Reviews on Kursk: The Air Battle

"One of the largest Air battles of WW2!"

Review by Sussman at on 17 May 2013:

(Five Stars out of Five)

For a very good review that gives, what I believe is, a good 360 degree analysis of this title please look to Mr Howard Mitchell's review. For my part I shall endeavour convey my thoughts on this book.

I really liked this book as it is full of detail and that explores the weakness and strengths of the opposing air forces, with a critical eye. The examination of the paradigm shift in their respective fortunes as the battle progress is both illuminating and lesson that should be learned from History. We are given great anecdotal information about various units, their commanders and individuals who fought won and lost in an air war that until recent times was not written about extensively. An air war that was probably the largest campaign of the Second World War. The book deals volume of equipment used, the strategic need for re-supply, repair and the need for good intelligence so as impact one's opponent in the most effective way possible. You are supplied with great photograph evidence, always a plus point for me. At times, you may tire with the length and breadth of the statistical information that is contained within the pages, as you wish to move on with the narrative. This book that cannot be read once, you will need to visit this volume at least a second time to really appreciate it.

This edition is well worthy of a full five star rating.


"The only book in print in English that focuses on the air portion of this titanic struggle"

Review by WryGuy2 at on 4 April 2011:

(Five Stars out of Five)

"Kursk: The Air Battle, July 1943" by Christer Bergstrom, is a book dealing with air portion of the German summer offensive in the Soviet Union in July 1943, Operation Citadel, and the Soviet counteroffensive on the northern part of the battle zone (the Orel bulge) in the latter part of July 1943. 

There have been many, many books written about Operation Citadel, as it represented Germany's last strategic offensive on the Eastern Front, and it's where the Soviets showed that it would be they, not the Germans, who would dictate the pace of the remainder of the war. Although the area being fought over was only a small portion of the Eastern Front, the forces assembled by both sides consisted of a significant proportion, if not outright majority, of their available armor and aircraft. So far as I can tell, this is the only book in print in English that focuses on the air portion of this titanic struggle. 

The author discusses the situation in the air before the offensive kicks off, describing some of the air attacks both sides performed in the run-up to Citadel. He then shifts to a day by day description of the combat from both sides perspectives, and provides insights and analysis of the operations for both combatants. The book is chock-full of photographs from the battle's time frame, evenly divided between the Germans and Soviet point of view, and has many quotes from participants in the battle, both from published memoirs and from replies he obtained from surviving veterans. 

Mr Bergstrom shows the tremendous impact that the air portion of the battle had on the ground fighting ... air power played a key role in the battles, and the presence or absence of one side's air force often spelled success or failure in that day's fighting. He states that overall, each air force had a great defensive victory ... the Soviets in helping stop Citadel, and the Germans in keeping the Soviet counteroffensive from being another Stalingrad, and after reading his book, I'd have to agree. 

The author closes the book with listings of units, available aircraft, claimed victories/losses, and actual victories/losses, which are the result of extensive study of both side's records. While this shows that from a pure number perspective, the Germans shot down many more aircraft than they lost, Mr Bergstrom's narrative explains that numbers are deceiving and that Soviet performance improved greatly during the battle. 

I highly recommend this book. It provides good information and analysis on the air forces of both sides during a critical campaign on the Eastern Front, and provides a comprehensive view of the role of that the German and Soviet Air Forces played in outcome of the battles. 


"First-Rate History of Kursk Air Battles!"   

Review at Miniature Wargaming, 11 March 2009:

(Five Stars out of Five)

Christer Bergstrom supplies another piece of the Eastern Front air war puzzle with this impressive history of the air ops flown by the Luftwaffe and Russian Air Force during the July 1943 Kursk offensive. As with other Bergstrom books, KURSK, THE AIR BATTLE: JULY 1943 is exhaustively-researched, well-illustrated and densely-written.

Kursk, which witnessed the greatest tank battles in history, turned out to be Hitler's last (offensive) gasp on the Russian Front. Designed to tidy up the front lines, delays on Hitler's part enabled the Russians to construct defenses in depth that withstood the German pincer attack that began on 5 July.

As documented in Bergstrom's book, air power played a significant role in the Kursk fighting. Time and again Luftwaffe or VVS units smashed or seriously impeded their opponents' attacks/counter-attacks and rear area movements. Initially Luftwaffe fighters savaged VVS units time and again yet the Russians learned from their mistakes and, by the end of the Kursk campaign, were triumphant.

KURSK, THE AIR BATTLE: JULY 1943 displays the usual strengths and weaknesses of books by this author. The accuracy of the text can't be questioned; Bergstrom's research is impeccable as always. His bibliography lists dozens of German, Russian, U.K. and U.S.A. archives; hundreds of books in various languages; pilot logbooks; and so on. The book features over 140 b&w and color photos, some of which are previously unpublished, along with maps and artwork.

And, as always, Bergstrom crams a lot of information in his narrative. Though he includes a number of first-person reminiscences, Bergstrom's book can sometimes be dry. Likewise a spotty translation makes for uneven reading. Bergstrom describes how "Soviet fighters struck down on the few German fighters..." One tank brigade is described as "operating in a guerilla fashioned nature." In relating the shootdown of a VVS pilot, Bergstorm notes: "Ltr. Petr Vostrukhin...never got out of his descending Yak fighter." "With his Yak-1 set burning," another pilot bails out, badly injured; and so on.

If possible, I would have given Bergstrom's book 4 1/2 stars because of the readability factor.

Yet, until something better comes along, Bergstorm's book will stand as the authoritative book on Kursk air ops. Highly recommended.



Excerpt from the review by Bill Stone at Stone & Stone, 21 September 2008:

Readers familiar with Bergstrom's earlier Air Battle books and/or his Black Cross, Red Star series will know what to expect with Kursk. In some ways, this volume proves to be even stronger and shows the author reaching a new level of maturation. On top of that, as noted above, this appears to be the first book devoted exclusively to air operations during the Battle of Kursk, providing another reason why it should make a solid addition to any WWII bookshelf.

Read the whole review here.


"Superb WWII Aviation History"

Review by Michael Slater at on 13 September 2008:

(Five Stars out of Five)

This is a remarkable book as it contains extensive primary source materials to include interviews with participants---German and Soviet---and Luftwaffe and Red Air Force records. The author's analysis is first rate. The book covers not only the Kursk campaign, but also the subsequent Soviet offensive against the Orel bulge.


"Balanced perspective"

Review by Iva Buch at on 26 June 2008:

(Five Stars out of Five)

I have always had a great interest in the battle of Kursk which resulted in some of the most brutal and savage fighting of the Eastern front in July 1943.

Having bought a large number of books on the armoured and ground offensives, this took my eye as something completely different than what I was used to reading.

Having never read any of Christer Bergstom's books, his offering on Kursk The Air Battle 1943 was something I knew very little about.
However once I started reading I could not put it down and showed that the sacrifice on the ground was matched by the sacrifice in the air where Soviet pilots attempted to stop the German offensive.

The book gives a fascinating look into the onboard weapons employed by both sides in the conflict, the aircraft, the men and tactics used.
It is told from both a Russian and German perspective so gives a fair account of the fighting.

Kursk saw the first use of the Henschel 129 and Ju87 cannon equipped aircraft which in the hands of men such as Hans Ulrich Rudel, were devastating on Russian armoured columns. These types of aircraft could and did in fact influence the outcome in halting a Soviet offense.
On the flip side the Russians demonstrated the lessons they had learned from the Germans in the first years of the war. New fighter tactics and the mass use of the IL 2 Shturmovik with effective fighter escort turned the tables and eventually stopped the German momentumn.
The book is broken up into various sections and deals with the battle in the North and South as well as the German retreat from the Orel Bulge between the 16th - 31 July.It was during this period that the air war took another twist with night fighting, as each side tried to gain control of the darkness to harass the enemy.

The author has gone to great pains in his research and must be commended as he not doubt waded through various propaganda figures to come up with a balanced aircraft loss chart for both sides at the conclusion of his book.

There are wonderful photos of all the main aircraft types involved, some of the leading personalities/aces and even the odd colour photo.
There are a large number of appendix, orders of battle charts, and even a chart on individual Luftwaffe losses during the battle.

At a little over 140 pages the book is printed on glossy paper and is a very easy read.

I would have no hesitation in recommending this book and I await Christer Bergstom's next offering on the final days of the air battles on the Eastern Front


"A Clear Account of a Surprisingly Neglected Air Battle"

Review by Howard Mitchell at on 21 February 2008:

(Five Stars out of Five)

This is the third volume in a series covering the air war between Germany and the Soviet Union. While the first two books covered the entire theatre following the initial German invasion or the lengthy Stalingrad campaign and its preceding battles, this volume focuses on a battle which lasted less than a month and occupied fewer than 250 kilometres of front line. The German offensive to destroy the Kursk salient in 1943, and the following Soviet offensive to liberate Orel, led to perhaps the largest air battle in history. Both sides committed huge forces on the ground and in the air. Previous accounts have concentrated on the land battle, this is the first I know of to directly address the aerial struggle.

As with the previous volumes the focus is on the operational level but with plenty of tactical anecdotes and personal accounts to add human interest into a battle so vast that otherwise it could otherwise seem an abstract account of the movements of huge fleets of aircraft.

Bergstrom starts with an introductory chapter describing how previous campaigns had led to the Kursk salient being formed, and the German plan to cut off the Soviet forces in it in a pincer movement similar to those they had successfully achieved in earlier years. The next describes the preparations for the battle made by both sides. The Russians were well aware of German plans and strengthened their defences, including those in the air. The abortive German strategic bombing campaign is discussed as well as costly raids on Soviet transport centres, which directly influenced German strategy during the battle for Kursk itself.

The core of the book is eight chapters which describe in detail the air campaign once the German attack was launched. Many previous books have relied too much on either Soviet or German accounts and the great strength of Bergstrom's is the weaving together detailed records from both sides. The simultaneous battles over both the north and south sides of the Kursk salient are described on a day-by-day basis, as are the air battles over the adjacent Orel salient a week later. The Soviet's carefully planned opening moves failed for a variety of reasons and Bergstrom shown how the greater experience and better tactics of German fighter pilots once again led to heavy Russian losses. But here the story changes from previous battles, and within 24 hours the Soviets started to modify both their tactics and operational planning, resulting in much more effective use of their air power. Bergstrom is particularly good at showing how this rapid learning from experience affected the battle.

Some histories of air wars concentrate too much on fighter combat, simply because it is perceived as more glamorous, but Bergstrom gives due weight to the bombers employed by each side and their effect on the ground conflict. The air war on the Eastern front was closely tied to the support of ground forces and Bergstrom links his narrative of the air war to that of the ground combat it was supporting. Kursk also saw the first mass use of specialist ground attack weapons such as the cannon-armed Hs-129 and the Soviet PTAB anti-armour bomb and their use and effectiveness is documented. The losses among the declining number of very experienced German bomber pilots is also emphasised, as is the increased Soviet effectiveness in ground attack.

A final chapter summarises the battle and its outcome, which pulls together the themes running through the book. Bergstrom has researched many original records to discover the losses suffered by each side and these are presented here in (sometimes slightly mangled) tables. His main conclusion is that though Soviet aircraft losses were much heavier than German ones, Kursk marked a Soviet victory, a defining moment when Soviet air power achieved a new level of competence, and when the strategic initiative was irrevocably lost by the Germans.

Completing the volume are a lengthy glossary, detailed orders of battle, a breakdown of losses for the Luftwaffe on 5 July, a bibliography and other appendices which cover the organisation of each airforce and the military awards each side used. Physically the book continues the same high standards of the two previous volumes. Photographs are relevant, clear and well captioned and the sole map in this volume is sufficient as the battle focused on a small area.

In summary this is another excellent book, one which sets a new standard for the coverage of the air battle at Kursk and expertly dispels the confusion that previous accounts have sometimes caused. Recommended reading.


“The best Luftwaffe book I have ever read!”

Review by WW II historian and author Martin Månsson on 8 March 2008:

”The battle for Kursk or Operation Zitadelle as it was named is the worlds largest Panzer battle between two gigantic forces, the Nazi Germany vs. the Soviet Union. Much has been written about what happened on the ground, first now do we get a fully detailed picture of what happened in the air, over the heads of the Panzer crews.

“In his new book KURSK: The Air Battle - July 1943 Christer Bergström has provided us with the full story of the battle in the air. Despite not having read that many Luftwaffe books, this is absolutely the best I’ve ever read! The careful research Christer has conducted gives an excellent result, combined with his highly talanted way to express himself the text gives us a masterpiece. I’ve had the possibility to intervew a few veterans from the SS-Panzer-Regiment 1 LSSAH and SS-Panzer-Regiment 3 Totenkopf which has given me a better picture over the battle on the ground. What I knew prior to having read Christer’s book is that the Luftwaffe by mistake dropped bombs over a anti-tank ditch in which LSSAH soldiers were before the attack begun on July 12, 1943. Read more about that event and much much more in this fantastic book!"