Second Air Army: Kursk To the Dnieper River

The Battle for the Kursk Salient began on 5 July, 1943. On that date 175 large scale air battles were fought resulting in 239 enemy aircraft shot down. From 5 July to 10 July the Second Air Army fought 205 air battles and claimed 330 enemy aircraft destroyed for a loss of 153 machines. All of these actions took place over an area measuring 20 by 60 kilometers and including two thousand aircraft on each side.

On the night of 10/11 July night bombers of the Second and Seventeenth Air Armies as well as the AFLRO attacked trains and troop columns.  Bad weather on 12 July hindered preparatory operations for the Soviet counter-attack at Prokhorovka. Two hundred aircraft operated over the battlefield in small groups.

During the counter-offensive at Orel the Second Air Army supported the Voronezh Front while the Fifth Air Army assisted the Steppe Front. Their missions included maintaining control of the air, protection of the strike troops, cooperation with ground troops to break through the enemy defenses, resistance to enemy efforts to build defensive lines, destruction of enemy communications, hindrance of movement of the enemy reserves, and aerial reconnaissance.

The counter-attack at Belgorod and Kharkov began on 3 August. The Second Air Army attacked enemy targets in the vicinity of the Fifth and Sixth Guards Armies of the Voronezh Front. Thirty-six bombers, seventy-six ground attack aircraft, and forty-five fighters took part in these actions. On the Steppe Front the First Bomber Air Corps flew 150 sorties. The Germans responded with large numbers of aircraft.

The First and Fifth Guards Tank Armies joined the attack and, supported by the Second Air Army’s Fifth Ground Attack Corps and the 291st Ground Attack Division, assaulted enemy artillery and centers of resistance. The 202nd Bomber Air Division attacked enemy forces moving up to the front. Fighters flew cover over the tank groups moving forward.

On this first day of the attack, 2,670 sorties were flown. By the end of the day Soviet ground forces took Tomarovka, Sayenkov, and the Dobraya Volya region.

On 5 August the Seventeenth, Fifth, and Second Air Armies hit railroad stations at Gorlovka, Slaryansk, Barvenkovo, Makeyevka, and Pavlograd destroying trains and motorized columns. When enemy forces attacked near Akhtyrka, the Second Air Army destroyed 30 tanks and 400 vehicles and mortar batteries in three days of fighting. Kharkov fell to Soviet forces on 23 August.

The next operation consisted of seizing a bridgehead across the Dnieper River. As Soviet troops moved forward into the Poltava-Kremenchug area, the Second and Fifth Air Armies concentrated on destroying retreating German forces. Between 21 and 25 September Soviet forces reached the Dnieper River south of Kiev and Kremenchug. Several crossings were made and developed into bridgeheads. German bombers attempted to annihilate the bridgeheads and Soviet fighters engaged the bombers from makeshift airfields.

The first attempt to break through the German defenses took place at the Bukrino bridgehead, supported by the Second Air Army, during the period from 12 to 15 October. Infantry concentrations, strong points and artillery were targeted. The bridgehead was enlarged but the breakout failed.

Source: The Soviet Air Force in World War II, edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973.

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