* Review in FlyPast, June 2007:
Subtitled "Everything for Stalingrad", this high-quality series of books continues to chart in great depth the gargantuan German-Soviet struggle. With exceptional production values and clearly years of research behind it, this work is helping to elevate the war in the "East" into its rightful place in the history of World War Two. This is building into a formidable library - Volume 4, Stalingrad: Air Bridge Destroyed is in preparation.
* Review by Lars Gyllenhaal at Amazon.com, 6 June 2007:
(Five Stars out of Five Stars): Impressive and Valuable Book!
The series "Black Cross Red Star" is a milestone in many respects. If you are interested of the air war over the Eastern Front these books are goldmines of information and contain many fabulous photos.
All books in the series are also well-balanced in the perspective as they have been made by specialists on both the German and Soviet air forces.
In this third volume the air war over Stalingrad and the Caucasus is highlighted. But unlike most other books on the Eastern Front this does not mean that the northernmost sector, over Murmansk, is forgotten. On the contrary the authors report extensively on this plus also on special female pilot detachments of the Soviets and the last great German successes, over Leningrad and Rzhev.
Being an author myself I am in awe at the amount of research that Christer Bergström and his friends have done. They have not spared themselves, that's for sure.
Finally I wish to stress that the photos, maps, paintings and lists are in themselves reason enough to acquire these books.
* Review by John Matlock at Amazon.com, 7 February 2007:
(Five Stars out of Five Stars): A Wealth of Information Previously Unknown in the West!
This series of books, now in it's third volume (out of I believe four total) is a breakthrough in the description of the air war in the eastern front. For the first time we here in the west have been able to take advantage of the information being released out of the former Soviet Union. In this volume, the information is just about evenly balanced between information from the German and the Soviet sides in the battles. This includes not only the text, but also the pictures.
I didn't count them, but this book probably has about 200 pictures. You get the feeling that just about every type of plane flown by both sides. This includes more Me-109 variants than you can imagine as well as the Soviet and American planes such as P-39's, P-40's and B-25's given to the Soviets as part of Lend Lease.
The sub-title referring to Stalingrad shouldn't be taken as meaning the book is only about Stalingrad. It spends a lot of time talking about the battles around Leningrad, and has a quite complete description of the air attacks on convoy PQ-17.
This is a large format book, printed and bound using high quality materials.
* Review by Michael D. Barrentine at Amazon.com, 6 February 2007:
(Five Stars out of Five Stars): The best volume so far!
This is the best volume so far of this series. A fast reading and excellent discription of the air war around Leningrad. The best was the portion of the book in the Caucasus air war. The description of the battle around Stalingrad was good but only gave one side of the description from either side in details many times about incidents.Christer Berstrom as always gives a very interesting view of the air war in the Arctic. I still believe it's one of the best descriptions so far to come of this aspect of the war in Russia. This seems to be winning team working on these volumes. Now I'm waiting for volume 4 to finish the story for this campaign in the south. Check out Vlad Antipov's book on "Dragon's On Bird Wings" for further reading of the southern air war from a Russian fighter regiment's view of Stalingrad and the war in the south.
* Review by C. J. Riches at Amazon.co.uk, 14 January 2007:
(Five Stars out of Five Stars): 3rd Volume - Best So Far!
Compared to the previous two volumes, which were fine works in their own right, this third volume is the best so far. This is mainly because the style of writing short chapters (some as short as two pages) has been dropped, and more normal chapter lengths adopted. This makes it an easier read.
All the fine aspects of the first works are retained: the personal accounts, the detailed research, orders of battle and loss data, and a wide selection of well-captioned photos. The whole front is covered, from the far north to the Caucasus.
The period covered in this volume, June-Nov 1942, shows the superiority of the German forces at this stage, with frightening Soviet losses. However, the authors also demonstrate how thinly stretched the Axis forces were becoming, setting the scene for the next eagerly-awaited volume dealing with the Soviet winter offensive. Having read many East Front works, I still found much to learn and enjoy from this volume.
* Review by Brett Green at Hyperscale, 31 January 2007:
The third installment of the "Black Cross Red Star" series is sub-titled "Everything for Stalingrad". The focus is on the air war over the Eastern Front from July 1942 to November 1942. This was a pivotal time of teetering fortunes in the Second World War, not only in Russia but across the globe.
Despite continuing high losses, by mid-1942 the Soviet VVS was improving in terms of equipment and fighting spirit. Aircraft such as the Yak-7, La-5 and Il-2 Stormovik bolstered the VVS against the experience of the Luftwaffe. By the closing months of 1942, the previous German dominance of the skies was seriously challenged.
The quality of the content and presentation of this latest volume is consistent with the excellent earlier major works of Eagle Editions, and of the author Christer Bergstrom and his artist collaborator Claes Sundin. For this volume, Bergstrom is also joined by co-authors Andrey Dikov and Vlad Antipov.
The authors commence with a summary of the position of the Luftwaffe and the VVS after twelve months at war, followed by an account of the German 1942 summer offensive "Fall Blau", the turning point in the north at Leningrad and the long, ultimately decisive, action above Stalingrad..
The co-operation of pilots from both sides of the conflict lends a fascinating first-party authenticity to the text.
The book is generously illustrated with around 300 black and white photos. Claes Sundin teams up with the author again, presenting 36 very attractive colour profiles of Soviet and Luftwaffe fighters - almost a book's worth of illustrations here alone! A number of full colour photos are scattered throughout the body of the book, including some real beauties (the colour photos of the airfield on page 17 is especially impressive). The book is rounded out with four pages of maps documenting the various combat zones of 1942, plus comprehensive Appendices detailing VVS Order of Battle. Luftflotte 4 Order of Battle, Order of Battle for 8 VA and 102 IAD/PVO, Luftwaffe Losses, Luftwaffe Structure, VVS structure, Rank Equivalencies, Military Awards and chapter notes.
"Black Cross Red Star Volume 3 "is an beautifully packaged account of this critical period of the air war in Russia. The book should be considered essential reading to Luftwaffe and VVS buffs; while the 300+ photos and 36 profiles make this volume a valuable source of reference and inspiration to modellers.
* Review by Bill Stone at Stone & Stone's Second World War Books, 17 December 2006:
One of the best books of the year!
It has been a long and winding road to the third volume of Christer Bergstrom's Black Cross, Red Star series. The first two installments were published by Pacifica in 2000 and 2001 respectively, and both featured Andrey Mikhailov as co-author. After a hiatus of five years, the third volume has been released by a new publisher, without Mikhailov, and with two new co-authors teaming with Bergstrom.
Volumes one and two met considerable critical acclaim and market success, including "Top Ten" selections by visitors to this site back in the days when we conducted annual voting to determine the most popular books of the year.
After so many months waiting for the new book, we were anxious to have a look and see how it stacked up. In that regard, it's important first to keep in mind that no history of the air war on the Russian Front—not even a serious, multi-volume account such as Bergstrom's—will ever approach the level of detail found in books like Bomber Command War Diaries by Martin Middlebrook, Fighter Command War Diaries by John Foreman, Bomber Command Losses by W.R. Chorley, or works by Chris Shores such as 2nd Tactical Air Force. All those books and their ilk feature information that digs down to day-by-day, mission-by-mission, and practically pilot-by-pilot levels, including in some cases complete records of victories claimed and aircraft lost. That kind of air-weenie nirvana simply isn't available for either side in the Great Patriotic War.
Instead, it's more realistic to compare BCRS to more-or-less similar approaches to air war on the Russian Front. For example, over the years some of the standard sources on that topic have been The German Air Force versus Russia series by Plocher, Red Phoenix by Hardesty, The German Air War in Russia by Muller, The Soviet Air Force in World War II by Wagner, etc. In every case, Bergstrom and his boys blow the competition out of the sky.
How do they do it?
With more of the same old BCRS approach. Given that the first two volumes were highly regarded award winners, that's a good thing. And, if anything, the new book contains more data, more detail, and more interesting stories.
Volume three provides large doses of strategic/operational information about progress of the war in the air. As always, the authors balance their coverage of the Luftwaffe and the VVS, and as much as possible offer the perspective from both sides for all the operations and events. Here's an excerpt from the chapter on operations in the Caucasus:
Fliegerkorps VIII indeed routed the Soviet aviation over Stalingrad, but only at the expense of reducing its forces in the Caucasus beyond what could be considered as acceptable. As a consequence of the concentration of Luftwaffe forces to the Stalingrad area, Fliegerkorps IV was no longer able to provide German Army Group A with the air support that was necessary to continue the offensive from the Terek River against Grozny and the Baku oil fields in southern Caucasus. On the other side, a large number of German Army documents from the Caucasus in this period underscore the important negative effect that Soviet air attacks had on Army Group A's ability to continue its advance.
At the same time, the alleged Soviet numerical superiority in the air in the Caucasus in the fall of 1942 is a German misconception. Each side mustered between 200 and 250 operational aircraft in the Caucasus in September 1942; the Germans enjoyed a considerable superiority in the number of reconnaissance planes while the Soviets could field the largest number of bombers. The Soviets indeed possessed larger reserves than the Germans in the rear area, but on the other hand Luftflotte 4's Kampfgruppen that normally flew over Stalingrad could be rapidly deployed to the Caucasus, as they often were.
Instead, a rational use of the limited Soviet aviation forces in the Caucasus is a key explanation to the German ground troops' impression of an overwhelming Soviet air superiority in the Caucasus starting at the end of August 1942. General-Mayor Konstantin Vershinin, commanding 4 VA in the Terek sector, managed to achieve miracles with his badly mauled aviation. 4 VA had taken heavy losses in the past months and could muster less than 150 combat planes on the Terek - Grozny front. But by sending worn-out units to rest and re-equip in the rear area and concentrating all aircraft to those units who had suffered least during the retreat in July and August, Vershinin could rebuild his 4 VA into an effective striking force during the latter half of August. By that time, he also received a handful of new units which were equipped with either old aircraft such as the 1-153 biplane, or new La-5 fighters. Large amounts of British and American military equipment also flooded into the USSR via Iran which had been occupied by the Allies in August 1941, under the Lend Lease agreement. Much of this arrived directly at the front in the Caucasus starting with Bostons for 219 BAD from August onward.
Since Vershinin placed the emphasis of 4 VA's operations fully on tactical support, the German troops found themselves constantly bombed or machine gunned by all kinds of aircraft including medium bombers, ground-attack planes, fighter-bombers, fighters, and even old reconnaissance biplanes. This had an accumulated moral, if not always material, effect. And each night old biplane trainers turned into light bombers, tormented the Germans and deprived them of their sleep. Among the nocturnal harassment units active in this area was the all-women 588 NBAP, equipped with U-2s. The courage displayed by these women soon earned them the respectful nickname "night witches" on the German side.
Bergstrom and his wingmen also dive into tactical matters.
At 2200 hours on 23 October, VVS ChF's 5 GMTAP, 40 BAP, and 62 IAP struck the antiaircraft artillery and searchlights at the airfield and the railway station with nine Il-4s, two SBs, and two I-15bis. Hans Ellendt, who served as an Unteroffizier and pilot with II./JG 52 at Maykop, has a vivid memory of that night: "We were sitting and smoking cigarettes at our billeting, about two miles from the airfield, when we saw an R-5 glide past us with its engine shut down, and then it dropped fragmentation bombs. Soon another glided in, also dropping some fragmentation bombs at a safe distance."
Apparently, Ellendt misidentified the rather unusual I-15bis biplanes for R-5 biplanes in the darkness. What Ellendt and his comrades saw next completely stunned them: "Then our searchlights were switched on, and in the middle of the searchlight beam we could see a huge aircraft. And out of this huge aircraft popped parachutes, a considerable amount of paratroopers."
Covered by the attacking aircraft, a PS-84 and a TB-3 arrived, carrying 40 paratroopers commanded by Kapitan A. M. Desyatnikov. The TB-3 received a direct AAA hit in the fuel tank and crashed to the ground. Nevertheless, most paratroopers managed to jump.
Hans Ellendt clearly remembers that the paratroopers wreaked havoc on II. /JG 52 before withdrawing. According to the official German report, only one of II./JG 52's Bf 109s and two Ju 52s were destroyed, after which a swift counteraction by German motorcyclist troops forced the Soviet commando force to retreat. But according to Ellendt, the Soviet paratroopers had run along the nicely parked Bf 109s, shooting them up or heaving hand grenades into their open cockpits in a quick and skillfully conducted raid. In this manner, they destroyed at least a dozen Bf 109s. Fortunately for the Germans, all of II./JG 52's pilots escaped the fury of the attack, since they were billeted far from the airfield.
Soviet night bombers were even more successful during their strike against Hauptmann Rudolf Henne's II./KG 51 Edelweiss at Armavir Airdrome on the night of 25/26 October. Historian Wolfgang Dierich wrote:
"The flames spread rapidly and caught fuelled and bomb laden aircraft. Since the airfield had several units on it having a total of more than 100 Ju 88 and He Ills, there was no lack of combustible material. Only one of the II. Gruppe aircraft survived without damage. The unit was hastily withdrawn to Bagerovo on the Kerch Peninsula to acquire more aircraft."
Returning from an inspection tour to the Terek front, Generaloberst von Richthofen found that Soviet bombers had entirely burned down his sleeping quarters in Baksan, destroying five of his six staff liaison Fi 156 Storchs on the field.
But the Soviets definitely took the heaviest numerical punishment in the aerial encounters. On 25 October, Leutnant Walter Krupinski of 6./JG 52 was rammed by an I-16 shortly after the German ace had achieved his 53rd victory. Krupinski survived whereas his opponent, 88 IAP'S Mladshiy Leytenant Pavel Lazyuka was killed in the ramming. Four days later Krupinski was awarded with the Knight's Cross, while Lazyuka was awarded with the Order of the Red Banner posthumously. 131 IAP'S Kapitan Dmitriy Sigov had increased his score to fifteen victories (nine personal and six shared) when his La-5 was attacked from above by Hauptmann Siegfried Simsch and Unteroffizier Kortenhaus, both of 5./JG 52 during Sigov's landing approach at his own airbase on 26 October. Sigov's aircraft was set ablaze and the pilot was killed. On 29 October, 236 IAD'S Podpolkovnik Dmitriy Kalarash, an ace credited with eleven individual and six shared victories on 262 combat missions, was killed in combat with Bf 109s near Goytkh in the Tuapse sector. During the air fighting in that sector on 29 October, II./JG 52, claimed ten Soviet fighters shot down which included the Gruppe's 1,000th victory. In addition, Croatian pilots of 15./JG 52, Natporucnik Ljudevit Bencetic and Zastavnik Slavko Boskic claimed one LaGG-3 apiece. On the last day of the month, Oberfeldwebel Josef Zwernemann of 7./JG 52 reached his 100-victory mark by knocking down a LaGG-3 in the Terek sector.
5 VA claimed over 50 German aircraft shot down through October 1942, more than four times the Luftwaffe's actual combat losses in 5 VA's operational area. Meanwhile, 217 IAD alone registered fifteen LaGG-3s and La-5s lost in air combat. JG 52 recorded five aircraft shot down in air combat over the Caucasus through October 1942.
Despite the title of volume three, this kind of blending of strategic, operational, tactical, and in-the-cockpit information covers the entire front for the second half of 1942.
The last part of the book, "Conclusions," proves especially strong. Bergstrom reviews the victory claims for each side and compares the numbers to actual losses. As might be expected, all fighter pilots over-claimed. Even so, the figures make it clear that the Soviets suffered staggering losses in the air in 1942, far more than the Luftwaffe was losing. Not only that, but a relatively small number of German fighter experts were, even allowing for over-claiming, racking up incredible numbers of victories. Nevertheless, in the second half of 1942 the Soviets were gradually beginning to assemble more of their own air aces—although the victories they accumulated couldn't compare to the leading German aces—and, perhaps more importantly, massed formations of Shturmoviks began to make themselves felt, despite heavy losses. Among other topics in the last chapter, the authors also dissect what might have happened had the Luftwaffe attempted to conduct true strategic bombing operations against Soviet production centers and other facilities in the deep rear. Due to a variety of problems, they conclude such an offensive could not have been effective.
Throughout the book, the authors include color profiles of aircraft, excellent OBs, tables of losses, and other supporting materials. The text is fully footnooted and provides a very strong bibliography. To top it all off, the physical production measures up to the highest standards of Eagle Editions.
As with the first two volumes, it should be mentioned that the text contains a few quirks and idiosyncracies, sometimes reading as though it might not be written in the author's first language (which seems to be the case), and it occasionally yields a malapropism. While nothing really prevents comprehension, reading speed might be slightly impaired.
Despite that minor caveat, Bergstrom, Dikov, and Antipov have performed a commendable job of producing an engaging, highly informative account of the air war on the Russian front. The series continues to lead the way in that regard, and Everything for Stalingrad can be highly recommended as one of the best books of the year.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Eagle Editions.
Thanks to Eagle Editions for providing this review copy.
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