Kharkov was taken by the Germans 24 October, 1941. It would be taken three more times during the Great Patriotic War, also known as World War II.
By spring 1942, the Soviet people worked to restructure their economy. Aircraft production plants, relocated far to the east, began ramping up production. Soon types such as the Yak-1, Il-2, and Pe-2 entered service, and production of the La-5 began. But the Soviet Air Force had been nearly destroyed in the early days of the campaign and replacements from the Western Allies only totaled 249 machines of earlier types such as the Hurricane, Kittyhawk, and the early Warhawks.
Training of Soviet aircrews now used the experience gained since the June invasion began. The Air Force formed air divisions equipped with one type of machine.
Aircraft produced in the factories relocated to the east were of an inferior quality. Air engineering services, formed to improve the quality, worked tirelessly.
Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe, strengthened with new advanced types, called on their allies to provide additional pilots and machines. The majority of the Luftwaffe, nearly 75%, now operated against the Soviet Union.
In April, 1942, STAVKA ordered South Front and Southwest Fronts to retake Kharkov. The main blow of the two pronged thrust featured 6th Army of the South Front attacking from the south out of the Barvenkovo salient supported by an attack toward Krasnogrod. Southwest Front’s attack, comprised the 28th Army accompanied by formations of the 21st and 38th Armies, formed the northern pincer, and thrust from Volchansk toward Kharkov to encircle that city from the north and northwest.
Not surprisingly, the Germans also had a plan which included the liquidation of the Barvenkovo salient and seizing a bridgehead across the Donets River with an eye toward Voronezh. Army Group Kleist would attack from Slavyansk and Kramatorsk heading northwest. VI Army would strike south from Balakleya.
On 12 May the Southwest Front’s 28th Army attacked, breaking through the German lines north and south of Kharkov, and advancing 26 kilometers. The 38th Army attacking toward Zmiyev advanced 19 to 32 kilometers. By 14 May mobile forces were ordered to encircle Kharkov, but these forces were not advanced because of a German armored force discovered in the neighborhood of Zmiyev. The mobile forces were activated 17 May, but it was too late.
On that date German VI Army attacked from north of Volchansk and from Zmiyev working to encircle the Soviet 28th and 38th Armies. In the south Army Group Kleist attacked the Soviet 9th Army of South Front from the Kramatorsk area. The Soviet 9th Army, ordered to cut off the Germans advancing from Barvenkovo, proved unable to do so and 9th Army executed a fighting retreat toward the northern Donets.
As the German attack developed, the Southwest Front requested permission to cease their offensive toward Kharkov. Stalin refused the request.
The Soviet 28th Army was driven back to its start line by 22 May.
The Soviet 6th Army of South Front was ordered to drive back the German attack but was unable to comply. By 23 May Army Group Kleist joined up with VI Army to close off the Barvenkovo salient encircling 6th Army and 57th Army. Some of the surrounded Soviet forces broke through the German encirclement during the period 24 May to 29 May and crossed to the eastern bank of the Donets River.
Southwest Front was assigned defensive duties at the end of May.
Sources: “The Kharkov Offensives,” Colonel Vasili Morozov, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s
The Soviet Air Force in World War II, Edited by Ray Wagner, Translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Co, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973