Luftwaffe vs. VVS

The German air force and the Soviet air force shared much in common. I failed to notice this fact prior to reading War Over the Steppes, by E. R. Hooten. This author points out the differences between the air forces of the United States and Great Britain and the air force of the Soviet Union. This contrast underlined the similarities between the Luftwaffe and the VVS.

Both governments rewarded high productivity of finished machines, so German and Soviet aircraft manufacturers produced more aircraft rather than setting aside sufficient spare parts for maintenance. The lack of spare parts led to cannibalizing combat damaged aircraft to keep combat worthy aircraft in the air. It also led to large numbers of unflyable aircraft falling into enemy hands during rapid retreats.

The common thread between these air forces also emerges when examining aircraft design and usage. Both Germany and Russia developed machines and tactics for assisting armored forces engaged in rapid advances. Dive bombers, strike bombers, and medium altitude level bombers were built in large numbers. Few long range, high altitude heavy bombers entered the inventory. Fighter design and tactics revolved around protecting bombers in the tactical arena, or carrying out ground attacks themselves.

Later in the war Germany built many high altitude interceptors and night fighters primarily for defense against American and British high altitude heavy bombers. These fighters lost their advantage against light, nimble Soviet aircraft at medium to low altitudes.

On the human side, both the Germans and the Soviets kept their pilots on the front and in the fight. A Soviet unit was withdrawn from combat only when it required re-equipment and additional personnel.  The Germans, according to Adolf Galland in his book The First and the Last, flew their pilots until they were killed. When a pilot was wounded the pilot was removed from the fighting unit for recuperation. The Soviets kept their pilots in the hospital until they were again fit for duty. Home leave was not granted. Famed Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel finished the war flying combat missions with one leg amputated and the other in a cast.

I found myself most interested in the vast difference between German and Soviet pilots’ victory scores and combat missions flown. Erich Hartmann, leading all time fighter ace, scored 350 victories and flew in excess of 800 sorties. Gerd Barkhorn, also a member of the 300 club, scored 301 victories in 1,104 sorties. Compare these statistics with those of Ivan Kozhedub, the leading Allied ace, with 62 victories and 330 sorties, or Grigoriy Rechkalov with 52 victories and 415 sorties.

E. R. Hooten explains the discrepancy resulted from a conjunction of factors, not lack of enthusiasm or courage on the part of Soviet pilots. Soviet pilots received little gunnery or navigation training. Poor basic flight training and a lack of flight time, as well as shortcuts taken during the manufacture of aircraft, caused high accident rates. To avoid accidents, Soviet commanders restricted flight hours, further reducing flight experience. Limited instrumentation in Soviet fighters made flying in marginal weather conditions hazardous. Lack of radios in the aircraft early in the war contributed to poor flight discipline. The Soviet Union’s primitive radar lacked a ranging capability preventing coordinated attacks on formations entering the combat zone. All of these failures, not under their control, limited the Soviet pilots’ effectiveness.

The treaty ending World War I prohibited Germany from building an air force.  The treaty allowed Germany to train pilots and fly air liners. In 1925 Germany built an airfield at Lipetsk, 220 miles from Moscow. At Lipetsk they trained pilots and tested the aircraft ultimately used in World War II. I can’t help feeling that this fact caused many of the similarities between the German and Soviet air forces.

Source: War Over the Steppes: The Air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941-45, by E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016

2 thoughts on “Luftwaffe vs. VVS

  1. Lisa January 2, 2019 / 10:58 am

    I like to see you doing an analysis.


    • Gordon Kruse January 2, 2019 / 4:03 pm

      Thanks, Lisa. Haven’t done an essay in years. 🙂


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