by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Pen & Sword has recently published a detailed account of the struggle between RAF Bomber Command and the Luftwaffe’s Nachtjagdt forces in the skies of Europe. The author Peter Jacobs is an ex-RAF officer and he brings to the subject a wealth of personal knowledge along with empathy for the crews on both sides.
Night Duel Over Germany isn’t primarily a book aimed at modellers, but it provides fascinating background reading and inspiration. It includes a number of well chosen photos, some new to me, and Peter Jacobs does an excellent job in telling the story in a clear and compelling style.
The sheer scale of the eventual battle defies comprehension. To give some sense of just how massive Bomber Command’s onslaught had become in the final winter of the war, approximately the same tonnage of bombs was dropped on Duisburg over the course of just 24 hours in October 1944 as the Luftwaffe dropped on London during the whole war.
In the words of Joseph Goebbels - Nazi Propaganda Minister in 1945:
“The air war has now turned into a crazed orgy. We are totally defenceless against it. The Reich will be gradually turned into a complete desert.”
But all that lay far ahead and unimaginable as the two combatants made their stumbling opening moves. The book begins by covering the lead up to war and the first tentative daylight attacks, and what is very apparent is that neither the RAF nor the Luftwaffe were at all prepared for the night offensive that developed. The RAF simply didn’t have the means to navigate accurately in bad weather or at night (and, in fact, only the Whitley had even been designed with night bombing in mind), and the early results were predictably bad. For instance, one early raid in poor weather failed to locate the German fleet at Brunsbüttel and instead bombed a town in Denmark 100 miles to the north!
Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe had made little or no preparation for night defences because the Nazi leadership saw no need for them; in their planning it would be a short war and targets within Germany would not come under attack. So, despite a technological lead in the development of radar at that stage, the Luftwaffe was years behind the RAF in utilising it in a coordinated system for tracking, identifying and intercepting enemy raiders.
What followed was a seesaw battle for supremacy as electronic aids were invented on both sides and countermeasures were introduced to nullify them, or even turn them to the advantage of the enemy.
Peter Jacobs’s account makes for engrossing reading, because he wisely includes numerous eye-witness accounts from aircrew of both sides to serve as a counterpoint to the often necessarily technical descriptions of the aircraft and equipment involved, and which bring events to life with a vividness that anyone not present would struggle to match. What shines throughout is the heroism of the RAF and Luftwaffe crews who fought in appalling conditions, and the personal stories are a reminder to the reader of the sacrifices made by the individual young men caught up in a struggle on a scale that defies comprehension.
The book doesn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding “area bombing”, and some of the content makes for harrowing reading from the present day perspective when “collateral damage” is such a contentious subject. Even in the context of a war where civilian populations became increasingly seen as legitimate targets, it’s shocking to read a quote from the British newspaper, The Daily Mail, under the headline “Cellar Cities Draw RAF Back to Ruhr” justifying a renewed series of attacks on German cities that had already been devastated in 1943 because:
“The Germans have toiled during all this year to rebuild and repair plants. In addition to the fire-swept shells of the former cities, it may well be that they have built up underground communities and factories”.
While the personal rivalries that plagued the Luftwaffe have been discussed by many authors, it was a revelation to me that Bomber Command was similarly blighted by commanders who worked actively against each other - particularly in pathfinding and target-marking - and it’s perhaps telling that the author describes how “Bomber” Harris basically ignored direct orders to concentrate Bomber Command’s offensive against Germany’s oil industry, at one point paying only lip service to the agreed Allied strategy at best.
Had he but known, as early as November 1944 the Nachtjagd was at the point of being starved to death through lack of the very fuel he wasn’t interested in denying them. A German report that month found the night fighter situation more favourable than that which faced the outnumbered and outclassed day fighters, as:
“Our total strength of about 1,800 aircraft enabled about 200 fighters to take to the air during each enemy attack.” But the same report crucially went on to state: “...the present fuel shortage only permits the employment of night fighters for a few days each month…”
Nevertheless, the struggle continued to the very end, with the Nachtjagd pilots hunted by RAF Mosquito intruders from the moment they scrambled, but still inflicting punishing blows on occasions - such as Hauptmann Martin Becker whose Ju 88G crew set a record when they downed no less than 9 bombers in a single night in March 1945.
ConclusionI found Night Duel Over Germany an excellent read and would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject. I found plenty that was new to me, as well as fresh perspectives on topics I had already researched elsewhere.
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Highs: A clearly written, detailed and balanced account that doesn't shy away from the controversial aspects of the night bombing campaign while giving due credit to the bravery of the aircrew on both sides.
Lows: None that I noted.
Verdict: Not intended as a modellers' book, Peter Jacobs's account of the nocturnal struggle between the RAF and Luftwaffe is nevertheless a thoroughly good read.
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| || ||9781783463374|
| || ||£19.99 ($39.95)|
| || ||Jul 28, 2017|
Copyright ©2021 text by Rowan Baylis [ ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.