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KEKs and Fokkerstaffels: The Early German Fighter Units in 1915-1916.

KEKs and Fokkerstaffels: The Early German Fighter Units in 1915-1916. By Johan Ryheul. Stroud UK: Fonthill Media, 2015. Photographs. Maps. Bibliography. Pp.240. $40.00 ISBN: 1-78155223-1

When this book was first announced, I was eager to obtain a copy as I found the topic to be an intriguing one. It promised to examine who, what, where, and how the "war in the air" commenced. I was not disappointed. Granted, that statement covers a fair amount of territory, as combat over the front had already transpired in the first months of the war.

When on April 1,1915, French aviator Eugene Adrien Roland Georges Garros fired a Hotchkiss machine gun through the propeller arc of his Morane Saulnier type L bringing down a German Albatros two seater, little did he realize he was setting the stage for a far-reaching German response. When it came, it was significant, as it produced the first organized and purposeful use of armed fighters to interdict the enemies' reconnaissance aircraft and to further protect their own machines as they flew over the lines on recce missions. The Germans were able to draw upon the technological breakthrough of synchronizing the machine gun to fire through the propeller arc, something that would put the Allies on the defensive until they were able to reach parity.

This work looks into the histories of Kampfeinsitzer Kommandos (also known as KEKs) and the Fokkerstaffels (the first of these fighter units), which appeared in 19151916. Ryheul presents each of these units, their notable pilots, the aerodrome locations, and the actions that took place over the front. Familiar names such as Boelcke, Immelmann, Buddecke, Frankl, Wintgens, von Althaus, Loerzer, and their contemporaries fill the pages along with their "first" actions. The accounting of these early combats is the heart of this work, details of which proffer a foretaste of what was yet to come.

Ryheul put a great deal of effort into locating where the aerodromes were and provides the reader with a view of their locality using modem maps. It would have been even more valuable had the geographic coordinates been included, though he does give a descriptive caption of their locations. Reading this work has shown just how widely dispersed these 26 units were. With bases ranging from the Vosges to Flanders there is good reason for the term "Fokker Scourge" having entered the wartime vocabulary.

With over 250 images, there is a good visual representation accompanying the text. Ryheul makes clever use of digital imaging technology with a variety of "then and now" composite images. This technique works by combining a 100-year-old photograph with a recent color image of the same view of the locality, thereby creating a sense of connection to the past. The bibliography is useful though the details of the archival research material are not provided and only the institutional name is listed.

This book is a good example of the level of study that is being undertaken by a growing group of dedicated researchers and historians. It is a valuable work and one that warrants attention from those interested in the first major war in the air.

Carl J. Bobrow, Museum Specialist, National Air and Space Museum

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Author:Bobrow, Carl J.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2016
Words:532
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