Fighting with the Soviets: The Failure of Operation Frantic, 1944-1945

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Fighting with the Soviets: The Failure of Operation Frantic, 1944-1945 by Mark J. Conversing. University Press of Kansas, 2501 West Fifteenth Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66049-3904, 1997, 284 pages, $35.00.

I remember the popular refrain repeated frequently during the cold war: "The Soviets are just like us." Mark Conversino disagrees in his rich historical study, Fighting with the Soviets. Recalling a particularly interesting but relatively obscure experiment in Soviet-American cooperation, Fighting with the Soviets describes the story of US aircraft, pilots, and support personnel operating shuttlebombing missions from Ukrainian air bases during World War II. Operation Frantic attempted to accomplish military objectives, particularly bombing the Nazis, and political objectives, including opening the way for American air to fly from Siberian air bases in support of the war in the Pacific. Conversino describes mixed results for the operation. However, first-person accounts of Soviet life, values, and the omnipresent bureaucracy sustain his argument that "we were not like `them' in terms of values and social mores."

Mark Conversino is an active duty USAF lieutenant colonel, squadron commander, and former military history professor at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies. Fighting with the Soviets emerged from Conversino's doctoral studies. How ever, the book reads more like an informal narrative than a dry academic treatise. It is extremely well documented, with an extensive bibliography. I found the interviews particularly interesting, while other primary sources are accessible for further study from the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and the Military Records Division at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The concept of Operation Frantic was as intriguing as the interaction of US soldiers with their Soviet counterparts was disturbing. Gen Henry H. "Hap" Arnold wanted to open another front against the Germans-in the air-after suffering massive losses in unescorted bombing during the Combined Bomber Offensive. This front was to begin with strategic bombing missions flown from the Ukraine while encouraging Soviet support for American Far Eastern operations against the Japanese and improving cooperation and communications between the United States and the Soviet Union. …