by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
Authors Jean-Claude Mermet and Christian-Jacques Ehrengard have researched the Messerschmitt and Daimler-Benz archives extensively to produced a softbound 191-page French language volume, measuring 287mm x 212mm and printed on fine quality silk-finish stock. The book contains hundreds of well chosen period B&W photos, with a few colour shots for good measure, backed up by a profusion of diagrams, plans and colour profiles. The photos are drawn from a number of sources - both official and private - so inevitably the original quality does vary. That said, Caraktère have done an excellent job in reproducing the detail as well as possible. As you'd expect, there are some old friends among the photos but, excitingly for me, quite a few that I've not come across before. Proff that, no matter how many titles you may have on this iconic fighter, there's always something new to be found.
The coverage breaks down into the following broad chapters:
Bf 109A to 'D
Bf 109E & 'T
Bf 109G & 'K
Each chapter is copiously illustrated with technical diagrams that appear to be taken from original manuals, backed up by specially drawn illustrations by Jean-Claude Mermet. The book takes a different approach to the subject to most of the titles in my collection, concentrating primarily on the technical aspects of each variant. There's a sprinkling of coverage of operational usage, but that's not the authors' main focus. Working through each major variant, the book details the changes for each sub-type with accompanying side-view diagrams, branching off at times to explore items such as the GM-1 and MW-50 systems, or the particulars of a given engine. It all flows together in a useful and logical way. And there are plenty of surprises along the way - e.g. the abandonned project for a improved Bf 190E with a clear-view canopy and cut-down rear fuselage, and an October 1943 study for the Bf 109K with a bulged Erla canopy. These and others instantly got my creative modelling juices flowing for "What-If" builds!
Among the "Specials" you'll find the Bf 109X and 'Z, the jet-powered 'TL and the Me 209 and '309 programmes. The Bf 109H is covered in some detail, which brings back happy memories of my old Blueprint Models conversion set. I wonder if any are still out there?...
The appendices go into detail on further topics such as the W.Nr. for each series, and technical descriptions of some of the weapons carried and an explanation of unit markings.
Of course, an issue for many readers around the world will be fact that the text is entirely in French, but I have to say it hasn't proved nearly the stumbling block I'd expected. While it's more years than I care to remember since I studied French at high school (and, even then, it sadly didn't cover anything nearly as interesting as books about aircraft), even my rusty memory of the language was quite adequate to get the gist of everything quickly, and some quick checks for unfamiliar words filled any gaps. This is particularly true for the captions for the photos and illustrations, as they really are pretty self-explanatory. However, the one enormous advantage available these days that we could have only dreamed of when I was at school is the combination of computers and the Internet! As a test, I scanned a section of text, ran it through Microsoft's very useful free "One Note" to pull out the text (I'm sure similar programmes are available for other platforms) and ran it through Google Translate. The result was remarkably good - it wouldn't win any prizes for literature, but was more than adequate to learn the information needed.
From a modelling point of view some of the technical views will be very useful, although a weakness is that no scale is quoted on the plentiful plans and drawings. The engine illustrations are excellent and packed with detail, and a typically unexpected little gem is the clear diagram of the hot air cockpit vent system for the 'G-10 - something I've always missed on my models.
Bringing everything to life are really excellent colour profiles by Jean-Marie Guillou illustrating each variant. There are some wonderful colour schemes among the chosen aircraft, so there should be no shortage of inspiration for future builds.
conclusionCaraktère's study is a very interesting and worthwhile book which deserves to do well. Hopefully an English version will appear in due course, because I think the market is definitely there. While Mal Mayfield's mantra is that "you can't have too many Spitfires", I'd equally say "you can't have too many books on the Bf 109"! Recommended.
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