David Knights' Weblog

December 13, 2014

Book Review: Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers, The men who fired the V-2s against England.

Filed under: Modeling — dknights @ 8:27 am
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Book cover

Book cover

Book Review: Hitler’s Rocket Soldiers, The men who fired the V-2s against England.
By Murray R. Barber and Michael Keuer
Review by: David M. Knights, IPMS/USA 17656, C6091
ISBN: 978-0-9555977-5-6
284 Pages.  32 pgs B & W photos

Unusually for a modeler, I haven’t built a lot of German World War II models.  I am not sure why.  However, I will admit that I do have an interest in the German late war wonder weapons.  I’ve built an Me-163 and a V-1.  I’ve wanted to do a V-2 for a long time, however, in my scale, 72nd scale (God’s one true scale), there hasn’t been anything but the execrable Condor kit.  However, Special Armor (The armor arm of Special Hobby) released a brand new, really nice, 72nd scale kit of the V-2.  I immediately started building one.

While I was building the kit I happened to be walking thru Half Price Books when I came across this title.  Fate had clearly intervened. The fascinating late war development and use is one of the more interesting weapons stories to come out of WWII (along with the atomic bomb and jet aircraft. The V-2 has been widely covered in books.  However, most books tend to focus on the development of the weapon or its use.  There really hasn’t been a book covering the operations of the batteries that deployed and fired the weapons, especially from the soldiers of those batteries. (The Germans treated the V-2 as an artillery weapon and thus the units that fired them were called batteries.)  This is a void in the history that the authors set out to fill with this title.

Barber and Keuer managed to locate 11 men who had served in the units that deployed and launched the V-2s against England, France and Belgium who were willing to talk.  The authors implied that they had located others who were reluctant to discuss their service due to the stigma that still exists of the V-2 as a terror weapon.  As one would expect, the first part of the book gives a brief history of the development of the V-2 along with details of the weapons’ construction and capabilities.  After this introduction, the book gets to the heart of the story.  There are 11 chapters, each one dedicated to the story of one of the veterans of the V-2 units and their particular experiences.  To say these are fascinating undersells the book.  Each of these men had a different job within their particular unit.  Thus you get a pretty well rounded picture of the operation of a battery from the actual launch crew to the security units who threw a ring of security around any area selected as a launch site.

The men whose experiences are recounted come from different backgrounds, though some level of technical education seems to be common among many of them.  All of them saw their jobs as like any other job in the army, with little or no consideration of the results of their units efforts.  In many ways this is similar to how Allied bomber crews described their view of their jobs during the war.  The one thing that all of the veterans are convinced of is that their assignments to V-2 units saved them from being posted to the bloody meat-grinder of the eastern front and thus they are convinced that their service probably saved their lives.  This isn’t to say that service with a V-2 battery was safe, as the rockets tended to fail with regularity, many times with disastrous results for the launch crew.  Given the state of Germany in the last year of WWII, it is amazing that they were able to produce approximately 5200 V-2 and launch approximately 3200 of them against England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and even 11 at the Remagen bridgehead inside Germany itself.

In sum, this book is an excellent piece of scholarship which adds to our knowledge of the V-2 as well as to the history of WWII generally.  I highly recommend the book.  I picked it up at Half Price Books for about $8.

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