Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 6 (2016), 2 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropastudien in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: John W. Steinberg


Gregory Vitarbo: Army of the Sky. Russian Military Aviation before the Great War, 1904–1914. Bern [usw.]: Lang, 2012. X, 256 S. = Studies in Modern European History, 68. ISBN: 978-1-4331-1490-8.

In this book the author sets out to determine if the emergence of Russian military aviation in the pre-World War I period represented an example of the Tsarist regime’s efforts to highlight its modernizing and technological capabilities or if the emergence of air power in Imperial Russia proved to be another Potemkin village. In addition to seeking to answer this broad question, Vitarbo also examines the struggle that occurred over the financing, administrating, and professionalizing a new service branch within the autocracy’s military establishment. Along with these themes, Vitarbo specifically addresses the role of personality and especially the influence of the Romanovs in the development of aviation in late Imperial Russia. The core of the research in this book is based on the author’s extensive use of Russian archives and the all-important journals of the period along with all of the pertinent published primary and secondary sources.

Army of the Sky fills an important gap in the historiography of late Imperial Russia’s military history. Vitarbo, for example, goes into great depth and detail to exhibit how the defense establishment sought to pay for and administer military aviation. In the course of this investigation he exhibits the anti-capitalist bias that permeated the administration of Imperial Russia and thereby hindered the development of any weapon system dependent on a new technological base. The end result of such obstructive bureaucratic conduct was that much of the Imperial Air Service in the period leading up to the outbreak of World War I was dependent on foreign technology. Although France, the leading aviation power of the pre-World War I period, was a staunch Russian ally, they did not sell the Russians state of the art equipment. Even more vexing was learning how the Imperial General Staff blocked the drive to create an autonomous air staff that would oversee every aspect of aviation from its strategic application and tactical deployment, to the education and training of all cadre, to the finance, development, and construction of airplanes. Vitarbo deftly uses this part of his book to firmly link his study to the broader historiography of the late Imperial period by demonstrating the dysfunction inherent in a national bureaucracy whereby its foremost professionals, the officers of the General Staff, actually hindered the professionalization of aviation assets out of a fear that supporters of Air Power might gain an upper-hand in measures concerning the appropriation of resources of any and all types.

Another important aspect of this book is Vitarbo’s presentation of the struggle that occurred for resources between aviation professionals and air-minded subjects of the Tsar. Imperial Russia had aviation pioneers and heroes, such as Mikhail Efimov and Petr Nesterov who set flight endurance records and impressed the public with their in-flight acrobatic. This attracted the air-minded segment of the Russian public and ultimately gained the support of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich who strove to support the emergence of aviation in both the public and professional military sectors. In addition, Vitarbo provides his readers with a detailed account of the multiple public ceremonies and spectacles that served to draw further attention to the airplane in the late Imperial period. Together, all of these factors, according to Vitarbo, resulted in the commanding heights of the Imperial Army, beginning with War Minister Sukhomlinov, acknowledging and understanding that while the airplane offered multiple uses to society, its role as a weapon system could not be ignored.

As Vitarbo concludes his book he finds himself in the same place as most other historians of the late Imperial period. In providing his readers with a comprehensive study of the emergence of military aviation in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century Vitarbo presents the conclusion that air power never progressed beyond its nascent stages because the backwardness of the regime in everything ranging from attitudes about new technology to the industrial weakness, poor infrastructure, and financial poverty of the Empire. Add to the economic challenges of the period how there was a continuous struggle between elite interest groups within the Tsarist military establishment to gain favor and power that inherently worked against emerging technical capabilities and the professionals who support them. Thus, Vitarbo concludes that while the thinking was in place for Russia to emerge as a leading air power, the character of the Tsarist regime limited the impact of air power on late Imperial Russia. Vitarbo should be warmly congratulated for writing a fine study about the birth of air power in the complex civil-military world of late Imperial Russia.

John W. Steinberg, Clarksville

Zitierweise: John W. Steinberg über: Gregory Vitarbo: Army of the Sky. Russian Military Aviation before the Great War, 1904–1914. Bern [usw.]: Lang, 2012. X, 256 S. = Studies in Modern European History, 68. ISBN: 978-1-4331-1490-8, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Steinberg_Vitarbo_Army_of_the_Sky.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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