Barbarossa and the Retreat to Moscow: Recollections of Fighter Pilots on the Eastern Front. By Artem Drabkin. UK: Pen and Sword, 2007. Map. Photographs. Notes. Illustrations. Appendices. Glossary. Index. Pp xv, 158. $39.95. ISBN: 1-84415-563-7
Artem Drabkin does an excellent job of sharing the stories and experiences of a handful of Soviet fighter pilots (all with fewer than 15 individual kills--typical for the VVS) and one aircraft maintenance troop. He searched out and interviewed Soviet Air Force (VVS) veterans from the Great Patriotic War (World War II). This book is a compilation of six of these interviews and is divided into separate chapters for each interview. It is very apparent that Drabkin painstakingly recorded and transcribed the veterans' experiences, making sure to share their stories in their own words. By always relaying the interviews in an intact format, some points are, of necessity, repeated. However, this helps to press home certain underlying themes or shared experiences throughout the book.
The book contains candid, honest, unedited opinions and memories from the Soviet viewpoint. The interviewees discuss how unprepared the Soviet Air Force was for war. They all share their stories about how they became interested in flying and ended up as fighter pilots. Interestingly, several of the pilots mentioned they were attracted to the uniforms!
Each of the pilots gave his opinion of how Soviet fighters compared to German fighters, his favorite airplane, and the most dangerous German aircraft to try to shoot down. All of them disliked the British Hurricane. Most of them preferred flying a Soviet plane, such as the Yak-1, rather than fly a Lend-Lease aircraft like the P-39 or P-40. They all compared their aircraft honestly and often favorably to their German foes, making sure to point out how to fight with and against each aircraft. Interestingly, at one time or another, all the pilots were shot down. Several...