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Stalin's Eagles: An Illustrated Study of the Soviet Aces of World War II and Korea

Stalin’s Eagles: An Illustrated Study of the Soviet Aces of World War II and Korea by Hans D. Seidl. Schiffer Publishing, 1998, 368 pp.

Studies of the development of airpower in the United States tend to focus exclusively on American and Allied experiences of aerial combat in the two world wars. This is understandable since the US Air Force emerged from those conflicts. However, for the past 70 years, most adversaries of the United States have founded their tactics and training on Soviet doctrine. Just as American Airmen study their history to understand our present so should they examine Soviet and derivative air forces to grasp their development. Stalin’s Eagles provides the opportunity to do so by telling the story of Soviet air combat on the eastern front from 1941 to 1945 and again in Korea from 1950 to 1953.

This well-illustrated, comprehensive reference of all Soviet aces from World War II and the Korean War consists of brief narratives that introduce encyclopedic listings of aces, units, and aircraft. It includes five chapters, four appendices, a glossary, bibliography, and 16 full-color plates of Soviet aircraft. Mr. Seidl also offers copies of a US Army Air Forces report detailing a friendly-fire incident by Soviet aircraft against American P-38 Lightnings in 1944.

The author derived this work from personal research in American, Russian, and German archives; extensive interviews with combatants; and some secondary sources. The bibliography lists exclusively Russian sources although Mr. Seidl credits other archives in his introduction. Many of the photographs come from his personal collection.

The bulk of Stalin’s Eagles is found in two chapters with alphabetic listings of Soviet aces (chap. 2) and air units (chap. 3). Only chapters 1, “The Eastern Front Air War”; 4, “The Tankbusters”; and 5, “Soviet Fighter Aces in Korea” are narratives. Together these three chapters comprise 28 pages of the book’s 368 total—sufficient to give readers an idea of how air forces operated and developed in the Soviet Union. Mr. Seidl does not cover the history of both wars in great detail; instead, he spends more space describing how Soviet aircrews adapted to their circumstances, especially in World War II. Soviet air forces fought under conditions of great austerity: at the beginning of the war, they fielded fewer than 1,000 modern fighter aircraft. Within the first two days of combat, the Western Military District, nearest to the front, had lost 47 percent of its combat strength (p. 13). Combined with restrictive military regulations, these conditions made Soviet successes all the more remarkable.

Of particular interest are the book’s two forewords, one by retired lieutenant general Vitaliy Popkov of the Russian air force and the other by retired lieutenant general Günther Rall of the German air force, which set the tone for the rest of the book. Rall emphasizes relationships developed between the erstwhile enemies while Popkov concentrates on the Soviet Union’s sacrifices.

The latter theme permeates Stalin’s Eagles. Western airpower promotes efficiency and technology, but the Soviet experience touted the expendability of each individual for the sake of the whole. Take, for example, the unique Soviet practice of aerial ramming. Soviet pilots used this tactic, which frequently destroyed both aircraft, more than 600 times on the eastern front. Some pilots successfully completed as many as four rams in their career. The author takes pains to contrast this kind of self-sacrifice against Western airmanship.

One notable flaw is the book’s consistently unclear or distracting use of acronyms. Although the glossary includes all of them, Mr. Seidl usually does not explain them on first use—a tendency that can confuse the reader. In general, though, Stalin’s Eagles is thorough, providing extensive details about individuals and units that had the greatest impact on the air wars of World War II and Korea. The numerous photographs and color plates make the book easy to peruse or find information about a specific person. Students of air combat and World War II or anyone interested in fighter aircraft and the people who fly them will find it useful.

Capt J. Alexander Ippoliti, USAF

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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