Review by Neil Page.
Distributed by Casemate, and published by Helion, this is the first in a new book series devoted to the Eastern Front air war. Air Battles over the Baltic 1941: The Air War on 22 June 1941 – The Battle for Stalin’s Baltic Region in fact deals with only one day of the air battles in the East and then covers only a small sector of this huge front – but what a book! Mikhail Timin is one of the most notable Russian authors on the Eastern Front air war and his deep research is based on Soviet archival data. His comments in the introduction are somewhat critical of Western authors attempts at covering the the subject, accusing “some opportunistic authors in recent years [of publishing] works of pseudo-research, in which disreputable attempts have been made to misrepresent the achievements of the pilots and commanders of the air forces of the Red Army…”.
Just about every book written by Western authors dealing with the opening rounds of Barbarossa (‘the Great Patriotic War’) has, of course, relied heavily on German sources and Timin disputes some of this body of literature in his writings. While this reviewer readily admits his own shortcomings in knowledge on Russian/Red Army historiography, I have to say Timin appears to set the record straight in this impressive work. The first half comprises a long introduction assessing the preparedness, or otherwise, of the opposing forces, detailing the composition and capabilities of both German and Soviet aviation, and including biographies of commanders and formations of the Baltic special military district and Luftwaffe Air Corps as well as describing the main opposing aircraft types. It is evident that Soviet re-equipment with modern types was proceeding apace months before the invasion. Timin moves on to cover the massive German infringements of Soviet territorial borders in the months leading up to the launch of Barbarossa.
The events of 22 June 1941 kick off on page 209 with an account from the CO of JG 54 Trautloft and comprises a detailed reconstruction of the three major waves of air raids on Baltic airfields. Amazingly, there were few significant ‘air battles’ on this first day of the campaign (the author details those Soviet bomber regiments airborne to attack German units being recalled since retaliatory actions were not initially authorised). In addition, there was to be no battle for air superiority. Soviet air force strength was deliberately managed to be concentrated against German ground and Panzer forces. Note that no German or Soviet terminology is used, aside from rank, as English terminology, like ‘squadrons’, ‘wings’ and ‘headquarters officer’, appears throughout, which may or may not be helpful. Some of the authenticity and flavour of a work like this is lost in this manner, especially when it would be a simple matter to compile and add a glossary to the book. It is probably true too that the average reader can more easily reverse the English terms into German than can be done with the Russian equivalents.
I did find the translation just a tad clunky and long-winded in places; “headquarters section”, “tactical number yellow 11”, “insignia denoting his victories” etc, for example. Elsewhere the photo and artwork sections are good, the profile artworks and maps particularly so. While the photo pages (300 photos) are integrated into the main pagination, the 48-page profile artwork/maps section is presented separately. Even so, there are ‘only’ 448 pages in the book – not the 528 advertised in various places. There are also a few pages – situation and airfield maps – in Russian and the page reproductions from Signal magazine are from the French edition! With lovely, thick, glossy paper stock to top it all off, this is outstanding addition to any W.W.II air war library.