The Mushy Middle

Writers on social media discuss issues like the ‘mushy middle’ of their novel and wonder if it is a real thing. Having encountered the ‘mushy middle’ in my own work, I decided to comment on it in this blog, perhaps more to organize my own thoughts, than to add any extensive knowledge of this subject to the current work on this topic.

The structure of the novel, of course, basically consists of the beginning, the middle, and the end. Story structure is as old as the story itself. Around the campfire, the story teller’s audience expects the story teller to introduce a protagonist: the hero, anti-hero, god, goddess, or searcher for the truth. This person is introduced immediately, as well as the goal of the protagonist.

The beginning also includes an antagonist the goal of whom is to thwart the protagonist for whatever reason. At any rate, the protagonist and the antagonist operate at cross purposes. The goals of both the protagonist and the antagonist are stated as the story develops.

The end of the story is reached when the protagonist achieves his/her goal, and either destroying or neutralizing the antagonist. This ending should satisfy the story teller’s listeners.

The middle of the story is another animal altogether. In the middle of the story are the attempts, usually multiple, to find solutions to the hurdles the antagonist throws in the way of the protagonist. The middle of the story is also the point where the story teller fills in any details about the protagonist and the antagonist that the audience needs to understand the struggle. These items usually include the backstories of the various characters and their relationships.

Frequently, the middle introduces a character or characters that assist the protagonist and antagonist toward their goals. The middle also includes the various complications arising from the progression of the action.

The middle of a novel presents difficulties that short stories do not have. The novel’s extended length presents the story teller with the possibility of a failure of imagination, boredom of the listeners, and a desire to hurry the story to its end. The more complicated the middle becomes, the more difficulties are presented to the story teller to wrap up the loose ends before the climax of the story is reached.

Robert J. Ray attempts to assist the storyteller with the middle of the novel in his book The Weekend Novelist. He suggests the writer choose several points in the middle of the novel to keep the audience interested.

The end of the beginning he calls Plot Point One. The beginning of the end is called Plot Point Three. Plot Point Two is found in the very middle of the entire story, and thus in the middle of the middle. Ray suggests that a Pinch Point be placed between Plot Point One and Plot Point Two to wake up the reader. He suggests ritual, things that happen on a regular basis. Something that happens in the beginning seems to repeat itself at that point.

Pinch Point Two happens between Plot Point Two and Plot Point Three, and once again uses ritual, replaying something that regularly happens, and perhaps echoes the tones of things that happened in the beginning and again previously in the middle.

Successful writers have used the techniques of the ancient storyteller to keep their audiences entertained through the millennia. They remain the refuge of the storyteller to the present day.

Source: The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray, Dell Publishing, New York, NY, 1994

Hans-Ulrich Rudel–Stuka Pilot

Hans-Ulrich Rudel’s name and the story of the Stuka (Junkers 87) belong together. The crank-winged dive bomber became legend during the attack on Poland in September 1939, and the blitzkrieg through France and the Low Countries in spring 1940. It fell out of the sky like a bird of prey, siren screaming, spraying machine gun fire, and dropping bombs on fleeing civilians on crowded country roads, leaving the dead, and wounded in its wake.

The Stuka lost some of its luster during the Battle of Britain in summer, 1940. The British Hurricanes and Spitfires found the Ju-87 an easy kill.

The Stuka again ruled the skies over Crete and during the invasion of the Soviet Union. German fighters cleared the skies of Soviet machines, most of which were left overs from the days of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Deemed an average pilot in training, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, volunteered to fly the Stuka in lieu of flying bombers. He spent his early years as a flight instructor before being assigned to 3 Gruppe, Stukageschwader 2, Immelmann. Rudel quickly gained a reputation for diving quite low and achieving remarkable accuracy. During the siege of Leningrad, on 16 September, 1941, the Luftwaffe, caught the Soviet battleship Marat at sea. Rudel hit it with a 500 kilogram bomb, damaging it and sending it back to Kronstadt harbor. There he hit it again, this time with a 1,000 kilogram bomb, breaking its back.

Rudel flew his 500th sortie in September, 1942, and his 1,000th on 10 February, 1943. By this time the Ju-87D replaced the Ju-87B model. Rudel helped to evaluate the Ju-87G model. This variant carried a 37 mm cannon under each wing which fired shells with tungsten cores. These shells made short work of the thin, rear armor plate of the Soviet tanks. During the Battle for the Kursk Salient in July 1943, Rudel destroyed twelve tanks on the first day. He often flew at an altitude of five to ten meters above ground level on his attack runs. (Please refer to previous blogs on Hitler’s Airborne Anti-Tank Guns Part 1, February 2017, and Part 2, March 2017.)

During the battle for Cherkassy and the Korsun pocket in August 1943 (please refer to my blog of October 2017) on the Dnieper River, Rudel continued his destruction of Soviet tanks . By March 1944 his unit operated at the Dniester Bridgehead farther north.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel was a proponent of ‘tank-busting.’ During his career he destroyed at least 519 tanks. Some sources credit him with many more. He flew 2,530 combat sorties, more than any other pilot flying on the Eastern Front. He rescued six air crews by landing in the midst of battles to pick them up. Shot down by anti-aircraft fire at least 30 times, he was never shot down by a fighter. In addition to the Marat, he sank two cruisers and one destroyer.

Near the end of the war he was wounded by a fragment from an exploding Stalin tank, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. His left leg was put in a cast.

When Germany surrendered, Rudel, directed to surrender to the Russian, instead surrendered to the Americans. After the war he moved to Paraguay where he lived for thirty years until returning to Germany where he died of a brain hemorrhage 21 December, 1982, at the age of 66.

Sources: Warplanes of the Third Reich, William Green, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1972

War Over the Steppes, The Air Campaigns of the Eastern Front 1941-1945, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, New York, NY, 2016

‘He was ‘worth an entire division.”‘ Ludwig Heinrich Dyck, WW II History, Sovereign Media Company, Inc., February, 2020

 

Women Fighter Pilots of the Soviet Union

During the Great Patriotic War (World War II) many women in the Soviet Union flew fighter aircraft in combat. These women were generally underappreciated by their peers (the men they flew with), and the Soviet public. Only a few names are known in the West. The 586th Women’s Fighter Regiment, along with the 587th Women’s Bomber Regiment, and the 588th Women’s Night Bomber Regimen, was formed by Marina Raskova by order of Josef Stalin in late 1941. These units consisted of all women, including the mechanics. The 586th Regiment assigned to Saratov in the summer of 1942.

The 586th Fighter Air Regiment contained other women pilots of note. Valentina Petrochenkova and a woman comrade chased a reconnaissance bomber quite beyond their area of operation until they ran out of ammunition. Valeria Khomyakova shot down a night bombing Ju-88 and inspected the wreckage on the banks of the Volga. Galia Boordina infiltrated a Ju-88 bomber formation at night and shot down one of the aircraft.

The most famous woman fighter pilot Lilya Litvak began her career in the 586th Fighter Air Regiment. Please refer to my previous blog, ‘Lilya Litvak.’ Katya Budenova gained nine victories and was a consummate fighter pilot. She kept her hair short and was always singing. She became Lilya’s wing mate in the 586th Fighter Air Regiment and followed her to the 73d Fighter Air Regiment, an all male unit. Eventually Lilya convinced the Regimental Commander Colonel Nikolai Baranov to let them fly, initially as wing mates on the colonel’s and Captain Alexei Salomaten’s wings.

Lilya, as the highest scoring woman ace in the Soviet Air Force, achieved a victory tally of 12 aerial kills plus three shared victories in 268 sorties over a period of less than a year of combat. She owes much of her fame to her mechanic, Ina Pasportnikova, who gave an interview to a Soviet newspaper reporter, and also to Bruce Myles, author of Night Witches, The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in World War II.

Bruce Myles’ accounts add a personal touch to the harrowing life of a fighter pilot living in primitive conditions under severe mental and physical stress. The Ukraine, Russia’s bread basket, captured by the Germans in 1941, reduced Soviet food supplies. The rations consisted of one meal per day of bread with watery soup. Shower trains arrived at airfields at rare and irregular intervals. These allowed all personnel to get a hot shower. Women first.

In intervals between the arrivals of the shower trains, Lilya used slivers of soap and hot water drained from the radiator of her Yak fighter, mixed with cold water, to wash her hair. Colonel Nikolai Baranov turned a blind eye to that disobedience stating the Soviet Air Force could afford the loss of a bit of hot water. Lilya typically brought flowers into her cockpit before going flying and frequently wore a flower in her hat.

Colonel Baranov also allowed her to paint a white rose on both sides of her aircraft, number three, which she called “Troika.” Each aerial victory was celebrated by adding another white rose as a victory marking. She became known as the ‘White Rose of Stalingrad,’ and achieved notoriety among German airmen.

Lilya was shot down twice in three weeks, once making an emergency landing, another time bailing out of her flaming machine, she emerged from that period emotionally shaken. Her boyfriend, Captain Alexei Salomaten, was shot down and killed, and Lilya carried a photograph of them sitting together on the wing of her aircraft. After his death her friends became worried about her. She withdrew into herself and threw herself into her combat flying. Only her friend, Katya Budenova, was able to comfort her. When Katya was shot down and killed, Lilya was devastated.

Surprised as she attacked a formation of Ju-88s bombers, Lilya was killed in single combat with eight Bf-109s.

Sources: “Red Air Force Female Fighter Pilot Lilya Litvak Became an Ace and Hero of the Soviet Union Fighting the Germans” Michael D. Hull, WW II History Magazine, January 2005, Sovereign Media, Herndon, VA

Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in World War II, Bruce Myles, Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, IL, Second Printing 1990

The Pantser Confronts His Mess

The potter mixes his clay, then throws it on the wheel. The painter paints the background first before engaging his subject, creating form, balance, and beauty. The composer hears a melody in the mind, then puts notes on the staff capturing that melody and, around that melody, builds the accompanying counter melodies, and the symphony, instrument by instrument.

Just so, the pantser writes scenes, develops characters, makes the characters interact, either together or individually as accomplices or antagonists. The rough draft is the glob of clay, the paint on the palette, the melody in its crudest form. So the pantser looks at the rough draft and asks, “What do I do with this mess?” The nice thing about this mess is at least there’s something to work with, not just a blank sheet of paper.

Yup. It’s a mess. Sketchy scenes, some characters which resemble shadows, secondary characters which are even less than shadows, form something like a story. The middle is a muddle, but is coming into some sort of shape. At this point I have read the entire manuscript, rearranging scenes. Hoping to gain clarity, I listed the scenes in some sort of order. This gives the manuscript a shape. I know how I want the story to end, though some of the characters have different ideas. Characters have minds of their own. I believe every writer has encountered this. Characters can refuse to cooperate, but the writer can terminate those characters at will. It gives the writer a mistaken sense of power.

Historical fiction requires the writer to follow the timeline of the actual events, which the characters like to ignore. The writer ignores history at his peril. So back to the sources you go. Exactly what date and time did this event occur? What was the weather? And sometimes the sources disagree, or remain vague. The ground battle and the air battle follow different timelines.

The timeline of the battle runs from August 1943 as the battle for the Kursk Salient is resolved, across the Ukrainian Steppes, punching through the Dnieper River line, to February 1944 and the battle for the Korsun Pocket.

The story has its own timeline.

My intention is to go through the last third of the story again before starting at the beginning. In the second rewrite I wish to smooth out the bumps, flesh out the characters, clean up the back-stories, eliminate some of the short scenes, and sharpen the plot. The hope is to keep the reader engaged and reduce the confusion.

My characters are roughly based on the experiences of real people. In previous blogs I have dropped some names: Lilya Litvyak, Ivan Kozhedub. In future blogs I will provide more detail about Erich Hartman, Hans Ulrich Rudel, and others.

Writing in the Time of COVID-19

It’s no joke. I hope everyone stays well in spite of the fact that we have lost more than 100k people in the United States and many more worldwide. Many of us have been sickened, and I know those numbers include writers.

Enter COVID-19 forcing me to self-isolate. Being introverted by nature, I have no problem social distancing. As a retired person, I spend most of my time at home in any event; reading and writing. The rough draft of my work in progress proceeded slowly, requiring much time doing research, thinking, planning and putting words on paper. Now I am beyond the rough draft. I am arranging the scenes, which requires a laptop. This is where the real creative work happens. Character development, adding action to dialogue, generating images to make the story come alive in the reader’s mind. 

My current struggle is getting my rough draft into some sort of order. I started with my opening scene–probably not surprisingly. The first page is in constant flux. Should I spend that page in setting the scene, introducing the main character, presenting the problem, or building the conflict? Mystery writers just need to have a body on the first page.

Moving beyond the first page I found the flow of the story moves in fits and starts, jerking from scene to scene like some Frankenstein’s monster learning to walk. For the reader the story must move freely, increasing the tension, challenging the main character to find solutions to problems, and then finding the solutions only complicate the problem. Most readers want relatable characters, conflict beyond World War II itself, a problem to solve, excitement along the way, and a believable and satisfying ending. Not too much to ask, is it?

Keeping the reader entertained and interested is the goal. I love a good dogfight, and the thrust of the battle to retake the Ukraine intrigues me. The Yakovlev fighter aircraft cries out for description. After all, it is one of the secondary characters, as is the Ukrainian Steppes. For some readers that may be enough, but, for those who are not World War II aviation aficionados, it just isn’t. 

And, when I feel I might be boring the reader, I procrastinate. I eat, nap, pet the cat, and watch the birds at my numerous bird feeders. I have hummingbirds, deer, and goslings in my back yard. Amazingly, I find my mind moves on resolving conflicts in the story line, and hearing the characters telling me more about themselves, even when I am apparently not listening.

Currently, I am re-writing the first third of the novel. The bones have arranged themselves. In some ways this part is easier and in other ways it’s more difficult. Fitting the pieces together to make a narrative challenges me. I must move some scenes forward in the manuscript and drop some later while maintaining the flow of the weather and the history of the battles in the correct sequences.

The main character’s love interest disappears in the smoke of battle and her heart breaks. But another two-thirds of the book looms ahead, so he must reappear. Right? And she is wrapped up in the battle herself, flying her fighter in the wild dogfights, and shooting down German aircraft.

For those of you working during this period, or, just as scary, not working during this period, and who can’t disappear into their writing, please know I salute your courage and willingness to carry on.

Plotting and Outlining for Pantsers

For those of us who write by the seat of our pants, outlining is not part of our skill set. I can only speak from my personal experience, though communicating with other pantsers indicates to me that I am not alone in my allergy to outlining. When I begin a novel I don’t know enough about my characters or my story arc. Characters do not come into my head full blown. I have to get to know them. Consequently, my rough draft runs to 95,000 words before I have any idea who my main character is or what their story includes.

I admit this is a personal failing and I hope for some empathy from my readers.

My source for what I am about to write is The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. I list it as my source below with relevant detail. I am using this book in attempting to get my ‘mud pie’ into something resembling a story. I’m not sure a Master of Arts degree would help me shovel against this tide.

Robert J. Ray uses the theater’s three act format to build a novel. The works of film writers and other novelists illustrate his method of breaking down the structure of the novel.

Any writer knows about the beginning, the middle and the ending. Most of us have heard of the ‘mushy middle’ where nothing of significance seems to happen between the set-up and the climax. I know my tendency is to concentrate on the first page, trying to get a possible agent to go to the second page before throwing the first five or ten pages across the room. I would love to entertain a reader willing to invest money in my work to remain interested enough to read the entire bloody thing. Competing against blockbuster movies and addictive video games makes one wonder why we even try. It helps to believe a novel is an art form in its own right.

The Weekend Novelist is not a panacea, but it gives some insight into the art of coordinating a rambling sequence of vicious aerial ballets as the Soviet Army marches across the Ukraine against a steadily weakening Luftwaffe into a story of a young woman facing devastation, death, and deprivation, and growing in mental strength and character in the process.

According to Robert J. Ray, the story starts with a problem or conflict. The main character tries to achieve his or her wants but is frustrated by each solution seemingly adding to the problem. Act One ends with a change of mood or pace. Flashbacks are saved for the Act Two. The middle of Act Two is great for sex. Apparently that maintains the reader’s interest in the mushy middle where the flashbacks congregate.

Act Two ends with a complication like a mini-climax propelling the action. Act Three contains the climax and resolution of the conflict, and results in the character changes.

All of this sounds good until you actually try to work it out. I’ve tried this method on several stories without much success. Perhaps there’s something I just don’t understand, because I’ve met an author who has used this method and published three novels.

Give it a shot.

Source: The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray, Dell Paperback, New York, NY, 1994

Characters

Creating memorable characters is not easy. They seldom appear full blown. Just like meeting someone new, it takes a while to get to know them. I’m sure my experience is not unlike that of many other writers. You may think you know a character when you first start to write about it, but, as scene follows scene and the writer puts the character in a number of different situations and makes it jump a number of hurtles, the individual begins to come through.

The main character in my work in progress is Katrina Safronova. As I introduced her I knew she flew Yakovlev fighters and had fought in the air war over Stalingrad in the fall and winter of 1942/43, that she had been wounded in combat, (splinter through the left bicep), and that she had two personal victories and one shared victory. That told me she was one tough cookie, especially since she wanted to go back into combat to drive the Fascist invaders from her homeland.

Success in the air in a fighter at any time in the history of air combat requires the mental agility of a cat, the physical strength of an athlete, the ability to think in three dimensions making mathematical calculations under unthinkable emotional and physical pressure and all in fractions of a second. Katrina has a core of steel and an indomitable spirit. As the saying goes, there are two types of fighter pilots: the hunter, and the one who knows in his heart he is the hunted.

After three months in hospitals, Katrina is ready and eager to go back into combat. At the beginning of my work in progress she is flying a replacement aircraft for a squadron based at Belgorod south of the Kursk salient in the Ukraine. Three other women, also flying replacement aircraft, accompany her as replacements of casualties the squadron suffered during the Battle of the Kursk Salient.

The squadron they join has been all male. The squadron is happy to get the replacement aircraft but not so happy to get women pilots. They consider these women to be sub-standard replacements. As a male, telling this story from a woman’s perspective, I may seem under qualified. It takes a considerable amount of chutzpa to think I can take on this project and make it a success. As a writer, I took it on because I felt it was a story that needed to be told. Women now fly fighters in the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, and fly a number of aircraft for the Army of the United States.

I am not a fighter pilot, but I am a life long student of war in the air. As a Naval Flight Officer in the United States Navy I was a navigator and an airborne anti-submarine warfare tactical coordinator. In training I was indoctrinated into formation flying and air combat maneuvers, so I have a platform with some credibility. And I felt a duty to tell this story, before the accomplishments of these women were totally forgotten.

Katrina has, for me, after writing some 95,000 words, become a complex, multi-faceted, 22 year old women tempered in the heat of combat, and unwilling to allow any man, anywhere in the world, to look down on her, in spite of the fact that she is short.

Outliners Vs. Pantsers

Lately, the discussion of the best way to write has come up in writing groups and on-line. The advantages of the two basic methods, outlining or writing by the seat of the pants, hence ‘pantsers,’ are still being argued. Some writers work up extensive outlines, draw maps, work out character arcs, and outline, some to the extreme where the outline word count is nearly as high as that of the final work. Theoretically, outlines provide the structure of the novel and the writer is able to construct the story more quickly.

Other writers throw themselves into the writing without giving thought to outlines. I confess I am a pantser. I start writing my story with only a vague idea where it is going. In this way I learn who my characters are by the way they react to situations. I have a general idea of the scenes I would like to write, but I also revel in situations where the characters do things I didn’t expect causing difficulties for themselves that I didn’t anticipate.

Sometimes I begin at what I believe is the beginning only to realize that might not be where I want or need to start. Other times I find I begin at what becomes the back story, or history of the character that influences their future actions.

I realize I’m not speaking for all ‘pantsers’. My experience shows that writing this way can take me down a rabbit hole. A short story becomes a much longer work. Sometimes the story line leads to a dead end and scenes must be removed. Characters pop up to solve a temporary difficulty which cannot be resolved in any other reasonable way. This forces me to more fully develop the new character, and introduce the character before the character is needed. Of course, this causes additional difficulties.

Editors have told me I need to lose a character, which results in the loss of one-third of the story. I have also been told I need to kill a character. Admittedly, killing the character results in a classic story line, but for me, it eliminates the entire reason for the story.

To my chagrin, I must confess I don’t know my characters well enough when I start writing to know how they will react to their situation as the work progresses. I get to know them by throwing obstacles in their paths. Their reactions tell me what they want. I can then work to frustrate their efforts thereby bringing out the many facets a character needs to be realistic, and to best accomplish their goals.

The best advice I heard recently is, no matter what your writing style, the work requires rewriting regardless of how it was constructed. The rough draft demands revision. The question each writer must answer is what works best for them.

Sources: The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray, Dell Publishing, New York, NY, 1994

The New Writer’s Handbook, 2007, Edited by Philip Martin, Scarletta Press, Minneapolis, MN. 2007

How To Write Your Best Story, Philip Martin, Crickhollow Books, Milwaukee, WI. 2011

The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1968

Researching for Historical Fiction

A fiction writer must know intimately the world he/she is trying to describe. Place, time, local culture, and the attitudes of the people of the time all play a part in the story. The best place to stage your story is a place that remains as it was at the time your action takes place. That’s usually not possible with historical fiction. Even stories about the recent past frequently involve changes in the places being described. More distant, yet still modern, times can be researched using photographs, paintings, or sketches. Descriptions of places, written by people who lived there at the time your story takes place, are helpful, but seldom provide the panoramic view that allows the writer to look around and feel part of the venue.

In addition to place, technology also changes over time. As obvious as that sounds, a few months or years during periods of rapid technological  change can make a tremendous difference. An example is the telephone, not to mention computers.

Finding sources useful in fleshing out a past period can be challenging. Diaries, interviews of people who lived at that time, and bureaucratic records, to name a few, can make a time in the past come alive. Unfortunately, people writing during that time take many common objects for granted and do not spell out how or when those objects may have been used. They may simply make reference to them feeling these items were too common to describe. Photographs can be helpful, but even a photograph doesn’t describe how an object was used.

My era of interest is World War Two, and specifically the aerial aspect of that war. I have found autobiographies by pilots of that era most helpful. Interviews done during the war or immediately after might be less valuable if classified material of the time is avoided, glossed over, or redacted.

The setting of my most recent writing, the Soviet Union, is particularly troubling for Americans because most of us, (myself included) do not speak or read Russian. We are dependent on translations of works. Another problem with documents written in the Soviet Union during the war, such as newspapers, and books published for mass distribution, were politicized. More recent documents, though more forthcoming, are frequently fogged by the passage of time.

Archives, available here in the west, are helpful, but these documents also suffered from political manipulation. More recent documentation released after the dissolution of the Soviet Union tends to be more realistic.

Walking the battlefields I describe would be helpful, except that several of them are battlefields once again. Regrettably, for me, the costs of travel are also a deterrent.

My main references are books about the aircraft and operations from Soviet sources translated into English. These books and articles provide very good information in most cases. I have spoken with, as opposed to interviewed, a very successful German fighter pilot from World War Two, and discussed the characteristics of a Yak-9 fighter with a pilot who flew a model provided with an Allison engine, rather than the original Klimov. Both discussions provided insight for me, colored, of course, by pre-conceptions based on my previous study.

Biographies of Russian pilots lack fine detail. One of my books includes interviews with twenty Soviet women who flew in combat with the Soviet Air Force. Bruce Myles, who interviewed these women in the 1970s, wrote the book Night Witches, telling the true stories upon which my fiction is based. Unfortunately, he barely touches upon the things most important to people, and which can be most revealing about their lives. Items such as food, hygiene, and personal care make a tremendous difference in morale and influence the attitudes of people, not just women, who put their lives on the line for their country.

Finally, combat is a supremely messy affair. Many veterans decline to discuss their feelings while in combat. Many times the events in which they partake occur so quickly that analysis of those feelings doesn’t take place until after the events they describe. Even if they relate those events to others, they hide the feelings they have as they reflect on those events. Only those who actually participate can know how those feelings actually temper and change the person involved. Any writer who wasn’t there can only imagine, probably unsuccessfully, their reaction. Consequently, I have only my books, my own flight experience, and my imagination to attempt to re-build the world of fighter pilots on the Eastern Front of World War Two, known to the Russians as the Great Patriotic War.

Sources: Night Witches, Bruce Myles, Presidio Press, 1981

The Soviet Air Force in World War Two, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY 1973

Yakovlev Fighters of World War Two, Yefim Gordon, Sergey Komissarov, Dmitriy Komissarov, Hikoki Publications Ltd, Manchester, England, 2015

Yakovlev Aces of World War 2, George Mellinger, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2005

Destruction of the Korsun Pocket

General Breith’s Three Panzer Corps made good progress against heavy Soviet opposition, but shortage of fuel for his armored fighting vehicles as well as the opposition of 6 and 2 Soviet Tank Armies brought his advance to a halt. On 12 February he was able to get his tanks refueled and resumed his attack. At Dadushkova he ran into the 50 Tank Brigade. After the battle, he resumed his advance another twelve kilometers to Khizhintsy where he again ran out of fuel.

Inside the cauldron General Stemmermann began moving his forces to the west, closer to the units sent to rescue him, in preparation for the breakout. His forces took Nova Buda and Schenderovka. By 13 February he was able to take Komarovka. He simultaneously withdrew from Korsun, which fell to the Soviets the same day. General Konev attempted to retake Nova Buda but was blocked by SS Wallonien.

General Beith’s 3 Panzer Corps, now lining the west banks of the Gniloy Tikich River, attempted to take Hill 239 near the village of Oktybar overlooking the projected river crossing for Gruppe Stemmermann. A bridge at Lisyanka, strong enough to allow tanks to cross the river, was taken, but the bridgehead across the river was not secure enough for them to make contact with the isolated forces. Konev blocked the relief effort with the 16 Tank Corps and the 13 Guards Heavy Tank Regiment equipped with 21 IS-1 (IS-85) heavy tanks.

At this point the thaw ended. Snow resumed. Temperatures fell to -7 degrees Celsius. By now the cauldron measured five by seven kilometers. Generals Bake and Frank, at Oktyabr were within seven kilometers of Gruppe Stemmermann, which was notified on 16 February that now was the time to break out. The attempt began that night.

Stemmermann’s forces were greatly weakened. The Soviet Forces lining the east riverbank were dug in and supported by artillery. The battle went on all night and through the following day in blizzard conditions. German soldiers, making their way to the river were unaware of the bridge available to the north. At this point the river was two meters deep and several meters wide with a strong current carrying chunks of ice. Attempts to form a bridge by driving tanks into the river failed miserably.

Russian tanks were met by German tanks in battles around the perimeter of the cauldron. The German tanks, seriously outnumbered, were destroyed. By midday on 17 February the Soviets drove their tanks into the collapsing cauldron shelling the soldiers on the riverbank. Desperate German soldiers in naked or nearly naked conditions attempted to swim across the river. General Stemmermann himself was killed.

Of the 35,199 Germans who attempted to flee the pocket, 19,000 were killed or captured, including 3,000 surrounded at Shandorovka.

On 17 and 18 February the German Transportgruppen flew 1,500 sorties carrying 2,026 tons of supplies and evacuating 2,400 wounded. Thirty-two aircraft were lost and 113 were damaged.

During the period 31 January to 18 February the Soviet Air Force flew 210 sorties against airfields and engaged in 75 air battles.

Sources:

‘Crucible at Cherkassy”, Pat McTaggart, WWII History Magazine, September 2005

‘The Red Army’s Drive to Rumania’, A. N. Shimansky, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945: Soviet Steamroller, Robert A. Forczyk, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 2016

War Over the Steppes, the Air Campaign on the Eastern Front, 1941-45, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016

The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1973