The Awards of the Luftwaffe, by Antonio Scapini, (ISBN: 978-1-5323-3881-1, B&D Publishing, LLC, POB 652, Richmond, MI 48062 Available from: www.bdpublish.com. Hardcover, 9 ½” x 7”, 304 pages, profuse illustrations, a great many in color 2018, $115.00)
When I was just a wee lad with zero interest in militaria, I traded a toy to my friend Timmy for an old German badge. It was a Luftwaffe Pilot-Observer model, early tombac with polished highlights, nickel eagle, fine gilding and massive detailing. Though connected with a grotesque, genocidal regime, it was a beautiful and compelling thing. Decades on, it remains a favorite design.
It, and the rest of the suite of badges, clasps, pendants, honor goblets, et cetera, of Germany’s air arm are chronicled here in winning detail and brilliant color. The author, Luftwaffe specialist Antonio Scapini, carefully explores the background, manufacture, award protocols and governing regulations of some two-dozen awards and variants thereof.
He starts with the first model pilots’ badge, really a simple flying eagle lapel pin. This was worn by supposedly civilian “club” members of Germany’s so-called secret air force — the Versailles Treaty-skirting Deutsches Luftsportverein (DLV — aviation sport association). The unique design would soon inspire the famous 2nd model Luftwaffe eagle, decorating caps, tunics, flags and much other regalia. As well, it replaced the generic little eagle worn by the nascent uniformed DLV and various 1930s paramilitary groups.
The precisionist writer lays out measurements, weights, and different metals employed, connecting many dots, presenting all the latest data while correcting or adding to earlier publications’ assertions. His writing style is as clear and crisp as the multitude of color photos and other illustrations arrayed throughout.
Surveyed are all wearable qualification and war badges, clasps, and pendants from 1934-1944; plus the impressive Honor Goblet (Ehren Pokol), a carryover pilots’ award from the First War, along with the Luftwaffe Salver. Layout is orderly and sequential with each decoration and getting a separate chapter.
Some, like the Flak and Ground-Combat badges are commonplace, readily available but no less coveted for that. Others range from scarce to rare to extremely rare, to virtually unobtainable. A few: the Glider Badge, (retired) Pilots’ Commemorative Badge, Type 1 Combined Pilot and Observer Badge, and of course, the phenomenal Pilots’ Badge with Diamonds.
But worth a hundred or many thousands, all are given due respect, meaning their history through the period is laid down and where known numbers made and issued shared. A rarity-rating chart for everything is included and will be appreciated, as will all the translations. Curiously, some award documents — also well covered here — are rarer than the awards they accompanied.
Writer Scapini, as have others in B&D’s “The Awards of” series, includes wartime in-wear photos — even depicting the Honor Roll Clasp, Glider Badge and Pilot-Observer Badge with Diamonds. Just assembling these period images — some incredibly rare — must have been daunting. Certainly, many readers will never have viewed them. They nicely complement the great trove of studio photographs of these awards.
In addition to badges per se, The “clasps and pendants” (Cs and Ps) section with its separate, tri-class photo gallery is also welcome, since these important winged insignia are sometimes overlooked in favor of the full-sized pieces. As the war ground on and combat theaters multiplied, Cs and Ps, like the entire panoply of Wehrmacht medals and badges appeared in ever-increasing numbers.
Scapini examines each badge, clasp and pennant in turn, explaining how they and their official founding documents came to be, which firms made them and how, and from what metals (and weaves for the bullion embroidered versions). Additionally, changes in materials forced by wartime shortages in strategic metals are noted. Namely, the increasing switch from silver and gold-gilded tombac and German silver aka fine nickel – to inferior zinc versions of the late period with their thin “wash” finishes.
It’s useful to note, however, that the care in production didn’t flag over time; as comparisons here show even final production issues will boast excellent details. While compelled to work with sub-par materials, factory managers and inspectors saw to it that craftsmanship would not suffer.
Likewise for envelopes, boxes and other accouterments, which are also examined and displayed here in early and late forms. Hence the transition in presentation cases: from silk-covered, velvet lined and wooden framed, to cardboard, textured paper and sprayed-felt recesses, for example.
Of course, none of this applies to the highest class of the Pilot-Observer badge — the one in gold with diamonds (s silver with rhinestones version was worn on duty). These spectacular decorations, jeweler-and-goldsmith crafted, were reserved for luminaries, i.e., VIPs and the handful or two of top-scoring aces like Gall, Hartmann, Rudel and Moelders.
Scapini could have salted this study with a lot of technical data. But this isn’t a scientific treatise nor should it be. Readers get what’s deemed most important to collectors, archivists and curators, without the microscopy.
Notable, too is the admirable candor about the book’s purpose. The author could’ve hyped it as a contribution in combating fakes, likely ensuring more sales. But he decently forgoes this, instead referencing the well-compiled bibliography. Still, attentive people will take away a lot of things of interest along these lines: makers’ manufacturing variances, minute differences one maker to another, and the ways markings are stamped to name three. Enabling this is the super imagery of each item, obverse and reverse views.
In sum, Scapini and B&D Publishing have produced a worthy, succinct, carefully crafted final leg to their three-service awards triad. Another superior effort. Horrido! — David Walsh
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