Luftwaffe Viermot Aces 1942-45

Published: December 11th, 2011     
Author: Robert Forsythe
Reviewed by: 
Paul Mahoney, IPMS# 8943
Company: Osprey Publishing
ISBN #: 978-1-84908-438-3
Other Publication Information: Softcover, 96 pages, period photos, color profiles
Price: $22.95
Product / Stock #: Aircraft of the Aces #101

Osprey's latest book in their "Aircraft of the Aces" series, number 101, covers the Luftwaffe Aces that were primarily engaged against the US (and to a lesser degree, British) heavy bombers attacking the Third Reich during World War II.  This book is limited to covering pilots that became aces, shooting down 5 or more "Viermots" (short in German for "four motors").  For some reason, only day fighters are covered in this book, although the British bombers operating at night were also mostly four-motored.  Perhaps this is because there has already been an Osprey volume dedicated to German nightfighter aces?

In any event, this book chronologically covers the daytime fighter defense of the Third Reich, interspersing a general overview of the Luftwaffe's doctrine at any given point in time with individual aces' stories.  The reader is taken from the initial daylight attacks by British 4-engine bombers in 1942 through the final desperate defenses mounted by Messerschmitt 262s against US B-17s and B-24s in 1945.

As with all Osprey titles, several pages of nicely-done color profiles of the subjects' aircraft are included, along with many previously-unpublished photos.  The photos are arranged to closely tie in with the text, and in many cases one can find a photo of the particular pilot being described (or quoted) directly alongside the narrative.  Color profiles consist of 9 Messerschmitt 109s, 14 Focke Wulf 190s, 2 Messerschmitt 110s, 1 Messerschmitt 210, 2 Messerschmitt 410s, and 3 Messerschmitt 262s.

One thing that really stood out to me in reading this book was the common story of most of these German pilots - they were in it for the duration.  They started the war on another front, were eventually brought back for defense of the Reich, and attacked the bomber streams with some success.  Most were shot down numerous times, only to go back into action again.  The vast majority of these little mini-histories ends with the pilot being KIA.

Another interesting side note (at least to me) that I discovered while reading this book - these pilots were given credit for knocking a bomber out of the formation ("Herrauschuss", or HSS, meaning cutting out or shooting away).  Knocking one of these B-17s or B-24s out of the protection of the 'bomber box' made it much more vulnerable to other fighters and/or flak, so full credit was given for this act.

Following the tactics that were developed during this time made for interesting reading.  Initially, the policy was sort of a free-for-all with no prescribed methods of attacking the bombers.  Each unit and pilot discovered on their own terms what worked best.  One highlight for me was the discussion in this book about the shift in Luftwaffe doctrine regarding from which angle to attack the bombers.  I was a bit surprised to learn that Luftwaffe orders at one point were issued to attack bombers from the rear at around the same time that the chin turrets were introduced on B-17s specifically to mitigate frontal attacks (where the B-17 was unable to concentrate much defensive firepower).  The US realized how vulnerable the B-17 was to head-on attacks and took measures to counter these, while at the same time the Luftwaffe shifted to attacking from the rear.  It was thought that this method of attack gave inexperienced pilots more time to line up their targets, and thereby possibly achieve more success. They did not shift to these attacks in reaction to the additional nose armament of the B-17.  Eventually, this tactic was abandoned and beam attacks became favored.

Some time is also spent discussing the various concepts tried by the Luftwaffe in an ever more desperate attempt to stop the bombers.  Although the bulk of the text describes the actions and history of individual aces, having an overview of the ever-evolving tactics and equipment puts everything in the proper context.

There is coverage of the "Sturmjaeger" - FW 190s with added heavy armor designed to allow the fighter to get in close to the bombers before attacking.  Many of the volunteers who flew these specially-equipped fighters signed oaths stating they would ram a bomber if they ran out of ammunition and had not brought one down.

The "destroyer" aircraft are also covered - these are primarily Messerschmitt 110s (and later 210s and 410s) that came from fighter-bomber or reconnaissance units and were reassigned as bomber destroyers.  These were often armed with heavy rockets that could be fired from beyond the bombers' defensive armament range.  Again, this is limited to the activities of "Viermot" aces that flew these aircraft, but some interesting tactical background is provided.

Finally, the last chapter is devoted to the aces who flew the Me262.  Of particular note here is the effectiveness of the batteries of R4M rockets that were often carried under the wings of the Me262s, and also about how difficult the aircraft were to trim when loaded with these devices.

One appendix lists single-engine fighter aces with 20 or more "Viermot" victories, and a second appendix shows two facsimile diagrams from the USAAF regarding firepower.  Both make for an interesting glimpse into the analysis of the times.  While these are representative, I would certainly like to have seen more.

Overall, this book was what one comes to expect from the Osprey "Aces" series.  A narrative covering the individual aces who are the subject of the title, with a decent overview of the bigger picture interspersed throughout.  I did find reading different versions of essentially the same story (most of these Viermot aces had similar stories) a little depressing...over and over again, the stories follow similar paths, most ending in the subject person not surviving.  But such is the brutal reality of it.  Modelers won't necessarily find the highest details of what colors to use on your Luftwaffe fighter, but you will gain an appreciation of the history behind that fighter.

Thanks to Osprey publishing and IPMS for allowing me to review this book.

  • Sample profiles
    Sample profiles