Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front: American Airmen Behind Soviet Lines and the Collapse of the Grand Alliance

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 4:00pm to 5:45pm
Bastards of the Eastern Front book cover

CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Room S020 (Belfer Case Study Room)

At the Moscow Conference of October 1943, American officials proposed to their Soviet allies a new operation in the effort to defeat Nazi Germany. The Normandy Invasion was already in the works; what American officials had been suggesting until then was a second air front: the U.S. Air Force would establish bases in Soviet-controlled territory in order to "shuttle bomb" the Germans from the Eastern Front. With the Soviet Union bearing the heaviest burden of casualties, Stalin had been pushing for the United States and Great Britain to do more to help the war effort. Still, the Soviet leader, recalling the presence of foreign troops during the Russian Revolution, balked at the suggestion of foreign soldiers on Soviet soil. He feared they would spy on his regime, and getting rid of them afterwards would be difficult. By early 1944, Stalin was persuaded to give in, and Operations Baseball and then Frantic were initiated. B-17 Flying Fortresses took off from bases in Italy to the Poltava region in Ukraine.

As Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front shows, what happened on these airbases mirrors the nature of the Grand Alliance itself. While both sides were fighting for the same goal, Germany's unconditional surrender, differences arose that no common purpose could overcome. Soviet secret policemen watched over the operations, shadowing every move, and eventually trying to prevent fraternization between American servicemen and local women. A catastrophic air raid by the Germans revealed the limitations of Soviet air defenses. Relations soured and the operations went south. Indeed, the story of the American bases foreshadowed the eventual collapse of the Grand Alliance and the start of the Cold War. Using previously inaccessible archives, Forgotten Bastards offers a bottom-up history of the Grand Alliance, showing how it first began to fray on the airfields of World War II.

Please join the Davis Center for a talk with author Serhii Plokhii in conversation with historian Nina Tumarkin and with Thomas Holzman, whose father, Franklyn Holzman, figures in the book. Franklyn Holzman served on the Eastern Front in World War II, completed graduate work in Soviet economics at Harvard University, and was associated with the Russian Research Center (Davis Center) while a professor of economics at Tufts University. 

Reception to follow.

Praise for the book:

"Serhii Plokhy's fascinating account of American airmen operating in the Soviet Union toward the end of WWII is not only superb history. It is an important and timely reminder, seventy-five years later, that victory in WWII involved allying with Stalinism and all its attendant evils."

—Alex Kershaw, author of The First Wave

"A riveting read that brings together a unique story about American airmen on Soviet territory and US-Soviet wartime politics on the highest level. Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill and key events in World War II diplomacy are seamlessly woven into a compelling tale of the dramatic feats and fates of US servicemen in contact and conflict with their Soviet male and female 'comrades in arms.' At once utterly absorbing, enlightening and moving, this splendid book also unearths absolutely original evidence about the values wars that launched the Cold War even as the hot one was raging."

—Nina Tumarkin, Professor of History and Director of Russian Area Studies, Wellesley College and author of The Living and the Dead: The Rise and Fall of the Cult of WWII in Russia

"A new and enlightening perspective on the collaboration between Soviet and American airmen in Ukraine during their mutual fight against the Nazis, taking the reader onto the airbases to show how cultural differences and the oppressive political oversight of the Russians ate away at the effort from early on. Using detailed accounts not previously available, Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front shows how the interpersonal relationships of Americans and Soviets at ground level were as important as any maneuvering by their country's leaders. An insightful account of a little-known story."

—Gregory Freeman, author of The Forgotten 500

This event will be streamed live on Facebook. 


Serhii Plokhii, Mykhailo S. Hrushevs'kyi Professor of Ukrainian History and Director, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University; Faculty Associate, Davis Center

Thomas Holzman, Attorney at Law

Nina Tumarkin, Kathryn Wasserman Davis Professor of Slavic Studies; Professor of History, Wellesley College; Center Associate, Davis Center

Moderator: Terry Martin, George F. Baker III Professor of Russian Studies, Harvard University; Faculty Associate, Davis Center

Sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

For more information, please call 617-495-4037.


The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact us at 617-495-4037 or in advance of your participation or visit.

Requests for Sign Language interpreters and/or CART providers should be made at least two weeks in advance if possible. Please note that the Davis Center will make every effort to secure services but that services are subject to availability.