Book Review — War over the Steppes: The Air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941–45

War over the Steppes by E. R. Hooton
War over the Steppes: The Air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941–45 by E. R. Hooton is a study of the air war fought between the Soviets and the Nazis in World War II. Hooton has been a journalist for 40 years and a defense journalist for about 25 years. He has written numerous articles on military history and three highly regarded books on the history of the Luftwaffe – The Luftwaffe: A Study in Air Power 1933-1945, Phoenix Triumphant: The Rise and Rise of the Luftwaffe and Eagle in Flames: The Fall of the Luftwaffe , as well as contributing to several others.

It was the shock that the Soviets knew to expect but pretended it would never happen after the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Two different totalitarian regimes would face off in one the most vicious series of battles and sieges in history. Both armies were ordered not to take a step back. The ground war was a series of atrocities and the cities under siege endured suffering beyond belief. The Nazi leadership knew the peace between Germany and the USSR would not last. The USSR consisted of Slavs and communists both of which were held in low esteem by the Nazis. The Soviet Union would also be a much-needed source of petroleum (and food) for German war machine that extended their supply line too far in their conquests.

The Germans, even before the attack, probed the Soviet border traveling deep inside the country on reconnaissance missions and to test the Soviet defenses. When the attack came it was decisive. The German ground and air forces moved in on an unprepared Soviet Union. German technology and experience moved quickly and effectively, stopped by only two things — winter and outrunning their supply lines. Initial Soviet resistance included the use of biplanes so far out of date they had little, if any, effect. The Soviets were behind in other technology including radar and communication radio. As a result, Soviet industrial production moved east and prepared to rebuild and resist. The Germans remained hurt by the overextended supply lines and logistics. The Soviet railways were a different gauge than the rest of Europe creating a transportation nightmare for the German resupply efforts.

Hooten uses released Russian documents, Nazi archives, and personal accounts to bring together a history of the air war in a theater that has been heavily documented in its ground war. Allied arms helped the Soviets but it was their own factories that turned out the equipment that allowed the Soviets to not only expel the Nazis but march all the way to Berlin. Hooten presents an example of a highly trained and skilled military with superior equipment fighting against a poorly trained military (many of its best leaders were subjected to Stalin’s purges) with an ill-trained peasant factory force and inferior equipment. The numerically superior ill-trained and equipped force was able to overcome the highly trained and prepared force with serious supply problems.

Hooten provides plenty of detail and information on the air units and their equipment. It is as much as a study of logistics and equipment as it is a narrative of the war. Perhaps one of the most important and heroic defenses in history as the Soviets held off the Nazis and denied them the much-needed petroleum that lay beyond Stalingrad. An excellent aviation war history.

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