by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Originally published on:
There can be few books that have been as eagerly awaited over the years by Luftwaffe enthusiasts as Thomas H. Hitchcock's highly detailed study of the Focke-Wulf Ta 152. Originally intended to be published as part of the Monogram Aviation Publications range, all plans were thrown into disarray with the sad demise of that company, and it seemed for some time that the book would never appear. Thankfully Eagle Editions stepped in and took up the challenge, working with Thomas to not only bring the book to fruition but actually expand it beyond its original parameters to some extent.
And so 2010 finally saw the publication of a book that, just like its subject, has almost entered the folklore of aviation "might have beens" itself. Like any "lost work", the Ta 152 study has inevitably grown in peoples' expectations, so the actual book ended up having an awful lot to live up to, gaining an almost mythical status in some quarters. Happily, the book is more than worth the wait - it's easily the most detailed account of the development and brief service history of the Ta 152 that I've ever read, and in fact also goes far beyond that in its scope.
The saga that led eventually to the Ta 152 is both complex and convoluted, and the remarkable thing is how the author has managed to compress it into 5 main chapters in the hardbound 208 pages, backed up by a number of appendices:
1941 - No resting on laurels
1942 - Matching the Right Horse with the Right Wagon
1943 - Thinking Out of the Box
1944 - Asset Management
1945 - Too late to Make a Difference
Appendix 1 - Camouflage, Insignia and Markings
Appendix 2 - Production and Werknummern
Appendix 3 - Specifications
Appendix - Pilot Operating Instructions and Systems
Far more than simply telling the story of the Ta 152 itself, the author explores the strategic state of the German aircraft industry as a whole, and the frantic efforts to overcome critical handicaps in the race to develop a high altitude fighter. He does a great job unravelling the twisted threads of the intertwined Ta 152 and Ta 153 and presenting them in an easy to read style. And lurking behind each stage of the Focke-Wulf efforts, there are Willy Messerschmitt's rival Bf 109H/Me 155/Me 209 family of designs in an almost Machiavellian plot of intrigue and conspiracy. I read every publication I could find on the Bf 109H when I produced a resin conversion set many years ago, and discovered what a minefield of contradictory references lay out there. Here, the author succeeds in revealing the true story more clearly and convincingly than anything else I've read on the subject and I'd love to see Thomas Hitchcock return to the Messerschmitts in future - they are surely worthy of a follow-up volume in their own right
Just as important as the airframe development were the German efforts to develop powerful high-altitude engines. I've previously found passing references to these, but this book covers the subject in far greater detail, revealing the general state of the industry (and some of the facts presented here are quite astounding!), aided by useful photos, diagrams and specifications of a multitude of advanced engines from BMW, Daimler-Benz and Junkers, plus the enormous French HS 24Z.
The book is profusely illustrated with literally hundreds of photos and illustrations; almost every page features black & white or colour photo(s), original technical drawings, modern diagrams, plans or colour artwork. As you'd expect, the period photos were often taken in less than ideal conditions, so the quality varies with everything between shots for the official company records and snapshots taken by Luftwaffe and Allied service personnel. Regardless of the quality, they reveal many details useful to modellers, and this is aided by the detailed captions. Because so few examples of the Ta 152 were actually built, and the war situation had deteriorated to such an extent when they finally appeared, photos of operational aircraft are few and far between. Inevitably therefore, the book relies to a large extent on shots taken by the Allies of captured machines, and also illustrates equipment and markings variations by use of similar examples on Fw 190s. Amongst the modern photos, there are tantalising glimpses of the sole surviving Ta 152H preserved at the NASM, but we modellers are a greedy bunch and there certainly is scope for a more detailed photographic study one day, should the museum authorities permit it.
I think it's fair to say that this isn't an out and out modeller's book, but then we are only one part of its target readership. Nevertheless, there is still a huge amount that will be of great value to anyone building a model of the Ta 152. The development of the designs through various hybrid prototypes is covered in meticulous detail, including many original works drawings revealing the structure and equipment. The differing camouflage and markings for the 'H and 'C variants are described, along with Stammkennzeichen codes and tactical marking. Where possible, photographic evidence is provided, backed up by excellent colour artwork by Thomas A. Tullis. There's a wealth of drawings and illustrations by noted aviation draughtsmen and artists including A.L. Bentley and Jerry Crandall, perhaps the most eye-catching being the remarkable rendered 3-D models by Gareth Hector (including the cover artwork). Some of the older illustrations will be familiar to anyone who has the classic Monogram Close-Up 24 on the aircraft, but make no mistake - while the author credits the research for Jeffrey Ethell's earlier work as one of the foundations of this new study, he expands on it beyond all comparison.
If I have one criticism of the book, it's that the value of the many drawings of the Ta 153 and Ta 152 is limited to some extent because no scale is quoted, and sadly some are spread across the fold of two pages. This may not be an issue for general aviation enthusiasts and historians, but modellers will rue a missed opportunity. However, they will still be useful and there are huge possibilities for some very interesting modelling projects, from the quite distinct Ta 153 if you're really ambitious, to the more manageable flame-damping cowl tested on a number of prototypes, and the protruding oblique camera mount intended for the Ta 152E reconnaissance variant. Or how about the bizarre external turbo supercharger mounted in a pod slung under the fuselage of a Fw 190A in a 1943 proposal as an alternative to the better-known "Kanguru"?
ConclusionWhether you are a modeller, aviation enthusiast, historian or a mix of all three, Tom Hitchcock's book has masses to offer. Unlike many such books, having read it once I actually want to read it again straight away, simply because it's such a great story; as the author states - against all the odds, the designers very nearly achieved the impossible! I think this will remain the definite reference on the aircraft unless some hitherto unfound treasure trove of wartime documents and photos should emerge - and if it does, it's probably a fair bet that Thomas Hitchcock and Eagle Editions will have a hand in its discovery! Recommended.
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