Sharks among Minnows, by Norman Franks, Grub Street, London, 2001, 182 & X pages, 23,5 x 16 cm, hardcover, 96 photos, ISBN 1 902304 92 6, Brit. Pound 17,99/USD 29.95.
The last five months of war in 1918 and the events between August 1914 and August 1916 clearly are a special challenge to the aviation historian. Whereas the imminent collapse of the German army made it increasingly difficult to produce unit reports beginning in October 1918, the war diaries of the German air service or air forces--with rather few exceptions--fell victim to Allied bombs in World War II.
Therefore, historians have to rely on other sources. Most war diaries of theJagdstaffeln were partially copied prior to their destruction by industrious German amateur researchers, especially Erich Tornuss. Other enthusiasts, like Dr. Gustav Bock, worked for years in archives and museums to establish a tolerably solid basis for research.
One should not forget those well-situated researchers who were able to buy often first-class primary material from private estates, material that today is available to the interested public (Ed Ferko, Neal O'Connor).
One member of the interested public is Norman Franks who has published several contributions to the aviation history of World War I. Now he is trying to close another gap, the beginning of pursuit aviation (the "Fokker period") between July 1915 and September 1916.
His new book offers the impartial reader a plethora of interesting facts and episodes. It remains readable throughout and deserves a recommendation, although the writer of this review is obliged to make some critical remarks, based on his impressions gained after reading some books written by Norman Franks and his co-authors.
Firstly, Grub Street would benefit from using a German-speaking proofreader. It is not irrelevant at all whether one writes "ie" or "ei" or puts a "u" for a "ü"--just as a French reader would object to mistake an "accent aigu" with an "accent grave".
It would do no discredit to Norman Franks, if he would include in his introduction the names of those German historians on whose work he bases a large part of his publication. For the title under review, Dr. Gustav Bock should deserve a long overdue word of appreciation.
One also detects certain superficial errors that detract from an otherwise good product. A repeated problem with quite a few British and American authors is the rather nonchalant and continuing use of the terms,Feldflieger- (FFA) and Fliegerabteilung (FA) interchangeably. Until the end of 1916, there was no "FA", only "FFA" (with the exception ofFliegerabteilung 300 "Pascha"). Due to the later identity of numbers and the fact that there were also Ottoman "Fliegerabteilungen," the differences must be stated consistently and strictly. This also refers to the "Artillerie-Fliegerabteilung; until the end of 1916, the terms "Afla" or "AFA" were in use, never "FA(A)". Furthermore, one cannot say C1, EI, or G11; the historically correct way is C.I, E.I, and G.II.
At no time did Otto Parschau serve with FA(A) 261; the unit did not even exist at the time of his death. And Martin Zander never was with "FA9b", as this would have been a Bavarian unit. Equally disturbing is the repeatedly told legend about von Althaus' reduced eyesight that supposedly led to his leaving the "Richthofen" Geschwader. In an upcoming publication the true reasons will be discussed that ended the flying career of Freiherr von Althaus so surprisingly.
The question remains whether the shark, always evoking the creeps and antipathy, really eats the harmless, peaceful fish, the minnow. But this seems to be mainly a zoological problem.
Review Submitted by Jörg Meckler
(Translated by Dieter H.M. Gröschel, M.D.)