Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea

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Red Wings over the Yalu: China, the Soviet Union, and the Air War in Korea by Xiaoming Zhang. Texas A&M University Press (, John H. Lindsey Building, Lewis Street, 4354 TAMU, College Station, Texas 77843-4354, 2002, 320 pages, $39.95 (hardcover).

English-language works dealing specifically with Soviet and Chinese participation in the Korean War remain relatively few in number. Dr. Xiaoming Zhang, a member of the faculty at Texas A&M International University, has filled a portion of that gap with a first-rate history of the important role played by the air forces of the two communist giants in that still-unresolved conflict. Zhang draws on a vast array of Chinese, Soviet, and American sources. Readers will find his description of Korean War air operations from the Soviet and Chinese perspective quite illuminating.

Yet, this book is not simply a history of air combat over Korea. It provides a welcome examination of the troubled birth and rapid growth of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and its doctrine. It also sheds light on early cooperation between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, as well as on the roots of the Sino-Soviet split. Indeed, many people might dispute Zhang's claim that the "most productive Soviet contribution to the air war in Korea" was the creation of the Chinese air force (p. 142). He demonstrates, however, that Soviet assistance was critical to the PLAAF in securing its own airspace against persistent Nationalist attacks, as well as building and maintaining its strength in the face of American airpower over Korea.

For the PLAAF, the Korean War was a watershed event. Zhang notes that Chinese military writers and historians chronicled the Korean War in heroic terms "so none of the accounts emerged in coherent, coordinated, well-documented form. …