Luftwaffe Special Weapons 1942-45, Robert Forsyth

Luftwaffe Special Weapons 1942-45, Robert Forsyth

The definition of special weapons here is everything but machine guns, 20mm cannon and conventional bombs. This is thus a pretty wide topic, covering a mix of the sensible (30mm cannon etc) and the desperate (weapons designed to create artificial weather or spray chemicals onto bomber windscreens).

We start with a brief look at the various research centres that produced these weapons. One problem here is that the negative side of these centres is ignored – we get a lot on the efficiency and organisation of the Rheinmetall-Borsig centre at Unterluss, but no mention of the slave labour camp that provided much of the labour (although the use of slave labour elsewhere does get mentioned it is in the context of one test pilot who complained about it).

The next chapter looks at the various heavy cannon used by Luftwaffe aircraft, mainly a range of 30mm weapons which saw a reasonable amount of use, but also some very heavy 50mm and above weapons designed to destroy a four engined bomber with a single direct hit but that only saw very limited service (if any). This section also looks at the upward firing Schrage Musik weapons, and various anti-tank guns.

We then move on to the more unusual special weapons, starting with air-to-air weapons. I was familiar with many of the weapons discussed here, but not all – I was unaware of the use of modified mortar tubes for instance. A nice feature of the book is the use of eye witness accounts from both sides (where available), to give an idea of how these weapons actually worked in practice – this isn’t terribly common in books on this topic. 

A vast amount of work and ingenuity went into these weapons, but at least as far as the anti-aircraft ones are concerned those that did enter service did it too late, and in far too small numbers to make any difference. Some of the weapons that did enter service appear to have been very effective against heavy bombers, but also made the aircraft carrying them very vulnerable to the ever increasing number of Allied escort fighters. There is also a lot of wishful thinking – one multi-shot weapon was modified to fire fewer shots in one volley because of the theoretical estimates of its accuracy! That same weapon was apparently used once in combat, with the Germans believing the target Lancaster had exploded after being hit, but the aircraft itself, although badly damaged, landed safely in Britain.

The one area where this effort did pay off was in anti-shipping weapons, most famously with the Fritz X guided bomb that sank the Italian battleship Roma as she was on her way to Malta to surrender. One key difference between the Fritz X and Hs 293 and most of the failed weapons systems is they entered development early in the war, so by the time they were used in combat were mature systems that had been properly tested.

Somewhat to my surprise this book includes quite a few weapons I’d never heard of (having read quite a few books on this sort of topic), including some that actually made it into combat. I also like the tone of the book, which avoids falling into the trap of being over-impressed by these desperate last ditch ideas, many of which look advanced but never actually worked.

Chapters
1 – The Specialists
2 – Heavy Cannon
3 – Air-to-Air Weapons
4 – Air-to-Ground Weapons
5 – Anti-Shipping Weapons
6 – Radical Measures
7 – The Aircraft as a Weapon

Author: Robert Forsyth
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2021


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