Bill Yenne's book is a fine effort that will be welcomed by all historians interested in the `real war' fought on the eastern front, and the part played by Soviet women in the conflict. As such it will be greatly welcomed as information about Lidiya Kitvyak and other female pilots is sadly rather scarce and the whole topic is still rather neglected, compared with the deluge of material on, especially, American, British and German male pilots.
What is particularly praiseworthy in this book is the detailed and often harrowing description, as a backdrop, of life in the USSR during Stalin's terror and the even greater hardships of the war years; the Soviet people essentially fought a cruel enemy to defend a vile regime that cared little for the fate of the individual and - like the Nazis - thrived on denunciations to root out the alleged `enemy within'.
Although Lidiya's life is covered in detail, Bill Yenne sometimes lapses into fantasy and the book sometimes reads like a novel or a film script; did Lidiya really yearn for the higher Soviet decorations? Her last minutes before her death are similarly invented.
There are also a few errors, and the Osprey editorial staff, once again, seems to be either asleep or non-existent. Bill Yenne, like a number of other authors who ought to know better, uses the word `Wehrmacht' to describe the German army, whereas the term actually collectively refers to the army (das Heer), the air force (die Luftwaffe, literally `air weapon'), and the navy (die Kriegsmarine, literally `war navy'). Similarly, Bill clearly does not know that `decimated' actually means the death of one in ten individuals (the old Roman army punishment for a unit's cowardice) and if the Germans really only `decimated' the Soviet forces in 1941 then they were doing rather badly!
Other points worth correcting include:
The author's failure to mention Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary female pilots, when he implies that only that the US WASPs used female pilots to deliver combat aircraft;
When discussing the Soviet sanctions used to make their soldiers fight, Yenne fails to mention that the Nazis also used similar methods, so Stalin was hardly unique in this respect. Sippenhaft (liability of kin or clan) meant that German soldiers who deserted or changed sides would be punished by the regime through the incarceration or execution of their families. That nasty Mr Joe Stalin had no monopoly on cruelty;
The Yak-1 did not have a maximum speed of "nearly 400 mph"; the only Yak-1 that got anywhere near such a speed was the fairly rare 1943 version fitted with the capricious M- 106-1-sk engine; these attained 391 mph but most Yak-1s (fitted with more reliable engines) could not attain 370 mph;
We are also told that the LaGG-3 was obsolescent whereas in fact progressive weight reductions and refinements turned an overweight and under-powered but rugged fighter into a formidable aircraft in its final versions, capable of taking far more punishment than the relatively fragile Yak series;
Yenne also states that the German FW 190 was "Lighter and more maneuverable [sic]" than the Bf 109, whereas in fact it was about 1000 Kg (say about one ton) heavier and owed its formidable manoeuvrability in the rolling plane to its structural strength and generous control surfaces;
The bibliography also includes an error; Brüggemann's book should properly read "Motive des Sowjetischen Mythos im Massenlied der 1930er Jahre"; im Massenlied is singular, whereas Yenne translates it as `songs';
Finally, the use of American spelling by a British based publisher is to be deplored, and does nothing to help further the correct use of `real' English.