- Published on Friday, 23 December 2011 00:01 Robin Jenkins
Aviation Elite Units 40
Published by Osprey £14.99
ISBN 978-1-84908 – 335-5 Paperback 128pp Illustrated 24.9 x 18.5 x 1.1 cm
If you were asked if the following facts were true, how would you answer? A wartime squadron commander, promoted to lead a larger, more prestigious unit, refused the promotion unless he was allowed to take every pilot and groundcrew member with him en masse; his superiors agreed, but rather than just move the whole squadron, they refused to transfer the squadron number, so instead "exchanged" two complete squadrons geographically, with all their equipment, so that the geographical position of the two numbered squadrons stayed the same but with completely new men and equipment!
This sounds like one of those stupid urban legends that have built up around a folk tale, but the facts are all perfectly true. In April, 1918, Hauptmann Rudolf Berthold, the leader of the German airforce's fighter squadron Jagdstaffeln (or Jasta) 18 was promoted to lead Jagdgeschwader (or fighter wing) II. He refused the promotion without the above conditions being met; he was deemed the right man to lead JG II, so his superiors allowed him to take the complete Jasta 18 with him to become the new Jasta 15 under his command, and all of the aircrew, groundcrew and equipment of Jasta 15 were transferred geographically in reverse to become the new Jasta 18!
The Royal Prussian Jasta 18 had gained a reputation under Berthold's leadership as a tough, aggressive squadron with an excellent kill ratio. It had formed in 1916 under the leadership of Oblt. Von Grieffenhagen, a respected pilot who perhaps was a little too conservative in approach. When he was promoted to lead a fighter pilot school in August, 1917, he was replaced by Berthold, a high-profile, publicity-seeking aggressive pilot. To stamp his mark, he had the aircraft of the Jasta painted with red noses and Prussian blue fuselages.
When the Jastas were exchanged, the new leader of Jasta 18 was Leutnant August Raben, an able and inspiring fighter leader on his own merits. One of the changes he introduced was the replacement of the Prussian blue fuselages of the squadron with white painted ones; each aircraft then had a different raven emblem painted on it ("Raben" means "raven" in German). He gained permission from his superiors to make this colour change; it was specified that the red nose had to be maintained. The Jasta performed well for the remainder of the war, particularly when they received the excellent new Fokker D.VII fighter.
The book tells the above story in great detail, relating some of the individual actions in which pilots were involved as well as examining the Jasta's strategic use. Of great interest to me was an interview with a former officer involved in the discussions around Berthold's seemingly idiotic ultimatum. There is the usual good selection of photographs to back up the text. Illustrated here are some good casual shots of aircrew at rest (below),
Examples of Albatros D.V fighters during Berthold's time of leadership (above) and examples of the Fokker D.VII fighters used during Raben's command, their fuselages emblazoned with a raven emblem (below).
As expected with this style of Osprey book, there is a full colour profile section, in this case illustrated by Harry Dempsey. The profiles are nearly equally split between the Albatros and Pfalz fighters of the Berthold era, with their red noses and blue fuselages (above) and the later Pfalz, Albatros and Fokker fighters of the Raben era, with their red noses and white fuselages (above). Of particular interest is the captured DH 4 used as a squadron hack. My only disappointment with this section is that the early, von Grieffenhagen period of the Jasta is only illustrated by a single Albatros D.III profile.
VanWyngarden writes with a depth of knowledge that never becomes stale and he puts the information across in an engaging manner. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
So What Do We Think?
Osprey hit the target yet again with a fascinating book on the strangest German fighter squadron of the First World War. Well researched and written with interesting colour profiles.
A really entertaining read.
Our thanks to Osprey for the review copy. To purchase directly, click THIS link.