Wednesday, October 14

Read 'n reviewed: Luftwaffe Gallery 'SPECIAL SERIES' NUMBER 2 JG 77 – Erik Mombeeck’s latest

Erik Mombeeck’s books are usually packed full of new pictures, interviews, profiles and personal effects – let’s see what his latest book in the 'Special Series' Number 2 - which features the well known unit JG 77 - has to offer in our review…
 By Erik Mombeeck & Thierry Dekker (Illustrator),
Available now
96 pages,
Format: 29,7 X 21 cm, Softcover landscape A4
234 photos and 34 profiles
This is a limited print run
Expected price $35.95

We have looked at a few of Erik’s books so far – and although his unit history books often come in other languages, this English language unit history “Special” book features the history of just one unit. JG 77 – which saw combat right through the Second World War from Poland to the channel and France, The Mediterranean and Afrika and Russia ‘till lastly the skies over Germany. It’s a large scope and potentially a lot of material to cover with one of the most famous Luftwaffe units so we thought it would be a great subject to review.
Physically this book is a little larger than the usual “LuGa” books we have seen. These special editions cover ninety six pages inside a soft cover landscape format book. The contents are mostly two, three or four pictures to a page that show these pictures in their native resolution (I mean most of these would be old pictures right?) with text next to them that show just what is going on and what context the pictures are in. This serves as a bit of an ambling timeline of the unit going from the first beginnings of the unit receiving their Bf-109’s till the end of hostilities and the unit’s capture by the Americans.

A note about the writing and the author, Mr Erik Mombeeck. Eric has been a noted Luftwaffe historian and one of the better authorities on this subject and has spent over over 20 years interviewing, researching and finding traces of unit histories. For this book Erik has tracked down and met up with many of the former members of Luftwaffe fighter wing JG 77. His amalgamated work of collected testimonies, copied the pilots documents and pictures have made this – his second "Special Album" of the "Luftwaffe Gallery" series.  He is aided here in the book’s development by many specialists, notably Maciej Goralczyk who transforms many books into top shelf products and also Neil Page, who translates for Erik ( amongst many others). This is a bit of a dream team of notable Luftwaffe historians and so well written and researched in this case leaves us quite content with what is presented here.
The pictures which we have already talked about are all very nice photographical quality with many published here for the first time. I am certainly not familiar with them but I am not the expert the authors or others are in the community. I did however find these collected shots to be a great visual guide to the writing.

What I also liked was the profile art – done very nicely and subtly again by the talented Thierry Dekker. Thierry always seems to captures some of the subtler details and he adds some wear and tear to the Bf-109’s in the pictures that these profiles share. This is a great way to translate to our eyes which are used to looking at things in full colour. His work is a great addition to the pictures and text.
Let’s briefly look inside the book from cover to cover…

The book starts with e early beginnings of the unit, after a dream start in the Polish campaign. The interesting this here is that JG 77 flew the Bf-109 exclusively throughout the war (with a short stint in the Macchi 205) so we see this aircraft in both early models, mid and latter types, so this book is almost as much about this aircraft as it is the men who flew, serviced and commanded them.

From these earlier parts of the war we see many of the most well-known aircraft emblems and personal insignia. Threats from enemy above were not so high and the pilots were more established in their mounts so things like the travelling boot of the “Janke’s travelling Circus” and the witch riding the broomstick, the grim reaper riding the scythe, I could go on – but as soon as you see some of them in these pictures many of them are well known to you but maybe not in these shots.

Some interesting and candid shots of the pilots and crew are very interesting and evocative.
We see the unit in its '109E’s travel through the colder countries of the north. Denmark and Norway are supported from the air and there are a bunch of pictures of the aircraft and their human companions. A nice thing that we see here (and in the rest of the book) is some of the human artefacts from the unit. Though photographs these badges, flags and pennants are included close to the pictures of the aircraft that they were shown on.

We start to see the mostly light blue sides of the aircraft mottled and camouflaged in the threat of retaliation from the air in the pictures and profiles. Both complimenting each other with some interesting stories to go along with the vision.
The Greek, Balkans campaign and the invasion of the Soviet Union is shown in pictures and text, (with amongst them a great shot of a ‘109 collided with a Romanian biplane) we see with the terrain covered the wide scope already in the history of this unit. The pilot’s recollections of the combat and the people they flew with really add to the book’s appeal for me.
Mottled ‘109’s lead on to the yellow and squiggly camo’ed Bf-109’s of the North African campaign.  You learn a lot about the life (and death) in the desert and the conditions the pilots and crews lived in from their own recollections which are always so much better than faceless text in large blocks.
After the retreat from Africa we see the unit in light blue/ grey/ green Bf-109’s in Sicily and Corsica. The short period where they were without aircraft in their move to northern Italy saw them flying the Macchi 205 aircraft and there are a few pictures of that rare occurrence in the book.
Defending the Romanian oilfields was the next job for JG 77 and here are some great shots of the flyers of this unit on and near their mounts. The story of the capitulation of that country and their escape (three men in each Messerschmitt!) are told on these pages.
December 1944 saw JG 44 in action in “Operation Bodenplatte.” It’s interesting to see these Bf-109K4’s and their flyers in warm winter wear. We then see the last shots of the unit before their capture by the Americans, subsequent transfer to Russian captivity and their forced work in imprisonment until 1948. 
That rounds up the book. Its Ninety-six pages chock full of detail, pictures and profiles. There is a lot here. Although it is far from a unit history it gives a read medium density overview of the aircraft. The men and their heraldry they emblazoned on their machines.
As always with Mombeeck’s books this is all put together very well and in a most captivating manner. His team has worked very well and they should all be as proud of this as the author. It’s a great book.

Adam Norenberg

Thanks To Erik for sending this book to us for review – if you like what you see you can get it directly from the author by clicking here to send an email – or you can get this from one of his distributors worldwide.