Editorial note: In this series, From Balloons to Drones highlights research resources available to researchers. Contributions range from discussions of research at various archival repositories to highlighting new publications. As part of this series, we are bringing you a monthly precis of recent articles and books published in air power history. This precis will not be exhaustive but will highlight new works published in the preceding month. Publication dates may vary around the globe and are based on those provided on the publisher’s websites. If you would like to contribute to the series, please contact our Editor-in-Chief, Dr Ross Mahoney, at airpowerstudies@gmail.com or via our contact page here.

Books

David Axe, Drone War Vietnam (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021)

While the use of drones is now commonplace in modern warfare, it was in its infancy during the Vietnam War, not to mention revolutionary and top secret. Drones would play an important – and today largely unheralded – role in the bloody, two-decade US air war over Vietnam and surrounding countries in the 1960s and ’70s. Drone aircraft spotted targets for manned US bombers, jammed North Vietnamese radars and scattered propaganda leaflets, among other missions.

This book explores that obscure chapter of history. DRONE WAR: VIETNAM is based on military records, official histories and published first-hand accounts from early drone operators, as well as on a close survey of existing scholarship on the topic.

In their fledgling efforts to send robots instead of human beings on the most dangerous aerial missions, US operators in South-East Asia in the 1960s and ’70s wrote the first chapter in the continuing tale of autonomous warfare.

Dmitry Degtev and Dmitry Zubov, Air Battle for Moscow 1941–1942 (Barnsley: Air World, 2021) 

In October 1941, Operation Typhoon and the battle for Moscow began. According to Hitler’s plan, it was to be the ‘last offensive’, after which nothing could stop Germany from conquering Britain and the rest of Europe – but first he had to overcome the Soviets and especially their air force.

Air Battle for Moscow is the first detailed description of one of the most vital, yet little known, air battles of the Second World War. The battle for Moscow opened with the flights of long-range reconnaissance aircraft, which photographed Moscow and the Kremlin. Then, on 22 July 1941, Operation Clara Zetkin, the Luftwaffe’s aerial assault on Moscow, began. But the Luftwaffe was opposed by the ‘Stalin’s Falcons’, the elite 6th Air Defence Corps, which defended the Soviet capital with a determination which saw bitter duels to the death and horrendous casualties on both sides.

The book presents new facts about this dramatic battle and describes in detail the actions of the aircrew on both sides. Yet this is not just the story or the air war. The authors also describe the lives of people during the war, of suppressed anti-Soviet opposition in Moscow, and of the bloodthirsty and inhuman actions of the Stalin regime. The book also tells of the fate of German pilots caught in Russian captivity, and the adventures of those who were able to survive and escape from the Russian executioners. Many myths concerning the battle are also challenged, such as the often-stated belief that Moscow’s anti-aircraft defences were the most powerful in the world and that it was the Soviets who were the finest pilots.

In this comprehensive account, details of losses, biographical outlines of the key individuals, analyses of the different aircraft and a full chronology of the battle are presented, as well as numerous exclusive photos, documents and drawings.

But it is the stories of those who fought in the Battle for Moscow that, undeniably, have the greatest impact. The harrowing tales of death and survival in conditions that are almost beyond description demonstrate just how important this conflict was to both Russia and the Third Reich and, ultimately, to the outcome of the Second World War.

Tim Jenkins, Flying Pantechnicons: The Story of the Assault Glider Trust (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

In the summer of 2001 the Midlands Branch of the Glider Pilot Regiment identified a significant gap in the proud heritage of British aviation. Despite numerous preserved aircraft assemblages both in the United Kingdom and abroad the fact remained that there was no complete surviving example of a publicly accessible Airspeed Horsa assault glider to be found anywhere in the world. The Assault Glider Trust was formed in order to put the situation straight once and, very much, for all.

Between 2001 and 2014 a skilled team of aviation enthusiasts worked tirelessly on the manufacture, conservation and restoration of not only the Airspeed Horsa but a wider collection of aircraft in honour of all those associated with airborne forces during The Second World war. These included an American WACO CG-4A ‘Hadrian’, C-47 Dakota and a DH82a Tiger Moth.

‘Flying Pantechnicons’ is a fascinating miscellany charting the remarkable story of The Assault Glider Trust and the determination of an entirely charitable voluntary organisation in achieving a most ambitious aviation project. The book follows their incredible journey from original idea through acquisition, restoration and the final challenge of finding permanent locations for public display and interpretation.

The development of British Airborne Forces and their military application is contextualised alongside the engineering challenges faced in the physical construction of historic airframes. Consequently, this book provides a valuable contribution to both historical interpretation and the machinations of large-scale object conservation making it ideal for aviation enthusiasts and heritage professionals alike.  

Mikhail Maslov, King of Fighters: Nikolay Polikarpov and His Aircraft Designs, Volume 2 – The Monoplane Era (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

In the century-long history of the conquest of the sky there have been a number of outstanding personalities. Among them is the name of designer Nikolay Polikarpov (1892-1944), who is inseparably associated with the best achievements of Russian and Soviet aviation.

His practical activity in the aircraft industry began upon graduation from the Petersburg Polytechnic Institute in 1916. Aged 25, Polikarpov was sent to the Russo-Baltic Wagon Factory (RBWF), where the four-engined Ilya Muromets bombers designed by Igor Sikorsky were being built at that time. Later, beginning in August 1918, he worked in Moscow at the Dux aircraft factory. For several years, he was engaged in improving products manufactured by the factory, and upgrading production aircraft to accommodate the available engines, equipment and materials. From 1922, Polikarpov focused his attention on fighter aircraft, creation of which was a priority for him during the following years. The first of them was the IL-400 monoplane, designated I-1 by the Air Force. The monoplane was followed by biplanes including the 2I-N1 (1925), the I-3 (1927), the D-2 (1928), and the I-6 (1929). It was specialization in fighter aircraft which, from then on, became his mission in life. At the peak of his career as a designer, Polikarpov was informally styled ‘the King of Fighters’, which was quite in line with the level of his merits and achievements.

In the 1930s, the TsKB-3 (I-15) and TsKB-12 (I-16) fighters were designed under Polikarpov’s supervision. These aircraft were the designer’s undoubtable success. They also were the main combat fighters in service with the Red Army Air Force. For the creation of the I-15 and the I-16 fighters, Polikarpov was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1935, and the Order of the Red Star a year later.

During the 1930s, Nikolay Polikarpov devised a lot of aircraft of various designs, the majority of which can be described as ‘advanced’ and ‘innovative’. In 1940, Polikarpov was granted the degree of the Doctor of Engineering and the title of the Chief Designer of the highest category. In the same year, he was awarded the title of the Hero of Socialist Labor. A year later, he became a recipient of the Stalin Prize.

This gifted Soviet engineer was destined to live only 52 years. On 30 July 1944, Nikolay Polikarpov died of a rapidly evolving cancer. To venerate his memory, the U-2 trainer has ever since been designated the Po-2 (Polikarpov-2).

This book describes all Polikarpov’s original projects, both those put into reality and unimplemented ones. It took the author many years to prepare for the creation of the book. The author studied materials on the respective topics in all Russian archives, and made use of the recollections of Polikarpov’s contemporaries, as well as publications by other researchers.

For purposes of clarity and in order to facilitate publication, the author split the book on Nikolai Polikarpov’s aircraft into two parts – the ‘Biplane Era’ and the ‘Monoplane Era’. Indeed, during the designer’s activity from 1918 through to 1932, he devoted himself predominantly to creating biplanes. For the 1920s, the biplanes were a preferable option; they were more common, more reliable, better studied, and even more desirable for the Red Army Air Force. The first design of the IL-400 (I-1) monoplane fighter appeared as early as 1923; however, it was through its novelty and unpredictability that the aircraft failed to achieve the deserved success. It should be noted that the U-2 (Po-2) and the R-5 biplanes, which were created during that period, became one of the best Polikarpov aircraft, and brought him recognition as a designer. In the 1930s, Nikolai Polikarpov’s activity reached its pinnacle. It was during that period that he created his advanced monoplanes such as the I-16, the I-17, the VIT-2, and others. He continued his fruitful and quite successful activity in the area of creating modern aircraft during the war of 1941—45 as well.

Volume 2 comprehensively covers Polikarpov’s monoplane designs.

Jerry Murland, The Schneider Trophy Air Races: The Development of Flight from 1909 to the Spitfire (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2021)

When Jacques Schneider devised and inaugurated the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime race for seaplanes in 1913, no-one could have predicted the profound effect the Series would have on aircraft design and aeronautical development, not to mention world history.

Howard Pixton’s 1914 victory in a Sopwith Tabloid biplane surprisingly surpassed the performance of monoplanes and other manufacturers turned back to biplanes. During The Great War aerial combat was almost entirely conducted by biplanes, with their low landing speeds, rapid climb rates and manoeuvrability.

Post-war the Races resumed in 1920. The American Curtiss racing aircraft set the pattern for the 1920s, making way for Harold Mitchell’s Supermarines in the 1930’s. Having won the 1927 race at Venice Mitchell developed his ground-breaking aircraft into the iconic Spitfire powered by the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. This new generation of British fighter aircraft were to play a decisive role in defeating the Luftwaffe and thwarting the Nazis’ invasion plans.

This is a fascinating account of the air race series that had a huge influence on the development of flight.

Ryan Noppen, Holland 1940: The Luftwaffe’s First Setback in the West (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2021)

The German invasion of the Netherlands was meant to be a lightning-fast surgical strike, aimed at shoring up the right flank of the assault on France and Belgium. With a bold plan based largely on Luftwaffe air power, air-landing troops, and the biggest airborne assault yet seen, a Dutch surrender was expected within 24 hours.

But the Netherlands possessed Europe’s first fully integrated anti-aircraft network, as well as modern and competitive aircraft. On 10 May, the German attack was only partly successful, and the Dutch fought on for another four days. On the fifth day, with its original strategy having largely failed, the Luftwaffe resorted to terror-bombing Rotterdam to force a surrender.

Explaining the technical capabilities and campaign plans of the two sides, and charting how the battles were fought, this fascinating book reassesses this little-known part of World War II. Author Ryan K. Noppen argues that while the Holland campaign was a tactical victory for Germany, the ability of the well-prepared but outnumbered Dutch to inflict heavy losses was a warning of what would come in the Battle of Britain.

Russell Peart, From Lightnings to MiGs: A Cold War Pilot’s Operations, Test Flying & And Airspeed Record (Barnsley: Air World, 2021)

It was supposed to be just a training flight. The two Soviet-manufactured MiG 21s, each with two practice bombs and four air-to-ground rockets, were lined up on the runway in Bangladesh at the height of the Cold War, when air traffic control suddenly reported an incursion by Indian Air Force Jaguars. Though ill-equipped for combat, the two MiGs were scrambled.

One of the MiGs’ pilots was an RAF officer – Squadron Leader Russell Peart. On a seven-month loan to the Bangladeshi Air Force, Peart suddenly found himself at the centre of the simmering hostility between two neighbouring nations. By the time they reached the area that had been threatened by the Indian pilots, the Jaguars had gone. Later, when Squadron Leader Russell Peart spoke of the incident to the British High Commissioner, he was told not to shoot down any Jaguars as the Indians had still not paid for them!

Russell Peart flew many other aircraft in his varied career, including the MiG 19, and while a test pilot at Boscombe Down trialled such designs as the Tornado GR1. But it was whilst he was seconded to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, particularly during the so-called ‘Secret War’ in Dhofar, that he saw the most action. In that theatre the author flew some 200 operational sorties, 180 of which involved live fire, during which he was hit many times. He was also hit and wounded by a 75mm shell.

Russ Peart has written in detail of his exciting RAF career, from flying Lightnings in the Far East to winning the top prize in the International Tactical Bombing Competition against a handpicked team of United States Air Force fighter pilots and being awarded the Sultan Of Oman’s Distinguished Service Medal. Supplemented by a selection of previously unseen photographs, this uniquely original memoir throws new light on the operational flying undertaken by some RAF pilots during the tense years of the Cold War.

Kevin Wright, We Were Never There, Volume 1: CIA U-2 Operations over Europe, USSR, and the Middle East, 1956-1960 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2021)

Devised by Kelly Johnson and initially operated by the CIA, the U-2 is the world’s most famous ‘spyplane.’ It flew at unprecedented altitudes and carried the most sophisticated sensors available, all in the greatest secrecy. Operating from remote locations and without markings, they often took-off before first light. Ostensibly operated by civilians flying meteorological research missions, their bold overflights took them far across Eastern Europe, the USSR, Middle and Far East. However, many details of the aircraft’s operational history remain vague and a considerable amount is still classified. Continuing national political sensitivities have meant that much about these early operations has still not been fully revealed even more than 60 years later.

This book utilises a large number of recently declassified documents to explore the remaining hidden details. It provides in-depth examinations of some missions not previously fully described and include more about Norway’s role in U-2 operations, and a breakdown of British U-2 overflights of the Middle East using recently released files from the British Ministry of Defence. It examines some of the U-2’s extensive efforts to collect intelligence on Soviet ballistic missile test launches and space programme, on ‘Fast Move’ staging operations and lots more from these missions up to May 1960.

Chapters explore some of the ground-breaking technology employed by the U-2 to photograph and eavesdrop on Soviet nuclear, military and industrial activities. These include revealing secrets of the Fili heavy bomber production plant, just five miles from the Kremlin. Overflights of the ‘Arzamas-16′ closed nuclear city, Vozrozhdeniya biological warfare centre in the Aral Sea and the mystery that was Mozhaysk. Over 90 photographs, maps and illustrations provide details of the aircraft, the cameras and electronic defensive and eavesdropping systems. The specialised nuclear fallout sampling role is explored and the ‘weather packs’ installed to substantiate the wafer-thin false cover story of the U-2’s role as a ‘meteorological research’ aircraft. Maps, most never been seen before, record the detailed routes flown by U-2 pilots deep into denied airspace to reveal the secrets of Soviet military, nuclear, scientific and industrial sites.

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