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

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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

The Yak-9 in Combat

The original iteration of the Yak-9 was not produced in large numbers. Subsequent models defined the variant. The Yak-9D, long range fighter, quickly replaced the basic aircraft. The long range of the Yak-9D was the result of putting two additional fuel tanks in the wings. These additional fuel tanks were not well protected, so the aircraft were frequently assigned to junior pilots. Due to its greater all-up weight, the long range version possessed poorer maneuverability than previous Yak models. Even so, the D model had the advantage in horizontal maneuverability against enemy fighters up to 3,500 meters. It also proved more durable than earlier Yakovlev fighters being able to absorb heavy damage from enemy anti-aircraft fire while providing top cover for Il-2 strike aircraft flying at 200 to 400 meters altitude.

Used primarily for long range escort of bombers, it also provided cover for armor and infantry penetrating deep behind German lines. In case of bad weather this aircraft had the range to divert to more distant airfields, though its poor instrumentation did not allow poor-weather navigation. An additional drawback was the radio’s 60 km range.

Pilots complained about the slow speed of the Yak-9D. During the winter of 1944, improvement of the sealing of fuselage and engine cowling joints increased the fighter’s speed by 60 km/hour at 3,650 meters altitude. The modification did not improve climb rate or maneuverability.

Units frequently used a variety of Yak models. Additional range was not needed for many missions, so the outer wing tanks were not always filled.

Combat evaluation of the Yak-9T anti-tank aircraft, equipped with the NS-37 cannon, took place during the Battle of Kursk. Of 110 enemy aircraft destroyed by Yaks almost half were shot down by Yak-9Ts. The NS-37 cannon was effective against twin engine aircraft at 500 to 600 meters range, and against single engine machines at 400 meters. Accuracy deteriorated during long bursts so pilots used their machine guns for sighting before using the cannon in one to three round bursts. The Yak-9T was assigned to the flight leaders while regular Yaks were used by wingmen providing protection for the leaders.

Some of the most famous Soviet pilots flew Yak-9s, including Alexandr Pokryshin, three times Hero of the Soviet Union with 59 kills. Major Luganski, double Hero of the Soviet Union, achieved 34 kills. Also famous were the Glinka brothers. Boris, two times Hero of the Soviet Union, downed ten enemy aircraft in 1943 alone, while Dmitri, also a double winner of the Hero of the Soviet Union, achieved 50 victories during his career. Grigori Rechkalov achieved 56 victories in addition to many shared kills, in 122 sorties.

Sources: Yakovlev Fighters of World War Two, Yefim Gordon, Sergey Komissarov, Dmitriy Komissarov, Hikoki Publications, Manchester, England, 2015

Yakovlev Aces of World War 2, George Mellinger, Ospreay Aircraft of the Aces #64, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 2005

The Yak-9 Series, Witold Liss, Profile Publications Number 185, Profile Publications ltd., Surry England, 1967

The Yak-7B

The Yak-7 started as a trainer for the Yak-1 in January, 1940, and took to the air for the first time in July 1940. Changes in the Yak-1 and Yak-7 took place simultaneously. Movement of the center of gravity further aft avoided nose-overs on landing. Changes in air intakes addressed engine overheating. The re-designation from Yak-1UTI to Yak-7 occurred officially in February 1941.

With the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Air Force decided to turn the Yak-7 into a tactical fighter in August 1941. The rear cockpit was removed and covered over. New armament included a 20 mm cannon firing through the propeller boss, and two 7.62 mm machine guns. Six rocket launch rails were installed under the wings. Production began in September 1941, but factory movement to Siberia in October 1941 limited production numbers. The Yak-7 entered combat in defense of Moscow in December 1941.

The Yak-7A powered by the Klimov M-105PA completed acceptance trials with wheels or retractable skis in early 1942. This variant deployed to the Vokhov and Western Fronts in early summer 1942. Combat pilots complained about poor rearward visibility, inherent in both the Yak-1 and Yak-7 aircraft, due to the “razor-back” configuration. A “bubble” canopy was suggested.

The Yak-7B was equipped with increased armament: one 20 mm cannon and two 12.7 mm machine guns. Rocket rails were provided for six unguided rockets. An alternative underwing load was provision to carry two 25 to 100 kilogram bombs. The rocket rails were deleted in May 1942. One in ten aircraft carried a two-way radio.

The heavier armament added to the aircraft moved its center of gravity forward aggravating its inclination to nose over on landing. In compensation an 80 liter fuel tank was added in the rear cockpit. Combat pilots objected to the fuel tank in the cockpit and fighter units at the front tended to remove the tank.

Designers increased the boost pressure of the M-105PF increasing the horsepower from 1,050 to 1,180 hp. This required a modification of the fine pitch on the propeller to access the power. A Yak-7B weight reduction program included lightening the airframe, deleting the wiring for the rockets, and deleting the 80 liter fuel tank.

The Yak-7B entered combat in the summer of 1942, engaging in intense battles over Stalingrad. In one engagement on 20 August Soviet pilots claimed 29 German aircraft shot down for a loss of nine.

An Air Force study of the performance of the Yak-7B revealed that many pilots flew the aircraft with the canopy either open, or removed. Radiator and oil cooler shutters were open, and wheel doors and maintenance access panels were poorly fitted. Pilots operated the engine at a reduced setting of 2,700 rpm resulting in speed reductions of 40 to 50 km/hr.

Aircraft produced at the Moscow plant, as opposed to the plant at Novosibirsk, were of lower quality resulting in speed losses of 25 to 30 km/hr, higher stick forces, and more sluggish maneuverability. Poor production standards or faulty installation resulted in machine gun failures in the Yak-7B. Flawed design of shell ejection chutes and feed sleeves contributed. Cannon failures were caused by poor design of the case ejector chutes and the belt link collectors. Low grade substitutes of various chemicals in the bonding glue resulted in defective bonding of the wooden skin to the internal structure causing the skin to rip away in flight.

Later improvements to the Yak-7B included cutting down the upper rear fuselage and fitting a bubble canopy. Emergency canopy jettison devices were installed. A combined throttle and pitch control, introduced in 1943, reduced pilot work load in combat situations.

Production of the Yak-7B continued to July 1944 with 5,120 being built. The aircraft remained in service to the end of the war, and proved tough enough to take considerable damage in battle and still return safely.

Source: Yakovlev Fighters of World War Two, Yefim Gordon, Sergey Komissarov and Dmitriy Komissarov, Hikoki Publications, Manchester, England, 2015

THE YAKOVLEV FIGHTER SERIES

As the most produced fighter series in history, the significance of the Yakovlev fighters cannot be overestimated. As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War in June, 1941, only one tenth of the Soviet fighter force consisted of Yak-1s, and the most numerous modern fighter in the Soviet inventory was the Mig-3.

The Yakovlev fighter series began as the I-26, entered in the fighter competition with three other Yak prototypes. The I-26 was presented as a low and mid-altitude tactical fighter of mixed aluminum, and wood and fabric construction. It performed well at the prototype trials, achieving a maximum speed at sea level of 490 kilometers per hour and 585 kilometers per hour at 4,800 meters. The pilots reviewing the prototype found it easy to handle, though aerobatics were limited because of g load restrictions. The aircraft failed its state trials because of a laundry list of design and manufacturing flaws.

Many of the flaws were corrected before five prototype aircraft began operational trials. Production began at a Moscow factory in autumn 1940. At the time of the German invasion the Moscow plant was producing three aircraft per day. These aircraft were initially based at airfields near Moscow.

In combat the Yak-1 proved to be the best of the Soviet fighters, but its main opposition, the Bf 109F-2 and F-4 variants, were superior. In particular the Bf 109F-4’s speed advantage allowed it to engage in or break off combat at will.

In an effort to improve the Yak-1’s performance it was equipped with a Klimov M-105 PA engine. Although this did not eliminate the Yak-1’s inferiority to the Messerschmitt fighter, the new engine allowed prolonged inverted flight as well as negative g dives.

The first 1,000 Yak-1s were not equipped with radios. Future machines were equipped at a ratio of one in ten.

With the onset of winter the Yak-1, like all other Soviet combat aircraft, were painted with a chalk like white coating for camouflage. Skis on the Yak-1s allowed operation from snow covered fields. Large motorized rollers were used to flatten the snow prior to takeoff.

It is my intention to provide a developmental history of the Yakovlev series fighters and an outline of their operations during the Great Patriotic War. I also intend to discuss the careers of a number of the aces who flew these machines, including the exploits of the women who flew this machine in combat.

Sources: Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War, Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters, Yefim Gordon and Dmitri Khazanov, Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England, 1998

Yakovlev Fighters of World War Two, Yefim Gordon, Sergey Komissarov, and Dmitriy Komissarov, Hikoki Publications, Ltd., Manchester, England, 2015

Battle for Cherkassy and the Korsun Pocket

As the politically significant taking of Kiev unfolded, a more dramatic, militarily significant battle exploded near Cherkassy to the south. The Germans feared the result and the Soviets saw the benefit of sealing off two German corps in the Cherkassy bulge. The Soviet Air Force assisted by providing units of the Second and the Fifth Air Armies totaling 768 aircraft against 1,000 opposing German aircraft.

General Konev’s Second Ukrainian Front kicked off the battle against stubborn resistance on 24 January, 1944, with the support of the Fourth Fighter Air Corps. Low ceilings, fog and snow prevented air cover the next day.

General Vatutin’s First Ukrainian Front struck on 26 January opening a gap with the Sixth Tank Army. Rotmistrov’s Fifth Guards Tank Army, under General Konev, moved toward the Sixth Tank Army to enclose the Korsun pocket on 27 January, trapping the Fifth SS Panzer Division (Wiking) and SS Wallonian. Due to the poor weather conditions only experienced Soviet flight crews provided support in groups of four to eight aircraft.

The next day SS Wiking attacked Oschana, operating with little or no shelter from the weather. The Luftwaffe flew supplies in to the encircled troops and picked up the wounded, landing at two airfields within the pocket. The Soviets did what they could to eliminate the pocket under blizzard conditions and freezing temperatures. During the period from 29 January to 4 February the Luftwaffe lost forty aircraft to anti-aircraft fire or accidents. The Soviet Second and Fifth Air Armies flew 2,800 sorties during the same period. More than 120 air battles were fought and Soviet pilots claimed 130 German aircraft downed.

General von Manstein built up a relief force which included the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler SS Panzer Division. The relief attempt was scheduled for 3 February. On 1 February, just before the attack was to jump off, there was a sudden thaw, with temperatures dropping below freezing at night. On 2 February the aircraft of the First Guards Attack Corps of the Fifth Air Army attacked a column of tanks and other vehicles causing great damage to German forces. The German relief attempt started on schedule with the forces inside the pocket attempting to break out at the same time. The breakout forces were thrown back.

Konev and Vatutin rearranged their battle lines to further obstruct the relief attempt. By 5 February the mud caused by the thaw closed both airfields in the pocket and Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler’s panzers became bogged down.

On 6 February Adolf Hitler authorized a breakout from the Korsun pocket to begin on 10 February. Just as the relief force resumed their attack, temperatures plunged again and the mud re-froze. At this point Field Marshal Georgi Zhukov of Moscow, Leningrad, and Stalingrad fame, took command of the Soviet outer ring while Konev continued commanding the inner ring.

The breakout attempt began with Wiking, still trapped inside the pocket, taking Schenderovka on 11 February. SS Wallonian, in Novo Buda, attacked toward Komarovka on 12 February and took the village the next day, but Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, part of the relief force, was pushed out of Repki on the same day. German armor of the relief forces captured a bridge over the Gniloy Tikich River at Lisyanka, near Dzhurzhentsy, but a Soviet counter attack brought the relief attempt to a halt preventing contact with the surrounded forces.  The German forces trapped inside the pocket had to take Dzhurzhentsy themselves to break out.

By this time the pocket had been reduced to an area five by seven kilometers. Another breakout attempt was scheduled for 16 February. At dawn on 17 February the temperature dropped to -7 degrees Celsius in blizzard conditions. The engineers of the relief forces pushed two temporary bridges across the Gniloy Tickich River two kilometers upstream from the captured bridge but the escaping Germans could not reach them. Ice floes drifted down the river. Where the Germans attempted to cross, the river was two meters deep and several meters across. Under constant artillery and tank fire the Germans abandoned their equipment and swam to the other side. Only 35,000 of them were able to escape.

Two German corps had been destroyed. More than 3,000 Germans were captured near Schendorovka.

Sources: Crucible at Cherkassy, Pt McTaggart, WW II History Magazine, Volume 4, Number 5, September 2005

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

Slugfest at Kirovograd

Confusion reigned during the battle for Kirovograd, a city located west of the Dnieper between Cherkassy and Krivoy Rog. At several points German and Soviet forces surrounded each other and battle lines ceased to exist.

At the beginning of January 1944 Major General Nikolaus von Vormann, commander of 47 Panzer Corps was assigned to defend Kirovograd. North of the city General Vatutin’s First Ukrainian Front was making progress against the 4th Panzer Army west of Kiev.

On 5 January, 1944, General Konev’s Second Ukrainian Front, to the south, launched its attack to liberate Kirvograd from the four German Divisions that held it. General Rotmistrov’s Fifth Guards Tank Army sped west, passing south of Kirovograd, supported by the Fifth Air Army which flew 1,100 sorties. Germany’s Second Parachute Division opposed the attack fiercely, claiming the destruction of 120 Russian tanks on this first day.

The following day General Bayerlein counter attacked north of Letakova with the Third Panzer Division but the supporting divisional artillery and armor units experienced a shortage of munitions. Separated from their supporting Tenth Panzer Grenadiers, both units were isolated in separate pockets, incidentally also allowing the surrounding of Kirovograd by the Soviets.

Midday, 7 January, the Germans scheduled a breakout of the Third Panzer Division to begin at 1600 hours that same day. By dawn of the 8th the Panzers succeeded in breaking out of the pocket, reaching Ivanivka. The Tenth Panzer Grenadiers remained surrounded.

Fighting continued within the surrounded city of Kirovograd. The Second Parachute Division, holding the southern part of the city in 13 decree C weather, suffered 60 to 70% casualties. In spite of efforts by anti-tank Ju 87G Stukas commanded by Hans Ulrich Rudel, the Soviets took the airfield south of Mala Vyska.

Field Marshal von Manstein ordered 3 SS Panzer Division “Totenkopf” and Grossdeutschland SS Panzer Division to attack south of Kirovograd to join up with 2nd Parachute Division while Third Panzer Division and Tenth Panzer Grenadier Division attacked north of Kirovograd in an attempt to encircle Soviet forces who now held most of the city. Third Panzer Division took Ossikowata north of Kirovograd which allowed the German Tenth Panzer Grenadier Division to escape their pocket at Letekovka.

At first light on 10 January Grossdeutschland, supported by Stukas, attacked toward Karlivkha, providing relief for the 2nd Parachute Division and trapping Soviets in a pocket west of Kirovograd. The entrapped Soviets attacked west in the vicinity of Mala Vyska supported by another Soviet attack launched the next day north of Gruzkoye.

This attack was confronted by Grossdeutschland and the 2nd Parachute Division, accompanied by the Third SS Panzer Division, inserted between them on 12 January. The unexpected appearance of the Third Panzer Division brought the Soviet assault to a stop, succeeded in driving them out of Maryanrovka, and temporarily stabilizing the front line. Fighting continued in the neighborhood of Kirovograd until the 16th. The Russians held Kirovograd, but they paid a high price. Soviet losses included 490 tanks, 100 artillery pieces, 15 anti-aircraft guns, dozens of anti-tank guns and 3,871 prisoners.

The German losses were also severe. Regiments reported in at battalion strength and the panzers needed repairs.

Meanwhile, to the north-east, a bulge had developed in the German line in the Korson-Cherkassy area. Generals Vatutin and Konev received orders to encircle those German units.

Escape from Kirovograd, Pat McTaggart, WW II History Magazine, December 2015, Volume 15, Number 1

Crucible at Cherkassy, Pat McTaggart, WW II History Magazine, September 2005, Volume 4, Number 5

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