JG26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe. By Donald Caldwell. London: Frontline Books, 2013. Illustrations. Bibliography. Glossary. Appendices. Index. Pp. xxii, 440. $32.95 ISBN: 978-1-84832-746-7
JG26 was one of the most successful fighter units of all time with almost 2,700 victory claims during World War II. It was formed shortly before the outbreak of the war and was about 50 percent larger than an American fighter group. From Caldwell's appendices, it appears the unit averaged an aircraft strength of about 125 and an in commission rate of about 70 percent throughout the war. It fought almost entirely on the western front, although some of its subordinate units briefly served in the Mediterranean and Russian theaters. JG26 flew Bf 109s and FW 190s. It flew no jets.
Caldwell's massive and excellent book, originally published in 1991, chronicles the unit's history in detail. Although most of the unit's official records were destroyed, he makes good use of interviews with survivors (German and Anglo-American) as well as with rich secondary sources. He covers his subject from the individual's perspective and from a higher level as well. By necessity, the story is told from a German point-of-view.
Even with good books such as this, there are criticisms. Factually, I reject Caldwell's summary of the January 1, 1945, Bodenplatte operation that "German planning for the mission was thorough, and nearly flawless." The large number of German friendly fire incidents, the loss of 300 Luftwaffe aircraft and 214 pilots, and the fact that part of JG26 attacked an unused Allied airfield indicate otherwise. Some will criticize the book for its length and seeming repetition of engagement after engagement; but that is the price of detail. Most regrettably, there are no notes.
The book's positive attributes far outweigh these criticisms, however. The discussion of JG26's role in numerous air battles (especially the Battle of Britain and the Bodenplatte operation) is well done,. Also superior is the description and analysis of the virtues and vices of the various Allied and German aircraft. Caldwell writes a candid, somewhat critical, and sometimes unflattering account. He deals...