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Red Star Against the Swastika: The Story of a Soviet Pilot Over the Eastern Front [Hardcover]

Vasily B. Emelianenko
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Greenhill Books; First Edition edition (15 Nov 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853676497
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853676499
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.3 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 917,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Dramatic close-up view of the ruthless Eastern Front air war. Written from the rare perspective of a Soviet pilot. With over fifty contemporary photographs This is the extraordinary story of Vasily B. Emelianenko, the veteran pilot of one of the Soviet Union's most contradictory planes of WWII - the I1-2. This heavily armoured aircraft was practically unrivalled in terms of fire power, but it was slow to manoeuvre and an easy target for fighters. I1 - 2 had to attack enemy flak columns at extremely low altitudes, which led to enormous tolls both in equipment and personnel. It is no wonder then that, having flown eighty combat sorties against the Germans, Emelianenko was awarded the highest decoration - the Hero of the Soviet Union. He went on to complete a total of ninety-two sorties. His plane was shot down three times, and on each occasion he managed to pilot the damaged aircraft home, demonstrating remarkable resilience and bravery in the face of terrifying odds. Emelianenko's vivid memoirs provide a rare insight into the reality of fighting over the Eastern Front and the tactics of the Red Army Air Force.

With remarkable clarity, he recalls what it was like to come face to face with a skilled, deadly and increasingly desperate enemy. Hair-raising encounters with fighters, forced landings on enemy territory, and the death of friends are all brought dramatically and movingly to life in this rare first-hand account.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and honest 18 Jan 2006
Among the memoirs of WWII aviators, this is among the very best. For some, the clumsy translation may be a bit much. But if you are familiar with and forgiving about the kind of mistakes Russians do typically make in using English, it will give accent and local colour to the narrator´s voice.
After all, this is a story in the grand Russian oral and literary tradition. It´s not just another war diary. It has style.
Emelianenko´s book is unique. He is one of the few experienced Il-2 attack pilots who survived the war to tell the tale. He was 93 when he wrote the last pages - there will be no more first-hand accounts of the Soviet Eastern Front air-to-ground campaign. Get it while you can. I am glad I did.
This is an honest account of what happened to the 7th Guards Ground Attack Regiment and as such could hardly have been published in the Soviet Union. Almost all of the characters Emelianenko so vividly describes end up not in victory parades but as corpses in the burning wrecks of their planes.
You will not only gain insight to how the Il-2 was used and why there were so many built. You get to know what the young pilots felt. No politics, no propaganda. The story speaks for itself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another piece in the jigsaw 18 Aug 2007
Excellent and unusual narrative on an individual's exploits on the eastern front in the ground attack role. Few survived from the beginning of the war to tell the tale. The Il2 is famed for its survivability, but a considerable number were lost to 109s and AA. Great book in terms of detail and readability
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Red Star against the Swastika 13 Nov 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Interesting account of flying Sturmoviks on the Russian front- it would have been more interesting if it had included more of the technical information about flying these aircraft. Most of the book is about the advance of the germans into the USSR with the squadron being forced further back into Russia. Very good on describing the characters of the flyers and ground crews.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest account 15 Mar 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It's refreshing to read an account of the air war from the view of a Soviet pilot. The book was a pleasure to read and gives you a taste of the stoic nature of the men who fought on the Eastern Front. Most of the characters in the book wind up dead and on a couple of occasions I found it quite moving. The book is written in an honest and simple, matter of fact manner that keeps you reading on, hoping against hope that some of Emelianenko's friends will survive. Most don't. The interpreter has also added a bit of unintentional feel that some people might find a bit off-putting. It didn't bother me.

The book tells the tale of the author who flew Shturmovik ground attack aircraft against terrible odds and was shot down three times. He saw all but a couple of his comrades lose their lives, but continued to fight on regardless of the somewhat shabby equipment. There are some lovely little side stories and the whole thing is fascinating and fresh to someone who has never read anything about the eastern front. I did find all the Soviet names a bit confusing, but that's my problem. The epilogue, which is quite sad, pretty much sums the whole book up. A very good read.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Soviet Pilot's War in the Skies Over Russia 4 Aug 2006
By Gilberto Villahermosa - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Red Star Against the Swastika" is an extremely well written and compelling story, told for the first time.

The book is one of a series of new World War II memoirs by Red Army soldiers and airmen, which provide fresh and valuable insights into the Soviet armed forces of the Great Patriotic War. It remind us that Ivan, the Red Army soldier, was a living, breathing being, who cherished life as much as his counterparts in the West and who was willing to defend his family and his homeland fanatically and lay down his life dearly for all that he loved.

In "Red Star Against the Swastika" Il-2 Shturmovik pilot Vasily Emelianenko remembers his own war against the German Luftwaffe in the skies over Soviet Russia. Developed before the Second World War for the Soviet Air Force, the Il-2 was the first plane optimized for all ground attack and close air support missions. With an armored pilot's compartment, including specially armored glass, and equipped with multiple heavy machineguns and later cannon, the Il-2 played a major role in the Red Army's defeat of the Wehrmacht in Russia.

Emelianenko flew 92 sorties against the Germans, including 80 combat missions. Shot down three times, he always managed to reach home safely, once after another pilot in his squadron landed his own Sturmovik under fire to rescue Emelianenko. For his courage and successful completion of a number of critical missions, the author was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, Soviet Russia's highest award.

"Red Star Against the Swastika" reminds us of the tremendous sacrifices made by Red Army soldiers and airmen to stop the Germans, even when the odds were stacked against them. "After the first weeks of the war our troops did not have enough fighters and anti-aircraft guns left," writes Emelianenko. "Consequently, squadrons flew their attacks without any cover. German aircraft had complete superiority in the air. Soviet military pilots had to pay tremendous prices, and a very few of those who began the war in summer 1941 lasted until victory came."

But, fortunately, the battle did not always go the Wehrmacht's way, and time after time, the Red Army managed to catch the Germans by surprise: "Approaching Bobruysk the Shturmoviks were flying very low. Anti-aircraft guns began to fire....The leader turned and launched the attack. Missiles hit the row of [German] bombers and exploded, tracer bullets shredded the wings with black crosses....Junkers and Messerschmitts ready for operational flights blazed up. Our aircraft came in time and did not allow the enemy planes to take off!"

By 1943 the tide of battle had shifted and the resurgent Red Army seized the strategic offensive, never to lose it again. "In the fierce cruel struggle we managed to crush the enemy that brought war to our land," remembers Emelianenko, "and there is my part of strain, blood and sweat in it." Indeed. In four years of combat, the author's ground attack aircraft division lost 717 men. Two hundred of those were from the 7th Guards Ground Attack Aircraft Regiment, Emelianenko's unit.

Victory thus came at a horrendous price. By the end of the Second World War, Soviet Russia had lost some 27 million people in the war, including ten million soldiers, sailors and airmen killed. And those that survived were changed forever: "Few people lived through the war without deep scars on their bodies and on their hearts," admits the author.

Emelianenko concludes his story with the following words; "My friends said to me then: 'Those who were killed must live in a book. People myst know about them. And write the truth only!' I have done my best."
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boring through flak and fighters. . . Cheers for the IL-2s! 7 Jan 2006
By Michael Slater - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Germans Lanser called it the Butcher Bird;a Luftwaffe pilot coined the term Panzerflieger---flying tank---to describe this incredibly tough as nails fighter bomber. The Soviet IL-2s and the heroic pilots and crews who flew them at low level through the tracers and bursting shells of sharp-shooting Flak gunners deserve the West's admiration for the important and often decisive role they played in tearing the guts out of the Wehrmacht in Russia. Now you can read a book about it by someone who was there. Vasily Emelianenko flew IL-2s with his comrades in the 7th Guards Regiment, 230th Kuban Ground-Attack Division. Unlike most Russian wartime memoirs, this one isn't dripping with love for the Communist Party. It's simply a pilot's story of his experiences and the experiences of his comrades, many of whom fell victim to flak and fighter attack, in the desperate life and death struggle waged in the East from 1941-45. Shot down numerous times, often behind enemy lines, Vasily used all his piloting and survival skills to emerge alive and victorious in the war. He is not a braggart and has no difficulties explaining what he did right or wrong in combat. The end of the book includes a list of all the 7th Guard Regiment's pilot losses,which alone is worth the price of the book. I salute Vasily's service and courage from afar. Thank you for your service in the war to defeat Hitler's Germany.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it 28 Jan 2006
By T. Kunikov - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
One of the best memoirs I've read about the war. The stories in this memoir are at times very moving. The missions they had to accomplish, the sacrifices made (a pilot rams his plane into a column of German tanks and trucks), the lives lost whether to the enemy or by mere accident are incredible. The editing job on the book was quite poor, again and again I found grammatical mistakes on many pages. Yet that shouldn't take away from the great stories that this author was kind enough to share. If one wants to understand what really went on, in this war to the death on the Eastern Front, specifically in the skies, you will not be disappointed in this book. At the end is a helpful list of those pilots who were MIA and KIA throughout the war, the sheer volume of losses is impressive. Few survived the war, yet even so they flew on mission after mission and struggled to get to the front whether from rear area services or from hospitals after being wounded. One pilot who lost both his legs trained to fly again, but in the end was rejected. Another returned to lead a regiment but perished in an accident. As much as you will be presented with death in this book you will never get used to the fact that again and again someone will not return from a mission or will be seen diving toward the ground in a burning plane.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much a combat memoir as a personal memoir 3 Jan 2006
By J. Veazey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It's a good book, but it's not going to teach you anything about flying, combat tactics, or Russian air force procedures. The combat stories in the book are quite limited, and not much detail. In this respect, I was disappointed.

However, as a document of day-to-day life as a pilot, and surviving the war, it is excellent.

You do get a feel for the way the pilots and ground crews viewed the war (and their chances); what it was like to receive the endlessly catastrophic battle reports in the early days; and, life as a combat pilot in rough fields, rough weather, and rough living conditions.

It was interesting to see through eyes of one of the participants. The endless repetition of pilots and gunners being lost gives the reader an inkling of the incredible losses the Soviets endured, and just how lucky the author was to be one of those survivors.

The bottom line, this is a more personal view of wartime life as a pilot, and not so much a combat memoir. But, it is well worth reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homegrown technology and homegrown heroes 22 May 2007
By Darian N. Diachok - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In unpretentious verse, the author matter-of-factly sets out the course of the air war across the Kuban and Ukraine in World War Two. You see clearly in these pages why pilots in Eastern Europe - be they Soviet or German - suffered the war's highest casualty rates, perhaps second only to penal battalions. At times you feel you're flying in formation with Sturmovik pilots, chasing or being chased by Messerschmidts. The author merely suggests the fear - and does it with great modesty. The book also gives a good feel for the camaraderie in Soviet Air Force, which blossomed regardless of national origin or religion, and supports the notion that the esprit de corps of the Soviet military quickly bounced back after initial disasters. The book also touches on improvements in aircraft technology and in battle tactics, and suggests that Moscow's priority was directed almost entirely to war machines over creature comforts, as where some pilots, for example, had trousers sewn from parachutes, and scrounged for food from the local population - despite having air-to-ground rockets at their disposal.

The author wrote this book late in life as a tribute to all the friends who never returned from combat missions - that is, most of his friends. The book is a simple, easy read and you learn a great deal about the Eastern Front, and serves as an admirable companion piece to something like Catherine Merridale's Ivan's War, which explores everyday life in the Soviet infantry.
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