Air Action over Prokhorovka

According to the official Soviet Air Force history bad weather over the battlefield on 12 July, 1943, forced the Soviets to operate in small groups. At approximately 0840 hours the Second Air Army began their preparatory operations with 200 aircraft.

Single engine Il-2 attack bombers approached the front at 1000 to 1500 meters altitude. Dropping down to altitudes of five to ten meters above ground level they directed nearly horizontal 20 mm cannon fire against their targets and fired RS82 rockets or dropped their 400 kilogram bomb loads. Executing a port turn after passing over their targets, they returned to their targets singly, forming what was called a circle of death. In such a manner they kept the Germans under constant attack for fifteen minutes to half an hour. Twin engine Pe-2 fast attack bombers carried a 7.62 mm machinegun and a 12.7 mm machinegun in the nose and 600 kilograms of bombs.

Fighter cover for the bombers included Yak-1, Yak-7, and Yak-9 fighters. These aircraft were able to out-climb as well as out-turn their opponents. Fully one quarter of all Soviet fighters engaged in this battle were La-5 and La-5F fighters. These machines conducted rocket and hollow charge bomb attacks on German armor before climbing to higher altitude to fly cover for their comrades. Under 4000 meters the La-5 fighters were not inferior to their opponents, using turns to get above the enemy. The Germans considered them the most dangerous threat on the Eastern Front. Ivan Kozhedub, the leading allied ace of the Second World War with 62 victories, flew an La-5 in this battle.

German fighter pilots excelled at high altitude combat so Soviet pilots made sure they lured the Germans down to a more suitable altitude.

The Battle for the Kursk Salient ended the career of the Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber. Large numbers of these aircraft were lost to fighters and anti-aircraft fire, but they were already being replaced by the Focke Wulf 190 single seat fighter-bomber. Organized in fast attack groups they made an impact on the combat by forcing the 29th Tank Corps to change the axis of their attack.

The storms of the afternoon called a temporary halt to battlefield action on 12 July, however, when the storms let up, the fighting resumed. At 2000 hours massive air support helped Totenkopf take Polezhaev.

Although this was the last major offensive operation conducted by the German army on the Eastern Front, for the Luftwaffe fighter pilots on the Eastern Front this was one of their brightest military accomplishments.

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

Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volumes One and Two, Yefim Gordon and Dmitri Khazanov, Midland Publishing Ltd., Leicester, England, 1998

Jagdgeschwader 54 Gruenherz: Aces of the Eastern Front, Jerry Scutts, Airlife Publishing Ltd., Shrewsbury, England, 1992

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