In the Skies of France: A Chronicle of JG 2 “Richthofen,” Volume I, 1934-1940
by Erik Mombeeck and Jean-Louis Roba, with Chris Goss, ASBL, Linkebeek, Belgium, 2009, $74.
Storming the Bombers: A Chronicle of JG 4, The Luftwaffe’s 4th Fighter Wing, Volume I, 1942-1944
by Erik Mombeeck, ASBL, 2009, $69.
The bar for Luftwaffe unit histories has risen steadily in recent years. Readers now demand impeccable documentary research, new first-person accounts from squadron personnel, previously unpublished photographs and excellent artwork. Erik Mombeeck, a Belgian historian perhaps best known for his pioneering work on Jagdgeschwader 1 and JG.11 in the 1990s, has turned his hand to producing multivolume coverage of two hitherto underexamined Luftwaffe fighter wings, JG.2 “Richthofen” and JG.4. Judging by the first volume of each, they won’t disappoint.
JG.2, incredibly, has never been the subject of a full-scale unit history. Its story reaches back into the “black” Luftwaffe period of the early 1930s. Mombeeck and his co-authors trace the unit’s formation, the difficulty of finding sufficient numbers of qualified officers and the rapid period of expansion under the Third Reich. The fighter wing spent the war’s first month guarding the western border of Germany, but was soon engaged in the invasion of France and the Battle of Britain. The detailed treatment of the French campaign is especially welcome; as important as this campaign was, it tends to be eclipsed by the more familiar struggle over the British Isles. Extensive reminiscences of pilots, collected over a period of decades, are interwoven with victory claims, official communiqués and German and Allied records to produce a day-by-day narrative of the unit’s actions. The photograph selection is superb, and reproduction is generally excellent. The volume concludes with the late November 1940 loss of JG.2’s star, Major Helmut Wick, at the time the highest-scoring Luftwaffe ace. Future volumes will cover the unit’s holding campaign in the West, and its pivotal role in defending against the RAF and U.S. Army Air Forces bomber offensive.
JG.4 did not have the venerable lineage of the Richthofen wing, but it served in a wider variety of theaters and roles. Created in 1942 as part of the defense of the vital Romanian oil fields, its first major action was against the American bombing attack on Ploesti in Au – gust 1943. It then served as part of the outnumbered Luftwaffe commitment to the Italian theater. The volume concludes by recounting the unit’s 1944 activities as part of the Reich defense force, including its use of the new Sturm (assault) tactics against four-engine bombers. JG.4’s tale is a microcosm of the defeat of the German fighter arm: overstretched, poorly supplied, transferred from front to front and desperately developing new tactics to remain in the game.
As the last cohort of WWII aviators passes from the scene, the supply of new firsthand accounts will evaporate. Mombeeck and his collaborators have done a great service by collecting and preserving these, and most important, presenting them as part of these beautifully produced volumes. Unfortunately, neither book contains a list of references or document citations; perhaps this can be remedied in subsequent volumes. All students of the Luftwaffe should eagerly anticipate the remaining volumes.
Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.