JAGDGESCHWADER 2 “RICHTHOFEN”
A Photo Chronicle
Schiffer Publishing Company, $59.95, 2004
Another in the continuing series of Schiffer Publishing’s accounts of famous German aerial units, JAGDGESCHWADER 2 “RICHTHOFEN” is exactly what its title implies: a day-by-day account of the unit in good times and bad. The photos are remarkable in their extent, most of them never having been printed before, and they bring to life the primitive beginnings of this premier unit, through the glory and the disaster of World War II, all the way to the present day.
The author begins, logically enough, with a chapter on Baron Manfred von Richthofen. While relatively short, the photo selection is excellent, and one can see the effect of constant combat on von Richthofen’s visage. Of particular interest, to me at least, were photos of the Red Baron in a Roland D II and also a Pfalz triplane.
The creation of the new Luftwaffe is told in succinct chronological entries in the next chapter, from its tiny beginnings as the “Central German Advertising Squadron” through the outbreak of World War II. As brief as the chronological entries are, they offer much food for thought. For example the author notes that in the spring of 1936, the Luftwaffe was using the “Cell Division” method of creating new units. Personnel from active units were detached as cadres to form new units, much like amoebas splitting. An enthusiast can follow the development of each element of the “Richthofen” unit, with the commanders of each of the component Gruppen being listed.
The chronology is reprised in the photos which are the obvious result of extensive search in personal archives over the years. There are some “official” photos of course, but most of them are candid snaps, and are the more valuable for it. One shows Ernst Udet visiting the Geschwader in 1934, so deeply tanned that he contrasts markedly with the other officers standing with him, one of whom is then Fliegerkommodore Karl Bodenschatz. As the Luftwaffe has not been announced officially, Udet is wearing the uniform of the German Aviation Sports Union, and the rank of Flieger-Vizekommodore. Uniform specialists will delight in picking out the subtle differences.
All of the unit’s aircraft types are represented, of course, from the ugly Arado Ar 65 through the handsome if not totally effective Heinkel He 51. Charles Lindbergh is shown admiring the Jagdeschwader Richthofen line up of He 51’s during his 1937 visit. Also depicted is the only in-flight photo I’ve seen of the Heinkel He 112 on operations! Admittedly, it was a demonstration of power during the Sudeten crisis, but nonetheless, it looks formidable, and makes you regret that they didn’t go into widespread service.
The German effort in the Spanish Civil War is covered only briefly, and majority of the book is dedicated to the Richthofen Geschwader’s World War II efforts. The unit had achieved 200 victories by June 6, 1940, all the while hopping from one airfield to the next. Between May 17 and June 22nd, 1940, the unit operated from ten different fields, displaying the flexibility and mobility that was the Luftwaffe’s saving grace, given the relatively small number of aircraft at its disposal.
By April 24, 1942, the unit had scored its 1,000th victory, and it would go on to many more, but only at an appalling cost that is written within a few weeks of combat on the faces of the increasingly younger fighter pilots. The long decline is detailed as the unit dwindles in numbers and effectiveness, and is finally caught up in the final idiocy, the Rammjager, the costly and ineffective suicide attacks. On April 30, 1945, the remains of the Richthofen Geschwader—twelve aircraft—are destroyed when Sherman tanks appear on the airfield.
Jagdgeschwader 2, “Richthofen” is a book worthy of the distinguished unit it describes.