FE 2b/d vs Albatros Scouts, Western Front 1916-17, Duel 55
This review examines the 55th title of Osprey’s Duel
series, FE 2b/d vs Albatros Scouts
Western Front 1916-17
. The book is available in softcover, ePub and PDF formats. The book explains the development, employment, and combat history of those two Great War aerial adversaries and the men who fought them, against the other through each aircrafts’ heyday , and beyond. The primary combat “duel” focuses on the July 1917 battle in which Rittmeister
von Richthofen, at the zenith of his prowess, was knocked down in combat with the obsolescent FE 2.
The “Fee”, as the FE 2 aircraft was nicknamed, was begun years before an assassination in the Balkans sparked “The war to end all wars”. It became a large malevolent two-crew pusher “battleplane” in which the Royal Air Corps sallied across enemy lines to bomb and photograph and reconnoiter, then to aggressively attack enemy aircraft. The design was improved with more powerful engines and other tweaks, and extra machine guns. The pilot strapped in behind the observer, who had no restrain from freefall out of the forward “bathtub” expect for grabbing something. The observer had a pair of single flexible machine guns, one with an enormous field of fire through the front hemisphere, the other having a limited field over the top of the wing. It was up to the pilot to maneuver aggressively to keep enemy aircraft out of the gunner’s blind spot behind the pilot, engine, and big whirling four-blade propeller. Despite its size the “Fee” was surprisingly maneuverable. Aggressive use of the aircraft and offensive tactics helped end the “Fokker Scourge”.
The Imperial German Idflieg
(Inspectorate of Aviation Troops, or Inspektion der Fliegertruppen
) wanted new fighters to counter the swift and deadly French and English fighters which ended the “Fokker Scourge”. The most successful also became one of the iconic fighters of the war, the Albatros D-series. Utilizing powerful engines heretofore reserved for two-seaters, the Albatros carried aloft two machine guns synchronized to fire through the propeller, mounted on a technologically advanced airframe. With warfighting performance matching and exceeding Allied fighters, Albatros fighters in newly formed Jagdgeschwadern
quickly established air superiority, culminating in “Bloody April” of 1917. One of the rising stars of the German air service was von Richthofen, the legendary “Red Baron”. In the Albatros von Richthofen achieved his first kill – a “Fee” – and he became the top FE 2 killer with the Albatros. Right up until one almost killed him!
Author James F. Miller brings us this story of FE 2b/d vs Albatros Scouts
through 80 pages and 11 chapters and sections:
3. Design and Development
4. Technical Specifications
5. The Strategic Situation
6. The Combatants
8. Statistics and Analysis
10. Further Reading
Inside the title page is a small table comparing imperial weights and measures to metric. The first few pages of the story present a basic overview of the German and British airplanes prior to the title subjects, followed by their air war chronology. Next, 30 pages present a good detail of the designers and corporate entities which created the aircraft, as well as the parts and materials and processes which constructed the aeroplanes. It is detailed to the point of offering the RFC definition of the class of airplane the FE 2 occupied. For me, that is where the book started to get good; maybe 30 pages will not tell you how to build a replica but they could help to know what questions to ask. Modelers will benefit from the knowledge if they desire to detail interiors or create a maintenance diorama. It is interesting to read about pilot feedback and concurrent developments. Photographic support is good, including a trio of photos displaying both the vertical stabilizer and rudder differences of Albatros designs, and the undercarriage of the “Fee”. Other detailed technical descriptions include propeller types, engines, landing gear shock absorption, paint and finishing, to name a few. The author offers a good overview of the variation in camouflage between Albatros D.I, D.II & D.III and the D.V, plus acknowledging differences in rib tape. Airframe and unit data and serial number nomenclature and placement is explained. Again, a wealth of information for modelers, museums, and replica builders.
Five pages present an overview of the war from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand through Passchendaele. French army mutinies after “Bloody April” and the rest of the war situation is interesting yet I question its value to comparing these two fighters in combat. However, The Combatants
refreshes the air war subject by exploring strengths and weaknesses of the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) and the Luftstreitkräfte
(German Air Force), cleverly noting that no self-respecting fighter pilot wanted parity with his opponents. The effect of the “Fokker Scourge” on Allied operations is put into perspective, as is the Allied dominance against the Fokkers with Nieuports and pusher planes. Their role in bringing inline engines to German fighters and creating the Jasta
Eighteen pages next recount the effectiveness of Albatros and FE 2 variants against the other in combat. Almost immediately Manfred von Richthofen is part of the story. The exploits of the successful FE 2 team of Capt Fredrick Thayre and Capt Francis Cubbon is also depicted. Quotations and excerpts from diaries and books from both English and German sources punctuate the text. Describing an assault by 30 Albatros against six No. 20 Squadron FE 2s a German ground observer wrote;
The Englishmen refused to be rushed, and their steadiness gave them an absolute superiority. Meanwhile, our machines tried to break their formation by a series of advances and retreats, like dogs attacking a hedgehog. They pirouetted and spiraled, but their movements exposed them to more risks than their opponents, who appeared to be invulnerable and unassailable.
Indeed, a 19-victory “Fee” crew is profiled as using their pistols after their machine gun ammunition ran out. Jasta
28 Kommandeur Ltn Karl-Emil Schaefer engaged in a 15-minute duel with FE 2 A6469. As von Richthofen wrote in his Air Combat Manual: ‘…a long aerial combat with a completely combat-ready, maneuverable two-seater is the most difficult’.
That observation is part of a 10-page account of the battle in which von Richthofen was shot down, severely wound. The episode includes a lengthy (6 pages) exploration of von Richthofen’s wounds and excerpts from Obergeneralarzt Prof. Dr. Kraske and other medical doctors who treated him and tended to his recuperation. The author includes a great deal of information about the types of treatments, and attempts a forensic reconstruction of the battle to explain who shot down “The Red Baron”. His conclusion about the role of “Fee” crew Woodbridge and Cunnell in downing von Richthofen is sure to raise some hackles on both sides.
This “duel” comparison between Albatros and FE 2 types concludes with the strengths and weaknesses of the aircraft in their intended roles and their actual employment, supported by analysis bulwarked by pilot commentary. Two paragraphs by Canadian ace Raymond Collinshaw sheds light on claiming kills; FE 2 crewman 2Lt Frederick Libby recounts what it was like to ride one down over enemy lines, hoping to make it to friendly territory. It is interesting to read the author’s theory of why, as the Albatros was the superior fighter, FE 2 crews had far more Albatros kills per total score than Albatros pilots claimed “Fees”. Finally in Aftermath
the longevity of frontline combat service of the two types is compared, as well as the attempts to replace them and their ultimate successors.
The book is well written and interesting to read. It is not without some typos such as “Jagdstaffeln” misspelled as “Jagstaffeln” on page 37. The book presents trivia such as von Richthofen referring to wings as decks
. Some technical jargon is defined such as Rumpf-Doppeldecker
(fuselage double-decker [biplane]).
Photographs, art, graphics
Dozens of black-and-white photographs from WW I fortify this book. The quality, not surprisingly, varies from professional staged studio exposures to amateur “grab shots”. While a couple are Albatros wrecks, several are FE 2s in varying states of destruction after being shot down. Two that are particularly interesting are post-crash views of the D.V in which von Richthofen was wounded and forced down in July 1917. One fascinating image which displays the structure and strength of the Albatros semi-monocoque wooden fuselage shows a D.V fuselage being carried by just three factory workers! Another is a very good shot of Werner Voss suiting up next to his personally decorated D.III – a feast for the eyes of modelers and fans of Voss. Another clear exposure demonstrates by the “Fee” was categorized as a ‘battleplane’: No. 20 Sqn FE 2d A6516 bristling with three Lewis guns, a bomb racks and bombsight, and a big vertical camera for photoreconnaissance. Another page hosts two clear photos of the gunner demonstrating his two weapons, including a clear look at the ‘Anderson arch’ mount. Good photographic selection for any taste.
Artists Jim Laurier and Mark Postlethwaite add a great deal of content with original artwork. These include:
1. Royal Aircraft Factory FE 2d A6512 – a presentation aircraft from the Colony of Mauritius – presented in 3-views. This FE 2d was crewed by Capt Donald Cunnell and 2Lt Albert Woodbridge on 6 July 1917 when Manfred von Richthofen was shot down.
2. Albatros D V, JG 1 Kommandeur Manfred von Richthofen, in which von Richthofen was shot down in July 1917.
3. FE 2d Rear Cockpit: pilot’s view keyed with 23 components.
4. FE 2 Fuselage Guns: bird’s-eye view into the gunner’s “bathtub”.
5. Albatros D Fuselage Guns: bird’s-eye view from spinner to cockpit.
6. Albatros D III Cockpit: pilot’s view from the seat keyed with 28 components.
7. Map: RFC and Jagdflieger bases of FE 2 and Albatros units.
8. Diagram: FE 2 crews in a defensive circle.
9. Diagram: Excerpt from Manfred von Richthofen’s Air Combat Manual showing a formation of Albatros.
10. Centerfold: dramatic depiction of von Richthofen barreling head-on past FE 2 A6512 of Cunnell and Woodbridge moments before being wounded.
11. Diagram: von Richthofen’s head bandage; his D V in planform and head-on.
12. Centerfold: dynamic in-action scene Engaging the Enemy: “Fee” gunner firing over the top wing to vanquish an Albatros.
Reinforcing the text and illustrations are several tables:
a. Leading Albatros D I/D V FE 2 Killers [credited victories] collated by pilot and Jasta(s), FE 2b/d shot down, and total victories.
b. Leading FE 2 Albatros D I/D V Killers [credited victories] for both pilots and observer/gunners, collated by name and squadron, Albatros models shot down, and total victories.
c. Albatros D I, D II and D III comparison specifications: dimensional data; weights; performance.
d. Albatros D III (OAW) and D V comparison specifications: dimensional data; weights; performance.
e. FE 2b and FE 2d comparison specifications: dimensional data; weights; performance.
I am very pleased and impressed with all of the art and graphics in this book.
When I first saw this title, I thought another odd pair-up, hardly a “duel”
. Was I mistaken! I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It challenged my notions of the FE 2 type and helped answer the rhetorical question: If the Albatros was so superior, why wasn’t “Bloody April” even bloodier? The excellent artwork and fine selection of appropriate photographs supports and enhances the erudite text. Mr. Miller did a great job of introducing me to the FE 2 and Albatros in sufficient detail to improve my knowledge as a historian and a modeler. I appreciate the technical descriptions and especially the quotations from pilots and observer/gunners.
No real problems are in the text other than a typo or two and in my opinion, an unnecessary overview of the war situation.
I believe that this volume will be of great use for FE 2 and Albatros modelers as well as the World War I enthusiast and historian. I would have no hesitation to add other Osprey Publications Ltd
titles to my personal library nor would I hesitate to recommend this book to others.
This book was provided by Osprey Publications Ltd.
Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here when you make your purchase.