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-9

With nearly 17,000 Yak-9s produced, the Yak-9 defined the Yakovlev fighter. Initially, the Yak-9 retained the razor-back cockpit of the Yak-1 and Yak-7. The fighter proved easily modified for a number of combat roles including: low altitude, light tactical fighter, fighter-bomber, long-range escort, and high altitude reconnaissance. Modifications included a variety of armament choices, different engines, and two or four fuel tanks. The aircraft variant used depended on the mission.

Early Yak-9s suffered a variety of production deficiencies including wing warping, and skin pealing due to breaches in bonding techniques and materials. This problem occasionally led to loss of the aircraft and/or pilot.

The Yak-9 first flew on 6 July, 1942, with production beginning in October 1942. These aircraft went to reserve regiments and training centers under the supreme command reserve. They first saw combat in the second half of December 1942.

The Yak-9D, long range fighter, saw an increase in fuel tanks from two to four located in the wings between the wing spars. More than 3,000 Yak-9Ds were built from March 1943 to June 1946, and first saw combat on 12 July, 1943, in the Orel area during the Soviet counter-offensive in the Kursk bulge. Although slower than enemy fighters, the Yak-9D held an advantage over the Fw 190A-4 and the Bf 109G-6 in horizontal maneuverability.

Closely following the Yak-9D came the Yak-9T, tank buster. Built between March 1943 and June 1945, this aircraft earned high praise from the pilots who flew it. Initially it carried a 37 mm cannon firing through the propeller boss. Engineers moved the cockpit of the production model aft because the weight of the cannon affected the machine’s center of gravity. The longer nose did not affect visibility on landing. The aircraft carried only thirty to thirty-two rounds for the 37 mm so pilots limited a burst to one to three rounds. Later variants carried a 45 mm cannon.

Thirty-five Yak-9Ts were used for combat evaluation during the battle of the Kursk Salient from 5 July to 6 August, 1943. Assigned to the 16th Air Army, these machines broke up bomber formations and then destroyed the bombers individually. Pilots flying the Focke Wulf 190, itself equipped with a formidable armament, avoided head on attacks with Yak-9Ts. Production of the Yak-9T ran from March 1943 to June 1945 and totaled 2,748 machines.

Yak-9s replaced Yak-1s, Yak-7s, LaGG-3s, and Polikarpov as production allowed. By mid-1944 the Yak-9 outnumbered all other fighters in the Soviet Air Force inventory.

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

The Yak-7 in Combat

During a Soviet Air Force flight test, the Yak-7 emerged among the best in stability and controllability when compared with German, Soviet, British, and American fighters. According to Major Ivan S. Morozov, the Yak-7 A out performed the German Bf 109F in battle.

The Yak-7B achieved notice on the Stalingrad Front on 26 July, 1942, when the 434th Fighter Regiment claimed 34 kills. The 288th Fighter Division, flying Yak-7Bs, destroyed two Ju-88 bombers and four Bf 109 fighters while losing only three of their own.

Bubble canopy equipped Yak-7Bs engaged German aircraft on the Kalinin Front in November and December 1942. Many units flew the ‘bubble canopy’ aircraft with the ‘razor back’ machines finding that such a mix provided noticeably enhanced visibility in combat.

During the battle for the Kursk Salient the 1st Guards Fighter Regiment, flying Yak-7Bs, operated in the Orel area as part of the 7th Fighter Division. In this battle, the 2nd and the 16th Air Armies together operated 659 Yak-1s and Yak-7s. The Luftwaffe, operating Fw 190A-5s and Bf 109G-6s, held air superiority over the northern flank of the Kursk Salient for only a few days. After that the air belonged to the Soviets.

Notables among Yak fighter aces include Vasilii Petrovich Babkov who scored 23 individual and 11 shared victories, two thirds of them in Yaks. Sergei Fyodorovich Dogushin downed 17 enemy aircraft individually and shared 11. Ten of these were achieved in Yakovlev fighters.

The following example indicates the intensity of the fighting on the Soviet front. Pavel Ignat’evich Murav’yov took part in the March 1943 offensive near Demyansk and Velikie Luki against the Lorat River crossing. His formation of six Yak-7s was attacked by eight Focke Wulf 190s. In the ensuing combat, Murav’yov’s formation shot down six enemy aircraft for no loss. At mid-day Murav’yov, with eight Yak-7s, encountered eighteen Ju-88s escorted by ten Fw 190s and four Bf 109s. Six German aircraft went down, again without Soviet loss. That evening Murav’yov’s formation of eight Yaks fought six Fw 190s, shooting down three for no loss. This action earned the unit the coveted Guards status.

During the battle for Kiev, capital of Ukraine, Arsenii Valil’evich Vorozheikin and his wingman painted their aircraft red from the nose back to the cockpit in honor of the November revolution. On 4 November, 1943, they engaged a formation of Fw 190s. Vorozheikin achieved his thirteenth kill of the war. He scored all of these victories in four months – ten during the battle for Kiev alone.

Most inspiring of all is the 586th Fighter Regiment, composed entirely of women, including the ground crew. First seeing action during the battle for Stalingrad in 1942, this unit flew 4,419 sorties in Yakovlev aircraft and claimed 38 victories over German aircraft of all types. Olga Yamshchikova flew 93 sorties and achieved three kills.

Women also flew combat missions in Yak fighter units made up primarily of men. Ekaterina Budanova achieved eleven victories. Lydia Litvak, whose commander had to be persuaded to accept her into his unit, scored twelve.

The Yak-7 remained in combat until 1944.

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

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

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 Yak-1 in Combat

The Soviets and the Germans had very different ways of determining the effectiveness of a fighter in combat. The Germans, just like we in the United States, view the success of a fighter by the performance and the kill/loss ratio. For the Soviets in the Great Patriotic War, the effectiveness of a fighter was determined by its ability to assist the advance of the forces on the ground, and its ability to protect attack aircraft from enemy air attempts to disrupt Soviet air support effectiveness.

The Yak-1 entered service shortly before the German attack on the Soviet Union: Operation Barbarossa. It remained in service throughout the war. Even as late as December 1943 Yak-1s were still provided as replacement aircraft to units in active combat against German forces. Improvements of the aircraft continued throughout the production run, taking place on the assembly line, or in the field. Modifications of the aircraft tended to increase the weight of the aircraft, negatively affecting its performance so work continued to find ways to increase the power of the engine, improve the efficiency of the propeller, reduce the aircraft weight, and aerodynamic and parasitic drag.

Rocket tubes under the wings, 37 mm cannon, increased rate of fire in the 20 mm cannon were all tried. Self-sealing fuel tanks, inert gas pressurization systems for the fuel tanks, armored glass for the windscreen, dust filters to protect the engine, modified exhaust stubs to provide additional thrust, increased the safety and usefulness of the aircraft.

During the initial battles against German forces the majority of Yak-1s in the Western and Southwestern fronts were destroyed, primarily on the ground. The aircraft was new to the crews and the pilots had not yet learned how to use them. In spite of this, one unit in three days in June 1941, destroyed 26 enemy aircraft on the approaches to Kiev.

Yak-1s were used in the early days, primarily in the air defense of Moscow. Unusually, they were also used to strafe advancing German ground troops. Their numbers increased as the year advanced. By the end of 1941 the Yak-1s were being joined by Yak-7s. Production of the Yak-1 ended in July 1944.

During the battle for the Kursk Salient 659 Yak-1s and Yak-7Bs served with the Second and the Sixteen Air Armies. Yak-1s took part in the 1944 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation, which destroyed the German Army Group Center, by protecting ground attack aircraft supporting Soviet troops. By this time the Yak-9 began to replace the Yak-1s and Yak-7s, although these were still providing reconnaissance services.

Some of the greatest Russian aces began their careers flying Yak-1s, including Aleksandr I. Pokryshkin with 53 personal kills and six shared kills.

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


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

Battle for the Dnieper River

As the politically significant taking of Kiev unfolded, more dramatic, militarily significant battles erupted in the south. The Germans feared the result and the Soviets saw the benefit of sealing off large numbers of German units in the Crimea.

General Malinovsky, commander of the Third Ukrainian Front, attacked in the direction of Zaporozhye on 1 October, 1943. General Tolbukhin, commander of the Fourth Ukrainian front smashed the German Sixth Army and struck along the north coast of the Sea of Azov toward Melitopol. By the end of October the Fourth Ukrainian Army succeeded in sealing off the Crimea. As the Soviet armies moved forward they drafted all males of military age into the army.

In mid-November the rainy season began turning the Ukrainian Steppes into a sea of mud. This weather change slowed the Soviet advance, but did not stop it. First Ukrainian Front under General Vatutin, forced the Dnieper River line again south of Kanev, north of Cherkassy, at the end of November. General Konev with the Second Ukrainian Front engaged in a war of attrition west to the Dnieper River as they advanced on Kirovograd. Their goal was to encircle the German defenders, Erhard Raus’s Fourth Panzer Army and Otto Wohler’s Eighth Army in the vicinity of Korsun.

At the same time, General Tolbukin pushed the German Sixth Army away from the coast of the Sea of Azov.

By this time the German infantry units had been reduced to 50 to 75% of combat strength and their tanks were worn out. The rain hampered German aerial reconnaissance.

By the first week of December the Germans brought the Russian breakthrough to a halt near Dykivka, 53 kilometers northeast of Kirovograd. The Soviets used the weather to bring up supplies. Early in December the snow began falling, driven by gale force winds. General Konev moveed toward Kirovograd while Vatutin headed for the Bug River. They hoped to meet near Pervoinaysk. Konev knew there was good tank country east of Kirovograd and he hoped to take advantage of it. He positioned the General Rotmistrov’s Fifth Guards Tank Army and the Fifth Guards Army there.

General von Manstein received reinforcements in the second week of December. The second Parachute Division arrived in Kirovograd and the 11th Panzer Division positioned itself near Novhordivka. On 18 December the 11th Panzer Division attacked Norhordivka and took it.

At the beginning of January Major General Nikolaus von Vormann, commander of the 47th Panzer Corps, was assigned to defend Kirovograd. Adolf Hitler’s orders were to defend the city to the last man. General Rotmistrov’s Fifth Guards Tank Army possessed 500 tanks on 5 January, 1943, when Konev launched his attack, knowing the Germans were preoccupied with Vatutin’s  attack to the south, and hoping to catch them off balance.

Sources: Battle for the Dniepr, Grigory Utkin, History of the Second World War Magazine

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

Escape from Kirovograd, Pat McTaggart, WW II History Magazine, Volume 15, Number 10, December 2015

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