Thursday, May 1, 2008

Inside the Blue Berets: A Combat History of Soviet and Russian Airborne Forces, 1930-1995 by Steven Zaloga

The author does an excellent job detailing the history of the Soviet and, to a degree, Russia's airborne forces. From their talented beginning during the 1930's the reader gets a feeling for how far ahead the Soviet Union really was in regards to their military endeavors. The purges, in the late 1930's, put a stop to a lot of the research and exercises setting back Soviet paratroops years. Ultimately, this was seen in the various, but few, airborne operations throughout WWII. Most would lack reconnaissance, planes were often lacking in their quality and most notably in their quantity, to speak little of the inexperience of the pilots and navigators who were often incorporated from the civilian air fleet and, at times, hardly had the talent to fly at night and more so behind enemy lines. Although these units had some success it was far outweighed by the casualties they took, the detailed reasoning behind their failures is well described within the pages of this book.

For the most part these troops would be used as light infantry throughout WWII, be it around Kiev during the encirclement, at Stalingrad or Kursk. Although the first year of the war saw them take heavy defeats and it wasn't until Stalingrad and Kursk that they, in my opinion, earned their 'guards' titles. Airborne divisions and corps would be built and rebuilt throughout the war as units were sacrificed and lost in various operations. By the end of the war the Soviets were as weary to use them as the Germans were after Crete.

I found it quite interesting to see the different way the Soviets thought of their airborne forces when compared to the US. While in the US they were seen as light infantry in the Soviet Union they were more and more moved toward the role of a regular mechanized division. Their armament was increased, their fire power expanded, and their manpower declined. The details, in regards to the use of these troops during the invasion of Hungary, were very interesting as well as their role during Prague Spring, not to mention the fighting they took part in during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So, for those interested in airborne units/forces I highly recommend this book for an interesting and at times eye opening look at the Soviet/Russian Blue Berets.

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