Thursday 19 September 2019

Book Reviews: The U-Boat Commanders, Jeremy Dixon & Knights of the Battle of Britain, Chris Goss

Two quite similar books under review in this post, one on the avionics plane and the other on a maritime tack. The books most obvious similarities are that they focus on German medal-winners of WWII. The former gaining their laurels fighting in the Luftwaffe, the latter proving hardy in the Kriegsmarine. [1] I'll look at them t'other way round, seas then skies.

In just over 300 pages, with about 200 illustrations, Jeremy Dixon gives us 123 short biog's of German Kriegsmarine personnel who won the various grades of Knight's Cross serving in the U-Boat arm. He starts with the highest grades and works downwards, each class getting bigger as we get lower down the grades. This is quite good, as it front-loads the book with the high-scorers, amongst whom are some of the more familiar names, like Kretschmer, Prien and Topp.

The nature of this book, and others like it (see below!) is great in that it lends itself to dipping into, as opposed to the more normal front to back and all of the way through of normal narrative history. I love the latter as well, don't get me wrong. But when you read as much as I do, then a change in format and feel can be quite refreshing!

You could, of course, read this cover to cover. And if this is your foremost area of interest, you might well choose to do so. I'm only recently getting more into the maritime stuff, having traditionally favoured land-based warfare over either aerial or naval combat. But books like this are helping feed a growing interest in the perilous combats on the briny seas. Possibly a bit specialist for the general WWII reader. Nevertheless, a solid, readable and informative resource.

This book has a more concentrated focus, in that it only covers Ritterkreuz awards made during the Battle of Britain. 121 airmen are profiled, over roughly 200 pages, 118 of them appearing once, for being awarded the Ritterkreuz, with three - Werner Molders, Adolf Galland and Helmut Wick - being featured a second time [2], for achieving the next grade, mit Eichenlaub (with Oak-leaves).

In most respects this is very like the similarly themed U-Boat book, differing only in how it's organised - chronologically, as opposed to in descending order of grade - and the shorter time-span it covers, April to December, 1940, as opposed to the whole war. Each entry succinctly synopsises the life and career of the recipient, whilst also giving a brief account of their part in the Battle of Britain.

Copiously illustrated in black and white throughout, with a short additional photo section towards the end, this is ideal for dipping into. Again, if this is your primary area of interest a cover to cover read might be in order. But for me it's a case of occasionally having a glance through, and cherry picking a few entries. This makes it eminently suited to workplace reading, if one's job allows occasional time-outs, as mine occasionally does.

A fascinating and informative resource.


[1] Sorry, couldn't resist the pun!

[2] In these cases the first entry is the fuller account, the second being very cursory.

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