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Red Phoenix Rising: The Soviet Air Force in World War II (Modern War Studies) Hardcover – 15 May 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas (15 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700618287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700618286
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 792,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"An important addition to the World War II historiography, "Red Phoenix Rising" helps scholars and laymen better understand the nature of the war in the East, the Soviet order of battle, and the progression of the campaigns."--"H-Net Reviews"

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Format: Hardcover
Von Hardesty is a curator at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, and Ilya Grinberg is a professor at the State University of New York College at Buffalo. They have written a superb account, based on wide research, of the Soviet air force during World War II.

In the first week of the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Nazi forces destroyed about 4,000 Soviet aircraft, yet, "the Soviets possessed a remarkable capacity to strike back under extreme pressure."

The authors note, "For the VVS [Soviet Air Force] in August 1941, there were signs of resiliency - even renewal. Indeed, the Nazi blitzkrieg had achieved dazzling tactical victories, but in a strategic sense, the enemy had been denied a clear and decisive victory. ... The Soviet military - and the VVS - fought desperately, even in the face of enormous losses. The VVS remained severely weakened and disorganized, but it persisted as a viable force. ... Like Britain in 1940, the enemy had not destroyed Soviet airpower, although it had inflicted severe punishment. As long as the VVS survived, there was the hope of renewal and perhaps ultimate victory."

They point out, "The ultimate fate of the VVS - as well as the larger Soviet military - would rest on the State Defense Committee's crucial decision, in early 1941, to evacuate Soviet war industries to the East. The herculean effort to transplant more than 1,500 industrial enterprises beyond the Ural Mountains at the height of the German invasion marks one of the Soviets' most impressive wartime achievements." Ten million people were involved; by 1942, they were producing 25,000 aircraft from the rebuilt factories.

The authors observe, "Moscow - unlike Paris two years before - stopped the advance of Nazi Germany.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 22 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
A Book Worth Owning! 2 May 2012
By Michael H. Gorn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Without the classic Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power, 1941-1945, the air war on the Eastern front in World War II would have been a lost story, at least in the English language. Since its publication thirty years ago by Smithsonian Institution Press, it has stood alone in recounting the remarkable resilience of the Soviet Air Force, from its virtual annihilation at the start, to its triumph at the end. It has been the standard reference for this often forgotten, underappreciated, yet decisively important struggle of the Second World War

Now original author Von Hardesty has teamed with Ilya Grinberg to produce a completely new edition of the book, slightly renamed Red Phoenix Rising: The Soviet Air Force in World War II. But if the title is much the same, the story within is heavily revised, based on access to former Soviet sources unavailable to Dr. Hardesty when he wrote the previous edition.

To begin with, the new version--published by the University Press of Kansas in 2012--is a very attractive volume. From the jacket art (a beautiful painting of an Il-2 Shturmovik in action) to the page design (an easy-to-read, elegant typeface on buff paper) it looks worthy of a place of honor on the bookshelf.

Inside, the reader will find a book that does not so much depart from the 1982 Red Phoenix as it expands and elaborates on it. Not surprisingly, the new book is longer--by about 20 percent--than the old. Also, the new book has a more generous selection of illustrations than is common for academic publishers: 105 photos, nine maps and two tables (not clustered in galleries, thankfully, but scattered throughout the text and mated to the narrative). Its appendices show the benefit of access to government sources. For instance, Appendix 14 in the initial volume ("Soviet Aces and Air Victories") is only half a page long and lists just eight pilots; the newer version, in Appendix 8 ("Top Fifty Soviet Aces") lists their victories, sorties, engagements, military units, years of birth and dates of death, all spread out on a seven-page table.

Every chapter benefits from the new archival sources, but the greatest beneficiaries appear to be Chapter 1 ("An Arduous Beginning"), Chapter 3 ("Stalingrad"), and Chapter 6 ("At Full Stride"). The reinforcement of these pivot points in the narrative--the devastation at the start, the turnaround at Stalingrad, and the eventual rise of the Soviet Air Force to one of the world's finest--illustrates the incredible strides made by the VVS under life and death conditions, in a desperately short period of time.

Likewise, there is new narrative in every chapter, and the overall style of the writing parallels that of the earlier volume in its clear, vigorous, and dramatic recounting of some of the greatest air battles in history.

Red Phoenix is a marvelous re-telling of one of the great turning points in the history of warfare. No history bibliophile, World War II enthusiast, or military historian--or for that matter, any self-respecting library--can afford to exclude it.

Michael H. Gorn
Research Associate
Smithsonian Institution
National Air and Space Museum
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Very interesting, but . . . 13 July 2012
By J. Mero - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting chronicle of the fortunes of the Soviet airforce during WW2, but focus is mostly on warfare, and not much on technology.
What I had hoped for was more in depth stories on how the Russian designers developed their airplanes, - design and technology.
Would also liked much more detail on all the difficulties the Russians faced, like when moving the production facilities from Moscow to beyond the Urals.
And on the designers' problems and ways to overcome these. Because that is really more the story about the Phoenix, - the genius of Petlyakov, Lavochkin, Yakovlev, and all the others. Designing planes manufactured and to be maintained by a largely unskilled workforce.
Planes to be operated under the worst imaginable conditions climate- and temperature-wise. So more about how the Russians overcame all this would have been of the greatest interest to me. Hopefully, with the access to Soviet archives, more information on all this will be forthcoming.

Other than that, the book is still a worthy contribution to any war library.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"Red Phoenix Rising" barely gets off the ground 12 July 2014
By Magnitude - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story of the VVS (the Soviet Air Force) is a potentially exciting and rich one. An air force in the WWII required so many elements for its success, from the operational, to the technical, to the industrial. In many ways, the story of this arm's success in WWII could belie the pat notion that the USSR's manpower quantitatively won the war. The story of the VVS could, as perhaps no other arm would, show how the USSR mobilized all elements of its society to achieve its success against Germany. That story is not told here.

I should have been skeptical that such a story could have been told in the 358 pages of narrative in "Red Phoenix Rising." By and large, it is an operational summary of events for the entire war. The focus is mostly on Soviet air armies. To put that in perspective, the German air equivalents are Luftflotten; for the Soviets on the ground, army Fronts. These are huge formations, and as a result, operational events are painted in broad strokes, with a recurring recounting of numbers of sorties flown.

As a result of this broad focus, one is left with broad takeaways. The words "aggressive," and to a lesser degree, "maturity," appear often and sum up two themes for the book. The Soviets in the air fought very much like their counterparts on the ground: courageously and with determination to stop the Germans at all costs. There are accounts of Soviet pilots ramming their planes into German ones, for example. Later, thanks to the reforms of Air Commander Novikov led to a more "mature" Soviet air arm, as they adopted German 2- and 4-plane tactical formations and started to integrate radios into their planes, among other, somewhat vague changes.

In spite of these fleeting lessons, the book is memorable more for what's not in it than what's in it. I've read many books on air history, and compared to books on the Luftwaffe, the RAF and the Battle of Britain, or the Pacific air operations of the Japanese and the United States, it was striking what wasn't here. First and foremost, there's no discussion of the planes themselves. Spitfire vs Bf-109. Zero vs Wildcat. What was the equivalent iconic match up on the Eastern Front? Certainly, many planes were involved, and yet there was not even a chart like the one in "The Blitzkrieg Legend" that compared the strengths and weaknesses of each side's planes--and that was a book focused on the ground campaign. I was tantalized by the fact that many Soviet pilots preferred to fly the P-39 Aircobra, an American Lend-Lease contribution. Did they fly other, Soviet designs and prefer the American one for some reason? Or did they like the P-39 simply because they didn't have a choice? While there is a long section on the fighting in the Kuban in the post-Stalingrad period, there was little or no coverage on contemporaneous events around Leningrad or Moscow. In fact, there was very little description in the book of events in the Leningrad sector for the entire war.

The history of an air force is a vast, engrossing subject. Therefore, I was surprised to find no in-depth coverage of the following: pre-war air doctrine; pilot training and selection; why radios and radar were not used early on, and how they developed later; what kinds of planes were used for reconnaissance missions, and whether cameras were used on those flights; technical development of aircraft; industrial aircraft production; why the Soviets apparently used biplanes throughout the war; Lend Lease; the relationship of the VVS to Stavka; the relationship of Novikov to Stalin and to Stavka; what happened to Novikov, exactly; what was naval aviation up to during the period. You may find yourself adding to this list as you read the book.

The lack of depth may result from the fact that the authors apparently are summarizing Soviet official histories and other, more recent ones. Their acknowledgments mention the many researchers whose work these authors seem to have relied upon heavily. The footnotes bear this out, along with paragraphs that begin, "For Soviet historiography... ." Certainly, there is value in translating Russian works into English and making the history of the VVS accessible. However, there does not seem to be much in the way of first-hand archival research. Some of it comes from web sites, which certainly is a legitimate way to access archival documents nowadays, but this approach also gives the impression that the authors didn't try very hard, as this may have been the main way they did their primary research.

The last chapter was ironically was the best one, as it was more in line with what I was expecting from such a history. The USSR developed its first strategic bomber and first jets starting with captured American and German technology. This chapter said much about the weaknesses of the VVS during the war, and the Cold War threat it was striving to become after it. While this was the best chapter in the book, it ironically had more to do with the post-war VVS than the one that defended the USSR through 1945. Nevertheless, we do get a glimpse of how the Soviets thought about airpower and worked to implement change in the rapidly changing post-war time period. I just wish the rest of the book did the same for the probably more critical period in Soviet military history, when the life of the nation was under real threat.

The maps, which depict the broad sweeps of action, really aren't meaningful to an air narrative, as they focus on ground fighting. However, as the VVS was primarily focused on tactical air support of the land campaign, the maps may be helpful in following the flow of events. That said, there wasn't a map of the crucial Bagration offensive, described in the narrative. I also didn't notice a single air base depicted, and in the 1945 campaign map, the Vistula army group is misspelled, so the maps are of little value on their own. In comparison, the black and white photographs throughout the book are interesting and add personal touches. However, both the maps and the photographs are not in separate sections, and they count against the total number of pages; meaning, the real prose a reader gets in this book is even less than the physical page count suggests. There are some tables that may be of value, listing pilots' victories and the total Lend-Lease contributions, which, relative to overall Soviet production, don't appear to add up to much. However, whether this is a result of overblown Soviet production figures isn't investigated by the authors.

In the end, the story of the VVS is given overview coverage here, and in many ways, still has yet to be completely, definitively told.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Once more unto the breach... 25 Jun 2012
By Carl J. Bobrow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
By Von Hardesty and Ilya Grinberg
ISBN 978-0-7006-1828-6

This review is based in part on an in-depth reading of the work and an opportunity to informally discuss the book with Ilya Grinberg, who is the co-author of this important volume. I'm pleased to have had a chance to speak with him whilst we were both attending a daylong symposium held at the National Air and Space Museum this past spring.

As the name of the title alludes to this is a story of near resurrection. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes to take wing once again, the Soviet Air Force, decimated by the Nazi's at the outset of hostilities on 22 June 1941 finds its way back to preeminence. Struggling with internal politics, technological and operational hurdles along with the whims of Stalin they manage within 4 grueling hard fought years to wrest mastery of the skies from the Luftwaffe thus helping bring about the crushing defeat of the German war machine and the end of World War II.

The classic Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power, 1941-1945 which was subsequently translated into Russian during the time of "perestroika" (restructuring) and "glasnost" (openness) was used at USSR's Gagarin Air Force Academy. The thesis was sound and insightful making it the best available work on the subject, particularly for the Soviets at that time.

From time to time authors find it necessary to review their previous efforts and to bring them up to date with material that has come to light. In this case 30 years have passed and in that time the Soviet Union has become the Russian Federation and with that much has changed. The access to archival material and censorship that restricted comprehensive research and publication is also different. It would seem that in the intervening years few "western" authors took up the subject perhaps because of the daunting task of language, resources or courage to undertake the effort required. Of course, there are a number of resident Russian historians who have made extensive use of this opportunity and yet there have been but a handful of American researchers doing the same. In 1988 I was one of those few western researchers given access to military archives, so I do have an idea about the plethora of material that is available.

I'm happy to state that Von Hardesty teamed-up with Ilya Grinberg to take if you will the "DNA of the Von's original classic" and create a new work. The book has made use of new material available, which has allowed the authors to reassess many of the previous findings and assumptions. It basically follows the same structure of the original; a big difference now is the personal narrative that appears in each of the chapters. This brings a perspective that enhances the overall effort as it complements the facts and analysis with the human side of the story.

My single detraction is more to do with the publisher, and the fact that they should have paid better attention to the publication quality of the photographs appearing throughout the book, such as those found in Carl Fredrick Geust's "Red Stars" series. There are a substantial number of new and previously unpublished images included bringing the reader the needed visual component. All the same it is the textual content composed from the myriad of archival documents, statistical data, scholarly Russian language works previously unavailable contained that are key to this new work.

Included in this edition are the all important appendices and bibliography is one of the best available in English language, so perhaps we will not have to wait too long for others to pick-up the gauntlet and start serious research on an area of history long overdue for additional in-depth histories.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Disappointingly Bland 20 April 2013
By C. J. Riches - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read previous reviews, and the testimonies from Glant, Overy etc I started this book with great anticipation, only to become increasingly disappointed. The subject is huge, and is treated in a very bland manner. The content covers the general course of the war, which necessitates some information about the land events, and is illustrated with a few combat examples that don't really add much to the explanation of why the Soviet air force performed as it did. This aspect of the content takes up far too much of the text, and leaves little space devoted to the Soviet Air Force (per the title) itself. Where there is discussion on the operational/strategic capabilities and execution, again it is a chronology of events in limited detail, with little analysis. The content about air operations and strategy is not a lot more than a decent quality book about the eastern front as a whole.

I didn't learn very much from the book, and in particular virtually nothing about why the air force performed as it did at different phases, what it learned, what it did in response to the learnings, and how these were applied - surely the key cornerstone of a book titled as this one. I can't recommend it, and felt that I was reading a different book than the glowing comments in other reviews.
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