DISCARD PILE: German Secret Weapons: Blueprint for Mars
Discard Pile reviews books that were recently withdrawn from the collection at the Barstow School in Kansas City, Missouri.
German Secret Weapons: Blueprint for Mars By Brian J. Ford
lustrated History of World War II; Weapons Book No. 5
Dewey Number 943.086 FOR
Entered Barstow Library Oct. 24, 1978
A screaming comes across the library, and I hope I can compare it to a Pynchonian jollity.
I laughed out loud when I saw the cover of Brian J. Ford’s German Secret Weapons: Blueprints for Mars. And then I read it. Outwardly, the work appears to hold promises of advanced rocketry and hints that German scientists were looking to the stars, even thinking about aliens, as they went about their V-2 and Messerschmitt business to please their mustachioed boss.
Even though Ford — a prolific author, independent scientist and broadcaster — documents the Reich’s experiments with sound cannons, vortex-guns, pilotless gliders, rotary-wing kites and one-man submarines, he neither mentions the Red Planet nor the god of war. Such crushing disappointment aside, German Secret Weapons still delivers a payload of gearhead porn — fuel-mixtures, engine diagrams, wingspans, weights, speeds and ranges for any number of German planes, rockets, torpedos, and projectiles. Ford writes of the Natter developed by Herr Oberst Knemayer, who was under orders to build something to combat heavier Allied bombing. “His design was simple: He would take a rocket-powered near-sonic aeroplane, fit it out with armaments, blast it into the path of the bombers, and then let the pilot bale [sic] out. He, and the aircraft, would be recovered subsequently.”
Of course, it didn’t work. The one test flight of the Natter went haywire and left the plane and the pilot in pieces. Repeatedly, Ford gives us an array of facts, descriptions, pictures, illustrations, code names, and scientific information about all sorts of German materiel. He wastes little time on the insignificant matter of the destruction wrought by such weaponry.
Early on, the Germans threw money at weapons R & D, spending $120 million to establish a secret base at Peenemunde in 1937; there, they worked on all matters of rocketry. We do learn, though, that the scientists at Peenemunde had to respond to the political whims of nearly anyone in charge — be it a General, civilian factotums, competing scientists or even The Fuhrer.
Ford draws a portrait of bureaucratic buffoonery that would challenge a university English department’s dysfunction.
Ford also documents ignored orders, threats, budgetary backstabbing, stunning incompetence, and the slow death of promising projects to utter administrative indifference.
Ford approaches his craft with an unmistakable British fustiness — workmanlike prose, clear organization and a thorough lack of drollery. His title leads one to hope for X-Files skullduggery involving Antarctic caves, green men, and maybe some crystal skulls. Instead he gives us specifications of weapon after weapon, and a host of pictures of planes and rockets screaming across a Teutonic sky.