Sunday, November 19, 2017

War Over the Steppes - The Air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941-45

The war between Nazi German and the Soviet Union was the largest land campaign of WWII and it involved millions of troops and tens of thousands of tanks and warplanes.

In the East the Luftwaffe played a vital role by establishing air superiority, supporting the ground troops at the front, bombing important targets deep behind enemy lines and keeping the enemy under constant observation with its recon planes.

The Red Air force suffered great losses in 1941-42 but in the period 1943-45 it was rebuilt and it managed to play an important role in the actual fighting.

Until recently studies of the air war in the Eastern front were hampered by the lack of adequate sources for both participants. Authors either had to rely on the surviving Luftwaffe records, which meant they would have to use German estimates of Soviet strength and losses instead of the actual data, or they were forced to use the official Soviet post war histories, which downplayed Soviet defeats and exaggerated German strength and losses.

Hooton’s books are different from other similar works due to their emphasis on statistical analysis of the Luftwaffe operations.

His new book ‘War over the Steppes: The air campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941–45’ covers the air war in the Eastern front and the main battles between the Luftwaffe and the Red Air force.

The book has the following chapters:

1. From friends to foes: Russian and German air power 1924 to 1941.

2. Invasion and retreat: June 1941 to April 1942.

3. The tide turns: May 1942 to February 1943.

4. The Russian advance: March 1943 to April 1944.

5. Red Star triumphant: May 1944 to May 1945.

The main strength of the book is the addition of detailed tables on the strength, loss and sortie statistics for both sides. After the fall of the Soviet Union the government archives were opened to researchers and new material on WWII has became widely available. Hooton was able to take this data and incorporate it into his book, thus offering detailed and most of all reliable information for both air forces.  

I consider this book to be on the same level as ‘Stopped at Stalingrad: The Luftwaffe and Hitler's Defeat in the East, 1942-1943’, meaning it is essential reading for anyone interested in military aviation history. 


  1. Hi,
    I was not completely familiar with the air war over the Eastern Front so my comment is framed from that perspective. I would not necessarily recommend it as an introductory work to the air war as its use of the most reliable statistics available tends to overshadow the story of the air wars effects. However, as I gain more knowledge of this aspect of the conflict I have no doubt I will appreciate this excellent work to a greater extent.

    1. This book is for people who have already read general histories of the Eastern Front. As you noted it focuses on the data so it is a ‘dry’ book.

      If you’re interested in the air war in the East you can also check out the books of Christer Bergström:

  2. Great review - and other recent stuff on the blog is excellent too. I have read a lot on the east front and am working my way through Glantz' works. Just finished Smolensk vol 1 and it is really interesting but some things are still lacking imho ! (only 1000 odd pages in the 2 volumes plus the map vol3 and a vol 4 of reports just on Smolensk!!)
    Principally what is lacking from Glantz works, which are the best to date means of understanding the east war, is a detailed analysis of what missions the Luftwaffe flew , where and when. This would enable us to see what the benefit of air activity was when it was received and the handicap faced where it was just not available - as on many sectors even in 1941, but especially in 1942 and on. So someone hopefully will dig all of this out of the records of the stuka and kampf geschwader records I hope before I die! There is no question that air support was vital to the germans but even Glantz has not had, evidently, the resources to get to grips with this.

    Also I read on Moscow Zetterling's book and "Moscow the Northern Flank " by Radey. What amazed me is the abjet lack of fuel early in the Typhoon campaign - eg by mid oct 1941 before mud etc. Again the role of air supply in the campaign has not been revealed to date and must have been affected by loss of ju52's in Crete in may 1941. I will get this book (on the endless list!)

    1. I’m not a fan of Glantz. I’ve read ‘When Titans clashed’ and it was embarrassingly bad. He just took Soviet claims at face value without even checking if they were theoretically possible.

      In the Glantz and Erickson version of history the Red Army was the most powerful force in the known universe…

      Maybe his new books are better, I don’t know.

  3. I would give his more recent books a try starting at Smolensk. The map book is needed to read the text books

  4. Agree re: Glantz being overly credulous. (Test comment..)