“The Last War of the Superfortresses” – Review by Mark Barnes

 
 

The Korean War seems to be getting a lot more attention at the moment. Perhaps it is because the WW2 book market is as saturated as ever and the search for ‘new’ stories is beginning to turn up some genuinely interesting stuff. The book in front of us is a case in point. I have to be honest here and admit I did not know Soviet fighter pilots flew against the United Nations during the conflict. I assumed Chinese pilots were flying the MiGs. You learn something every day.

This book by Leonid Krylov and Yuriy Tepsurkaev tells the story of the Russian pilots who flew MiG 15s against USAF Boeing B29s. The book looks at the conflict from the Russian viewpoint, telling us about the operations, tactics, and pilots who sought to keep the Superforts at bay.  The book is enhanced by a wealth of archive photography including portraits of pilots and images of them at rest. We see a number of the MiGs and a good amount of gun camera footage depicting attacks on the American bombers. This is backed up by extensive use of images from the US National Archive, many of which appear with their contemporary captions.

This story of the Soviet mission includes an almost blow-by-blow account of the MiGs actions against American bombers. I am happy to tell you that there is no propaganda here.  Pilots’ claims are all verified with American records, and while we see exaggerated claims, they mimic countless other conflicts before and since the end of the Korean War. The relatively long distances Russian pilots opened fire from when attacking the American bombers is really quite surprising, but it didn’t stop them causing all manner of damage and chaos. I suppose I am used to the stories of Great War and WW2 pilots who seem to have gone in much closer to get their kills.

Because this book is entirely from a Russian perspective, it offers a refreshing look at air combat over Korea. It is a shame it could not be balanced with some American input, but it works really well as it stands. The choice of photography is excellent, and the attention to detail by translator Kevin Bridge helps make the book easy to read. I like the fact that the spirit of the book has not been diluted by the translation.  Mr. Tepsurkaev’s color illustrations of aircraft are superb.

Opening history up to include voices from unusual quarters like we have here is a really rewarding factor for military history buffs like us. I like this book because of its unabashed pride in what the Soviet pilots achieved, and why not? They were good at what they did, and some were experienced combat flyers who had scored victories during WW2. Many of these men were bona fide aces worthy of our respect.

Quite what it was like to face them thousands of feet over Korea is something you might not learn from this book, but the thrill of the chase as seen from the cockpit of a MiG 15 makes for a quite enthralling read. If you are interested in the conflict in Korea or just fancy something different, this book will not disappoint. It is an education, and it comes with all the style we have come to expect from this publisher. Recommended.

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.

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THE LAST WAR OF THE SUPERFORTRESSES
MiG-15 Vs B-29 Over Korea
By Leonid Krylov & Yuriy Tepsurkaev
Helion
ISBN; 978 1 910777 85 5