Anthony Tucker-Jones

The Eastern Front Air War 1941–1945

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    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    Throughout the summer of 1944, the Red Air Force harried the Wehrmacht all the way back to the very gates of Warsaw. When the Red Army launched its attack from Warsaw towards Berlin it was supported by ten air armies with 15,815 aircraft; the Luftwaffe could only oppose them with 2,000 aircraft.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    The Ju 88 bomber was used to try to stop the Red Army’s advance through Byelorussia, Ukraine, Poland and then Germany itself. Such tactical ground support operations inevitably came at a cost thanks to the response of Soviet fighters.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    The Bf 109 was one of the most produced fighter aircraft in history, with a total of 33,984 airframes being built from 1936 to April 1945. It was flown by three of the top scoring fighter aces, who claimed 928 victories. It was also widely flown by Germany’s wartime allies, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Italy, Hungary and Romania
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    Although more than 20,000 Fw 190s were built there were never enough available on the Eastern Front.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    By 1944, the Luftwaffe increasingly relied on young and inexperienced recruits to fill it ranks.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    A La-5FN getting ready for combat. Whilst Soviet pilots appreciated it as a good fighter it had its defects, not least exhaust fumes entering the cockpit. This meant that crews often flew with the canopy open. Aside from the Yak the La-5 losses were the highest of all Soviet fighters, totalling 2,591 during 1942–45.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    An American airman poses with Red Air Force personnel in front of a Petlyakov Pe-2 tactical bomber, which was capable of carrying 1,600kg (3,527lb) of bombs. It was fitted with slatted dive brakes in its wings, which slowed it to a safe speed during dive-bombing attacks. German troops learned to fear this aircraft.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    Soviet long-range bombers flew 215,000 sorties, or 4 per cent of the Red Air Force’s combat flights, against targets in the enemy’s rear. This was not because the Soviets had little faith in bombers: on the contrary; they saw them as a weapon of great tactical value. Unlike the Western Bomber Barons, Soviet commanders were not obsessed with bombing strategic targets and bringing Nazi Germany to its knees by air power alone. Instead, they struck troop concentrations, defensive positions and ammunition depots, all of which were designed to weaken the German Army in the field.

    The Red Air Force and Air Defence units flew in excess of 3 million sorties during the Second World War. Luftwaffe losses on the Eastern Front totalled 77,000 aircraft, which was 250 per cent higher than losses in all other theatres. Although the Red Air Force did not have a strategic bomber force, its medium bombers still managed to drop more than 666,000 tons of bombs. In comparison, RAF Bomber Command managed to drop 675,674 tons of bombs on Germany. Whilst the Western Allies may have starved the Luftwaffe of oil and aviation fuel it was fought and defeated by the Red Air Force in the Eastern Front air war of 1941–45.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    Following the success of Operation Bagration, when the Red Army launched its attack from Warsaw towards Berlin ten air armies supported it with 15,815 aircraft. These included the latest Yak-9 and La-7 fighters and the ground-attack Shturmovik. To deceive the already hard-pressed Luftwaffe the Soviets deployed 8,818 dummy aircraft on fifty-five dummy airfields. Under General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff the Luftwaffe had 2,000 aircraft with which to shore up the disintegrating Eastern Front.

    Air Chief Marshal Novikov with his subordinate air commanders massed 6,700 aircraft with the 4th, 16th and 2nd Air armies and about 800 of Golovanov’s 18th Army’s bombers. The real punch was provided by Sergei Rudenko’s 16th Air Army, which comprised two bomber corps and four bomber divisions, two Shturmovik corps and two Shturmovik divisions, and four fighter corps and five fighter divisions, operating from 165 airfields. These were instrumental in clearing German defences, particularly on the Seelow Heights, east of Berlin. In support of the massive assault on the Nazi capital the Red Air Force flew 92,000 sorties, half of which were conducted at night.

    During the final battle for Berlin, the Soviets found the Luftwaffe resisting to the last and fought 1,317 air engagements, losing 527 aircraft in the process. Novikov’s reward for his role in coordinating Stalin’s air armies during the battle for Berlin was to be arrested in 1946 and imprisoned for six years. He was not released until after Stalin’s death, rejoining his beloved air force and commanding Soviet Long-Range Aviation during the Cold War.

    There is an impression in the West that the Red Air Force did not pull its weight, and that whilst the Red Army defeated the German Army on the ground, it fell to the RAF and USAAF to defeat the Luftwaffe. This misconception is far from true. The reality is that the Red Air Force evolved and grew into a war-winning instrument of destruction. It learned how to build, repair and safeguard its aircraft. For example, in 1941 the Soviet Air Force lost one aircraft for every thirty-two sorties, and by the end of the war it was one in every 165.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    While Red Air Force numbers remained largely static at about 8,300 aircraft over the last half of 1943, from January 1944 it expanded rapidly so that by midyear the Soviets could field just under 13,500 planes. By January 1945, this had expanded to well over 15,500. In April 1945, as the war was coming to a close, the Luftwaffe assessed the Red Air Force deployed strength as 17,000 aircraft, of which 8,000 were fighters, 4,000 Shturmoviks and 5,000 bombers. However, the overall total for the Soviet Union was 39,700.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    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.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    At the end of May 1944, the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front consisted of General der Flieger Kurt Pflugbeil’s 1st Air Fleet, Generaloberst Otto Dessloch’s 4th Air Fleet and Field Marshal General Robert Ritter von Greim’s 6th Air Fleet, which between them had a total of 2,199 aircraft, although only 1,624 were listed as available for combat. The Luftwaffe’s senior authority was the 25th Regional Command, based in Minsk.

    In the summer of 1944, specially trained Luftwaffe units, principally the 9th Squadron of Bomber Air Wing 3 equipped with Ju 88s and the 14th Squadron of Air Wings 27 and 55 equipped with He 111s assigned to 4th Air Corps, resumed attacking Russian railways, particularly the depots. This was in an effort to disrupt Soviet troop and supply movements. They continued these raids until the end of 1944, when fuel shortages forced their deactivation. This tactic was largely a reflection of the lack of a strategic bomber force that could have ranged further into the Soviet rear.

    The Red Air Force’s major effort in the summer of 1944 was Byelorussia; Operation Bagration would witness the largest tactical concentration of Soviet air power to date. The Red Air Force had 5,327 combat aircraft and another 1,007 bombers under strategic command; this comprised twenty-one fighter divisions, with 2,318 fighters, fourteen strike divisions, with 1,744 Il-2 Shturmoviks, and eight bomber divisions, with 655 medium bombers.

    The 3rd, 2nd and 1st Byelorussian fronts were supported by General Khryukin’s 1st Air Army, Vershinin’s 4th and Rudenko’s 16th. Khryukin had only just taken up his post having previously commanded the 8th Air Army during the liberation of Sevastopol and the Crimea. The latter was disbanded and its resources split between General Slyusarev in the Rava-Russkaya sector and General Krasovski in the Lvov sector. These three air armies plus elements of Papivin’s 3rd Air Army on the 1st Ukrainian Front, to the north, and elements of Polynin’s 6th Air Army, to the south, were able to field almost 6,000 aircraft. One third consisted of Shturmoviks – some 1,100 day and night bombers and 1,900 fighters.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    Chapter Ten

    Red Storm Rising

    By September 1943, the Eastern Front was no longer a priority for Göring’s battered Luftwaffe, which was busy fending off the RAF and USAAF. German front-line strength in the East had fallen to 1,800 aircraft in early 1944 compared to 2,600 deployed in the West. Hitler’s factories in 1939 produced 8,295 aircraft. Remarkably, under munitions minister Albert Speer this grew to 39,807 in 1944 but pilot attrition remained a problem.

    By 1944, the turning point in the fortunes of the Red Air Force had been reached after much toil and loss of life and machines. The battles for Moscow, Stalingrad, the Kuban and Kursk witnessed its transformation from a shambles into an experienced, well organized and well run force that could match the Luftwaffe. It was now ready to assist the Red Army to push the Wehrmacht out of Mother Russia.

    Bearing in mind that Hitler was now fighting in France, Italy, the Soviet Union and over Germany, the inadequate strength of the Luftwaffe fighter force was such that by mid-1944, it was incapable of covering the entire Eastern Front effectively. Growing Allied air superiority in the West and East meant that the best the Luftwaffe could achieve was temporary air superiority over combat zones. By 1944, this was no longer possible over France or Italy.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    A Luftwaffe soldier keeps watch. In June 1944, the 4th and 6th Field Divisions found themselves defending Vitebsk right in the path of Stalin’s summer offensive. The fate of Göring’s field army was sealed.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    This was the fate of many of the personnel drafted into the lightly equipped Luftwaffe field divisions during 1943. In the second shot the men have fled their blockhouse after being shelled or bombed. Casualties amongst the 2nd Luftwaffe Field Division were such that the survivors had to be merged with the 3rd and 4th divisions.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    In the winter of 1941–42, General Eugen Meindl formed an ad hoc Luftwaffe field division to protect the headquarters of the 51st Fighter Group at Yukhnov. It proved highly successful and encouraged Göring to authorize more such formations.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    The Luftwaffe moved into Russia with its own security units. In early 1942 it formed seven field regiments to help counter Soviet partisan activity; these were expanded into the Meindl Division and then a total of twenty-two Luftwaffe field divisions.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    In the light of decreasing Luftwaffe fighter cover the German Army became increasingly reliant on anti-aircraft artillery to protect it from the Red Air Force.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    Luftwaffe 88mm flak guns on the Eastern Front, which were used in both anti-aircraft and anti-tank roles. By 1944, the Luftwaffe had two whole flak corps on the Eastern Front, tying up yet more manpower.
    Uroš S.has quoted6 months ago
    By the summer of 1942, Hermann Göring’s Luftwaffe had about 170,000 surplus personnel, which the German Army were desperate to secure as replacement infantry. Young men such as these were destined to serve in dedicated Luftwaffe field divisions instead.
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