Category Air War on the Eastern Front

Air War Over the Baltics

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n the northern combat zone, Luftflotte 1 had crippled WS-Northwestern Front badly during the fateful days in June. Records reveal that between June 22 and June 30, WS-Northwestern Front lost 425 aircraft during combat missions, 465 destroyed on the ground, and 187 with serious battle damage. Out of 403 SB bombers at hand on June 22, 205 had been shot down, 148 destroyed on the ground, and 33 damaged by June 30. Fighter losses included 1101-153s, 81 I-16s, and 17 MiG – 3s in the air.1

By July 1 the German Army Group North had reached Daugava River, which cuts Latvia in half, on a broad front and was prepared to launch a major offen­sive across the river. All Soviet attempts to halt the enemy at this point were futile. A renewed Soviet effort to coun­terattack, involving strong tank forces, was stymied by heavy air attacks undertaken by the medium bombers of Fliegerkorps I and about forty’ Bf 110 Zerstorern of ZG 26, recently brought in to Daugavpils from Luftflotte 2. More than 250 tanks were reportedly destroyed.

As the bomber units of the Northwestern Front, the WS of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet (KBF) and the DBA’s 1 BAK allocated to this sector were heavily damaged, the Stavka ordered the air force of the Northern Front (located along the Finnish border and in the Leningrad sector) to deploy strong bomber forces against the Ger­man Panzergruppe 4. Shifted from Staraya Russa to the Velikaya sector, 2 SAD carried out the first raids against Daugavpils on July 1. Due to intense antiaircraft fire the operations met only limited success. 1I./JG 53 claimed ten and JG 54 claimed two victories on this day.

Early the next morning, Panzergruppe 4 attacked

from its bridgeheads east of the Daugava River and ad­vanced in a northwesterly direction toward the old Rus­sian border. The bomber units of WS-Northem Front were slow to fulfill their new mission to interdict the Daugava crossings, and heavy rains and low cloud ceil­ings hampered much of the planned air activity on July 2. Nevertheless, JG 54 claimed twelve victories in this area alone.

One of the Soviet planes brought down by the Grunherz fighters was the SB piloted by Starshiy Leytenant Pavel Markutsa of 44 SBAP, VVS-Northern Front. While on a reconnaissance mission west of the Daugava River, Markutsa’s lone bomber was bounced by five Bf 109s. The tail gunner claimed to have shot down one of the enemy fighters but w’as immediately after­ward thrown out of his cabin by a large explosion caused by a full salvo of 15mm shells hitting the fuselage and wings. With the fragile Tupolev bomber on fire, the pi­lot decided to force-land behind enemy lines. Leaving his dead navigator in the cockpit of the crashed and burning bomber, Markutsa managed to make contact with a large group of Red Army soldiers of 749 Rifle Regiment, which had been left behind enemy lines during the retreat. Fol­lowing five days of repeated skirmishes with enemy troops in the area, the Soviet bomber pilot and 312 of 749 Rifle Regiment’s soldiers managed to break through to the Soviet lines. Two weeks later, Markutsa was awarded with the Golden Star as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Back in action, he would not survive the year.

At this point the Soviet air commanders in this sec­tor encountered the same problems with widely dispersed units that their German counterparts soon would run into. With the entrance of Finland into the war on the German side on June 25, WS-Northem Front had to divert some of its units, including 5 SAD and 41 BAD— both from WS Twenty-third Army—to the Gulf of Fin­land, considerably weakening opposition to Luftflotte 1 in the air.

The cream of 13 1AP/KBF—4 Eskadrilya and part of 1 Eskadrilya, supplemented by Kapitan Aleksy Antonenko and Leytenant Petr Brinko of the regimen­tal staff—formed an aviation group assigned the task of providing the beleaguered garrison at Hanko with air support. Situated at the northwestern mouth of the gulf, the naval base of Hanko had been conquered by the Soviets after the Winter War. To neutralize this strategic point was a common interest of the Finns and the Ger-

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Thirty-year-old Kapitan Aleksey Antonenko of 13IAP/KBF was one of tie most skillful Soviet fighter pilots when the war broke out. As a former flight trainer he participated as a fighter pilot against the Japanese at Khalkhin-Gol, where he achieved six shared victories. He was awarded with the Order of Lenin during the Winter War against Finland. On the morning of June 23,1941, Antonenko arrived at 13 IAP/KBF at Laksberg near the Estonian capital, Tallinn, as a pilot inspector. During lunch a Ju 88 reconnaissance plane appeared over Laksberg. Antonenko quickly scrambled without his flight cap or parachute and managed to shoot it down, thus scori ng the KB F’s first victory of the war. According to a Soviet account, Antonenko calmly finished eating his plate of soup. In the following weeks, he successfully teamed with Leytenant Petr Brinko over the beleaguered naval base at Hanko in the Gulf of Finland. (Photo: Seidl.)

mans. But the KBF’s 13 IAP was an experienced, crack unit, counting some of the finest Soviet fighter pilots at that time. Notable among them were Aleksey Antonenko and Petr Brinko. Both would develop into the leading Soviet fighter aces in a matter of weeks. Equipped with 1- І 6s and 1-153s, this unit fought vehemently to defend Hanko against the Finnish assault forces. Leytenant Brinko opened his scoring record by claiming one fighter on July 3 and a Ju 88 on July 4.

In the Baltics, the units under command of Fliegerkorps I, were moved forward to bases in the

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Pet’ Brinko started his career in the Soviet Navy Air Force in 1935. By the time the war with Germany and Finland commenced in 1941, Brinko had already amassed considerable combat experience as a fighter pilot at Lake Khasan and Khalkhin-Gol, as well as in the Winter War. On July 2,1941, the commander of 13 IAP/KBF transferred the team of Antonenko and Brinko to Hanko with the special aim of intercepting enemy reconnaissance planes. Brinko opened his World War II victory list by claiming a Finnish Bristol Bulldog over Hanko on July 3. Next day, Brinko and Antonenko together blew a Ju 88 out of the air in the same area. On July 14, Brinko and Antonenko were both listed as Heroes of the Soviet Union. At the time of his death on September 14,1941, Petr Brinko was the top-scoring Soviet fighter pilot, with a total number of fifteen victories. (Photo: Kabanov.)

Daugavpils-Riga area. “We were transferred to Mitau, an airfield littered with Soviet bomber wrecks, the remnants of an enemy unit that recently had been completely wiped out during a raid by our II. Gruppe," recalls Hauptmann Gerhard Baeker of 1I1./KG 1. These Kampfgruppen shifted their operations mainly to the interdiction of Soviet retrograde movements.

Particularly effective attacks were carried out by KG 1 Hindenburg. For two days, Soviet air activity remained very limited in this area. The pilots of JG 54 flew all day­long on July 3 without sighting any enemy aircraft The Ju 88 piloted by Leutnant Friedrich Kohl did not have the same fortune. The radio operator of this aircraft later reported to a Luftwaffe officer: “We came under attack from six enemy fighters. Our left engine was set on fire and we had to force-land in hostile territory. The Soviets captured three members of the crew. An Unteroffizier was strangled, and 1 don’t know what happened to the pilot and the other Unteroffizier. I was able to hide in a rye field, and later I could break through to German territory during constant fire from both sides. It is a pure miracle that I am still alive.”2

Reconnaissance crews of 5.(F)/122 reported the concentration of large Soviet air units to the east of the Russian-Latvian border. This was the buildup of General-Mayor Aleksandr Novikov’s VVS-Northern Front. At 0500 hours on July 4, the Ju 88s of KG 76 and KG 77 were dispatched against air bases at Idritsa and Opochka. Major Hannes Trautloft, the Geschwader – kommodore of JG 54 that escorted the bomber mission,

image50Подпись: Starshiy Leytenant Pavel Tarasov of 12 IAP inspects the damage sustained by his MiG-3 during a difficult air combat with a Bf 109. Tarasov won his wings at the Voroshilovgrad Flight School in 1936 and was one of the most experienced pilots in his unit when the war broke out. During an engagement over Ostrov on July 5,1941, Tarasov claimed two Bf 109s but was also hit and wounded in both his hands and a leg. He finally crashed his Yak-1 into a Bf 109 and managed to bail out. Tarasov died in a flight accident on July 29.1944. (Photo: Novikov.)wrote in his diary: “The bombs were dropped with precision at Opochka and several aircraft were seen burn­ing on the ground. At Idritsa the bombs went down across the runway without inflicting any considerable damage. Some l-18s scrambled. Our fighters shot down one of them in flames.”

Raiding an air base near Dno, farther to the north, ZG 26 lost a Bf 110 in a taran conducted by a MiG-3 piloted by Mladshiy Leytenant Aleksandr Lukyanov of 159 1AP/2 SAD. During renewed air-base raids later in the day, the raiders were repeatedly intercepted by small groups of scrambling fighters from 2 SAD and 39 1AD. Oberleutnant Hans Philipp, the Staffelkapitan of 4./JG 54, returned from one of these engagements with his thirty-first, thirty-second, and thirty-third confirmed vic­tories.

Late in the afternoon of July 4, the situation in the air completely changed as Novikov’s bombers were launched for the first time en masse against the advanc­ing Panzergruppe 4. The Bf 109s of Fliegerkorps I rose in full scale, and the carnage above Daugavpils on the last day of June was repeated. At the end of the day the German fighters had claimed forty-six Soviet aircraft, mainly bombers. During a single engagement, Messerschmitts bagged twenty of twenty-five Soviet bomb­
ers attempting to attack the advancing German tanks. Another fire taran was conducted by Kapitan Leonid Mikhailov, piloting an SB at the head of an Eskadrilya from 10 SBAP/41 BAD.

On July 5, Army Group North established a bridge­head over the Velikaya River at Ostrov, south of Lake Peipus, having advanced 225 miles in only three days. The Soviet Northwestern Front mounted a heavy coun­terattack in this area, but it was met by effective attacks carried out by the Ju 88s of KG 1, KG 76, and KG 77. The German bombers were concentrated against three main targets: close-support missions at Ostrov, inderdiction raids against retrograde movements at Pskov in the north, and the airfields of the VVS. The successes were immense. Against only two homber losses, 140 Soviet tanks were destroyed, virtually all Soviet supply lines to the Ostrov sector were cut off, and 112 Soviet aircraft were claimed destroyed on the ground.

Scrambled against new’ large waves of incoming Soviet bombers, Il./JG 53 and JG 54 Griinherz were credited with a further twenty-one Soviet aircraft destroyed in aerial combat on July 5. Hauptmann Arnold Lignitz, the Gruppenkommandeur of 11I./JG 54, and his Leutnants Max-Hellmuth Ostermann and Hermann Leiste contributed to these successes by downing three Soviet planes each.

During one of the intense air com­bats on this day, Hauptmann Lignitz’s Gruppe encountered the new Soviet Yak – 1 fighters of 12 1AP. Starshiy Leytenant Pavel Tarasov of the latter unit was cred­ited with the destruction of three Bf 109s, the last brought down in a taran that Tarasov was fortunate to survive.3 Pavel Tarasov went on to claim a total of 25 aerial victories in 235 combat sorties before he was killed three years later.

The Soviet attempt to halt the Ger­mans at the “Stalin Defense Line” on the old Russian border with the Baltic states w’as a complete failure. On the other hand, the task of Luftflotte 1 to block the Soviet retreat—and thus create the conditions for surrounding the troops of the Soviet Northwestern Front-failed. 1 Even if large amounts of Soviet materiel ■; were destroyed during these missions, the
main bulk of the Northwestern Front managed to escape to “old Russia” through a rapid retreat.

At this point, Panzergruppe 4 advanced swiftly toward Leningrad. General-Mayor Novikov had no other option but to sacrifice his savagely beaten air units in renewed attacks for the third day running, this time against the Velikaya bridges at Ostrov. According to German sources, seventy-three Soviet bombers were dis­patched, few of which would return. JG 54 had another field day on July 6, claiming fifty-seven victories against five losses. By bringing down three, Oberleutnant Hans – Ekkehard Bob of 9./JG 54 increased his total score to twenty-nine.

Leutnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann of 7./JG 54 achieved his nineteenth and twentieth kills, but he also witnessed how two of his fellow pilots were shot down in a row. Three 1-16 pilots led by Starshiy Leytenant Aleksey Storozhakov of 154 1AP claimed an extraordi­nary success during what might have been the same com­bat in which 7./JG 54 lost Leutnant Helmut Biederbick and Unteroffizier Theodor Steinwendtner. Covering a formation of SBs against nine intercepting Bf 109s, the three 1-16s claimed three German fighters shot down without losses.

The bombers of Fliegerkorps 1 made a major attempt to thwart Novikov’s attempts on the ground, striking at several airfields between Lake Peipus and Lake Ilmen. While raiding an air base in the vicinity of Lake Ilmen, Unteroffizier Willi Bukowski’s ju 88 of 6./KG 1 was destroyed in a ramming by Mladshiy Leytenant Afanasiy Okhvat’s MiG-3.

A final attempt by the Soviets to disturb the German threat against Leningrad through mass attacks by me­dium bombers on July 7 resulted in another forty-six planes claimed shot down by JG 54—including the 750th victory of the Geschwader. With two of these planes, Oberleutnant Hubert Miitherich, Staffclkapitan in 5./JG 54, became next to reach his personal twentieth victory.

In total, the VVS carried out 1,200 sorties, dropping 500 tons of bombs against the German armored columns in the Ostrov sector between July 1 and July 10. But the large-scale air raids in the first week of July almost com­pletely obliterated the VVS bomber units in the north­ern combat zone Between July 4 and July 9, 2 SAD and 41 BAD alone registered sixty aircraft losses.4

In order to improve command and control, the Stavka implemented a centralized structure on July 10. Three new supreme commands were created: the Northwest­ern Zone, comprising the Northern and Northwestern fronts; the Western Zone, comprising the Western Front; and the Southwestern Zone, comprising the Southwest­ern and Southern fronts.

Overall command of the army air forces in the Northwestern Zone was entrusted to General-Mayor Novikov. Novikov, who would rise to command the entire WS within a year, soon drew conclusions regarding the bitter defeats in the air produced by the use of unescorted medium bombers operating in large formations in day­light. The bomber missions were mainly shifted to night operations, a far less hazardous business due to the lack of effective German night fighters. In daylight, all bomber missions were to be provided with fighter escort. In gen­eral, Novikov placed an increasing reliance on his fighter units. He called for a more aggressive stance against enemy aircraft. On top of this, the VVS fighter units were called on to carry’ out incessant, swift, low-level harassment attacks against the German ground troops.

By July 10 the battered WS-Northwestern Front was left with only 102 aircraft of the 1,142 it had on hand at the outbreak of the war. But together with the air forces of the KBF and the Northern Front, the North­western Zone nevertheless could muster a total of 1,300 combat aircraft, including a force deployed along the Finn­ish border. Luftflotte 1, down to about 350 aircraft in mid-July, was once again up against a numerically supe­rior enemy.

After the victory at Ostrov, the Germans ran into a gradually stiffening Soviet resistance. The advance of Army Group North slowed down considerably, particu­larly in the marshlands between Lake Peipus and Lake Ilmen, where Panzergruppe 4 struggled to the northeast, toward Leningrad.

The shift in the WS tactics was increasingly felt among the German ground troops. The slow-moving motorized columns were subjected to incessant low-level air raids, particularly from 41 BAD and 39 LAD. Already on July 8 and 9, the German XXVI Corps com­plained to Luftflotte 1 about increased Soviet air attacks. In Estonia, the advance from the south by the German Eighteenth Army was severely handicapped by Soviet fighter patrols, which made Luftwaffe reconnaissance flights extremely hazardous.

On the other shore of the Gulf of Finland, the Red

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General-Mayor Aleksandr Novikov, the commander of VVS-Northem Front, was the only VVS commander in the western regions of the USSR to survive the wave of purges that followed on the disaster of June 1941. Under his proficient command, the Soviets were able to regain their strength in the air prior to the German attack against Leningrad. In 1942, Novikov rose to command the entire WS. (Photo: Novikov.)

Banner Baltic Fleet’s 13 IAP, in Hanko, put up a gallant Fight against both Finnish and German air intrusions. On July 8, Leytenant Petr Brinko bagged a Do 17 from 3.(F)/10. The aircraft was salvaged by the Soviets and put on display in the central square of Hanko.

Here the Finnish fighter group LeLv 6 launched a modern variant of the “Trojan Horse" when two 1-153s captured during the Winter War were used on recon­naissance missions over the western part of the Gulf of Finland. On July 10 a Soviet 1-153 and a MiG-1 attacked these two war trophies north of Hanko, resulting in the death of Finnish Yliluutnantti (Senior Lieutenant) V. Kallio, piloting the 1-І53.’

While the bombers of Luftflotte 1 were employed mainly against Russian rail traffic in the Estonian terri­tory and on the Moscow-Leningrad railroad, the Soviet fighters grew’ increasingly troublesome to the Germans.

On July 10 a Ju 88 formation from KG 1 Hindenburg was intercepted by six I-16s from 154 IAP, resulting in Leytenant Sergey Titovka bringing down the bomber piloted by Feldwebel Paul Kcmpf, through ramming. In total, 154 IAP claimed sixteen victories this day, while KG 1 registered three Ju 88s lost. The missions on July 11 cost KG 77 three Ju 88s. The next day, Leytenant Mikhail Antonov of 19 LAP destroyed the Ju 88 piloted by Feldwebel Hans Figge of 3./KG 76.

Even though Fliegerkorps I claimed that it had shot down 487 Soviet planes in the air and destroyed 1,211 on the ground between June 22 and July 13, resistance in the air was mounting. On July 11 and 12, Soviet air­men claimed to have put fifteen tanks and ninety armored vehicles out of commission and destroyed two bridges in the area southeast of Lake Peipus. This aggres­siveness on the part of the Soviet aviation units com­pelled the Germans to return repeatedly to new air-base raids.

While escorting Ju 88s against a Soviet airfield in the Novgorod region near Lake Ilmen on July 13, Oberleutnant Gerhard Ludwig of l./JG 54 collided with Leytenant Aristotel Kavtaradze of 38 LAP, and both pilots were killed. Enemy air rammings became a particu­lar preoccupation to the airmen of Luftflotte 1 during this period of the war. In fact, more than half of the forty-nine tarans registered by the VVS during the month of July 1941 were carried out in the northern combat zone alone.

While General Helmuth Forster, the commander of Fliegerkorps 1, concentrated the bulk of his fighters to the area east of Lake Peipus, VVS-KBF made a skillful use of its weakened bomber forces over the Gulf of Riga, in the west, on July 13. Eighteen DB-3s and five Ar-2s (the dive-bomber version of the SB bomber) struck against a large German seaborne supply convoy, claiming one transport vessel sunk and eight damaged.6

In mid-July the exhausted tank soldiers of Panzergruppe 4 reached the Luga River, sixty miles from Leningrad. On July 14, as the town of Soltsy, to the west of Lake Ladoga, was seized, the Germans were beset by some of the heaviest Soviet air attacks encountered so far. General-Mayor Aleksandr Novikov had concentrated ] a force of 235 aircraft, including units from VVS – ] Northwestern Front, 2 SAD of the Northern Front, and ^ 1 BAK of the Long-Range Air Force, in this sector. All ■ of these units were dispatched in continous attacks against j

Подпись: ІПодпись: Generaloberst Alfred Keller assumed command of Luftflotte 1 on the eve of Operation Barbarossa and commanded it in the northern combat zone until the summer of 1943. Keller was one of Germany's aviation flight pioneers, having first flown before 1914. Shown in this photo are Keller (left) and General Robert Ritter von Greim, who commanded Fliegerkorps V of Luftflotte 4 in the southern combat zone in 1941. (Photo: Bundesarchiv.) image53Подпись: On July 12.1941, fighters from 12 OIAE based at Kagul, on the island of Osel, spotted a large German supply convoy in the Gulf of Riga. Next day. the ships were attacked by four torpedo boats and five waves of bombers from VVS-KBF. Among the aircraft participating were six Ar- 2s, the dive-bomber version of the SB, shown on this photo. Although this attack was successful, the Ar-2 did not fulfill expectations and was withdrawn from production. (Photo: Roba.)enemy troops, tanks, and artillery batter­ies in the Soltsy region. This was the pre­lude to the counteroffensive mounted by General-Leytenant Aleksandr Matveyev’s Soviet Eleventh Army on July 14.

With its supply lines strung out, this surprisingly heavy attack forced the deci­mated Panzergruppe 4 to halt its offen­sive. The battle around Soltsy raged for four days, during which the VVS car­ried out fifteen hundred close-support sorties. The long distance from their air­fields considerably handicapped German fighters in this sector. Despite the strong commitments by Ju 88 and Bf 110 crews in this area, the Germans were pushed back twenty-five miles, with severe losses to the 8th Panzer Division.

On the right flank of Panzergruppe 4, the German Sixteenth Army advanced eastward to cut off the communications between Leningrad and Moscow, but it also ran into fierce resistance, which made every step forward difficult.

The Blitzkrieg in the northern combat zone had ended. Resistance was sharpening, both on the ground and in the air. The VVS was becoming increasingly ac­tive and aggressive, even though the Luftwaffe maintained its qualitative su­periority.

The Soviet air forces of the North­ern and Northwestern fronts claimed to have destroyed 628 enemy aircraft between June 22 and July 22. Even if this figure includes all claims, in the air as well as on the ground, along the entire combat zone from Murmansk in the Far North to the East Prussian bor­der in the South, it must be regarded as a manifold exaggeration. JG 54 Griinherz had scored impressively, achieving 500 victories between June 22 and July 18.

This figure roughly matches the actual WS losses of 372 aircraft in WS-North – ern Front from June 22 to July 22, and 563 shot down in VVS-Northwestern Front through the end of July. To these figures should be added the losses suffered by the KBF and the DBA. During the same period, June 22 to July 18, more than thirty Bf 109s, around one-third of the entire Jagdgeschwader, had been shot down. In the bomber units of Fliegerkorps 1, KG 1 registered sixteen
losses, KG 76 registered nineteen, and KG 77 lost twenty – four Ju 88s.7

The combat attrition rapidly wore down the strength of the Luftwaffe units. Improvisation—even if it meant breaking some rules—was imperative. Hauptmann Gerhard Baeker, the technical officer in 1I1./KG 1 at this time, told the authors: “The burden laid on a techni­cal officer in a flying unit on the Eastern Front was very heavy. The supply lines grew more extended and it grew increasingly difficult to receive spare parts. Every force – landed aircraft had to be plundered of useful parts (even if this, of course, was not allowed!), but my task was to bring serviceable aircraft into operation. I continually flew my Me 108 (Taifun) or took a car to most of the bellied Ju 88s, indicated the way to the ecash site to our techni­cians, and earmarked reserve spare parts.”

Under able command, the VVS now proved to be able to adapt itself to new situations with a flexibility uncharacteristic of Stalinist policy. The new stress on Soviet fighters rapidly provided the invaders with mount­ing difficulties. This became a main preoccupation to the German ground troops, who became subject to continous strafing and bombing from fast-flying fighter-bombers dropping out of the clouds. This would become an important benchmark of the entire war on the Eastern Front. This dominant ground-support air doctrine, in fact, emerged spontaneously from the shortcomings of the Soviet light and medium bombers during the initial weeks of the war.

Higher quality on the German side had produced impressive results, but it could not overcome the supe­rior Soviet resources in the long run.

The most spectacular result of the war in the north­ern combat zone during the first four weeks of hostilities was that Army Group North had succeeded in one important operational goal—seizure of the Baltic states— without achieving its main strategic goal, annihilation of

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This WS starshiy leytenant, posing in front of an 1-15bis, symbolizes the determination with which the Soviet airmen fought in the difficult days of 1941. The 1-15bis proved to be more or less a "flying coffin" during the air war against modern Luftwaffe aircraft types. Burdened with fixed landing gear and powered by a 750-hp M-25V engine, it could fly not faster than 234 mph. Although vulnerable to hostile fire, it was used extensively in the ground-attack role. The normal bomb load, however, did not consist of more than four 25-kg or 32-kg bombs mounted in four underwing racks. (Note the plain upper wing, without the gull-like struts that characterized the 1-153.) (Photo: Seidl.)

the Soviet Northwestern Front. The withdrawal of an entire Soviet army group from an area with a mainly hostile population without being surrounded by the rap idly advancing German armored units was a remarkable feat.

Fighter Assault Over the Crimea

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n the southern combat zone, the Soviets still blocked the entrance to the Crimea. During October, Hitler’s concern over this matter grew. The seizure of the Crimea, the “permanent aircraft carrier” from where Soviet bombers threatened the Romanian oil fields, was of immense importance to the German strategic position.

The main obstacle to the German offensive was the strong VVS forces allocated to this area. JG 77 (to which I.(J)/LG 2 was assigned while I./JG 77 operated on the Arctic front) had originally been allocated to this area. But the demands in the Rostov sector, two hundred miles to the east, had left III./JG 77 as the only Gruppe of JG 77 in the skies over the Crimea. For this reason, IL/JG 3 had been shifted from the central combat zone to the Crimea. This force did not suffice to break the back of the VVS-Black Sea Fleet, and it was evident that further fighter reinforcements had to be brought in. Although there was mounting Soviet air activity that considerably delayed the advance of the northern wing of Army Group South toward the industrial area in the Donets Basin, the only fighter unit in this sector, III./JG 52, was trans­ferred to the Crimean front.

On October 23 three Jagdgruppen—1I./JG 3, 111./ JG 52, and III./JG 77—took off from the air base at Chaplinka, north of the Perekop Isthmus, to clear the Crimean skies once and for all. Oberst Werner Molders, the new inspector of the Fighter Air Arm, took personal charge of these German fighter operations.

The Soviet airmen wrere shocked at the sudden onslaught by such large groups of aggressive enemy fight­ers. Dozens of Soviet aircraft fell prey to the merciless fighter attacks from above. Finally, Soviet superiority in the air over Perekop was broken.

October 23, 1941, brought a brutal end to the Soviet piggy-back Zveno tactic. 63 BAB/Y’VS-ChF launched two TB-3s escorted by eleven I-15bis and eight 1-153s against artillery positions near Perekop. As large num­bers of Bf 109s suddenly appeared ahead of the target area, the 1-16 fighter-bombers were jettisoned. Kapitan Arseniy Shubikov, the able commander of 2 Eskadrilya of 32 ІАР/ChF, led the four l-16s against a tank con­centration below. At the same time, a swarm of Bf 109s from III./JG 77 pursued them. Several Messerschmitts attacked the escort with terrifying effect, downing five of the eight l-15bis and 1-153 biplanes of 8 ІАР/ChF. Leutnant Emil Omcrt and his wingman went after the diving l-16s. Closing in at high speed, Omert brought down two, his thirty-third and thirty-fourth victories. In one of the 1-16s, Kapitan Shubikov plunged to his death.

The pilots of 1I./JG 3 and HI./JG 77 shot down eleven MiG-3s, eight Polikarpov I-15bis, and three I-16s without suffering a single loss. The Gruppenkommandeur of ll./JG 3, Hauptmann Gordon Gollob, who had increased his victory tally from seventy-six to eighty-one the previous day, claimed four. An additional eleven Soviet aircraft were claimed shot down by the pilots of III./JG 52 and AAA gunners.

The only loss suffered by the participating Jagdgruppen was a Bf 109 of III./JG 52. This was this unit’s first day of combat over the Crimea, and the pilot lost was the leading ace in 9. Staffel, Feldwebel Ewald “Ede” Diihn. In the air over the Brom factory, I1I./JG 52 fell on six Pe-2s escorted by four Yak-ls of 5./32 IAP/VVS-ChF. According to the Soviet loss list, all six Pe-2s and one Yak-1 were shot down. Shortly after send­ing his twenty-third victim, a Pe-2, to the ground, Ede Diihn was last seen pursuing another bomber at low level.

Following the October 23 massacre, the Soviet avia­tion regiments in the Crimea were in complete disarray. Several experienced airmen had failed to return from the missions this day, and others were hospitalised with bad injuries. Apart from the large numbers of aircraft destroyed, there were damaged aircraft in need of repair before they could be used again. But the greatest blow was dealt to the fighting spirit of the airmen. What dis­couraged them further were the replacement aircraft brought in from the mainland. Proud Yak-1, MiG-3, and Pe-2 pilots found that they had to fly obsolete aircraft models again—I-16s, l-153s, and SBs. The bulk of the new modern aircraft emerging from the factories was earmarked for the defense of Moscow.

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Feldwebel Johann Pichler of 7./JG 77 scored his fifteenth victory against one of the 1-15s” (probably l-15bis) shot down during the massacre on 32 ІАР/ChF over Perekop on October 23.1941, Later that day, Pichler proudly took this photo of his victory markings on the rudder of his Bf 109. One of the two ships painted above the victory markings indicates the bomb hit that Pichler scored on the British battleship Valiant north of Crete on May 22,1941. Pichler was in almost constant front-line service from August 1940 to August 1944, flying about seven hundred sorties and scoring a total of seventy-five victories. On August 30,1944, he ended up in Soviet confinement when Bucharest, where he was hospitalized, was seized by the Red Army. (Photo: Pichler via Norrie.)

On October 24 the Soviet presence in the air was weaker than ever in the Perekop skies. Faced with Bf 109 fighters, the Soviet bombers jettisoned their bombs and banked away. Next, it was the turn of the Soviet ground troops to feel wrath from the air. Large numbers of Stukas and horizontal bombers broke up the Soviet defensive positions. German shock troops did the final job with flamethrowers and hand grenades. Three days later, the entire Crimean front collapsed.

According to German sources, 140 Soviet planes were shot down during the final battle over the Perekop front, from October 18 to 24: 124 by German fighters and 16 by ground fire.

Suffering heavy losses during the next days and with no available replacements, the number of Soviet aircraft in the Crimea diminished rapidly. During the last seven days of October, 5 Eskadrilya/32 IAP/VVS-ChF lost fifteen of the seventeen Yak-ls it had on the evening of October 23.1II./JG 52, claiming more than forty victo­ries during this period, w’as responsible for almost all of these losses. The group’s Leutnant Hermann Graf alone w’as credited with five “1-6Is” between October 24 and 28. Fighting back desperately, Soviet Leytenant

image163Подпись: Displaying clear signs of battle fatigue, the pilots of Kapitan Konstantin Denisov’s Eskadrilya in 8 ІАР/ChF line up in front of an 1-16 in Sevastopol in late 1941. Denisov (fourth from left) was a veteran of the battle against the Japanese at Lake Khasan in 1938. On December 28, 1941, he shot down the Ju 87 piloted by Leutnant Kurt Markser of StG 77 over Sevastopol. Markser, who was listed as missing (nothing is known about his subsequent fate), handed his flight pistol to Denisov, who carried the souvenir on all his subsequent combat sorties. He survived the war with a total of thirteen personal and six shared kills. (Photo: Denisov.)Подпись:image164Konstantin Alekseyev was credited with three victories during a ten-day period.

On October 25, 5./32 IAP/VVS – ChF was left with only four Yak-ls to escort a group of Pe-2s against the ad­vancing German troops. This elite Soviet squadron, led by Starshiv Leytenant Mikhail Avdeyev following the loss of Kapitan Ivan Lyubimov in September, was challenged by fourteen Messer – schmitts from 9./JG 52, including one piloted by Hermann Graf. And Oberst Werner Molders himself directed the air combat by radio from the forward trenches. “The hated, yellow-bellied Bf 109s flew higher than us,” recalls Mikhail Avdeyev. Nevertheless, the Yakovlev pilots managed to put up a gallant fight.

Oberleutnant Dieter Zehl’s Bf 109 was shot down, its pilot listed as missing. But the “1-61” claimed by Hermann Graf (his seventeenth victory’) probably was Mikhail Avdeyev’s Yak-1, which returned to base with thirty-two bullet holes. A week later, 5./32 LAP was pulled out of combat for three weeks so its pilots could journey to pick up new airplanes.

On November 1 the Germans captured Simferopol and shortly afterward were in control of most of the Crimea, except for Sevastopol, which was to hold out for another eight months.

As a finale to the Battle of the Crimea, one of the largest tragedies at sea in history occurred on November 7, 1941. Luftwaffe bombers hit and sank the passenger steamer Armeniya, which was evacuating soldiers and refugees from Sevastopol, in the Black Sea south of Yalta. Of an estimated five thousand people on board, all but eight perished in the sea.

The air battles during the struggle for the Crimea were some of the hardest fought on the Eastern Front during 1941. Between mid-September and the end of October, the Messerschmitt fighters of Fliegerkorps IV claimed approximately three hundred victories against eighteen pilot casualties in the Crimean skies: II./ JG 3, with sixty-seven victories for one pilot killed and one wounded; III./JG 52, with sixty victories for two pilots killed or missing; II./JG 77, with forty-

four victories for three pilots killed or missing, plus two captured and two wounded; IIL/JG 77, with an amaz­ing one hundred fifty-eight victories for three pilots killed and one wounded; and I.(J)/LG 2, with at least six vic­tories for two pilots killed or missing and one wounded.

That the main port of Sevastopol, the greatest bait in the Crimea, remained in Soviet hands was mainly due to the efforts of the Soviet airmen. As the balance sheet was drawn, it showed that they had held the Germans back for as long as it took to build up the defenses of Sevastopol.

The achievements of the Luftwaffe to a large extent relied on a dozen or so skillful fighter aces against whom most Soviet airmen stood little chance.

The Jagdgruppen assigned to the Battle of the Crimea had fought virtually to the “last round." At the end of the battle, the lack of reinforcements and vital supplies such as spare parts and fuel had brought down the Luftwaffe forces in this area to a mere handful of planes. The situation was so grave that some units were actually grounded for several days simply because there were no supplies.

At the end of October, all that remained of the Staffeln of Il./JG 3 were tw’o or three serviceable Bf 109s each.6 A few days later, Il./JG 3 was pulled out of combat and transferred to Germany for two months of rest and recuperation.

Fighter Combat Over Smolensk

Nothing seemed to stop the German Army Group Cen­ter as it continued eastward on both sides of the highway to Moscow during the first days of July 1941. On the northern flank. General Wolfram von Richthofen dis­patched the bulk of his Fliegerkorps VIII to provide close support for Panzcrgruppc 3, which was rushing Coward the city of Vitebsk, to the north of the highway to Moscow.

To render the operational command more effective, a spedal air command, Nahkampfftihrer, led by Oberst: Martin Fiebig, was established by Fliegerkorps II. Com­prising the Bf 110 “high-speed bombers” of SKG 210 and the Bf 109s of JG 51, Nahkampffiihrer w-as employed to provide close support of Panzcrgruppe 2 as it advanced from the Berezina bridgehead on the south­ern flank of Army Group Center.

While delivering highly successful strikes against the Soviet defensive positions, the close support from the air also had the effect of lowering the willingness among the German ground troops to fight without air cover. Luftwaffe Oberst Hermann Plocher noted that the army at: this point “had become outrageously spoiled by the continous employment of Luftwaffe units in direct sup­port on the battlefield."” Ground troops started showing a tendency to retreat prematurely whenever confronted with any serious Red Army resistance if Luftwaffe air­craft were not: present. The ground troops frequently complained that the liaison with the close-support units of the Luftwaffe did not work quickly enough. General von Richthofen replied that the army should understand that every sortie required time; planes had to be refueled, loaded with bombs, and then flown to the

new objective. He wrote that “the Army refused to real­ize that the Luftwaffe could not be dribbled out at all places but must be concentrated at major points."

Six fresh Soviet armies were establishing a defense position along the Dnieper River, but they were consid­erably slowed and hurt by Luftwaffe bombings. The me­dium bombers of Luftflotte 2 were directed against the communication lines in the Soviet rear area; roads, rail­ways and railway junctions were the main targets. Simul­taneously, the Soviet airfields were attacked again and again.

With fewer than five hundred combat aircraft divided among seven air divisions remaining in VVS – Western Front after the air battle with JG 51 over Bobruysk on the last day of June, there was a desperate need for reinforcements on the Soviet side. However, as the front line spread to the east, the air war reached into the operational area of the crack 6 ТАК of the Moscow PVO. The 6 IAK included units equipped with aircraft designer Aleksandr Yakovlev’s first fighter, the superb

Yak-1. On July 1 the Stavka directed the special 401 IAP, assigned to test new aircraft types, to the Berezina – j Dnieper front The commander of this unit, American – j born Podpolkovnik Stepan Suprun, was one of the most : experienced Soviet fighter pilots at that time. Awarded! the Golden Star as Hero of the Soviet Union in 1940, he I tested more than a hundred aircraft types, the last one— ? as late as June 29, 1941—a modified Yak-1 M.

Suprun was a friend of aircraft designer Aleksandr! Yakovlev. The last time they met, on June 29, Suprun f told Yakovlev that he wished to go to the front as soon I as possible and “test the German fighter aces.”

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With the arrival of 6 LAK and Suprun’s elite unit, Щ the previous instruction to all VVS fighter pilots to avoid ft combat with the Bf 109s was abolished. A serious В attempt was made to actually challenge the Luftwaffe – I including the Jagdflieger—for air supremacy. 6 LAK and 1 Suprun’s pilots were immediately throwm into fierce air j combat. The pilots of 401 IAP put up five to six sorties Щ on July 1, claiming several kills. Suprun triumphed by Щ

knocking down four on this his first day of combat with “the German aces." On this day, KG 53 Legion Condor under command of Oberst Paul Weitkus lost four He Ills.

Also on July 1, Leytenant Nikolay Terekhin of 161 1AP scored three rather unusual aerial victories. Terekhin’s flight of six I-16s had just landed at Minsk Airdrome after a combat mission when a formation of German bombers, probably He Ills of KG 53, appeared and started dropping bombs on the base. Despite having emptied his ammunition on the earlier sortie, Terekhin took off in the middle of the raid. His little Polikarpov fighter climbed rapidly. Terekhin aimed at a bomber on the right side of a flight formation and without hesitat­ing started cutting its tail fin with his propeller. With the rudder cut into pieces, the German aircraft flipped over to the left and hit the flight leader’s aircraft. This bomber in turn veered to the left and collided with the last air­craft of the Kette. It was a fantastic scene. In the next ; minute, all four planes—the three Luftwaffe bombers and

the I-16-went down. Six or seven parachutes opened in the sky, but the combat was not over. On their way to the ground, the German airmen and Terekhin started j firing at each other with their small flight pistols.

Meantime, a group of Bf 109s appeared and started attacking the I-16s that had followed Terekhin aloft. One or two l-16s went down in flames as the remaining Ger­man bombers withdrew to the west. A bit farther away If the He Ills came under attack by another flight of 1 1-16s.

As they landed in hostile territory, the parachuting і German bomber fliers were disarmed and tied up with a rope by members of a local collective farm. As if taken from a scene from a Western movie, Terekhin appeared in General-Mayor Georgiy Zakharov’s 43 1AD hcadquar – K ters with his pistol in one hand and the rope with the tied-up Luftwaffe airmen in the other.

The sudden appearance of large numbers of modern Soviet fighters stunned the Germans. “The enemy still ^ possesses remarkably great numbers of bombers and fight­ers” was noted in the war diary of Oberstleutnant Werner if; Molders’s JG 51 on July 2, 1941. On that day the ( medium bombers of Luftflotte 2 dispatched a large-scale effort against the airfields around Gomel, south of Army і Group Center’s right flank.

The Soviet tactic was to fight to win time. It was I derided that Smolensk, a main city on the road to Mos­cow, was to be defended at all costs. On July 3, German reconnaissance aircraft reported, “Strong enemy tank column, at least one hundred heavy tanks, heading west­ward for Orsha.” Orsha, on the Dnieper bend halfway between Borisov and Smolensk, would become the scene of a major tank battle during the next few days. General von Richthofen immediately employed his Stukas against this threat while the Do 17 medium hombers of KG 2 and 11I./KG 3 raided the supply lines of these Soviet troops.

As a way of maximizing the pressure on the Red Army, the medium bombers of Luftflotte 2 were committed to both day and night bombing. The Soviets countered by launching fighters at night, though with very primitive methods—guided only by eyesight and searchlights. During a mission on the night of July 3-4, 160IAP lost its commander, Mayor Anatoliy Kostromin. Flying an 1-153, he attempted to attack an He 111 of KG 53, visible in the searchlight beams over Smolensk but was himself shot down by the gunners of the bomber.

On July 4 the large tank concentration spotted by the Luftwaffe reconnaissance—a crack Red Army divi­sion equipped with some of the new T-34 tanks, supe­rior to anything the Germans could mobilize at that time – clashed with the German 17th Panzer Division west of Orsha. The last remaining ground-attack planes avail­able to the Soviet Western Front were dispatched to pro­vide the T-34s with air support. Few of the planes returned.

One of the most famous Soviet ground-attack pilots of World War II, Mladshiy Leytenant Mikhail Odintsov, twice awarded Hero of the Soviet Union (once for shoot­ing down two German aircraft while flying an 11-2), flew an Su-2 in 820 ShAP and narrowly escaped getting killed: “Four Me 109s attacked us. Both my gunner and myself were seriously injured. We barely managed to land. Our plane was so shot up that it was classified beyond repair! But at least my navigator had shot down one Me 109.”9

The new WS tactic of actively seeking combat with the Jagdflieger proved to be a fatal mistake. To the young and self-assured German fighter aces, this mainly meant new opportunities for shooting down enemy airplanes. On July 4 Leutnant Erich Schmidt of 1II./JG 53 achieved his thirtieth victory’ by downing an 1-16. On that day another German fighter pilot claimed the life of Podpolkovnik Stepan Suprun.

After a successful dogfight over the front area, Suprun

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remained in the air for a while in order to protect his landing comrades in the eventuality of a German raid. Suddenly two Ju 88s of KG 3, escorted by four Bf 109s of JG 51, dove out from the clouds. Suprun made a courageous attack and managed to shoot down one of the Ju 88s. In the next moment, his MiG-3 was attacked by the Bf 109s. One of the German fighter pilots scored a decisive hit and the MiG-3 fell vertically into a forest. The remains of this formidable fighter pilot were not found until twenty years later, but on July 22, 1941, Suprun was posthumously awarded his second Golden Star, thus becoming one of the first double Heroes of the Soviet Union. (During the war, seventy-four Soviet air­men were made double Heroes of the Soviet Union.)

The German equivalent of the Golden Star of the Hero of Soviet Union, the Knight’s Cross, was awarded to one of the aces of JG 51 on July 2—Leutnant Heinz Bar (nicknamed Pritzl because of his affection for Pritzl

candy bars). Bar, who had scored his thirtieth victory the same day, would develop into one of the outstanding 1 fighter aces of World War П. Although in almost con­stant trouble with his superiors due to a nearly total lack of military’ discipline, Bar showed tremendous skill in air combat. From the first day of war in 1939 until the final months in 1945, he flew approximately a thousand ties on all fronts, and achieved 220 confirmed victories, j including 96 on the Eastern Front and 16 while flying an Me 262 jet fighter.

On July 5 Bar increased his score with one MiG-3 and two DB-3s while his Geschwaderkommodore, thfi famous Oberstleutnant Werner Molders, bagged two MiG-3s and two SBs. With such adversaries, most Soviet airmen active in the summer of 1941 could not expect to survive long. In fact, the average life expectancy h the Soviet front-line air regiments during 1941 was not more than twenty-five missions, a few weeks of normal

image57image58Подпись: Heinz Bar undoubtedly was one of the most skilled and colorful German fighter pilots of World War II. He carried outa nearly unsurpassed total of a thousand combat missions from September 1939 to May 1945 and achieved 220 kills. During this time, he rose from Unteroffizier to Oberstleutnant and was awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. He was killed in a light plane accident on April 28,1957, at the age of forty-four (Photo: Bundesarchiv.)

Mikhail Odintsov was one of the most famous Shturmovik pilots of World War II, during which he was twice awarded the Golden Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union. The outbreak of the war in 1941 saw Odintsov as a nineteen-year-old mladshiy leytenant and Si – 2pilot. After recovering from wounds he sustained when his Su-2 was shot up by a Bf 109, Odintsov learned to fly the II-2 with considerable success. By the end of the war, Odintsov had paid bac< dearly for when he was shot down; he was credited with a total of twelve aerial victories, the highest score for any il-2 pilot during the war. (Photo: Seidl.)

combat activity. Several VVS units were completely obliterated during the air war in the Smolensk area.

Added to the losses in the air were the continued devastating results of the German air-base raids. Also on July 5, twenty-nine Do 17s of II1./KG 2 Holzhammcr and III./KG 3 Blitz claimed twenty-two Soviet aircraft on the ground during a raid against the airfield at Vitebsk. Only one German bomber, from KG 3, was lost.

The last hope for the Soviet army commander, General-Leytenant Pavel Kurochkin, was the new 11-2 Shturmovik. Regarded as the trump card of the VVS, the Il-2s of 61, 215, and 430 ShAP had
been kept in reserve during the first days of the war. But now 430 ShAP was rushed to the front to bolster the battered 4 ShAP.

At dawn on July 5, 1941, a formation of nine Il-2s from 430 ShAP attacked the tank spearheads of the German 17th Panzer Division at Orsha. In spite of heavy fire from light AAA-several Shturmoviks received more than 200 hits, but none failed to return to base—they caused enough destruction and confusion to delay the German offensive on this sensitive sector for twenty-four hours, thus enabling the Soviet ground forces to rein­force their positions. 430 ShAP’s first combat mission was a total success.10

Other Soviet air units suffered worse. Raiding the airfield at Bobruysk on the same day, 4 ShAP lost two pilots, including the commander of 3 Eskadrilya, Kapitan Nikolay Satalkin. Nevertheless, 4 ShAP claimed a major success, and this won the unit commander, Mayor Semyon Getman, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

But the results of the aerial combats were never one­sided. On this July 5, both fighters of the alert Rottc of 6./JG 51 were shot down while pursuing Soviet bomb­ers. The airfield of JG 51 at Bobruysk became the target of a sudden strafing attack by a group of I-16s. “Go get them!” shouted the Staffelkapitan, Oberleutnant Walter Stengel. Fcldwcbcl Georg Seidel and his wingman, young

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Gcfreiter Anton Hafner, took off immediately. As the two Bf 109s climbed above the burning airfield, they could see no trace of the intruding Ishaks. Instead, three DB-3 bombers appeared. The two German fighter pilots heard the voice of the Staffelkapitan in their headphones: “Stay close together and attack! You’ll pick all three!” Armin Relling, the biographer of then-up-and-coming top ace Anton “Toni” Hafner, wrote:

But they didn’t pick anything. The Soviet airmen also had learned a great deal.

The German fighters were met with a strong defensive fire. Feldwebel Seidel’s aircraft was hit in the oil tank and the entire windscreen was cov­ered with grease. Flying too low to be able to bail out, he jettisoned the canopy, and was sprayed with hot oil all over his face. With severe bums on his face, he managed to belly-land. Hafner was next in turn to receive the full brunt of the Soviet gunners’ attention. He saw a flash immediately in front of him, and for a moment he thought that an explosive grenade had exploded on his goggles. Then he saw the hole in the cabin glass.

Still he didn’t feel any pain, but he knew that the next hit would settle the fate of his machine. More instinctively than consciously, he glanced at his instruments and saw blood dripping from his glove.

He would have liked to retaliate, but a man must know his own limits. He radioed the ground control and requested the airfield to be cleared for an emergency landing. He noticed that he hardly could speak. Suddenly, he felt the pains in his face.

Nevertheless, he managed to undertake a per­fect landing. His aircraft had barely stopped be­fore the ambulance with the doctor braked next to him.11

Several aces of both sides played a dominant role during the increased struggle for air superiority that raged over the battlefield in the Rogachev-Orsha-Smolensk tri­angle. On July 6 a flight of Soviet fighters under com­mand of Starshiy Leytenant Vladimir Shishov of 6 IAK intercepted a formation of eight Ju 88s. Shishov shot down one of them and forced the remaining seven bomb­ers to turn away. At this moment German fighters appeared. Shishov managed to down one Bf 109 but was

As the main concentration of the air war spread to the east, the 6 IAK of ; I the Moscow Air Defense, which mainly consisted of pilots with above- ; I average training, was drawn into purely tactical operations. On July ЗІ I and 4, Mladshiy Leytenant Petr Mazepin of 111AP scored 6 lAK’s first to : і kills, an He 111 and a Ju 88. The Ju 88 claimed by 233 lAP’s Starshiy ; I Leytenant Vladimir Shishov, above, on July 5 was 6 lAK’s fifth victoiy..| I During the following fourteen months, Shishov would score twelve mors 1 I kills in 215 combat sorties. At the end of 1942 he was named a Hero of li­the Soviet Union. (Photo: Seidl.)

then jumped by another Bf 109, which damaged his air – j I craft before the German was driven off by Shishov’s wingman. During another encounter on that day, ; Leytenant Konstantin Anokhin of 170 LAP/23 SAD 1 sacrified his life. Intercepting five German bombers in I the Orsha vicinity, Anokhin destroyed one, but in |j return his own Yak-1 was shot down in flames. The Soviet fighter pilot crashed bis aircraft into a German j tank formation near the small village of Zubovo. In Feb­ruary 1943 he was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet 1 Union posthumously. After the war, a statue of Anokhin 1 I j was erected in Zubovo. On the German side, Leutnant | I Heinz Bar of 1V./JG 51 claimed two “Severskys”- probably ll-2s of 4 ShAP—on the same day.

One of the most successful Soviet fighter pilots of Я

the first years of the war, Ley tenant Vladimir (■Kamenshchikov of 126 LAP, drew his first blood during these air battles. Between June 22 and June 30, he par­ticipated in shooting down five enemy planes in the vicinity of Bialystok (one personal and four shared kills). On July 7 he destroyed a sixth, a Bf 109 possibly piloted by Leutnant Gronke of 2./JG 51, who was missing after Й low-level attack near Slobin.

к Oberstleutnant Werner Molders of JG 51 kept hunt­ing m the skies. Returning from a meeting with Hitler at I fe Fflhrer’s headquarters, Wolfsschanze, in East Prussia (where he had received the newly instituted highest German military award, the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords), Molders brought down three Soviet fighters on July 9 followed by two more on the tenth, and a further ten during the following five days.

On July 10 Generaloberst Heinz Gudcrian decided to disengage his Panzergruppe 2 from the battle at Orsha.

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Tvm of the top fighter aces of the Luftwaffe: Werner Molders (I.) and Walter Oesau. Both served with the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War, in which Molders emerged as the highest scoring German fighter pilot with fourteen confirmed victories. Molders is known as the inventor of the Rotte – Schwarm fighter tactic, and he personally proved its validity by scoring 101 victories by July 1941. He later became very popular as Inspector of the Fighter Arm but soon came into violent conflict with the Nazi leadership. On November 22,1941 he was killed in a flight accident. (Photo: Galland.)

Instead, he mounted an attack across the Dnieper River to the south of Orsha. On that day, Leytenant Kamenshchikov of 126 1AP increased his score to eight (including four shared) by downing a Ju 88 of KG 3. Kamenshchikov would amass a total of twenty individual and seventeen shared victories by August 1942, but he was killed in combat later in the war. In the same engagement in which Kamenshchikov achieved his eighth kill, 126 LAP’ s Mladshiy Leytenant Stepan Ridnyy shot down a second Ju 88 with his 1-16. In Stab/KG 2, the Do 17 piloted by Leutnant Bruno Berger was shot down by Starshiy Leytenant Mikhail Chunusov from a second MiG-3-equippcd crack test-pilot regiment, 402 IAP. On July 11 IV./JG 51 ’s Leutnant Heinz Bar scored his forti­eth victory when he bagged two DB-3s near Bobruysk. Meanwhile, Mladshiy Leytenant Ridnyy destroyed an He 111, and on July 12, together with another pilot, downed two more Ju 88s, possibly from 5./KG 3, which lost three Ju 88s during attacks against Soviet lines of com­munication near Smolensk. Four weeks later, both Kamenshchikov and Ridnyy were made Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Also on July 12 Hauptmann Richard Leppla, the commander of I1I./JG 51, brought home the twelve-hun­dredth victory of Werner Molders’s Jagdgeschwader, of which more than 40 percent were credited against Soviet aircraft Guderian noted that wherever Molders’s fighters showed themselves, “the air was soon clear.” This was felt by three 1-16 pilots of 168 IAP who ran into four Bf-109s on July 12. Only one of these I-16s returned to base.

Between July 12 and 14 Guderian’s armored forces managed to break through the Soviet defense lines at the Dneiper River and surround the strong Red Army con­tingents at Orsha and Mogilev. To the south of Guderian’s main thrust, the Soviet Twenty-first Army launched a strong counterattack in the Bobruysk area, seized Rogachev and Zhlobin on July 13, and thus posed a seri­ous threat to Guderian’s lines of communication. The entire ground situation appeared utterly contradictory. On the one hand, large columns of defeated Red Army contingents were moving eastward, retreating from Guderian’s powerful offensive, but on the other hand, other Soviet motorized columns were moving westward to support the counteroffensive. The tactical units under command of Luftflotte 2 were launched in “roll­ing attacks” against both these streams. Ulf Balke, the

Подпись: A large number of the WS aircraft that were lost during the rapid retreat in the first weeks of the war were never filed in the official Soviet loss reports. Many of these aircraft were found intact and undamaged on the airfields captured by the advancing German ground troops. Hauptmann Gerhard Baeker of lll./KG 1 look this photo of intact SBs on an airfield occupied by his unit in the summer of 1941. (Photo: Baeker.)

chronicler of KG 2, noted that each mission was inter­cepted by Soviet fighters at this time. On July 13 the Staffelkapitan of 7./JG 51, Oberleutnant Hermann Staiger, was shot down and seriously injured.

Having recovered from the wounds sustained by a DB-3 gunner over Bobruysk, 6./JG 51’s Gefreiter Anton Hafner spotted three 1-153s in the air over the front on July 13. Hafner immediately went after the biplanes. To his amazement, he saw the three enemy pilots dive to the ground and land on a field. With the engines in their aircraft still running, the Soviet airmen quickly jumped out of their Polikarpov planes and ran toward a nearby forest. It took Hafner two passes to set all three I-153s on fire. That evening, he made the following remark regarding the three Soviet pilots in his diary: “So now they had to walk home.”12

1I1./JG 27 scored thirty-six kills between July 12 and July 14. On the latter date, Luftflotte 2 put up 885 sor­ties, mainly against enemy troop columns. Oberstleutnant Werner Molders once again triumphed, this time by violently sending three of the new Pe-2 bombers to the
ground. On this day also, Unteroffizier Hans Fahrenberger of 8./JG 27 was shot down behind the enemy lines. Fahrenberger was lucky to evade capture, and after a few days managed to return to his unit. Shot down in the same area on July 15, the Stuka ace in 8./StG I, Oberfeldwebel Wilhelm Joswig, had a similar experience, Joswig was captured by Soviet troops but was liberated by German soldiers six days later.

The fate of Joswig was overshadowed by a remark­able feat on the same day, when Oberstleutnant Werner Molders became the first fighter pilot ever to surpass the hundred-victory mark. In his enthusiasm over this achieve­ment, Hitler instituted yet a new top military award, the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds. Molders became the first holder of this extravagant dis­tinction. Afraid of losing such a pearl from the Nazi pro­paganda machine, Hitler removed Molders from front­line service and appointed him the first Inspector of the Fighter Arm. Ironically, this young favorite of Adolf Hitler would turn away from the Nazi regime in disgust within three months.

image62Подпись: With (he arrival of crack Soviet fighter units in the central combat zone in early July 1941, the perns nstruction to all WS fighter units to avoid combat with German fighters was abolished. For a brief period, the Soviet fighter pilots attempted to challenge the Bf 109s by emulating the Luftwaffe free-hunting tactic. This led to horrific Soviet losses and a precipitous increase in the victories scored by the Luftwaffe fighter Experten. In this photo, German 'grouiccrewmen cheer enthusiastically as a Bf 109 Rotte returns from a successful mission, tie pilots rocking their wings to signify new aerial victories. (Photo: Liitzow via Prien.)image63Подпись: The cumulative losses in the Luftwaffe units participating in Operation Barbarossa reached an alarming level after only a few weeks. Althougtvhard blows had been dealt to the Soviets, the WS continued to put up a stiff resistance. This He 111 was shot down by a Soviet fighter pilot in the Mozhaysk area. (Photo: Seidl.)On July 16, Luftflotte 2 carried out 615 sorties against the Soviet Twenty-first Army in the Bobruysk area, reporting the I destruction of 14 tanks, 514 trucks, 2 [ antiaircraft guns, and 9 artillery pieces, к Luftwaffe losses included the commander в‘of 6./JG 51, Oberleutnant Hans Kolbow, who was killed as he attempted to bail out from his damaged Bf 109 only sixty feet above the ground. On that same day the Soviets were forced to abandon I Smolensk.

I On July 17, Panzergruppe 2 reached і Yelnya, fifty miles southeast of Smolensk.

With this, another twenty Soviet divisions [ were surrounded in the Smolensk area.

In his enthusiasm over these victories, і Hitler awarded the commanders of I Panzergruppen 2 and 3, Guderian and Hoth, respectively, and the commander of Fliegerkorps VIII, General von

Richthofen, with the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross. |: As an acknowledgment of the vital role played by

ihe close-support units of Luftflotte 2, the commanders I ofStG 2, Oberstleutnant Oskar Dinort, and SKG 210,

Major Walter Storp, were awarded with the Oak Leaves on July 14, 1941. Known as “Uncle Oskar,” forty-year – old Dinort was one of the most popular Luftwaffe unit commanders at this time. He became the first dive-bomber airman to be awarded the Oak Leaves.

The Soviet situation was growing increasingly desperate. At this point the terrible losses placed the Red Army in the central combat zone in qualitative as well ".s numerical inferiority. General – feldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Army Group Center enjoyed a superiority of five to one in tanks and almost two to one in artillery, and Luftflotte 2 could muster twice as many serviceable aircraft as its Soviet opponents in this sector.

Despair spread among the Red Army soldiers and airmen. The shrinking num­ber of Soviet aircraft operated under most difficult conditions, taking off from bat­tered airfields littered with wrecks of planes destroyed in Luftwaffe raids.

On July 20 the WS-Western Front was down to 389 aircraft—103 fighters and 286 bombers. The combat figures for 410 BAP/OSNAZ are quite revealing: Having arrived at the Western Front with thirty-eight new Pe-2 bombers on July 5,

this unit carried out 235 sorties and lost 33 planes (22 to German fighters) in only three weeks’ time. 4 ShAP, the first 11-2-equipped unit, was reduced to ten aircraft and eighteen pilots—down from sixty-five on hand two weeks previously. Until the end of July, 4 ShAP counted fifty – five aircraft lost on combat missions, with two other planes receiving severe battle damage.11

After the first month of the war, the Luftwaffe reported the destruction of 7,564 Soviet aircraft It is difficult to verify this figure. Loss statistics generally should be handled with great care, particulary concerning the Eastern Front, where documents frequently were lost by both sides during chaotic retreats. VVS loss statistics show a lower figure. But by comparing official loss figures with the decrease in the number of aircraft on hand (includ­ing replacements), a large gap between VVS loss figures and the actual decrease in the number of combat aircraft is obvious. This “unaccounted decrease" figure for the period June 22-July 31 amounts to 5,240 combat air­craft. For instance, the officially registered loss figure for 64 LAD on June 22 was five aircraft destroyed in combat plus three or four in accidents. But of 239 aircraft (175 1-16s and 1-153s, 64 MiG-3s) on hand on June 21, fewer than 100 remained on June 23.

In fact, the total number of first-line aircraft in the VVS dropped from nearly 10,000 on June 22 to 2,516 (of which fewer than 1,900 remained serviceable) in mid – July—a decrease of about 7,500.

Desperate to save the situation, on July 16 the Stavka reestablished the old dual-command system-politically appointed commissars supervising the military command­ers at every level of command. This move was extremely counterproductive. What the Soviets needed was more individual initative at the front, not an increased fear of reprisals.

The price paid by the invaders had also been consid­erable. During the two weeks between July 6 and July 19, the opening of the Battle of Smolensk, 477 Luftwaffe aircraft were destroyed or damaged on the Eastern Front After the first month of war with the USSR, total Luftwaffe losses on the Eastern Front amounted to 1,284 aircraft destroyed or damaged—nearly half the original force. By July 15 Oberstleutnant Werner Molders’s JG 51 had lost eighty-nine Bf 109s since the first day of the war on the Eastern Front. The number of serviceable German aircraft fell alarmingly. On July 22 Hauptmann Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke’s II1./JG 53 reported: “Frighten­ing lack of aircraft!"14

Unremitting Soviet counterattacks in the air and on the ground had delayed the schedule for the offensive, resulting in heavy losses on both sides. Nevertheless, the two dead-tired armies continued to rain hard blows on one another. On July 19, Hitler issued his Order No. 33, calling on the overextended Luftwaffe to begin conduct­ing terror raids against Moscow.

With the Last Forces toward Rostov

F

ollowing the annihilation of the Soviet Eighteenth Army north of the Sea of Azov during the first week of October, the Soviet Southern Front retained only weak forces to counter the offensive by the German First Panzer Army toward the city of Rostov, the gateway to the Caucasus. The Soviets attempted to build a new de­fense line along the Mius River, about fifty miles west of Rostov. Worsened weather conditions, which created enormous logistical problems for the Germans, and the diversion of Luftwaffe units to the Battle of the Crimea were what mainly saved the Soviet defenses in this sec­tor from a total breakdown.

The battle in the air above the road to Rostov was fought between the last poor remnants of the once – powerful Fliegerkorps V and VVS-Southern Front. Heavy attrition during a sustained campaign had worn down the units in Fliegerkorps V to an average of six to nine serviceable aircraft in each Gruppe. On top of this, short­ages of fuel and spare parts particularly affected the twin – engine bomber units, KG 54 and KG 55.

With most air force replacements bound for the Moscow sector, four months of accumulated losses had left VVS-Southern Front with no more than a mere 130 serviceable aircraft by mid-October. But at least the Sovi­ets were spared the supply problems of their adversaries, because their aviation regiments operated in the immedi­ate vicinity of some of their nation’s main supply bases. Hence the Soviet air commanders could launch every available plane in five, six, or even more sorties over the front lines each day. Through this permanent maximum effort, considerable pressure from the air was dealt to the German ground troops moving very slowly ahead in the deep mud.

Podpolkovnik Leonid Goncharov’s 131 IAP, rated

Подпись: A downed Bf 109E, probably of l.(J)/LG 2, which operated under the control of JG 77 Herzas on the southern sector of the Eastern Front in 1941. (Photo: Nome.) as a crack unit, was assigned to fend off the threat from the German Jagdgruppen in this area, I.(J)/LG 2 and 1I./JG 77. During the first three months of the war, 131 IAP had taken part in approximately five hundred aerial combats, during which sixty-three enemy aircraft were claimed.’ This regiment included several outstanding fighter pilots: The deputy commander, Kapitan Viktor Davidkov, counted six personal and two shared victories by September 1941; and Starshiy Politruk Moisey Tokarev claimed five Bf 109s and two Ju 88s shot down during only eight air combats before the end of 1941. Another highly rated pilot with this unit was Mladshiy Leytenant Dmitriy Nazarenko, a veteran of the Winter War.

On October 22, 1941, the l-16s of 131 IAP escorted a formation of SB bombers against a German airfield. While attempting to intercept the SBs, I.(J)/LG 2 lost two Bf 109 shot down—both falling prey to Mladshiy Leytenant Nazarenko. 131 IAP would file claims for twenty-one enemy aircraft destroyed in the air on Octo­ber 22, including four by Nazarenko. There are, how­ever, no according German loss reports that substantiate such high claims.

Confronted with the experts of Hauptmann Anton Mader’s 1I./JG 77, WS-Southern Front paid dearly for its “maximum effort.” Eleven Soviet aircraft were shot down by 1I./JG 77 on October 23. On October 27, Podpolkovnik Goncharov dispatched his last I-16s against
the German fighter base at Taganrog, on 1 the northern shore of the Sea of Azov, I but they only succeeded in putting one 1 Bf 109 out of commission,

Of seventy-nine serviceable fighters J available to VVS-Southern Front on 1 October 1, forty-three were registered as 1 “totally lost” by November l. s II./JG 77 I claimed thirty-seven victories for only one I loss in air combat between October 27 1 and 31. Podpolkovnik Goncharov was 1 killed in action on October 31, possibly 1 as the thirty-second victory credited to I Oberlcutnant Heinrich Setz of 4./JG 77. 1

Once it crossed the Mius River, the First Panzer Army 1 opened its final offensive against Rostov on November I 5. Luftwaffe raids enabled the Germans to break through j on the left flank. Next, the bombers of KG 54 and KG 1 55 were sent into action against both the retreating troops I of the Southern Front and the massive Soviet reinforce – 1 ments moving on the rail lines connecting Rostov with 1 the Caucasus. In the course of the latter attacks, the j bomber crews reported the destruction of 79 trains with 1 another 148 damaged by direct hits.9

Once again, it was “General Mud” who saved the ] Soviets. Already on November 6, new rain showers made j the roads impassable, and the attack came to a complete I standstill. A few days later, the temperature dropped 1 below the freezing point, creating severe difficulties in 1 starting the engines of tanks and aircraft in primitive I field conditions.

At this point the staff of Fliegerkorps V was shifted J from the Eastern Front to Brussels, with the intention I of organizing a mine-laying air corps to be used against ] Britain. All elements of KG 54 and KG 55 were also j pulled back.

The Soviets made use of the lull created by wore – j ened weather conditions to rebuild their battered forces. ] In mid-November VVS-Southern Front mustered 119 I bombers, 72 fighters, and 13 ground-attack aircraft, the j highest figures in three months.

Endurance in the South

I

n the southern combat zone, the medium bombers of General Robert Ritter von Greim’s Fliegerkorps V had played a decisive role in enabling Panzergruppe 1 and the German Sixth Army to advance despite effective Soviet resistance against Kiev on the left flank of Army Group South.

A Soviet counterattack on July 1 against Panzergruppe 1, aimed at covering the withdrawal of the Southwest­ern Front toward Kiev, was completely routed by Fliegerkorps V. On this day the Ju 88 and He 111 bomb­ers of KG 51, KG 54, and KG 55 reported the destruc­tion of 220 motor vehicles of all kinds, including 40 tanks, west of Lvov.

To block the movements of Soviet troops in the rear area-transports that were mainly undertaken by rail due to the adverse state of the dirt roads in this area—the He 11 Is and Ju 88s of the entire Luftflotte 4 initiated a large-scale railway-interdiction offensive in a huge area to the west of the Dnieper River. The main mission of the Bf 109 pilots was to seek out and destroy any enemy aircraft encountered in the air. The main tactic used was a series of constant free-hunting missions in small groups of Bf 109s over the vast battle area and the closest Soviet rear areas. A prolonged ridge of high pressure created clear skies, which provided the fighter pilots with the best possible conditions.

The first ten days of intense air activity had left no more than a few hundred VVS aircraft remaining in the entire southern combat zone. General-Leytenant Yevgeniy Ptukhin, a veteran of Spain who commanded VVS-Southwcstern Front, was made scapegoat for the failure. On July 1 he was relieved from command and eventually fell victim to a firing squad. The first task of the new commander, General-Leytenant Fyodor

Подпись: Throughout July and August 1941 the bombers of Fliegerkorps V mounted unremitting attacks against Soviet transport facilities in the Ukraine. Here, a Ju 88 of KG 51 Edelweiss is warming up its engines before another combat sortie. (Photo: Hofer.) image65Подпись: Walter “Guile" Oesau has been characterized by fighter ace Johannes Steinhoff as “the toughest fighter pilot of the Luftwaffe.” Serving under command of Werner Molders in JG 51, Oesau placed himself among the top scorers in the Battle of Britain. He assumed command of III./JQ 3, which he led during the opening phase of Operation Barbarossa. After achieving a total of 123 aerial victories on approximately 300 combat missions, Oesau was finally killed in combat with U.S. Army Air Forces fighters on May 11, 1944. This photo shows Oeasu during the celebration for his 100th kill, while he was Geschwaderkommodore of JG 2 in October 1941. (Photo: Bundesarchiv.)

Astakhov, was to organize air support for the hard-pressed Red Army units in the Lvov area. Six aviation divisions of the Southwestern Front and two bomber corps from the Long-Range Air Force were employed. Their mission was divided into three main tasks: The bomb­ers of 4 BAK/DBA were assigned to attack the advancing enemy columns; other bombers and ground-attack air units were instructed to provide the retreating army with close support at the front; and fighter units were directed to cover the retreating army from air attacks. A main obstacle to all of these tasks would remain the Jagdwaffe.

One of the toughest fighter pilots of the entire war, Hauptmann Walter “Guile” Oesau, the commander of III./ JG 3, roamed the skies in this area. On July 1 he scored his fifty-second to fifty – fourth victories by downing three SB bombers. Total claims by the fighters of Luftflotte 4 on the first day of July were seventeen Soviet aircraft shot down against only two losses.

The front along the Sovict-Romanian border had remained relatively calm during the first days of the war, the German and Romanian armies await­ing the encirclement of the Soviet Southwestern Front by the advancing troops on the left (northern) flank. But on July 2 the German Eleventh Army, on the right flank, attacked toward Mogilev Podolskiy on the Dniester River. StG 77—the first Stukas to participate in Luftflotte 4’s Soviet campaign—had been deployed from the central combat zone to strengthen air cover for this new offensive. At the same time, the Roma­nian Third Army started advancing toward Chernovtsy to the north. On its left flank, the Hungarian Army crossed the Soviet border, a most significant result of the Romanian fake “Soviet” air raid six days earlier.

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Фото М. РЫЖАКА (ТА00)

К Following their first hostile encounters with the FARR, the Soviet pilots reported that the Romanian airmen lacked the experience of Luftwaffe К tiers and thus were an “easier’ enemy. The Romanian Air Force suffered heavy losses, and most of its units were withdrawn from first-line ■ sen-ice after a couple of months. This He 112, piloted by Adjutant Aviator Aldea Cherchez of Grupul 5 Vanatoare, was brought down behind I the Soviet lines near the Moldavian village ofVulcanesti on July 2,1941. This TASS photo was published in Leningrad Pravcfe on August 13, §• 1941. (Photo: TASS/Leningrad Pravda.)

Resistance in the Moldavian skies was fierce during the first days of July. On July 2 Oberleutnant Kurt Lasse, Oberfeldwebel Erwin Riehl, and Feldwebel Wilhelm Baumgartner of 9./JG 77 had an encounter with seven MiG-3s led by the famous Starshiy Leytenant Aleksandr Pokryshkin of 55 1AP, which were escorting nine SBs. Baumgartner shot down Mladshiy Leytenant Stepan Komlev’s MiG-3 (the pilot bailed out and survived), while his comrades claimed three Soviet bombers. (Soviet sources show the loss of two SBs.) Pokryshkin made an unsubstantiated claim of a Bf 109. Altogether on this day, the Jagdgruppen of Luftflotte 4 claimed another fifty-six victories against three losses.

Given the uneven odds they faced, the achievements by the Soviet airmen are impressive. On July 3, the sec­ond day of the Romanian ground offensive against Moldavia, the FARR lost eleven aircraft, including four

British-manufactured Bristol Blenheim bombers, against a reported eight Soviet aircraft shot down.

The next day, General-Mayor P. S. Shelukhin, the commander of VVS-Southern Front, dispatched all his bomber units in a major effort to block the advance by the German Eleventh Army in Moldavia. The Bf 109s of 1II./JG 77 had a field day, claiming seventeen SBs and DB-3s in this area.

According to Soviet sources, the defenders lost 1,218 aircraft in the Ukraine during the first two weeks of the war. In spite of bloody losses, the fighting spirit among the VVS airmen never swayed. An example of this is Mladshiy Leytenant Dmitriy Zaytsev of 2 LAP of 36 LAD/ Kiev PVO, who on July 4 directed his 1-16 right into a Ju 88 above the city of Kiev.

One of the most successful Soviet fighter pilots in the Moldavian battle zone was Starshiy Leytenant

Anatoliy Morozov of 4 IAP, who scored seven personal and two collective aerial victories before the end of July 1941, and eight other planes destroyed on the ground. During a melee with He 11 Is of I./KG 27 escorted by eleven Bf 109s of IIL/JG 77 in the air over Moldavia on July 7, Morozov shot down one bomber and, with no ammunition left, rammed a fighter with his MiG-3. He successfully bailed out and even managed to capture the German fighter pilot, Oberfeldwebel Georg Bergmann of 9./JG 77. 2./KG 27 registered one He 111 shot down.15 During another engagement that day, 55 lAP’s Leytenant Kuzma Seliverstov attacked six Bf 109s and claimed to have shot one dow’n.

During these days, reinforcements were hurriedly brought in from the Soviet Far Past to the VVS on the southern combat zone. The strength of the WS in this sector rapidly increased to more than 1,000 operational aircraft, of which 671 belonged to VVS-Southern Front. Between June 22 and July 9, VVS-Southern Front car­ried out more than 5,000 sorties in the Romanian border area, claiming 238 enemy aircraft shot down.

Mcanw’hile, the Luftwaffe units were rapidly w’om down by the daily rate of attrition. In the beginning of July, many units in Fliegerkorps IV and V were already dow-n to one-third of their original strength.

It is obvious that the German airmen did not have the same “morale fiber” as their Soviet counterparts. Even if they inflicted considerable losses to the enemy each day—on July 5 alone, Fliegerkorps V claimed the destruc­tion of eighteen trains and more than five hundred trucks—the German airmen continued to experience te­nacious and never-ending resistance wherever they ap­peared. The men in the Luftwaffe bomber units simply could not grasp this. After the first ten days of combat, a feeling of despair had spread within the Kampf- geschw’ader. In the air, new Soviet fighters manned by aggressive pilots appeared each day. From the ground, the He Ills and Ju 88s w’ere constantly subjected to intensive fire, not only from antiaircraft artillery and machine guns but also from small arms. The Red Army directive to its soldiers to open fire with any arms at any enemy aircraft sighted proved to have a tremendous psy­chological effect if not always a material one. In the chronicle of KG 51, Wolfgang Dierich noted that the mood among the personnel dropped considerably. “The first worn-out, physically and psychologically exhausted crews w’ere withdrawn from combat and transferred to Germany.”16

But the Luftwaffe still dominated the skies, mainly due to the efforts of its fighter pilots. By July 9, rail; traffic west of the Dneiper River had been substantially blocked.

On July 10, as Marshal Semyon Budyonny arrived to assume command of the new’ Red Army Southwest-] em Zone—as supreme commander of the Southwestern and Southern fronts—the Soviet situation had grown increasingly desperate. The new supreme commander of | the army air forces on the Southwestern Zone, General j Mayor Fyodor Falaleyev, ordered TB-3 heavy bombers j into action against the German advance against Kiev on i the northern flank of Army Group South. During a late, afternoon mission in the Zhitomir area on Thursday, July 10, the Rotte composed of Oberleutnant Franz Beyer] and Unteroffizier Werner Lucas of ll./JG 3 came across | twelve of these “dinosaurs” from 14 ТВАР. The Soviet bombers flew without any fighter escort, and the two German pilots claimed five of them shot down.17 In fact,’ Soviet sources show that seven TB-3s were downed, though the bomber gunners claimed one Bf 109 de-; strayed.14 Franz Beyer would eventually amass a total of 81 confirmed victories. His wingman, Lucas, would even j surpass him, reaching a total score of 106.

If the men of the Kampfgeschwader felt despair, the combat spirits of the Jagdflieger stood at their peak. What counted here were aerial victories, and the German fighter] pilots had never previously experienced such rich hunt-1 ing grounds. On the same day as Beyer and Lucas of II/ j JG 3 butchered the TB-3s, Hauptmann Walter Oesau of 1II./JG 3 blasted five Soviet planes out of the sky, fora total of sixty-eight victories. Further to the south over Moldavia, on July 10, II1./JG 77 claimed twenty-onei kills, including nineteen DB-3 bombers.

At 1530 hours on July 12, Hauptmann Oesau and his w’ingman, Oberleutnant Georg Michalek, spotted a formation of SB bombers escorted by three I-16s while on a free-hunting mission over the forward tank spear­heads of Panzergruppe 1. Oesau radioed his wingman to start w’ith the fighters. Oesau’s Bf 109 came out of the sun. A short burst, and the first 1-16 fell in flames. Before the two remaining Ishak pilots realized w’hat was happening, the 20mm rounds from Oesau’s nose can­non tore them both apart. Oberleutnant Michalek 1 confirmed Oesau’s victories to a total of seventy-five. 1 Walter Oesau’s war-time biographer, Friedrich Griese, j described w’hat followed: “Then the bombers are left alone j with Oesau and his compatriot. They attack one by one: |

Endurance in the South
first Michalek, followed by Oesau, then Oesau again. After twenty minutes, seven enemy aircraft lie burning on the ground. The two fighter pilots only disengaged when they simultaneously had emptied their ammuni­tion. The hunting was over.”19

When Hauptmann Oesau was posted as a Geschwaderkommodore to occupied France two weeks later, his total score stood at eighty-six, of which forty – four had been achieved during the past five weeks.

On the same day as Oesau and Michalek ripped the Soviet bomber formation apart, the medium bombers of Luftflotte 4 extended their rail-interdiction campaign to the east of the Dneiper River to prevent the arrival of Soviet reinforcements. Army Group South recorded that Luftflotte 4 had managed by July 13 to prevent any possibility of a large-scale Soviet counterattack by destroy­ing the railroad system.

The VVS responded by renewing its aerial offensive

image69

Soldiers from a Waffen-SS unit examine a downed Bf 109 F of JG 53 Рік As. The Luftwaffe encountered some of the stiffest Soviet resistance during Operation Barbarossa in the air over the Ukrainian capital Kiev. (Photo: Roba.)

 

against Romania, with the primary aim directed at forcing Luftwaffe units to be withdrawn to this area from the front. The first among these new attacks was crowned with success. During the after­noon of July 13, six Soviet bombers raided the Romanian Astra, Romana, and Orion oil refineries on the southern outskirts of Ploesti. The attack destroyed seven­teen lubricating oil storage tanks and twelve loaded railway tanker wagons, with a total of 9,000 tons of oil set ablaze. The Unirea oil refinery would remain on fire for three days. Nevertheless, this was not sufficient to force a withdrawal of German or Romanian fighter units from the front line. Only two of the attack­ers against Romania on July 13 made it back to base; the other four were shot down by fighters. From mid-July, the Soviet bombers—DB-3s from WS-ChF and 4 BAK—resorted mainly to noctur­nal raids against objectives in Romania.

image71Подпись:

On the main front in the Ukraine, the Soviet troops continued to withdraw in the direction of Kiev. Some of the best VVS units were concentrated in this sector, a fact that was soon noticed by the German fighters. On July 14 Hauptmann Walter Oesau ran into unexpect­edly stiff opposition during an aerial encounter in the Kiev area. His Bf 109 was badly shot up, and the Ger­man ace barely managed to return to base. The medics at his airfield removed small splinters from his face, some a few inches from his left eye. Afterward Oesau confessed that during the return flight he had almost fainted out of fear of having to land in enemy-held territory.

The next day, one of Oesau’s most promising young pilots, Oberfeldwebel Hans Stechmann, achieved three vic­
tories in the same area. With one of them, JG 3 had reached its thousand-victory mark.

Leutnant Franz Schiess of the Stabsschwarm of JG 53 recorded a bitter engagement with a pair of Soviet biplane fighters over Kiev in his diary on July 15,1941: “We encountered two I-15s and an SB. The Kommodore shot down an 1- 15 and the bomber in a few minutes. I grappled with the second fighter. He flew very skillfully, and I never got a chance to fire. Whenever 1 approached to about 100 meters, he turned against me. Hav­ing gone through this with the fellow sev­eral times, by which time I was already east of the Dnieper, I chose to disengage.”20 During the second mission that day, the Stabsschwarm/JG 53 challenged a for­mation of lshaks. The Bf 109 flown by the Geschwaderkommodore, Major Gunther Freiherr von Maltzahn, was hit in the ra­diator and the pilot made a forced landing. The events on the southern combat zone during the first four weeks of the war stood in contrast to the central and northern combat zones. Here, the best-equipped Red Army units, led by some of the most experienced commanders, had succeeded in con­siderably slowing the German armored offensive. Hav­ing suffered severe losses Army Group South failed to achieve more than a breakthrough and a slow advance toward Kiev on the left (northern) flank. The main fac­tor in the limited German success in this sector had been the effective use of Fliegerkorps IV and V. To Marshal Budyonny and his WS commander, General-Mayor Falaleyev, it stood clear that the main threat to the Ger­man advance had come from the air.

Mud and Shturmoviks

B

y late October 1941, both sides had virtually ex­hausted their first-line strength. Having obliterated practically the entire Red Army in the Moscow sec­tor, the worn-down units of Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock’s Army Group Center had then gotten stuck in thick mud. Luftflotte 2, supporting the Moscow offensive, was at the end of its tether.

According to Soviet sources, five hundred German planes were destroyed during the air-base raids between October 11 and 18.10 This figure has absolutely nothing in common with reality and was probably aimed at cov­ering up the dismal state of the Soviet front during this period of the war. Nevertheless, the Soviets noted a con­siderable reduction in the enemy’s presence in the air during the latter half of October. The authoritative Soviet Air Force in World War Two states: “As the result of the blow – against enemy aircraft both on the ground and in the air, the effectiveness of enemy air power in the zone of the Western Front was reduced by three-fourths.”11 This observation was true, but the main reason was the general war situation.

Luftflotte 2 was successively weakened, but not only through accumulated losses and logistical problems. New – critical situations in other w’ar theaters forced the Ger­mans to divide their forces. Late in October and early in November, the entire Fliegerkorps II, including half the units in Luftflotte 2, received orders to transfer to the Mediterranean area. British naval and air units oper­ating from Malta were threatening to completely sever the seaborne lifeline to General Erwin Rommel’s Afrikakorps in North Africa. A radical strengthening of the Luftw-affe in this area was imperative. Thus five

Подпись: With its landing wheels safely dug into the soil on an airdrome in Soviet Union, this Bf 109's guns are being calibrated by the “Black Men" of a Luftwaffe fighter unit. With the strength of the Jagdgruppen diminishing to only the equivalent of a Schwarm in strength, the ground personnel of the Luftwaffe units on the Eastern Front were heavily overstaffed by fall of 1941. Subsequently, large levies of the staff personnel from such units were sent on a well-deserved home leave. (Photo: Norrie.)

veteran Kampfgruppen, one Stukagruppc, and two Jagdgruppen left the Eastern Front.

Next, having suffered twenty-seven combat losses since June 22, KG 2 was withdrawn from the Eastern Front on November 1 to participate in a revived air offensive against the British Isles. Further, increasing resistance in the air in the Leningrad sector led to the transfer of I./JG 51 to Luftflotte 1. Other units, includ­ing I. and lli./JG.3, were completely worn down and had to be pulled out of combat for rest and recuperation.

Of nine Jagdgruppen supporting Army Group Cen­ter at the onset of Operation Typhoon, only five—II., III., and IV./JG 51, and I. and II./JG 52—remained to take part in the final offensive against the Soviet capital. After a month, the Luftwaffe could muster no more than fifty to a hundred fighters to fend off the increasing numbers of Soviet aircraft deployed against German ground troops in this area. In fact, one-quarter of the
personnel in JG 51 were sent on home leave in the beginning of November—simply because the small num­ber of operational aircraft did not require a full person­nel staff.12

On top of all these disturbing and disheartening elements were the effects from deteriorating weather con­ditions. The historians Jochen Prien and Gerhard Stemmer describe Orel Airdrome, the main Luftwaffe air base at the Moscow front during this time, as “a to­tally soggy and bottomless field.”1 ’

Meanwhile, strong Soviet reinforcements were pour­ing into the area. Almost without any interference from the Luftwaffe, General Armii Georgiy Zhukov was able to rebuild the Moscow’ defense forces in an astound – ingly short span of time. New recruits arrived, as did army divisions from the Far East. The latter had defeated the Japanese at Khalkhin-Gol two years earlier, and they were convinced that they would do the same to the Ger­
mans outside Moscow. The high morale of these soldiers was sorely needed, and soon it inspired the men of other units. Most of these transports managed to reach the front without any interruption from enemy aircraft, although not undetected. As German historian Cajus Bekker points out: “In these days, long-range reconnais­sance air crews of Luftflotte 2 reported large-scale trans­port movements on the railways converging on the capi­tal from the east, especially at Gorkiy and Yaroslavl.”14 In fact, one of the main reasons behind the Soviet air­base offensive in October had been an assumption by the Stavka that the Luftwaffe was planning massive strategic air raids. This fear had been triggered by the raid in which three He Ills of 9./KG 55 Greif destroyed the tank factory at Kramatorskaya on the night of October 6, 1941. But the Stavka’s anxiety’ was without basis.

The Luftwaffe launched a few sporadic strategic air raids on the Eastern Front during the war, but in gen­eral, the main emphasis of the Kampfgeschwader in the USSR lay on tactical support, often even close support directly at the front lines. This was the Luftwaffe’s main doctrinal basis, and it would remain so during the entire war. Herbert Wittmann, w’ho flew an He 111 as Hauptmann and commander of the Stabsstaffel of KG 53 during this time, realized this fundamental weakness, as did many Luftwaffe airmen: “Why are we not sent against the enemy’s rear area? We find it incredible. It was wrong to concentrate on tactical close-support mis­sions. It would have been tactically more sound if we had been launched with all force against railway stations, airfields, depots, industrial plants, etc., instead of bomb­ing artillery positions, tank concentrations, and bridge­heads in the front area.”15

Much has been said and written concerning the lack of a German strategic bomber fleet. But this “what if” disregards the fact that the whole Blitzkrieg concept origi­nated from Germany’s economic situation—mainly its lack of strategic raw materials—which provided no alterna­tive beyond a short and decisive war. Hence, to lay full weight on tactical missions for the bomber force was, after all, most rational from the perspective of Germany’s prime strategic imperative.

The decimated WS units in this area also received strong reinforcements, including two Aviadivizii from WS-Northwestern Front, one BAP equipped with the new Pe-2 bombers, two Shturmovik regiments, five avia­tion regiments from 6 RAG, a light-bomber regiment flown by instructors and trainees from flight training schools, and even SB and TB-3 regiments brought in from the Central Asian Military District.

While the Luftwaffe operated under primitive con­ditions, entrapped in a logistical nightmare, the Soviets enjoyed the advantage of fighting at the nexus of all Soviet rail and road communications. Also, a chain of well-equipped, AAA-protected air bases stood at the dis­posal of Soviet air units.

During the lull before the battle for Moscow, the maintenance crews of the VVS made a feverish attempt to improve the strength of the air units. Brigadnyy Inzhener T. G. Cherepov, in charge of ground mainte­nance of the Moscow PVO air units, formed thirty-six mobile assembly plants. During the battle for Moscow these units assembled 150 new aircraft at the front and repaired 250 damaged planes. Due to this improvement in ground maintenance, Mayor Fyodor Prutskov’s 16IAP, 6 IAK/PVO was able to carry out 172 ground-attack missions in October 1941, claiming the destruction of 231 trucks, 18 tanks, and 6 bridges and river crossings.

In the days after the encirclement battles at Vyazma and Bryansk, the German situation deteriorated day by day. A gradually mounting resistance was encountered— in the air as well as on the ground. Around Teploye, some thirty-seven miles south of Tula, two Soviet cav­alry’ divisions and five infantry divisions, plus one ar­mored brigade, suddenly threatened to cut off the Sec­ond Panzer Army. While the German tanks had difficul­ties moving in the deep mud, the Soviets deployed T-34 tanks, which had been designed for such conditions.

The Luftwaffe was alerted, and even though the weather was so bad that the aircraft ran the risk of col­liding with trees on the many small hills in the area, a large number of bombers was deployed in treetop-level attacks. Despite heavy losses, the German bombers man­aged to destroy several T-34s and forced the Soviets to withdraw.

Northwest of Moscow, a Soviet counteroffensive was launched against the German Ninth Army and the Third Panzer Army in the Kalinin area. Directly from the Kalinin factories, a strong workers’ militia reminiscent of the Russian Civil War was thrown against the invaders. As a result, the 1st Panzer Division became surrounded in this sector on October 19.

As the pressure at Kalinin increased, the commander of Fliegerkorps VIII decided to redeploy strong Luftwaffe forces to Kalinin Airdrome. Covered by the Bf 109s of 1. and 1I./JG 52, the Ju 87s of Stab and l./StG 2, and the ground-attack aircraft of Hauptmann Otto Weiss’s I1.(S)/ LG 2 were dispatched from Kalinin on October 21. Launching relentless dive-bombings and low-level attacks during the following days, they managed to break up the Soviet forces that had isolated the 1st Panzer Division. The bloody losses inflicted on the Red Army by the Hs 123 biplanes under the command of Hauptmann Weiss rendered this able commander the honorary nickname “The Lion of Kalinin” among the German ground troops. Wearing the Knight’s Cross since the Battle of France in

1940, Otto Weiss was awarded the Oak Leaves as the first Schlachtflieger of the Luftwaffe on December 31,

1941. Weiss was the best-known Schlachtflieger of the war, but he was also a very harsh and often ruthlessly demanding commander. Among some of his subordinates he became known by the unflattering nickname “Weiss the Butcher.”16

On October 22 the Luftwaffe attempted to raid Moscow’ in broad daylight. Due to improved weather conditions, Luftflotte 2 managed to launch 481 sorties

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The Hs 123 ground-attack biplane to a large extent earned a place on the | fighting front as the Luftwaffe’s last resort during the difficult Fall of 1941 3 on the Eastern Front. Due to its wide stance and sturdy undercarriage ti® j Hs 123 was able to operate from loamy airfields where other aircraft simply! got stuck in the mud. (Photo: Bundesarchiv.)

this day. But Soviet fighter opposition was so intense I that no bombers were able to penetrate to the Soviet! capital.

Подпись: A LaGG-3 armed with RS-82 rocket projectiles taxis out on a snow-covered airfield. During the period of the final German advance against Moscow, repeated nightly snowfalls, followed by rises in the temperature and resultant thaws, posed an enormous problem for Luftwaffe units operating from primitive airstrips close to the front line. In stark contrast, the WS enjoyed the advantage of operating from well-equipped airdromes with concrete runways. (Photo: Voronin.)

Unteroffizier Walter Todt of l./JG 52 recalls "the | final battle” in the air over the approaches to the Soviet!

capital: “Just as we had left the second antiaircraft bar­rage behind us, Ratas and MiGs attacked our formations from all directions. A fierce dogfight followed. The AAA stopped firing. The fighter attack came as a total sur­prise, and the aerial combat developed into a chaotic ‘catch – as-catch-can.’ All hell broke loose on the R/T: ‘Break off!’ ‘There’s one on your tail!’ ‘Victory!’ ‘Did you see that?’ ‘Watch out!’ etc., etc. Several Stukas did not return from this mission. Later 1 noted that no more daylight raids were made against Moscow following this combat.’1′

34IAP alone put up fifty-nine sorties on October 22 and claimed twelve enemy aircraft shot down. The heavy losses forced the Luftwaffe to refrain from further at­tempts to attack Moscow in daylight..

Counted among the victims on October 22 was Oberfeldwebel Robert Fuchs, who, with twenty-three kills, was the most successful pilot of 7./JG 51 following the death of Leutnant Joachim Hacker ten days earlier.

The next day, 7./JG 51 lost another of its few’ remaining Bf 109s when Unteroffizier Giinther Schack had to bail out of his burning plane, and in l./JG 51, Oberfeldwebel Heinz Schawaller, credited with twelve victories, was killed in combat. Also on October 23, KG 53 lost five He 111 crews on one mission, including the commanders of both 7. and 8. Staffel, Oberleutnant Oswald Gabler and Major Willi Hasten18

The toughest adversaries the Luftwaffe faced in air combat were the crack fighter units of the Moscow PVO. Starshiy Leytenant Gerasim Grigoryev of 178 IAP scored his first victory, an He 111, on October 24. 178 IAP was equipped with LaGG-3s, which by all accounts was not a very successful fighter. But Grigoryev had learned to handle the weaknesses of the LaGG-3. Realizing that it was a “slow climber," he utilized a superior flight altitude to jump and down one German aircraft after another.

During another encounter on October 24, six MiG – 3s of 16 IAP reportedly shot down six German planes out of a formation of eighteen Ju 88s escorted by ten Bf 109s in the Naro-Fominsk area. One of the MiG pilots, Mladshiy Leytenant Ivan Golubin, got into a cloud fol­lowing a combat turn during this melee. As he emerged into clear sky, he saw a lone Ju 88 in front of him. He gave it a quick burst, and the German bomber started to smoke. Golubin followed the Junkers, which attempted to escape in a dive, and kept firing at his prey until it finally tore into the ground. This was his first victory.’.

During the following two months, Golubin achieved another six personal and two shared victories in only nine combats. (Ivan Golubin and a few other skilled pilots in 16 IAP became famous for specializing in the use of RS-82 rockets in air combat. This unit claimed to have brought down six enemy aircraft with RS-82s in October 1941.)

But the Soviets also paid a high price for their victo­ries on October 24. In 16 LAP, two pilots were shot down and had to bail out. A third pilot was wounded, and the MiG-3 piloted by Leytenant Aleksandr Suprun, the brother of the famous ace Podpolkovnik Stepan Suprun, was severely damaged, returning to base with 118 bullet holes. Stab/JG 3 claimed five MiG-3s this day. With one of them, the Geschwaderkommodore Major Gunther Liitzow became the second German fighter pilot to sur­pass the 100-victory mark.

On October 27, the famous “night-taraner” of 177 IAP, Mladshiy Leytenant Viktor Talalikhin, a Hero of the Soviet Union, was killed in action, having achieved a total of five victories including the famous night taran over Moscow in August 1941. On that same day, the Staffelkapitan of 7./JG 51, Oberleutnant Herbert Wehnelt, bounced a group of ll-2s that was beating up a German tank column. With a total of nineteen kills to his credit, Wehnelt belonged to the JG 51 elite, and espe­cially of 7. Staffel. Despite having his wingman shot dow’n—for the second time in two weeks—Oberleutnant Wehnelt attempted to pursue a pair of retreating Shturmoviks on his own. As W’ehnclt aimed at one of the Shturmoviks, a second 11-2 sprayed the German fighter with bullets. With its rudders shot to pieces, the Bf 109 was seen diving into a small wood. The badly wounded Wehnelt was eventually rescued. Thus the Soviet fliers had struck hard against the 7. Staffel of JG 51, depriving it of three aces—Leutnant Joachim Hacker on October 12, Oberfeldwebel Robert Fuchs on October 22, and Oberleutnant Herbert Wehnelt on the October 17. The morale among the survivors in 7./JG 51 dropped con­siderably. This can be read in the results table of the Staffel, which shows only four victory claims for the whole November-December 1941 period.

At Kalinin, from which Hauptmann Otto Weiss directed his pilots into combat, the German airfield proved to be a trap in itself. The Hs 123s were soon involved in self-defense missions against Soviet tanks attacking the base. Once again, II.(S)/LG 2 managed to ward off the ground attacks, but its pilots could not prevent Soviet artillery, hidden in the deep woods, from subjecting the airfield to constant shelling. Oberfeldwebel Kurt Warmbold, a member of the ground crew’ of I./JG 52 in Kalinin, wrote in his diary: “October 29: This is the dark­est day during our entire Eastern Campaign. The Rus­sians have covered our airfield with systematic artillery shelling since early this morning…. The Gruppe Weiss lost seventeen aircraft in today’s heavy shelling.”19

Martin Reiner, who led a draft of groundcrewmen from StG 2 committed to ground combat at Kalinin Air­drome, later recalled: “A large number of dead soldiers, Germans and Russians next to each other, lay on both sides of the road, just as they had fallen. Russian women searched among the dead for their beloved husbands, who recently had been mobilized for the defense fight from the factories in Kalinin. Several were in civilian

clothes or half uniformed—— There was no time to bury

the dead.”20

The deteriorating state of the Luftwaffe was reflected in the mounting successes among the VVS fighter pilots. 16 LAP’s Mladshiy Leytenant Ivan Golubin had his most successful day on October 29, when he claimed one Ju 87 and one Bf 109 in a morning melee, followed by two Bf 109s near Vorob’i at noon. On that day the Luftwaffe registered a total of nineteen German aircraft destroyed or heavily damaged in combat on the Eastern Front. One of the losses, a Bf 110 of 3./ZG 26, might be the Bf 110 claimed taraned by Mladshiy Leytenant Boris Kovzan of 42 1AP. After “cutting down” the German heavy fighter with the propeller of his MiG-3, Kovzan made a forced landing near a collective farm. There he actually repaired the damaged propeller in the farm’s forge and managed to fly back to base. At the base, his commamnder, Kapitan Georgiy Zimin, established that Kovzan had expended only half of his ammuniton against the Bf 110. Asked why he had taraned, Kovzan shamefacedly admitted, ‘1 don’t know how to shoot.” Kovzan, who had previously been a liaison pilot flying U-2s, had neither flown a fighter nor practiced aerial gunnery before being posted to 42 IAP. This story clearly portrays the inadequate standard of VVS airmen during the early years of the war, not to mention the do-or-die mentality that saved the USSR in this critical time. Boris Kovzan not only survived this air – to-air ramming, he emerged as the “top taraner” of the entire war, with four successful aerial rammings.

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Boris Kovzan would develop into one of the legendary Soviet fighter pilots of World War II. When posted to 42 IAP as a Mladshiy Leytenant, he had never received any gunnery training. His first victory, on October 29,1941, was achieved through ramming. A month later, Kovzan was shot down, but he once again survived unhurt. On February 22 and June 8,1942, Kovzan performed his second and third tarans. Following his fourth taran— during which Kovzan suffered severe injuries—he was appointed Hero of the Soviet Union on August 24,1943. With this, Boris Kovzan became the highest scoring air-to-air rammer of World War II. He passed away in Minsk on August 31,1985. (Photo: Zimin.)

Another taran claimed by the Soviets on October 29 also saw the pilot, 176 lAP’s Starshiy Leytenant Sergey Kotorov, survive.

Following the renewal of intense shelling on Octo­ber 30, during which eight Bf 109s of II./JG 52 were put out of commission, the Germans decided to abandon the forward airfield at Kalinin. Kurt Warmbold wrote: “I couldn’t even finish loading all the equipment into one of the Ju 52s, because the pilot was in a hurry to take off due to the increasing artillery fire. 1 was very happy as the aircraft shortly afterward left the ground and within thirty minutes brought us to safety in Staritsa.”

image170"Подпись: The workhorse of the Luftwaffe, the old, reliable Ju 52, was affectionately known as Tante Ju"—Auntie Ju. It provided the Wehrmacht with the majority of its airborne supplies during the entire war. The Kampfgruppen zu besonderen Verwendung (KGrzbV) equipped with Ju 52s had suffered heavy losses during the airborne assaults against the Netherlands in 1940 and Crete in May 1941. Another 126 Ju 52s were lost on the Eastern Front between June 22 and December 31,1941. This photo shows a minesweeping device that was mounted on some Ju 52s. The metallic ring, with a diameter of about 30 feet, created an electromagnetic field that detonated the mines from an altitude of 30 to 35 feet. (Photo: Hofer.)During the hasty evacuation, one Ju 52 received a direct artillery hit and was completely burned out. Several others were damaged.

Growing Soviet resistance and mounting losses put a strain on the Ger­man troops and airmen on the Eastern Front. As in the case of 7./JG 51,

Luftwaffe airmen manning all the units on the Eastern Front started to lose their self-confidence and fighting spirit. While some of the aces kept scoring, others showed alarming signs of battle fatigue, as pictured in the following account from JG 51: “These men no longer dared to fly over the front line. They had great respect for the fierce resistance put up by the rear gunners of the Russian bombers and turned away, having fired only a few bursts from a great distance. They would even, if possible, evade getting picked for a flight as soon as permission [for leave] was granted.”21

Four pilots of 16IAP—Leytenants Nikolay Semyonov and Aleksandr Suprun, and Mladshiy Leytenants Ivan Golubin and Ivan Shumilov—each claimed five to nine personal and shared victories between September 30 and October 31, 1941. The loss ratio of this unit can be read by the fact that the maintenance unit of the regiment restored forty-two damaged MiG-3s during October and November.

In total, WS-Western Front claimed to have shot down 120 German aircraft in October.

On November 6, 16 lAP’s Starshiy Leytenant Ivan Zabolotnyy fought a very difficult combat with a Ju 88, eventually bringing it down, but not before his own air­craft had sustained 127 bullet hits.22 That same day, a severe blow was struck against the German fighter units in this area when the commander of l./JG 52, Oberleutnant Karl-Heinz Leesmann, was shot down near Klin, northwest of Moscow. His staff Schwarm was re­turning from a combat sortie and had just begun landing when they came under heavy Soviet machine-gun fire. The lead Bf 109 was hit from below through the cock­
pit. A bullet splintered the bones in Leesmann’s right forearm. He barely managed to land and never returned to the Eastern Front. As he was a Knight’s Cross holder and victor in thirty-two aerial combats, the loss of such an outstanding fighter pilot was irreplaceable. Neverthe­less, the pilots of his Jagdgruppe took a bloody vengeance on the enemy, claiming thirty-five Soviet aircraft shot down from November 4 to 15.

On the Soviet side, Starshiy Leytenant Gerasim Grigoryev of 178 IAP bagged one Ju 88 on each on No vember 9, 15, and 27.

Even if increasing hardships and battle fatigue put a heavy strain on the Luftwaffe airmen at this time, the solid core of fighter aces remained a factor to be reck­oned with, not least in Werner Molders’s old JG 51, which scored 289 victories during October 1941. The most successful individual pilot during this period was Oberfeldwebel Edmund Wagner of 9./JG 51, who claimed 22 kills in October. On one occasion Wagner was attacked by five Soviet fighters, of which he shot down four. Nevertheless, a total of fifty-seven victories, all but one against the WS, was not enough to spare Wagner. He was killed in air combat on November 13,

Подпись: Nicknamed "Black Death" by the German ground troops, the 11-2 Shturmovik produced increasing terror among Wehrmacht soldiers on the Eastern Front from the winter of 1941 on. (Photo: Authors' collection.)

1941, while pursuing a formation of Pe-2s at treetop level over the front lines. His Bf 109 was raked by machine – gun fire from a Soviet rear gunner. The soldiers of a German antiaircraft battery1 watched as Wagner’s airplane plunged into the ground, exploding on impact and leav­ing a thick black cloud of smoke. The ace never had a chance.

Meanwhile, 11-2 Shturmoviks and other ground – attack aircraft fell upon the mired German invasion army. In an early account of the Red Air Force, Swedish Air Force General Stig Wennerstrom wrote: "It was mainly due to the performances of this effective ground-attack aircraft [the 11-2) that the Russians were able to make use of the German dilemma outside Moscow in 1941, as their ‘summer army’ was halted by the sudden and unex­pected cold spell. Their army was stuck and became sub­ject to incessant attacks from the aggressive 11-2 airmen. According to Russian reports, they destroyed 406 Ger­man tanks, about 2,000 motor vehicles, and 42 artillery pieces during the period November 1-November 11.

The assessment of the role played by the Shturmoviks
during the Battle of Moscow, however, has to be regarded with care. In general, there is something like a Soviet “Shturmovik myth” surrounding this battle. In fact, the actual number of ll-2s remained relatively low during the winter of 1941-42.

The fighter aviation regiments still carried the main burden of tactical air support, even if Shturmoviks un­doubtedly accomplished some of the most successful air strikes.

Historian Albert Seaton gives the following account from the point of view of the German soldiers harassed by the Soviet pilots during these difficult days: “Infantry companies, twenty’ men strong, led by second lieutenants or sergeants, were bearded and filthy, not having bathed or changed their clothes for months. Tormented by lice, they lay all day cramped and stiff in the narrow weapons pits filled with water, their feet so cold that they had lost all feeling. Sickness and cold caused more casualties than enemy action. Rain fell incessantly and the Luftwaffe seemed unable to cope with the Red Air Force fighters and bombers which dropped out of the low clouds, bomb­ing and machine gunning.”24

Encirclement in the Ukraine

Unremitting Luftwaffe raids against the Soviet retrograde rail movements in the Ukraine played an increasingly sinister role, seriously disrupting the Soviet supply lines. On July 16 the combat situation took a dramatic turn as Panzergruppe 1 captured Biylaya Tserkov, southwest of Kiev, and started turning toward the south, where the German Eleventh Army captured the Moldavian capital, Kishinev, on the same day. Suddenly a large-scale encirclement battle began to take form in the Vinnitsa – Uman area in west-central Ukraine. General-Polkovnik Kirponos, commander of the Southwestern Front, urgently phoned General-Leytenant Astakhov, the com­mander of the front’s aviation: “Take all you’ve got and throw it against the tank columns in the Biylaya Tserkov area and northeast of Kazatin! Keep on attacking! This is your main task!”

The next day, the bulk of Astakhov’s bombers and ground-attack aircraft were airborne against this threat. A shift in the weather, which had brought heavy low pressure with low clouds and rain showers, prevented the German fighters from interfering effectively.

Although considerable damage was wrought upon the German armored columns by the attacking Soviet airplanes, the drive by Panzergruppe 1 could not be halted.

In the South, the situation was different. General Shclukin’s units of VVS-Southern Front were in disar­ray due to losses and disorder in the ground organiza­tion due to the retreat from Moldavia. The German Elev­enth Army reached the Dniester River at Mogilev Podolskiy, on Moldavia’s northern frontier with the Ukraine, almost without interference from the Soviet

image72

Adol* Hiller Gene-al euhar Kurt 3fli, gbei and Genera cbers: Alexander Lohr during =r inspect on of KG 27 Eoelcke <url РЛидЬе Гао neera combat pilot during World War I. In the late 1920s he underwent secret training at Lipetsk in the USSR. He led Fliegerkorps IV of Luftflotte 4 between 1940 and 1943 and ended the war as commander-in-chief of Luftflotte 1. Pflugbeil died on May 31,1955. Bom in Croatia, Alexander Lohr served with the Austro-Hungarian General Staff during World War I. He commanded Luftflotte 4 during the invasions of Poland, Yugoslavia. Greece, and the Soviet Union. On April 6,1941, he led the extensive Luftwaffe raid against Belgrade, Operation Punishment. The end of the war saw him in chargeof Army Group E in the Balkans, where he fought side by side with his fellow countrymen of the notorious Croatian Ustasha. After the war, Lohr was put on trial by Yugoslavia and executed on February 16,1947. (Photo: Roba.)

Air Force. While the Stukas of StG 77 held the defend­ers down, the German troops were able to cross the river on July 17.

Adverse weather conditions limited aerial combat during the following days, but on July 20 three 1-153 Chaykas led by 66 ShAP’s Politruk Petr Bityutskiy, returning from a strafing mission, were bounced by three Bf 109s. One 1-153 was hit and the third Chayka pilot made a quick escape. Petr Bityutskiy barely survived the ensuing combat, but he finally managed to shoot down one Bf 109. His opponents in this engagement probably were from Major von Maltzahn’s Stabsschwarm of JG 53, which came out with three victory claims, including von Maltzahn’s fortieth, after an attack against Soviet aircraft strafing German troops.

A surprise attack on July 21 by eight DB-3s against the large Moldavian air base at Beltsy—previously occu­pied by 55 1AP—put fourteen German aircraft out of commission, including eleven Ju 87s of StG 77. The next day, the notorious SD leader Reinhard Heydrich was shot down and force-landed in Moldavia. Heydrich had volunteered to fly a couple of combat missions against the Soviets together with I1./JG 77. Following this un­pleasant experience, Heydrich made a quick return to safety in his headquarters in Germany.

On July 24, JG 77 met 55 1AP on at least two occa­sions. Shortly after 0600, a Bf 109 Rotte escorting an Hs 126 reconnaissance plane in the Beltsy sector were inter­cepted by two MiG-3s. Following a stiff dogfight, Oberleutnant Erich Friedrich shot down and killed Mladshiy Leytenant Leonid Diyachenko and drew off his section leader. A few hours later, another Rotte of I1./JG 77 ran into nine Su-2s that attempted to dive – bomb the Dniester crossings at Mogilev Podolskiy,

According to Soviet sources, two Su-2s were shot down over the German lines. Nevertheless, one of the Su-2 pilots succeeded in making a makeshift repair of his air­craft and took off from a field and returned to base. The Bf 109s became involved in a stiff dogfight with the dive-bombers’ escort, two I-16s and four MiG-3s— the latter from Il./JG 77’s old acquaintance 55 IAP. Leutnant Siegfried Freytag claimed an 1-16 (a loss that is confirmed by Soviet reports), while Starshiy Leytenant Aleksandr Pokryshkin’s MiG-3 was severely damaged by antiaircraft fire. The Soviet ace nevertheless was able to bring his damaged airplane back to make a forced land­ing in Kotovsk. This was the second time in a few days that Pokryshkin had been brought down by enemy fire. The first time, he had crashed in enepiy-held territory but managed to reach Soviet lines after a day’s and a night’s running.

The next day, it was JG 77’s time to suffer at the hands of attacking 55 IAP. While strafing the Soviet fighter unit’s base at Mayaki, Oberfeldwebel Friedrich Blaurock’s Bf 109 was hit by antiaircraft fire and crashed on the runway. Aleksandr Pokryshkin gives the follow­ing account of the crash site: “The cockpit was totally squeezed together. An Iron Cross was pinned on the chest of the dead pilot. According to the markings on the rudder of the plane, he had shot down six aircraft and sunk two ships.”21

In rain and low’ clouds, the bombers of Luftflotte 4 maintained their continuous interdiction operations against the Soviet railway system in the area. Generaloberst Alexander Lohr, the commander of Luftflotte 4, had decided to concentrate the bulk of his air units to sever the Soviet rear communication lines leading to and from the Uman area. On July 25 Marshal Budyonny sent the Stavka a dejected wire: “All efforts to withdraw the Sixth and Twelfth armies to the east and to the northeast are fruitless.” The ring had closed around the Soviet armies in the Uman area. The next encirclement battle took place.

As this happened, the skies cleared, once again set­ting free the full fury of the Bf 109 fighters. The results for July 26 are symptomatic of this stage of the war. While the fighters of JG 3, Stab, and 1./JG 53 and JG 77 daimed forty-nine victories, Luftflotte 4 recorded eleven of its own aircraft shot down.

During these days, the Romanians became acquainted with a completely new Soviet bombing tactic, the Zveno method. Zveno was a Tupolev TB-3 heavy bomber carry­ing two 1-16 fighters, each loaded with two 250-kilogram FAB bombs. The 1-16s were released at high altitude between ten and thirty miles from the target to carry out a high-speed diving attack. Since they were much smaller and faster than conventional bombers, the 1-16s could strike with surprise and evade enemy AAA fire and fight­ers. Having effected the attack, the I – 16s returned home on their own.

The original idea of the Zveno tactic came from designer Vladimir Vakhmistrov. At first it was intended that the two fighters carried by a TB-3 would be launched to ward off attacks—a flying aircraft carrier in effect. This proved impracticable but gave birth to the concept of a “piggyback” dive-bomber. Six 1-16s were modified for dive – bombing and redesignated I-16SPB. A special unit was set up with these aircraft, the 2 Eskadrilya of 32 ІАР/ ChF. Together with three TB-3s converted for the new role, the planes were based at Yevpatoria in the Crimea early in the war, and training commenced immediately.

The first Zveno raid was carried out on July 26,1941. Two TB-3s released four I-16SPBs led by Kapitan Arseniy Shubikov about thirty miles from the Romanian coast. Two of the fighter-bombers attacked oil plants near Constanta, while the other two raided the floating docks in the harbor. Despite being intercepted by the Bf-109s of Ill./JG 52, all the Soviet aircraft successfully returned to base.

While the bulk of Army Group South was involved in the Battle of Uman in the South, the German Sixth Army was given the task of advancing from the west toward Kiev. More or less leaving the skies above the Uman area to the Luftwaffe, the supreme commander of VVS-Southwestern Zone, General-Mayor Falaleyev, directed the main efforts of VVS-Southwestern Front against the German Sixth Army approaching Kiev. VVS – Southern Front was concentrated around the Dnieper bend to the south.

The chief of staff of Fliegerkorps V, Oberst Hermann Plocher, recalls that the lack of fighter cover for the Sixth Army in the Kiev sector in these days caused discord between the Sixth Army and Fliegerkorps V’. “The Rus­sians were extremely active in the air,” wrote Plocher. “Their efforts to concentrate air power in the area was clearly noticeable.”22 Finally, Generaloberst Lohr decided to provide the Sixth Army with a provisional groupment of Luftwaffe units—Nahkampffiihrer Nord.

Подпись: The Zveno concept was originally intended as a way to extend the operational radius of escort fighters for strategic bombers. As early as in 1930, the Soviet aircraft designer Vladimir Vakhmistrov launched the idea of letting the strategic bombers “carry along their own fighter escort." This idea eventually developed into carrying two 1-16SPB fighter-bombers beneath the wings of a TB-3. This photo was taken during the Zveno experiments in the summer of 1938. The 1-16 is a Mark 5 with closed canopy. The TB-3 is the 4m-34RN version, outfitted with 970-hp M-34RN engines and four-blade propellers. The Zveno sorties in 1941 were carried out by TB-3s of this version. (Photo: Authors’ collection.)
Led by the Geschwaderkommodore of JG 3, Major Gunther Liitzow, Nahkampffuhrer Nord was comprised of IlI./StG 77,1. and 1IL/JG 3, Stab, and L/JG 53. Here, Soviet aces such as Politruk Petr Bityutskiy, Leytenant Aleksey Artamonov, and Leytenant Vasiliy Demyenok were violently confronted with German top guns such as Oberleutnant Kurt Sochatzy of 11I./JG 3 and the Geschwaderkommodoren of JG 3 and JG 53, Major Gunther Liitzow and Major Gunther Freiherr von Maltzahn.

“Franzl” Liitzow and “Henri” von Maltzahn were among the most famous personalities in the German fighter arm. During the Battle of Britain, they had devel­oped as great leaders. They were of similar character, but Kurt Sochatzy was more of a fighter. Twice shot down over Soviet territory, he had managed to return both times. Since the outbreak of hostilities with the Soviet Union, Oberleutnant Sochatzy increased his victory score from one to thirty-eight.

On July 28, Politruk Petr Bityutskiy of 66 ShAP
found himself attacked by three Bf 109s. This time he was himself shot down, but not before having claimed one Bf 109 destroyed and one that crashed into the ground while pursuing his damaged fighter-bomber at treetop level. Possibly these losses are included in the July 29 loss report of I1I./JG 3, which listed three Bf 109s lost in air combat and no more than three victories. On that day, a flight of three Soviet fighters from 168 IAP/45 SAD, led by Leytenant Aleksey Artamonov, attacked sixteen “Junkers bombers.” Leytenant Artamonov claimed two shot down, while his wingman destroyed a third. Meanwhile, Major von Maltzahn, at the head of JG 53, achieved his forty-fifth victory by downing an SB bomber.

The next day, IIl./StG 77 launched a pinpoint at­tack against Marshal Semyon Timoshenko’s living quar­ters in Kiev. The Stukas ran into strong and well-aimed antiaircraft fire that hit one of the four escorting Bf 109s, On the return flight, Major von Maltzahn reported the destruction of two Soviet bombers.

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[ Kapiton Arseniy Shubikov is wearing the leather coat of World War I I inspiration, which was common in the VVS in 1941. Serving with 32ІАР/ f. ChF, Shubikov was one of the most outstanding fighter pilots of the Black

I Sea Fleet’s WS. A few months before the German invasion he was instructed to form the first Zveno unit, which he led with considerable I success during the first months of the 1941 war. He was killed in October

[ 1941 in combat with one of the aces of JG 77 Herzas. (Photo: Denisov.)

On August 1, 1941, six Pe-2s of 40 ВАР/ChF I undertook a swift attack against the harbor and rail mar – I shaling yards of Constanta. The ship Amarilis was sunk I and the Durostor was damaged, six train cars were dam­aged, six people on the ground were killed, and four were injured.

On August 2 the next Zveno mission was launched I by three ТВ-3s with six M6SPBs. This time Bf 109s I bounced the TB-3s before they had released the fighter – I bombers. The fighter-bombers were jettisoned, and the heavy bombers turned away from a hopeless encounter. The German fighters concentrated on the 1-16s. Later, four 1-16 pilots landed at Odessa Airdrome. Two of their I comrades had fallen victim to the Messerschmitts.

I On August 3, 63 BAB and 2 Eskadrilya/32 1AP r dispatched the third Zveno mission from Odessa Air-

jj drome: An escort of two MBR-2 flying boats was

. furnished the two TB-3s. Released ten miles from the target, the fighter-bombers spread out and struck an oil

Black Cross / Red Star

refinery, an oil storage depot, harbor installations in Constanta, and a hydroplane base on the Black Sea coast. All Soviet planes returned home. Thirty-two Soviet me­dium bombers that flew against the same target on that day fared worse. They ran into the entire l.(J)/LG 2, which claimed eleven shot down without any losses. The Gruppenkommandeur, Hauptmann Herbert Lhlefeld, single-handedly knocked down six, bringing his victory tally to fifty-three.

In the air over Kiev, Oberleutnant Kurt Sochatzy of III./JG 3 was brought down through a taran on August 3 and was captured by the Soviets. Having achieved thirty – seven aerial victories, plus a further twenty-seven air­craft destroyed on the ground, on 150 sorties since June 22,1941, Sochatzy was among the most successful pilots in 1L1./JG 3 at that time. Since no taran is registered in Soviet sources on this date, it may be assumed that Sochatzy was knocked down by 168 IAP’s Leytenant Artamonov, who was reportedly killed in a taran in the same area on July 30.25

At the beginning of August, Stab and L/JG 53 were withdrawn from the Eastern Front and transferred to Germany. They were replaced by 1II./JG 52, which was released from its duty of providing the Romanian oil fields with air cover.

On August 7 the Soviets launched a surprise attack in the Kanev area, to the north of the German troops advancing southward toward Uman. Encountering only weak German forces, the Soviets made a rapid advance and threatened the entire operation against Uman. At this point General Robert Ritter von Greim took the initiative to launch every aircraft available in his Fliegerkorps V against the Soviet attack force. Despite adverse weather conditions of rain showers and a cloud ceiling of less than 250 feet, von Greim’s units achieved excellent results in ‘foiling attacks.” While the Ju 87s of StG 77 severed the Soviet supply lines by blowing up the bridges at Kanev, the bombers of KG 51, KG 54, and KG 55 reportedly destroyed 148 motor vehicles and 48 tanks in the Kanev area between August 7 and 9, bring­ing the offensive to a halt. Fighting in the skies above this battlefield, III./JG 52 scored its hundredth victory’ on August 7. One of the main contributors to this suc­cess was 9./JG 52’s Oberleutnant Werner Fernsebner, a veteran of earlier campaigns. Having achieved his fif­teenth victory, he was shot down and killed over the Dneiper on August 9.

image75Подпись:

Meanwhile, the units of Fliegerkorps IV carried out systematic attacks to help annihilate the encircled Soviet Sixth and Twelfth armies in the so-called Uman Pocket. “Rolling aerial attacks” against Soviet troops attempting to escape the encirclement provided vital preconditions for the destruction of the entrapped forces. On August 10 alone, the bombers of Luftflotte 4 reported the destruction of 300 Soviet trucks and 54 tanks. During the battle of encirclement, Fliegerkorps V claimed to have destroyed 420 motor vehicles, 58 tanks, and 22 artillery batteries.

On August 11, Major Gunther Lutzow’s JG 3 claimed
thirty-six victories but lost seven Bf 109s in aerial combat. 66 SliAP’s Politruk Petr Bityutskiy sacrified his life to bring down one of them.

The Battle of Uman came to a cruel end in which 103,000 Red Army soldiers : ended up in German confinement. It had displayed, for the first time in history,] the ability of a superior air force to com-: pletely “surround an army from the air.9 The intensive aerial bombardment had brought virtually all major Soviet troop; movements to the west of the Dnieper River to a halt. At the same time, the Bf 109s had made huge claims in air com­bat. But the large successes had not been achieved without encountering hard opposition and relatively high losses oi the German side as well.

In the Kanev sector the Soviets started retreating across the Dnieper oi August 13. StG 77 was called on to carry out unbroken dive-bombing raids against the Kanev bridges, where it met stiff S» viet fighter opposition. While covering | the Stukas, Major Gunther Liitzow, the commander of JG 3, shot down two 1-16s, killing Mladshiy Leytenant Ivan Novikov of 88 IAP,vho had survived a taran on July 23.

On August 14, I./JG 3 tangled with a formation of very skillfully piloted 1-16s over one of the Dnieper bridges Kanev south of Kiev. Hauptmann Hans von Hahn recalled: “All previous air com­bat had been a children’s game compared to what w encountered above the Dnieper bridge at Kanev. We mt six Ratas. . . . Before you had even started thinking of attacking them, the Russian pilots quickly turned around and met us head-on, shooting and laughing cold-; bloodedly.”

Hauptmann von Hahn’s opponent in this combat was 88 IAP, which included the eight-victory ace Leytenant Vasiliy Demyenok. I./JG 3 claimed three I-16s in this melee—of which 88 IAP actually recorded two lost—against two Bf 109s shot down. The Staffelkapitan of 1. Staffel, thirty-five-victory ace and

image76

Oberleutnant Robert Oljenik, the Staffelkapitan of 2./JG 3, scored the Luftwaffe’s first aerial victory during Operation Barbarossa, early on June 22, 1941. During the following seven weeks, Oljenik increased his victory tally from six to thirty-five, almost exclusively against Soviet medium bombers, and thus became the most successful ace of I./JG 3. On July 27,1941, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross. Oljenik was shot down on August 14, 1941 .possibly by the Soviet ace, Leytenanl Vasiliy Demyenok, in an encounter with the И 6s of 88IAP. Unlike Demyenok, Oljenik survived. In 1945 he flew jet fighters and finished the war with 41 victories to his credit. (Photo: Oljenik via Prien.)

 

image77Air raids against Soviet lines of supply played a significant role in German successes in the Ukraine during the summer and early fall of 1941. According to Oberst Hermann Plocher of Fliegerkorps V, some one thousand railroad cars, many of them waiting in stations and loaded with ammunition, were destroyed during the Luftwaffe’s railroad interdiction operations east of Dneiper River. The to the left photo shows the meager remnants a Soviet ammunition train that was destroyed by German bombers during the summer of 1941. (Photo: Baeker.)

image78Herbert Ihlefeld scored his first nine victories with the Condor Legion in Spain, and he was already one of the most successful German fighter pilots as he led l.(J)/LG 2 against the Soviet Union. From June 1941 to July 1942, Ihlefeld was one of the deadliest opponents to the aviators of VVS – Southem Front and VVS-ChF. He then served as Geschwaderkommodore in the Air Defense of Germany and ended the war commanding the first He 162 jet fighter unit. By then, he had amassed a total score of 132 victories. (Photo: Salomonson.)

According to Soviet archival material. VVS-South – em Front registered 204 aircraft—including 113 during combat missions (eight of those due to AAA)-as “total losses" between July 1 and August 1, 1941/24 Other So­viet aviation commands operating in the same combat zone as JG 77 included VVS-ChF and units of the DBA. Thus the rate of overclaiming by the pilots of JG 77 appears to have been very limited during this period. On the other hand, the victory claims by WS-Southern Front
during the same period, 154, exceeded reality by two or three to one.

The combat strengths of VVS and Luftwaffe units і were in a steady decline. On August 1 the number of 1 operational aircraft in VVS-Southern Front had dropped ; from 671 a month previously to 258.23 Meanwhile, most j units in Luftflottc 4 were down to one-third or less of j their original strength.

General Winter

T

he Russian winter arrived in mid-November, mak­ing the soggy roads freeze and become passable again. On November 15 the badly crippled Army Group Center resumed Operation Typhoon. With Moscow nearly in sight, the German commanders nurtured a hope to seize the Soviet capital with the last remaining offen­sive capacity of their air and ground forces.

Improved road conditions in the southern sector enabled Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army Group South to renew its attack against Rostov, the gateway to the oil fields in the Caucasus, on Novem­ber 17. The Soviet Southern Front responded by launch­ing a powerful counterattack from the northeast. The airmen of VVS-Southern Front supported the offensive with nearly four hundred sorties on the first day alone. This threat could be sealed off mainly through the vigor­ous action by StG 77 and the He Ills of KG 27 that were rushed in from Fliegerkorps IV. Despite a 500-foot ceiling and snowfalls, the few remaining Ju 87s in StG 77 were in incessant action, blowing up any Soviet attempt to resist. On November 20 the exhausted Ger­man troops reached Rostov. The next day the city’ was in German hands.

With the capture of Rostov, Army Group South had exhausted its last strength. On the Soviet side, fresh reinforcements were brought in to the north and east of Rostov.

Farther to the north, the drive to the east by the German Sixth and Seventeenth armies was bogged down at Severniy Donets, southeast of the city of Kursk. A parallel situation developed along the entire Eastern Front. The physically and psychologically weakened German

Volume I: Operation Barbarossa, 1941

troops had lost the energy and the material requirements to withstand the upcoming wave of renewed Soviet coun­terattacks.

As a symbolic finale to the German victory march on the Eastern Front, the Luftwaffe’s number-one ace, Oberst Werner Molders, left Chaplinka Airdrome on the southern combat zone aboard an He 111 from KG 27 early in the morning of November 22. Molders had been ordered to Germany to take part in the funeral of the late chief of supply and procurement of the Luftwaffe, Ernst Udet, who had committed suicide five days earlier. But Molders never reached his destination. The aircraft crashed near Breslau.

In the German underground resistance movement, a witness account was circulated -that gave a version dif­ferent from the official story: A body had been seen fall­ing from the He 111 in which Molders traveled. It is highly unlikely that this version is correct, but what is
true, although it has escaped widespread publicity, is that Molders turned against the Nazi government shortly before his death. The violations against men and women of the Catholic Church who spoke up against the atroci­ties in Germany had upset the Catholic Werner Molders. Having heard about the arrest of the Bishop of Munster, who had criticized the Nazis, Molders wrapped up all his decorations and his Nazi party membership card and sent the package to Nazi Party headquarters together with a protest letter in which he explained that he henceforth refused “to carry the insignias of this heinous regime.” In October 1941 Molders left his office in Berlin and trav­eled to the Eastern Front, where he found refuge among his fellow fighter pilots at Chaplinka. Some photos of Molders during these days clearly confirm that he wore no decorations or Nazi symbols whatsoever.

image172
During the last days of his life, Molders turned his back on events in Germany and even on his appoint-

image173

The Soviet all-metal Pe-2 bomber was quite comparable to the best German aircraft of the day, but relatively few were manufactured in 1941 due to a shortage of aluminum and the rapid evacuation of the Soviet industrial center. The Pe-2s that were completed in 1941 were deployed to the defense of Moscow. (Photo: Authors’ collection.)

 

ment as inspector of the Luftwaffe Fighter Arm; he just happily flew some unauthorized combat sorties with or­dinary front-line fighter pilots. He even scored a number of “unofficial” victories to be added to his official score of 115.

The loss of the incredibly popular “Vati” Molders struck the German airmen on the Eastern Front, espe­cially the fighter pilots, as a bad omen.

In late November 1941 the Wehrmacht on the East­ern Front was a mere shadow of what it had been five months previously. Losses had brought down the strength of army and Luftwaffe units to 30 or 40 percent, or even less, of their original strength. The veteran front-line sol­diers were marked with strong battle fatigue after five months of intense, incessant combat. Another major prob­lem was the overextended supply lines, where columns
traveling hundreds of miles on primitive roads ran the constant hazard of partisan ambushes. At this point the Germans faced the stiffest Soviet resistance so far encountered.

The temperature drop—at first welcomed by the Ger­mans—continued. During the afternoon of November 27, the temperature fell to 40 degrees Celsius below the freez­ing point. “General Winter” struck the final blow against the strength of long since battle-weary German soldiers and airmen.

Luftwaffe operations were severely hampered by stiff­ening engine oil in the cold on the primitive front-line airfields. Having stood parked outside in minus- 40-dcgrce-Celsius w’eather all night, the engines of many Messerschmitts, Junkers, and Heinkels simply refused to start on many a gray winter morning. The Red Air Force came off far better on their well-equipped airfields. The

Reinforcing the VVS

W

hile Germany had entered the war with only very limited reserves and most of the armed forces com mitted to frontal zones in all corners of Europe, the USSR had deployed only slightly more than half of its twenty thousand available combat aircraft on June 22,1941, along the western border. At this time 23 per­cent of the strength of the WS was allocated to the Far East areas, 10 per cent to the southern borders of the USSR, and 14 percent to the interior military districts. Although a large portion of these aircraft had to remain in place in case the enemy opened a new offensive, this meant that the Soviets retained a large number of reserves, untouched by the destructive force of the Luftwaffe.

As losses rapidly drew down the strength of the VVS in the front sector, these reserves became the main source

of the gradual recovery of the Soviet Air Force in the late summer and fall of 1941. Among of the first avia­tion units to arrive from the “peace zones” were one fighter and two bomber aviation regiments of Polkovnik Sergey Rudenko’s 31 SAD, transferred from the Far East to the Smolensk combat zone during the first week of July 1941.

Other sources of reinforcements were the more than one hundred flight training schools. The flight training school at Borisoglebsk alone formed two fighter aviation regiments for the front during 1941. Even if the quality of the aircraft from the flight training schools was terri­bly low, these units nevertheless constituted a welcome reinforcement for the battered VVS in the war zone.

The third main source of VVS replacements and reinforcement was the aviation industry. During 1941, most first-line aviation regiments were completely wiped out after only a brief period of combat activity. These were withdrawn from first-line service to be outfitted with new planes, frequently of higher quality. Thus 95 SBAP, equipped with Pe-2s, first arrived at the Western Front on July 6. Having lost almost all its aircraft, the unit was pulled back, equipped with newly manufactured Pe-3s, and brought back to operations at the end of Au­gust. 9 SBAP (equipped with SB bombers) was completely obliterated during the first four days of the war, was then pulled out of combat and returned a few weeks later with an outfit of Pe-2s. Having lost fifty-five SBs and thirty-eight crews, 208 SBAP was withdrawn to the reserve at the end of July. Based around the regiment’s surviving crews, three regiments, each composed of two Eskadrilya, were formed. One of these regiments, retain­ing the old designation 208 SBAP, was relocated to the front after being outfitted with twenty Pe-3s.

In 1941 the German war industry could not com­pete with the Soviets in terms of output numbers. Against about twelve thousand aircraft manufactured in Germany during 1941, the Soviet output figure was nearly sixteen thousand, of which about ten thousand left production plants after the German invasion.

Nevertheless, out of more than twelve thousand com­bat aircraft available to the USSR in the fall of 1941, fewer than one-third were deployed to the front areas. This was partly due to the fear of a Japanese or Turkish “stab in the back,” which compelled the Stavka to keep considerable air forces in the eastern and southern parts of the USSR. Another reason was the rapid rate of attri­tion suffered by the aviation units in combat. Frequently; fresh VVS regiments arriving for front-line service were; almost completely annihilated in three to six weeks. Then the unit had to be pulled back to be reequipped, a task that took at least one month. Thus during the late sum­mer and fall of 1941 no less than half of the aircraft and pilots of the VVS intended for the front were in reaf areas.

The dominant reason for the VVS’s frightening losses was the decreasing quality of pilot training. The exten­sive network of flight training schools could maintain a steady flow of personnel reinforcements, but only at the price of abbreviated training cycles.

And even if the sources mentioned above managed! to fill some of the gaps created by the onslaught of the Luftwaffe, at a pace never anticipated by the attackers, it must be emphasized that it took the VVS several years before it had fully recovered numerically from the! extreme losses of 1941.

The Soviet Counteroffensives

I

n the southern combat zone, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, the commander in chief of the Red Army’s Southwestern Zone, had brought forward strong Red Army reinforcements against the northern flank of the German First Panzer Army in Rostov. These forces were launched in an energetic counteroffensive during the last days of November 1941. The German lines immediately crumbled. The commander of Army Group South, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, decided to pull back his weakened units to a defensive position along the Mius River. Although this saved the First Panzer Army from being surrounded, it cost von Rundstedt his command.

The liberation of Rostov on November 30, 1941, was the first major success in the war with Germany. Contrary to the situation on the Moscow front, the VVS in the South could play only a minor role during this campaign. With the cream of the modern production program allocated to the defense of the capital, the Soviet airmen in the South were largely left with obsoles­cent aircraft models, such as the SB bombers, 1-16 fight­ers, and Polikarpov biplanes used in the ground-attack role. This inevitably resulted in considerable losses.

By early November Feldwebel Gerhard Koppen had scored the four-hundredth victory of Ill./JG 52. Four weeks later, Leutnant Adolf Dickfeld boosted the total past 500. During November, III./JG 52 registered only six Bf 109s lost with three pilots killed and one injured in this area. JG 77 contributed another sixty-five victo­ries, against seven Bf 109s shot down in the Rostov sector during November. According to Soviet figures,

VVS-Southern Front recorded ninety aircraft as “total losses” in combat between November 1 and December l.2 The attrition of one of WS-Southem Front’s units, 590 ShAP, is typical of the overall situation. Equipped with eighteeen 1-153s on November 1, of which twelve were serviceable, this regiment registered nine aircraft totally lost and another severely damaged during combat missions in November.5 The units of VVS-Southwestem Front and the DBA regiments allocated to this sector suffered equally high losses. This fairly substantiates the German claims, whereas the claim of sixty-five Ger­man aircraft brought down by VVS-Southern Front during the same period must be regarded as some­what exaggerated.

Nevertheless, the dogfights were not always one-sided. On November 28, 1941, Oberleutnant Gunther Rail, the Staffelkapitan of 8./JG 52, was shot down and badly wounded by an 1-16 lshak to the west of Rostov. At the time, Rail had been credited with thirty-eight victories. After returning to his unit less than a year later, Rail would rise to become the third-ranking fighter ace of World War II.

The weakness of the VVS in the southern combat zone is one of the main reasons why the Germans man­aged to hold out at the Mius line, fending off all Soviet attempts to break through.

On the Moscow front, the German Army made a final effort to seize the Soviet capital on December 2. Troops from the 258th Infantry Division actually man­aged to penetrate the Moscow suburb of Khimki, only – six miles from Red Square. General Armii Georgiy Zhukov dispatched all available forces, and bitter fight­ing raged on the ground and in the air above the battle­field.

On December 2 Soviet fighter pilots reported seven­teen enemy aircraft shot down during forty aerial encounters in this area. Counted among the victims on the German side was the Staffelkapitan of 5./StG 1, Hauptmann Joachim Rieger. Bounced by Soviet fighters, Rieger’s wingman made a rash evasive maneuver and rammed his Staffelkapitan.4 Both Ju 87s went down. In 4./JG 52, Feldwebel Georg Brey was shot down and killed while strafing a Soviet truck column. In total, no more than four Luftwaffe aircraft were registered as lost during these combats, but the inflated claims made by the Soviet aviators during this period can be seen as a

image174

Serving as an Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitan of 8./JG 52, Gunther Rail was one of the most skillful fighter aces on the Eastern Front. After shooting down his first Soviet aircraft as part of the air defense of Romania, Rail took an increasing toll of the VVS over the Ukraine in late summer and fall of 1941. On November 28,1941, he was shot down and badly injured. Although considered unfit for flying for the rest of his life, Rail struggled to regain his strength, and he returned to his unit in less than a year. When he left JG 52 to assume command of II./JG 11 in March 1944, Rail’s score of 273 victories put him in the first place among all fighter aces in the world. Shortly afterwards he was seriously injured in an aerial duel and ended the war as the world’s third ranking fighter ace, with a total of 275 victories. (Photo: Rail via Salomonson.) reflection of the high fighting spirit among the men in the VVS.

Northwest of the capital, the 11-2 Shturmoviks of 65 ShAP fell upon the columns of German troops retreat­
ing from Yakhroma, claiming nearly a hundred vehicles destroyed on December 2. With their supply columns destroyed by repeated air attacks, Generaloberst Erich Hoepner’s and Generaloberst Hans Reinhardt’s Third and Fourth Panzer armies were forced to halt their offensives due to lack of fuel and ammunition—at a point not more than ten miles northwest of the Soviet capital.

In the air over the Kalinin battlefield, the MiG-3s of 129 IAP intercepted a Ju 88 formation on December 5, claiming five victories.

South of Moscow, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s Second Panzer Army had to discontinue its offensive against Tula on December 5, and it withdrew behind the upper Don River. The troops under Guderian’s com­mand found themselves subjected to fierce aerial attacks, as described by historian Von Hardesty: “In the airspace around Tula, the WS frontal aviation under the com­mand of another talented leader, [General-Mayor Fyodor] Falaleyev, made a forceful appearance. Here the WS targeted as its major goal the destruction of Guderian’s Second Panzer Army, now in retreat. In the Tula sector, the Stavka deployed a concentration of ground forces,
drawn from the Western and Southwestern fronts, which included the Fiftieth and Tenth armies plus some cav­alry units. . . . Soviet air units made a valiant effort to destroy Guderian’s tanks.’’5

Generaloberst Guderian entered the following lines in his journal: “The offensive on Moscow has ended. All sacrifices and efforts of our brilliant troops have failed. We have suffered a serious defeat.”6

On December 6 both General-Polkovnik Konev’s Kalinin Front and General Armii Zhukov’s Western Front were pursuing the retreating enemy in what developed into a powerful counteroffensive.

As Hitler’s offensive against the Soviet capital suc­cumbed under the hammer blows of counterattacking Red Army units, the Soviets were still numerically infe­rior to their enemy on the Moscow front—except in the air. The Soviet air superiority proved to be one of the most decisive factors. On December 6 the Soviets mus­tered 1,376 aircraft on the Moscow front, against fewer than 600 in Luftflotte 2/ But according to Zhukov, the main factor in the Soviet victory at Moscow was “the

image175

This MiG-3, which is warming up on an airdrome near Moscow in the winter of 1941-42, is equipped with R/T, which until well into 1943 was quite uncommon in Soviet combat aircraft. (Photo: Seidl.)

image176

A 514 BAP Pe-2 being refueled at Makarovo Airdrome. The appearance of large numbers of Petlaykov’s modern dive-bomber over the battlefields outside of Moscow was of vital importance to the success of the Soviet counterattack. (Photo: Igashov/United State Museum of Tatarstan GOM RT.)

fantastic combat morale among the troops.” He wrote: “Our forces were absolutely convinced that they were going to defeat the enemy at the gates of Moscow."

This conviction was obvious not least among the Soviet airmen. A completely new fighting spirit appeared in the VVS units on the Moscow front. Von Hardesty wrote: “Despite poor weather—low’ clouds, fog, and snow’ storms—the WS covered the Soviet advance in force.”8

During these days, the modern Pe-2 bomber appeared in larger numbers over the front lines than ever before. The Pe-2-equipped 28 BAD launched ninety to a hun­dred sorties daily. On December 9 two Pe-2s of 23 SAD put ten enemy vehicles out of commission during three low-level attacks against a motorized column retreating from the Moscow Channel. The German Army Group Center fell back in disorder.

In air combat as well, the Germans ran into deeper trouble than ever previously on the Eastern Front. “The

Russian fighter pilots flew with a skill and courage that never had been experienced before,” notes the chronicle of JG 51.9 The loss rate in JG 51 of 32 percent during December 1941 reached its highest level since the out­break of the war.

61AK/PVO claimed 170 German aircraft destroyed in November and another eighty in December. On December 13, five fighters of 43 SAD intercepted a bomber formation with fighter escort and shot down three German planes without any losses. On the same day, other Soviet aircraft struck the airfield at Klin, to the west of the Moscow’ Channel, where they destroyed a large number of Luftwaffe aircraft on the ground, in­cluding seven Bf 109s from II./JG 52.10

The entire Army Group Center was threatened with collapse. The contours of a total breakdown of combat spirit started to emerge. Generalleutnant Ferdinand Schaal, commanding the 56th Panzer Brigade, wrote: “A

growing number of soldiers started walking westward on their own initiative. . . . Victims of the aerial attacks weie no longer buried…. All kinds of equipment were abandoned in the general confusion.”

Unteroffizier Walter Todt of JG 52 describes the scene at Klin Airdrome during the disorderly retreat of I. and I1./JG 52 and a Ju 88 Staffel: “All of our aircraft, plus a Ju 88, and all fuel barrels were put together. An 8.8cm antiaircraft gun fired into the heap. Then the AAA was also blown up [becausel the engine of its towing vehicle refused to start. All German soldiers on the air­field entered the road to Russa on foot.”11

While inflicting severe losses on the Second Panzer Army, the Soviet Western Front advanced more than eighty miles in ten days. On December 16 Hitler issued his famous “halt order,” calling for a “fanatical resistance” without retreating another step. He fired both the head of OKH, Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Brauchitsch, and the commander of Army Group Center, Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock, and took the former’s place personally while filling the latter vacancy with Generalfeldmarschall Hans Gunther von Kluge. The Fuhrer attempted to implement the same fear of repris­als among his army commanders as reigned on the Soviet side. Shortly afterwards he even dismissed the brilliant Panzer commander Generaloberst Heinz Guderian.

Hitler initiated hectic activity, turning to the Luftwaffe as the only remaining means to save the situation. The air force was lucky to escape changes in the command structure. On the contrary, it received immediate and
considerable reinforcements. Il./KG 54 Totenkopf was brought back from W’estem Europe along with three newly activated He 111 groups, forming KG 100 Wiking. Also rushed in from afar were the Zerstorer of I. and 1I./ZG 26, plus four air transport Gruppen with more than a hundred Ju 52s. One transport Gruppe was also transferred from Luftflotte 4. It was a last-minute effort, and it worked.

While the air transport fleet managed to improve the supply situation at the front, horizontal bombers, Stukas, and Zerstorer began to strike back at the advanc­ing Soviet troops with a vengeance. On December 17, when the temperature had warmed to a mere minus – 1 З-degrees Celsius a large formation of Ju 87s surprised Zhukov’s spearheads west of Tula and reportedly de­stroyed thirteen tanks and about two hundred motor vehicles. A Ju 88 crew’ was even reported to have made a suicide attack against a lock gate in the Moscow Chan­nel.12 The VVS still had numerical superiority; on De­cember 18 it claimed the destruction of 340 trucks, 11 artillery pieces, 100 ammunition carts, and 3 trains. But merely seeing the reinvigorated Luftwaffe in the air over­head gave an imperative moral boost to the battered German ground troops. The Luftwaffe kept attacking the Soviet troops daily during the remainder of Decem­ber, claiming four tanks and fourteen motor vehicles on December 18, seventy-five motor vehicles on December 21, four tanks and sixty’ motor vehicles on December 22, and two tanks and fifty’ motor vehicles on Christmas Eve.

image177

Подпись: Oberleutnant Hans-Ekkehard Bob’s 9./JG 54 Bf 109, Yellow 1, at a German forward airfield in the winter of 1941-42. Note the thin clothing worn by the mechanic next to the aircraft, The Wermacht was completely unprepared for the unusually cold winter, with temperatures ranging down to below minus-40 degrees Celcsius. During the first three months of the first winter of its war with the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht reported 112,000 frostbite casualties. (Photo: Bob.)

The challenge from the Soviet Air Force was met with airfield interdiction attacks. For example, Yeletz

Airdrome was bombed on December 23, and Aleksin Airdrome was hit on December 23, 24 (when two air­craft were destroyed on the ground), and 29 (when four aircraft were destroyed on the ground).

According to German sources, 119 Soviet and 33 German planes were shot down from December 15 to 30. Italian fighter pilots of Regia Aeronautical 22 Gruppo contributed by claiming twelve Soviet planes shot down between December 24 and December 26 for the loss of a single Mc.200 Saetta. On the Soviet side, VVS fighters on the Moscow battle scene claimed sixteen aerial victo­ries between December 17 and December 26.l! On Christ­mas Eve PVO ace Starshiy Leytcnant Gerasim Grigoryev of 178 IAP claimed a Ju 88 with his LaGG-3, which raised his total score to eleven personal and two shared victories.

Within two weeks, the destructive blows from the air managed to take the wind out of the Soviet counter­offensive. But the wind of Operation Typhoon had also subsided definitively. By New Year’s Eve the prime objective of the Soviet counteroffensive—to throw back the threat against Moscow—had been achieved. Opera­tion Barbarossa was dead.

It had been a swift and dramatic turning. From November to December 1941, the major task of the W’ehrmacht on the Eastern Front shifted from an offen­sive aimed at the destruction of the USSR to a defensive mode aimed at saving itself from collapse. The air forces of both sides played a significant role during the Battle of Moscow in December 1941.

Even if inadequate supplies, short resources, and battle fatigue on the German side wrere the main factors behind the Soviet victory, the contributions of the VVS itself should not be underestimated. According to Soviet sources, VVS units mounted roughly 16,000 combat sor­ties in the Moscow area between December 6, 1941, and January 7, 1942.14 It is clear that the Soviet Air Force was a major contributor to the German defeat outside Moscow. In spite of the heavy commitment, the Soviet losses in the air decreased remarkably during this period. The loss rate dropped below 1 percent for the first time in the war. According to VVS statistics, no more than 140 Soviet aircraft were lost during the Moscow offen­sive from December 5, 1941, to January 2, 1942.15

General Armii Zhukov later wrote: “Our air units – those belonging to the [Western] Front, as well as those of the Air Defense and the Long-Range Air Force—gave an important contribution to our counteroffensive at Moscow – in December 1941. The airmen put up a skillful and courageous fight. For the first time since the out­break of the war, our fliers deprived the enemy of his superiority in the air. Our air force maintained a system­atic pressure against artillery positions, tank units, and command posts. And as the Nazi armies started retreat­ing, our aircraft attacked and bombed the withdrawing troops without interruption. This resulted in all roads to the west becoming littered with equipment and vehicles abandoned by the Germans.”16

Even if they were better trained and better equipped, the once proud Luftwaffe airmen simply had lost the war of exhaustion with their Soviet counterparts. Wolfgang Dierich gives the following account of the situ­ation in KG 51 at this time: “In their medical journals, the air force medics Dr. Denkhaus (1./KG 51) and Dr. Ott (III./KG 51) repeatedly noted ‘severe nervous exhaustion’ among the airmen, with symptoms such as crying attacks, extreme sensitivity and even epileptic attacks.”17

For all that, the Luftwaffe had been able to maintain its role as the trump card of the W’ehrmacht. Hitler’s “halt order” and the increased Luftwaffe activity saved Army Group Center from complete annihilation in December 1941.

It is highly questionable that the seizure of Moscow really would have ended Soviet resistance (which was what the German High Command—and to a certain de­gree, even several Western historians today—anticipated). Nevertheless, the rescue of Moscow wras of enormous im­portance to the entire Soviet population and created the psychological preconditions for the extended defensive battles during the following difficult year, which in turn would lead to the final strategic turning point of the war.