W photos can never be guaranteed to be 100% accurate - there are often simply too many unknown factors involved in taking the original shot (film type etc.), so it's particularly useful that multiple photos of the same aircraft have been included where possible. In some cases there is some debate amongst Luftwaffe enthusiasts and historians over the correct interpretation of a scheme - and, of course, you may form your own opinion as you study the photos. For me, this is the crux of trying to represent any subject in model form. If you can justify your choices from the evidence provided, your interpretation is as valid as any other.
ConclusionI thoroughly enjoyed reading "JG 54 Special Album" and it will be a source I can see myself referring to frequently in future. I've already found some information on colour schemes among the mass of new photos that will be hugely useful in builds. In terms of the quality of the coverage and artwork, the book is hard to fault. The only way I can imagine it being improved would be by including an index at the end so that you could quickly find specific personnel and their aircraft. That would be the proverbial "icing on the cake" on an already superb reference volume.
This is a book that any Luftwaffe enthusiast will enjoy immensely and it deserves to be among any collection of Luftwaffe modelling references. Highly recommended.
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