Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Without Flyers, No Tannenberg: Aviation on the Eastern Front of 1914—Evolution of a Critical Role for Modern Warfare

By Terrence J. Finnegan, Carl J. Bobrow, and Helmut Jäger
Dawdle Publishing, LLC, 2022
Michael Hanlon, Reviewer

The Title Is, Indeed, from a Quote by General Hindenburg

My friend and lead author of Without Flyers, No Tannenberg, Terry Finnegan, told me for years about the research being done for this work, by himself and his collaborators, Carl Bobrow and Helmut Jäger. The scope he described was enormous. I heard about the prewar aviation efforts of Germany and Russia; the aircraft and their designers, the early effort to use airplanes and zeppelins to gather battlefield intelligence, the technology of wireless intercepts, and—central to the intent of the book—the operational details of Russia's early invasion of German East Prussia and how Germany's superior use of its air and other technical assets proved critical at the Battle of Tannenberg.

Germany's Primary Reconnaisance Aircraft in 1914

I'm happy to report that the authors have come up with a remarkable amount of—for me—fresh information on all the major topics they had planned to include in the book. This alone makes this work a valuable resource and acquisition for anyone interested in the 1914-18 air war or the Eastern Front. The material is presented in a number of different formats, the main narrative, a vast amount of photos, tables, and maps (one of my favorites is shown below; it's simple but enlightening), and three fascinating appendices. The variety of topics the authors address, a precise use of the original German unit and organizational names and military ranks, and the highly varied presentation of the material, though, make Without Flyers, No Tannenberg a challenging read. 

But that's not to say the book lacks interesting material. One section I found fascinating was on the primitiveness of air recon before the emergence of aerial photography: 

In the early stages of the war, aerial reconnaissance centered on observer sightings. Aerial photography was introduced over time. Information [at the time of Tannenberg] focused on the written word, as it appeared in the Meldungen [field reports] of aviators. Aircrews either landed in close proximity to subordinate units, or dropped the Flieger-Meldung message in a container with visible streamers attached. The German aviator, Leutnant Andre Hug, recalled that an aerial observer dropped a message in a sack, attached to "a large colored ribbon of red, white, and black, of a length six to seven meters. The sack was then thrown out of the plane with a message attached; one could easily observe from the ground, that a colored projectile was coming down." (p.21)

A Revealing Map, No?

The highlight of the volume for me was the step-by-step description of the evolving action on the ground as the better informed German Eighth Army adapted their tactics to the flow of new air and wireless reports. The staff and commanders of Eighth Army saw, then seized, a momentous opportunity. In effect, they stalked the nearly blind Russian Second Army. To follow the author's account, however, requires a careful reading of the text and notes, as well as frequent reference to the excellent collection of maps.

I would suggest that anyone who is interested in confirming the quality of the research and hard work that has gone into Without Flyers, No Tannenberg take a look at the online collection of charts, battle maps, and sortie maps Terry Finnegan has provided at his website HERE

Michael Hanlon

No comments:

Post a Comment