Half this force was from the eleven air corps allocated to the GKO (Gosudarstvenny Komitet Oborony – State Committee for Defence) Air Reserve. Khryukin’s 1st Air Army, earmarked to play a major role, was augmented with three fighter, one Shturmovik and one bomber corps, giving it a combat strength of 1,881 aircraft comprising 840 fighters, 528 Shturmoviks, 459 bombers and fifty-four reconnaissance aircraft. Similarly, Krasovski’s 2nd Air Army on the 1st Ukrainian Front grew to three fighter, three Shturmovik, two bomber and one composite corps, numbering more than 3,000 aircraft ready for the breakthrough into Poland.
Zhukov took a key role in planning the air attacks on Army Group Centre, recalling:
I also proposed that all the long-range aviation be employed in the Byelorussian action, and its operation against targets on German territory be put off until a later time. The Supreme Commander agreed, and immediately ordered Air Marshal A.A. Novikov and Air Marshal A.E. Golovanov, who was in charge of the long-range aviation, to report to me. I had worked with both these capable commanders in all major previous operations, and they had given the ground troops valuable assistance.
Novikov, Golovanov, Rudenko, Vershinin and I thoroughly discussed the situation – the tasks and the operational plans of the various air armies and their cooperation with the long-range aviation, which was to strike at enemy headquarters, communication centres of operational formations, reserves and other key targets. We also discussed the manoeuvres of the air forces of the individual fronts in the common interest. Vasilevsky was given 350 heavy long-range aircraft to support the actions of the 3rd Byelorussian Front.
On the night of 22/23 June 1944, the Red Air Force conducted about 1,000 sorties bombing German positions. More than 1,000 long-range aircraft struck German airfields at Baranovichi, Belostok, Bobruisk, Brest, Luninets, Minsk and Orsha, as well as the railways. This was nothing compared to what was to come. Unfortunately, the resulting smoke and early morning fog greatly hampered the supporting air attacks by the Red Air Force. Only Chernyakovsky’s 3rd Byelorussian Front enjoyed clear weather, allowing Pe-2 bombers from the 1st Air Army to carry out 160 sorties. The ground-attack Shturmoviks had to wait until the artillery and rocket launchers had finished their work. Afterwards the Soviet infantry surged forward to seize tactical ground that would provide cover and could be exploited as a springboard for the impending breakthrough and the destruction of Hitler’s Army Group Centre.