Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Barbarossa: The Air Battle by Christer Bergstrom

Christer Bergstrom did an excellent job with the "Black Cross/Red Star" series and he does the same with this new series. He constantly has a wide range of sources from the primary sources such as both the former Soviet and German archives to interviews and memoirs of participants and periodicals from the time period as well as a plethora of secondary sources. While the book concentrates to a large degree on the air war Bergstrom also tells us what's happening on the ground, the various affects that the air war had on ground operations helps to put the story in a better context and light as well as the fact that Bergstrom intermixes personal accounts from both sides with the wide picture of what individual fronts, air armies, corps, etc were doing. Losses are constantly tallied and compared against what both sides had claimed, many times it is evident that both Soviet and German pilots exaggerated and at times even under counted what they had accomplished or failed to accomplish!

I am particularly impressed that at the end of the book Bergstrom goes over the 'atrocities and ideology' aspect of the Eastern Front. A few conclusions I found interesting included that "Interestingly, the worst atrocities, committed on both sides on the Eastern Front, were official policy on the German side, and spontaneous acts of disobedience on the Soviet side" (pg. 120). This is very important to understand when viewing the differences of both army's and governments. It was the POLICY of the Wehrmacht and the Third Reich/Nazi Party/Hitler to let their armed forces/soldiers commit atrocities on the Eastern front, the same simply cannot be said for the Red Army. I am again and again impressed by the research this author has done when he tackles an issue, perhaps it shouldn't be impressive to me but rather simple research that any author should do before he decides to write a book. Yet again and again I am displeased by much of what comes out regarding the Eastern Front. As another example, the author takes on the figures of how many German POWs died in Soviet hands: "According to German figures, between 35 and 37 per cent of the 3,155,000 German soldiers in Soviet captivity perished. A recent Russian statistical count gives a slightly different picture: between 1941 and 1945, a total of 3,576,300 Wehrmacht and SS soldiers were captured by the Soviets. Of this total, 551,500 were immediately released in May 1945, and the remainder were sent to be interned. A total of 220,000 Soviet citizens in Wehrmacht service and 14,100 Germans branded as war criminals were sent to special NKVD camps, and another 57,000 men died during transportation to POW camps. Out of a total of 2,733,739 Wehrmacht soldiers held in Soviet POW camps, 381,067 died, and 2,352,672 were repatriated to Germany" (pg. 120). I would like to add that a good amount of those that died would have to include those soldiers taken at Stalingrad, their condition prevented the Red Army and Soviet Union from being able to save a large amount of them since they were malnourished and practically dying as they went into captivity.

Some of the more memorable stories would be about a group of 9 Red Air Force (VVS) bombers who were all hit and burning but still flying in formation! They reached their target, released their bombs, and then parachutes could be seen as the crews began to bail out (pg. 55). These heroic exploits can be encountered on practically every page. Bergstrom gives a lot of attention to the suicidal courage that gripped Soviet bomber crews in the first weeks of the war as they constantly went up to bomb enemy targets without fighter cover again and again. It is to a large degree these men that he claims helped save the Soviet Union and held up the Germans again and again as they recklessly risked their lives to give an hour's pause to the German advance. Bergstrom also tackles the myth that the Soviet Union had superiority in 1941, providing reasons for why the VVS was restricted to how many planes it could deploy in the West and at the same time keep up a presence in the South, against the Turkish border, and the East, against the Japanese. Highly rated and recommended for those who want a better understanding of what happened in 1941!

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