World War I saw the introduction of many modern innovations to warfare including the tank, the submarine, the machine gun and, perhaps most importantly, the combat aircraft. While armies had been using observation balloons for decades before 1914, it was the terrific collision between huge, modern European armies in France that saw the heavier than air craft really come into their own. At first these machines were used for observation alone, but very soon pilots and observers began to add armament of one kind or another first to harass ground troops and then to attempt to shoot down enemy observation aircraft. It rapidly became clear to the pilots that the best way to accomplish this goal was to have a light machine gun that fired forward along the line of flight so they could aim the whole airplane to shoot down the enemy. Thus the fighter was born.
There was, of course, an obvious problem. WWI aircraft were powered by piston engines turning a propeller. The vast majority of these machines had the propeller up front, pulling the airplane along. This was more efficient and made for easier and more robust airframe designs, but that big whirling propeller up front was an issue if you wanted to fire a machine gun along the line of flight. Shooting your propeller off was more likely to bring you down than the enemy. Various methods were tried to deal with this issue including attaching metal channels to the prop blades to deflect the bullets (used with limited success by French pilot Roland Garros in his Morane-Saulnier aircraft) and placing the engine behind the pilot so he could have a clear view forward (most famously the DH-2). The French aircraft manufacturing firm of Nieuport mounted the gun above the top wing to fire over the prop with their new Type 11, an idea that remained in use throughout the war, finally seen on the British S.E.5a. But it was Anthony Fokker with his Eindeckers who finally put a useful interrupting gear into production that stopped the gun firing whenever a propeller blade passed in front of it. This led to an aircraft that struck fear into the hearts of allied observation pilots and started the first true fighter arms race.
About the book
I have to admit to really liking the Duel series from Osprey. Ever since they came out I've been collecting all the ones I have any interest in (which is most of them) and I've got builds planned for every one of the books I have. I like the concept of comparing the attributes and shortcomings of various machines that fought against each other to give modelers and history buffs more technical and contextual information about specific matchups. Volume 59 of the series highlights the great historical pairing of two of the first true fighter aircraft; the Nieuport 11/16 series vs. the Fokker Eindeckers over the Western Front in 1916. These two aircraft and their pilots pioneered many of the concepts of fighter combat including the dogfight and the ace. From this classic matchup came many of the basic elements of fighter development that are still in use today.
Author Jon Guttman, writer of four previous WWI Duel titles, teams up again with illustrators Jim Laurier and Mark Postlethwaite to give us another interesting and informative look at the dawn of air combat. The layout of the book will be familiar to fans of the Duel series and investigates the development and deployment of the aircraft as well as the men who flew them in a compact 80 pages divided into the following chapters:
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Statistics and Analysis
The text is highlighted throughout with clear photographs and graphics illustrating the features of the various types and the men who flew them, including nicely detailed cockpit drawings, armament layouts and three views of a Nieuport 16 and Fokker EII. There are tables comparing dimensions and performances of the Nie. 11 and 16 as well as the Fokker E I, E II and E III, and battle map of the various aerodromes in the Verdun area in 1916. In addition, as per usual Duel practice, two pilots are profiled. This time they are Albert Deullin of Escadrille N.3 and Walter Hohndorf who flew with several different German Air Force units, which were undergoing considerable reorganization during that time (as explained in the text.) The obligatory battle scene shows a combat on 29 May, 1916 between Albert Ball in his Nie. 16 and an unidentified German pilot in his Fokker.
The Introduction gives the reader a quick overview of combat aircraft up to the use of the first fighters and is followed by the familiar two page Duel Chronology that lays out timelines focused on the Nieuport and Fokker aircraft. One of the first things you learn is that despite what you may have thought, the Nieuport was NOT designed as an “answer” to the Fokker but was a parallel development that entered service just a few months later. After all, firing a machine gun along the line of flight was hardly a German innovation. What you will also see in the chronology is how short the service lives of these fighters were, with both being out of front line Western Front use by the fall of 1916.
The Design and Development and Technical Specifications chapters focus on the machines themselves and give excellent brief descriptions of the differences between the sub-types. The Nieuport 11 and 16 are relatively clear, but the different designations assigned to the Fokker Eindeckers have long been troubling. Guttman lays it out very clearly and makes it much easier to follow than many other publications and on-line explanations I've read. Run-downs of the types of engines and guns used, as well as the very different control systems, are also included and add interest to the book without being so technical that they are hard to follow.
Having given us a solid grounding in the aircraft themselves, Guttman goes on to explain the strategic situation over the Western Front in 1915-16 in five pages. While that may seem short, remember how static the front was at that time! It’s a good, if somewhat basic overview that lets the reader know the big picture of what was going on with the war.
The next chapter is more detailed and delves into the training and deployment of the airmen and units of the various services which used the Nieuport and Fokker, including the Aeronautique Militaire, Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Flying Corps and Luftstreikrafte. Guttman then moves on to actual stories of combat between Allies and Germans, with several interesting narratives covering the use of machines and the men who flew them, often quoting actual after-action reports.
The Statistics and Analysis chapter is next, tying up loose ends and not only laying out numbers but bringing meaning to them in the real world. One surprise here is the usual table showing leading Nie. 11 and 16 Eindecker killers and leading Eindecker Nieuport killers. Given that the entire book was written about this matchup, the fact is that the leading Nieuport pilot (Duellin) only shot down 2 Fokkers, and the leading Eindecker pilot (Boelcke) only took out 3 Nieuports. Remember, the job of fighters is to shoot down observation planes and bombers, not necessarily other fighters!
Guttman wraps up with a chapter on the Aftermath of the matchup between these aircraft, including how their designs influenced later aircraft on both sides, and a Further Reading list for those interested in more in-depth coverage of the subjects (interestingly, the list doesn't seem to include any other Osprey books). The index is only one page but seems to be pretty comprehensive.
While Jon Guttman’s Nieuport 11/16 Bebe vs Fokker Eindecker book includes the usual suspects (including Jean Navarre, Albert Ball, Oswald Boelke and Max Immelmann), he also discusses less well known but no less important pilots and designers to round out the picture of the development and use of these aircraft. Like most of the Duel book, this one is an excellent look at the matchup of two very important “machines of war”, in this case two of the very first fighters. Now, where are those Special Hobby Nieuports and Wingnut Fokkers? I know they're in the stash somewhere!
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Highs: Excellent book about an interesting subject. Lots of good illustrations and period photos as well as tables and statistics.Lows: Could have been longer (but then it wouldn't fit the format).Verdict: Get it if you're interested in this period of combat aircraft development.
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About Michael Satin (MichaelSatin) FROM: COLORADO, UNITED STATES
I started modeling before I was 10 and have been going ever since. Oddly, I don't seem to be getting any better. Hmm... I do mostly WWI and WWII aircraft and early jets but I also emphasize Israeli subjects. I've been known to branch out into armor and ships as well as an occasional spacecraft o...