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

Midpoint: Not Just Another Scene

The scene at the midpoint of your novel is magical. In it the power struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist reaches a turning point. Perhaps a defeat brings the protagonist to a place where things could not possibly get worse. Or a victory puts the antagonist on the ropes; down but not out. Obviously things will get worse if the protagonist does nothing. The stakes are immense.

For education and entertainment, I reviewed a few familiar plays of Shakespeare’s to illustrate the magic of that scene in the middle.

Henry V. Henry has been insulted by the French king’s representative. To pacify Henry the French King offers his daughter in marriage and various petty, unprofitable dukedoms as bribes. Henry, incensed, lands on the French coast to win by war a just recompense. This action results in the battle of Agincourt.

Julius Caesar. Against the warnings of his wife, Caesar goes to the Forum where he is murdered. This sets off rebellion in Rome eventually resulting in the battle of Phillippi.

MacBeth. After the murder of Duncan, King of Scotland, MacBeth, based on the words of the witches who told him Banquo’s heirs will inherit the throne, hires murderers to kill Banquo, one of Duncan’s generals, and his son, Fleance.  This action succeeds in removing Banquo, but Fleance escapes, which leads to the death of MacBeth in battle.

Hamlet Hamlet learns from the ghost of his father that his uncle murdered his father and married his father’s wife. The ghost requires Hamlet take revenge on Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet agonizes over his options. When a troop of actor’s shows up at the castle, Hamlet provides them a scene to play depicting the murder of his father, hoping to catch the conscience of the king, freeing him from his promise to revenge his father’s murder. This action leads to a duel causing the deaths of half of the cast.

Each of these scenes intensifies the drama, captures the attention of the reader, and prepares the reader for the decision point. The point when the protagonist must take action.

The scene at the middle of the novel, story, or film is where the protagonist examines who he has become. He reconsiders every aspect of his personality and his challenge. He knows a key exists which unlocks the riddle. Find the key and, though the end may not be assured, hope for success lies on the horizon. Along with the secondary characters he searches out the path through the antagonist’s defenses.

There is no stasis here. The midpoint is the fulcrum where the lever is applied that moves the plot, caused by the actions of the protagonist and his helpers as they search out their options.  

The riddle sparks the writer’s imagination. Using the premise of the story and the personalities of the protagonist, his helpers, the antagonist, and his helpers, the writer works the magic. Of course, the twist throws the hearty band back.

Things will never be the same again.

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

Hans-Ulrich Rudel–Stuka Pilot

Hans-Ulrich Rudel’s name and the story of the Stuka (Junkers 87) belong together. The crank-winged dive bomber became legend during the attack on Poland in September 1939, and the blitzkrieg through France and the Low Countries in spring 1940. It fell out of the sky like a bird of prey, siren screaming, spraying machine gun fire, and dropping bombs on fleeing civilians on crowded country roads, leaving the dead, and wounded in its wake.

The Stuka lost some of its luster during the Battle of Britain in summer, 1940. The British Hurricanes and Spitfires found the Ju-87 an easy kill.

The Stuka again ruled the skies over Crete and during the invasion of the Soviet Union. German fighters cleared the skies of Soviet machines, most of which were left overs from the days of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Deemed an average pilot in training, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, volunteered to fly the Stuka in lieu of flying bombers. He spent his early years as a flight instructor before being assigned to 3 Gruppe, Stukageschwader 2, Immelmann. Rudel quickly gained a reputation for diving quite low and achieving remarkable accuracy. During the siege of Leningrad, on 16 September, 1941, the Luftwaffe, caught the Soviet battleship Marat at sea. Rudel hit it with a 500 kilogram bomb, damaging it and sending it back to Kronstadt harbor. There he hit it again, this time with a 1,000 kilogram bomb, breaking its back.

Rudel flew his 500th sortie in September, 1942, and his 1,000th on 10 February, 1943. By this time the Ju-87D replaced the Ju-87B model. Rudel helped to evaluate the Ju-87G model. This variant carried a 37 mm cannon under each wing which fired shells with tungsten cores. These shells made short work of the thin, rear armor plate of the Soviet tanks. During the Battle for the Kursk Salient in July 1943, Rudel destroyed twelve tanks on the first day. He often flew at an altitude of five to ten meters above ground level on his attack runs. (Please refer to previous blogs on Hitler’s Airborne Anti-Tank Guns Part 1, February 2017, and Part 2, March 2017.)

During the battle for Cherkassy and the Korsun pocket in August 1943 (please refer to my blog of October 2017) on the Dnieper River, Rudel continued his destruction of Soviet tanks . By March 1944 his unit operated at the Dniester Bridgehead farther north.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel was a proponent of ‘tank-busting.’ During his career he destroyed at least 519 tanks. Some sources credit him with many more. He flew 2,530 combat sorties, more than any other pilot flying on the Eastern Front. He rescued six air crews by landing in the midst of battles to pick them up. Shot down by anti-aircraft fire at least 30 times, he was never shot down by a fighter. In addition to the Marat, he sank two cruisers and one destroyer.

Near the end of the war he was wounded by a fragment from an exploding Stalin tank, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. His left leg was put in a cast.

When Germany surrendered, Rudel, directed to surrender to the Russian, instead surrendered to the Americans. After the war he moved to Paraguay where he lived for thirty years until returning to Germany where he died of a brain hemorrhage 21 December, 1982, at the age of 66.

Sources: Warplanes of the Third Reich, William Green, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1972

War Over the Steppes, The Air Campaigns of the Eastern Front 1941-1945, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, New York, NY, 2016

‘He was ‘worth an entire division.”‘ Ludwig Heinrich Dyck, WW II History, Sovereign Media Company, Inc., February, 2020


Women Fighter Pilots of the Soviet Union

During the Great Patriotic War (World War II) many women in the Soviet Union flew fighter aircraft in combat. These women were generally underappreciated by their peers (the men they flew with), and the Soviet public. Only a few names are known in the West. The 586th Women’s Fighter Regiment, along with the 587th Women’s Bomber Regiment, and the 588th Women’s Night Bomber Regimen, was formed by Marina Raskova by order of Josef Stalin in late 1941. These units consisted of all women, including the mechanics. The 586th Regiment assigned to Saratov in the summer of 1942.

The 586th Fighter Air Regiment contained other women pilots of note. Valentina Petrochenkova and a woman comrade chased a reconnaissance bomber quite beyond their area of operation until they ran out of ammunition. Valeria Khomyakova shot down a night bombing Ju-88 and inspected the wreckage on the banks of the Volga. Galia Boordina infiltrated a Ju-88 bomber formation at night and shot down one of the aircraft.

The most famous woman fighter pilot Lilya Litvak began her career in the 586th Fighter Air Regiment. Please refer to my previous blog, ‘Lilya Litvak.’ Katya Budenova gained nine victories and was a consummate fighter pilot. She kept her hair short and was always singing. She became Lilya’s wing mate in the 586th Fighter Air Regiment and followed her to the 73d Fighter Air Regiment, an all male unit. Eventually Lilya convinced the Regimental Commander Colonel Nikolai Baranov to let them fly, initially as wing mates on the colonel’s and Captain Alexei Salomaten’s wings.

Lilya, as the highest scoring woman ace in the Soviet Air Force, achieved a victory tally of 12 aerial kills plus three shared victories in 268 sorties over a period of less than a year of combat. She owes much of her fame to her mechanic, Ina Pasportnikova, who gave an interview to a Soviet newspaper reporter, and also to Bruce Myles, author of Night Witches, The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in World War II.

Bruce Myles’ accounts add a personal touch to the harrowing life of a fighter pilot living in primitive conditions under severe mental and physical stress. The Ukraine, Russia’s bread basket, captured by the Germans in 1941, reduced Soviet food supplies. The rations consisted of one meal per day of bread with watery soup. Shower trains arrived at airfields at rare and irregular intervals. These allowed all personnel to get a hot shower. Women first.

In intervals between the arrivals of the shower trains, Lilya used slivers of soap and hot water drained from the radiator of her Yak fighter, mixed with cold water, to wash her hair. Colonel Nikolai Baranov turned a blind eye to that disobedience stating the Soviet Air Force could afford the loss of a bit of hot water. Lilya typically brought flowers into her cockpit before going flying and frequently wore a flower in her hat.

Colonel Baranov also allowed her to paint a white rose on both sides of her aircraft, number three, which she called “Troika.” Each aerial victory was celebrated by adding another white rose as a victory marking. She became known as the ‘White Rose of Stalingrad,’ and achieved notoriety among German airmen.

Lilya was shot down twice in three weeks, once making an emergency landing, another time bailing out of her flaming machine, she emerged from that period emotionally shaken. Her boyfriend, Captain Alexei Salomaten, was shot down and killed, and Lilya carried a photograph of them sitting together on the wing of her aircraft. After his death her friends became worried about her. She withdrew into herself and threw herself into her combat flying. Only her friend, Katya Budenova, was able to comfort her. When Katya was shot down and killed, Lilya was devastated.

Surprised as she attacked a formation of Ju-88s bombers, Lilya was killed in single combat with eight Bf-109s.

Sources: “Red Air Force Female Fighter Pilot Lilya Litvak Became an Ace and Hero of the Soviet Union Fighting the Germans” Michael D. Hull, WW II History Magazine, January 2005, Sovereign Media, Herndon, VA

Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in World War II, Bruce Myles, Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, IL, Second Printing 1990

The Pantser Confronts His Mess

The potter mixes his clay, then throws it on the wheel. The painter paints the background first before engaging his subject, creating form, balance, and beauty. The composer hears a melody in the mind, then puts notes on the staff capturing that melody and, around that melody, builds the accompanying counter melodies, and the symphony, instrument by instrument.

Just so, the pantser writes scenes, develops characters, makes the characters interact, either together or individually as accomplices or antagonists. The rough draft is the glob of clay, the paint on the palette, the melody in its crudest form. So the pantser looks at the rough draft and asks, “What do I do with this mess?” The nice thing about this mess is at least there’s something to work with, not just a blank sheet of paper.

Yup. It’s a mess. Sketchy scenes, some characters which resemble shadows, secondary characters which are even less than shadows, form something like a story. The middle is a muddle, but is coming into some sort of shape. At this point I have read the entire manuscript, rearranging scenes. Hoping to gain clarity, I listed the scenes in some sort of order. This gives the manuscript a shape. I know how I want the story to end, though some of the characters have different ideas. Characters have minds of their own. I believe every writer has encountered this. Characters can refuse to cooperate, but the writer can terminate those characters at will. It gives the writer a mistaken sense of power.

Historical fiction requires the writer to follow the timeline of the actual events, which the characters like to ignore. The writer ignores history at his peril. So back to the sources you go. Exactly what date and time did this event occur? What was the weather? And sometimes the sources disagree, or remain vague. The ground battle and the air battle follow different timelines.

The timeline of the battle runs from August 1943 as the battle for the Kursk Salient is resolved, across the Ukrainian Steppes, punching through the Dnieper River line, to February 1944 and the battle for the Korsun Pocket.

The story has its own timeline.

My intention is to go through the last third of the story again before starting at the beginning. In the second rewrite I wish to smooth out the bumps, flesh out the characters, clean up the back-stories, eliminate some of the short scenes, and sharpen the plot. The hope is to keep the reader engaged and reduce the confusion.

My characters are roughly based on the experiences of real people. In previous blogs I have dropped some names: Lilya Litvyak, Ivan Kozhedub. In future blogs I will provide more detail about Erich Hartman, Hans Ulrich Rudel, and others.