BOOK REVIEW: Warriors and Wizards – The Development and Defeat of Radio Controlled Glide Bombs of the Third Reich


by Martin J. Bollinger, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD (2010), 269 pp

Reviewed by Captain Roger F. Jones, U.S. Navy (Retired)

This is a very interesting and superbly written book about German glide bombs, a relatively little-known weapon used against the Allied Navies in the Mediterranean and the littoral Atlantic waters of Europe during August 1943 through September 1944.  Bollinger makes the battles come alive as he describes the use of these weapons from the points of view of the Allied ship personnel, German fliers, historians, and the weapons engineers.  I found this book hard to put down until I finished reading it.

German glide bombs made their first appearance at the end of August 1943, when eight of them were launched by a dozen Luftwaffe Dornier 217 bombers against a British anti-submarine task force of seven vessels, off Cape Ortegal, Spain.  The British sailors were taken aback when they saw the bombs not simply drop, but actually maneuver toward two sloops, Biddeford and Landguard.   Six bombs missed and two were near misses, but the latter pair seriously damaged both vessels, causing seventeen casualties.  A second attack came just two days later, in the Bay of Biscay, against another Allied anti-submarine task force of five ships.  This time a direct hit severely damaged the destroyer RCN Athabaskan by a direct hit and the sloop HMS Egret, struck in the aft magazine, which detonated, sinking the ship and killing 197 crew members (plus 35 survivors).  Just two weeks later, the Luftwaffe glide bombers again attacked, this time the target was an Italian battle group trying to defect to the Allies.  Two glide bombs struck the battleship Italia, which blew up and sank, killing all 1350 of her crew, plus embarked Italian Fleet Admiral Carlo Bergamini.  A week later at Anzio, a fourth Luftwaffe raid concentrated on the British battleship Warspite, with two bombs inflicting savage damage – five of the six engine rooms were put off-line, the double-bottom was breached, and only a heroic damage control effort contained the flooding.  Twelve of the crew were killed and more than 30 injured.  In just two months, the Luftwaffe’s new weapon had truly made its mark.

By February 1944, the German success rate plunged, as the Allies found ways to defend against this dangerous new weapon.  These countermeasures ranged from attacking the airbases that supported these special squadrons, to adding fighter cover over high-value flotillas, and developing equipment to electronically jam or spoof the bomb control signals (something of particular interest to Naval Security Group personnel, such as this reviewer).  The Allied warriors, both in the air and on the sea, and the wizards (technical and intelligence personnel) who developed and applied these defenses succeeded to such a degree that the Allies were able to virtually stop this particular Nazi weapon system from inflicting further deaths and damage within a year of their first use.

Bollinger’s research is meticulous and extensive; he cites 140 German and Allied records, some of which were declassified only at his request.  He also interviewed former German and Allied military and civilian personnel who were actively involved with the use and technology of these weapons, as well as several historical scholars and scientists, knowledgeable in this specific area.  The book contains over three dozen WW II photos of the attacks, the vessels and the personnel (both Allied and German), as well as numerous charts and graphs.  The references contained so much added information that I found it desirable to keep one finger in the story and one in the reference section, flipping back and forth!  A bibliography contains 138 additional references.

Captain Jones served 3 years on active duty and 30 in the active reserve as a cryptologist. He also served many years as a paper reviewer in the American Chemical Society and the Society of Plastics Engineers and contributes reviews to Amazon.com.

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