Category Air War on the Eastern Front

Assistance from The West


ven if Winston Churchill always had been a stub­born anti-Communist, organizing the British inter­vention in the Russian Civil War two decades previously, his instinct of national self-preservation convinced the British prime minister to come to the Soviet Union’s support shortly after the German invasion. U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would follow in due course.

On July 25,1941, the London government earmarked 200 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk single-engine fighters to be delivered to the Soviet Union. Before the shipping could commence, Churchill decided to intervene actively in the war in the Far North.

At the end of July, the Royal Navy aircraft carriers Victorious and Furious were dispatched to the northern waters. The aim was to launch an air attack against the

German main supply line to General Eduard Dietl’s mountain troops, as well as the seaborne transports off the coast. The attack would be mounted in cooperation with a simultaneous Soviet counterattack at Ozerko Bay.

On July 30 thirty Fairey Albacore torpedo planes of the Royal Navy’s 827 and 828 squadrons and nine Fairey Fulmar fighters of 817 Squadron took off from the car­riers to undertake an antishipping strike against Kirkenes. The British ran into a fully alerted Luftwaffenkommando Kirkenes. Threatened with the envelopment of the entire XIX Mountain Corps by a Soviet force that had landed in Dietl’s rear, Generaloberst Hans-Jurgen Stumpff had dispatched all available aircraft of Luftflotte 5 to the area.

The entire Soviet-British undertaking ended in disaster. The British airmen were intercepted by Bf 109s and Bf 110s of I./JG 77, which completely broke up the attack formations and claimed seventeen British planes shot down. British Fleet Air Arm statistics show a loss of twelve Albacores and four Fulmars. As a further result of the “Air Battle of Kirkenes,” nineteen British airmen ended up in German captivity. All of this was achieved against only two German losses in the air, one Bf 110 of l.(Z)/JG 77 and a Ju 87 from 12.(St)/LG 1.

Four days later, the Soviet troops were forced to aban­don their positions at Ozerko Bay. The entire force was evacuated.

Another fighter sweep over 145 IAP’s base at Shonguy on August 4 finally settled the fate for Hauptmann Gerhard Schaschke. Led by Kapitan Aleksandr Zaytsev, four of the new LaGG-3s with which 145 LAP had been equipped scrambled against incoming enemy aircraft. The blood in the veins of the Soviet pi­lots froze as they recognized the leading enemy plane as “Ryzhyy’s” Bf 110. Escorted by four Bf 109s and three Bf 110s, Hauptmann Schaschke attacked the enemy “in a head-on pass and scored a number of machine-gun and cannon hits on the LaGG-3 piloted by [Leytenant] M. P. Starkov, who crashed almost immediately. Schaschke then got IStarshiy Leytenant N. V.] Piskaryov.”18 Piskaryov was killed, but Starkov survived with severe bums.

In the middle of the clash, three l-16s that were returning from a mission over Murmansk arrived to the support their comrades. Kapitan Zaytsev took advantage of the surprise attack by the I-16s and directed his LaGG against “Ryzhyy’s” Bf 110. The first burst passed to the left of the Zerstorer. Zaytsev corrected his aim and opened fire. With its starboard engine smoking, the Bf 110 banked sharply to the right and turned to the west while losing altitude. As Schaschke disengaged, the combat contin­ued for another thirty minutes, costing 145 LAP the loss of another LaGG-3 and an 1-16.

Shortly after the duel, the maintenance staff of 145 LAP found “Ryzhyy’s” Bf 110 near Shonguy. Schaschke’s body hung lifeless in the cockpit harness; he had been killed when he hit the dashboard during the crash land­ing. Unteroffizier Michael Widtmann, his gunner, was mortally injured during an exchange of fire with the Soviet maintenance personnel.

Gerhard Schaschke was buried close to the crash site. His flight pistol was handed over to Kapitan Zaytsev by Polkovnik Ivan Turkel’, the C. O. of VVS-Fourteenth

Army.1* One of the side rudders of Schaschke’s Bf 110, displaying nineteen victory marks, was put on display in Murmansk.

Attempting to break the stiff resistance in front of Murmansk, the Germans launched a raid with three destroyers into Kola Bay on August 10. The Soviets dis­patched their bombers against the intrusion and man­aged to hit and damage the destroyer Richard Beitzen. With the aim of holding the VVS down, Luftflotte 5 organized two strong raids against the air base at Vayenga. The pilots of 72 SAP/SF took off and fought vigorously against both raids.

The first attack came at 0345 hours on Saturday, August 9. The attack force was composed of twelve Ju 88s, five Ju 87s, and eight Bf 110s. One DB-3 bomber was destroyed on the ground and another four were damaged. Five I-16s engaged the Junkers, and Kapitan Timofey Razdobudko and Mladshiy Leytenants Vasiliy Doroshin and Konstantin Babiy each claimed one. In return, an 1-153 was shot down and one of the new MiG-3s was damaged.

Three hours later, the second raid, composed of twenty-five medium bombers escorted by nine Bf 109s and three Bf 110s organized in three waves, went in against the air base and shipping in Kola Bay, where the icebreaker Lenin sustained bomb hits. Countering the intercepting 72 SAP, Leutnant Horst Wolter of 14./JG 77 shot down Starshiy Leytenant Viktor Alagurov’s 1- 16. A few seconds later, Mladshiy Leytenant Vladimir Pokrovskiy managed to blast Wolter’s Bf 109 out of the sky, killing the pilot. Downing a Ju 88 from 3./KG 30, gave Kapitan Boris Safonov his eighth personal kill.

According to German loss statistics, four Ju 88s, one Ju 87, and one Bf 109 were shot down in the Arctic combat zone this day, while another Bf 109 was severely damaged. (The pilot later died of his wounds.) Accord­ing to Soviet sources, only two Soviet fighters were shot down.

Without any doubt, Boris Safonov and his 5 Eskadrilya/72 SAP saved the situation in the air for the Soviets during the first difficult stage of the war. Starshiy Leytenant Sergey Kurzenkov dedicated a chapter to this formidable fighter in his war memoirs: “The first months of the year were a very hard time for the fliers of the Northern Fleet. The enemy was numerically superior. Without any regard to losses, [the Germansl attempted
to break through to Murmansk. Safonov and his com­rades flew five, six, and even ten sorties daily. They hardly got any sleep. Using their parachutes as pillows, they slept during short intervals, literally under the wings of their planes, while the ground crews were busy refueling and [reloading the guns]. This took no more than fif­teen to twenty minutes. And then they sat in their cock­pits again and were in the air, attacking the enemy."20

Intercepting yet another enemy raid on August 23, Kapitan Safonov was credited with the destruction of a Ju 88, his ninth kill. This time there are no German records to support the claim, but Luftwaffe records support the daim for a Bf 109 by 72 SAP’s Leytenant Leonid Zhdanov on this day. The pilot of the Bf 109 was Leutnant Hans Mahlkuch (14./JG 77), a sixteen-victory’ ace.

On the last day of August, 14./JG 77 managed to pay back by shooting down five VVS fighters—four 1-16s and one 1-153. On September 7, one of the most daring Soviet fighter pilots in this area, Leytenant Ivan Belov from 147 1AP, was killed in aerial combat. Having par­ticipated in the Winter War with Finland, Belov was
among the first to be appointed a Hero of the Soviet Union in World War II; the Golden Star was awarded to him on February’ 5, 1940.

At this point the Soviets started receiving badly needed reinforcements from the West. With the first Soviet-bound shipping convoy arriving off Murmansk late in August, thirty-nine Hawker Hurricane ІЇВ fight­ers arrived with pilots from the RAF 81 and 134 squad­rons. The Hurricane was hardly the best fighter at that time, having been outclassed by the Bf 109 during the Battle of Britain. An evaluation of New Zealand pilots flying an 1-16 replica in the 1990s in fact has come up with a rather astonishing revelation: “How do [the 1-16s] compare with other World War II fighters? Well, 1 believe, very favourably with some of the other aeroplanes. I had just flown a Hurricane for the first time, a week before the Rata, and sorry to Hurricane afficionados, but I was really surprised and disappointed in the aeroplane’s handling and performance. … I felt that you would be better off fighting in a Rata.”21

Подпись: Hurricane IIBs in Soviet service on an airfield in Karelia. When this type reached service with the RAF in 1937, it was among the best fighter interceptors in the world. But only three years later, in the Battle of Britain, it was outclassed by the Luftwaffe's Bf 109E. Its main advantages were its ability to sustain punishment and its reliability as a gun platform. What Soviet pilots liked most with the Hurricane was its reliable radio transmitter and receiver. But the airplane never became very popular with the Soviets, some of whom regarded the outfitting of their units with Hurricanes as a punishment. (Photo: Seidl.)

Contrary to the picture given in several British

accounts, the Soviet pilots were far from impressed with the Hurricane fighters. Many of them simply loathed this aircraft, feeling that it gave them no chance what­soever against the Bf 109s. But it brought a new advan­tage to the Soviet pilots who were to take over these planes—air-to-air radio equipment. Ironically, the Hurri­cane took part on both sides, because the Finns had pur­chased tw elve from the United Kingdom early in 1940, and the Romanians also had a contingent in service on the Eastern Front.

On September 12, 1941, five RAF pilots of 81 Squad­ron flew a combat mission over the front lines. They bounced five Bf 109s of I./JG 77, which were escorting an Hs 126 of l.(H)/32. In the ensuing action, the Messerschmitt pilot, Leutnant Eckhard von der Liihe, and the Hurricane pilot, Sergeant N. Smith, were both shot down and killed. Nevertheless, Squadron Leader Tony Rook and Sergeants P. Sims and A. Anson claimed to have shot dow-n three Bf 109s and damaged the Hs 126.

The RAF pilots were greatly impressed by the skills of Kapitan Boris Safonov. Starshiy Leytenant Sergey Kurzenkov tells of how on one occasion the British, hav­ing witnessed Safonov’s flying abilities, took the young Soviet pilot on their shoulders after he had landed and shouted with enthusiasm: “All right, Safon! Very good, Safon!”22 On September 15, 1941, right before the eyes of RAF pilots, Safonov had his most successful day. A Schwarm of Bf 110s from l.(Z)/JG 77 was out on an escort mission for Hauptmann Blasig’s Stukas, which w’ere supporting Dietl’s XIX Mountain Corps. Leutnant Heinz – Horst Hoffmann, the pilot in one of the Bf 110s, spotted a lone 1-16 below. Hoffmann, a veteran pilot, put the nose of his tw in-engine fighter down to make an attack.

He didn’t realize the trap until it was too late. A dark green 1-16 with the bold inscription Smert fashizmu! (Death to Fascism!) painted in two-feet-high w’hite let­ters on the side of the fuselage arrowed down from above. It was Boris Safonov’s White 51. Leutnant Hoffmann’s Bf 110 was hit in an engine; the plane made a roll, and fell steeply from a low altitude, exploding on impact three miles west of Zapadnaya Litsa.

Having scored his twelfth victory, Safonov now turned against the Ju 87s. One of them went down in flames, Safonov’s thirteenth victim. Shortly afterward, the Soviet ace caught a third German plane, an Hs 126, and was reported to have shot this down as welL23 In this fight with the l-16s of 72 SAP/VVS-SF, the

Luftwaffe recorded the loss of one Bf 110 and three Ju 87s but no Hs 126. The next day, Boris Safonov re­ceived the highest Soviet award, the Golden Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union.

During the first three months of the war, Safonov’s Eskadrilya was credited with forty-nine victories, fifteen of them by Boris Safonov alone. The squadron suffered: no losses. Approximately seventy Luftflotte 5 aircraft were registered as shot down during the same period. In all, 72 SAP/SF was credited with a total of 140 enemy air­craft shot down during 1941.24 While the crack l./JG 77 amassed an impressive victory record, claiming 100; victories during the first three months of the war with the USSR, it had ten of its Bf 109s (almost its total complement outfit at the outbreak of hostilities) shot down and three pilots killed between June and Septem­ber 1941.

Also in action on September 15 was Kapitan Leonid Galchenko’s Eskadrilya of 145 IAP, which claimed four victories. Galchenko’s unit was the most successful squad – j ron of WS-Fourteenth Army. By October 1941 it was credited with the destruction of sixteen enemy aircraft | in the air, including seven by the squadron commander and five by Leytenant Viktor Mironov, both of whom I were eventually made Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Whether it was in an effort to show off against the: Soviets or in good faith is unclear, but it appears that the RAF pilots made unusually high overclaims during their two-month stay in the Murmansk area. Unteroffizier Josef Stiglmair of l./JG 77 actually fell victim to Squad-; ron Leader Rook on September 17, but none of the three Bf 109s reported shot down by the British Hurricane pilots on September 26 can be found in the German loss lists.

Flying I-16s, the Soviet pilots of 72 SAP/VVS-SF in fact achieved far better results than the British Hurri­cane pilots. The most successful mission by 72 SAP/ VVS-SF, and one of the most effective missions by a single aviation unit during the entire war, was carried out on September 28. Between 1705 and 1830 hours, all available aircraft of that unit, twenty-six fighters and nine bombers, were dispatched against the bridge spanning the Petsamojoki River near Petsamo and other targets nearby.25 Close hits by two 250-kilogram bombs near the vital river crossing resulted in a landslide, and three mil­lion cubic meters of earth destroyed the ninety-foot span. This created a flood that drowned complete birch forests

і and swept away all crossings along the entire river. The whole invasion force heading for Murmansk on the east – j Ї em side of the river was isolated for ten days. This single 1f air raid, in fact, dealt a decisive death blow against Ger­man hopes for capturing the vital port of Murmansk. Paul Carell wrote: “Military history has never seen an – I other case like this, that so spectacularly and dramati­st cally cut off the supply lines of an entire front with two Щ divisions.”26

During one of the last major air combats on the Arc­s’ tic Front in 1941, on October 6, the Soviets claimed I eight of twenty-five Ju 88s heading for Murmansk. К According to the loss files of I./KG 30, three Ju 88s were in fact downed, two to enemy fighters and one to f. AAA. Both 72 SAP/VVS-SF and the British pilots of Г 134 RAF Squadron claimed successes during this combat.

During five weeks of “active training” of the 72 SAP/ к WS-SF airmen, the RAF pilots took part in several com – I bats. 81 Squadron claimed a total of twelve confirmed № victories, fourteen probable victories, and seven enemy [: aircraft damaged for the loss of only two Hurricanes,

t Another four victories went to 134 Squadron.

Heavy snowfall and the successively shortened days } prevented much in the way of air operations during the f remainder of the year. The last major air operations in ; this combat zone were flown by lV.(St)/LG 1 on the I Kandalaksha front, in the southwestern part of the Kola I Peninsula, in October. Billets, troop positions, supply I columns, shelters, and rail facilities were subjected to successful dive-bombing raids. But the Red Army held |v, out and prevented the Germans from reaching the |; Murman railway. On October 10, Hitler changed the I; mission for the German Army in the Far North to a J strictly defensive stance.

On October 12 a British-American convoy arrived at Arkhangelsk with 195 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fight­ers. From then on, three Murmansk-bound convoys—with the code name “PQ”—would arrive every month. Due to the demands at the front and the unfavorable weather conditions during the Arctic winter, the Luftwaffe was unable to counteract these important shipments until


Meanwhile, the air war in this area took on a charac­ter similar to the air battles over the Western Front in

World War 1—small dogfights over a literally frozen front line. It is probable that two emerging top aces clashed during one of the few air combats on the Arctic Front in October. On October 24, 1941, at the onset of the long polar night, a young Feldwebel of the Zerstorerstaffel l.(Z)/JG 77 scored his first aerial victory. During a free – hunt mission over the small frozen lakes west of the Litsa River on the Murmansk front, several Bf 110s led by Leutnant Felix-Maria Brandis spotted a formation of Polikarpov fighters. Feldwebel Theodor Weissenberger got on an 147 1AP 1-153 with his twin-engine Messerschmitt, and a burst from the four machine guns and two cannon in the nose of his 110 literally tore the small and fragile biplane apart.27

The next day, two MiG-3s of 72 SAP/SF, piloted by Leytenant Zakhar Sorokin and Leytenant Dmitriy Sokolov, clashed with four Bf 110s in the vicinity of


Twenty-four-year-old Leytenant Zakhar Sorokin was transferred to 72 SAP/ WS-SF in July 1941 and quickly distinguished himself through his aggressiveness in the air. Sorokin spent six days in the arctic cold after being shot down in October 1941, and both of his frostbitten legs had to be amputated. This tragedy did nothing to break Sorokin’s determination, and one year later he returned to front-line service with two artificial legs. Zakhar Sorokin achieved a total of thirteen victories, survived the war, and retired from the service in 1955 with the rank of Kapitan. He passed away in Moscow on March 19,1978. (Photo: Seidl.)


Theodor Weissenberger climbs out of his Bf 110 following a successful sortie on the Arctic Front. Weissenberger was posted to the Zerstorerstafel of JG 77 in September 1941, where he proved to be a most talented fighter pilot; he achieved his first 23 victories piloting a Bf 110 and survived the war with a total of 208 victories—only to be killed in a car race on the Niirburgring on June 10,1950. (Photo: Schmidt via Sundin.)

Severomorsk. Severely hit by the 20mm cannon of a Bf 110, Zakhar Sorokin made an emergency landing on the frozen surface of a lake. The victorious German pilot was either the commander of l.(Z)/JG 77, Oberleutnant Felix-Maria Brandis (already a fourteen-victory ace), or Theodor Weissenberger. Both claimed a Hurricane shot down, but the Staffel did not accept Feldwebel Weissenberger’s claim.28 According to a widespread ver­sion, Sorokin made a belly landing close to a Bf 110, which he had hit w’ith such good effect that this plane also bellied. Following this, Sorokin was reported to have clashed with the two German crewmen on the ground, killing both while sustaining wounds himself. There are no German records of any operational losses of Bf 110s of Luftflotte 5 during the entire period from October through December 1941, nor do Soviet documents men­tion any claims made by Leytenant Sorokin of a kill this day.29 In any case, Sorokin spent six days in the cold wilderness before he was found by a Soviet rescue team.30 By that time he was suffering from gangrene, and both of his legs were amputated. In spite of this, he went on fighting w’ith two artificial legs and subsequently scored thirteen kills.31

Theodor Weissenberger, who may have been Leytenant Sorokin’s opponent in the air, was remarkable in a different way. This young NCO had one of the most nonmilitary attitudes in the fighter unit to which he belonged. He would probably have become a gardener, like his father, and taken up flying only as a hobby, had the war not intervened. He was a constant nuisance to his superiors, frequently getting into trouble due to his defective military discipline. But in the air he had no vices. In the coming years, Theodor Weissenberger would develop into perhaps the most skillful German fighter ace on this front. Between September 1941 and May 1944 he flew 350 combat sorties on the Arctic Front and scored 175 victories. In the summer of 1944 he flew a further twenty-six sorties over Normandy, in France, lead­ing to twenty-five victories. During the last weeks of the war, Weissenberger achieved his last eight kills flying an Me 262 jet.

A severe lapse occurred on November 8, 1941. Knight’s Cross holder Oberst Carl Schumacher, a forty – five-year-old fighter pilot, had been assigned to take com­mand of the German fighter force in Norway. Piloting a Bf 109 with an escort of two other German fighters close to the front, Oberst Schumacher sighted what he assumed was an enemy SB bomber. With a burst from his guns, the fighter leader sent the twin-engine aircraft down to a crash landing. But the joy over his third victory would soon change to fear: the “SB” was in fact a Finnish De Havilland Dragon ambulance plane. Schumacher was quickly removed from his command position.

Another dramatic air combat took place on Novem­ber 29, w’hen the Bf 109-Rotte composed of Oberfeldwebel Gerhard Hornig and Unteroffizier Erich Kersten, of 13./JG 77, attempted to bounce a group of 1-153s that had been reported strafing ground troops in the Kandalaksha sector. A prolonged dogfight ensued. After ten minutes Kersten managed to hit an 1-153 decisively, but suddenly another Chayka came head-on against him.

Having run out of ammunition, Leytenant Pavel Kaykov decided to charge one of the Messerschmitts nose – to-nose. Unteroffizier Kersten’s tracer bullets whistled past Kaykov’s Chayka. The Soviet Leytenant was unable to shoot back, but the 1-153 held its course, forcing Kersten’s Bf 109 to break off in a steep dive. Kay kov immediately flung his agile little fighter after his enemy. The German Unteroffizier suddenly found himself hunted by a most determined adversary. Pavel Kaykov overtook Kersten as the latter leveled out at treetop level, and he splin­tered the tail fin of the 109 with the propeller of his biplane. No doubt, Kersten’s Bf 109 was also hit by

Подпись: Soviet p lots approaching their И 53s on an airfield near Murmansk during the winter of 1941-1942. One advantage the 1-153 had over most German and Soviet fighters was its ability to operate reliably unde' the most adverse weather cond tions. [Photo: Autho'S’ collection.)

ground-fire immediately afterward. Oberfeldwebd Hornig saw his wingman’s Bf 109 go down almost vertically and hit the ground. Meanwhile, Ixytcnant Kaykov tried to bail out of his damaged 1-153, bur he failed and was killed in the violent crash. He was buried in Murmansk. Six months later, Pavel Kaykov was posthumously named a Hero of the Soviet Union. Having scored his first – and final-victory, Erich Kersten was listed by the Germans as missing.

On December 17, seven Bf 109s met five Soviet Hurricanes in an engagement that ended with Lcutnant Alfred Jakobi being shot down by Boris Safonov—the latter’s fifteenth personal victory. Jakobi was lucky to survive.

To mark the end of 1941, Safonov brought down a K(i 26 He 111 on December 31.

Even if the air war over the Arctic front never involved more than limited forces on both sides, the last six months of 1941 had seen a heavy bloodletting among all the air units taking part. According to historian Rune Rail tip, the VVS of the Northern Fleet and the Four­teenth Army lost 221 aircraft (107 in air combat) by November, 1941.“ Meanwhile, 89 planes of Lu ft (lotto 5 were registered as destroyed or severely damaged due to enemy action in the air (at least 44 by Soviet fighters, 11 by AAA. and 23 to unspecified causes). I timing to the claims made by the lighter pilots on both sides, German pilots w ere credited with 215" aerial victories, while VVS – SF pilots were credited with 206.14 VVS-Karelian Front, composed of the armies responsible for the Soviet l inn ish front, after the division of the Northern Front into the Leningrad and Karelian fronts in August 1941, filed 125 victory claims (105 against German aircraft, 14
against the Finns, and 6 “unidentified”) against 153 com­bat losses in the air during 1941.35

Without exaggeration, it can be said that it was the Soviet Air Force that saved Murmansk. This would prove to be of immense importance. Even if the forces under command of Luftflotte 5 had produced impressive results, it was clear that the Luftwaffe units deployed to this area were too weak to accomplish the tasks assigned. Probably only two or three more Stukagruppen would have been sufficient to open the road to Murmansk to the German Army. The general lack of a planned long-term strategy against the Soviet Union, deriving from the false assumption that the USSR would collapse after a few weeks of war, would prove fatal to the German cause.

From October 1, 1941, until the end of the war, the Western Allies delivered about five thousand combat air­craft, along with thousands of trucks, tanks, and armored vehicles, and large amounts of war equipment and pro­visions to the USSR with the Barents Sea convoys.

Another interesting aspect of the air war in the Arctic area during 1941 is that the British airmen, particularly those carrying out the carrier-launched raid against Kirkcnes at the end of July, fared worse than many of their Soviet colleagues against the fighters of 1./JG 77. This revelation challenges the perspective of the air war on the Eastern Front appearing in most Western accounts.

As the British pilots left for home, their Hurricanes were handed over to Boris Safonov’s unit. In October 1941 the WS-SF formed a new crack aviation regiment, 78 1AP, around Safonov’s Eskadrilya. Apart from the Hurricanes, the pilots of Safonov’s 78 1AP were able to exchange some of their I-16s for the much faster MiG-3 and U. S.-built P-40 fighters. At the same time, the Komsomol raised funds and purchased equipment to completely outfit an Eskadrilya of MiG-3s for 147 1АР/ VVS-Fourteenth Army. W’ith an improved organization, the Soviet fighter pilots were able to inflict growing losses on the small Luftwaffe forces on the Arctic front. W’erner Girbig notes that “the Germans soon were confronted with an intensified antiaircraft and fighter defense.”3*



he war on the Eastern Front in 1941, in the air as well as on the ground, has few rivals in terms of its sheer bitterness. It was fought between the two most motivated armies in the world at the time. Ideology played a central role in this conflict. Just as Hitler’s Germany was permeated with the Nazi ideology’, creating a chau­vinist mentality that should not be underestimated, the traditions of early Bolshevism marked the entire Red Army down to the simple private, creating a determina­tion described by some as fanaticism.

Much has been said and written about the objective circumstances that caused the defeat of the German in­vasion army in the winter of 1941-42. But it should not be forgotten that it was the bottomless stamina of the Soviet soldiers and airmen that had laid the foundation for this situation. The Red Army had been pushed back­ward step by step since June 22, 1941, suffering enor­mous losses, yet it was able to force the invaders to fight bitterly at every point on every day. The accumulated effects of this incessant fighting among the invaders finally bore fruit at the very gates of Moscow’.

Both sides put up a skillful and bold fight. Even if the Luftwaffe relied mainly on its technological and tac­tical superiority, the courage and vigor of the German airmen are indisputable. Facing an enemy with a tre­mendous numerical advantage during the opening days of the war and an unflagging resistance following the first onslaught, the airmen of the Luftwaffe never stopped attempting to fulfill the increasingly overinflated demands of the situation until they were either killed or com­pletely worn dowm.

The bombers, Stukas, and Zerstorer displayed a high

efficiency in causing high material and personnel losses to the enemy. By neutralizing the potential threat from thousands of Soviet aircraft, providing the advancing armies with decisive close support, and disrupting com­munications on a grand scale in the rear of the Red Army, the crews of these aircraft played a key role to the by-then-unparalleled series of German victories in the summer of 1941. For instance, between June 22 and No­vember 22, II./StG 77 recorded the destruction of 140 Soviet tanks, 45 artillery pieces and 43 antiaircraft artil­lery pieces, and its aircraft sank 10 ships.

Air reconnaissance provided the German command­ers on all levels with detailed and frequently decisive tactical information.

The Jagdflieger achieved air supremacy’ and domi­nated the skies wherever they appeared and were accorded well-deserved respect from the Soviet airmen. The word for the Bf 109, Messer, spread as a nimbus throughout the entire VVS. The Jagdgeschwader deployed on the Eastern Front claimed more than 7,000 victories during Operation Barbarossa: JG 3 posted 1,287 victories; JG 27 had 270 victories; JG 51 had 1,820 victo­ries; JG 52 had approximately 800 victories; JG 53 posted 775 victories; JG 54 posted 1,185 victories; and JG 77 (including l.(J)/LG 2) achieved approximately 1,250 victories

Two fighter pilots, Oberst Werner Molders of JG 51 and Major Gunther Liitzow of JG 3, each surpassed the hundred-victory mark during these combats. And both of these Jagdgeschwader could boast two other of the
top aces at that time, Hauptmann Gordon Gollob ofjG 3, with a total score of eighty-five kills at the end of 1941; and Oberleutnant Heinz Bar of JG 51, with eighty’ kills. Also, in JG 54, Oberleutnant Hans Philipp had a score of seventy-three as 1941 drew to a close.

Among thousands of Soviet airmen who fell prey to the superiority of the Bf 109 fighters in 1941 were expe­rienced pilots such as the famous test pilot Podpolkovnik Stepan Suprun of 4011AP; the Zveno ace Kapitan Arseniy Shubikov; 127 lAP’s Starshiy Ley tenant Luka Muravitskiy, who had fourteen personal and collective kills; 154 IAP’s Starshiy Leytenant Aleksey Storozhakov, with eight personal and three collective kills; and 19 IAP’s Mladshiy Leytenant Yegor Novikov, with ten personal and five collective kills. Among the missing was the vet­eran female bomber pilot Starshiy Leytenant Yekaterina Zelyenko of 135 BAP.

According to Soviet statistics, at least 21,200 aircraft were lost, including 10,600 in combat, between June 22 and December 31, 1941.1 The combat losses included 5,100 fighters, 4,600 bombers, 600 ground-attack aircraft, and 300 other types. To these figures should be added the “unaccounted decrease” of 5,240 VVS aircraft between June 22 and July 31. The corresponding overall figure given by the Luftwaffe—17,745 Soviet aircraft destroyed by December 19—is thus not far from reality.

Подпись: Contradicting the German leadership’s propaganda regarding Soviet technical proficiency, the early Yak-1 fighter bore deadly witness as to the USSR's ability to produce equipment comparable to the best in the Third Reich’s arsenal. (Photo: Stockton.)
This was the inevitable outcome of a clash between the world’s most skillful and best-equipped air force on the one hand and an air force hobbled by Stalinism. If early Bolshevik traditions had revolutionized the combat

spirit of the Soviet soldiers, the autocratic Stalinist rule had created a numerically vast army with equally vast qualitative deficiencies. Command structures, doctrines, tactical thinking, the training standards, and equipment technology marked the Red Army with the fatal stamp of a conservative and ruthless bureaucracy.

The harsh lessons of the first six months of the war compelled the WS to carry out a complete reappraisal of most of its doctrines and theories. This new thinking particularly influenced the bomber fleet of the VVS, where inadequate equipment demonstrated that prewar strategic bombing doctrines had been a mere dream. During the course of the long war, the Luftwaffe would force the VVS to abandon all of its erroneous prewar tactics and doctrines and, indeed, to adopt Luftwaffe methods and structures.

Even if the Soviet airmen of 1941 wrere forced to fight from an inferior position regarding most qualita­tive aspects, they gave proof of an impressive courage and made enormous personal sacrifices. Western post­war accounts tend to underestimate the performance of the VVS airmen during these first difficult months of the war. But in reality, any German soldier fighting on the Eastern Front would be able to testify to the unre­mitting pressure from the air, from the first day of the war to the last. Any airman in the Luftwaffe would tell of how the Soviet fighter pilots forced their counterparts to wage a permanent fight for air supremacy.

There is a great disparity between Soviet claims and registered Luftwaffe losses. Even if the Luftwaffe loss lists have proved to suffer from gaps, it is indisputable that the Soviet airmen, on average, made higher overclaims than their German counterparts. This may be the result of several factors. The humiliating losses at the hands of a hated invader could be regarded as one of the main explanations.

Contradictory to the overall air-combat situation and its actual results, the combat records of most VVS fighter units show’ a good victory-to-loss ratio. For instance, the combat records for Kapitan Aleksandr Khalutin’s 249 1AP (equipped mainly with 1-16s, l-15bis, and I-153s) between June and October 1941, w’hen the unit was with­drawn from combat on the southern sector of the front, show claims of twenty-five enemy aircraft destroyed in the air. The same unit also was credited with the destruc­tion of twenty enemy planes, more than fifty trucks, and about twenty tanks in ground attacks. The losses for all of this apparently did not exceed ten airplanes and six pilots.

The logbook of 158 LAP, now in the files of the Russian Central Military Archive TsAMO, shows sixty – nine victory claims against fifty-two aircraft lost between June 22 and October 22, 1941. These include forty-nine aircraft lost during combat missions and three on the ground.

For the period June 22 to December 15, 7 ІАК/ PVO claimed 313 aerial victories against a recorded com­bat loss of 307 aircraft—286 in the air and 21 on the ground.2

The pilots of VVS-Southem Front were credited w’ith 42 aerial victories against 89 combat losses, including 43 fighters in October; and 65 aerial victories against 92 combat losses, including 42 fighters, in November 1941.* Fifty-three single-engine German fighters (46 Bf 109s and 7 ‘‘He 113s,” a frequent misidentification of Bf 109F) were claimed destroyed in air combat, by AAA units, and on the ground by VVS-Southern Front units in October, and 54 were claimed in November 1941.4 The Luftwaffe registered only 15 Bf 109s lost in this sector during October and 16 in November.’ In fact, the total number of single-engine German fighters claimed de­stroyed by VVS-Southern Front alone between June 22 and December 22, 1941—450 of a total of 1,072 claims overall6—is about half the figure of all Bf 109s registered as lost or damaged on the entire Eastern Front.

The claims made by the most experienced pilots, how’ever—and naturally—display a better accounting. For example, of Kapitan Boris Safonov’s sixteen individual victory claims in 1941, only seven can definitely not be found in the far-from-comprehensive loss list of Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe.

As a comparison, RAF Fighter Command pilots did not come any closer to the truth regarding their claims during the Battle of Britain. Official VVS claims amount to 3,879 downed in aerial combat and 752 downed by ground fire in 1941. As several Axis aircraft listed as “severey damaged”—most having made forced landings – could justifiably be acknowledged as “shot down,” the overclaim ratio is nearly 2:1. On the other hand, regard­ing results of air-base raids, Soviet airmen proved to be most optimistiq they claimed 3,257 Axis aircraft destroyed on the ground in 1941.

There is no doubt that most VVS fighter units in

reality suffered more losses than successes in air combat during 1941. Starshiy Leytenant Aleksandr Pokryshkin of 55 LAP recalk “the hard times in 1941” characterized by “uneven combats with the Messerschmitts, which rarely led to results to our favor.”7 During 1941 the WS fighter units in reality managed to bring down perhaps fifteen hundred enemy aircraft of all types in aerial combat, at a cost of approximately three thousand fighters (excluding losses to ground fire and aircraft lost on the ground).

Despite inadequate equipment, several Soviet fighter pilots had shown considerable skill and had developed into aces. Oberleutnant Hansgeorg Batcher, who flew with l./KGr 100 on the Eastern Front from late July 1941, reflects the general view on the Soviet aviators held by the Luftwaffe airmen when he says, “They were very courageous. They were only handicapped from an obsolete equipment.” Top scorers in the WS during this stage of the war had been Kapitan Boris Safonov, with sixteen kills, and Kapitan Petr Brinko, with fifteen, most of which had been scored while flying the 1-16 Ishak. The evolution of such proficient individuals contradicted the Nazi propaganda relating to “Russian subhumans,” which had a widespread influence at all levels of the Wehrmacht.

Counted among the German airmen who had fallen prey to the WS airmen in 1941 were brilliant fighter pilots such as the seventy-victory-ace Hauptmann Hermann-Friedrich Joppien of JG 51, sixty-three-victory’ ace Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Hoffmann of JG 51, fifty – seven-victory ace Oberfeldwebel Edmund Wagner of JG 51, forty-three-victory ace Oberleutnant Hubert Mutherich of JG 54,thirty-eight-victory ace Oberleutnant Kurt Sochatzy of JG 3, and twenty-nine-victory ace Oberfeldwebel Franz Blazytko of JG 27.

The remarkable stamina of the soldiers and airmen of the Red Army and the efforts by Soviet industry were two further factors never anticipated by the planners and organizers of Operation Barbarossa. The fact that the WS survived disastrous losses in the summer of 1941 and was able to regain numerical superiority against the Luftwaffe by the end of 1941 is unparalleled in the history of war.

The shift in numerical balance in favor of the WS naturally depended both upon Soviet reinforcements and Luftwaffe losses. The successes by the Luftwaffe should not obscure the fact that it suffered higher losses during Operation Barbarossa than during any previous campaign.

According to the Luftwaffe’s own records, 2,093 German aircraft (758 bombers, 568 fighters, 170 dive-
bombers, 330 reconnaissance aircraft, and 267 miscella­neous types) were completely destroyed on the Eastern Front between June 22 and December 6, 1941. Another 1,362 aircraft (including 473 bombers and 413 fighters) received battle damage of varying degrees. Of 4,653 Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed or damaged in front-line sendee from June 22 to December 31, 3,827 were lost on the Eastern Front. As Hitler launched bis offensive against what he portrayed as “Russian subhumans,” no one on the German side could have anticipated such high losses. At the end of 1941 it was clear that neither aircraft pro­duction nor the flight training schools could keep pace with such heavy attrition.

If the material losses were hard to replace, the per­sonnel losses were impossible to replace. From June to December 1941, the Luftwaffe lost 13,742 men, includ­ing ground personnel, on the Eastern Front. Of these, 3,231 were killed, 2,028 were missing, and 8,453 were injured.

In spite of all its material successes and the high price it paid, the Luftwaffe failed to fulfill its primary mission during Operation Barbarossa—providing the Wehrmacht with preconditions to completely bring down the USSR. The effects of the numerical achievements during the opening months of the war were considerably mitigated by the failure to stifle the reconstruction of the Red Army through the destruction of the Soviet war industry. The predominant tactical doctrine of the Luftwaffe and the lack of equipment to undertake a strategic-bomber offen­sive proved to be the fatal flaws of Operation Barbarossa. As a result, the air war against the Soviet Union devel­oped into a situation similar to what Oberst Werner Molders’s successor as General der JagdfHeger, Oberst

Adolf Galland, described as “attempting to blot out an anthill by stamping on one ant at a time.”

As the front line grew’ increasingly extended at the same time as accumulated attrition was rapidly bringing down the number of serviceable Luftwaffe aircraft, the overall efficiency of the combat arm dropped successively. After less than a month of war, it stood clear that Hitler had launched an invasion with a totally inadequate num­ber of combat aircraft. There was not only a lack of stra­tegic bombers. Shortages in fighters enabled the Soviets to achieve air supremacy over the central combat zone in August, over the Crimea in September, and on the Mos­cow front in November. Inadequate numbers of close – support aircraft—Stukas and ground-attack planes—com­pelled the Germans to deploy their twin-engine medium bombers in costly close-support missions. Throughout the campaign, calling in strong concentrations of air forces repeatedly solved serious crises at the front. Within a short time, the thinly spread Luftwaffe units on the East­ern Front were turned into a pure fire brigade.

In reality, the Luftwaffe lost its independence on the Eastern Front, in practice involuntarily adopting the doc­trine of its enemy. It was, as Oberst Hermann Plocher remarked, “the beginning of the death of the Luftwaffe.”-1 In December 1941 it was obvious to anyone who wished to see that the war with the USSR marked the beginning of the end of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Reich. But the road to the downfall of the Third Reich would prove long and lead to immense hardships. The Luftwaffe air­men had not yet said their last word. They would not only adopt the doctrine of the Soviet Air Force, they would also learn to fight with the same stamina as the Soviet airmen. The largest air war in history had merely begun.


o the south of the Pripyat Marshes, along the 750-

mile front entrusted to Generalfeldmarschall Gerd

von Rundstedt’s Army Group South, with air cover provided by Generalobcrst Alexander Lohr’s Luftflotte

4, the situation was completely different from that to the і north of the Marshes. Von Rundstedt opened his offen-

У sive by launching the German Sixth and Seventeenth armies, together with Panzergruppe 1 on the left flank, v between the Pripyat Marshes and the Hungarian- ! Slovakian border. These forces were intended to strike in an eastern and a southeastern direction, while the Romanian Third and Fourth armies and the German *, Eleventh Army were held back along the Soviet-Roma – nian border. The purpose of this operation was to en – R drcle and destroy most of the Red Army troops west of ; the Dnieper River.

The strongest opposition in the air during the first

[1] ers and managed to shoot down the precious LaGG-3— I his twenty-third personal victory. Kapitan Khalutin at – B tacked a Bf 109 w ith his 1-16, giving it a long burst with I his machine guns. The enemy fighter exploded violently, ■ spreading burning shrapnel over a large area. К Oberfeldwcbcl Heinrich Brenner, in the cockpit, had no і chance of survival. Less than two minutes later, the So – f viet fighters and fighter-bombers were gone.

According to the Soviet report, ten enemy aircraft і were destroyed on the ground,13 but 249 IAP failed to № put JG 3 out of commission. On the other hand, the air – І base raids by the Kampfgruppen of Luftflotte 4 in the 1 same operational area did not meet with better success. В Contrary to the German assessments, Soviet reports show і that only a limited number of VVS aircraft were В destroyed on the ground. At this point the Soviets I regularly dispersed and camouflaged their planes on the в airfields.

The Slovak 12 Letka (squadron), equipped with Avia B-534 single-engine biplane fighters, saw heavy action

Air War Over the Baltics


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-


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


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


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


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.

Air Combat Over Leningrad


t the beginning of September 1941, the spearheads of the German Army Group North had reached the outer defense perimeter of Leningrad. These forti­fications became constant targets for Stukas and bomb­ers conducting low-level attacks. To the east of Leningrad, at Schlusselburg, on the southern shore of Lake Ladoga, the German Sixteenth Army managed to cut off Leningrad’s last land connection with the rest of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Bf 110 Zerstorer of ZG 26 contin­ued their air-base attacks to suppress the reviving Soviet air activity. Early on September 5, the detachment from 13IAP/KBF stationed at Nizino, southeast of Leningrad, had just received orders to dispatch an attack against enemy troops at the Volosovo railway station, when the Zerstorem of ZG 26 struck the airfield once again. Petr

Brinko, newly promoted to Kapitan, and his wingman managed to take off before the bombs started to fall. The two 1-16s went after what appeared to be the German leader, but they were immediately attacked by four other Bf 110s. Turning against them, Brinko’s wingman man­aged to shoot down one of the Bf 110s.

At this point more Soviet fighters got airborne. Kapitan Brinko fired at several Bf 110s but failed to score any decisive hits. Having finally run out of ammu­nition, he decided to taran one of the enemy aircraft. With a sharp turn, he placed himself on the tail of a Bf 110, pushed the throttle forward, and the propeller of the 1-16 chewed into the twin tail of the Zerstorer. In the next moment, the Bf 110 fell away. Brinko’s own fighter was still flying, but the engine started to shake rather disquietingly, so he switched it off and made a relatively

image133Подпись: MiG-3s of 7IAK/PVO in the air over central Leningrad. The high tower of the famous Peter and Paul Cathedral is seen just behind the fighters on the north bank of Neva River. The strong fighter and antiaircraft defenses of Leningrad compelled the Germans to concentrate the bulk of their air attacks against this city to the hours of darkness. But 7 IAK/PVO paid dearly for its defensive struggle; between June 22 and December 25,1941, the units of this fighter aviation corps registered 406 fighter losses against 313 victory claims. (Photo: Sundin.)safe landing at Nizino. This was Brinko’s twelfth victory. ZG 26 registered three Bf 110s shot down this day.1

The next day, September 6, II./JG 52 lost one of its most successful fighter aces, the Staffelkapitan of 5./JG 52, Oberleutnant August Wilhelm Schumann, credited with a total of thirty victories. It is possible that Schumann was shot down by the MiG-3 pilot Mladshiy Leytenant Afanasiy Okhvat of 159 1AP, who followed a Bf 109 that he had shot down too low in a dive from which he could not recover. Okhvat’s MiG-3 crashed and the pilot was killed.

On the same day, Oberleutnant Johannes Steinhoff, commanding 4./JG 52, brought down two Soviet air­craft. Steinhoff had been awarded the Gruppe’s first Knight’s Cross a week earlier, when his victory score stood at thirty-five.

On September 8, Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Hoffmann of IV./JG 51 scored his fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth victo­ries against two SBs.2 These were Hoffmann’s last victories on the Leningrad front, for his unit was returned to the central combat zone.

On the night of September 8-9, Luftflotte 1 launched its first major raid against Leningrad in accordance with Hitler’s instruction to “level Leningrad to the ground.” At 1855 hours, twenty-seven Ju 88s started dropping 6,327 incendiary bombs, which caused 183 individual fires, of which the largest were in the Badayevo warehouses, in which Leningrad’s entire sugar reserve of 2,500 tons was set ablaze.

A second raid followed, at 2235 hours.

These raids were the first of several hun­dred to be mounted against Leningrad.

Even if the bomber forces available were considerably smaller than those engaged against London the previous year, the Germans made a great effort to destroy Lenin’s city from the air. The German historian Karl Gundelach, who flew an He 111 in KG 4 during the war, wrote:

“Frequently, the crews are launched twice a night against Leningrad.”3

Most Luftwaffe raids against Leningrad were limited to the hours of darkness. This was mainly the combined result of the heavy antiaircraft concen­
tration in the area and new reinforcements brought in to the VVS during September, including seven fighter avia­tion regiments to bolster 7 IAK.

The most successful Soviet fighter unit over Leningrad during this stage of the war was 13 ІАР/ KBF, which still flew 1-16s. Following the death of Kapitan Aleksey Antonenko in July, 13 LAP’s Kapitan Petr Brinko had emerged as the top ace on the Soviet side.

The air combat over and in the vicinity of Leningrad was some of the harshest during the war on the Eastern Front in 1941, claiming the lives of several of the most skillful airmen on both sides. On September 9 the Staffelkapitan of 5./JG 54, Oberleutnant Hubert Miitherich, was shot down and killed near Leningrad. With forty-three victories to his credit, including thirty – three Soviet aircraft, “Hubs” Miitherich was the most successful Staffelkapitan of JG 54 at that time. On the Soviet side, Starshiy Leytenant Mikhail Bagryantsev, one of the most promising young pilots in 5 ІАР/KBF, was killed in combat when his LaGG-3 was bounced from above by a Bf 109 Rotte. During another encounter that day, 191 LAP’s Mladshiy Leytenant Yegor Novikov was reported to have driven off two German fighters that attempted to machine-gun a Soviet fighter pilot hanging in his parachute harness.

On September 9 and 10, the units of Luftflotte 1 carried out more than eight hundred sorties, mainly against the Leningrad defense lines. On the tenth, four 1-16 pilots from 191 1AP engaged a large formation of Ju 87s and Bf 109s, claiming six victories without loss. Counted among the downed Stuka airmen was Gefreiter Erich Peter, a newcomer in 3./StG 2 Immel – mann, who had achieved considerable success during his first month of first-line service. Peter survived but was seriously injured. On the Soviet side, another air com­bat on September 10 cost the life of one of the most skillful VVS aces in this area, Starshiy Leytenant Aleksey Storozhakov of 154 1AP, who had been cred-

Starshiy Leytenant Aleksey Storozhakov, an ace in 154 IAP with eight personal and three shared victories, was among several Soviet airmen killed in combat on the Leningrad sector on September 10,1941. With the onset of the German offensive against Leningrad, the air war in this combat zone increased in intensity, resulting in a heavy bloodletting in the WS units. One single fighter Eskadrilya, the mainly LaGG-3-equipped 2./5 IAP-KBF, registered eleven fighters shot down and eight pilots killed, missing, or injured during the sixteen-day period from September 8 to September 23,1941. (Photo: Novikov.)

Stefan Litjens was one of the most experienced veteran pilots in ll./JG 53 Рік As in 1941. He was shot down on September 11,1941. He survived but lost his right eye, which did not deter him from returning to first-line service a year later. After gaining another fourteen victories in four months during his second combat tour, Litjens was shot down again, and sustained an injury to his left eye, which forced him to withdraw from first-line service. (Photo: Salomonson.)

The main attack by the German Army commenced on September 11 with ground troops advancing into the breaches created by Luftflotte 1 bombers undertaking 478 sorties. Soviet pilots were brought into constant action from dawn to dusk. The LaGG-3 pilots of 5 LAP/ KBF carried out ten to fourteen combat sorties each on September 10 and 11.

The combined efforts of both air forces on Septem­ber 11 resulted in costly air combat, with JG 54 claiming

image135Подпись: An 1-16 Mark 29 of 13IAP/WS-KBF taxis out for a combat sortie from Kronstadt. The main feature of Mark 29, the latest serial version of the Ishak, was the introduction of a new scheme of armament. Instead of the two wing guns of previous 1-16 versions, the Mark 29 was provided with sets for six RS-82 rocket projectile racks (clearly seen on this photo) beneath the wings. In addition, it was outfitted with one 12.7mm machine gun installed between the lower cylinders of the engine, plus two 7.62mm ShKAS mounted on the engine nacelles. Kapitan Petr Brinko was flying an 1-16 Mark 29 when he was killed on September 14,1941. (Photo: Seidl.)seventeen Soviet aircraft shot down, against three losses.4 L1I./JG 27 alone recorded nine victories, including four by Oberfeldwebel Franz Blazytko. But these successes could not outweigh the loss of one of the most outstanding pilots of this Gruppe, Leutnant Hans Richter. Having achieved his twenty-second kill, Richter was attacked from behind by an 1-16. His comrades heard his cry over the radio:

“My engine is hit! I’ll try to force-land!”

The crippled Messerschmitt went down, caught some treetops, and immediately burst into flames. Hans Richter must have died instantly. Oberfeldwebel Stefan Litjens, an ace in II./JG 53 with twenty – four victories, was shot down and badly wounded by another 1-16 on the same day. His injuries cost this daring pilot his right eye. Five 1-16 pilots of 191 IAP/7 IAK claimed a major success during a combat with Ju 87s south of Leningrad, reporting nine Stukas shot down, including two each by Mladshiy Leytenants Yegor Novikov, Ivan Grachyov, and Vladimir Plavskiy, and one by Leytenant Nikolay Kuznetsov.3 Only one Ju 87 loss can be found in the Luftwaffe records.

To the south on this busy September 11, 7./JG 54 clashed with a formation of MiG-3s, possibly from Mayor Konstantin Gruzdyev’s crack 402 1AP, in the vicinity of Staraya Russa. Leutnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann, who had been awarded with the Knight’s Cross for his twenty – nine victories one week earlier, claimed two Soviet planes, while a Soviet fighter pilot shot down Ostermann’s friend, Leutnant Peter von Malapert. It took von Malapert’s captors less than twenty-four hours to persuade the young Leutnant to join their side. Shortly afterward, aircraft from the DBA dropped hundreds of leaflets over JG 54’s base with a personal appeal from Leutnant von Malapert to surrender.6

During another encounter on September 11, Kapitan Petr Brinko, of 13 1AP/KBF, claimed an Hs 126 recon­naissance airplane, his fourteenth. The next day, Brinko bagged a Ju 88. Two days later, Brinko set out against a German observation balloon, from which artillery was being directed. Brinko hit the balloon’s basket with a salvo of RS rocket projectiles, but his Ishak suddenly
received a direct antiaircraft hit and crashed into a power line, killing the pilot. Petr Brinko was the highest-scoring Soviet ace at the time of his death.

At this point, multiple demands along the entire front line placed a heavy strain on all Luftwaffe units. Having breached the first Soviet defense line around Leningrad, the Ju 87s of StG 2 Immelmann were shifted to the Novgorod area, north of Lake Ilmen, where the North­western Front launched repeated diversionary attacks. On September 14, Hauptmann Emst-Siegfried Steen, the commander of IlL/StG 2, scored a direct hit on the large railway bridge over the Volkhov River at Novgorod, the main Soviet supply line in this sector.

The next day, the Stukas were rushed to the north again, because air reconnaissance had spotted three large supply ships bound for Leningrad on Lake Ladoga. Each vessel carried a thousand tons of wheat. StG 2 appeared before the grain had been unloaded and sank two of the ships.

On September 16, StG 2 was sent out over the Gulf of Finland, where heavy Soviet warships were bombard­ing the German troops outside Leningrad. As he led thirty Ju 87s, Hauptmann Steen spotted the battleship Marat off Leningrad. He immediately radioed an attack order

and commenced diving. The crew of the Marat was caught totally unaware. Before the antiaircraft guns could open fire, a 500-kilogram bomb struck the ship. The Marat steamed into the naval fortress island of Kronstadt to be repaired. Meantime, intercepting Soviet fighters claimed to have shot down four Ju 87s and one Bf 109 escort. StG 2 and JG 54 each registered one loss.

Responding to calls from the ground troops exposed to intensified Soviet air raids, especially the German spear­head and supply columns on the Leningrad-Luga high­way south of Krasnogvardeisk, Major Johanns Trautloft decided to shift his JG 54 from escort missions to fighter sweeps over the Leningrad combat zone on September 17. The evening entry’ in the combat diary of 7./JG 54 notes: “A really successful day.”7 One pilot of this Staffel, Feldwebel Karl Kempf, brought home five victories, his nineteenth through twenty-third. Leutnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann and Unteroffizier Johann Halfmann claimed another two MiG-3s. That day, Soviet ace Mladsbiy Leytenant Yegor Novikov, of 191IAP/7 IAK, was killed in action over the Krasnoye Selo area. He possibly fell prey to Ostermann or Halfmann.

Friday, September 19, was one of the worst days experienced by the inhabitants of Leningrad. The Luftwaffe launched at least six raids against the city it­self, between 0814 and 2300 hours. Soviet fighters and antiaircraft artillery claimed seventeen German bombers shot down, whereas the Kampfgeschwader of Fliegerkorps I recorded two Ju 88s lost, StG 2 lost three Ju 87s, and ZG 26 lost a Bf 110.s On the ground, 442 people were killed or injured when a hospital was hit by two bombs. Two days later, another German bombing raid hit the destroyer Steregushchiy in Kronstadt.

Meanwhile, the declining number of serviceable Ger­man fighters and the increasing demands from the Stukas and Ju 88s for escorts to counter the stiffening Soviet fighter resistance left the VVS in control of the skies over the Leningrad battlefield.

On September 22 Major Trautloft visited the army front lines. Suddenly a soldier next to the JG 54 com­mander cried: “Achtung! Tiefflieger at ten o’clock! Take cover!” Trautloft and the artillery officers dived for the ground as two sections of 1-16 fighters came roaring in at treetop level, spraying the German trenches with ma­chine-gun bullets. Unhurt but covered with mud, the shocked German fighter commander spontanously exclaimed: “Where in hell are our fighters?”9 Just so!

The experience of weathering the plight of the German soldier on the Eastern Front had caused Trautloft him­self to express one of the most common questions in the German language on the Eastern Front during World War 11.

Not least due to the relentless VVS strafing attacks, the Red Army managed to force Hitler to abandon his plans to capture Leningrad. General Erich von Manstein, one of the ablest German Army commanders, who had led LYT Panzer Corps through the Baltic states, was posted to the south to assume command of the German Elev­enth Army for the assault on the Crimea. Panzergruppe 4 and Fliegerkorps VIII were transferred from the Leningrad front to the central combat zone, where they were intended to participate in the upcoming offensive against Moscow’.

Another major cause for the German setback was the bombardment from the warships of KBF based in Kronstadt. To neutralize this threat once and for all, StG 2 Immelmann remained in the northern combat zone until the end of September.

Loaded with 1,000-kilogram armor-piercing bombs, StG 2 took off for Kronstadt at 0845 on September 23. Intense antiaircraft fire, “virtually blackening the entire sky,” according to Oberleutnant Hans-Ulrich Rudcl of IlI./StG 2, met the dive-bombers and their escorts as they approached at 15,000 feet flight altitude. While attacking the cruiser Kirov, Hauptmann Steen’s Ju 87 received a direct hit and crashed into the water just beside the ship. Nevertheless, the remaining Stuka pilots defied all opposition and pressed home their attack. Oberleutnant Lothar Lau, the StG 2 technical officer, dove straight against the battleship Marat and managed to place his bomb directly on the deck, causing a huge fire. Another bomb caused the ammunition of the 30.5cm forward turrets to explode, with the result that the entire forecastle was blown off the great ship. Next, Oberleutnant Hans-Ulrich Rudel scored a direct hit, caus­ing an enormous explosion that put the 23,600-ton battle­ship out of action for several months. And Leutnant Egbert Jaekel scored a direct hit on the flotilla leader Minsk, causing it to sink. Apart from this, the destroyer Steregushchiy and submarine M-74 were sunk, while other bomb hits damaged the battleship Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya and the destroyers Silnyy and Grozyashchiy.

As they turned away from the antiaircraft zone after the raid, the German planes were intercepted by large

Подпись:formations of Soviet fighters. In the ensuing dogfight, the Soviet pilots claimed ten enemy aircraft shot down, " but 13 OIAE/KBF lost two pilots killed and one wounded. Soviet antiaircraft batteries claimed another five German planes destroyed, but German loss statistics note that six Luftflotte I aircraft were shot down on September 23, 1941—two Ju 87s, two Ju 88s, one Bf 109, and one Bf 110. On the other hand, JG 54 reported seventeen victories this day.

The Battle of Leningrad had reached a decisive point, requiring the last resources of both sides. On September 24, Leytcnant Vasiliy (iolubev and Mladshiv Leytenant Dmitriy Tatarcnko, the only pilots remaining of the group of six from 1 З OIAE that had been stationed on Komendantskiy Airfield in Leningrad eight days earlier, each carried out eight sorties. Led by Starshiy Leytcnant Aleksandr Avdcyev. a formation ol fighter-bombers from 153 1AP fell upon an enemy motorized column on the eastern outskirts of Leningrad and shot up more than ten vehicles.

With the Germans making only slight progress out­side Leningrad, the main effort of the VVS was shifted to the area south of bike Ilmen, where the Northwest­ern Front was tied up in a desperate fight to defend the main supply route from Moscow. On September 24 at least forty-one Soviet aerial attacks were mounted against the 8th Panzer Division, forcing it: to retreat.

Countering these air at tacks, 11L/JG 27 suffered yet
another heavy loss on September 25: “Ratas and ground-attack aircraft were attacking,” wrote Hans Ring and Werner Girbig in the chronicle of JG 27. “The Gruppe is airborne to meet the enemy. As the Messerschmitts land following this combat, Oberfeldwebel | Franz 1 Blazytko is missing. Later, it was found out that this outstanding airman and victor in twenty-nine aerial combats had fallen into Russian captivity.”11 The Soviet fighter pilot Vasiliy Golubev describes what most likely was Franz Blazytko’s last fight. On September 25, Leytcnant Mikhail Klimenko led two 11-2 Shturmoviks (the only aircraft remaining of an entire ShAP) on a ground-attack mission in the Ivanovo area. Fighter protection w as pro­vided by the “last two” Ishaks, which w’ere piloted by Leytenant Vasiliy Golubev and Mladshiv Leytenant Dmitriy Tatarenko, of 13 OIAE/ KBF. The Shturmoviks flew – at treelop level, with the I – 16s positioned roughly a thousand feet above them as top cover. Suddenly four Bf 109s fell upon them.

The German fighters split into Rotten, one attacking the fighter cover and the other going after Klimenko’s Ilyushins. Mladshiy Leytenant: Tatarcnko was presented with an easy target as the latter Bf 109s came diving just beneath him. The first burst from his guns was a direct hit. The leading Bf 109 never pulled out of its final dive and hit the ground.

Having seen their leader shot down, the three remaining Messerschmitts left the Il-2s and turned against the I-16s. A sudden AAA barrage saved Tatarenko and Golubev. Meanwhile, the Shturmoviks were able to reach the target area and started attacking. This was enough to persuade t he German fighter pilots to disengage and leave the scene as fast as they could. The antiaircraft guns, however, were not altogether a blessing to the Soviets. Leytcnant Klimenko’s 11-2 received a near-miss and later belly-landed in friendly territory’.12

While the Soviets strengthened the defenses in the northern combat zone day by day, the return of Fliegerkorps VIII to Luftflotte 2 considerably weakened the striking capacity of the Luftwaffe in the northern combat zone. The last unit scheduled to leave the Leningrad area was StG 2, u’hich in the meantime con­tinued to appear daily over Kronstadt from September

image137Подпись: Oberfeldwebel Franz Blazytko receives warm congratulations following air combat on September 15,1941, in which he scored his twenty-eighth victory. To the envy of many officers in III./JG 27, Blazytko reached the second-ranking position in personal successes among the fighter pilots of JG 27 during Operation Barbarossa. Ten days after this photo was taken this outstanding noncommissioned officer was shot down, possibly by 13 OlAE’s Mladshiy Leytenant Dmitriy Tatarenko, and ended up in Soviet captivity. Although he had scored thirty victories, he was never awarded with a Knight’s Cross, which officers with similar tallies received as a matter of course. (Photo: Roba.) Soviet aircraft over the battlefield to the south of Lake Ilmen. The next day, ll./JG 54 claimed twelve MiG-3s shot down against no losses. Among the successful pilots this day were Oberleutnant Hans Philipp, who achieved his seventieth and seventy-first, and Oberleutnant Spate, who brought home his fortieth through forty-third. Spate’s final kill that day, a MiG-3 downed at 1635 hours, was the thousandth Soviet airplane claimed by JG 54 since June 22, 1941. At this point JG 54 counted twenty-six pilots with ten or more victories. Oberleutnants 25 to September 28. Hauptmann Ernst Kupfer, of I./StG 2, displayed an almost fanatical determination to destroy the Soviet naval vessels during these final raids. After Kupfer scored a hit on a cruiser on September 28, his Ju 87 was attacked by Soviet fighters. His airplane was badly shot up and he made a forced landing at the fighter airfield at Krasnogvardeisk. A few hours later,

Kupfer returned to Kronstadt in another Ju 87. This time, his aircraft was hit by AAA and he had to make a second forced landing. On his third mission against the same target that day, Kupfer’s Stuka received a direct hit in the engine. The dive-bomber crashed in a forest, and the pilot and radio operator were seri­ously injured. Two months later, Ernst Kupfer was awarded the Knight’s Cross, and following eight surgical operations, the stubborn Stuka pilot returned to front-line service and flew a total of six hundred dive-bomber missions before he was finally killed in a flying accident. Fol­lowing the shift of II./JG 53 from Luftflotte 1 to Luftflotte 2, the entire responsibility for fighter cover in the northern combat zone fell to Major Johannes Trautloft’s JG 54 Grunhcrz.

Thus the last daylight bombing raid against Leningrad was carried out on September 29. During a combat between I-153s and I1I./JG 54 over Leningrad on September 30, Major Trautloft lost one of his most able Gruppenkommandeure,

Hauptmann Arnold Lignitz, of I1I./JG 54, victor in twenty-five engagements. It is believed that an RS-82 rocket fired by an 1-153 hit Lignitz’s Bf 109. Lignitz bailed out and was taken pris­oner, but he did not survive his captivity; he became one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the German hun­ger blockade against Leningrad during the coming winter.

According to Hans-Ekkehard Bob, who flew as an Oberleutnant with JG 54 in 1941, combat morale remained “sky high” among the Griinhcrz pilots. On the first day of October, Oberleutnant Wolfgang Spate, the Staffelkapitan of 5./JG 54, knocked down two

Подпись: Two fighter pilots’ graves outside an airfield occupied by JG 54 Grunherz in the Leningrad sector. (Photo: Hofer.) image139Подпись:Philipp and Spate stood at the peak, closely followed by Leutnant Josef Pohs, who had forty-three, and Hauptmann Franz Eckerle, Oberleutnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann, and Oberleutnant Hans-Ekkehard Bob, each with thirty-seven.

Stubborn air combat over Leningrad continued daily for the next two and a half years. From July to Septem­ber 1941, the Soviet fighter pilots assigned to the defense of Leningrad were credited with the destruction of 333 German aircraft.

The airmen of General-Mayor Aleksandr Novikov’s WS-Northwestern Zone had put up an impressive dis­play while almost being bled white. During the first stage of the war there were more self-sacrificing cases of taran in this area than in any other sector. According to VVS statistics, 2,692 Soviet aircraft had been lost in the North­western Zone by September 30, 1941.

With a growing emphasis placed on the defense of other sectors, the Stavka had allocated only limited replacements to the air units in the North­western Zone. In spite of numerous losses, WS-North western Front had received only 450 replacement aircraft by the end of September, including approximately 100 Il-2s and 90 LaGG-3s. Having regis­tered a total of 1,283 combat losses (in­cluding 749 in the air and with an addi­tional 211 aircraft receiving serious battle damage by September 30), WS-North – western Front was reduced to the equiva­lent of only slightly more than a Diviziya, mustering a mere 191 aircraft on Sep tember 22, 1941.” In 7 1AK/PVO, the number of pilots went down from 445 on July 1 to only 88 on October I. M Con­trary to the buildup taking place in the central combat zone, there were obvious signs of withering combat morale among the Soviet airmen in the Leningrad area during the fall of 1941. Due to accumu­lated losses during three months of unre­mitting combat activity, and with fight­ing spirit diminishing among the surviv­ing airmen, no fewer than eleven avia­tion regiments of W’S-Leningrad Front had to be with­drawn from combat for rest and refitting during Septem­ber. Two complete Aviadivizii, 2 BAD and 41 BAD, were virtually annihilated by the end of the month.

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.”

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


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


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.


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.

Typhoon Against Moscow


n late September 1941, the situation looked grim for the Soviet Union. Most of the Red Army had van­ished from the Earth. Millions of soldiers had been lost, 2.5 million of them ending up in German prison camps, where hundreds of thousands would perish dur­ing the coming months. According to German sources, the Red Army had lost 19,000 tanks (of which 8,000 had been captured by the Germans) and 30,000 artillery pieces (of which 11,000 had fallen into enemy hands). (These figures are largely supported by official Soviet records, according to which the Red Army lost 20,500 tanks and an astonishing 101,000 artillery pieces and mortars.) By September 30, Luftwaffe claims had mounted to 14,500 Soviet aircraft destroyed, of which approximately 5,000 had been shot down in aerial com­bat. At this point Hitler launched what his Soviet coun­terpart had feared most since July: the final major offen­sive against Moscow.

Before opening the powerful offensive against Mos­cow on September 30, 1941, the German Army Group Center had been considerably strengthened, the bulk of tank units on the Eastern Front having been hastily trans­ferred to its command. Luftflotte 2, back at full nominal strength with the return of Fliegerkorps VTI1 from the Leningrad sector and reinforced by units from Luftflotte 4, was tasked to provide the ground-assault forces with air support. The operation was given the illustrative code name Typhoon (Taifun).

Operation Typhoon was planned to take place in two stages. During the opening stage, Panzergruppcn (soon to be renamed Panzer armies) 3 and 4, covered by the infantry of the Fourth and Ninth armies, were placed

Подпись: After three months of war, the majority of the Soviet combat aircraft that had been on hand in the western parts of the USSR on June 22,1941 had either been shot down, destroyed on the ground, or deserted during the retreat. This photo shows the remains of downed Su-2. (Photo: Pavlichenko.) on the highway to Moscow to attack to the north and south of Smolensk, aim­ing at the city of Vyazma, in the hope of surrounding the entire Soviet Western Front. At the same time, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s Panzergruppe 2 was to strike from the Konotop-Romny sector, in the south, and advance in a northeast­erly direction. The aim of this operation was to envelop General-Leytenant Andrey Yeremenko’s Bryansk Front, which had been severely crippled by Guderian’s troops in the Battle of Kiev.

Following the planned annihilation of the Western and Bryansk fronts,, the second stage of Operation Typhoon was to be aimed at the direct capture of Mos­cow. The ancient city’ was not only the Soviet capital, it was also he most impor­tant Soviet communications hub. The Germans assumed that the seizure of Moscow would deal a death blow to Soviet morale and ability to organize resistance and from which the USSR would not be able to recover.

Severely handicapping the Germans were time and resources. The unexpectedly prolonged and costly battles in the Ukraine, the Baltics, and White Russia (Belorus) had placed the attackers in a most difficult situation. The Wehrmacht had suffered half a million casualties between June 22 and the end of September.

A total of 1,603 German aircraft had been destroyed, and a further 1,028 had been damaged on the Eastern Front between June 22 and September 27. Indeed, the Luftwaffe’s losses during the three first months of Operation Barbarossa were higher than during the Battle of Britain, where it sustained 1,385 combat losses from July to October 1940.15 Recently, a number of Luftwaffe units had been pulled out of action due to the severe losses. Among them were the two Zerstorergruppen of ZG 26 and the Bf 110-equipped SKG 210. These units had achieved impressive results: ZG 26 claimed to have destroyed about 1,000 Soviet aircraft in the air and on the ground, plus 300 vehicles and 250 tanks; and SKG 210 was credited with the destruction of 519 Soviet air­craft, 1,700 vehicles, and 83 tanks. But their own losses rendered these Gruppen unbattleworthy after three months of combat. The loss of the Bf 110 units would be detrimental to the close-support missions of the Luftwaffe.

Even though Luftflotte 2 had been reinforced by Stab, II., and IH./JG 3, plus a fresh Jagdgruppe (l./JG 52) brought in from the western Europe, the replacements did not make good the accumulated losses. At the open­ing of Operation Typhoon, the strength of Luftflotte 2 had dropped from 1,200 aircraft in June 1941 to 549, of which no more than 158 were bombers.

The situation was even worse on the Soviet side. As Operation Typhoon was about to commence, only 800,000 soldiers and 770 tanks stood at the disposal of the Soviet Western, Reserve, and Bryansk fronts, while the Germans attacked with 1.5 million soldiers and 1,100 tanks. The only—and not unimportant-advantage held by the defenders was the time they had bought. Opera­tion Typhoon was opened just ahead of the notorious Russian fall, with its heavy rainfall, which would make most roads almost impassable, thus creating a terrible obstacle to any major military operation. The Germans were fully aware of this and hence rushed the commence­ment of Typhoon, thus providing the forces allocated to it with too little preparatory time.

The offensive was initiated by heavy Stuka and bomber attacks against Red Army installations. Concen­trated tank spearheads roared through the thin defense lines at full speed, advancing on dry roads in sunny weather. This was Blitzkrieg at its worst. Wherever any serious resistance was made, Stukas swarmed from the skies. The entire Soviet defense collapsed during the first
forty-eight hours. During the first day, Generaloberst Guderian’s Panzergruppe 2 advanced fifty miles south of the city of Bryansk.

The Soviet commanders called in all the air support available. The air was the only field on which the Soviets could compare numerically to the Germans. Five days prior to the offensive, the commander of the Western Front, General-Polkovnik Ivan Konev, had desperately asked the Stavka for reinforcements, because all that remained of the VVS in this sector following the intense commitment of his air force during the battle of Yelnya were 373 planes. His badly mauled air units immediately were backed up by five DBA Divizii and several aviation regiments from the Moscow Military District, detached from the 6 ІАК/PV’O and special GKO reserve air groups. By this time the GKO had formed half a dozen reserve air groups, each consisting of four to six aviation regiments, directly subordinate to the Stavka. Thus, on October 1, the number of VVS combat aircraft opposing Army Group Center had been brought up to 863 (578 bombers and 285 fighters), of which 301 bombers and 201 fighters were serviceable.16

During these desperate days, the VVS provided its enemy with a series of unpleasant surprises, including what would become a benchmark of the Eastern Front, the flying night intruders: “From October 1, special night – bomber regiments equipped with obsolete machines were formed in accordance with GKO instructions. Of the first night-bomber regiments planned and prepared for operations in October and November, seventy-one were equipped with the fragile U-2 biplanes, thirty-two with R-5 and R-Z light-bomber biplanes, and five with SB bomb­ers. Eventually the U-2 (Po-2) was to become the stan­dard workhorse of the night-bomber regiments, with pilots making their way individually to the designated target area at heights of between 400 and 800 meters with engine throttles back to shower grenades or small bombs on any light or sign of activity.”1′

Подпись: At the onset of Operation Typhoon, clear skies dominated, thus enabling Luftflotte 2 to launch all its forces in a maximum effort against the elements of the Soviet Western, Reserve, and Bryansk fronts. During the first five days of October 1941, Luftflotte 2 carried out more than 4,000 sorties in support of Army Group Center. (Photo: Batcher.)

The efficiency of these nocturnal intruding U-2s— nicknamed "sewing machines” due to their characteristic engine sound—was proven not only by the diversion of Luftwaffe fighters to night operations but also by the fact that the Germans later plagiarized this tactic on the Eastern Front, forming the Nachtschlachtgruppen,

“flying museums” equipped with obsolete aircraft such as Fw 58s, Ar 66s, He 45s, and He 46s.

In daylight, the Soviet aircraft launched formations of three to six aircraft in incessant low-level attacks against the Panzer spearheads. Already, after the first day of the offensive, the German fighter bases had been left too far behind the forwardmost Panzer spearheads. This was one of the Blitzkrieg dilemmas: To sever the enemy’s retro­grade supply lines, the tank columns had to rush far ahead of the infantry, leaving large numbers of Red Army units behind in a far-from-cleansed area.

The VVS was quick to exploit this situation, striking at the advancing tank formations at places where there were no German fighters present and making a quick escape before the Bf 109s appeared. Flying in at altitudes of 75 to 150 feet, these aircraft climbed from 300 to 600 feet shortly before arriving at their target, and then car­ried out swift diving attacks.

The new Soviet twin-engine Pe-2 bomber; its heavy fighter version, the Pe-3; and the 11-2 Shturmovik began appearing in large numbers over the front area for the first time. In the Pe-2, the Soviets possessed a modern bomber quite comparable to the best German types. Josef Stalin once stated that “the 11-2 is as essential to the Red Army as air and bread.”

One of the first successful air strikes by U-2s on the Moscow front was carried out by 74 ShAP when four of its pilots surprised a motorized column on the road from Orel to Mtsensk, and destroyed fifteen armored vehicles and three gasoline trucks in a low-level bombing pass. As a result of incidents such as this, the Second Panzer Army, having reached Orel on October 3, filed sore complaints with the Luftwaffe: “Own fighter escort lacking due to too large distance.”18

The 11-2 Shturmovik also gave the Soviet ground – attack pilots a completely different chance in air combat. Unteroffizier Walter Todt of 1./JG 52 describes the 11-2’s ability to withstand even heavy cannon fire: “Dur­ing a return flight from the front area, Lcutnant [Karl] Rung and I came across a lone 11-2. We attacked and the Ivan dived in the direction of Moscow. He was too low to permit us to attack him from below’, where we could have hit his Achilles heel, the radiator. We fired from both sides, aiming at the tailfin, which flew apart. But the 11-2 kept flying! Suddenly, light antiaircraft fire was thrown up against us, and we had to disengage at tree – top level. These birds were a most difficult target. W’hen you attacked them from behind, the shells simply bounced off their springy plywood fuselage. And the pilot was seated in an armored tub!”19

As the Soviet lines of communication broke down following the rapid advance of the Panzer units deep into the Soviet lines and the devastating blows by the Luftwaffe, the Red Army came to rely completely on air reconnaissance. Early on October 2, Soviet reconnaissance aircraft spotted heavy concentrations of German armored columns ten to fifteen miles to the west of Belyye Berega, southeast of Bryansk. This was the German XXIV Army Corps, advancing toward Orel, threatening to cut off the Bryansk Front from the Southwestern Front At noon, forty Pe-3s of 95 IAP and sixty fighters of 27 IAP and 120 LAP were dispatched against this target. The twin – engine Petlaykovs struck first, followed by rocket-firing 1-153 Chaykas. The entire raid, lasting no more than thirty minutes, caused outrage among the German troop commanders—even if the Soviet claims of thirty trucks and forty-three tanks destroyed by the Pe-3s were exag­gerated. All the Soviet planes managed to escape before German fighters appeared.

On October 3, one of the major aces of JG 51, Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Hoffmann, with sixty-three con­firmed victories, was missing following an air engage­ment near Shatalovo. It is possible that he fell prey to 233 IAP’s Starshiy Leytenant Sergeyev, who claimed a Bf 109 (his first victory) in the same area.20 In total, 233 LAP was credited with seven aerial victories—three Ju 88s, three Ju 87s, and one Bf 109—on October 3.21

The harshest strikes from the air were dealt by the Luftwaffe. On October 3, the units under command of Luftflotte 2 conducted 984 combat sorties and reported the destruction of 679 enemy vehicles and the serious disruption of movements by Soviet troops. Early on Oc­tober 4, forty-eight Stukas and thirty-two medium bomb­ers were dispatched against rail lines and troop move­ments in the Sumy-Lgov-Kursk area, where they severed communications between the Bryansk and the South­western fronts.

Despite having sustained paralyzing blows during the first days of the Moscow offensive, Soviet resistance mounted on October 4. On that day, the famous com­mander of the Second Panzer Army, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, narrowly escaped death in a strafing attack by Pe-3s. Meanwhile, the German Second Army, operating

on the northern flank of Guderian’s force in a pinccr movement aimed at surrounding the Bryansk Front, was confronted with a powerful counterattack from armored forces with strong air support. A total of 152 dive-bomber and 259 medium bomber sorties were carried out against this counterattack. These raids were followed up by strikes by 202 Stukas and 188 medium bombers against long supply columns in the Bryansk-Spas-Demensk area. The Luftwaffe airmen claimed the destruction of 22 tanks (including 4 of the very heavy KV type), 450 motor vehicles, and 3 fuel depots, and they completely routed the Soviet counteroffensive.

The full dimension of the impending disaster was not discovered by the Soviets until it was too late. On October 5, a Pe-2 reconnaissance crew-discovered a ten – mile-long German tank column—the main body of the Fourth Panzer Army—moving eastward on an axis south of Vyazma, halfway betw’een Smolensk and Moscow. Although two further reconnaissance missions from 120 LAP confirmed this report, it was dismissed as “false” by the Soviet High Command. Polkovnik Nikolay Sbytov, the VVS commander in the Moscow’ Military District, who had forwarded the report, was interrogated bv the NKVD and accused of being a “panic-monger.” Under “pressure” brought to bear upon him on instructions by Peoples Commissar for Internal Affairs Lavrenty Beria, Polkovnik Sbytov eventually withdrew his report. On the following day, October 6, German troops swarmed into the city of Yukhnov, 110 miles southwest of Mos­cow, without encountering any ground opposition. Sud­denly the Stavka realized that the pincers were closing behind the bulk of the Red Army forces charged with defending Moscow.

All VVS units were launched to this sector to com­pensate for what the ground troops had failed to do. Early on October 6, U-2, l-15bis, and R-5 night intruders took off in the fog and attacked the German Fourth Army in the Yukhnov sector. Later that day, 1-153s of 120 1AP, SB-2s and Pe-2s of 173 BAP and 321 BAP, R-5s of 606 LBAP, and Il-2s of 502 ShAP continued the attack. The Soviet airmen managed to destroy a bridge over the Ugra River, but they wrere met with strong enemy fighter opposition. By now the complaints from the German front-line troops had compelled the Ger­man fighters to use advance airstrips in areas not com­pletely cleared of Soviet ground troops. These forward bases were used for landing and takeoff during daytime, and supplies w’ere brought in by air. Before dusk, the fighters returned to their main base in the rear again.

Following the capture of Orel on October 3, strong fighter units were deployed to the large air base there. The nine Jagdgruppen of Luftflotte 2 soon were able to regain control of the skies. Hauptmann Gordon Gollob’s ll./JG 3 was particularly successful against the new’ Pe – 2s, claiming four of 173 BAP’s Petlaykovs on October 6, of w’hich two fell before the guns of Hauptmann Gollob’s Bf 109-his fifty-second and fifty-third victories. The 215 ShAP 11-2 piloted by Leytenant Aleksandr Novikov reportedly carried out a “fire taran” against German ground troops after it was shot down in flames.2i

On October 6 and 7, Luftflotte 2 launched nearly 1,400 sorties. Attacks on October 7 alone resulted in (according to German sources) the destruction of 20 tanks, 34 artillery pieces, several bunkers, and 650 vehicles of various kinds.

Just as during the two previous deadly threats against Russia in history—from the Swedes in the eighteenth century and the French in the nineteenth century— the invader reached the pinnacle peak of his success exactly at a point when a shift in weather caused a major deterioration to his situation. During the night of Octo­ber 6-7, the first snow’ fell in the Moscow area. Early on


One of several thousand Soviet aircraft shot down in 1941. This II-2 Shturmovik, which fell prey to Hauptmann Gordon Gollob of ll./JG 3, descends toward earth with its oil tank fully ablaze. It is obvious that the pilot of this aircraft was not experienced enough to protect the vulnerable belly of the II-2 by flying at extremely low altitude. Caught from below, the II-2 was easy prey to Luftwaffe fighter pilots. (Photo: Gollob.) the seventh, the ground was covered with a white coat­ing. A few hours later, a thaw set in, turning the dirt roads and front-line airstrips into muddy quagmires.

But the Soviet Western Front could not be saved. On October 7, the German Third and Fourth Panzer armies linked up in the vicinity of Vyazma, thus sur­rounding General-Polkovnik Konev’s Western Front to the east of Smolensk. Konyev was immediately relieved of command and General Armii Georgiy Zhukov, one of the outstanding Soviet military commanders, was brought from Leningrad to take command of the Western Front.

The WS of the Soviet Fifth Army, in charge of the Mozhaysk defense line on the highway to Moscow to the east of Vyazma, was hastily reinforced with 41 IAP and 172 IAP, equipped with MiG-3s, LaGG-3s, and Yak-ls. But they could not prevent the disaster, nor were they able to drive away the large formations of Luftwaffe air­craft or protect their own bombers. Despite deteriorating weather, with low clouds and ground fog that prevented any major operation by the Luftwaffe—only 139 sorties were carried out on October 9—the southern flank of Army Group Center managed to close the pincers behind three armies of the Bryansk Front during the following days.

Between October 2 and October 10, 1./JG 52 recorded fifty-eight aerial victories against seven losses.23 Counted among the Soviet losses on October 10 was one of the most daring pilots in 11 IAP/6 LAK, Kapitan Konstantin Titenkov, credited with six kills, including one taran.

Practically the entire Red Army in front of Moscow – 40 percent of the entire Soviet military—had been envel­oped and threatened with annihilation. During the following days, weather proved to be a not altogether reliable ally of the Soviets. W’ith clear skies on October 10, Luftflotte 2 was able to mount 537 sorties against forces of the Western Front that attempted to break out. During these strikes, 450 vehicles and 150 artillery pieces were reported destroyed.24

Reinforced by four bomber regiments from the Cen­tral Asian Military District on October 10, the Moscow Military District launched an all-out air-base offensive from October 11 to October 18. The Soviet air offensive was initiated just at a point when Luftflotte 2 was becoming successively weakened. Early in October, 11. and Ill./JG 53 had been pulled out of combat for rest and recuperation. Shortly afterward, 1I./JG 3 was trans­ferred to the Crimean sector, in the South.


General Armii Georgiy Zhukov was one of the ablest Soviet army commanders of World War II. He served in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War and rapidly rose to high command. In 1939 he led the successful operation at Khalkhin-Gol, which prevented the Japanese from occupying Mongolia. In January 1941 Zhukov was appointed Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army. When he was assigned to organize the defense of Leningrad in September 1941, the transport aircraft that flew him into the beleaguered city narrowly escaped being shot down by Bf 109s of JG 54. Shortly afterwards, Zhukov assumed command of the Western Front and led the successful counterattack that relieved the capital from German threats. Zhukov prepared the Stalingrad operation in 1942- 43 and finally directed the attack on Berlin in 1945. He received the German capitulation and was appointed Minister of Defense of the USSR in 1955. Two years later, however, he was unexpectedly removed from his post. Zhukov passed away in 1974, at the age of seventy-eight. Apart from the two leading fighter aces, Aleksandr Pokryshkin and Ivan Kozhedub, Georgiy Zhukov was the only man awarded as a Hero of the Soviet Union three times during World War II. (Photo: Authors’ Collection.)

On October 11, despite poor weather conditions, 74 ShAP dispatched twelve Shturmoviks—all that remained of that unit—against the large forward German air base at Orel. Kapitan Georgiy Zimin, one of six fighter pilots of 42 LAP acting as fighter cover, described the raid:

Six MiG-3s of 42 IAP took off on a mission to escort twelve Il-2s. The Shturmoviks were tasked with a strike on the airfield near the city of Orel. The fighter’s had to escort them, and if opportunity should arise, to participate in the strike. The cover en route was organized as follows: One fighter sec­tion led by Kapitan Morozov formed a close escort group to the Shturmoviks, while the section led by the group leader, the author of these lines, formed an assault group and flew in front of and higher than the Shturmoviks, in order to detect the main concentration of the enemy aircraft and direct the Shturmoviks by diving in this direction.

I saw the main concentration on the airfield – more than 200 bombers, standing wing to wing— and signalled “attention” and then started diving. The Shturmoviks reformed in right echelon and formed a circle turning to the left, heading toward the mass of the enemy aircraft, and started to at­tack them one by one, aiming individually. Dur­ing the first pass, the Shturmoviks^ dropped their bombs, during the second they fired rockets while diving, and during a third pass they attempted to destroy the remaining planes with cannon fire, pulling out of the dive at extremely low altitude.

As the main group of our aircraft approached the airfield, four Me 109s were scrambled. Our escort fighters attacked and destroyed them dur­ing takeoff. At this moment, I noticed five Ju 52s approaching the airfield from the south at an alti­tude of 200 meters. We bounced them and were able to shoot down all five.”25

Also on October 11, Soviet aircraft raided the air­field at Dugino-just as the inspector of the Fighter Air Arm, Oberst Werner Molders, arrived for an inspection.

During these operations, the Soviets had the advan­tage of raiding air bases where they themselves had been stationed only a few weeks earlier. Hence the attacking air crews had a good picture of the targets they were sent against. An NCO from the ground crew of 1./JG 52, stationed at Dugino during these days, wrote bitterly: “October 12. . . . Several Russian bombers attacked us today again. They set fire to a fuel depot, and this in an outrageously brazen manner which clearly showed that they were well acquainted w’ith our airfield.”26

Apart from a few’ lucky strikes and some attacks by particularly skillful pilots, the majority of these raids w’ere characterized by poor bomb-aiming—the direct and indi­rect results of the punishment the VVS units had taken at the hands of German fighters. This is clearly illus­trated in the following German account

Someone cries: “Air raid! Take cover!” Drow’sy

with sleep, we abandon the truck and rush toward a piece of woodland, w’here we seek cover from the Russian bombers. We watched as they opened their bomb bays. Their ‘blessings from the sky" went down several hundred meters away. This scene was repeated over and over again on this day. . . .

Airfield Kalinin-North. . . . Suddenly, there’s another attack by a large formation of bombers and Ratas. Everyone ran into cover. 1 searched for refuge in one of the destroyed hangars. A number of German aircraft were airborne, and they frus­trated the entire raid. Several bright fireworks in the sky told us that our fighters did a good job.27

The air-base offensive brought further heavy losses to already crippled VVS units. Among the airmen killed was Mladshiy Leytenant Dmitriy Kokorev, of 124 IAP, who had four victories to his credit, including a Bf 110 brought dow’n by ramming on the first day of war. He was shot down on October 12. On that day, the MiG-3 fighters of 16 IAP/PVO had a difficult encounter with the Bf 109s of Hauptmann Karl-Heinz Leesmann’s 1./ JG 52. As they charged a group of Ju 88s, the Soviet pilots were bounced by I./JG 52. Mladshiy Leytenant Ivan Shumilov, one of the Soviet pilots participating in this engagement, later recalled: “Suddenly two

Messerschmitts approached our formation___ [Mladshiy

Leytenant Ivan] Zabolotnyy singled out one of [the Ju 88s] and attacked. But the Germans always took the advantage of such single attacks. They charged him from behind with blazing guns. Although Zabolotnyy managed to destroy one of the German planes, he was himself se­verely hit and had to bail out. He returned to the unit three days later. The victory he had scored—it was in the vicinity of Kamenka, close to Maloyaroslavets—was his first.”28 Also on October 12, an 11-2 pilot hit a Bf 109 with his guns in the air east of Medyn. The German fighter lost one wing and crashed, burning on impact, and kill­ing the pilot, Leutnant Joachim Hacker of 7./JG 51. Hacker was credited with thirty-two aerial kills.

October 12,1941, also saw’ the American-built Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk single-engine fighter draw its first blood on the Eastern Front. The first P-40s delivered to the USSR were shipped directly to 126 IAP, a crack unit operating in the Moscow combat zone. But, just as with the British Hurricane, the Tomahawk was far from an excellent fighter plane. Although superior to the

image144Подпись: Spanish pilots in the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front. In return for the decisive contribution provided by the German airmen of the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco assigneed some of his nation's best fighter pilots to the offensive against Moscow. Forming 15.(Span)/JG 27, the Spanish pilots commenced operations in early October 1941. The seventeen pilots of 15.(Span.)/JG 27 were credited a total of 79 victories curing the Civil War; the Staffelkapitan, Comandsnte Angel Salas Larrazaoal, alone had a total score of l6-";'3. The operations on tne Eastern Front, however, did not lead to any great successes by the Spaniards. Ten ente Luis Alcocer Mpreno-Abe la was killed on the staffers very first mission, on Octccer 2,1941. After achieving ter aerial victories—including six credcited :o Comandante -amazabal—against s x losses, 15. (Span.yJG 27 returned to Spain m January •942. (Photo; Roba.)Hurricane and roughly equivalent to the Bf I09E, it proved inferior to the Bf 109F. Not least due ro frus­trating technical and logistical problems, the equip­

ment transition of 126 IAP from MiG – 3s to Tomahawks resulted in a decline in morale.

By October 13, the Western Front in the northern pocket had been almost completely annihilated by Luftwaffe attacks/" The confused battle to the west, northwest, and southwest of Moscow during these days made an appraisal of the combat situation almost impossible. A state of almost total chaos reigned. The entire area was a huge battlefield with­out any fixed front lines.

On October 13, the commander of 180 LAP, Kapitan A. P. Sergeyev, and his adjutant, Starshiy Leytenant Khlusovich, landed their Mi(»-3s at Mikhailovo Air­drome—which was occupied by the enemy. Khlusovich managed to take off at the last minute, but the commander failed to do so and was killed.

Oberlcutnant Friedrich Lang, the Staffelkapitan of l./Std 2, recalls a rare incident, at his billeting during one of these days:

The construction of a runway had been begun by the Russians. The half-completed w ork blocked much of the airfield for takeoffs and landings.


The f rsl U. S.-buiit Curtiss P-4C1 Tomahawk fighters to reach the Soviet Union arrived with a Murmansk-bound convoy iff the fall of ‘9^1 and were immediately de ivered to 125 IAP cf 6 .‘AK/PVO for in tne defense of Moscow. (Photo; Seidl.)


Well hidden under the trees of a Russian forest, a U-2 light bomber undergoes maintenance. The Soviet decision to deploy U-2 trainers and R-5- and R-Z biplanes in the role of harassment bombers over German rear areas at night proved to be quite successful. The Polikarpov U-2 (later redesignated Po-2) was nicknamed ‘Sewing machine" by the Germans due to its characteristic engine sound. The U-2 was one of the most-produced aircraft in the world, In all, 32,711 U-2s/Po-2s were delivered by the Soviet aircraft industry between 1929 and 1949. Additional numbers were manufactured on license by Poland under the designation CSS-13. More than half pf the 19,993 U-2s/Po-2s produced during World War II were delivered from State Aircraft Production Plant No, 169 in Kazan. (Photo: Grubich.)

Mounds of earth and mud were severe obstruc­tions to the operations of our aircraft. . . .

We were billeted into some small wooden houses in a village around three kilometers from the airfield. We, the officers of the 1st Staffel, took possession of such a house, which was made up of an anteroom, a large room with a baking stove, a smaller room, and a chamber. The grandmother of the house slept in the stove room together with her four to eight kids. . . .

During one of the last days of our stay at this house, we returned from the airfield earlier than usual because of a heavy snowfall. The woman came to meet us and seemed more excited than ever. From the flow of words that came over her lips, we could understand that her dear husband, who definitely was no Communist, had returned

home. He had been left in the Vyazma pocket and had made it through the woods until he arrived at his village. We barely had made the woman understand that we understood her before she flung the door open. A man dashed into the house, threw himself on his knees, and attempted to kiss my tunic. To us, his flow of words appeared as nothing but an incomprehensible sound effect. We adopted ourselves to the shining faces of the family and I patted the man on his shoulder and said some­thing, which he didn’t understand anyway. The per­formance was over and he dashed out of the room, in the same way as he had arrived, beaming with joy, followed by his family. We never saw him again.30

On October 18, the Soviets lost another of their most experienced airmen on the Moscow front: Starshiy

Leytenant Vasiliy Khitrin, who was credited with seven vitories. When his 1-16 was damaged by antiaircraft fire over the front lines, Khitrin attempted to bring it back to base at low altitude. But during the return flight, one of the Ishak’s wings broke off. The airplane plunged to the ground, and Khitrin was killed.

The annihilation of the two southern pockets of the Moscow front on October 17 and 20 was the climax of Operation Typhoon. The German armies rounded up 673,000 prisoners and sent them to a confinement from which few would return alive. The total losses sustained by the armies of the Soviet Western, Reserve, and Bryansk fronts between September 30 and December 4, 1941, numbered 514,300 soldiers killed, wounded, missing, or captured. Nevertheless, instead of leading to a German victory, which could have been expected, these encircle­ment battles in fact marked the turning point of the Battle of Moscow.

The dirt roads where heavy tank units had passed soon became almost impassable streams of deep mud. Advance tank units found themselves almost completely cut off from supplies in a sea of mud. While supply col-: umns were stuck on the roads between Orel and Tula, south of Moscow’, rations had to be air-dropped by Luftwaffe units.

Not the w’inter, as is widely believed, but the sleet and the mud—the notorious Russian rasputitsa, for which j the German armies were not equipped—w’ere w’hat saved the Soviet capital. The snow and rain brought the Get-; man offensive to a halt at the last moment.

Endurance in the South


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


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.


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.

The Race for the Soviet Industrial Plants


ven as the main focus of the war in the USSR once again had been shifted to the central combat zone, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army


Group South was engaged in a wide-scale campaign over a huge area to the east of the Dnieper River. Following the Battle of Kiev, von Rundstedt was compelled to dis­perse his forces against three main targets: the Crimea; ‘ Rostov; and the Soviet industrial center in Kharkov and. the Donets Basin, in the eastern Ukraine. Seizure of the latter was one of Operation Barbarossa’s main strategic objectives.

1 Here the Soviets defended their position with bitter

tenacity and with strong air support. Even before resis­tance in Kiev was overcome, most of VVS-Southwestern Front had been shifted to this area. Reinforced with 1 RAG and 4 RAG from the Bryansk Front, WS-South-

western Front had doubled in strength since early Sep­tember and had launched heavy attacks against the advancing German troops. In the absence of its com­mander, General Leytenant Fyodor Astakhov, who had been entrapped in the Kiev encirclement and who would make it back to Soviet lines only in November, VVS – Southwestern Front was headed by the able General – Mayor Fyodor Falaleyev.

On September 22 an 1-153 piloted by Leytenant Grigoriy Kotseba from Kapitan Farit Fatkullin’s famous Staff Eskadrilya of 44 IAD managed to set fire to the construction equipment and pontoons intended for the German engineer bridge over the Orel River, a tribu­tary to the Dnieper. This delayed a crossing by consider­able German army forces.

Since Flicgerkorps V had to give up most of its fighter units to Luftflotte 2 at the prospect of the final offensive against Moscow, the task of clearing the skies of Soviet aircraft in this area was given to only one Jagdgruppc, Ill./JG 52. This unit included skillful young men such as Feldwebel “Ede” Duhn, Oberleutnant Giinther Rail, Leutnant Hermann Graf, Leutnant Adolf Dickfeld, Unteroffizier Gerhard Koppen, Unteroffizier Heinrich Fullgrabe, Unteroffizier Leopold Steinbatz, and Unteroffizier Alfred Grislawski, all of whom would start their real “Experten” careers during the fight for air supremacy over the Kharkov area. Any Soviet airman who came across the Messerschmitts piloted by these hotspurs was lucky if he survived.

On September 24, the_Rotte composed of Oberleutnant Rail and Unteroffizier Koppen scrambled against an incoming Soviet bomber formation, nine SBs escorted by four MiG-3s. Afterward, Unteroffizier Koppen filed the following report on his eighteenth and nine­teenth victories: “I immediately attacked the MiG-3 sec­tion that flew astern of the formation and opened fire against a fighter that flew with its undercarriage down. The MiG pulled up, caught fire, and fell down over its right wing, descending vertically with a black plume of smoke. It crashed to the ground, exploding on impact. As the second MiG climbed away, 1 charged an SB posi­tioned on the right flank of the bomber formation. My first burst turned the SB into a ball of fire. It went down and crashed five kilometers east of Chudovo."31

In response to the menace from the air, between Sep­
tember 25 and September 27, General Robert Ritter von Greim, the commander of Fliegerkorps V, dispatched his medium bombers against the bases of WS-Southwest – ern Front. According to German figures, forty-three aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Moreover, by September 28, Ill./JG 52 claimed to have shot down fifty-eight Soviet planes in the Kharkov area, against only one loss.

On October 2 four pilots of 9./JG 52 conducted a surprise low-level attack against a Soviet fighter base east of Kharkov. Two I-I6s were claimed destroyed on the ground, both by Leutnant Graf. On the return flight, the German fighters spotted a formation of twenty enemy fighters. Leutnant Graf and Unteroffizier Grislawski blew two 1-16s out of the sky, and all the German fighters returned to their base without having suffered any damage.

On the Soviet side, Mladshiy Leytenant Vladimir Garanin, a six-victory’ ace in the 1-16-equipped 254 IAP, was severely wounded in a combat during which he claimed to have downed two Bf 109s, including one through ramming. Nevertheless, between October 3 and October 14, 1941, Ill./JG 52 was credited with more than fifty’ aerial victories without suffering any losses.

Signed by Alfred Grislawski. this photo shows the inner circle of aces of 9./JG 52. From left to right: Alfred Grislawski (133 victories), Hermann Graf (212 plus 40 unconfirmed), Ernst Siiss (70), and Heinrich Fullgrabe (65). Later in the war Hermann Graf brought his three friends with him to the special "Mosquito-hunting unit1′ JG 50, where this photo was taken in late 1943 by a photographer from Joseph Goebbel s Propaganda Ministry. (Photo: Grislawski.)

image147On one occasion, ten of Ill./JG 52’s Bf 109s caught a squadron of 1-153 fighter-bombers and blew all but one of the Soviets out of the sky. The 1-153 that was left from this carnage managed to get off only due to the supreme flying skills of its pilot. Even if no correspond­ing Soviet accounts have been found, it is possible that

was the first one there, and right away he got onto the tail of an Ivan. How­ever the Russian shot past him, only to be caught by Hauptmann | Franz| Hornig. The enemy biplane caught fire and crashed in a bright red ball of fire not far from the German trenches. 1 was unable to take part in the action, as my guns had jammed. Damned mess! The air was filled with tracers.

A bullet whistled through the cockpit behind me, in the left side and out the right. Plexiglas splinters struck my neck and blood trickled down my collar. Close call! After what couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, there were about a dozen of our com­rades from the other side burning on the ground. Only one Ivan was left. Obviously an outstanding pilot, he simply refused to go down. Six Messerschmitts swirled around him, but he escaped every attack by elegantly half-rolling and diving away.

I had to admire the fellow. Not quite sure of what drove me to it, I pressed the transmit button and called to the others, “Don’t shoot him down, don’t shoot him down. Let him live, we’ll escort him home.”

Seconds later the air battle ended. The Ivan immediately dropped down to just above the ground and turned east. Remaining above and behind followed the Russian. Repeatedly, he turned his head to look at us, not believing his “freedom." However, his machine was just too slow; even with landing gear and flaps down, we were still too fast to stay with him. So we waved fare­well and left him to return in peace, home to his airfield.”*2

The dogfights in the air over Kharkov during these days are quite illustrative of the air war over the entire Eastern Front during 1941. Even if Kapitan Farit Fatkullin and the experts of his Staff Squadron of 44 IAD prob­ably were of the same caliber as the aces of IIl./JG 52,

image149Подпись: During its advance toward the Soviet industrial area in the eastern Ukraine, the German Army suffered heavily from the scarcity of German fighter aircraft. From the fall of 1941 onward, this ordinary Wehrmacht soldier on the ground saw more of hostile aircraft attacking him than і German fighters defending him. “Wo bleibt die Luftwaffe?"—'И/here is the Luftwaffe?—wasн familiar quotation on the Eastern Front in 1941. This photo shows a Panzerkampfwagen II tank destroyed by Soviet aircraft. (Photo: Seidl.)their frail and slow 1-153s did not allow them to meet the enemy fighters on equal terms.

Meanwhile, the Soviets started dismantling the fac­tories in this area and opened a huge operation to trans­fer them farther to the east. A race developed between the advancing German armies and Soviet workers and technicians dismantling the production facilities and send­ing them eastward. Since the bad condition of the Russian roads made them unsuitable for the large-scale evacuation of an entire industrial area, these transports came to rely totally on the rail lines.

To halt these movements, the bomber forces of Fliegerkorps V were committed to their interdiction. But an astounding Soviet capacity to repair and improvise frustrated these efforts. The almost complete isolation of the battlefront created by the same German bomber units during the Battle of Kiev could not be repeated. Fre­quently, a rail line that had been completely destroyed was operational again in no more than a few hours. According to Soviet sources, the railway lines in the vicinity of the front were subjected to 5,939 air attacks between June and December 1941. On average it took no more than five hours and forty-eight minutes to put a severed railway back in operation.

As a consequence, Fliegerkorps V turned the atten­tion of its bombers to destroying the rolling stock, par­ticularly railway engines. KG 55 Greif was selected for this task. From its airfield at Kirovograd, west of the Dnieper Basin, the He-11 Is of this unit w’ere assigned to individual “free hunting” against Soviet rolling stock all across the huge area between Kursk in the North and Stalino in the South. Since the He-llls lacked equipment for successful attacks at night, only day missions were flown. The “rail hunting” missions were flown at treetop level. The only device for target-finding was eyesight. Any train spotted was attacked with 50-, 250-, and 500-kilogram bombs, dropped from only sixty feet. Two extra nose-mounted 20mm automatic cannon also were employed by the He Ills.

During the first weeks of the effort, considerable successes were achieved.

Within a short time, however, the Sovi­
ets shifted all raihvay movements in this area to nights, j or to days with adverse weather. In addition, strong. AAA j concentrations were deployed at key points such as Kupyansk (sixty miles east of Kharkov), Valuyki (forty j miles to the northeast on the same railroad line), and Svoboda (farther to the northeast). The German pilots learned to avoid these areas, which known as “the death zones” to the airmen of KG 55. Soviet fighters were only a minor problem, since most WS aircraft in this area < were committed to low-level attacks against the advanc – j ing German ground forces. Thus German losses during j the rail-hunting missions were very limited; KG 55 lost no more than two aircraft on railway attacks during! October 1941.

Although severe losses were inflicted on the Soviet j rolling stock around Kharkov—KG 55 was credited with the destruction of 222 trains, including 64 locomotives53-! the evacuation of industrial goods, machines, and even j goods from Kharkov and the Donets Basin could not be prevented.

During this period of intense rail interdiction, other і tasks assigned to the Luftwaffe were neglected. This enabled the aircraft in VVS-Southwestern Front to be j launched in “increasing attacks that often severely inter – j fered with the maneuverability of German ground:]

forces.”34 The exhausted German troops could make only slow progress.

On October 5, the bombers and ground-attack planes of WS-Southwestern Front were in action all along the German Seventeenth Army’s front. Against the LV Army Corps alone, forty-two air raids involving about 250 air­craft were made. The next day, five I-153 Chaykas, led by Levtenant Boris Biryukov from the Staff Squadron/ 44 IAD, attacked crossings at the Berestovaya River. While Biryukov managed to destroy the bridge by a direct bomb hit during the first attack, his wingmen strafed the enemy troops on the bank, putting one truck and an antiaircraft gun out of commission/

Contrary to the aim of seizing, the industries in Kharkov and the Donets Basin, the Luftwaffe resorted to some of their rare strategic bombing missions on the Eastern Front. On the night of October 6, 1941, three He II Is of 9./KG 55 Greif were launched against the large tank factory at Kramatorskaya, between Stalino and Slavyansk in the northern Donets Basin. One of the He 11 Ls was badly hit by antiaircraft fire over the target area, and the flight engineer lay helplessly bleeding to death on the return flight. But the bombs were dropped with utmost precision, completely wiping out the plant and killing or maiming hundreds of workers. Two weeks later, the same Staffel raided Aircraft Factory 18 Znamia Truda at Voronezh, where ll-2s were manufactured. The results were devastating.

On October 9, the 195th Infantry Division of the German Seventeenth Army was hit by forty-three aerial attacks along the front lines, nearly eighty miles south­west of Kharkov, The Soviet air attacks were so intense that the entire Seventeenth Army was forced to take cover and could not continue advancing for the entire day. On October 12, the Seventeenth Army reported 200 soldiers and 238 horses killed in air raids.36 Step by step, the Soviets in this sector were improving their posi­tion in the air.

On October 14, Unteroffizicrc Alfred Grislawski and Heinrich Fiillgrabe of 9./JG 52 encountered two of the heavily armored 11-2 Shturmovik ground-attack planes north of Poltava.

Grislawski recalls that it took five attacks, in which he fired almost all of his 20mm ammunition, to bring down one 11-2, confirmed as his sixth victory. That af ter­noon, Leutnant Hermann Graf and Unteroffizier

Fiillgrabe ran into four Yak-1 fighters, which were some­thing completely different from the Chayka biplanes the two were used to engaging. During an exhausting thirty – minute combat, the two German pilots had to fly for their lives, only narrowly escaping being shot down by the Soviet flight leader. Turning head-on at the onset of the combat, the Mcsserschmitts managed to destroy two Yakovlevs; then all hell seemed to break loose, as Graf later described in his diary:

Fiillgrabe is in deep trouble. The Russian flight leader proves to be most skillful. 1 rush to my wingman’s assistance. The second Russian has had enough and disengages. I order Heinrich to get out of my way. And then the nicest and most dangerous air combat I have ever encountered starts. We wrung the most possible of man and machine: wide loopings with a radius of more than three thousand meters, and sharp, 180-degree turns, time after time. My body soaks with sw’eat. My adversary is at least as good as 1 am. It’s amazing how he repeatedly tries to outwit me. One sharp turn follows another. Over and over again, we meet nose-to-nose. Both fire their guns. He jumps over me in the last moment, and then he comes after me again. On one occasion we almost rammed each other.

Suddenly the second Russian fighter reap­peared. I just had a few free seconds and was able to fend off his attack. The Soviet wingman tries to escape in a dive. A quick glance backward tells me that my main enemy is sitting on my tail, although at a distance of more than four hundred meters.

So I aim and open fire against his wingman. The Russian fighter is thrown upward, then it starts falling—and doesn’t stop until it hits the ground. I must have hit him in the head.

Fiillgrabe informs me of this over the radio. I had no time to watch. Seeking revenge, the expert is clinging on to me. In the meantime, he has approached to a distance of two hundred meters.

I dive to the deck. I quickly glance at the speed­ometer: six hundred kilometers per hour! That’s enough. Now—“rise with the Daimler-Benz”—and I reach 1,200 meters altitude. Behind me, the Rus­sian is at 1,000. It’s a climbing race! W’e reach 3,000 meters. Then we start circling again.

Another ten minutes have passed. Each attack made by the enemy fills me with respect. This lias to be their top ace. Fortunately, 1 have practiced this kind of flying for years; had it not been for this, 1 would already have been dead.

Heinrich Fullgrahe reports that he must leave. His aircraft is running out of fuel.

Another five minutes, then my red warning lamp starts twinkling. That means I’ve got no more than twenty minutes’ flight time left. And we are fifty kilometers behind the front line. I ought to disengage. But my pride doesn’t permit me to do so. That would give my adversary at least a sym­bolic victory. And, anyway, he still is on my tail, hunting me toward our own lines.

We start turning on each other again and come rushing head-on. During one of these nose-to-nose encounters, 1 try to turn past him instead of climb­ing above. By coincidence, he undertakes the same maneuver. We pass by each other with only a few meters left between us. Now what will he do? Will he let me pass by, and then turn around and give me the final hit? I never let him out of my eyes.

Then the incredible occurs: He continues fly­ing to the east—and 1 to the west. 1 return literally on the last drops of fuel. During the landing, my propeller stops.

My whole body is shivering as I climb out ( the cockpit. What an enemy! I am hardly aware c the congratulations to my two victories. My hea is filled with thoughts of the Russian fighter pilo I would have liked to sit down and chat with hiir He must be a nice fellow. I wonder what he migh be thinking of me.”57

Hermann Graf was one of the most skillful Gerr fighter pilots. Less than a year after this aerial duel, was the highest-scoring ace in the Luftwaffe, with m than two hundred kills to his credit.

Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau’s C man Sixth Army finally seized Kharkov on October. but the Germans found the industrial area in the Don Basin filled with empty factories. Between July and i" vember 1941, 1.5 million wagonloads of industrial n chinery, tools, material, and personnel were carried ea ward on the Soviet railway system. No few’er than 1,5! factories, installations, and research establishmeni including 85 percent of Soviet airframe and acroengii production facilities, were evacuated.

Подпись: The pilot of a Yak-1 leaving his fighter after completing yet another combat sortie. The Yak-1 was the most successful Soviet fighter type in 1941. At the time, it was undoubtedly among the finest fighter aircraft of the world, together with the German Bf 109F and the British Spitfire Mk V. (Photo: Sundin.)

Kapitan Farit Fatkullin’s Staff Eskadrilya of 44 1A1 was one of the main contributors to delaying the Germa offensive against the Donets Basin. Since the mountin

Подпись: Kapitan Farit Fatkullin (second from right), seen together with some of the men of his Staff Eskadrilya of 44IAD in front of his 1-153, was one of the most daring and skillful Soviet fighter-bomber pilots in 1941. Fatkullin had participated as a pilot volunteer in China’s war of defense against Japan in the late 1930s, and in the Winter War, during which he was awarded with the Order of the Red Star. In 1941 his crack unit played a considerable role in delaying the German advance toward the Soviet industrial area in the eastern Ukraine, for which he was recognized as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Farit Fatkullin was killed in combat with a Bf 110 near Stalingrad on July 27,1942. (Photo: Fatkullin via Rashit Ibragimov.)

crisis in the Crimean sector had forced the Germans to transfer lll./JG 52 to this area on October 22, the field was left open to Kapitan Fatkullin’s daring pilots.

On October 25, as the German Sixth Army was cross­ing the Donets River, three 1-153s, led by Mladshiy Leytenant Yevgeniy Chistyakov, struck a German troop column in the vicinity of Kirovo and destroyed one tank and eight trucks. Three days later, Chistyakov destroyed six trucks and four pontoons in the same area.38

On October 30 Leytenant Petr Kudar and Serzhant Ivan Zinchenko of Staff/44 LAD fell upon a column of German motorized infantry in the Sakhnovshchina area. This time they were confronted with heavy antiaircraft fire. Serzhant Zinchenko, who was out on his second combat mission, had his 1-153 hit, so he broke off and returned to base. Left alone on this, his 155th combat mission, Kudar decided to defy the German AAA. Mak­
ing one run after another against the ground targets, his Chayka was hit again and again. Finally Petr Kudar turned toward his own airfield. He managed to cross the front line, but eight miles from the airfield, the engine stopped. The 1-153 crashed during an attempted forced landing, and Kudar was killed. On November 20 he was posthu­mously appointed Hero of the Soviet Union. Indeed, as an acknowledgment of the important role played by the pilots of this unit (which on November 4 was redesignated 92 IAP), seven of its pilots, including the commander, Kapitan Farit Fatkullin, also received this honorary title on November 20.

Among the most successful pilots in Fatkullin’s unit during the air campaign to delay the German advance into the Donets Basin, were: Leytenant Boris Biryukov, who was credited with the destruction of 6 tanks and 112 trucks between August 6 and October 31, 1941;

Подпись: State Aircraft Production Plant Nc 18 Znamia Truda, where the first rrass-production line for the new II-2 Shturmovik established. Although Aircraft Plant '8 sustainec heavy damage during a raid by two expert crews from III./KG 55 in October 1941, the production installations were successful1/ evacuated from Voronezh. Production was resumed in a roofless and unheated building in Kuybyshev, 350 miles from the front line. The slogan on the steel frame reads: “Everything for the front, everytning for victory." (Photo: Seidl.)

Leytenant Arseniy Stepanov, credited with the destruc­tion of 3 tanks, five trucks, and 8 motorcycles between September 8 and November 3; Mlaclshiy Leytenant Yevgeniy Chistyakov, credited with the destruction of 3 ranks, 60 trucks, and 4 artillery pieces (Chistyakov’s Eskadrilya, 2/92 1AP, carried out 4.32 combat sorties in two months, claiming 17 tanks, 24 artillery’ pieces, and 730 trucks); and Mladshiy Leytenant Aleksandr Perepelitsa, who was born in the area, and who report­edly put 6 tanks, 4 artillery pieces, and 32 trucks out of commission from August 6 to October 31, while the flight he commanded destroyed 8 tanks, 5 artillery pieces, and 98 trucks in two months.

The race for the Soviet industrial area is illustrative of the entire war situation on the Eastern Front from the fall of 1941 onward. Even if the Luftwaffe crews scored impressive individual achievements, the resources of the attackers were by far insufficient for the enor­
mous and growing tasks. The Red Army, on the other hand, showed an astounding ability to sustain almost any military disaster without losing its ability to per­form a still and effective defense. The entire founda­tion to this lasting ability was laid during the impres­sive shift of the nation’s main industrial area from the Kharkov and the Donets Basin area to the east during this period.

“1 remember these days with pride,” wrote Soviet aircraft designer Aleksandr Yakovlev. “Only three weeks after the arrival of the transported goods, we were able to relaunch serial production. After another three months we were producing more than before in Moscow. Eleven months went bv, and our production % ures were two and a half times greater than prior to the evacuation.”

The preconditions of these large-scale operations were created only through the will to fight to the last—at any cost—displayed by the ground troops and the airmen of

image153UnterofRzier Alfred Grislawski (r.), shown next to his Bf 109F, Yellow 9, was one of the up and coming aces of 9,/JG 52 who roamed the skies over the Ukraine in the fall of 1941. Grislawski, the son of a miner, is regarded as one of the toughest fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe. During most of his missions in 1941 he flew as the wingman of the famous Leutnant Hermann Graf. Grislawski would survive the war with a total of 133 victories. (Photo: Grislawski.)

the Southwestern Front, immediately after the annihila­tion of the core of this army group at Kiev. Another important factor was the immense performance made in the production lines in the midst of the evacuation. In fact, the production of Yak-1 and LaGG-3 fighters rose from 335 and 322, respectively, during the first six months of 1941 to 1,019 and 1,149, respectively, during the June- to-December period of 1941. Of 1,549 11-2s delivered in 1941, 1,293 were produced after June.

This stamina on the Soviet side had not been antici­pated by Hitler and his generals as they prepared Opera­tion Barbarossa. Of this, historian Heinz A. F. Schmidt wrote: “This fantastic technical performance, which had not been anticipated by the Fascist leadership, was made possible by the massive heroism displayed by Soviet industrial workers. They struggled under grim circum­
stances, with poor food rations, in cold and snow under the open sky, working twelve to fifteen hours each day to resume aircraft production.”39

Total output figures from the Soviet aircraft indus­try during the last six months of 1941 reached 9,780. However impressive this was, losses exceeded output during the first six months of the war with Germany. Even if reinforcements poured in from other parts of the USSR, the number of VVS front-line aircraft dropped considerably from midsummer to fall 1941. Neverthe­less, eventually it would be the Soviet stamina and industrial output that finally put an end to the Third Reich. Thus the battle for the eastern Ukraine, fought with relatively small forces on both sides during the fall of 1941, would prove to be one of the most decisive military campaigns of World War II.

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


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.


[ 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.


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


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.

The Role of the VVS During the Battles of. the Crimea and Rostov


rom the latter half of September 1941, Luftflotte 4 became widely dispersed, engaged on four major battlefields—the annihilation battle at Kiev, the encirclement of Odessa, the offensive by the German Seventeenth Army toward the industrial center of Kharkov, and the somewhat premature offensive against the Crimea. From an operational point of view, this wide dispersement of forces was most unfortunate, but strate­gically it was inevitable.

He who controls the Crimea is master of the Black Sea. It was mainly from the Crimea that the Soviets launched their most disturbing air raids against the Romanian oil fields. Even if these raids had been carried out by weak forces, the threat remained that a reinforce­ment of the units allocated to the air offensive against Romania could lead to severe and lasting damage to the

Romanian oil fields, the main fuel source of the entire Wehrmacht.

As soon as he arrived from the Leningrad sector to assume command of the German Eleventh Army on September 18, General Erich von Manstein attempted to launch a surprise strike against the Crimea, but his air support proved to be totally inadequate. The only Luftwaffe unit fully assigned to support the initial drive toward the Crimea, KG 27, was at one-third of its origi­nal operational strength. The Ju 88 crews of KG 51 were divided among missions against shipping in the Black Sea, against Odessa, and against the Perekop Isthmus. In the chronicle of the latter unit, Wolfgang Dierich wrote: “The weak forces—the Staffeln seldom possessed more than three or four planes—were spread out against numerous targets and with only limited results. . . .

Подпись: The “Black Men" (a nickname derived from their black overalls), the technical personnel of the Luftwaffe aviation units, performed true miracles in keeping worn-out and repeatedly battle- damaged aircraft operational under the primitive conditions of the front-line airfields on the Eastern Front. (Photo: Batcher.) Missions were carried out against road intersections, road junctions, rail lines, and troop columns.”40

Despite heavy losses during the past three months, the Soviets were able to concentrate strong forces in the area fac­ing von Manstein’s force. The units of VVS-Southern Front, and particularly VVS-Black Sea Fleet, would play a deci­sive role in this sector during September and October 1941. On September 18 the Zveno fighter-bombers of 32 IAP/ChF destroyed the Dnieper bridge at Zaporozhye, thus cutting off the Wehrmacht supply lines to the. front, which in turn delayed a German flank­ing attack from the north.

As the spearheads of the Eleventh Army entered the Perekop Isthmus, which connects the Crimea with the mainland, they were subjected to intense air attacks by the 200 fighters and 130 bombers of 62 IAB and 63 BAB of VVS-ChF that were stationed in the Crimea. On September 21 alone, one of the divisions of the Eleventh Army was forced to withstand twenty-two air attacks. Moreover, the He 11 Is of KG 27, committed to difficult low-level attacks against the Soviet ground fortifications, were opposed by aggressive Soviet fighter attacks. I.(J)/LG 2, 11. and IIl./JG 77, responsible for the fighter protection, became involved in large daily air combat. On September 21, twelve Soviet aircraft were claimed shot down, mainly fighters and fighter-bombers.

Contingents of StG 77 were brought in from the Kiev sector, and these wrought havoc on the defense positions on the Perekop Isthmus. But heavy VVS attacks prevented the German ground troops from tak­ing any advantage of this development.

On September 24 the Soviet Ninth and Eighteenth armies opened a counteroffensive with strong air sup­port against the left flank of the German Eleventh Army- northeast of the Perekop Isthmus. All attempts by Gen­eral von Manstein to seize the Crimea in a swift strike failed. Only with difficulty could he prevent his army from being sealed off.

Having fought back the Soviet counterattack, von Manstein made yet another attempt to seize the Perekop Isthmus, on September 26. On that day, German fighter
pilots in this area claimed twenty-seven Soviet aircraft shot down, five of them by Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Hackler of IIl./JG 77. On September 30 the deputy’ com­mander of 11 IAP/ChF, Kapitan Ivan Volosevich, who was credited with four aerial victories, was shot down by a pilot of JG 77 on Volosevich’s sixty-ninth combat sortie.

Participating in the aerial clashes on September 30 was Kapitan Ivan Lyubimov’s 5 Eskadrilya/32 IAP/ChF, which was equipped with by far the best Soviet fighter plane of the time, the Yak-1. Upon intercepting a pair of Bf 109s from 4./JG 77 Herzas over the Crimea, Kapitan Lyubimov scored decisive hits on the Messerschmitt of Unteroffizier Julius Dite. Then one of Lyubimov’s pilots, Starshiy Leytenant Mikhail Avdeyev, closed in to deal the final blow. Avdeyev, who would develop into one of the major aces of the VVS-ChF, recalls: “1 approached the descending, burning Me 109 from the side. 1 decided to wait and see if the Fascist would jettison his canopy and bail out. But to my astonishment, having jettisoned the canopy with ease, he pulled up his aircraft slightly and then pushed his stick forward. The machine banked downward. I saw the pilot—tall and slim, dressed in gray overalls—pop out of the cockpit. Hastily, he opened his parachute.”

Julius Dite was taken prisoner and handed over his


Mikhail Avdeyev is one of the most renowned Soviet naval fighter pilots of World War II. Having earned his wings in 1934, Avdeyev was one of the most experienced pilots of the VVS-ChF as the War with Germany broke out. He proved to be an excellent marksman and a most talented unit leader. Piloting a Yak-1 of 32 ІАРЛ/VS-ChF, Starshiy Leytenant Avdeyev was one of the toughest opponents to the Luftwaffe in the air over the Crimea. By the end of the war he had flown 498 sorties, taken part in 141 aerial combats, and earned credit for 17 kills. Avdeyev died on June 22. 1979. (Photo: Seidl.)

pistol, which bore an inscription telling that this was an award for his distinguished feats during the capture of Crete, to his captors. On February 3 this young Austrian perished in a Soviet POW camp. His pistol, however, remains on display in the Central Navy Museum in St. Petersburg.

On October 1, JG 77 took revenge on 32 I. AP/Y’VS – ChF. A large formation of Bf 109s intercepted a ground – attack formation consisting of I-15bis and I-16s from 3 Eskadrilya/32 IAP, led by Kapitan Konstantin Denisov, and the 11-2 Shturmoviks of Kapitan Aleksey Gubriy’s 46 OShAE. Ten Yak-ls of 5./32 IAP, which were pro­viding escort, turned into the Messerschmitts. An uneven combat followed. The Yakovlevs managed to escape without suffering any losses-Starshiy Leytenant Mikhail Avdeyev even managed to shoot down a Bf 109— but they could not prevent the Herzas aces from tearing up the formation of ground-attack aircraft. 3 Eskadrilya/ 32 IAP lost three l-16s, all three Ishaks credited to fighter aces of III./JG 77: Oberleutnant Kurt Lasse, scoring his thirty-eighth victory; Oberleutnant Kurt Ubben, scoring his thirty-ninth; and Feldwebel Robert Helmer, scoring his seventeenth. 11./JG 77 claimed two of 46 OshAE’s Shturmoviks.

Both sides leaped from one crisis to another, continously utilizing their air forces as the decisive fac­tor. Supported by the bulk of Fliegcrkorps V, Panzergruppe 1 turned to the southeast from the area east of Kiev, toward the Sea of Azov, during the last week of September. The plan was to surround and de­stroy the Soviet Southern Front north of the Sea of Azov, between the northern tip of the Crimea and the city of Rostov. Next, Rostov would be captured, opening the gates to the Caucasus oil fields. This sudden armored strike from the north compelled the Soviets to withdraw forces facing the northern flank of the German Elev­enth Army, which in turn enabled the Germans to con­quer most of the Perekop Lsthmus. Nevertheless, further intensified Soviet air attacks halted the Eleventh Army’s advance. The TB-3s of 63 BAB even undertook some Zveno missions in this area. During an attack by 1-16 fighter-bombers launched from two TB-3s escorted by three I-15bis fighters of 8 IAP/VVS-ChF, three German artillery batteries were destroyed.

The entry of Panzergruppe 1, advancing rapidly from the north, created an entirely new strategic situation. A new’ encirclement battle unfolded to the north of the Sea of Azov. The Soviet Ninth and Eighteenth armies found themselves threatened w’ith being sealed off in the Mariupol area, betw-een the Sea of Azov and the Dnieper bend, so all units of VVS-Southem Front were immedi­ately throw’n into action against the spearheads of Panzergruppe 1. Even though VVS-Southern Front could muster only seventy-nine operational fighters, forty-two bombers, and thirteen Il-2s by October 1,41 it managed to use these scarce resources effectively. On October 5, the German High Command noted: “Heavy air attacks against Panzergruppe 1. Reconnaissance missions can only be undertaken with strong fighter escort.”

Although Luftflotte 4 had been released from the Battle of Kiev, its operational area was too vast for the limited available air units. With I. and II. Gruppen pulled out of combat due to severe losses, III. Gruppe of KG 51 was nevertheless still divided among operations over Odessa, over the Black Sea, and against Perekop and the battlefield to the north of the Sea of Azov. KG 55 was concentrated to support the offensive against Kharkov, in the north; and KG 27 was covering the Crimea and the northern shore of the Sea of Azov. The Ju 88 crew’s of KG 54 Totenkopf w’ere rushed between both flanks of Army Group South, used as a flying fire brigade.

Nevertheless, the German tactic of reconcentrating
air units in one area after another provided excellent results. Heavy air raids virtually paralyzed Soviet troops at Dnepropetrovsk and on the railway line from Dnepropetrovsk to Stalino, which removed the threat against the northern flank of Panzergruppe l. Air attacks against the rail lines leading north from Mariupol, Taganrog, and Rostov further delayed the transfer of Soviet troops and materiel.

On October 5 the German ground troops reached Mariupol, where considerable portions of VV’S – Southern Front were stationed. Leytenant Aleksandr Pavlichenko of 210 BBAP describes the panic-stricken situation from the Soviet point of view:

A staff aircraft landed at our airfield and a Polkovnik jumped out, crying: “You who are sit­ting here. The Germans have broken through and are only six kilometers (four miles] away! Hurry up and depart or destroy your planes!" Everybody was up on і heir feet and started running. All ser­viceable aircraft started taking off. Since our Su-2 was damaged I rom a combat mission on the previ­ous day. I helped pilots from other regiments try to set fire to unserviceable planes. But we didn’t know how to do it. Then one soldier put two barrels of gasoline under the w ing of our plane. He opened the barrels and then we threw a torch at the fuel.

The panic was awful. We made it to the main­tenance base at Krasniy Luch. We found several aircraft parked there, mostly U-2 liaison planes, We were informed of the whereabouts of our 210 BBAP and reached our new base in a U-2. We received a warm welcome. Everyone had expected that we had been killed

The Bf 109s of l.(J)./LG 2 and II. and IH./JG 7 shifted to the battle area north of the Sea of Azov, inte fered violently against Soviet aircraft in this area. Starsh Leytenant Aleksandr Pokryshkin of 55 IAP had a ma unpleasant encounter with some of these lighters о October 6. During an armed reconnaissance mission і the company of wingman Leytenant Stepan Komta in MiG-3s armed with RS-82 rockets, Pokryshkin wa bounced by a Schwarm from 1L/JG 77. One of theBi 109s aimed at Komlcv’s MiG, but Pokryshkin cametc his assistance and fired one RS-82 at the enemy plane, This Messerschmitt broke off to evade the rocket, but the German wingman continued the attack on Komley. Without taking notice of the remaining enemy Rotte, Pokryshkin fired his second rocket, which also missed, and then gave the Messerschmitt on Leytenant Komlevy tail a long burst with his machine guns. At that moment a well-aimed burst hit Pokryshkin’s plane.

Подпись: With the operational area of Army Group South spreading out over the entire eastern Jkraine, the Crimea, Odessa, anc the Black Sea, the oomber units of Lufttlotte 4 were rushed from one crif.ca1 sector to another, as “flying fire brigades." Here, a Ju 88 stands ready to undertake yet another sortie. (Pnoto: Roba.',

Aleksandr Pokryshkin managed to bring down his

Подпись: These partly demolished aircraft—an 1-153 in the foreground and two R-5s or R-Zs in the background—and buildings at a recently deserted Soviet airfield await the German troops who captured the place. This photo gives a clear impression of a headlong retreat. (Photo: Balss.)

badly damaged MiG-3 in a no-man’s-land. He was terri­bly shocked and blinded in one eye, but he managed to get out of the cockpit seconds before the Messerschmitt came down to rake the wreck with machine-gun fire. There followed the most terrible week in “Sasha” Pokryshkin’s life. Trapped in the vast no-man’s-land, he managed to join some Soviet soldiers of the scattered Eighteenth Army who planned to reach the Soviet lines in a truck. The fighter ace persuaded them to load his damaged MiG-3 on the truck during the following night. After playing cat-and-mouse with Romanian and Ger­man ground units for several days and nights, the dismal group finally managed to reach Soviet-held territory. Aleksandr Pokryshkin returned to his regiment, but his nerves were in such a bad shape that he was taken off front-line duty for a month.

Support from the Luftwaffe enabled troops from the SS Brigade Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler on October 6 to capture most of the staff of the Soviet Ninth Army. The army commander was able to escape in an aircraft at the last moment. On October 7 the Soviet Eighteenth Army was sealed off north of the Sea of Azov. Three days later, that army ceased to exist. Another sixty-five thou­sand Soviet soldiers marched into German confinement.

Even before this battle was settled, Ill./JG 77 was hurriedly shifted back to Chaplinka and the Perekop area, where the VVS had increased its activity. The
pilots of this unit were immediately involved in large – scale combat with determined Soviet airmen. On Octo­ber 8, Oberleutnant Kurt Lasse, with forty-one victories to his credit and thus the top ace of JG 77 Herzas, was killed in combat with two MiG-3s over the Perekop Isthmus.

On October 9, Soviet airmen made repeated attempts to destroy the Chaplinka Airdrome. This cost them dearly. At the end of the day, Ill./JG 77 had claimed fourteen victories. Oberleutnant Kurt Ubben ran his personal score up to forty-five by shooting down four Pe-2s. The largest air combat of the day resulted in, according to German figures, the destruction of at least nine Soviet aircraft without any German losses. In this battle, 5 Eskadrilya/’ 32 1AP, ChF, suffered heavily; two of its aces, Kapitan Ivan Lyubimov and Mladshiy Leytenant Allakhverdov, were counted among those shot down. With the engine in his Yak-1 hit by a well-aimed burst from a Bf 109, Kapitan Lyubimov belly-landed in friendly territory. But the victorious Bf 109 pilot was determined to finish his kill. The German strafed the downed Yak-1, and a machine-gun round tore off one-third of Lyubimov’s left chin.

In his combat report from this day, Serzhant Nikolayev of 5./32 IAP, ChF (who also was shot down by a Bf 109), described how Mladshiy Leytenant Allakhverdov was lost: “Having belly-landed in the Munus-Tatarskiy region, I saw three Me 109s chasing
my flight commander, Allakhverdov, at treetop level. In the air above Kir-Aktachi his aircraft burst into flames. He made a vertical climb, fell down over the wing, and tore into the ground. Both man and machine perished in the flames.”42

At this point, the commander of WS-Southern Front directed the bulk of his units, including two 11-2 regi­ments, 4 ShAP and 210 ShAP, to attack the left flank of the newly redesignated First Panzer Army. After the disastrous annihilation of the Soviet Eighteenth Army, there were only weak and dispersed Red Army units available to defend the road to Rostov. The Soviet air­men were called in to delay the advance of the German tank army while a new defensive position was being established along the Mius River west of Rostov.

On October II, at least three hundred sorties were carried out against the SS Brigade Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. Intercepting these raids, II./JG 77 claimed four Soviet bombers and one MiG-3, but Oberfeldwebel Rudolf Schmidt was shot down and wounded shortly after achiev­ing his thirty-third kill.

The next day, the bombers of Fliegerkorps IV mounted an extensive series of raids against Soviet air­fields north of the Sea of Azov and in the Crimea. At just one Crimean air base, the Luftwaffe bombers reported twelve aircraft destroyed on the ground.

Even if pressure from the air was mounting, adverse weather conditions became the main obstruction to the German offensive toward Rostov. Heavy rain showers suddenly turned the roads in the area into quagmires. What the Luftwaffe had carried out against the Soviet supply system was dealt to the Germans by the weather. The columns transporting supplies to Army Group South hundreds of miles on nothing but dirt roads were succes­sively stuck in deep mud. With inadequate supplies and while sustaining intense pressure from the air, the ad­vance of the First Panzer Army slowed to a snail’s pace.

Shortages in fuel and spare parts caused the number of sorties by Luftwaffe units in this area to plummet. These shortages particularly affected the twin-engine bomber units.

Despite the weather and the shortages, the few avail­able fighters in the Jagdgruppen committed to the Mius – Rostov area—I.(J)/LG 2 and II./JG 77—nevertheless took a heavy toll on the raiding Soviet aircraft. On October 14 the Germans reported sixteen Soviet aircraft downed, plus seven by AAA.43 Counted among the Soviet victims


Gordon Mac Gollob is one of the most controversial unit leaders of the German Fighter Arm in World War II. He was known as a harsh commander and was not popular among all his subordinates, but in contrast to other ambitious fighter aces who cared little about their wingmen, Gollob only lost one wingman—without any personal fault—during all of his 340 combat missions. On September 18, 1941, he was awarded with the Knight’s Cross for forty-two victories, and by the time he received the Oak Leaves on October 26, his tally had risen to eighty-five. Ten months later Gollob became the first fighter pilot to reach the 150-victory level. Following that achievement, Gollob served in staff positions and ended the war as the third and last inspector of the Fighter Arm. Gordon Gollob passed away in Solingen, Germany, on September?, 1987. (Photo: Gollob.)

were the commander of an Eskadrilya in 551AP, Starshiy Leytenant Konstantin Ivachyov, and his wingman. The next day, the two Jagdgruppen claimed thirteen Soviet aircraft, without loss.44 During a single combat with a Bf 109 Rotte near Taganrog on October 15, 55 IAP lost yet another of its veterans, Leytenant Kuzma Seliverstov, credited with five personal and two collective victories. Farther to the west, in the skies over the Perekop Isth­mus, Oberleutnant Wolf-Dietrich Huy, the Staffelkapitan of 7./JG 77, scored his twentieth victory on October 16 when he downed two 1-153s and a DB-3.

The disturbing Soviet dominance in this area com­pelled the Germans to shift air units from other sectors.

Il./JG 3, commanded by an ambitious fighter ace, Hauptmann Gordon Gollob, was moved from the cen­tral combat zone to cover renewed attacks on Perekop on October 18. Gollob had made his reputation during the July-to-September air battles over the Ukraine, in which he raised his score from seven to forty-eight. Known as a hard-core Nazi and a harsh commander, Gollob was quite unpopular. Even if some of his subordinates thought he was “picking mainly easy targets” in the air, Gollob alone would play a significant role during the battle for air superiority over the Crimea.

At dawn on October 18, Hauptmann Gollob shot down two MiG-3 fighters, his personal victories sixty – two and sixty-three. Again, at about 1000 hours, he claimed five MiG-3s in a single combat. And finally, in the afternoon, he destroyed two more MiG-3s, a total of nine MiG-3s for the day. In total this day, Il./JG 3 and HL/JG 77 claimed eighteen aerial kills. While the fighter pilots sent one Soviet aircraft after another burning to
the ground, bombers and dive-bombers from both Fliegerkorps IV and Fliegerkorps V fell upon the Soviet ground positions and supply lines in the Crimea.

Подпись: AGerman vehicle column is shot up by Soviet strafers near Perekop in the fall of 1941. In his memoirs, the commander of the German Eleventh Army, General Erich von Manstein, recalled the terrible Soviet pressure from the air in this sector: “It got so bad." he wrote, “that antiaircraft batteries no llonger dared to fire in the case they were immediately destroyed from the air.” (Photo: Denisov.)
Withal, the Luftwaffe’s considerable efforts in the southern regions proved to be inadequate. While some Soviet bomber and fighter-bomber formations were ripped apart by Bf 109s, others slipped through and forced the attacking ground troops to keep their heads down. The Soviet airmen even managed to strike hard against the Jagdgruppen themselves. During the dark hours early on the morning of October 19, a Pe-2 regiment, heavily laden with bombs, took off from its airfield. The Petlaykovs flew at treetop level straight toward Chaplinka, north of the Perekop Isthmus, where they carried out a surprise attack just before sunrise. The falling bombs were con­centrated across the runway. Partly as a result of this telling raid, the Red fliers were in almost total control of the air over Perekop for the next two days.

Drawing a conclusion on the first phase of the Battle of the Crimea, Oberst Hermann Plocher, of Fliegerkorps V, wrote:

The Russians employed their air forces—actually for the first time in a point of main effort—over the narrow, completely level, steppelike isthmus. The treeless and bushlcss terrain offered no cover for the attacking troops of the Eleventh Army against the continous attacks by very strong Soviet bomber and ground-attack units. General von Manstein, commanding the Eleventh Army, stated that the Soviet Air Force dominated the sky, and with its bombers and fighters attacked every target sighted….

Low-level attacks by Soviet ground-attack planes, and medium-level attacks by Soviet con­ventional bombers, were carried out around the clock against German infantry, which was wearily fighting its way through the numerous, fortified defense lines. At night, Soviet air attacks succeeded in penetrating far behind the German front lines.45

During an entire month, the weakened Soviet Army and Navy air forces had shown evidence of an effective striking capacity for raiding German ground troops. Soviet sources claim 104 tanks, 700 trucks, fifty-four armored cars, eight infantry battalions, ten motorcycle columns, ten bridges, forty’ artillery pieces, and twenty – four antiaircraft guns destroyed by the air forces in the southern sector during twenty days in October 1941. Nevertheless, the price paid for these achievements had been extremely high. Even if reinforcements poured in from all sides, the WS units in the region were worn down at a frightening pace.

With increasing demands from the Moscow sector, where the new German offensive had created a serious crisis, the defense of the Crimea lost out in priority. In mid-October it was evident that the Crimea could not hold out much longer. Hence, preparations for the de­fense of the vital port of Sevastopol were strengthened.

To Hitler and his generals, it was evident that they had miscalculated, not least about Soviet endurance and the geographical and nature-related limitations on war­fare in the Soviet heartland. Problems related to both these factors would grow to immense proportions dur­ing the following months.