Book review on Java Gold Blog.
Disclaimer: I have no commercial motive in posting this.
Image from Amazon
You can preorder now through the US Amazon site.
This is a comprehensive reference to the structure, operation, aircraft and men of the 1st Tactical Air Force, or Desert Air Force as it became known. It was formed in North Africa to support the 8th Army and included squadrons from the RAF, SAAF, RAAF and eventually the USAAF.
The book includes descriptions of many notable defensive and offensive campaigns, the many types of aircraft used, weapons and the airfields that played host to these events. The five main sections of the book include a general historical introduction and overview, operations, operational groups, aircrew training and technical details of each aircraft type. Lengthy annexes cover personnel, the squadrons in World War II, accuracy of attacks, orders of battle for each wartime year, maps of airfield locations and numbers of enemy aircraft downed.
It’ll be interesting to see what Mr. Delve used as sources for accuracy of attacks, and numbers of enemy aircraft downed. I’m hoping for a positive surprise!
Someone went to the trouble of putting the whole of the Official History online. This is Vol. 3 of The Mediterranean and the Middle East – British Fortunes Reach their Lowest Ebb, covering the period September 1941 to September 1942.
While a very interesting and good read, like all books from the period, it needs to be considered in the light of more recent research, and also of course the fact the the British Army could hardly be seen as an uninterested party. Nevertheless, the research that went into these volumes is substantial, and a great effort was made to ensure future researchers can verify things. I have repeatedly come across items in the National and Imperial War Museum archives with a stamp on them ‘Quoted in the Official History – Permanent Preservation’.
My friend Michele has gotten his next book through to publishing!
Here’s an in-depth review of Eagles over Gazala: http://stonebooks.com/archives/140608.shtml
It follows on from ‘Air Battles in North Africa’, and anyone interested in the air war in North Africa must buy a copy.
I look forward to receiving my copy!
http://www.ibneditore.it/shop/eagles-over-gazala/ (best price, order from Publisher)
Disclaimer first: I commented on this article extensively and contributed some material and knowledge to it, but I have no financial interest.
With that out of the way, I am very pleased to see it shaping up now into what is a very nice addition to our knowledge of the air war in the western desert. I can only highly recommend this to anyone interested in the period and theatre.
A bit of background, the Wuestennotstaffel was a specialised unit under the command of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika (German air force commander Africa), equipped with the venerable Fieseler Storch (incidentally produced in my university town of Kassel – my personal connection is that while a taxi driver there, I once drove an old lady to Sunday tea who had worked on assembling them during the war). The Wuestennotstaffel had the primary task of rescuing downed pilots in the desert. It was unique, no other air force in the theatre had such a formation. It also carried out other tasks, such as local recce, sea search and support of shipwrecked/downed personnel ‘in the drink’, and courier/liaison/personnel transport duties. It was by all accounts a fascinating little outfit.
The below is a straight copy from the Air War Publications blog (at this link), posted here with their permission.
A lot of material has surfaced since Adam Thompson and Andrew Arthy started digging into the desert activities of this fascinating and unusual unit thirteen months ago. They uncovered far more exciting stories than expected, including run-ins with British elite forces the Long Range Desert Group and the Special Air Service, the capture of a prominent German general, and, of course, lots of rescues of Allied and Axis personnel from the Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian deserts. Therefore, due to the article’s length it has been split into two parts, the first of which will be published soon. As always, our articles will be illustrated with photographs, colour maps, tables and aircraft profiles. We’ve been very fortunate to contact the families of some of the men featured in the story, and the resulting exchange of information has produced some excellent insights into the activities of the Wüstennotstaffel.
Here’s a short taste of Part I of the Wüstennotstaffel eArticle, from the period November-December 1941: “The Wüstennotstaffel was kept very busy during the Operation Crusader fighting of November and December 1941, and growing Allied air strength presented some new challenges. Twice in two days, on 22 and 23 December, Staffelkapitän Hauptmann Heinz Gustav Kroseberg had the misfortune to land his Fieseler Storch at North African airfields just before they were hit by British bombing raids, although on both occasions the 42 year old escaped unscathed. On the first occasion his passenger was the Fliegerführer Afrika, Generalleutnant Stefan Fröhlich, who had been given a ride by Kroseberg between forward airfields.
A No. 24 SAAF Squadron Boston was shot down by Oberfeldwebel Espenlaub of 1./JG 27 on the morning of 24 November, and the four South African crewmen reluctantly enjoyed Hauptmann Kroseberg’s rescue services. The Staffelkapitän and another Storch collected them from the crash site, flew them 25 kilometres to Gazala, and later in the day transported them to internment at Derna. The Boston’s pilot, Lt. B.G. Roxburgh, ended up in German prisoner of war camp Stalag Luft III. Also on the prisoner transport flight to Derna was the very recently injured Wüstennotstaffel pilot Unteroffizier Konrad Hupp, released from Gazala hospital after crashing his Storch on the previous day.
On the next afternoon Hauptmann Kroseberg was out on a desert rescue search when he was jumped by what he called Hurricanes, although they were actually No. 3 RAAF Squadron Tomahawks. Sergeant Rex K. Wilson managed to down the slow-flying German liaison aircraft ten kilometres south of Acroma, but the Wüstennotstaffel commander was unhurt. The aircraft – officially on the strength of the Stabsstaffel Fliegerführer Afrika – was destroyed, and one of Kroseberg’s passengers, Leutnant Gorny, was wounded in subsequent strafing runs made on the downed Storch.
Overall, aircraft serviceability of the Wüstennotstaffel was quite low during the Crusader period, reflecting various factors, including the difficulty in ensuring an adequate supply of spare parts and equipment to the North African theatre. The table below provides some examples of the unit’s poor serviceability record in late-November and early December 1941.
Table: 1. Wüstennotstaffel Storch Aircraft during Operation Crusader
Date On Strength Serviceable % Serviceable
26.11.41 8 3 37.5
04.12.41 8 2 25
06.12.41 8 4 50
10.12.41 8 1 12.5
The picture below is a bit unusual. It’s a picture those of us spending too much time going through war diaries see often, it is a battalion field return of officers, by rank (actual/temporary), name, and whether they are with the unit or not. So far, so boring (unless you happen to have a relative on the list). But this one is from October 1941, for 3 R.T.R., and it is a bit special, at least to us nerds, and maybe to those who were boys in the sixties, and lapped up anything that was written about the desert war.
This return contains two names that many will recognise, first that of Captain Cyril Joly, at the time Adjutant of the battalion, and author of Take These Men, a fictionalised, but realistic, novel of tank men in the desert war (you can find it at this link). Second is Acting Captain (actual 2nd Lieutenant) Robert Crisp, author of Brazen Chariots, a first-hand account of Operation CRUSADER, and The Gods Were Neutral, a first-hand account of the disastrous campaign in Greece in 1941 – the books can be found at these links: The Gods Were Neutral (wrong tank on the cover, never mind) and Brazen Chariots (and whoever designed that cover should be severely chastised!).
To the Last Round is an oral history of the South Nottinghamshire Hussars (107 Royal Horse Artillery) by the Imperial War Museum’s oral historian, Peter Hart. Like his other books this is very readable, and very strongly focused on giving a voice to the men who served in the regiment during the war.
The book starts with the beginning of the war, and takes the reader through to the 6 June 1942, when the regiment was overrun by German tanks at the ‘Cauldron’.
The book is primarily based on the interviews with the men, which are well woven into a relatively sparse narrative about the campaign. The focus is always on the personal experience. While there are some errors in the overall narrative (such as ascribing the first name ‘Clive’ to General Claude Auchinleck), these do not detract from reading.
Where the book stands out is in the insight it gives the reader about the conditions in occupied Tobruk, from the boredom of being in a fortress under siege, to the terror of constant bombardment. There are a number of photos, with most of them portray photos of the men who were in the regiment.
The book ends on the Gazala battles, where many men of the regiment died firing their guns to the last moment, in a heroic but pointless last stand.
I can not recommend this book highly enough to anyone who wants to know what the war in the desert was like for the men who fought it.