EAGLES OVER THE SEA, 1935-42: A HISTORY OF LUFTWAFFE MARITIME OPERATIONS

Reviewed by: CHRIS MELVILLE

Lawrence Paterson is an honest-to-goodness proper rock star, who plays a mean set of heavy metal drums. At first sight, one might wonder why he writes books (a lot of them – this is his fourteenth) about the Wehrmacht, but he has (like many of us) a strong family connection to both world wars. Originally from New Zealand, one of his Grandfathers was an ANZAC at Gallipoli and the other served in both the Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal Navy in the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

This book presents the development of German naval aircraft and their deployment throughout the early part of the War. There is a huge amount of depth here – both technical, in terms of the development of German maritime aircraft, and organisational, in terms of the division of assets between the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe.  I confess that, prior to reading this book, my knowledge of German maritime aviation in the War was very limited – having started my flying career on a former Sunderland squadron my interest was in British flying boats, Liberators, and plugging the gap in the Battle of the Atlantic. Inasmuch as I considered early German maritime aviation at all, it was as some kind of uber efficient extension of the concept of Blitzkrieg and the famous German Joint doctrine. I could hardly have been more wrong.

The development of German maritime flying is characterised by the dysfunctional relationship between Grand Admiral Erich Raeder (Commander in Chief of the Reichsmarine) and Reichsmarschall Herman Goering (Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe). The author exposes beautifully the manoeuvrings of the two service chiefs, and also shows the cost to the German war effort of the endless arguments over who should control what, how tasking should be effected, and which aircraft could perform which tasks.  There is more rearranging of deckchairs here than one could shake a reasonably-sized stick at.

The author has neatly described both the development of aircraft capability and organisational structure of the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe maritime air units.  Usefully, he has laid these developments out chronologically so that the effect of the progress of the war on both technical and organisational development is apparent. Parts of the book are thus relatively dense, but are offset by some properly page-turning sections detailing individual actions and battles between aircraft and convoys.  If I have a criticism, it is that this is a book that really needs a map or two and an organogram to break up lists of units and allow the reader to more instinctively grasp the effects of geography and the extent of reorganisation.  That said, there are a huge number of fascinating photographs throughout the book that genuinely add depth to the work. It is always uncomfortable to see the ‘bad guys’ looking very much like your own crew a few decades later….

To summarise – this is a really intriguing book.  What purports to be a history of Luftwaffe maritime units is actually a very human story about failed relationships, inter-service rivalries, and individual one-upmanship by very senior officers who should have known much better.  This utterly depressing, all-too-familiar backdrop is brightened by individual examples of courage and tenacity by both tactical units and individual crews.  It does reinforce the lesson that it is not possible at unit level to consistently mitigate toxicity at the very top of the services.  As descendants of those who fought against the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine, we ought to be very thankful indeed that Goering and Raeder detested each other.  Had they been able to work together in any sort of capacity the Battle of the Atlantic – and with it the ability of the UK to continue the fight against the Nazi war machine – may well have gone the other way. Good stuff.