Germany's war against the Soviets was unquestionably different compared to their war against the Western Allies. Since VE day there has simmered a debate whether the Luftwaffe Jagdwaffe had an easier foe against the Red Air Force (VVS) than the Royal Air Force or the United States Army Air Force. True, many Ostfront Jagdfliegers rotated to battle the RAF and USAAF did not score much more, or survive much longer. Yet "easy" is a loaded adjective in this debate. The fighter pilots on the Eastern Front lived much like the infantry, often fighting from bare-base conditions almost always against overwhelming odds. The acrimony between the Germans and Soviets lead many downed pilots to prefer suicide over capture.
In 96 pages author / illustrator John Weal brings the little-known story of the eastern front Jagdwaffe semi-centurions to light. Fluent in German and possessing one of the largest private collections of original German-language literature from World War 2, Mr. Weal is Osprey’s primary Luftwaffe author. His research and contact with ex-members of the Luftwaffe produces exceptional information of the subjects. Mr Weal has illustrated and written some 30 titles for Osprey.
Over 10,000 Russians were shot down by some 150 'semi-centurions', Jagdfliegers who scored between 50 and 100 kills. Many of these scores, huge by western standards, were run up in the first two years of the war. The opening day of Barbarossa decimated the VVS fighter force, leaving near-suicidal attacks by waves of unescorted bombers for the Jagdfliegers to slaughter. As the VVS' own fighter force reconstituted, it was often with obsolescent aircraft flown by badly lead and inexperienced pilots; they met a highly experienced Jagdwaffe equipped with one of the world's best fighters, Messerschmitt's Bf 109F. Both sides reequipped with better aircraft, the VVS survivors learned the hard lessons, and Stalin's factories churned out swarms of good, and better, aircraft which swamped a Jagdwaffe increasingly stretched by a multi-front war. A schwarm of four fighters might routinely face formations of scores, later hundreds, of VVS attackers.
This volume is captivating. Though much of Mr. Weal’s text is a dry and clinical ‘Ltn So-and-so of thus-and-such Gruppen received his Knights Cross on February 31 for his 33rd kill’, he interjects a grammatical flair into most of the work. I was absorbed by the surge and recession of the fighters’ fortunes, the ebb and flow of bureaucratic evolution, and personal narratives of these unknown aerial warriors. These Luftwaffe aces may not be known to most of us, but they fought the same war as the Hartmanns, Ralls and Molders. Their stories are equally fascinating, like "Rudi" Muller on the Finnish front, who flew a Storch to snatch a downed comrade off a frozen lake from the clutches of a Soviet patrol, later to be downed himself; Ltn Hans Strelow who, lacking the award after exceeding the usual number of kills determined to win the Knights Cross, painted a cartoon of one with a question mark on his rudder under his scoreboard. And Oberfeldwebel Leopold "Bazi" Steinbatz of 9./JG52. His 99 kills makes him the top semi-centurion and brought him the first Swords awarded to any NCO in the Wehrmacht. He was killed by Soviet flak a week before the summer of 1942.
2 ALL ROADS LEAD EAST
3 STALINGRAD AND KURSK
4 ARCTIC SIDESHOW
5 STEPS RETRACED
6 THE FINAL WEEKS
The German fighter pilots flying against the Soviets had a target-rich environment. The first nine days of Barbarossa produced fifty-seven future semi-centurions. One hundred more would follow. The summer of 1941, known as the "Happy Time" for the Jagdwaffe, stretched into autumn and winter; by the end of the year ninety-two fighter pilots were semi-centurions, and six had more than fifty kills.
Chapter two continues the rise of the semi-centurions aces, as well as some of those who shot through the 100 kill ceiling. Awards of the Knights Cross and follow-on awards are detailed. The first Eastern front Jagdwaffe Oak Leaves went to Hpt Ihlefeld of (J)/LG 2. Maj Lutzow, Gruppen Kommodore JG 3 received his on 27 June. August 9th saw Heinz Barr as the first to down 50 Soviet planes, he received the Swords for 90 kills on 16 Feb., 1942. The volume of kills and awards lead top the development of a new award to fill the gap between the Iron Cross and Knights Cross, the German Cross in Gold ( "Fried Egg", as per the pilots' penchant for culinary themes). JG 54's third gruppe Kommandeur Hpt Seiler received the first in October for his 35th kill.
The massive losses the Jagdwaffe inflicted upon the Red aerial hordes did not stop the rising Red tide. September of 1942 saw the highest number of awards of the war presented to the semi-centurions. Yet, ominously the month before, more semi-centurions were being lost than made. Slowly, as the USAAF and RAF ramped up operations in the west, more and more Jagdgruppen moved that direction. By the Kursk offensive in July, 1943, more than half of the Jagdwaffe strength was gone from the Eastern Front.
Mr. Weal focuses on those semi-centurions who attained their status in the Bf 109. He notes that many transition into the Focke-Wulf 190. Records of which mount certain kills were scored in are often missing, and Mr. Weal tries to clarify the distinctions. While the topic is not explored in this book, I am ever amazed that Germany’s fighter pilots could run up such scores flying such and under-gunned fighter as the stock Bf 109.
Osprey’s signature format is followed within. Color profiles of 37 aircraft are the usual exceptional artwork, offering us a riot of camouflage schemes beyond the three grays of the typical Messerschmitt. Mr. Weal even offers descriptions of the non-standard colors used, i.e., "Described by one source as a 'combination of stone grey and dark moss green'."
The appendix lists the semi-centurions and their credentials by Eastern Front kills, other kills, awards, units flown with, and fate.
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Highs: Excellent illustrations, plentiful photographs, brief historical overviews, pilot interviews and statements, interesting lists of data.Lows: No maps with which to orient oneself. I would appreciate a chart comparing the Bf 109's performance with that of its opponents.Verdict: This is yet another excellent offering from Osprey. Fans of the Bf 109, German aces and Eastern front air operations need to add this work to their libraries. Recommended. I thank the wonderful people at Osprey Publishing for assisting me with this boo
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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR) FROM: TENNESSEE, UNITED STATES
I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art.
My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling!
My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...