Friday, March 28, 2008

Bomber Pilot on the Eastern Front: 307 Missions Behind Enemy Lines by Vasily Reshetnikov

Today there are many memoirs out by Soviet soldiers; infantrymen, tankers, artillery men, cavalry troops, partisans, even quite a few fighter pilots. But this is the first time I've come across a bomber pilot's memoirs. More so a bomber pilot who operated in the ADD (Long Range Bomber Air Force). These are the pilots, navigators, machine gunners/radio operators who flew, at times as early as the summer of 1941, against such cities as Berlin, Danzig, Warsaw, Tilsit, Insterburg, Koenigsberg, etc.

For those interested in a variety of intricacies and details when it comes to planes and operations in the air, you won't be disappointed. Some of it is way above my head but interesting nonetheless. What I found telling were the, as expected, variety of stories that the author shared, some his own, and as well those of his crew and other crews in his unit and their sister regiments. Losses were to be expected, at times crews never made it back, other times days even weeks would go by and they'd again appear in the regiment, in a few cases their fates would not be found out until the end of the war, and in some instances their final moments of life would remain, to this day, a mystery. Yet these are the stories that make this book what it is. These are stories of men who put their lives on the line day and night as they went on mission after mission to support their ground troops.

Shot down behind enemy lines these bomber pilots, navigators, and machine gunners/radio operations had to make their way back through swamps, enemy territory, bypassing enemy troops and polizei. A few would spend the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps barely surviving, at least one would come out of Buchenwald at the end of the war when a group of POWs burst out of the camp, destroyed an SS depot, and went on to meet the 3rd US Armored Division.

I also found interesting the fact that the author shares quite a few instances of when the NKVD, SMERSH, and OO troops would get involved when a pilot or crew member found his way back to the unit. The majority, if not all, of the men mentioned in this memoir were released after a period of time when they were questioned. I was surprised to read that apparently Stalin was asked by the commander of the ADD that troops who were not taken captive and returned to their lines should be handled by the air force itself, his headquarters specifically, and not the NKVD, Stalin relented and acquiesced but those who did wind up in POW camps would have to go through the NKVD screening process. This occured because of the following; two crew members who were being held by the NKVD were 'rescued' by another crew and flown back to their regiment. The NKVD came looking for them but eventually left after being threatened by other pilots and crews. This story was recounted to the commander of the ADD and he then made the above mentioned request to Stalin, considering that his crews were few, badly needed at the front, and going on such long distance missions, those found after being shot down should be brought straight to his headquarters instead of enduring NKVD questioning and losing valuable time. Then again, I was also intrigued by the fact that after the war was over the majority, if not all, of those men who had been in German captivity were slowly removed from their units, some even arrested and jailed.

As with most memoirs everyone should find something to interest them and you'll definitely learn something new, I know I did. I have to comment that some of the translations looked awkward and could have been done better, and "Komsomol" is spelled as "Comsomol." Otherwise this book is a great addition to WWII Eastern Front Memoirs and any WWII library!


Anonymous said...


Can you recomend any books from the Soviet point of view? Especially infantry?



T. Kunikov said...

Just for this reason, I made the following list on amazon:

If you have any questions about any of the titles feel free to ask.

Anonymous said...

I have just completed the book as well. An excellent read. I have a lot of WW2 autobiographies from Western Allied soldiers but very few from the Soviet point of view so it made for an interesting read.


Anonymous said...

Hi! Aside of Reshetnikov book (which is great) I HIGHLY recommend the following Soviet-side memoirs published recently in UK and/or US:
E.Bessonov, “Tank Rider: Into the Reich with the Red Army” (***** for my rating); V.Emelyanenko, “Red Star against Swastika. The Story of a Soviet Pilot over the Eastern Front” (**); A.Piltzin, “Penalty Strike. The Memoirs of a Red Army Penal Company Commander, 1943-45” (****); N.Obrin’ba, “Red Partisan. The Memoirs of a Soviet Resistance Fighter on the Eastern Front” (*****). Enjoy!