"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."