Aviation historians are only as good as the sources on which they rely. In the digital age, it has never been easier to access Second World War documents, and with the publication of digitised files by institutions like the British National Archives (NA), the Australian War Memorial (AWM), and the Russian Central Archives of the Russian Ministry of Defence (TsAMO), the aviation historian does not even have to leave the comfort of their own home to start down the rabbit-hole of research.

This is typical of the images that can be found on militaria forums. Information contained in these sorts of documents is invaluable when writing about personnel and units. In this case, it is for a member of Wettererkundungsstaffel 3, or Wekusta 3, a Luftwaffe weather reconnaissance unit operating from Norway.

That said, the opportunities made available by the Internet can also prove a double-edged sword. With so much material available, there is always that last source – that one gem – just out of reach. With the advent of online auction sites like eBay, a new world of possibilities is open to researchers when it comes to obtaining primary source material. The problem is, however, that sometimes what is of interest to you, is also of interest to someone else with much deeper pockets. While you may secure some bargains, you will invariably pay more than you would have liked more often than you would like, whilst losing out altogether on others. It is all part of the game. Certainly, over the years there has been many a time when Andrew, Adam or Morten have found an item on eBay of interest to them, only to be outbid by another researcher or collector. As frustrating as this can be, it is a timely reminder as to just how important the community of document and photograph collectors is to us here at Air War Publications.

Over the years, the Air War Publications team have reached out to a variety of collectors from around the world, many of whom have offered valuable assistance in supplying scans of original documents and photographs to augment our research. Many of these militaria and document collectors frequent message boards such as the Wehrmacht Awards Forum and the Historical War Militaria Forum, to name just two. Boards such as these are invaluable to us for contacting document collectors and spotting relevant documents. One example would be the Soldbuch of Konrad Boucsein of the 1. Wüstennotstaffel. This was a vital source, because it was very difficult to find documents for personnel belonging to such an obscure Staffel when we wrote about the unit’s activities. Fortunately, we read on one of the forums that a collector friend of ours had this document in his possession, and he was kind enough to share scans with us (a future blog post will discuss the importance of veteran families to our research, as we also contacted Konrad’s family, but sadly, his children had passed away and no-one else knew anything about his Luftwaffe service). The forums also provide a wealth of material and thoughtful discussion that give historians plenty of avenues to explore.

One of the Henschel 123 photos we would have liked to use in the Hs 123 book, but with a price tag of 118 euros, it did not end up in the collection of Air War Publications when the eBay auction ended. It is a rare photo showing a Hs 123 near Stalingrad on 11 November 1942.

As with all who help in the production of our publications, you will always find the names of our collector colleagues in the acknowledgements sections of our eArticles and books, but one of them with an excellent website of his own is Jeremy, who has kindly helped with documents that added vital information to our small units histories, and Adam’s Not Just Another Op: The Bremen Raid.

As if to reinforce the importance of collectors, one of our contributing authors, Tim Oliver, was persuaded to write Adrift in the Atlantic for us in 2019 based on documents he had in his collection about one of the prominent personnel in the story. This relationship is set to expand in 2020, with another piece from Tim, again based largely on the documents of a Luftwaffe airman in his collection.

Often when we do not have relevant documents or photographs to support our research, it is collectors who come to our aid. This is important because the information is otherwise lost if it is just sitting in a collector’s filing cabinet or display case. Thus we are very grateful for the assistance and willingness to share shown by these people. In turn, we hope the collectors enjoy seeing their bits and pieces being put into a puzzle to reveal a bigger picture.