- Hardcover: 340 pages
- Publisher: Pacifica Military History (August 15, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0935553487
- ISBN-13: 978-0935553482
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 1 x 11 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,391,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Black Cross / Red Star: The Air War Over the Eastern Front, Vol. 1: Operation Barbarossa, 1941 Hardcover – August 15, 2000
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Black Cross/Red Star-in four photo-laden volumes-is to be the most complete and detailed series ever published on the air war on the Eastern Front.It presents for the first time a true balance between German and Soviet accounts.
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The book is organized in 31 short chapters, which generally cover a specific area and period in the campaign, like air operations over the Baltic States in July-August 1941. There are three introductory chapters that cover the doctrine, training, tactics and equipment of both the German Luftwaffe and the Soviet VVS. Numerous relevant photographs, many of which have not been published before, enrich each chapter. Additionally, there are six maps and six excellent appendices (Luftwaffe and VVS organization, orders of battle, rank structure and awards). Chapters usually begin with an operational overview of ground operations and objectives in a given area, followed by accounts of air actions in that area on a virtual day-by-day basis. First hand accounts are used to describe fighter engagements and bomber attacks.
The first day of Operation Barbarossa is covered in great detail, much more than I have seen anywhere else. Although there are digressions on minor theaters of action, such as the Siege of Odessa and the Arctic Front, most of the focus is on the three main theaters of action, in north, central and south Russia. The authors skillfully weave together German and Soviet records to produce as objective an account of the air battles as possible. Some striking aspects of the book include the shockingly deficient level of Soviet pre-war flight training; many Soviet pilots went to front-line squadrons with only 10 flight hours accrued, versus an average of 250 hours for new Luftwaffe pilots. Soviet pilots were further disadvantaged by obsolete aircraft, faulty doctrine and lack of combat experience, whereas the German pilots had plenty of experience and flew excellent aircraft like the Me-109E. Anyone who wonders how the Luftwaffe could have so many pilots with 50 or more "kills" should read this books account of the slaughter of hundreds of Soviet bombers during the first weeks of war. The VVS seemed to have an endless supply of SB and DB-3 light bombers that it continued to send in broad daylight and without escort to attack German ground units. The Luftwaffe experten shot them down by the bushel. The VVS was also slow to disperse its aircraft and develop low-level defenses and consequently, Luftwaffe bombers continued to catch large numbers of Soviet aircraft on the ground even three weeks into the campaign. Other interesting aspects include details on the Soviet strategic raids on Berlin, the German strategic raids on Moscow and some industrial targets, and the Soviet predilection for "taran" (air-to-air ramming tactics). Soviet propaganda tended to exaggeration "taran" tactics, but the fact is that it was not unusual; on the first day of Barbarossa alone the Luftwaffe lost 14 aircraft to ramming.
Between June and December 1941, the Luftwaffe destroyed about 17,000 Soviet aircraft at a cost to themselves of 2,000 aircraft, but the Soviets were able to rebuild their air power in a short period despite these horrendous losses. The authors conclude, "the predominant tactical doctrine of the Luftwaffe and the lack of equipment to undertake a strategic bomber offensive proved to be the fatal flaws of Operation Barbarossa." Additionally, the authors cite the role of airpower as particularly decisive in the Moscow campaign, where the declining strength of the Luftwaffe and its ability to contribute effective air cover or ground support contributed to the German ground offensive running out of steam. Massive Soviet air reinforcements to the Moscow sector then tipped the balance and allowed the Soviet army to roll up the over-extended Germans. Finally, the Luftwaffe shifted air reinforcements to this sector from other areas and helped to prevent the collapse of ArmeeGruppe Center.
Black Cross/Red Star is an invaluable book for military historians and future volumes should add to its value. However this book is ill-suited for general readers who lack knowledge of the Eastern Front, since the book is loaded with German and Russian military jargon, and there is little discussion of wider aspects of the campaign (the participation of German allies such as Romania, Finland and Italy is mentioned only in cursory fashion). Readers familiar with the Eastern Front will find this book a feast of information which offers new perspectives on the Russo-German War.
One aspect of the book which is both a plus and minus is the authors emphasize the microscale aspects of the Eastern Front air war. They provide great detail about the air operations of small scale units or individual pilots and what life was like to be a German of Russian flyer over Russia. But the effects of these operations on the larger scale are somewhat neglected. One wishes more discussions were directed as to how large scale bomber operations affected the ground battles. More could have been written concerning the German attempt to develop a strategic bombing campaign, especially against Moscow. In fact, I would have liked to see more discussions concerning the effects of German bomber and dive bomber operations in general since this is what proves most decisive in any offensive. The authors definitely emphasize fighter operations in comparison to bombers, which is the main reason I did not give it 5 stars.