Me 163 Rocket Interceptor : Vol. 2

by Stephen Ransom & Hans-Hermann Cammann

Published by Classic Publications

A book review by Steve Jantscher
 

I look forward to new and excellent books on important subjects. The new Me 163: Rocket Interceptor (vol. 2) by Stephen Ransom and Hans-Hermann Cammann is just such a book. When the first of two volumes on this exotic fighter was published earlier this year, I couldn't wait to get the second volume in the series. Volume one concerned itself primarily with the development of the airframe and rocket motor. While this is important to a full understanding of the first operational rocket fighter, it was the content of the yet to appear volume two that would be most appreciated, the combat role of the Komet.

These two authors have created the most exhaustive and extensive collection of information (and perhaps photographs) yet published on the Me 163. Compared to the other late war Luftwaffe fighter, the '262, the Me 163 has suffered from a real lack of good reference sources. From my shelf I have the 1961 book Rocket Fighter by Mano Ziegler, and the 1981 personal history Top Secret Bird by Wolfgang Späte. Späte was the commanding office of the test and evaluation squadron that first flew the Me 163, and contributed also to the two volume series under review here. In fact, Herr Cammann was appointed the official "archivist" of JG 400 by Späte. This book was made with the help of many if not most of the surviving pilots and "rocket unit" personnel. The late Jeff Ethell also wrote a very good book on the Me 163 titled Komet: The Messerschmitt 163.

As I said earlier, the first of the two volume set covered the design and engineering that eventually led to the Me 163B series. It ends with the slow start at deployment. The short "legs" of the Komet, and more importantly the specialized and dangerous nature of its rocket fuel made base selection and preparation a very critical feature of its operational debut. It is with these considerations that volume one ends.

Volume two picks up quickly with the operations of the primary Luftwaffe group to fly the Komet in combat, JG 400. The authors tell the combat story in a diary like way. Individual daily occurrences are detailed (when they happen) and are examined by the authors in detail, often including the Allied after action reports to show the other side of such combat encounters. I like this method of history, and it makes for an interesting and lively read. Interspersed throughout the book are photographs of the personalities and unit aircraft that illustrate the participants written about in the text.

The last few chapters deal with the training aircraft and programs that Me 163 pilots undertook, as well as the development of the Me 163S (the two seat trainer variant). The chapter dealing with the paper projects will interest some of the Luftwaffe '46 crowd, as well as the later Me 163 C and D versions (which have their own chapter in the book). Even the Japanese connection to the Me 163 is explored in a devoted chapter, consisting mostly of a reproduced US intelligence report made shortly after the war, detailing the German/Japanese cooperation toward that end (the development of a rocket powered fighter). Throughout that chapter, the authors give additional material to clarify points made in the excerpted official report. The final chapter lists the remaining Komets throughout the world, often showing color and black and white photographs of the birds.

There are well over 400 black and white photographs in this large format hardcover book. Also included are a handful of color photographs and full color side profiles rendered by Thomas Tullis. In addition there are some very fine multi-view line drawings of various Me 163 versions, and scrap views. If you're familiar with Classic Publications Luftwaffe series, or any of their other large format books, this one carries on the fine tradition of excellent authorship and bookmaking. While there are many medium sized maps throughout the book, mostly showing different base deployments, I found my only criticism of the book to be the lack of knowing just where (on a map) many of the events chronicled in the book are taking place. I would have liked more, smaller format, maps scattered in the margins highlighting each diary entry. I also notice that the overall layout of the pages almost look like a modern magazine. The pages are laid out to be easy to skim, and stop when one finds something that catches the eye, but feel less comfortable for those who want to sit down and read the book through.

My short criticisms aside, this is without a doubt the new standard single work on the Me 163. If you're at all interested in the aircraft, its revolutionary development and short combat career, this won't disappoint. These books aren't cheap, but they represent the current state of the art in historical aviation literature. This is a must add book to your Luftwaffe aviation library.

 


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