The title of this recent issue in Osprey’s Combat Aircraft series is a bit misleading. While it is called He 177 Units of World War 2, this book is much more comprehensive than that. The entire concept, development and deployment of this interesting aircraft are thoroughly covered.
Perhaps the very first paragraph of the book sums up the history of the He 177 best of all: “In the history of aviation, many aircraft, civil and military, have been the cause or subject of tortuous development, heated debate, disagreement, uncertainty, confusion, and often danger.” That pretty much says it all for Heinkel’s heavy bomber!
Starting with the developmental background, including the politics of German military aircraft design in the 1930s, the author paints a clear description of how the He 177 came to be. The rarely-used concept of mating two engines to one propeller drive shaft (making the bomber a 4-engine, but 2-propeller airframe) is covered, along with the reasons why this occurred in this aircraft. A lot of the “why on earth did they do that?” questions I have had about the He 177 we cleared up by the first few chapters of this book.
After the first two chapters discussing design and development, the third chapter is titled “Service Debut” and covers exactly that, including trials with anti-shipping glide/rocket bombs and the “Zerstoerer” concept utilizing a heavy cannon in the nose. The bulk of this chapter discusses the use of He 177s on the Russian Front, including their ill-suited use as supply transports during the Battle of Stalingrad. Yes, as the title says, the units operating this bomber are described, but there is so much more information in here than just that. The author paints a vivid picture of just how poor of a design this thing really was (in many respects), as evidenced by the number of abandoned sorties, spontaneous fires in midair, and crashes during landings. While there were some successes when operated as a bomber, it was pretty clear the He 177 was ‘not ready for prime time’ when deployed.
After being withdrawn from the Eastern Front, the next chapter covers the mainstay of He 177 operations – anti-shipping duties. Here again the author does a great job describing not just the units in operation, but a clear portrayal of what went (often in participants’ own words). Compared to the Eastern Front, there were a few more successes here. But again, the technical problems became apparent over and over.
Chapter five discusses the He 177’s participation in the 1943/44 renewed bombing offensive on London. Again, all units involved are covered, and there are many quotes from participants (on both sides of the battles).
The final chapter, “Last Gasps” is brief and covers operations (or planned ones) in the final stages of the War. Back on the Eastern Front again, some high-altitude bombing missions did have a modicum of success. The author also discusses proposed uses for the He 177 as an anti-bomber weapon (with air-to-air rockets) for use against the heavy bombers in the West. In the end, engines were siphoned off for use in fighters, crews were disbanded for pilots to be used in Me 262 units, and some remaining He 177s were cannibalized to keep others in the air.
Throughout each chapter there are many corresponding black and white photos. Each has a detailed caption and I found them to be of great use. Of particular interest for modelers, many photos include a description of the camouflage used on the subjects. In addition to the photos, mid-way through chapter three there are 7 pages of extremely well-done side profiles (in color) of various He 177s. These also have in-depth captions (at the back of the book) with some good details on the history of the aircraft associated with the profile. The superb artwork was done by Jim Laurier, who has worked on many other Osprey titles. The cover art (again with a well-detailed caption) by Mark Postlethwaite depicts an actual incident during the 1944 bombing campaign against London.
There are a total of five appendices at the end of this book. The first, as mentioned above, lists the in-depth captions for the color profiles. Then following four are brief, but (I found) extremely useful for further information on the Heinkel He 177: Sources and Bibliography, Published Articles, Books, and finally Websites.
Overall, this book is what one comes to expect from Osprey books. A well-written narrative covering the subject matter, complemented by nicely-done color plates, lots of good photos, and a few useful appendices. I definitely recommend this as a good one-stop resource for this aircraft.
I will mention again (as I have in earlier reviews), that the publisher’s website shows this, and many other titles are also available in e-formats. These e-books are around 2/3rd of the full retail price of the print copy. This might be a cost-effective way to add more titles to your library!
Finally, I would like to thank Osprey publishing for providing the book, and IPMS for allowing me to review it!