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Fin

Messerschmitt Bf 109: The Yugoslav Story (Volume I) - Book review

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Messerschmitt Bf 109: The Yugoslav Story (Volume I)
by Boris Ciglić
with Dragan Savić, Milan Micevski & Predrag Miladinović

 

I was surprised to find this awesome book recently as I was searching for more information to make a Yugoslav Bf 109E-3a model. Anyone who has tried to research the subject of the Yugoslav World War 2 aviation in particular and the story of the 1941 Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in general will know just how limited the offer is in the English language. Since both the aircraft in question and this chapter of World War 2 history were very interesting to me I bought the book, enjoyed reading it and I thought it merits a detailed review.

 

The book can be found on its author`s site and from a technical point of view it is very competently described there so I will just post the links and then focus on my own impressions.
The web page dedicated to the book:
http://wingsofserbia.com/category/messerschmit-bf-109-the-yugoslav-story/

And, from the same site, a pdf file with sample pages:
http://wingsofserbia.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Messerschmitt-Bf-109-The-Yugoslav-Story-Sample-Pages.pdf


At the very first glance I thought this is a history of the Bf 109E in Yugoslav service, but it soon became apparent that it is much more than that. First of all, the subject of the book is actually the Bf 109 in all its versions that served in the skies of Yugoslavia and this means that while the early Emils of the VVKJ (Vazduhoplovstvo vojske Kraljevine Jugoslavije - Royal Yugoslav Air Force) get great coverage, their counterparts in the Luftwaffe also feature prominently, from the Emils of the April 1941 to the Gustavs that battled the Allied raids on Central and Eastern Europe later in the war. A second consequence of this focus on the 109 is that the narrative follows it in all its actions and encounters with other plane types and this very much covers the air war over Yugoslavia. As such, aircraft like the Yugoslav IK-2 and IK-3 get their fair amount of coverage, including personal battle recollections from some of their pilots and photographs to go with that. And this brings me to another strength of the book. Surely, the book is a history of the aircraft`s service and as in any such title you`ll get a long string of paragraphs dealing with various missions, some more noteworthy than others, but in this case such entries are abundantly accompanied by quotes from contemporary witnesses and the range of their backgrounds is impressive. For the first two chapters you can read the recollections of both Yugoslavs and Germans, both aircrews and civilians. This makes the history all the more interesting and authentic and - somewhat rare for an aviation title - the book manages to be quite moving. From the memories of the fighter pilots who managed to score hits to those that went through the drama of being shot down (yet lucky enough to survive); from the cockpit of the Yugoslav E-3a fighter pilot the perspective changes to that of the Ju-88A observer being chased by it; from the civilian or military man observing from the ground the consequences of the dogfights taking place above to the grim and uneasy recollections of the German Emil pilots who escorted the bombers that attacked Belgrade on the morning of 6 April 1941, leaving up to 3000 civilians dead. The third chapter spices things up even further with quotes from German, Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, RAF, RNAF, RCAF, South African and USAF pilots and even from the Partisans. One has to applaud the effort that went into collecting and merging the information from so many different sources.

 

As it might have become apparent from their names (see the table of contents on the book`s page) the first chapter deals with the acquisition and service of the Yugoslav Emils up to the war of April 1941, the second chapter presents the invasion of Yugoslavia and the third chapter deals with its aftermath and subsequent Allied raids. Along the way, the general historical situation is discussed, but this is kept to the minimum that is necessary to place the subject of the book in the larger context. The text is generally arranged to chronologically present the operational record of the Messerschmitts, intermingled with the battle accounts mentioned above and supported heavily with photographs on almost every page. The photographs are very well placed as they are always relevant to the text. If you read about some plane crashing on landing or being brought down in action you`ll see a photo of the aftermath close by. Most of the photographs depict the 109s, but many other aircraft (more often than not as wrecks) are shown as well. Another thing I appreciated is that for many of the events you`ll find the perspective of both sides and then also an attempt by the author to reconcile their claims with the actual surviving records. At this point I have to say though that the reader would have benefited from a good map showing the location of all the airfields mentioned in the text. At the very beginning of the book there is a black and white map, but it focuses on the partition of Yugoslavia by the conquering Axis powers.

 

The book also caters to the modeller, with a fourth (and final) chapter dealing with the colours and markings of the aircraft and there`s also a series of profiles at the end of the book (see bellow). The colours and markings of both the Yugoslav and German machines (both Emils and Gustavs) are covered, but not in an exhaustive, plane by plane manner. Obviously, this is not the main point of the book. So, the current limitations in our knowledge on this subject are discussed, the general rules are noted, the known exceptions mentioned and a few photographs are used to illustrate the observations of the text. The section on the German aircraft is interesting, with a subject that is rich in its diversity (and there are some colourful schemes that modellers will probably like to replicate), but what I was primarily interested in was the section discussing the Yugoslav Emils. Here, from a modelling point of view, I would have liked a more detailed discussion regarding the colours that would have involved the reader in the train of thoughts that reached those conclusions. Did they result from the observation of surviving fragments, photographs, factory documents, survivor`s testimonies? The text mentions that the upper surfaces were in RLM 70, that the underside was RLM 65, that the front cover of the air intakes remained in natural duralumin and so on, but this seems surprisingly uniform. For example, the air intakes may very well have been left natural metal in many cases, but the only colour photograph seems to show them painted blue for the first handful of aircraft delivered. I would have liked to read more on these matters. Nevertheless, for the aviation history enthusiast this chapter will be more than enough to help create a picture of the planes that made this story and even for the modeller it is still a rich source of information.

 

The book continues with a series of eight very interesting annexes covering the subjects of the Yugoslav 109E-3a production numbers (W.Nr and Yugoslav corresponding number where available), the roster of Yugoslav Emils and IK-3 units in the defence of Belgrade on 6 April 1941, the VVkJ fighter claims for the April war, the combat log of the Yugoslav 6.LP for the April war, the Luftflotte 4 order of battle on the 5th of April 1941 and the known claims and losses of the German 109s from 1941 to 1945. There is also an annex that tries to approximate the Yugoslav aviation ranks (the text of the book uses the Yugoslav terms) to the ranks of the Luftwaffe, USAAF, RAF, VVS and Regia Aeronautica.

 

At this point there is a little treat in the form of a page with four color photographs of 109s in Yugoslavia. Three of these are German Emils and Gustavs, but the fourth is a very nice photo showing the first five Yugoslav Emils, on 15 August 1939, at Regensburg, prior to their flight to Zemun. After the many black and white photos of the period you can finally have a better picture of what the Yugoslav machines looked like in colours. And this serves as a very nice passage to the final section of the book: the colour profiles.

 

There are 35 aircraft profiles in this section and two more on the back cover. All are planes that flew over Yugoslavia, namely thirteen Yugoslav Bf 109E-3a (two of them with provisional German markings), twelve German Bf 109E-1/4/7 and twelve German Bf 109G-3/4/6. Many of the German profiles are accompanied by their unit`s emblems. Unfortunately, the artwork does not include any top/bottom views of the aircraft which means that modellers will need to supplement this with other resources. On the bright side, Lift Here! of Serbia has decal sheets for some of the 109s profiled in this book - both Yugoslav and German - and their instructions should help the modellers fill the gap.

 

On the inner back cover we learn that there should be a second volume to this story covering the 109 in the service of the Croat Air force Legion in the Luftwaffe, the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia, Bulgarian Air Force over Yugoslavia, the machines captured by the Partisans and the aircraft of the post-war Yugoslav Air Force. I`m looking forward to it!

 

Now, I`m not a fan of the "Highly recommended!" slogan, but really, I can only recommend this book highly.

Edited by Fin

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I want to point out that the above mentioned volume two of the Messerschmitt Bf 109: The Yugoslav Story has been released:

http://wingsofserbia.com/category/messerschmitt-bf-109-the-yugoslav-story-volume-ii/

It covers the Bf 109 service with the Croat Air Force Legion fighter component, the Independent State of Croatia, Bulgaria and post-war Yugoslavia.

 

A pdf file with sample pages from the book can be found on the author/publisher`s website:

http://wingsofserbia.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Messerschmitt-Bf-109-The-Yugoslav-Story-Volume-II-Sample-Pages.pdf

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