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SPAD XIII vs FOKKER D VII: Western Front 1918      

SE 5A vs ALBATROS D V: Western Front 1917-18

by Jon Guttman, Osprey, Colchester, England, 2009, $17.95.

Jon Guttman parlays his knowledge of World War I aviation with photographs and some remarkable illustrations in these two works for connoisseurs of warplanes of the Great War. Guttman first takes you swiftly through an introduction, chronology and the history of each aircraft’s design and development. He follows up by introducing the strategic situation, describing the combatants and including useful statistics and analysis. He then provides combat commentary, along with suggestions for additional reading.

Both books are packed with excellent photos of aviation personalities and aircraft, accompanied by intelligent, well-thought-out captions that add greatly to these volumes’ overall value. Guttman profiles the great pilots of the era, deftly incorporating research on exactly how well they liked their respective mounts. But I must confess that what impressed me most were the full-color illustrations of aircraft profiles, cockpits and equipment, which give a rarely seen perspective of the aircraft.

In a way, the two titles are not equally matched. The Fokker and the Spad are obvious equals, but one has to feel a bit sorry for the pilots flying the Albatros D.V against the handsome Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a. Slow, logy and with wings prone to structural failure, the Albatros put the Germans at a real disadvantage in any sort of one-on-one encounter—yet somehow, as the author explains, they managed to hold their own.

These are books for the true airplane lover. And—for me at least—they both succeed in heightening my interest in the topic as a whole, thanks to their colorful illustrations.

Originally published in the July 2010 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here