Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book review - Walter Karjus – The Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen

Walter Karjus –  The Red Baron, Manfred von Richtofen

This is a short book, with 100 pages only – but in my opinion the best book about Manfred von Richthofen I have ever read.
The book has eight chapters, each one is a short single story:

- The triplane: the story about the 80th Richthofen’s victory. This is all what most people know about the WW1 in the air. The red triplane, a famous pilot in the cockpit and hopeless British (or French) pilots who cannot escape their fate. The stereotype in its pure shape. A very good introduction to the story about this legendary pilot. 
The second part of this chapter is more serious, telling us about the Dreidecker, how it was created and used in combat. With some words about Richthofen added.

- Jasta: the story of WW1 aviation in brief – from the very beginning, then the first duels, looking for the perfect fighter plane idea, the troubles with synchronizer, the change from 1-to-1 duels to formations of dozens of aircrafts. The reason why German Jastas were created. This story ends with the Boelcke’s dead.

- Ritter Manfred von Richthofen: The one and only, unique and legendary. Why? What makes Richtofen an iconic symbol of the Great War? Author is trying to answer all such questions and in my opinion he is doing it right. The story ends in the moment Richtofen became the commander of the very first Jagdgeschwader.

- A lone warrior, Werner Voss: a short break in the main story, but also very interesting. There were many other aces among German pilots, but the author decided to tell us about Voss. It was a very good choice and the moment was perfectly chosen – remember that the previous capitol ends with the creation of Jagdgeschwaders. Voss was a lone warrior, a perfect fighter but without the traits of a leader. „Only the whitebeard or philosopher can afford to be a loner. Voss wasn’t a philosopher, so that’s why he didn’t become a whitebeard“. The era of lone fighters in the sky has gone away and Voss has gone away in the same time. 

- Anatomy of the fight: each and every fighter has his own tactics and dogfight technics. Here are some of them: Mc’Cudden, Ball, Guynemer… 

- The Flying Circus: the period from June 1917 to April 1918. All those frantic battles in the sky, but told with the background details. 

- I’ll tell you how the Red Baron died: 21st April 1918 hour by hour. The Requiem. 

- Pour le Merite: a kind of psychological study on the pilots, their behavior, traits and limitations. Many interesting details from their life and service.

At the end there are two appendices: a list of Richthofen’s air victories and the detailed study on his planes. Camouflage, marking, what was red and when. Really a perfect work.

The book is really interesting, written in the way one reads it with pleasure. The language used in it is very specific, full of irony and sometimes sarcasm. The author mentions many myths from the era and is proving them wrong in the ironical way. There is no pathos, we can see that the pilots were ordinary men, with their strengths and disadvantages, and many times with their kinks.

A short example of the style it is written:

„11th Squadron was in the permanent status of rearmament. The pilots didn’t manage to get familiar with their nice Sopwith Pups, when new child of wonder from Thomas Sopwith factory has arrived, the already known Triplane. However Brown has preferred Pup. I know this sounds as a shocking, maybe even infantile statement, but this was the custom in those days. The squadrons seemed to be a piece of Byzantine craftsmanship mosaic. Someone wants to fly Nieuport, Brown preferred Pup, someone else preferred Triplane. Let’s imagine today the pilot who wants to fly F-16 instead of MiGs received by his squadron.“
And last but not least – there is a riddle. Who is the author of this book? Walther Karjus* as written on the cover? Or someone else? 

Karjus couldn’t write the second part of the book, for sure. Especially the last chapter which was written by the contemporary author for sure. The owner of the copyright is Witold Chrzanowski, probably the Polish historian by that name. The only problem is that Chrzanowski had written many books but all of them are about the early times: ancient Rome and Slavic history. 

Is Chrzanowski just an editor of the material somehow left by Karjus? But there is no „translated from …“ description in the book. Probably this is a book written by Chrzanowski who didn’t want to give himself a bad name by publishing a story from the Great War, especially written with a sense of humor.

Karjus was a pilot in Jasta 11 and Jasta 75. He was a valiant observer who had been badly wounded and had lost his right arm. Fitted with a prosthetic device he became a pilot and then flying instructor. One confirmed air victory on 21 October 1918.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Book review - Terence Zuber, The Real German War Plan

Terence Zuber, The Real German War Plan 1904-14

Terence Zuber is something of a controversial figure regarding WW1 and the Schlieffen Plan.

He makes a series of bold statements concerning the plan (or lack of) and criticises several historians such as Holger Herwig and Anniker Mombauer.

Schlieffen as Chief of the General Staff in 1904-1905 played 3 separate war games and the battles took place in German or Belgian territory and there is no evidence Schlieffen played an outright offensive against France or Russia.

The 'classic' Schlieffen plan actually has written on it that it was intended for a one front war against France only! Even for this he calls for 96 divisions, 24 more than Germany actually had.

Schlieffen's planning over his tenure appeared to be to use Germany's interior position to mass against troops on one front and then use superior tactics to achieve a victory. Of course, this could not continue for ever.

There is nothing in the literature to suggest that the campaign in the west would be concluded in 6 weeks.

The map everyone knows is a combination of the Schlieffen plan map of 1905 and the events of 1914. The 1st army was intended to act as a flank guard and not to march around Paris. Furthermore, Schlieffen felt the Germans would be halted on the Oise and the Aisne.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Movie review - Flyboys by Tony Bill (2006)

Flyboys by Tony Bill (2006)

I was thinking about this review for the long time because I wasn’t sure what to write… If I could describe it with just one line, the result would be – a complete disaster, one of the worst WW1 movies I’ve ever seen.

The movie had two main plots – one is the story of the Lafayette Escadrille in France, the second on is the romantic plot telling us the love story in the war time. Well, I think I’m not enough familiar with movie love stories to write the review about the second plot, so this review would be focused on Lafayette Escadrille only.

The budget of this movie was 60.000.000 USD (compare to 18.000.000 USD spent on Red Baron in 2008) and in the result we’ve received a movie that is telling us everything but not the reality of the Great War. I really do not understand why this is a problem to hire someone with average knowledge of WW1 aviation and reality? Just the average, we’re not expecting the miracles…

I have the conclusion that the director and screenplay writer had confused the Great War with WW2. The German fighter plane attacking the column of French war refugees… the bomb raid over Paris, with close escort of fighters… all this looks like the scenes of the WW2 but just the old equipment. And again, the sky is full of Dreideckers as the only German plane. Maybe it looks great in the movie, but in the real world only ca. 320 of them were built (compare to 1700 Fokkers D.VII or 2500 Albatroses D.V). The aerobatics shown in the movie is great, but no WW1 plane could stand it. 

The sky is full of all-red Fokker Dreideckers...

The list of factual and other mistakes is very long, but just some examples: there were no Zeppelin air raids with close escort of dozens of fighters, there were no Zeppelin raids on Paris, the range of WW1 fighter was not enough to fly from the front line to Paris and back for the escort purposes, there were no Dreideckers in 1916, the marking and cammo of the plane is wrong… Enough?

Some of the scenes are really with no common sense, as the example the one when Blaine takes off after rescuing Lucienne, he killed the German soldier firing at him and kneeling. Could anyone explain how the machine gun mounted over the engine of the taking off plane is possible to fire at the man kneeling in front of it? 

 The Great War or Star Wars?

The characters in the movie are fictional; however the producers have claimed they were based on real persons. It’s hard to believe in it as the characters shown are just flat stereotypes. Just take the planes away, move them from France to the Wild West and as the result you would have a „B“ class western story. Additionally this movie is full of social clich├ęs and sometimes I had the feeling that the romantic story is the main one and the war is only the background. And it’s really too long, not exciting at all. 

Is there a war outside?

If you want to get to know anything about the WW1, Lafayette Escadrille and aviation – look for another movie. If you want to see a tragic love story with the war in the background – spend your time with „Gone with the Wind“.

Do not waste your time with „Flyboys“.

And as the final conclusion – the rotary engine is called „rotary“ because… yes, because it is rotating. How surprising, isn’t it?