Document created: 3 June 02
Published Aerospace Power Journal - Summer 2002
Black Cross, Red Star: The Air War over the Eastern Front, vol. 2, Resurgence by Christer Bergström and Andrey Mikhalov. Pacifica Military History (http://www.pacificamilitary.com), 1149 Grand Teton Drive, Pacifica, California 94044, 2001, 232 pages, $39.95.
The eastern front consumed over half of the German Luftwaffe’s frontline strength from June 1941. It also was the scene of some of the most significant air action of World War II. The Red Air Force (VVS) recovered from its near-total annihilation in the summer of 1941 to become a vital part of a powerful combined-arms team that defeated the German military. Yet, among the vast outpouring of World War II histories is but a tiny handful of works focusing on the eastern front in the "third dimension." We are fortunate, therefore, to welcome the second installment of a multivolume series examining, in great detail, the air war on the eastern front, 1941–45. It is a story that needs telling and retelling.
In many ways, this volume tells it well and has much that is new to offer. It covers the critical battles before Moscow in December 1941–January 1942 through the ambitious Soviet counteroffensive and the subsequent German stabilization of the front line, culminating in the German victories on the Kerch peninsula and at Kharkov. The narrative concludes with the conquest of the Crimea, which clears the way for Operation Blue, the major German drive during the summer of 1942, to be covered in a future volume. Throughout, the courageous efforts of the VVS to close the training, technical, and tactical gap with the Luftwaffe are well covered. The book also contains excellent accounts of the "secondary" fronts since air action around Leningrad or opposite Army Group Center hardly slackened during this period. The chapter devoted to the Demjansk and Kholm airlifts, in which the Luftwaffe kept a cutoff German force of over 100,000 men resupplied for months, is one of the highlights of the volume.
The work masterfully combines the combat experiences of both Soviet and German airmen into a coherent narrative. For years, historians and general readers were aware of the exploits of a number of the German ace fighter pilots, such as Hannes Trautloft, Hermann Graf, and Anton Hackl, fighting in the Soviet Union. This work certainly gives them their due, providing much new and enlightening information in the process. Perhaps the book’s most significant contribution lies in finally recognizing the achievements and sacrifices of the airmen (and airwomen) of the VVS. In some cases, the authors have been able to fully reconstruct both sides of an air battle, nearly 60 years after the event- certainly a remarkable example of historical detective work. Indeed, one wishes that the footnotes and bibliography had been a bit more detailed. Simply listing a citation as "VVS-Karelian Front documents" or "Luftwaffe Loss Reports" is not adequate if future scholars wish to follow in the footsteps of such excellent research.
One might criticize this volume for its overwhelming focus on the sharp end of individual ae-rial combats and its near-total neglect of many other facets of the air war on the eastern front. Examinations of intelligence and logistics are almost entirely absent from the narrative. Discussion of the airpower theory and doctrine of both air forces, as in volume one, is cursory and oversimplified. The strategic and operational direction of the air war is scarcely discussed. For example, Luftwaffe chief of staff Hans Jeschonnek, who exerted enormous influence on the Luftwaffe’s force structure and operational employment, is never mentioned. The achievements of Gen A. A. Novikov, whose innovative command arrangements on the Volkhov front in early 1942 set the pattern for the recovery of the VVS, are given a few scant paragraphs. Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch is misidentified as the chief of the Army High Command (OKH), and Adolf Hitler’s role is reduced to providing "daily outbursts of fury" (p. 44). The book is very effective at communicating the details of air engagements and the exploits of the individual aviators. It is less successful at placing these operations into some kind of larger strategic and operational context.
In terms of its production values, this volume is an enormous improvement over its predecessor. Photographic reproduction and paper quality are much improved, and the book contains a number of color side-view paintings of Soviet and German aircraft that are nothing short of spectacular. This is a most worthwhile study- narrowly focused, attractively presented, and filled with much new information on an aspect of World War II that is still poorly understood in the West.
Richard R. Muller
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.