The Nazi Drive: From Minsk to Smolensk

In the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa the Soviet Air Force lost thousands of aircraft. Any repairable aircraft damaged either in the air or on the ground had to be left behind as the Germans overran Soviet airfields.

German forces crossed the Bug River on 26 June, 1941. Soviet Army units were encircled at Bialystok, Novogrudok, and Volkovysk. With possession of air superiority Army Group North crossed the Dvina River, Army Group Center crossed the Berezina River, and concentrated on crossing the Dnieper River near Rogachev. Army Group South burst through the Stalin Line. By 11 July the Panzer divisions of Army Group South were 16 kilometers from Kiev.

However, from June 29 onward the Germans observed Soviet reinforcements moving westward by road and rail from Smolensk toward the front lines.

Western Front Air Forces launched attacks on 40 airfields and destroyed or damaged 54 German aircraft on 8 July. Stavka ordered all air forces to target tanks, troops, fuel supplies, air bases, and concentrations of enemy forces. Many attacks by heavy bombers took place at high altitudes with strong fighter escort, or at night.

In response to the German air superiority, the Soviet Air Force instructed air fields to house only nine to twelve aircraft. Upon landing the aircraft were to be dispersed, camouflaged, and put under cover.

On 10 July Stalin appointed new commanders for the various fronts. Marshal Semen Budenny took command of South and Southwest Front. Marshal Semyon Timoshenko received command of the Central West Front, while Marshal Kliment Voroshilov was assigned the North West Front.

To combat complacency and carelessness among air crew and support staff, the Communist Party sent officials to air units to assist the commanding officers. This encouraged many pilots and support personnel to join the party.

The German Air Force attacked Moscow for the first time on 12 July.

As II Panzer Gruppe advanced toward Rogachev, Soviet forces began attacking its right flank from the Pripet Marshes beginning 15 July. The Soviet Fifth Army was also attacking Army Group South in its drive toward Kiev. General Heinz Guderian, commander of II Panzer Gruppe, received orders to attack the Fifth Soviet Army to stop those attacks. Army Group Center’s remaining Panzer unit, 3rd Panzer Gruppe, was assigned to assist Army Group North in its drive toward Leningrad, leaving Army Group Center with no Panzer units This loss brought the drive to Moscow to a the halt.

Finally the Soviet Air Force had the strength to attack German airfields. On 19 July Intensive air attacks took place against enemy forces at Vitebsk. The Western Front Air Force was so weakened it could no longer launch attacks. It possessed a mere 370 machines compared to the German 2nd Air Fleet’s 1000 aircraft.

Smolensk fell to the Germans on 19 July. After that time, due to diversion of 50% of their tanks to Army Groups North and South, and the reduction of motorized vehicles to 20% due to wear and tear, Army Group Center took a defensive stance.

In response, the Soviets formed a line before Army Group Center using the 22nd, 19th, and 13th Armies. Soviet aviators attacked river crossings, tank columns, troops, and enemy aircraft on the ground.

From 23 to 25 July the Soviet Western Front counter-attacked near Roslavl, Beloye, and Yartsevo, with support from the air, pinning down large German Forces.

Barbarossa: Drive to Smolensk, Generalmajor Alfred Philippi, 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 & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973

World War II: Day by Day, Anthony Shaw, MBI Publishing Company, Osceola, WI, 2001

Barbarossa-22 June, 1941

The German attack on the Soviet Union was not un-telegraphed. For months German troops and tanks gathered in Poland, yet Josef Stalin trusted Adolf Hitler. On the fateful day German artillery began bombarding the Soviet front lines. Luftwaffe aircraft crossed the frontier at 0300.

The German’s three pronged attack spanned a 3,200 kilometer front. Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb commanded Army Group North. Army Group South, commanded by General Gerd von Rundstedt invaded south of the Pripyat Marshes into the Ukraine. Army Group Center, under Field Marshal Fedor von Bock advanced toward Minsk, aiming to take that and Smolensk on the way to Moscow.

When Stalin’s troops invaded Poland in September 1939 he did not fortify the front. Instead, he relied on the fortifications established pre-1939.

Disorganized, with little support from artillery or aircraft, and no defense plans, the Soviet troops fell back in disarray. The Germans bypassed organized resistance. The fortress at Brest-Litovsk, surrounded with no chance of escape, held out for four days.

In the air the Luftwaffe reigned supreme, hitting airfields, anti-aircraft artillery, and aircraft on the ground. They claimed 322 aircraft shot down and 1,489 destroyed on the ground. The Soviet Air Force launched 1,900 sorties on 23 June attacking tank and troop concentrations and claiming 100 German aircraft destroyed.

By 23 June Soviet forces retreated from Bialystok. The German Army Group Center thrust out two arms to surround Soviet forces near Minsk. General Bock felt the Soviets were retreating to prevent his intended encirclement. He commanded his forces to take Polotsk and Vitebsk on the Dvina River to prevent the establishment of a defense line behind the River.

On 24 June the Panzer Gruppen occupied Slonim in the south and Wilno in the north and prepared to close their trap. The main crossing on the River Bug was taken. As the encirclement developed tanks outpaced the infantry and gaps between them appeared. In the east the tankers found they could not contain infantry units effectively. Many Soviet troops escaped and fell back to reorganize.

As the Germans tightened the encirclement, the large pocket degenerated into several smaller pockets. One around Bialystok and another around Volkovsk. Making use of the dense forests around Bialystok and using ration and ammunition dumps the resourceful and tough Soviet soldiers progressed northeastward toward Novogrudok, but were encircled again on 29 June. The double envelopment captured the Soviet 3rd and 10th Armies.

The next step was to capture the ‘Land Bridge’ between the Dvina and the Dnieper rivers. First there was the reconsolidation of Army Group Center. The infantry would replace the Panzers in the job of containing the Soviet soldiers now surrounded, while the tanks advanced toward Smolensk, the next objective.

Sources: Barbarossa: The Shock, Lieutenant General N. K. Popel, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Barbarossa: Drive to Smolensk, Generalmajor Alfred Philippi, 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 & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1973World War II: Day by Day, Anthony Shaw, MBI Publishing Company, Osceola, WI, 2001

von Manstein Retakes Kharkov

As Kharitonov’s 6th Army, with Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army protecting its flank, drove toward Dniepropetrovsk, and 40th and 69th Armies drove toward Poltava, the Soviet command did not guess the forces gathered against them, or the form the German response would take.

General von Manstein knew the opposing Soviet forces neared exhaustion after their lengthy drive from Stalingrad. His plan, as provided to Hitler at their meeting on 17 February, 1943, proposed using strong, fresh forces to push Vatutin’s South-West Front back behind the Donets River, while Knobelsdorf’s  48th Panzer Corps and Kirchner’s 57th Panzer Corps moved northwest from Krasnoarmeyskoye to cut off the Soviet forces striking toward Dniepropetrovsk. These attacks were designed to take to steam out of the Soviet offensive.

While Field Marshall Wolfram von Richthoffen’s Fourth Air Fleet’s Ju-87 Stukas hammered Popov’s and Kharitonov’s forces from the air, Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps mauled Kharitonov’s 6th Army on the ground. Das Reich and Totenkopf Divisions hit Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army as it attempted to open a corridor of escape for Kharitonov.

By 5 March Rybalko was forced onto the defensive facing southwest from Noraya Vodolaga to Ochotschaje. Panzer Divisions Das Reich, and Leibstandarte, combined with 6th Panzer Division, launched an attack on Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army even as it took up this position.

With Vatutin’s South-West Front neutralized, von Manstein directed 48 Panzer Corps north to support Army Detachment Kempf’s attack on Golikov’s Voronezh Front. On 6 March Grossdeutschland Division, Corps Raus, and part of Army Detachment Kempf deployed west of Kharkov, while Totenkopf cleaned up the surrounded 15th Tank Corps.

SS Panzer Corps and 4th Panzer Army captured Novaya Vodolaga and Taranovka on 8 March, while Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army retreated to Lyubotin and Merefa where nine artillery batteries contested the German advance. With the capture of Lyubotin on 9 March a 20 kilometer wedge was driven between Kazakov’s 69th Army and what remained of Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army, the remnants of which were captured at Merefa.

Simultaneously, Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps joined up with Corps Raus in preparation for the recapture of Kharkov. Grossdeutschland and Corps Raus attacked Moskalenko’s 40th Army and retook Belgorod on 10 March while Leibstandarte Division captured Dergachi. On 11 March Dietrich’s Leibstandarte Division entered Kharkov from the north and Vahl’s Das Reich Division entered from the West.

 Major General Belov, commanding the Soviet forces in Kharkov, moved against Leibstandarte Division, creating a vacuum allowing Das Reich to take the center of Kharkov.

As the spring thaw changed the fields and roads to mud, the planned offensive against Kursk was listed as ‘unfinished business.’ On the Soviet side, Golikov was removed from command of Voronezh Front, though writer Geoffrey Jukes considers him less culpable for the Soviet lack of preparation for a possible German offensive than either Vatutin or STAVKA.

Sources: Manstein’s Victorious Panzers, William E. Welsh, WW II History Magazine, Aug/Sept 2020

Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1968

‘Soviet Setback After Stalingrad,’ Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Kharkov: von Manstein’s Riposte

Soviet pressure on the German forces in Kharkov pushed Grossdeutschland back into the northeast corner of the city. Lieutenant General Pavel Rybalko’s Third Tank Army attacked the entire front of the German forces from the east and southeast, while Sokolov’s 6th Guards Cavalry Corps applied pressure on a wide arc south of Kharkov.

On 15 February, 1943, Major General G. M. Zaitzev’s 62nd Guards Rifle Division broke into the southeast quadrant of the city pressing Leibstandarte back while Koptsov’s 15th Tank Corps battled them in the factory district. Moskalenko’s 40th Army forced its way into the north side near Red Square while Kravchenko’s 5th Guards Tank Army threatened the Germans’ retreat path.

At 1100 hours von Manstein ordered Totenkopf to block Kravchenko. A battle group of the Leibstandarte stood firm against Sokolov’s 6th Guards Cavalry Corps. By noon the Germans began fighting a withdrawing action. Von Manstein remained reluctant to defy Hitler’s orders to hold the city at all costs. But Lieutenant General Paul Hausser retreated from the city.

Hitler, himself, relieved Lanz from command of his detachment and assigned the unit to General Kemp, who set the detachment up facing northeast from Akhtyrka to Borova, in front of Voronezh Front’s drive to the Dnieper River.

STAVKA ordered 40th and 69th Armies to move on Poltava while Rybalko’s Third Tank Army covered Kharitonov’s right flank.

In the midst of the crisis Hitler arrived at Zaporozhye on the Dnieper River to discuss the situation with von Manstein. During the meeting on 17 February von Manstein proposed driving Vatutin’s Southwest Front back behind the Donets River using Colonel General Eberhard Makensen’s 1st Panzer Army, Colonel General Herman Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army, and Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps.

The attack began on 19 February. Hausser’s SS Panzer Corp assembled near Kraznograd. Knobelsdorf’s 48th Panzer Corps and Kirchner’s 57th Panzer Corps struck northwest of Krasnoarmeiskoye while Makensen’s 1st Panzer Army moved out from south of the same city. Support was provided by Field Marshal Wolfram von Richthoffen’s Fourth Air Fleet. The Stuka’s attacked Popov’s and Kharitonov’s columns forming the Soviet spearhead nearing Dnepropetrovsk within 25 kilometers of the Dnieper River. Interestingly no discussion of Soviet Air support appears in The Soviet Air Force in WW II. Makensen’s 1st Panzer Army isolated Popov’s battle group while Hoth’s 2 Panzer Corps tore up Kharitonov’s 6th Army in five days.

Under STAVKA’s orders the 69th Army and Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army advanced toward Poltava and Krasnograd leaving Moskolenko’s 40th Army alone at Kharkov to fight General Raus’ Grossdeutschland.

At this time things started to unravel for the Soviets. On 23 February Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps returned to the battle, mauling Kharitonov’s 6th Army. Rybalko’s 3rd Tank Army, fighting to open a corridor to Kharitonov’s 6th Army at Kegichevka east of Krasnograd, was immediately attacked by Das Reich and Totenkopf Divisions. Vatutin’s Southwest front began full retreat on 28 February.

Sources: Manstein’s Victorious Panzers, William E. Welsh, WW II History Magazine, Aug/Sept 2020

Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1968

Soviet Setback After Stalingrad, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine,

Battle for Kharkov

General von Paulus surrendered the Sixth Army, surrounded at Stalingrad, in the first week of February 1943. Even ‘Winter Storm’, Hoth’s ill-fated attempt at a rescue, failed. As the Russian Army rampaged west, STAVKA, the Soviet Army staff, planned a massive offensive, ‘Operation Star’, aiming to surround the German forces in the Ukraine, Army Group South.

The plan required Bryansk Front, commanded by General Reyter, continuing their drive through Kursk, while Voronezh Front under General Golikov, and South-West Front under General Vatutin, struck west, north of Kharkov, then curved south to meet South Front under General Malinovsky, acting as the anvil which crushed Army Group South.

General Golikov anticipated using his 40th Army to take Belgorod, then circle south, while the 69th Army took bridgeheads over the Donets and entered Kharkov. The Third Tank Army, under General Rybalko, would cross the Donets and circle Kharkov to the south. Golikov possessed 315 tanks with 300 in reserve, and 200,000 men.

Lieutenant General Hans Cramer’s SS Grossdeutschland had 31 tanks, though its infantry traveled on half-tracks, allowing enhanced maneuverability, compared to infantry on foot. 168th Division, and Grossdeutschland covered Kharkov from the north. Two divisions of the Lieutenant General Paul Hausser’s SS Panzer Corps protected Kharkov from the east and south. Army Detachment Lanz, with 50,000 men in Kharkov, was no match for the Soviet troops, though the Luftwaffe controlled the skies. Das Reich and Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler detrained in Kharkov as the battle began.

Two of General Golikov’s divisions crossed the Donets on 5 February after a three day battle. By 6 February elements of Grossdeutschland retreated to the south-west toward Kharkov. Conversely, Das Reich met Soviet troops east of the Donets, and drove them back eight kilometers.

On 7 February Soviet troops reached the outskirts of Belgorod, about 60 kilometers north-east of Kharkov, while General Sokolov’s 6th Guards Corps crossed the Donets River at Zmiev, south of Kharkov. By 9 February German forces pulled back, continuing to cover Kharkov. On 11 February Das Reich redeployed south of Kharkov. Soviet forces pushed Grossdeutschland back even further into the north-east corner of the city.

General von Manstein became commander of Army Group South on 12 February and received permission from Adolf Hitler to pull back forces as needed, and to deploy his armor at his discretion.

Lieutenant General Pavel Rybalko’s Third Tank Army attacked the entire front of the German defenses from the east and south-east while Sokolov’s 6th Guards Cavalry Corps attacked on a wide ark south of Kharkov from Merefa to Novaya Vodolaga. Fighting continued in the industrial district in eastern Kharkov even as Totenkopf detrained, on February 13, at Poltava more than 100 kilometers to the south-west of Kharkov.

As fighting intensified, Lieutenant General Paul Hausser, commander of SS Panzer Corps, advised Lieutenant General Josef ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, commander of Leibstandarte Panzer Division, to blow up key bridges in Kharkov. This order was cancelled on 14 February by von Manstein, who also ordered Lanz to hold Kharkov. Von Manstein relieved General Crammer of command of Grossdeutschland, giving the unit to General Raus.

SS Panzer Corps’ attack on Surzhikov’s 11th Cavalry forced them back on Ochotschaje and Bereka, while Das Reich pulled back from Kharkov.

Von Manstein knew that the Soviet forces, committed to combat for an lengthy period, were weak and overextended. He had a plan to knock them back on their heels.

Sources: Manstein’s Victorious Panzers, William E. Welsh, WW II History Magazine, Aug/Sept 2020

Kursk: The Clash of Armour, Geoffrey Jukes, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1968 Soviet Setback After Stalingrad, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

Soviet Setback After Stalingrad, Geoffrey Jukes, History of the Second World War Magazine, 1970s

War: Duty, Death, and Love

Duty to one’s people and one’s country is a powerful force in times of national emergency. Everyone is called upon to make sacrifices. The combatant must leave family, comfort, and normal life behind, prepared potentially to lose one’s life. Non-combatants say good-bye to loved ones going to the front. At home they do what they can to support the cause and defeat the foe.

Many women served in Soviet military units during the Great Patriotic War, known in the west as World War II. They served in all female units and mixed sex units in combat roles. Eighteen per cent of the Soviet Air Force personnel were women. They flew combat aircraft in combat. They also worked on the ground, in combat zones, in a multitude of capacities.

Loss of one’s life while performing one’s duty to family, country, and a way of life is not a sacrifice easily made. In addition to fear of death, there is fear of personal injury. These injuries are expected, even demanded during times of war. Duty forces one to expose one’s self to injury, including fatal injury. Fear is ever present. Many either overcome, ignore, or suppress it in times of need. In addition to physical injury, one must also consider the emotional and psychological health cost. Physical and emotional trauma to oneself and one’s comrades is a cost potentially paid to the end of one’s life, however long or short that may be.

If a combatant falls in love with a fellow combatant, one fears the loss the loved one. Love in war puts immense strain on people in love. This is especially true when one is in love with a fellow combatant in the same unit. The commitment of one’s self to another person when both are in combatant roles is an act of faith which defies the reality of combat. Knowing the loved one can be killed or horribly injured at any time may interfere with one’s ability do carry out ones duties. 

The question of love taking priority over one’s duty to one’s country may cause questionable behavior. One may remain in combat longer than one normally might under the assumption that one’s absence would put the loved one at risk. Seeing the loved one in danger may cause one to take additional risks in combat to protect the other. One might abandon the fight to care for the loved one if that person is wounded. All of these can endanger the success of an operation.

Weighing one’s duty to country, the other combatants in one’s unit, and the success of an operation against the strength of one’s desire to spend one’s life with the loved one may overpower one’s emotional strength. Ultimately, being in love affects one’s performance of one’s duty. To my knowledge, no correct path exists. Each person must search their own heart and make the best choices available under the circumstances.

Marshal Georgi Konstaninovich Zhukov

Georgi Zhukov was born 2 December, 1896, in Strelkovka, Kaluga Province, central European Russia. The author of my source material, the noted writer Blaine Taylor states ‘…he was arguably the most successful soldier in the annals of recorded military history.’

Zhukov spent three years in primary school before being sent to a Moscow cobbler as an apprentice. In 1913 he took an exam for a whole year’s courses at a city school. In 1915 he was drafted into the Tsarist cavalry as a private. During this period, leading up to the Communist Revolution, as Russian soldiers fought the Central Powers, the soldiers did not respect their officers. They only fought for those they trusted.

Operating as a spy behind enemy lines, Zhukov captured a German officer, for which he was awarded his second St. George’s Cross.

In 1918 he joined the Soviet Red Guards and fought at Tsaritsyn, soon renamed Stalingrad, where he was wounded. He ended the Civil War as a cavalry commander. He was awarded the Order of the Red Banner in August 1922.

He attended Leningrad’s Higher Cavalry School in 1924, where he became known as a ‘tough taskmaster.’ By 1928, as a brigade commander, he took a secret course in armored warfare in the Weimar Republic. Afterward he was a student in Moscow from 1929 to 1930, and was then assigned to Rokossovsky’s Second Cavalry Brigade. Later he served under Timoshenko, and under Cavalry Inspector Semyon M. Budenny, a hero of the Civil War.

During his three years at the Frunze Military Academy he studied the use of armored and airborne formations, and in 1936 he advised Republican Communist troops fighting Nationalist, Fascist, and Nazi troops in Spain. He returned to Russia to command the Sixth Cavalry Corp.

Surviving Stalin’s purges, he became the commander of the First Soviet Mongolian Army, where he defeated the Japanese Kwantung Army at the Battle of Khalkin Gol in August 1939.

During the 1939-1940 Russo-Finnish War he pierced the Mannerheim line resulting in a victory over the Finland. Promoted to general, Zhukov took command of the Kiev Military District in the Ukraine in June 1940. During this period, he participated in wargames as the ‘enemy force’ commander against the Red Army. He was victorious. Stalin named him Chief of Staff in February 1941.

The opening moves of Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa against the Soviets in June, 1941 resulted in disaster for the Soviets. In six months the Germans thrust toward Leningrad, Moscow, and into the Ukraine. Zhukov was appointed to direct the defense of Leningrad where he was able to bring the Germans to a stop, though Leningrad was cut off from supplies.

At the same time German forces were nearing Moscow. Zhukov was moved there where he used Siberian troops to stall the German attack in the suburbs. This was the first Russian victory of World War II.

From there Stalin sent Zhukov to Stalingrad as German forces thrust toward the Volga in the summer of 1942. Together Zhukov and Stalin planned Operation Uranus which, in November 1942, achieved the surrounding of von Paulus’ Sixth Army.

Promoted to marshal in early 1943, Zhukov planned the defenses of the Kursk Salient, resulting in the defeat of the Germans in the greatest tank and air battle of the war.

In January 1944 Stalin made him deputy commander-in-chief with Stalin. After the war Zhukov was the Soviet representative on the Allied Control Counsel in Berlin. When he returned to Moscow he was made commander of the Odessa Military District, but he was so popular that Stalin transferred him to the Urals in Soviet Asia.

Upon the passing of Stalin in 1953, Khruschev named him minister of defense. In that role he deposed the NKVD Secret Police Chief Lavrenti P. Beria solidifying Khruschev’s hold on power. He was then demoted and sent into exile.

Georgi Zhukov was reinstated after Khruschev’s overthrow.

He died 18 June, 1974, at the age of 77, was cremated and his ashes were buried in the Kremlin wall.

Source: ‘Marshal Geogi Zhukov, Hero of the Soviet Union, Led the Red Army to Victory Against the Nazis,’ Blaine Taylor, Military Heritage Presents: WWII History Magazine, Sovereign Media, July 2003

General Ivan Danilovich Chernyakhovsky

Perhaps the least known Soviet general in the West, Ivan Chernyakhovsky was born in 1906 in Uman, near Kiev. He liberated Kursk, Vilna, and Kovno, and twice won the prestigious Hero of the Soviet Union medal. He was the youngest front commander, and the highest ranking Jewish officer in the Soviet Army.

His parents perished of typhoid during the civil unrest following the revolution. He began his journey as a herdsman and a workman on the railway. At 18 he joined the Red Army as a cadet in the Odessa Infantry School. There his ability in mathematics and science attracted attention, and he was sent to Artillery School in Kiev. He graduated in 1928 and joined the Communist Party.

In 1931 he went to the Stalin Military Academy for Mechanization and Motorization where he studied command engineering. He graduated in 1936. In spite of his Jewish heritage, perhaps because of his loyalty as a Communist Party operative, he survived Stalin’s late 1930s purge of 80,000 army officers.

Chernyakhovsky was promoted to deputy commander of a tank division in 1940-41. At the time of the German invasion, 22 June, 1941, he commanded the 28th Tank Division south of Leningrad. He moved his unit forward aggressively to confront the German attack. He encountered the German First Panzer Division and initially succeeded in pushing them back; however, by 25 June all of his tanks had been destroyed. Consequently, his unit was reorganized as the 241st Rifle Division.

During the Battle for Leningrad he worked with Supreme Commander Marshal Georgi Zhukov and Chief of the General Staff, Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky.

In July 1942 he took command of the 60th Army, under General Konstantin Rokassovsky, and helped to liberate Voronezh on 25 January, 1943, and Kursk on 8 February, 1943. On 23 February, 1943, he was promoted to lieutenant general.

During the drive to the border of East Prussia on 17 October, 1943, he earned his first Hero of the Soviet Union Medal.

Promoted to colonel general on 5 March, 1944, he arrived at Krasnoe on 12 April.

The 3rd Belorussian Front was created on 24 April, 1944.

Planning for Operation Bagration began on 22 May, 1944. The operation was intended to destroy the German Army Group Center, and was the largest campaign of the war. In June Chernyakhovsky was promoted to army general, the youngest to be so promoted, and made commander of the 3rd Belorussian Front, the youngest Front Commander.

Operation Bagration kicked off on 23 June, 1944, with 3rd Belorussian Front attacking north of Minsk as the right pincer. The left pincer, commanded by Front Commander General Rokossovsky, moved south of Minsk to trap the 4th and 3rd Panzer Armies. Minsk was encircled by 3 July, and Vilna was captured on 13 July. On 15 July the Nieman River was crossed, and Chernyakhovsky received his second Hero of the Soviet Union Medal at the end of July.

By 2 August Kovno was taken and the German border was crossed on 17 August. This was followed by a period of rest and refitting. After that, the 3rd Belorussian Front was on the move, penetrating 80 kilometers into East Prussia.

On 13 January, 1945, the drive resumed. Tilsit was taken 20 January. General Rokosovsky took Tannenberg on 21 January. By mid-February Chernyakhovsky isolated Koenigsberg, East Prussia. The next thrust was being planned and Chernyakhovsky intended to visit each of the armies under his command. He was on his way to the 3rd Army headquarters when his jeep was hit by an artillery shell, killing him.

Chernyakovsky was buried in Vilna, known as ‘East Jerusalem’ because of its Jewish population. When Lithuania separated from the disbanded Soviet Union, Chernyakovsky was disinterred and his body moved to Moscow for reburial.

Source: ‘Russia’s General Ivan D. Chernyakhovsky Achieved A Combat Record That Is Virtually Unknown In The West,’ Steven L. Ossad, WW II History Magazine, Sovereign Media, May 2004

Alexander Pokryshkin

Second only to Ivan Kozedub in victories, Alexander Pokryshkin achieved greater fame than the highest scoring ace. Alexander Pokryshkin shot down 59 aircraft, 47 of them in the Bell P-39 Airacobra.

At the age of 15 he began his working life as a roof builder, but he yearned to be a pilot. He started his training in a glider club, like most Soviet Air Force pilots. After receiving his ticket at the Combined Flying-Technical School in Perm, he went on to maintain aircraft engines, but he still wanted to fly, so, on Sundays, he learned to fly gliders while taking a refresher course on flight mechanics in Leningrad.

Assigned to an air force unit in Krasnodar as a flight mechanic, he repeatedly filed requests for flight school, all of which were denied. Undeterred, he built his own non-flying training plane in which he sat, simulating flight maneuvers. When he graduated from the factory school, in 1933, he joined the 74th Rifle Division as a senior aviation mechanic.

He finally enrolled at the Krasnodar Flying Club where he soloed. Transferred to Kachinskaya School of aviation in Crimea, he graduated in 1939 and, as a senior lieutenant, was assigned to the 55th Fighter Regiment, where he flew a MiG-3.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Pokryshkin attained his first kill. Ironically he shot down a Soviet Su-2 Soviet light bomber in error. His first German victory, a Bf-109, almost resulted in his becoming a victory for a German pilot.

Pokryshkin realized early that the Soviet Air Doctrine was obsolete and began working up his own doctrine summarized as ‘Altitude, Speed, Maneuver, Fire.’ He understood the value of potential energy embodied in altitude and taught his pilots how to use altitude to advantage in combat.

Promoted to squadron commander in the 4th Air Army located in the Kuban and the Kerch Peninsula, he flew MiG 3s and Yak 1s into the summer of 1942 when the P-39 arrived. These aircraft, produced by the United States for use by the British Royal Air Force under the Lend-Lease Program, were refused by the British, and sent on to the Soviet Air Force, which used them with zeal. The Soviets appreciated the 20 mm cannon in the propeller boss.

Pokryshkin gained 10 kills between 9 and 24 April, then another each on 29 and 30 April for a total of 12 victories in one month. He drew his combat maneuvers on paper to improve his techniques and to criticized his own actions. He further used them to teach his squadron’s new pilots, and to refresh his veterans. He studied enemy tactics and discovered ways to defeat them.

Pokryshkin flew many ‘free hunts,’ operations by a pair, or four fighters flying 100 to 150 kilometers behind the front lines. During these operations they could not expect support from anyone else. On one of these ‘free hunts’, he scored his 50th victory.

The last two years of the war he spent in the Ukraine where he scored only six additional victories. His preference for foreign built aircraft ended his career after the war. Upon the death of Josef Stalin, Pokryshkin was promoted to air marshal. From 1972 to 1981 he headed the organization tasked with training civilian pilots for service in the Soviet Air Force. He died in 1985 at 72.

Sources: ‘Innovative Soviet Fighter Ace,’ Christopher J. Chlon, WW II History Magazine October, 2017, Sovereign Media, McLean, VA

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

The Mushy Middle

Writers on social media discuss issues like the ‘mushy middle’ of their novel and wonder if it is a real thing. Having encountered the ‘mushy middle’ in my own work, I decided to comment on it in this blog, perhaps more to organize my own thoughts, than to add any extensive knowledge of this subject to the current work on this topic.

The structure of the novel, of course, basically consists of the beginning, the middle, and the end. Story structure is as old as the story itself. Around the campfire, the story teller’s audience expects the story teller to introduce a protagonist: the hero, anti-hero, god, goddess, or searcher for the truth. This person is introduced immediately, as well as the goal of the protagonist.

The beginning also includes an antagonist the goal of whom is to thwart the protagonist for whatever reason. At any rate, the protagonist and the antagonist operate at cross purposes. The goals of both the protagonist and the antagonist are stated as the story develops.

The end of the story is reached when the protagonist achieves his/her goal, and either destroying or neutralizing the antagonist. This ending should satisfy the story teller’s listeners.

The middle of the story is another animal altogether. In the middle of the story are the attempts, usually multiple, to find solutions to the hurdles the antagonist throws in the way of the protagonist. The middle of the story is also the point where the story teller fills in any details about the protagonist and the antagonist that the audience needs to understand the struggle. These items usually include the backstories of the various characters and their relationships.

Frequently, the middle introduces a character or characters that assist the protagonist and antagonist toward their goals. The middle also includes the various complications arising from the progression of the action.

The middle of a novel presents difficulties that short stories do not have. The novel’s extended length presents the story teller with the possibility of a failure of imagination, boredom of the listeners, and a desire to hurry the story to its end. The more complicated the middle becomes, the more difficulties are presented to the story teller to wrap up the loose ends before the climax of the story is reached.

Robert J. Ray attempts to assist the storyteller with the middle of the novel in his book The Weekend Novelist. He suggests the writer choose several points in the middle of the novel to keep the audience interested.

The end of the beginning he calls Plot Point One. The beginning of the end is called Plot Point Three. Plot Point Two is found in the very middle of the entire story, and thus in the middle of the middle. Ray suggests that a Pinch Point be placed between Plot Point One and Plot Point Two to wake up the reader. He suggests ritual, things that happen on a regular basis. Something that happens in the beginning seems to repeat itself at that point.

Pinch Point Two happens between Plot Point Two and Plot Point Three, and once again uses ritual, replaying something that regularly happens, and perhaps echoes the tones of things that happened in the beginning and again previously in the middle.

Successful writers have used the techniques of the ancient storyteller to keep their audiences entertained through the millennia. They remain the refuge of the storyteller to the present day.

Source: The Weekend Novelist, Robert J. Ray, Dell Publishing, New York, NY, 1994