Il-2 Shturmovik Guards Units of World War 2

Combat Aircraft #71
By Oleg Rastrenin
Osprey Publishing, ©2008
ISBN 978-1-84603-296-7
Softbound, 96 Pages

Reviewed by Chris Banyai-Riepl

Few Osprey titles have been as anticipated as this one, at least among Soviet aviation enthusiasts. While other aircraft, generally fighters, receive plenty of attention, the Ilyushin Il-2 is often set aside. Known as a dedicated attack aircraft, the West tends to discount it as such, surmising that, like Western attack aircraft, it had a role, but was not as important as the fighters or strategic bombers. The reality, though, is that the Il-2 was the plane that won the war against Germany. The shturmovik was an icon of Soviet resistance to the German invasion, providing a significant morale boost to those who saw them on the battlefield. Operationally, the Il-2 formed a major part in the destruction of Germany’s Panzer divisions. Indeed, while a tiny handful of Panzer divisions met the Allied invasion at Normandy, nearly two dozen were engaged in the losing battle on the Eastern Front.

With a great number of Il-2 units reaching the front, it was not long before some of them were elevated to Guards status. The Guards units in the VVS were the best of the best, the units that proved themselves repeatedly in combat. Assignment to one of those units meant that you were among the elite of the Soviet fliers, and were appropriately rewarded. In addition to the prestige bestowed by flying in a Guards unit, the salary was also greater, with the crews receiving twice the pay as regular crews. The price for this, though, was harder work, as the Guards units were often sent into the most difficult situations.

The newest Osprey title does an outstanding job of detailing the operational record of these shturmovik units, from the beginning in 1941 through to the end of the war. The text is nicely written and richly detailed, with the author drawing upon many archival sources to provide as thorough a picture as possible. Complementing the text are numerous black and white photos, many of which have not been seen before. These show the crews and their aircraft, many of which had some slogan or saying painted on the side. The color profile illustrations bring these aircraft to life, providing color information and more detailed views of the specialized markings worn by many of the Guards Il-2s.

This title is one of the best Osprey Combat Aircraft series I have seen in a while. The level of research is thorough, yet the text is easy to follow. The story of the Il-2 is a fascinating one, and one that needs wider exposure. This title goes a long way to giving this famous plane its due. My thanks to Osprey Publishing for the review copy.

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