Green Hearts chronicles the use of the Dora 9 by III/JG.54 during the Luftwaffe’s last, desperate days.
By Ray Denkhaus
In July 1985 a small but dedicated group of individuals conducted the recovery of a German plane and the remains of its pilot, who had crashed during World War II. Taking part in that operation was author and aviation researcher Axel Urbanke. The downed plane, a Focke Wulf Fw-190D, was the victim of an air duel that took place in the final months of the war, a time that has been all but overlooked by most authors.
Fascinated by the remarkable details he discovered at the recovery site, Urbanke decided to focus on the events in the final year of the air war in Green Hearts: First in Combat With the Dora 9 (Eagle Editions Ltd., Hamilton, Mont., 1998, $85). Urbanke delves into the Luftwaffe’s III Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 54 (III/JG.54), the first unit to be equipped with the newly arrived Fw-190D, which would become known to the Allies as the Dora 9. Their first missions after the Normandy invasion involved flying cover over Kommando Nowotony’s Messerschmitt Me-262 jet bases and culminated in their herculean defense against the never-ending streams of enemy bombers and fighters.
Urbanke’s Green Hearts is an in-depth study of operations conducted by the fighter pilots of III/JG.54 before and after its merger with Jagdgeschwader 26, covering all the action from shortly after D-Day in June 1944 to the last day of combat in May 1945. This is a book for serious students of aviation history or readers with a devoted interest in research. Even experts will find no other volume that documents so thoroughly the deployment and operations of four units piloting the Fw-190D-9s in the last year of the war. The text is easy to follow and supplemented with 10 color plates that fold out to reveal 20 of the most accurate and detailed aircraft profiles ever assembled in a single volume. Each profile is based on original photography and recovered portions of aircraft.
The plane was the brainchild of Kurt Tank, its designer. Although it was originally planned as an interim development pending the availability of the Focke Wulf Ta-152, the 190D Langnasen-Dora ("long-nose Dora") proved to be an extremely effective fighter. In fact, it may have been the most successful version of the Focke Wulf to see service in quantity.
At the outset, many Luftwaffe pilots viewed the plane with some skepticism. The engine, a Jumo 213, was essentially designed for use in bombers and was used in the new Dora because the builders were constrained by the exigencies of the times. After the pilots became more familiar with the new mounts, their suspicions eased. They found that the Dora could out-climb and out-dive its BMW 801-powered counterpart with ease. It had a high top speed, was easy to handle and carried heavy, hard-hitting armament. Gradually the pilots became convinced that the Dora was more than a match for the North American P-51 Mustangs they were facing.
Urbanke found only sparse and incomplete data on the Fw-190D in the official records. From his research, it was obvious that the circumstances in which the German armed forces found themselves near the end of the war were not conducive to accurate or complete record-keeping. Time and again the author ran into dead ends. Undaunted, he decided to work from personal interviews, eyewitness testimony, diaries, letters and log books. In 1986 and 1989 Urbanke attended two reunions of former members of the Gruppen. Then, armed with the firsthand information he had garnered from interviews and other sources, he began a 10-year quest to accumulate information and photos of the planes and the men who flew them. The result is a tremendously detailed account of the day-to-day existence of a single German unit.
Urbanke located more than 95 percent of the surviving members of the unit and the families of fallen and missing pilots. In the course of his research he also gained access to the personal correspondence of Gruppen members. The information gleaned from those diaries, letters and recollections is woven throughout the fabric of this monumental work. To balance this data Urbanke also explores the point of view of American and British pilots who fought against the group, whose recollections and opinions help put the Dora 9 into proper historical perspective. Included as well are six fact-filled appendices listing losses, victories, commanders, Staffel colors and Gruppe symbols.
Green Hearts is a complete chronicle of the men and machines of III/JG.54 and JG.26 and their unequal struggle against the Allies. Of particular interest among the 250 images included with the text are photos of Dora 9s that have never before been published. The color aircraft profiles placed strategically throughout the text are by aviation artists Jerry Crandall and Thomas A. Tullis. Crandall also created the stunning book jacket.
This is a well-researched, engagingly written and profusely illustrated volume. Luftwaffe fans who thought there was not much else to read about in the air war after D-Day will be pleasantly surprised and impressed with Urbanke’s efforts.