Meanwhile, Down in the South

The attempted breakout at the Bukryn bridgehead succeeded in enlarging the bridgehead. German artillery exacted a tremendous cost, and the Soviets halted the attack on 15 October. Further south, at Kremenchug, General Rotmistrov found a ten kilometer gap in the German line. On 16 October, supported, by the 17th Air Army, he crossed the Dnieper River capturing P’yatykatky on 18 October. The next day he made a clear breakthrough striking west for Kirovograd, assisted by the 5th Air Army, and south toward Krivoy Rog. On 22 October he took Novo Starodub and, on 27 October he entered the outskirts of Krivoi Rog. German General Mackensen, outflanked, abandoned Dnepropetrovsk on 25 October.

By now General Rotmistrov’s fuel was running low. His German opponent received an influx of tanks. An attack by Totenkopf plugged the gap and pushed Rotmistrov’s spearhead back out of Krivoy Rog.

General Rybalko, whose 3 Guards Tank Army had assisted with the first attempt to breakout of the Bukryn bridgehead, was ordered to move his army, through marshy terrain, to the smaller Lyutezh bridgehead 150 kilometers to the north. He withdrew from Bukryn on 25 October and crossed the river during three days of low clouds and rain. The move to Lyutezh took two days and by 2 November his entire tank army was relocated.

The Soviet attempt to breakout of the Bukryn bridgehead resumed on 1 November, distracting the Germans from the attempt taking place at Lyutezh. Bad weather restricted the 2nd Air Army’s attempts to assist the breakout to 640 sorties in two days.

The breakout from the Lyutezh bridgehead began on 3 November with an artillery barrage and assistance by Katyusha rockets. By 4 November Soviet troops entered the suburbs of Kiev. The Kiev-Zhitomir road was cut the next day. Rain, low clouds, and fog hindered operations on both sides. The Soviet Red flag was raised in the center of the city on 6 November, and Stalin was notified of its capture.

Sources: Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945: Red Steamroller, Robert A. Forczyk, Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 2016

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

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

Battles of the Bukryn and Lyutich Bridgeheads–October 1943

I mentioned these battles in previous blogs Drive to Kiev, Second Air Army: Kursk to the Dnieper River, and Second Air Army–Crossing the Dnieper River; however, these battles figure in my current novel tentatively titled Women Fighters Over the Ukraine. Consequently, this blog focuses more directly on the course of these battles on the ground and in the air.

As an introduction, for those who do not refer to my above mentioned blogs, I will begin with the taking of Kharkov by the Soviets on 23 August, 1943. Stalino fell to the Soviets on 8 September. General von Mantein requested a retreat to the Wotanstellung line along the Desna and Dnieper Rivers with Hitler, who finally authorized the withdrawal.

General Konev’s Steppe Front took Romny on 16 September. Poltava fell on 20-22 September. A bridgehead across the Dnieper River was established at Bukryn, south of Kiev, on 21 September with another north of Kiev near Lyutich on 26 September. German reaction was swift. Bombers sent to annihilate the bridgeheads met Soviet fighters operating from makeshift airfields.

General Vatutin could not get bridging equipment up to the river fast enough to take advantage of the German weakness in the area and a parachute attack on 24 September failed.

As the battle stalled near Kiev, two hundred kilometers to the north, General Rokossovskii crossed the Desna River.

The German Fourth Air Fleet with 867 aircraft and the Sixth Air Fleet with 960 aircraft attempted to eliminate the Bukryn bridgehead on 10 October. Numbers of aircraft on the opposing Soviet side matched those totals. Soviet forces were ordered to break out of the Bukryn bridgehead, beginning on 12 October. Second Air Army night bombers flew 272 sorties in preparation for the breakout, targeting infantry concentrations, strong points, and artillery.

The German bridgehead over the Dnieper River at Zaporozhye was eliminated during fight between the 10th and 14th of October during a three day period of poor weather and low cloud.

With the assistance of 16th Air Army, General Rokossovskii, to the north, managed to accomplish a crossing of the Dnieper River at Loyev, 55 kilometers south of Gomel on 15 October. The Germans were able to contain this bridgehead as well.

German artillery made the attempt to breakout of the Bukryn bridgehead so expensive the attempt was abandoned on 15 October. At this point the Soviets decided to try a breakthrough at the Lyutich bridgehead to take advantage of a weakness in the German lines.

Wotanstellung was pierced at Zaporozhye on 20 October. Twelve hundred Luftwaffe sorties per day saved Krivoy Rog from surrendering to the Soviets until February 1944.

Ferocious fighting continued all along the Dnieper River during the last eleven days of October. On 3 November, supported by artillery and the Second Air Army’s fighters and bombers, the Soviet infantry broke through and entered the city of Kiev on 5 November. On 6 November Stalin was advised the city was taken, though house to house fighting continued.

Sources: The Soviet Air Force in World War II, edited by Ray Wagner, translated by Leland Fetzer, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY 1973

Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, Inc., New Your, NY, 1968

‘The Battle of Kiev: Ending the Nazi Terror,’ Pat McTaggart, Warfare History Network, December 27, 2016

‘Battle for the Dnieper,’ Grigory Utkin, World War II Magazine, 1970s

Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945, Robert A. Forczyk, Pen and Sword Military, South Yorkshire, England, 2016

War Over the Steppes: The air Campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941–45, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016

 

Womens’ Living Conditions: Soviet Air Force

Women served in nearly all of the combat squadrons in the Soviet Air Force during the Second World War in all capacities including maintenance of the aircraft, loading bombs on the aircraft, refueling, and rearming. They also served as pilots, bombardiers, navigators, and gunners. They flew in combat, not only in all women units, but also alongside their male counterparts. They suffered all of the shortages of food, equipment, shelter, clothing, and comforts as the men. Additionally, they suffered the indignities of male chauvinism and misogyny.

Upon joining the Soviet Air Force women received the same haircuts as the men. In at least one instance they were sent into a warehouse to find their own uniforms. They received the same uniforms as the men, which generally were too large and not tailored for women. They received men’s underwear, and foot cloths. They took some care in tailoring their own uniforms on their own time, of which they had little. Even with the belt cinched tight, the uniforms looked boxy. They stuffed crumpled newspaper in the toes of their boots to make the boots fit.

Makeup was prohibited on duty, not that there was much to be had. One woman used her red navigation pencil to enhance her lips.

Many male senior officers opposed the use of women in combat squadrons and some were notorious for pawning the women off on other units. Some men objected to women maintaining their aircraft. They objected to leading women in combat or flying on the wing of a woman in a flight pair. Interestingly enough, when the Soviet fighter corps abandoned the zveno, or three aircraft formation, and adopted the para, two aircraft formation, the leader was called the master and the wingman was called the slave.

With the exception of Lilyia Litvyak, women received little press coverage.

Like the men, women wrote and read letters, played chess, and musical instruments, during their off hours. They also did needle point, including decorating their uniforms, and the white, silk liner they wore under their helmet. Some leaders required visible decoration to be removed. Others allowed it.

By 1942 and 1943 treatment of women began to change. They were allowed to grow out their hair, and, in the summer of 1943 uniform skirts were issued, which one woman commented made getting into the cockpit somewhat difficult.

I found the exploits of these combat pioneers most fascinating, and I am currently working on a novel based on the experiences of women in combat.

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

Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in World War II, Bruce Myles, Second Printing, Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1997

The Soviet Night Witches: Brave Women Bomber pilots of World War II, Pamela Dell, Capstone Press, North Mankato, MN, 2018

Living Conditions: Soviet Air Force in World War II

Living conditions for combatants in any war are marginal at best. Unlike the soldiers in the field, however, air force personnel experience better conditions, to a certain degree, especially when defending their homeland from foreign invaders.

Previously prepared airfields in the Soviet Union during the war provided the best accommodations. That being said, during the fallback in the summer and fall of 1941, prepared fields suffered dedicated attention from the Germans. Fuel dumps, ordnance storage areas, and lines of parked aircraft attracted level and dive bombers in abundance. Fortunately for the Soviets, their aircraft were designed for operation from primitive grass fields.

Prepared fields, generally co-located with moderately sized cities, were rare in early forties Russia. More common were runways formed by dragging a log behind a tractor to level the ground. Level areas were useful as long as the trees surrounding the area, especially from the typical approach and departure ends allowed relatively safe air operations.

Roads in the Soviet Union were also primitive. Most of them, unpaved, turned into muddy tracks during the summer and fall mud seasons. The Soviets frequently fell back on air supply during those periods, understanding the airfields were many times in the same shape as the roads, and less volume could be transported by air.

Make-shift paved airfields were laid by the local populace, along with air force personnel in a few days using octagonal slabs of concrete. Although my source doesn’t say where these fields were laid, I expect places like Stalingrad, and Moscow as well as other places intended to be held.

In summer maintenance and air crews lived in holes in the ground covered with tents. Bunkers were built if time permitted. Bunkers were holes in the ground covered with boards and surrounded by sandbags. Tents overhead deflected most of the rain. In winter maintenance and aircrew frequently used local villages for shelter. Farm buildings, such as barns, though smelly, got one out of the wind. Wood stoves provided localized but much needed heat. People who live in areas where the temperatures reach -40 degrees C/F will tell you the experience is indescribable.

Revetments became standard storage places for aircraft. Each aircraft had its own revetment to prevent one explosion from destroying more than one aircraft. Revetments were formed using available materials, including logs, dirt berms, sand bags, detritus from destroyed buildings. The Soviets became masters of camouflage, and built decoy airfields to encourage the Germans to waste their bombs.

Once the Russian offensives began and the Soviets retook airfields, they found the Germans plowed up the runways, laid hundreds of booby traps, and made the area as unusable as possible.

As with fuel and ordinance, spare parts, lubricants, tools, food, replacement clothing, and personal items were brought by rail as close as possible to operation centers. Transportation for short distances by road was used when possible, and by air if necessary.

Aircrew were allotted 3,450 calories per day, including .5 kilograms of meat. Maintenance people received a ration of 2,954 calories with less meat and sugar. According to E. R. Hooton, there was generally plenty of bread and soup.  Although sharing of food with the ground crews was not allowed, it frequently happened. Hooten also mentions Tushonka, a canned meat. Tushonka means ‘mystery meat’ because it could be pork, chicken, beef, or horse.

Conditions for women in the Soviet Air Force were similar, but different. I’ll explain that statement in my next post.

Sources: War Over the Steppes, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2016

Night Witches, Bruce Myles, Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, IL, 1997

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

Soviet Aces: Ivan Kozhedub

Ivan Kozhedub, the leading Allied ace with 62 victories, learned to fly in one of the many flying clubs and societies sponsored by the Volunteer Defense Society of the Soviet Union. He entered the military flying school in January 1940 and completed training in February 1941. Retained as a flying instructor he instructed student pilots until the fall of 1942. He arrived at 240 Fighter Air Regiment, equipped with LaG-5 fighters, in the spring of 1943.

Sergeant Kozhedub’s first combat sortie took place on 26 March, 1943, in the Kharkov area in the Ukraine. Promoted to Junior Lieutenant and deputy squadron commander in June 1943, he still had no combat victories. On his fortieth sortie, 6 July, 1943, the second day of the Battle for the Kursk Salient, he made his first kill, a Junkers 87 Stuka dive bomber. He nearly fell victim to a Bf 109 fighter, but his wingman drove the German fighter away.

On 7 July, 1943, when his squadron leader was wounded in combat, Lieutenant Kozhedub became the de facto squadron commander. The squadron leader, unable to fly due to his injuries, was not evacuated and led the squadron on the ground while Kozhedub led it in the air. Soon afterward he received his first decoration,

On 15 August, 1943, Kozhedub downed two Bf 109s and eight days later he destroyed a Focke Wulf 190 fighter. On 30 September, 1943, he destroyed another Ju 87. Separated from his formation during an attack by Bf 109 fighters, Kozhedub, alone, discovered and attacked a formation of eighteen Ju 87 dive bombers. When he downed one of the Stukas, the remainder jettisoned their bomb loads and fled.

During October 1943, in ten days, Ivan Kozhedub downed eleven enemy aircraft in 146 combat missions and 27 combats.

Bad weather interfered with operations during the first months of 1944. Snow and low clouds forced fighters to fly in smaller formations at treetop heights. It was at this time, February 1944, that Kozhedub was promoted to captain and awarded his first gold star, the Hero of the Soviet Union award.

The 240 Fighter Air Regiment relocated to Modavia in April 1944. There Captain Kozhedub downed two Hs 129 anti-tank aircraft. The squadron took on new La-5FN fighters.

In July 1944 Captain Kozhedub trained in the La-7. Awarded his second Hero of the Soviet Union gold star 18 August, 1944, Ivan Kozhedub, on 23 August, with 48 victories, was made deputy commander of 176 Guards Fighter Air Regiment. Days later he was promoted to major.

Weather, deteriorating with the arrival of another winter, provided few opportunities to fly. The unit relocated to Poland where the Soviet army’s Belorussian Front fought to liberate Warsaw. Their airfield, located so close to the front, barely gave them time to retract their undercarriage before they engaged ground forces.

On 19 February, 1945, Kozhedub and his wingman surprised a Messerschmidt 262 twin jet fighter near Frankfurt. Kozhedub shot down the 262 when his wingman’s cannon fire caused the German to turn toward Kozhedub and directly into the sights of the ace.

He made his 61st and 62nd kills, Fw 190s, on 19 April, 1945. He was awarded his third Hero of the Soviet Union, one of only two pilots so awarded, on 18 August, 1945. In the 1960s he was still on the active list as a Colonel-General.

Sources: LaGG and Lavochkin Aces of World War 2, George Mellinger, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2003

The Lavochkin La 5 & 7, Witold Liss, Profile Publications, Surrey England, 1967

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

Second Air Army Into Poland

With the beginning of the spring 1944 thaw, roads became impassable and temporary airfields unusable. Supplies and fuel, provided by air, allowed the Second Air Army to fly 400 sorties per day until 17 April, 1944. During this period, First Ukrainian Front consolidated its positions along the Dnieper River. Victories in White Russia and the Karelian Isthmus strained German forces. As a result, the Soviet high command ordered the First Ukrainian Front to attack Rava Ruskaya and the Lvov areas with the intention to break through and destroy German forces in the area.

The German Army Group defending First Ukrainian Front’s objectives were supported by the Fourth Air Fleet with 750 machines, while the Sixth Air Fleet provided an additional 300 to 400 machines as needed.

The reinforced Second Air Army, supporting the offensive, possessed three thousand aircraft based on 65 airfields. Planning for the assault and controlling this force required a division of labor. Twelve hundred aircraft in the Rava Ruskaya area fell under the command of Second Air Army staff under the deputy commander, General S. V. Slyusarev. This group’s mission consisted of protecting the attacking ground forces. Fifteen hundred aircraft, under the Second Air Army commander’s control with the assistance of Eighth Air Army’s field control group, operated in the Lvov area. The remaining four hundred aircraft remained in reserve.

A day or two before the beginning of the offensive, the air units moved to forward airfields. Mock airfields, constructed to distract the Germans, served their purpose admirably, drawing considerable attention from German bombers.

The offensive began on 13 July, 1944, with a two thousand plane raid intended to pin down enemy forces, suppress artillery fire, and soften up enemy strong points. Sixty percent of the Second Air Army’s assets supported mobile units. Reserves supported the armored forces. Strikes pounded the columns of German armor advancing out of Zolochev.

On 15 July the Germans attacked near Plugow forcing Soviet units to take defensive positions. Air strikes were called in to repel the attack. Soviet fighters protected the dive bombers by positioning themselves at the altitude where the dive bombing attacks began, and also at the altitude where the dive bombers recovered. Dive bombers were followed up by horizontal bombers making repeated runs. From 2 pm until 6 pm the bombings continued, augmented by the commander’s reserves. Nearly 3,300 sorties were flown. As the 8th Panzer Division advanced to the front, they too, were inundated with bombers.

By 16 July the battle neared Lvov. Bombers attacked resistance points at Vinnikov, Zhuravka, and Kratoshina, entry points to the city of Lvov. The Third Guards Tank Army circled behind the city of Lvov and coordinated its attacks from the west with those of the forces closing in from the east. Lvov fell to Soviet forces on 27 July, 1944.

From 13 July to 27 July the Second Air Army flew 30,500 sorties and destroyed 350 enemy aircraft on the ground and in the air.

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

Second Air Army — Crossing the Dnieper River

Bad weather conditions over the Bukrino bridgehead on the first of November restricted Second Air Army’s operations, allowing only 640 sorties in two days. The failure to expand the bridgehead at Bukrino caused a switch of the Soviet offensive to the Lyutezh bridgehead about 100 kilometers to the northwest on 3 November. This break through succeeded, allowing Soviet liberation of Kiev on 6 November, the anniversary of the of the revolution.

During the following months the Second Air Army concentrated on the destruction of enemy tanks and motorized infantry. The improvement of the weather during the period of 12 to 15 December allowed Second Air Army’s commitment of assets in large groups. By the end of operations around Kiev on 23 December the Second Air Army completed 20,000 sorties destroying 300 enemy aircraft.

During the battles around Bukrino and Lyutezh bridgeheads Soviet and German aircraft operated in approximately equal numbers. At the end of operations in the Kursk area the Germans possessed 1,460 operational aircraft, while the Second, Fifth, Seventeenth and Eighth Air Armies operated 2,360 machines in the same area.

The offensive to liberate the west bank of the Dnieper began on 24 December, 1943. In three days the Soviet Army overran Radomishlem, a German strong point. By 30 December the First Ukrainian Front salient expanded into an area 300 kilometers wide and 100 kilometers deep. The Germans reacted by concentrating assets in the Vinitsa region. German reinforcements of aircraft allowed them to achieve a two to one advantage over Soviet aircraft.

The Second Air Army, now under the command of General S. A. Krasovsky, struck back, flying 4,200 sorties, including 2,500 against tanks. As January 1944 advanced, the First and Second Ukrainian Fronts moved to surround enemy forces in the Korsun-Shevchenkovsky area, coordinating attacks with the Third and Fourth Ukrainian Fronts to the south.

From 12 to 25 January the Second and Fifth Air Armies concentrated on enemy defensive points. Together the two air armies operated 768 aircraft and were opposed by a thousand enemy machines. The spring thaw brought bad weather putting many undeveloped airfields out of operation. Aerial operations took place in formations of four to eight aircraft under ceilings of 100 to 150 meters.

In spite of the mud and rain the Korsun pocket was closed on 28 January. Second and Fifth Air Armies flew 2,800 sorties from 29 January to 3 February assisting troops struggling to keep the pocket closed. The Germans attempted to supply their troops by air. Second Air Army and the AFLRO flew blockade operations while the Fifth Air Army supported Soviet front line troops. German counter attacks in the Tolmach and Lisyanka regions took place in frequent heavy rain which dissolved dirt roads to impassability. The enemy were forced back along much of the Dnieper.

Beginning 4 March Second Air Army supported the First Ukrainian Front in the area of Proskurov-Chevnovtsy. Weather restricted operations to single or pairs of aircraft striking resistance points, and artillery and mortar batteries. Over the next three days weather improved to the point where operations could take place using six to eight aircraft. When the First Ukrainian Front resumed the offensive on 21 March the Second Air Army assisted the First and Fourth Tank Armies in driving the Germans from their defensive positions.

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

Battle for the Dnieper, Grigory Utkin, World War II Magazine, 1970s

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.

Second Air Army: Build up to Kursk

Of the period between 2 February, 1943, and 6 May, 1943, The Soviet Air Force in World War II says nothing about the Second Air Army. During this period the Soviet Army was certainly not inactive. Readers of my first blog, Formation of the Kursk Salient, can see that not only did the offensives continue, both the Soviet Army and the Wehrmacht engaged in advances and retreats forming the Kursk bulge. Vicious combats took place up until the spring thaw began 26 March, 1943, when operations subsided.

During this “quiet period” the Second and the Sixteenth Air Armies built or renovated 154 airfields. This activity included camouflaging not only active airfields, but fifty “false” airfields built to divert German activity. Supplies were laid in for ten to fifteen days of operational activity.

Soviet air operations continued as well. From 6 May to 8 May Soviet aircraft attacked German airfields. Special groups, assigned to anti-aircraft suppression, encountered increased enemy resistance. During encounters with enemy aircraft 285 enemy machines were destroyed, of which 53 were shot down. German aircraft were moved to the rear, dispersed and camouflaged. The Germans set up radar stations and small numbers of aircraft maintained standing patrols.

By this point in the war 70% of the Luftwaffe operated on the Eastern Front. In the area surrounding the Kursk battle line the Germans employed 2.4 times more day bombers than the Soviets, but the Soviets possessed twice as many fighters. The Second, Seventeenth, and Sixteenth Air Armies were concentrated around the Kursk battlefield. Here the Soviet Air Force outnumbered the Luftwaffe by 1.5 to 1.

On 2 June, 1943, the German bombers attacked the Kursk railroad junctions. The raid was intercepted by the Sixteenth and the Second Air Armies and the 101st Fighter Air Division. Of 287 German bombers only 160 broke through and put the railroad junction out of service for twelve  hours for a loss of 145 German aircraft.

A second Soviet operation ran three days from 8 June to 10 June. Units taking part were the First, Fifteenth, and Second Air Armies and the AFLRO (Air Force for Long Range Operations). Twenty-eight airfields were attacked. Night raids pounded airfields at Gorki, Saratov, and Yaroslavl.

The Second and Sixteenth Air Armies made raids against the German transportation network flying 1,909 sorties and destroying seven locomotives and 260 railroad cars. They started 220 fires and made 90 hits on railroad stations.

Soviet Air Force staff planned to coordinate operations between the Second Air Army and the Sixteenth Air Army on the northern front of the Kursk Salient and between the Second Air Army and the Seventeenth Air Army on the southern front.

The commander of the Second Air Army at this time was General S. A. Krasovsky. The Second Air Army’s main duty consisted of ground attack and bomber missions against tank concentrations in the area of the 6th Guards Army. By this time the Soviets had learned that attack groups of thirty to forty bombers were easier to defend than groups of six to eight and changed their tactics accordingly.

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

Second Air Army–Early History

For this blog I used The Soviet Air Force in World War 2, translated by Leland Fetzer and edited by Ray Wagner. Of the nearly 400 pages only 122 deal with the first six months of the war and no mention is made of the Second Air Army in those pages. That the first six months consisted of a string of disasters no one denies. Losses on the ground far exceeded losses in the air. Fighter units flying the I-16, I-15, I-15bis, and I-153 fared poorly when confronting the Bf 109E and F, the Heinkel 111 and the Junkers 88. Even the vulnerable Junkers 87 Stuka succeeded in its mission of supporting infantry and armored units of the Wehrmacht and harassing retreating Soviet military units and terrifying civilians fleeing the battle.

The first mention of the Second Air Army takes place in the discussion of the 19 November, 1942, counteroffensive at Stalingrad. By that time modern aircraft such as the MiG-3, Yak-1, and the LaGG-3 had begun to replace the ’30s era fighters.

In the winter of 1942-43 the Soviet Supreme Command began moving air assets into the Volga area around Stalingrad. The Second Air Army, commanded by General K. N. Smirnov, was transferred from the Voronezh Front to the Southwest Front. Few airfields existed in the area and those were not fully equipped. Three air divisions of the Second Air Army took up positions on the right wing of the Southwest Front. One to two days prior to the opening of the counter offensive these divisions moved forward to the advanced airfields. Their operations consisted of supporting the Southwest Front as it moved forward to encircle von Paulus’s Sixth Army in Stalingrad.

Ordering von Paulus to hold his position, surrounded in Stalingrad, the Germans built up a rescue force in the neighborhood of Kotelnikovo and went on the offensive to relieve the 6th Army on 12 December, 1942. These forces were supported by 450 German aircraft. The Second and the Seventeenth Air Armies possessed 455 machines. Soviet troops took the offensive on 16 December in weather that restricted air activity. By the afternoon of the 16 December the weather improved and 200 sorties were flown in support of the Soviet attack.

Soviet air attacks on German forces assisted the Soviet forces in their breakthrough on 18 December. In the first five days 2,067 sorties were flown, of which 407 took place at night. On 24 December Tatsinskaya airfield was taken and 350 enemy aircraft were destroyed.

During the period from 16 December to 31 December, 1942, the Second and Seventeen Air Armies flew 4,177 sorties, 80% in support of ground forces. From 19 November to 2 February, 1943, the Second, Seventeenth, Sixteenth and Eighth Air Armies and the long range bomber force (AFLRO) flew 35,929 sorties while the enemy flew only 18,500, and lost 3,000 machines.

Radio communications facilitated coordinated operations in the air and on the ground. During the rapid movement of the front aerial transport transferred air units and equipment and supplies, keeping air units within striking distance of the battlefield.

Source: The Soviet Air Force in World War 2, translated by Leland Fetzer and edited by Ray Wagner, 1973, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY