Interview with an Author: Andrew Arthy



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Dr. Andrew Arthy is the co-author (with Morten Jessen) of “Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in the Battle for Sicily” and “Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in North Africa” as well as numerous eArticles that can be found on the website http://airwarpublications.com/

 

Heather:              What was it that got you interested in this field?

Andrew:              I’ve always had an interest in history for as long as I can remember. Since I was 5 or 6 years old really. And my interest did kind of become more specific as the years went by. I started looking at military history to start with, ancient history, modern history, just the military side of things and then WWII became my passion probably when I was 12 or 13, I suppose. I was a bit of a strange child, I just thought I was going to write a book when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I chose the Spitfire, I just thought it was going to be my topic. I spent 2 years studying the British fighter aircraft, the Spitfire, and then I realized the German side of things had received less coverage, so I decided to focus on the Luftwaffe, and for the last 17 years that’s kind of been my passion. Since then I’ve written a couple of books and a few articles and started a small publishing company. It’s been an interesting hobby, it keeps me busy.

Heather:              So, you decided to study military history at university?

Andrew:              I did. I did quite well at history in high school and had a couple of really good history teachers as well and they encouraged me to keep going with the history and so I went to university to get a Bachelor of Arts in history and ancient history; did my Honours and eventually did quite well in Honours so I thought, “Well, I will do a Ph.D.” I did that, which was quite a challenge, but I eventually got my Ph.D. in 2009. With my hobby history I generally look at the stories of the soldiers and the units, but for my Ph.D. I chose more of a higher-level topic. I looked at the American and British strategy in the Second World War, and why they decided to invade North Africa in 1942. It was good, it was a challenge. It was something different.

Heather:              You’ve taken quite an interest in oral history over the years. When did you start interviewing WWII veterans?

Andrew:              I started by writing letters. I’ve actually done a lot more correspondence than interviews. I think it was 2003 I decided I was going to try to contact surviving German Knight’s Cross (note: U.S. equivalent = Medal of Honor) winners. I went to the online phone book and just entered a few names into the phone book, found some addresses, and mailed off some letters. That’s how my correspondence with veterans kind of started.

I got some replies from these old German gentleman. They were quite surprised to receive a letter from a 19-year-old Australian, but they wrote back and shared some information, some stories, and it has just gone from there.  I realized in 2003 that time was running out. There weren’t too many of them left, so I thought I would have to try to get the stories while I could. And especially the German guys because they haven’t really talked about it that much. Their stories have been generally ignored so that’s why I kind of focused on that side of things.

I went to Europe for the first time in 2005, stayed with my friend Morten, my co-author and research partner, and we went on our first interview trip in 2005. We travelled around Germany in a rented car and visited veterans in obscure German towns which is quite a lot of fun. They were always very friendly and welcoming and you know, beer and biscuits and so forth and have a good chat with them and get their stories. It’s an important source because once they’re gone these stories are lost. If you think about daily life, things that you can’t find in the official records you can get from an interview.  So it’s a valuable source. Even though the memories might have faded they are still a valuable source of information. It was just nice to meet these fellows and put a face to the stories you are writing about.

Heather:              About how many stories do you think you have accumulated over the years?

Andrew:              A lot. I have got a folder on my computer where I include all the veterans’ names and I think there are 200-odd veterans and veterans’ families that I have talked to over the years, so a lot of stories. I haven’t had time to actually look at a lot of them.

Heather:              What other types of research do you do outside of just the oral histories?

Andrew:              When I began I didn’t know too much so it wasn’t too much, so it was mostly secondary sources, just what other people had written. In the early 2000’s I discovered the archives and started visiting them and taking my digital camera along and photographing documents. So I’ve now got 300,000 pages of documents from Germany, Britain, and America.  So that’s the main source.

Heather:              Holy Cow! 300,000 pages?

Andrew:              At least. A bit of a lunatic with the digital camera. I could do 5,000 pages a day at the archives.

Heather:              Tell me again which archives you went to? The German and the British…

Andrew:              German, British, American. I went to the Swedish last year which was interesting. I’ve been to the Australian archives. But mostly, the National Archives in Kew in London -that’s been the major source. That’s where I’ve gotten I don’t know how many thousand pages because it’s got so much material. Especially the Ultra, the Ultra decrypts that the British and Americans intercepted during the war. That’s been a very good source on the German side of things because not many people have actually accessed that source yet and made use of it.

Heather:              Oh yeah, that’s interesting.

Andrew:              Surprisingly, so many people write about German military units but don’t consult the Ultra records, which are unpublished material and not available anywhere else. So it’s always surprised me that no one has dug into that source yet. It’s been available now for 15-20 years. To me that’s why you can keep publishing things that people haven’t done.

Heather:              Yeah, I mean I think there is probably a lot like that. Recently, in the last 10 years a lot of people “discovered” these recorded conversations of POWs in the US. But also…

Andrew:              Yeah, yeah. I ‘discovered’ those too in the early 2000’s and I think 5 years later a German scholar released his book saying he discovered them so I guess…

Heather:              Whoever gets a book out first!

Andrew:              I know!

Heather:              The spoils go to whoever gets the book out first.

Andrew:              That’s the problem when you start researching, all of a sudden you just want to keep finding more material, and you kind of forget about actually producing something from it.

Heather:              I think it’s easy to get caught in the research, and not start writing. It’s really hard.

Andrew:              Well, once you’ve got your topic you want to find everything you possibly can so that’s why I ended up going to Swedish archives and the likes because I want to track down every possible lead. It is fun but really at some point you have to sit down and actually do something with all this material.

Heather:              So, eventually you started writing, and when you write you want to publish. So you think about independently publishing or going with a large publisher or military publisher. When and why did you start Air War Publications?

Andrew:              Morten and I wrote the first book, “Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in North Africa” and we published it with Classic Publications in England which is pretty much the best aviation history publishing company in the world. They are classics on the subject so we’re very happy with what they did and the book was well received and looked nice.  But we also wanted to have a bit more control with our next book. So around 2010 our second book which is kind of a sequel to the first one, it’s about the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in the Sicilian campaign in the summer of 1943.

In 2010 we were approaching finishing that book and deciding where we were going to publish and so forth. We thought we wanted a bit more control this time, control on all aspects: the maps and the artwork and the photos – we wanted to make sure we had the best possible quality there. You don’t always have that with publishing companies. They do a good job, but we want it to be the perfect book. Or as perfect as it could get. So we decided we would do it ourselves and we started a little publishing company, Air War Publications.  We published our first book, “Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in the Battle for Sicily” in late 2010.

We were able to do exactly what we wanted, we included everything we wanted, all the chapters, all the appendices, the artwork, the maps were all exactly as we wanted to do.   Having your own publishing company allows you the freedom to do the job properly, and we were very happy with the results. I don’t think there has been a negative word about the book from anyone. All the reviews have been positive and everyone really likes it so…And they are all waiting for us to do some more. So, it was a very good decision. It’s a fair bit of work running the entire process yourself, the printing runs and distributing books and bookstores and so on and so forth but it’s rewarding because the product is as good as it can be, and you’ve got full control so…I’ve just got to actually publish some more books now. This is the next challenge!

Heather:              Right. And it’s hard to write quickly enough to fill all of the demand, isn’t it?

Andrew:              Yeah, I mean our subject: German Air Force and WWII, there is a pretty hardcore bunch of enthusiasts who want new material all the time. It’s impossible for us to keep up with the demand that they want. New stuff every year, new photos, and new this and new that. New first-hand accounts take a long time to compile so… And to get it to the standard we want it to be also takes a lot of effort, and I’ve been working on my current book for 13 years.  If you chose to write about easy subjects we could probably pump out a book every year but that is not the way we want to go. We want to do things that have never been done before.

Heather:              Right. And do it in depth.

Andrew:              It takes years and years to get the job done properly.

Heather:              So, tell me a little bit more about your book on Sicily and what you did that you probably wouldn’t have been able to do with another publisher.

Andrew:              Well the first thing was we did a full color book whereas often with military publishers you get a certain 16 pages of colors or 8 pages of color.  But with our book it was the best quality paper, really good printer which was close by to Morten so he could check on how the quality was once the first copy came out of the printer. We had complete control over how it looked once it came out of the printer whereas if you publish with a regular publisher you don’t have that control. It’s all out of your hands. We didn’t have to cut out appendices or chapters. We could include all the chapters and materials we wanted to in the book, which is again something new. You’ve got page restrictions with a regular publisher. We had all the maps throughout the book rather than just in a center section so every time we needed a map in a certain place we could put it there.

Morten did the layout. He was able to do an excellent job of that. We couldn’t complain about any aspect of it because it was all ours, you know. Whereas, if you do it with a regular publisher… Every photo that deserved to be full page we could do it. It was nice having that control.

Heather:              So, your most recent publication is an article about Kurt Bühligen. Why did you decide to write about him?

Andrew:              We asked our colleague, Leo Etgen, from Costa Rica, a couple years ago to do some biographies for us. One of his favorite units is Jagdgeschwader 2, so he decided to write a few little biographies about men from that unit. And one of the men was Kurt Bühligen. I thought, “Oh, this is good. Maybe we could do a little bit more with this.”

So, I started doing a bit of digging.  I think when he sent it it was a thousand words or so, but it turned out to be a ten-thousand word article so we kind of added a fair bit to it, Morten and Leo and I.  As far as I know it is the most detailed story of this man that had ever been written – surprisingly because he was a pretty important figure in the Luftwaffe during WWII. He was a unit commander, he was an ace, he flew against the British and Americans. It was a story we thought deserved ten thousand words and deserved to be done because no one has ever done it before.

He was a very modest kind of guy so trying to discover his personality was a bit of a challenge. I think he died in 1984, and he never really told his story after the war. It is hard to research him.  We had to find a lot of sources to get his personality. We are happy with the end result.

Heather:              Yeah, it was a great article. I really enjoyed reading it. Tell me a little bit about what was most surprising during your research. What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

Andrew:              The surprising thing was there were strange stories on the Internet. People seemed to have made things up about him for some reason. I was curious why this happened. For example, a story seemed to be repeated several times that he was shot down by the Russians in 1945 and captured by them. That was not true at all. But for some reason this story has become accepted truth.

Heather:              Why do you think that is? Why do you think people make this stuff up?

Andrew:              I have no idea. I’m still trying to work that out. Why someone would start the story and then continue it, and why it has become accepted. It’s baffling to me. I don’t know what the source could be because he did a couple of interviews, and he made it clear he was captured (by the western Allies) at the end of the war. Why they chose to make this up I don’t know. There is also a story that he was serving as a flying instructor for the Russians during his time in captivity in Russian in the late 1940s. Again, that just came from nowhere as well from someone who decided to make that up. It’s very strange. People decided to make these things up about this fellow.

Heather:              It’s good that you could set the record straight.

Andrew:              Yes, indeed. He deserved it. By all accounts he was just a really nice, caring commanding officer. And he started from the ranks. He went from a mechanic in 1937 to a being a Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) in 1945. By the end of the war he was leading a thousand men – the guy that started the war as the lowest rank pilot.  A pretty amazing story really.

Heather:              Do you think that sort of thing…that kind of rise in the ranks was only available to guys in the German army?

Andrew:              In the Air Force definitely. I can’t imagine it would’ve happened in the RAF or the American Air Force. You couldn’t come from the lowest rank to be a unit commander. It was the attrition really. Just through attrition he could rise from mechanic to the commander. I get the impression he was probably a bit of a reluctant commander. He kept surviving, his comrades kept getting killed, and so he kind of kept rising through the ranks. I don’t think he ever had any plans to get there, but he was the last man standing really. Interesting character, interesting story.

Heather:              Very well done. Thank you for bringing it to the world.

Andrew:              No problem.

Heather:              Thank you for spending a few minutes talking to me, Andrew. I really appreciate it.

 

The e-Article about Kurt Buehligen can be found here: http://airwarpublications.com/product/the-life-of-kurt-buhligen/

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