The Soviet changes to the conduct of the air battle were already being implemented on 6 July. Commanders of air units sent personnel forward into the combat zone to act as on-the-ground controllers tasked with directing fighters to areas where they were needed.
In the north 16th Air Army provided 140 aircraft for attacks against German forces located near Podolyan, Saborovka, and Butirki with good effect. Soviet fighters were able to intercept German bomber units before they reached their targets. This forced the Germans to reinforce their air units supporting the drive on Ponyri. By 7 July Soviet bomber units operated in groups of 30 to 40 aircraft which were easier to defend. By 9 July German air units in the northern sector were weakened to the point where the Soviet air force took control of the air.
The same techniques were being used in the southern sector. By 8 July senior Soviet commanders believed that the change in tactics was correct. The air army of the Voronezh Front was used against the German attack against Oboyan while the Southwest Front’s attached air army was used against German forces east of Belgorod.
As noted in previous blogs, the Luftwaffe successfully assisted Grossdeutschland’s entry into Syrtzewo on 8 July and, later in the day, Hs 129 anti-tank aircraft were instrumental in assisting II SS Panzer Corps’ repulsion of Vatutin’s attack down the Prokhorovka Road. On 9 July all available German air power in the southern sector supported the attack up the road to Oboyan and on 10 July a heavy Luftwaffe presence assisted Grossdeutschland’s attack on Werchopenye.
The fierceness of the struggle for control of the air is reflected in the records of the 2nd Air Army. From 5 July to 10 July the 2nd Air Army engaged in 205 air battles claiming 303 enemy aircraft shot down for a loss of 153 machines. It was not unusual for 200 to 300 interceptors to be over the battlefield.
During the night of 10/11 July, in an attempt to isolate the German drive on Prokhorovka, the long range AFLRO and night bomber units launched a series of raids against trains and troop columns on main and secondary roads.
In spite of these efforts the Luftwaffe gained tenuous control of the air over the drive up the road to Prokhorovka on 11 July. At 0630 on 12 July Luftwaffe fighters cleared the air of Soviet aircraft over the battlefield near Prokhorovka and, at 0700 German bombers began their attacks on the Soviet defenses.
Sources: The Soviet Air Force in World War II: The Official History, Edited by Ray Wagner and Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday and Co., Garden City, NY, 1973
The Battle of Kursk, David M. Glantz & Jonathan M. House, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 1999
Author: Jack Kruse writes military historical fiction set in World War II. He is currently completing a novel, tentatively titled Cauldron, about the aerial battle of the Kursk Salient, a key confrontation on the Russian front in which German and Soviet fighters and bombers engaged in an intensive series of engagements over the steppes of the Ukraine.