Category Air War on the Eastern Front

Toward the Gates of Leningrad

I

n the Baltic States, the German Army Group North had made considerable territorial gains during the first three weeks of the war but failed in its aim of sur­rounding large Soviet troop forces. Panzergruppe 4, con­stituting the central thrust of Army Group North, advanced in a northeasterly direction toward Leningrad. The Eighteenth Army, on its left wing, rolled into Esto­nia, and the Sixteenth Army, on the right, advanced in the direction of the area south of Lake Ilmen. Having penetrated more than four hundred miles into Soviet – held territory, the exhausted Panzer troops had reached a point sixty miles southwest of Leningrad at the Luga by mid-July. By this time, General Erich von Manstein’s LVI Panzerkorps had lost half its tank equipment and ran into heavy counterattacks with strong air support. A pause was inevitable. During the following weeks, Army

Group North concentrated on securing the flanks of the tank spearheads. By mid-July the Eighteenth Army had reached Dorpat while the Sixteenth had advanced fifty miles into “old Russia.”

The Ju 88 bombers of KG 1, KG 76, and KG 77 were assigned mainly to attack the heavy Soviet rail traf­fic in Estonia, with the hope of preventing the Soviet Eighth Army from escaping eastward over the narrow strip of land between Lake Peipus and the Gulf of Fin­land at Narva.

Having brought the Soviet medium-bomber raids to an abrupt end, the Bf 109s of I1./JG 53 and JG 54 were tasked to suppress the upsurge in Soviet fighter and fighter-bomber activity along the entire front line of Army Group North. The VVS fighters were particularly suc­cessful in the western sector, in the skies above Estonia

and the Gulf of Riga. In mid-July the German High Com­mand noted that enemy fighters made air reconnaissance difficult in Estonian airspace.1′ Major Johannes Trautloft, commanding the Jagdgruppen in Fliegcrkorps I, sent his pilots out on regular search-and-destroy free-hunting missions. A favorite tactic among these Bf 109 pilots was to circle above the enemy’s fighter bases to provoke him into the air.

On the afternoon of July 19, 1941, Leutnant Walter Nowotny of 9./JG 54 took off on a fateful free-hunting mission to the island of Osel in the Gulf of Riga together with his wingman. The two Messerschmitt pilots posi­tioned themselves above a Soviet air base with the aim of provoking enemy fighters into the air.

The Soviet 153 IAP launched four I-153 Chaykas led by Starshiy Lcytenant Aleksandr Avdeyev against the German aircraft. Later, Nowotny wrote: “The Bol­shevik fighter base was located near Arensburg. As we started circling in the air above the airfield, ten fighters were scrambled. Two Curtiss 1-153s became my first two victims. . . . Moments later, I noticed a white-nosed aircraft on my tail’ Some of the planes of 153 IAP had their spinners painted white. Similarly, some Bf 109s of JG 54 had white spin­ners. Casting only a short glance at the aircraft behind him—noticing the white nose but not the double pair of wings – Nowotny assumed it was his Kaczmarek or “Wooden Eye” (Holzauge), as wingmen were called in Luftwaffe slang. Instead, it was the Chayka piloted by Starshiy Leytenant Avdeyev. According to a Soviet source,18 Avdeyev attacked the lead Bf 109 and shot it down with a long burst. Then he suddenly felt a hard strike and his cockpit was filled with smoke. Avdeyev found himself attacked from behind.

Avdeyev’s flying skills and the ma­neuverability of the 1-153 made it impos­sible for his pursuers to finish him off. Suddenly another Bf 109 appeared, just in front of him. The German pilot was making a combat turn. Aleksandr Avdeyev immediately pulled up his Chayka and fired a long burst Smoke started pouring out of the 109. The Soviet pilot pressed the trigger again and saw the Bf 109 go down.

Walter Nowotny recalled: “It was not until bullets slammed into my aircraft that I became aware of my fundamental mistake. Unfortunately, by then it was too late. I managed to revenge myself by sending this false wingman to the ground as today’s number three, but then my engine stopped.”

While Starshiy Leytenant Avdeyev bailed out of his 1-153 and landed in friendly territory’, Leutnant Nowotny directed his crippled Bf 109 to the south, out over the sea, in a desperate effort to bring it to the coast of Ger­man-occupied Lithuania. Nowotny failed, and spent three

image90days and nights in a rubber dinghy in the Bay of Riga before finally reaching the shore near Mikelbaka on the northern tip of the Lithuanian mainland.

: As a car arrived to bring Nowotny to the hospital,

the young pilot insisted that he should drive! Noting Nowotny’s exhausted state, the driver objected, but the Leutnant used his higher rank to push his will. The result was that Nowotny lost control over the car and collided with a tree, giving him a concussion. Finally returning to his unit, Nowotny found that his belong­ings had been packed and were about to be sent to his parents.

“As I started flying combat missions again, 1 had a very unpleasant feeling as soon as I had water below. I couldn’t get rid of this feeling until fourteen days later, as I managed to shoot down a Russian bomber exactly on the same spot as I had gone down.”19

During the rest of his combat career, the supersti­tious Nowotny always wore the trousers that he had car­ried during those three days in the Gulf of Riga—with exception of one mission, his last sortie, at Achmer on November 8, 1944, when he was killed flying an Me 262 jet fighter.

Avdeyev later became one of the top Soviet fighter aces, but he was killed in action thirteen months after this encounter with Walter Nowotny.

On the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland, other famous Soviet fighter aces were operating from the beleaguered naval base at Hanko. On July 23, Kapitan Aleksey Antonenko and Leytenant Petr Brinko of 13 IAP/KBF took off from Hanko together with nine I-153s on a mission against Turku Airdrome in south­western Finland. Since no Finnish aircraft were found there, the Soviet airmen decided to look at the harbor instead. As the formation arrived over Ruissalo Seaplane Station in Turku, they were met with heavy antiaircraft fire that blew one of the biplanes apart. Nonetheless, the two well-known aces pressed home their attack, claiming two seaplanes destroyed. According to German sources, nine Soviet aircraft attacked Ruissalo, where one He 114 and an He 59 were damaged by machine-gun fire.20

But the odds during the Battle of Hanko were too uneven, as 13 lAP’s airfield came under constant artil­lery shelling. While Antonenko was landing after a com­bat mission on July 25, an artillery shell exploded right behind his 1-16. The shock wave overturned the airplane,

In the summer of 1941, twenty-four-year-old Starshiy Leytenant Aleksandr Avdeyev experienced the German onslaught on the USSR as a pilot in 153 IAP, which was equipped with 1-153 and 1-16 fighters. In 1942 this unit was one of the first to receive American-built Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters. On August 12,1942, Avdeyev was killed ramming a Bf 109 of II./ JG 77, his thirteenth aerial victory. On February 10,1943, Avdeyev was posthumously appointed Hero of the Soviet Union. {Photo: Novikov.)

and Kapitan Aleksey Antonenko, the formidable fighter and victor in eleven aerial combats, was thrown out of the cockpit and killed instantly.

The death of his friend shocked Petr Brinko. The commander of the Hanko aviation group saw this and decided to transfer him from Hanko to Tallinn, in north­ern Estonia. In the latter sector, the situation for the Soviet Eighth Army was deteriorating day by day. Squeezed toward the northern coast of Estonia by the German Eighteenth Army, it was in danger of being sealed off by the advance of Panzergruppe 4 to the Luga River, in the east. Leytenant Brinko arrived to join the air forces of KBF and Northern Front that were brought in to relieve pressure on the Eighth Army with aerial assaults against the enemy ground troops.

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On July 23 1941. nine 1-153s led by Kapitan Leonid Beiousov and the two 1-16s pilotec by Kapitan Aleksey Antonenko and Leytenant Petr Brirkc—all frorr tie detachment of 13IAP/KBF at Hanko—set out against the Finn sh airfield at Turku. Flying in over the nearby seaplane station at Riissalo. the Soviets found two hydroplanes. Antonenko and Brinko attacked them with machine-gun f re and destroyed both, an He 114 and an He 59, pmbably from Fernaufklarungsgruppe 125. This photo shows the He 59, ‘DK+BS,’ shortly after the Soviet deadly duo’s unwexome visit. {Photo: Matti Poutavaara via Valtonen.)

On the other side of the hill, the Germans shifted the task of the bombers of Luftflotle 1 to an offensive against the supply lines leading to Leningrad, a move intended to prepare the upcoming offensive against that city. On July 25 and 27 the important rail junction at Bologoye, on the Moscow – Le n і ng r a d line, was hit decisively.

Intercepting a formation of Ju 88s over Krasno – gvardeysk, the old czar residence southwest of Leningrad, on July 27, Mladshiy Leytenant Vladimir Zalcvskiv of 157 І. ЛР/7 IAK reportedly brought down one bomber by ramming it with his 1-16. The successful Soviet рік* survived, unlike Leutnant Gerhard ZicImVs crew from 7 / KG 76, which was listed as missing in the same area.21

Having destroyed the remnants of three surrounded Red Army divisions west of the Nevel River, on the right flank of Army (Troup North, the German Sixteenth German Army mounted an offensive on July 28 against the railway junction Velikiyc Luki, a hundred miles to the east of the Russian-Lal vian border. A close-support
mission in this area on the first day of the attack claimed the life of Hauptmann Johannes Freiherr von Richthofen, the St affcl kapitan of 6./ZG 26. Badly hit by enemy fire, his Bf 110 crashed into woods, exploding on impact and creating a violent: forest fire/2

During these days, ZG 26 was followed by the remaining units of Fliegerkorps VIII, as this command was shifted from Luftflotte 2 to Luftflotle I. Bringing in four Stukagruppen and three Jagdgruppen meant a sig­nificant strengthening of the Luftwaffe forces available for support of the upcoming offensive against lxningrad.

Assembled in the Velikiye Luki sector, IIl./JG.5.1 achieved JG 53’s thousandth victory on July 29. On the last day of July, the famous Slarshiy Leytenant Petr Ryabtsev (12.5 IAP), who had been one of the first successful air-to-air rammers on the first day of the war, was shot down and killed by a Grunherz fighter. On the following day, Leutnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann achieved the Grunherz Gesehwader s thousandth victory.

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The rate of attrition in the Soviet air units is clearly – depicted by the losses sustained by VVS-North western Front. Unable to count more than approximately 150 aircraft on July 1, 1941, VVS-North western Front alone registered 189 planes lost in combat (including 132 on combat missions, with a further 4 receiving heavy battle if damage) in July.2′ Even this figure is incomplete, since the number of Il-2s listed as lost according to this source I is 19, while the unit records of 74 ShAP/VVS-North – | western Front lists 25 Il-2s lost in July 194124—a fear – some loss rate. After the first month of the war, the I strength of VVS-Northwestern Front had been reduced

■ to only 88 aircraft, including just seventeen SB bomb – P ers.25 A total of 184 aerial victories credited to the fliers

of WS-North western Front during the same period was a poor consolation.

To the costly aerial combat were added the crippling blows dealt by the Luftwaffe against the Soviet air bases, г Responding to complaints from the German Eighteenth I Army about the increased VVS activity in Estonia, ZG -■ 26 was called on to launch a raid against the large air

■" base at Tallinn. The low-level “Hun rides” against air – ; fields deep inside enemy territory were specialities of the Bf 110 crews of ZG 26. This Zerstorergeschwader was І credited with the destruction of 620 Soviet aircraft on і the ground or in the air between June 22 and July 31, ‘ 1941.

ZG 26 managed to catch the Soviets і at Tallinn Airdrome by surprise on August 2. The Bf 110 crews returned home with claims of about forty enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground. In aerial combat with Soviet aircraft, the heavy Ї Zerstorer planes were able to score far t better than during the Battle of Britain.

; t The Soviet naval fighter ace,

[; Levtenant Vasiliy Golubev, recalls a very unpleasant encounter with the Bf 110s ofZG 26. Early one morning, 13 OIАЕ/

KBF was scrambled just as two forma­tions of twin-engine German planes came in to raid the airfield. Leytenant Golubev l’- decided to attack what he assumed to be

■ four Ju 88 bombers head-on and was sur – i prised that the enemy pilots made no at­tempt to evade his attack. Having the

Л enemy leader in his gunsight, Golubev

was just about to press his trigger when the nose of the enemy aircraft seemed to explode. Instantly, 20mm shells slammed violently into the Ishak’s engine and large flames erupted. Golubev instinctively pushed his stick forward, and the enemy aircraft flashed by above him. Only then did Golubev realize that they were Bf 110s equipped with powerful nose armament, and not Ju 88 bombers

Fortunately for Golubev, the airfield was right below, but the Zerstorer pilot came back to finish his kill. At this moment, Golubev’s faithful wingman, Leytenant Dmitriy Knyazev, got on the Bf 110’s tail and hit it with his four machine guns. While Golubev made a quick belly landing, Knyazev continued after the Bf 110, which, with smoke pouring out of one engine, had become sepa­rated from its flight. Knyazev finished it off in the vicin­ity of Narva.26

Meanwhile, the bombers of Fliegerkorps II and VIII continued striking at the Soviet rear area. On August 4, German bombers managed to completely destroy the rail­way station at Toropets, reporting four trains with about eighty railway cars destroyed. Obviously these missions were carried out without the bomber crews being much troubled by the Soviet fighters in this sector. According to Hauptmann Gerhard Baeker of IIL/KG 1: “Early on August 5 we flew against troop columns near Staraya Russa, and during the afternoon an ammunition depot

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On August 6,1941, Oberleutnant Reinhardt Hejn, staffelkapitan of 2./JG 54, went down over Soviet territory and was captured. Nine days later, these photos appeared in Leningrad Pravda. In the center, Red Army soldiers are seen examining Hein’s belly-landed Bf 109 F-2. To the right is Oberleutnant Hein, who has received first aid, with armed guards. A close comparison of German and Soviet documents shows that it is highly likely that Hein was Starshiy Leytenant Andrey Chirkov’s seventh victory, reportedly achieved in the vicinity of Lake Samro, about twenty miles from Narva. According to Soviet sources, the German pilot, an Oberleutnant, was interrogated in the headquarters of 158IAP. (Photos: TASS/Leningrad Pravda.)

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at Luga was our target. During all of our missions we had to deal with Russian antiaircraft fire, and sometimes also fighters, mostly Ratas. The latter didn’t trouble us very much when they attacked separately. But the Rus­sian antiaircraft fire was effective and dangerous at all flight levels.”

To counter the appearance of Fliegerkorps VIII, four new Soviet aviation regiments arrived as reinforcements to the Northwestern Zone. Starting on August 3, the

Soviet Air Force intensified its air assaults against all sectors of Army Group North. The German Eighteenth Army in Estonia sustained particularly heavy losses.

On August 6, ZG 26 returned to Estonian airspace on another “Hun ride,” reportedly completely annihilat­ing the entire aircraft park at a KBF seaplane station. Probably on the same day, 158 IAP/39 IAD, equipped with Yak-Is, suffered a severe setback as Bf 109s of I./ JG 54 shot down an entire formation of three fighters in a single dogfight. Starshiy Leytenant Andrey Chirkov, with seven victories to his credit at this time, survived a forced landing in friendly territory after bring­ing down one Bf 109. The German pi­lot, Oberleutnant Reinhardt Hein of 2./ JG 54, was slightly injured and subse­quently captured.

On August 7, 1II./KG l’s Haupt­mann Gerhard Baeker experienced a stag­gering example of the strengthened Soviet fighter force in this area:

I was supposed to raid the airfield at Nizino, southwest of Leningrad, together with two aircraft of the 9th Staffel. The weather was bad, with a cloud ceiling of only 150 to 300 feet above our base. The Jagdgruppe com-

manded by Hauptmann Dietrich Hrabak [II./JG 54J was supposed to escort us, but it couldn’t take off due to the adverse weather conditions, so l was tasked with the mission of a solo flight.

1 took off at 0825 and immediately sought refuge in the clouds. To the east of the Luga River, the cloud ceiling rose slowly to 6,000 feet. 1 remained close beneath the clouds so that I would be able to disappear into the haze in case of a fighter attack. Just ahead of the target the clouds dispersed, and all that was left were a few cloud mountains at an altitude of between 3,000 and 6,000 feet. I approached the airfield at 7,500 feet flight level, but just as 1 was about to launch my bomb load 1 found a huge cloud between myself and the tar­get During my second approach flight, 1 noticed that the Soviet fighter defense had been alerted, so I made a quick dive-attack and then climbed into the closest cloud. As I came out of the cloud, 1 was met by three Ratas (IT 6). 1 gave full throttle and attempted to reach the cloud cover at 2,000 feet altitude to the west. The Ratas had difficul­ties in following me, but suddenly nine modern fighters approached—low-winged planes with retracted undercarriage (MiG-Is?). Realizing that 1 had no chance of reaching the clouds, I put the nose of my Ju 88 down, but before I had even commenced my dive the nine fighters were on me. I found myself in the midst of a flood of tracers. Parts of my aircraft were torn off. My left aileron no longer responded and I found it very difficult to move the side rudder. One thought went through my mind: "It looks as though you’re go­ing to be shot down.” But I soon came to my senses. My engines were still running and 1 was diving. The first attack was over. I managed to pull my Ju 88 up and headed for the west at treetop level. None of my crewmen had been injured.

Next, the Soviets made one single pass after another. 1 flung my head in all directions, to watch the ground, to check behind, to follow’ the attack­ing enemy fighters with my eyes. The Russians committed a decisive mistake—they all attacked sin­gly, below and to the left. As long as I could see the muzzles of their arms, nothing happened to me, and when they attempted to fire with the necessary aiming off, I pushed the controls of my

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Hauptmann Gerhard Baeker served as technical officer in III./KG 1 Hindenburg during the first two months of Operation Barbarossa. On August 19,1941, he was severely injured in a forced landing due to engine failure on his 132nd combat sortie. Returning to front-line service in 1944, he flew four-engine He 177s with KG 1 and ended the war as Gruppenkommandeur II./JG 3. (Photo: Baeker.)

damaged rudders to the right. This went on for about thirty minutes, until we reached Luga. There, the last Soviet fighter made a final attempt to fin­ish me off just as I had to pull up in front of the steep river bank. But I was prepared, and he failed to hit me. The Luga River was the front line. By now I was over friendly territory, and the last Soviet fighter disengaged.

As long as I had remained high, my gunner, Feldwebel Hein Bruns, fired below to the rear and my radio operator, Unteroffizier Hans Jager, fired above to the rear. At low level, only my radio operator was able to fire with his MG 15. He met

every attack with well-aimed bursts. The gunner and my observer, Feldwebel Zens, handed him new magazines as he emptied one after another at a rapid pace. Within a short time he had expanded all our ammunition magazines. There were only a few rounds left. Only when the situation became precarious did he give the enemy a pair of short bursts. Three Soviet fighters were shot down. One Rata was caught in the air current of my propel­lers at low altitude and crashed into the ground. Two MiGs were shot down by my crew.

After we landed successfully on one wheel at our base at Sabarovka, we counted five cannon and seventeen machine-gun hits in our Ju 88. The fuel tanks had been shot through, but they remained functional due to the self-sealing device. The antenna above the cockpit was also shot through, and the left aileron was severely damaged.

On the evening of August 7, bombers of KBF raided the German supply port at Pamu, in southwestern Esto­nia. A few hours later, the Soviets stunned their enemy by dispatching an air raid against Berlin.

The idea of raiding Berlin was promulgated by the commander of naval aviation, General-Leytenant Semyon Zhavaronokov, in July 1941. Having drawn up the tech­nical plans for the raid, he introduced the plan to the

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Polkovnik Yevgeniy Preobrazhenskiy, the commander of WS-Red Banner Baltic Fleet’s 1 MTAP, was one of the ablest Soviet naval aviation regimental commanders in 1941. In January 1942, 1 MTAP-KBF was among the first naval aviation regiments to receive the honorary title “Guards Regiment’. (Photo: Author’s collection.) commissar of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Flota Nikolay Я Kuznetsov. According to Zhavaronokov’s plan, all bomb Я ers in VVS-KBF would participate. The main problem ■ was that only one air base, at Osel Island, permitted the ■ bombers to reach Berlin. Kuznetsov presented the plan I to Stalin. The Soviet dictator accepted, but only agreed Я to the use of two Eskadrilyas of 1 MTAP.

General-Leytenant Zhavaronokov was put in charge Я of the Berlin raid. On July 30 he arrived in Bezzabotnoye Я Airdrome, where he met the commander of 1 MTAP/Я KBF, Polkovnik Yevgeniy Preobrazhenskiy.

The call for a Berlin raid did not come as a surprise* to Preobrazhenskiy. A few days earlier, he had instructed I his regiment’s chief navigator, Kapitan Petr Khokhlov, Я to investigate the possiblities of launching a mission against Я the German capital. The total distance from Osel to Вег – Я lin and back again was more than eleven hundred miles, Я which implied a flight duration of seven hours for the Я DB-3T bombers. This allowed no more than twenty-five Я minutes of fuel reserve.

Polkovnik Preobrazhenskiy ordered twenty DB-3Ts Я to be prepared for the mission. Some of these aircraft underwent certain technical improvements, including the j installation of powerful radio transmitters. Five planes j had their engines exchanged. The best and most expert j enced crews were singled out and interned in a closed zone two miles from the air base, with strict orders that prohibited any contact with outsiders.

At 2300 hours on August 4, fifteen DB-3Ts (the remaining five were still waiting for engine exchanges) і took off from Bezzabotnoye. After a flight of 375 miles, j they landed at Kagul/Osel Airdrome. On August 7, ] weather recce flights to the German Baltic Sea coast were J undertaken by some daring fliers in Che-2 aircraft from j the same airfield. Despite reports of adverse weather 1 conditions-low clouds at 2,500 to 3,000 feet in altitude, 1 and rains—General-Leytenant Zhavaronkov decided to launch the raid that very evening.

At 2100 hours, thirteen bombers started taking off against Berlin. With the exception of one aircraft, which ] carried a 1,000-kilogram bomb load, each DB-3T carried j two 100-kilogram ZAB incendiary bombs and six 100- kilogram FAB high-explosive bombs.

The approach flight was carried out at an altitude of 18,000 feet, the crews having to endure temperatures j of 37 degress Celsius below zero. After three hours, the first ] bombers arrived over Berlin. According to the Soviet ver – 1

Подпись: TheDB-3F was a version of Sergey Ilyushin's DB-3 medium bomber equipped with more powerful engines than its predecessor, but its main advantage was that its structure was composed of pressed profiles rather than pipes, as was the case with the DB-ЗА. This new technology led to a considerable ; decrease in the labor intensity required to manufacture this airplane. Thus, the DB-3F required only half the construction lime of the DB-ЗА, an Б important step toward the recovery of the VVS. The torpedo version of DB-3F, DB-3T, served with mine-torpedo regiments such as 1 MTAP, and took part in the first Berlin raids. The DB-3F was later redesignated II-4. (Photo: Balss.)

[ sion, Polkovnik Preobrazhenskiy dropped the first bombs. 1 He then radioed Osel: “Target Berlin, mission accom­plished!" 1 MTAP reported six bombers arriving over j the German capital, with the remainder dropping their bombs on targets of opportunity.

In his chronicle of the Berlin raids during World War II, historian Werner Girbig gives the German ver – [ sion: “The Russians dispatched a small group of Ilyushin [. Il-4s [DB-3Ts|, which reached the Berlin area but never undertook any real attack. Only one single aircraft ap­pears to have dared enter the airspace over the city’ itself. I Approximately forty minutes after the alarm was sounded,

I several searchlight beams caught the twin-engine Rus­sian aircraft. The pilot maintains his course stubbornly, I without making any evasive maneuvers. The antiaircraft К artillery opens fire. After a few minutes the 11-4 is cov­ered with flames. It goes down in a steep dive and crashes I somewhere in the outskirts of the city. On the following day, the widespread wreckage of the Soviet bomber is I examined closely by air force specialists.”27

According to the Soviet version, all aircraft returned, F though one DB-3 crashed at the airfield due to poor I ground illumination. After the landing, the Soviet airmen I celebrated with a whole box of brandy. 1 MTAP carried out I two more raids against Berlin during the following nights.

The air activity reached a new climax along the en­tire northern combat zone after August 8, when Panzergruppe 4 opened the final offensive against Leningrad on the Luga front, southwest of the city. On the first day of the offensive, heavy rain hampered most air activity. General-Leytenant Markian Popov, the com­mander in chief of the Northern Front, called for large – scale airstrikes against the German area of deployment. This was a difficult task, because his battered air force was widely dispersed. Of 560 aircraft available on August 10, 142 were deployed along the Finnish border and farther north, in the Murmansk area. VVS-KBF was engaged supporting the Soviet Eighth Army in northern Estonia. General-Mayor Aleksandr Novikov, the supreme VVS commander in the Northwestern Zone, decided to shift 2 BAD from the area south of Lake Ilmen and 7 IAP/5 SAD from the Karelian Isthmus to the Luga sector.

With clearing skies on August 10, the air forces on both sides launched all available aircraft in close-support missions in the Luga sector. The impact was terrible. On this day alone, 1,126 Luftwaffe sorties and 908 VVS sorties were logged. The German airmen claimed to have destroyed ten tanks, more than two hundred vehicles,
and fifteen artillery batteries on August 10.28 On the Soviet side, 288 ShAP claimed large successes in low – level attacks against concentrations of enemy motorised troops.

By the end of the day, the Luftwaffe counted fifty – four Soviet warplanes shot down.24 The participating German fighter units suffered only three losses, one of them through a ramming by a MiG-3 piloted by Kapitan Ivan Gorbachyov of 71 LAP/KBF. According to Soviet figures for August 10, VVS-Northern Front shot down twenty-three German planes against eleven of its own planes lost.30

The air strikes enabled Pansergruppe 4 to penetrate the Soviet defense positions on August 11, initiating the drive toward Leningrad. But despite the heavy Luftwaffe air strikes, the Soviet resistance continued to be very hard. The Panzergruppe was only able to move forward slowly in the marshlands on the way to Leningrad, fight­ing bitterly for every step ahead.

The largest Soviet aerial effort against Berlin took place on the night of August 11. It involved both Podpolkovnik Preobrazhenskiy’s naval aviation regiment and aircraft from DBA: DB-3s and DB-3Fs from 200 BAP at Osel; plus eight TB-7s from 432 BAP/81 AD; and three Yer-2s from 420 BAP/81 AD based at Pushkin, near Leningrad. The four-engine TB-7 bombers were personally led by the commander of 81 AD, Kombrig Mikhail Vodopyanov, a veteran and Hero of the Soviet Union.

The mission was a complete failure. One TB-7 crashed during takeoff. Since the KBF had not been informed of this mission, two other TB-7s were mistak­enly shot down by friendly antiaircraft batteries, while a third was downed by a KBF 1-16. Two other TB-7s returned home with heavy AAA damage sustained over enemy territory, and both were destroyed in crash land­ings. One Yer-2 was listed as missing. Only three TB-7s and two Yer-2s managed to reach Berlin.

Kombrig Vodopyanov’s own experiences are quite telling. During the approach flight, bis TB-7, Blue 8, found itself bounced by a group of 1-16s, but it luckily managed to escape without getting hit. Having strayed off course, the crew of the bomber managed to locate Stettin, eighty miles northeast of Berlin, where it ran into a heavy anti­aircraft barrage. Despite one engine out of action due to damage, the crew succeeded in bringing the plane to the Berlin area, where the bombs were salvoed somewhere in the northern outskirts shortly after midnight. Twice hit by antiaircraft fire again, Vodopyanov’s TB-7 went! down in a forested area in German-occupied southern Estonia. After a two-day walk, the crew managed to reach the Soviet lines, only to learn that Vodopyanov had been; relieved of his command and replaced by Polkovnik Aleksandr Golovanov, who later rose to command the entire Soviet strategic bomber force.

These minor Soviet raids naturally had no influence. on the general war situation. The defenders of Leningrad! saw the enemy approach closer day by day. Despite tena – cious efforts by the ground troops and the airmen of the Red Army, the advance of the enemy tank spearheads seemed to be slowed but not entirely halted. On August 13, Panzergruppe 4 reached the rail line connecting! Tallinn, in northern Estonia, with Leningrad. With that General-Mayor Novikov decided to reinforce the air units on the Luga-Leningrad front with 126 navy aircraft, the hulk of WS-KBF.

The scale and pace of operations inevitably wore down the Red air units. On August 13, a successful na­val air force pair, Lcytenant Vasiliy Golubev and Leytenant Dmitriy Knyazev of 13 OlAE/KBF, were shot down. Flying air cover for the Tallinn rail line on the northern coast of Estonia, a group of I-16’s led by Starshiy Leytenant Petr Kulakov was jumped by a Staffel of Bf 109s. The Soviets managed to evade the first attack with­out suffering any losses, but the Bf 109s came back. A whirling dogfight followed in which the Soviet pilots had to use all their flying skills. Leytenant Knyazev’s Ishak was shot down in flames, and Knyazev bailed out, Leytenant Golubev was eventually defeated when a Bf 109 sneaked up on his tail. A violent strike told Golubev that his aircraft was hit. As he turned away, he felt an­other strike, this time from below. His flight altitude was too low by now, and the ground was rushing toward him. Hot oil splashed onto his face and covered his goggles; he threw them off and saw a small wood in front of him. Having slowed by turning off the engine, Golubev man­aged to pull the stick by using all his strength and both hands. Then followed the crash. Vasiliy Golubev returned to conciousness only on the following day.31

Leutnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann of 7./JG 54 Griinherz later described a most difficult air combat with a Soviet fighter pilot in the same area on August 4:

The Russian flight leader had noticed us and

image98turned around. My wingman made another attack. Once again, the Russian turned and met him head – on. Damn, this was a tough fellow!

The rest of my flight intervened and made wild attacks on him from all positions. This Rus­sian pilot definitely was one of their top aces. He avoided each attack exactly at the right moment, pulled up, and then went down steeply over his wing. He even had the nerve to pull up behind our flight and fire some very accurate bursts. We lay above him, dove on him at high speed, and then pulled up steeply. So far, 1 hadn’t intervened

7./JG 54’s Leutnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann was one of the most aggressive fighter pilots of JG 54 during the early years of the war with the USSR. He was so short in stature that his Bf 109 had to have wooden blocks attached to the rudder pedals. Nevertheless, Ostermann was one of the few German fighter pilots who dared to enter—and was able to win—turning combats with the highly maneuverable Polikarpov fighters. He later became famous for his long-range sorties, searching out victims over airfields far in the Soviet rear area. Ostermann was killed during one of these sorties, on August 9,1942, after having achieved a total of 102 victories. (Photo: Bundesarchiv.)

Leytenant Vasiliy Golubev of 13 OIAE/KBF was one of the noblest aerial opponents of the Bf 109s of JG 54 Griinherz during much of the war. He scored his first victory, against a Ju 88 on June 28, 1941, and through August 1941 he succeeded in bringing down a total of eleven enemy aircraft, most of them jointly with his faithful wingman, Leytenant Dmitriy Knyazev. Golubev finished the war with a total of sixteen personal and twenty-three shared victories. He reached the rank of leytenant-general before retiring in 1975. (Photo: Seidl.)

in the combat, since I wanted my Kaczmarek to have this kill. But suddenly the Russian tried to get away, heading for two Russian naval ships anchored in the bay. The AAA on the ships was already firing at us. It was now or never! I went down after him, but he turned to the right. I had aimed slightly to the left, but he had noticed this immediately. As I pulled up again, he had already banked to the left. Then he came around and started shooting at me from behind! Suddenly, light AAA fire opened up at me from the ships. I turned left as hard as I could, went down over the left wing, and then pulled left again. 1 made this very fast, and got the Russian in front of me. From

slightly above him, I finally managed to get a burst at him. I could see hits! The plane left a trail of dark smoke.

When Leytenant Golubev returned to 13 OIAE a month later, he would find only nine I-16s left of the original twenty-six.

On the right wing of Army Group North, the Ger­man Sixteenth Army approached Novgorod north of Lake Ilmen. The immediate aim of this attack was to sever the important supply line from Moscow to Leningrad. Dur­ing a battle lasting eleven days, both sides sent strong air forces to this sector. The air units of Luftflotte 1 fell upon the retreating Soviet columns, while VVS-North – western Front and DBA units carried out 460 sorties against the advancing German troops. On August 13 Gefreiter Erich Peter, a newly arrived dive-bomber pilot in 3./StG 2 Immelmann, managed to interrupt the Soviet retrograde movement by knocking out a vital bridge across the Volkhov River. The next day, a formation of Bf 109s bounced a group of Soviet aircraft carrying out low-level attacks near Lake Ilmen and downed seven-
five of them by Oberleutnant Erbo Graf Kageneck of III./JG 27—without suffering any losses. The I Staffelkapitan of 4./JG 52, Oberleutnant Johannes! Steinhoff, scored one victory in the same area. One of his pilots was killed in combat with eight DB-3s of 1 BAK and four of the new 11-2 Shturmoviks. That day, also, 288 ShAP was reported to have destroyed > or damaged more than fifty vehicles in a single Ger­man supply column near Soltsy, southwest of Lake Ilmen.

During one of the 155 sorties flown by KG 2 on August 14, the Do 17 piloted by Knight’s Cross holder: Leutnant Heinrich Hunger received a direct AAA hit! and crashed near Novgorod. The crew managed to bail out. Later, the remains of Leutnant Hunger and his radio operator were found, butchered by their Soviet captors.

image99

On August 16, as Novgorod fell into German hands, the Soviet Eleventh and Thirty-fourth armies opened a counterattack south of Lake Ilmen, at Staraya Russa. KG 1 77 and the entire Fliegerkorps VIII were immediately brought into action against this threat. Dive-bombers and Zerstorer carried out close-support attacks while the

Подпись: Oberleitnanl Erbo Graf Kageneck (r.) claimed forty-seven Soviet aircraft shot down between June and October 1941, making him the top scorer of JG 27 on the Eastern Front. He was awarded with the Knight's Cross on July 30,1941. and the Oak Leaves on October 26. He was transferred to North Africa, where he was mortally injured in combat with British fighters on Christmas Eve 1941. (Photo: Roba.)

Ju 88s and Do 17s struck against troop columns and railway lines leading to Staraya Russa, inflicting severe casualties. The bombers of Fliegerkorps I meanwhile were fully engaged against Soviet rail supplies, and on August 16 Hauptmann Gerhard Baeker of I1I./KG 1 managed to sever the rail line to the Luga front. On August 17 six Do 17s, led by Oberleutnant Werner Lutter of Stab/ KG 2, managed to destroy eighteen Soviet tanks during a single mission west of Staraya Russa.

Despite a successive decrease of the number of ser­viceable aircraft, the WS continued to present problems to the Luftwaffe in the air. In his chronicle of KG 2, Ulf Bailee made the following note for August 16: “Very strong enemy fighter opposition made the task of the bombers difficult Only due to the Me 109F fighters of fll/JG 54, which flew continous free-hunting missions over the battlefield, were the losses limited to one Do 17 of 9./KG 2, which was forced to belly-land near Vereteni with heavy damage from enemy fighters.”32

The strong offensive action by the WS compelled the Luftwaffe to resume its air-base offensive. Soviet fig­ures, however, show a meager outcome, with only six aircraft of VVS-Northern Front destroyed on the ground on August 16.

During one of these raids, a formation of twenty – four Bf 110s of I./ZG 26 and four Bf 109s of III./JG 54 were intercepted by five courageous MiG-3 pilots. The Soviets claimed four enemy aircraft shot down. I./ZG 26 recorded one Bf 110 heavily damaged while 8./JG 54 Grunhcrz lost Oberfeldwebel Georg Braunshirn, a thirteen-victory ace. Braunshirn was the first among the Griinherz top aces to fall on the Eastern Front.

The logbook of 7./JG 54 on August 18 reads: “The Staffel is involved in daily air combat with numerically superior enemy formations southwest of Leningrad. These engagements frequently last for an hour’s time. The maneuverability of the Russian fighters makes it hard to shoot them down. Leutnant Ostermann nevertheless

image101

Oberleutnant Hans Philipp, the Staffelkapitan of 4./JG 54, was the top scorer of JG 54 in 1941. On August 24,1941, after he had scored his sixty-second victory, he was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross. This photo shows Philipp a few days before the award ceremony, posing beside the rudder of his Bf 109 F, which displays fifty-six markings. By the time Philipp was killed in combat with U. S. heavy bombers and Thunderbolts on October 8,1943, he had achieved a total of 206 victories. (Photo: Hofer.)

managed to bring down two l-lbs today.”55 The top ace in JG 54, Oberleutnant Hans “Fips" Philipp, of II Gruppe, scored his sixtieth victory during these fights.

To the west, the Battle of Estonia was settled during the latter half of August. On August 19, eight 13 1АР/ KBF Ishaks took off from Tallinn to strafe a column of German troops on the road from Parnu to Tallinn. This cost them three 1-16s damaged, of which one, piloted by Leytenant Alim Baysultanov, exploded shortly after landing.

Striking against the Soviet air units that supported the Red Army in the Leningrad sector, ZG 26 was dis­patched on August 19 against the base of 5 ІЛР/KBFal Nizino, seventeen miles southwest of Leningrad. Oberleutnant Johannes Kiel of I./ZG 26 later wrote the following vivid account of this raid:

We started diving from an altitude of 3,000 meters, J right into the antiaircraft fire. AAA bursts appear to the left, to the right, and between our aircraft And still we continue toward our target. Battle excitement has caught us. Each of us concentrates only on the target. We approach the airfield rap­idly. Each pilot has singled out his target The

ground comes rushing toward us, as if it is going to consume us. Five hundred, three hundred, one j hundred meters. Our guns start hammering. The Zerstorcrgruppe comes sweeping down over the j airfield, only a few meters above the ground. Here and there we can see enemy aircraft burst into I flames, and then we climb again. A wild circus is J commenced. The formation is split as each pilot | seeks his target. The aircraft dive upon their vic­tims from all directions….

‘‘Achtung! Fighters from the left!” The en – j emy fighters have arrived already! Everything is! on fire on the airfield beneath us. Heavy explo – j sions are sounding and there is thick smoke in the air. We dive into the smoke over and over again, and discover more hidden aircraft. As in a dream,

1 can sec one of our own aircraft disengage with a j thick trail of smoke—hit by antiaircraft fire. The j damaged plane is turning away to the west. It starts losing altitude, goes deeper and deeper. There. It hits the ground.

From the Soviet viewpoint, Leytenant Igor Kaberov | of 5 IAP recalled this raid: “A huge formation of enemy aircraft dove out of the sun and came roaring over the hangar roofs. The whisde from falling bombs and rat­tling of machine guns deafened me. I threw myself to the ground and saw the twin-engine Messerschmitts rush over the runway. 1 waited for the right moment, then I stood up and dashed to the shelter. Having almost tom the door from its hinges, I jumped in and flung myself flat to the floor. Someone pulled me into a corner of the shelter. Moments later, a machine-gun burst pierced the door and the tables close to it The lights went out. In the darkness we listened to the seemingly endless

image102Подпись: Gdov Airdrome, east of Lake Peipus, in August 1941. The command post of 7./JG 54 was tioused m this trailer, which displays the unit's 120 victory bars. The Staffers 120th victory was achieved when Leulnant Max-Hellmuth Ostermann downed an 1-16 on August 21,1941. (Photo: Roba.)machine-gun fire, bomb explosions, and roaring aircraft engines.*34

According to Soviet sources, twenty Soviet aircraft were destroyed on the ground and a further thirteen received damage of varying degrees during this raid.35 Only one pilot, Mladshiy Leytenant Nikolay Sosedin, managed to take off during the raid, and he crashed his 116 on the runway, sustaining severe injuries. Two days later, one Eskadrilya of 5 1AP/KBF was pulled out of combat to reequip on LaGG-3s.

The airmen of L./ZG 26 claimed the destruction of forty Soviet aircraft on the ground, plus three in the air, for the loss of one Bf 110. With this, ZG 26 had increased its toll of enemy planes destroyed since June 22 to 191 in the air and 663 on the ground.

On August 20 the German Sixteenth Army finally managed to capture Chudovo, north of Novgorod, thus cutting off one of the two main supply lines between Moscow and Leningrad. During this eleven-day battle the units under command of Fliegerkorps VIII had dropped more than thirty-three hundred tons of bombs.

The next day, Panzergruppe 4 reached Krasno – gvardevsk, thirty miles southwest of Leningrad. Instead of concentrating the entire armored force against Leningrad, the commander of Army Group North, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, ordered
the XXXI Panzer Corps to turn south. The plan was to surround the Soviet troops remaining in the Luga – Novgorod area. During renewed Luftwaffe air-base raids on August 21, VVS-Northern Front registered eighteen aircraft lost on the ground at Pushkin.

To improve the structure of the defense operations at Leningrad, the Stavka divided the Northern Front, responsible for the huge sector between Leningrad and Murmansk, into two new fronts: the Karelian Front, mainly in charge of the Soviet-Finnish combat zone; and the Leningrad Front.

On August 25, Mladshiy Leytenant Petr Kharitonov of 158 IAP reportedly downed a Ju 88 near Krasnogvardeysk by ramming it; then he successfully bailed out. According to a Soviet source,36 the four-man crew of the German bomber bailed out and, from a posi­tion above Kharitonov, opened fire at the fighter pilot with their flight pistols. Another Yak-1, piloted by a young Leytenant, came to Kharitonov’s assistance with blazing guns, killing one of the German airmen while he was hanging in his harness. As they reached the ground, the three surviving Luftwaffe aviators were captured by infuriated Red Army soldiers. The loss lists of Generalquartiermeister der Luftwaffe reveal that a Ju 88 of 6./KG 76 was lost to Soviet fighters in the same area on that day. The entire crew w’as listed as missing, with the comment that two airmen probabably managed to bail out.

Kharitonov was awarded the Golden Star as a Hero of the Soviet Union. This was his second taran—the first being achieved with his 1-16 over another Ju 88 in the vicinity of Pskov in the Soviet – Estonian southern border area on the seventh day of the war. Shortly aftenvard Kharitonov was shot down and seriously w’ounded in air combat. He returned to the front only in 1944, ending the war in the PVO with sixteen victories to his credit.

Another Soviet fighter pilot shot dow-n and killed the Staffelkapitan of 1./ KG 2, Oberleutnant Horst Scharf von Grauerstedt, south of Chudovo, near the Volkhov River on August 25.

Intense fighting along the extended front line on the northern combat zone

Подпись: Three smiling Soviet fighter pilots of 158 IAP on July 8,1941. Mladshiy Leytenants Mikhail Zhukov (I.), Stepan Zdorovtsev, and Petr Kharitonov(r.) became the first three airmen of the war against Germany to be appointed Heroes of the Soviet Union on this day. Zdorovtsev was killed in action the following day and Zhukov was shot down and killed in June 1943. On June 28,1941, Kharitonov survived the ramming of a Ju 88, probably from 6J KG 76. Two months later, he managed to survive a second taran, once again probably a Ju 88 from the same 6./KG 76. He ended the war with fourteen victories and died in Donetsk (formerly Stalino) on February 1,1987. (Photo: Seidl.)

lay an increasing burden on the exhausted combat pilots of both sides.

image104Подпись:To the south, on the border between Army Group North and Army Group Center, a prolonged battle was being waged at Velikiye Luki, where a Soviet counterattack was halted with the help of Fliegerkorps VHL This resulted in the complete destruction of the Soviet Twenty-second Army. Here, 40,000 Soviet soldiers perished and 30,000 were captured, a high price for merely slowing the German advance against the sector between Lake Ilmen and Moscow. Oper­ating over this battleground, the Bf 109s of I1I./JG 53 Рік As took a heavy toll of WS-Northwestern Front, reinforced to muster 174 aircraft on August 22. On August 25, Oberfeldwebel Stefan Litjens of 111.,/JG 53 repeated Oberleutnant Erbo

Подпись: The end of a Stuka: Red Army soldiers examine the sad remains of a Ju 87 shot down by a Soviet fighter in 1941. (Photo: Seidl.) Graf Kageneck’s previous feat by knocking another five Soviet fighters out of the air, including four “MiG-Is” (in reality probably MiG-3s).

In total, VVS-Northwestern Front registered 115 air­craft lost in combat during August 1941, against 88 victory1 claims from July 22 to August 22.37 Most VVS units suffered unbearable losses. Among those that suffered worst was the 11-2-equipped 74 ShAP/VVS – Northwestern Front, which registered twenty-five aircraft lost in July and nineteen in August.38 7 LAK/PVO regis­tered fifty-two fighters lost out of a total of only about one hundred fifty—and those only from August 20 to 30.34

Stiff air battles were fought over the bridgehead es­tablished by the German Sixteenth Army at the Lovat River, south of Lake Ilmen, where the VVS made repeated attempts to destroy the river crossings. For the first time in several weeks in this sector, the Soviet air­men appeared in formations of up to twenty aircraft. On August 27, II1./JG 53 claimed no fewer than seventeen victories in a single engagement, surpassing the five-hun­dred-victory mark of the Gruppe. On the same day, II./ JG 53 claimed another ten victories, including three by Feldwebel Herbert Rollwage.

On the Soviet side, 35IAP/7 LAK was credited with five enemy aircraft, including three Bf 110s, shot down on August 27, and six on August 29-all for the loss of only one MiG-3 on each date. Mladshiy Leytenant Nikolay Shcherbina had three of these victories. None of these claims can be verified with Luftwaffe loss lists.

To the north, a hard blow to the defenders was dealt with the German sei­zure of the Estonian capital, Tallinn, on August 28. The Soviets launched a large naval fleet to evacuate the Tallinn garri­son, but the evacuation units quickly drew the attention of the Luftwaffe. The bombers of Luftflotte 1 had two field days on August 28 and 29. Commanded by Hauptmann Klaus Noske, on August 29 nine He Ills of L/KG 4 managed to sink three ships with a total of six thou­sand tons and damage another three by using the tactic of a stream of individual low-level attacks against the evacuation fleet in a single mission.40 In total, the German bombers succeeded in sinking eighteen vessels of the evacuation fleet.41 Another thirty-five vessels were destroyed by mines or Finnish torpedo boats.

One of the emerging Soviet top aces of 1941, 191 lAP’s Mladshiy Leytenant Yegor Novikov, claimed an extraordinary success on August 29: He reported down­ing two Ju 87s and a Bf 109 near Mga in a combat end­ing with Novikov himself being shot down and wounded. With this, the Soviet fighter pilot had reached a total score of four.

At Lake Ilmen, the battle reached a critical stage during the last days of August, with the Wehrmacht attacking to the north and the Red Army counterattack­ing to the south of the lake

While escorting six Pe-2s of 514 PBAP and four ll-2s of 288 ShAP against the base of II./JG 52 at Soltsy to the west of Lake Ilmen on August 29, nine MiG-3 pilots of 402 IAP spotted a Bf 110, which Mayor Konstantin Gruzdyev attacked. It took a prolonged air combat before he finally managed to finish off the Bf 110. (4./ZG 26 filed the loss of the Bf 110 piloted by Feldwebel Karl Grinninger in the same area.) Mayor Gruzdyev was one of the most skillful Soviet pilots in the Northwestern Zone at this time. When he was recalled from combat duty to continue to serve as a test pilot in February 1942, he had achieved a total of seven­teen victories and was one of the top scorers in the entire VVS.

A dive-bomber mission on the same day deprived Fliegerkorps VIII of one of its most brilliant Stuka aces,

Knight’s Cross holder Hauptmann Anton Keil, the com­mander of IL/StG 1. During an attempted forced land­ing in enemy territory, Keil’s Ju 87 overturned, killing both crew members. The aircraft was afterwards set afire by Soviet troops.42

At the end of August, the pincer movement initi­ated by XLl Panzer Corps succeeded in closing in the remnants of the enemy forces in the Novgorod-Luga area. The largest annihilation battle on the northern combat zone rapidly unfolded, but the outcome was not more than twenty thousand Soviets being taken prisoner.

At this point the German fighter units in the north­ern combat zone were temporarily reinforced with IV./ JG 51. This Jagdgruppe included some of the most bril­liant German fighter pilots of the time. One of the most notable was Oberleutnant Heinz “Pritzl” Bar, who had achieved an amazing victory total since the opening of the war with the USSR, increasing his kill tally from seventeen to seventy in only two months. In action in the northern combat zone, he surpassed his own per­sonal one-day record by downing six enemy planes on August 30 alone. Nevertheless, the fighting on August 31 almost cost Bar his life.

After scoring his seventy-ninth and eightieth victo­ries against two Pe-2s, Bar’s Bf 109 was severely hit, leav­
ing the ace with no choice but to force land behind the enemy lines. Despite having both feet sprained in the violent crash, he leaped from the Messerschmitt as fast as he could, hid in some bushes, and managed to evade capture by Soviet soldiers arriving at the wreck. In a state of terror, confusion, and pain, Bar remained in hid­ing during the rest of the day and the following night The next morning he pulled himself together and decided to try to make it back to the German lines. Turn­ing his leather jacket inside out, stuffing it with hay, and throw’ing away his flight boots, he attempted to appear as a Russian peasant. He could have thrown away the Knight’s Cross and the Oak Leaves he had been awarded two weeks earlier, but his vanity prevented him from doing that; he just put them in his pocket, together with his watch and his small flight pistol. Then Bar started walking with two sprained ankles. He actually made it back to the German lines. By that time he was so injured that he would remain hospitalized for two months.

On August 31, JG 53 Рік As lost its most successful pilot, the 111 Gruppe’s Leutnant Erich “Schmidtchen* Schmidt, in the Velikiye Luki area. Schmidt had achieved a total of forty-seven victories.

Подпись: Allf-oi.gr it ca-nes only two v dory bars or 1-е s ce ruccer. this belly-landed end deserted B; 109o' IV./JG 51 is p-obaz у the о ene in лп cn Obe- autnar: Heinz 3ritz Ba' was s'ct down on Aug-st 3t. '941. II is ■utown f'om Ge'man coane-ts that Ber went down n Slack '' that day. and УЛІЗ 51 c< not register any other "Black Г lost on the Eastern Front in 1941. (Photo: Seidl.)

Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Hoffmann, another expert of IV./JG 51, achieved his fiftieth victory by downing

four "R-3s" (in reality probably R-5$ or R-Zs) in a row on September 2.4; Two days later, Hoffmann blew three So­viet aircraft— two 1)13- 3s and one MiG-3—out of the sky.4"

The mosl successful fighter unit on the Soviet side during the air battles in the Northwestern Zone in August 1941 was 39 IAL), which claimed thirty-nine German aircraft shot down that month.4′ This unit could count sev – iti lighter in’, in. n. i’t ‘iiuesvhil Ih – ing •’гг’Іііч I <- і пі.: r I К к m’v St. nrh. ikov. uiih a moil v..uv if. igiv •.iciori.- ні: r і І і he end o| Ліи;ііч:

V. Ucsh v I eyieiuni ndrey C hirkov.

GT nun and Slarviiy livu. uri lVti Гтгч. v wil l four. In V> kill.

Lum. iir a’iliv < io. ihev had ;іііі, і’чі i-lvven п. гмтіІ а:ні colic; live kilh ‘Sis l>: li"k. in. 11 In ллч. и ні ■ми-1 u I S9)." кiriian IVn Riink.. 14 I 3 і М» KI3I i.»i. k: onur, eleven mdiv i. liuil kills by the oul ■( AugiM. Rut 40.’ I lvs Mayor k. ii’si;. і r < i-i ciiyev, wiili binecr tor

On the night of September 4-5, before the advance of German ground troops forced the unit to abandon Oscl, 1 MTAP undertook its last of a total of ten Berlin missions. The twelve DB-3s of 200 BAP had also participated in nine Berlin missions, with a total of cighty – one individual flights. Fifty-five aircraft were reported to have reached the Ger­man capital. Two crashed on takeoff due to extreme overload, and the rest lost their way or suffered technical problems and had to pick nearer targets.

Of a total of eighty-six Soviet naval bombers that flew against Berlin in 1941, thirty-three were said to have reached the target. Others attacked targets of oppor­tunity, such as Stettin, Konigshcrg, Danzig, and Schwcincmtimie. Polkovnik Preobrazhenskiy, the daring commander of 1 MTAP, and four of his pilots were awarded the Golden Star as I leroes of the Soviet Union. Five pilots of the DBA were given the same award for their participation in the Berlin raids.

The “moral bombings” of Berlin were definitely a two-edged sword. Just as these raids gave a moral boost

image109A fighter pilot of 13 IAP/VVS-KBF inspects some small-caliber battle damage dealt to his 1-16 during a stiff engagement with German aircraft in the fall of 1941. (Photo: Russian Aviation Research Trust.)

to the battered Soviets during these hard times, the forced abandonment of this venture was felt as a setback.

Early in September, Schlisselburg, on the southern shore of Lake Ladoga to the east of Leningrad, became the focus of ground combat in the northern combat zone. From September 5, the He Ills of Oberst Hans-Joachim Rath’s KG 4 General Wever were concentrated in heavy “rolling attacks” against Soviet fortifications in this sec­tor. Four days later, Schlisselburg fell into German hands, depriving the defenders of Leningrad with their last land connection with their supply bases.

At this point the German Army Group North had J succeeded in driving the Soviets out of the Baltic States I and severing the land connection to Leningrad. The I defenders had suffered tremendous losses, in the air and 11 on the ground. What saved the situation for the Soviets! I on this front was that the bulk of the ground troops had j managed to withdraw in orderly fashion. Only limited I Red Army forces had been surrounded and annihilated, ] I and the construction of the Leningrad defense was in I full swing. The mobile war in this front sector had closed, j I but the Soviets had all the reason in the world to fear] the coming battle of Leningrad.

Annihilation at Kiev

fter the successful encirclement battle at Uman in southwestern Ukraine, the German Army Group South hesitated to launch a head-on assault against the heavily defended Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Instead, the bulk of Army Group South concentrated on wiping out the Soviet forces to the west of the lower Dnieper River and on establishing bridgeheads across the water­way. To the south, along the Black Sea coast, the Ger­man Eleventh and Romanian Fourth armies advanced toward the Dneiper mouth, with the seizure of the im­portant Black Sea port of Odessa as their primary goal.

On the right flank of the German Army Group South, the bomber units of Fliegerkorps V opened a series of intensive air raids on August 17 against the traffic center of Dnepropetrovsk. These were designed to delay an orderly retreat of the Red Army forces remaining to the west of the Dnieper bend; the main targets for these raids were the railroad station, thoroughfares, and bridges.

Panzergruppe 1 succeeded in establishing the first bridgehead at Zaporozhye, in the southern Dnieper bend, on August 19. Three days later, the German Seventeenth Army seized Cherkassy, about two hundred miles far­ther up up the Dnieper, and established a second bridge­head, on the eastern bank of the wide river.

On the left flank of Army Group South, the Ger­man Sixth Army pushed the Soviet Fifth Army, subject to unremitting attacks from the bombers of Fliegerkorps V, toward the Dnieper. On August 23 the Soviet Fifth Army had to give up its positions on the western Dneiper bank at Gornostaypol, thirty miles north of Kiev. A major Soviet setback in this sector came when the

Подпись: No other aircraft better symbolizes Soviet air power during World War II than Sergey Ilyushin's II-2 Shturmovik, or ‘Gorbatyy” (Hunchback), as it was nicknamed by the men who flew it. In all, 36,163 ll-2s were manufactured during the war. (Photo: Seidl.)

defenders failed to destroy the wooden road bridge across the river. By the evening of August 23, the spearheads of the German Sixth Army had established positions on the eastern side of the Dnieper.

That day, also, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian’s Panzergruppe 2 of Army Group Center delivered a heavy blow to the south from the Gomel area, 130 miles north of Kiev. This was the opening of the largest encirclement battle in history. Fliegerkorps II of Luftflotte 2, includ­ing crack units such as JG 51 and SKG 210, provided effective air support for Guderian’s drive to the south. The tank columns of Panzergruppe 2 paved their way through weak Red Army forces in the border between the Soviet Thirteenth and Fortieth armies. Any attempt to resist was met by rapid aerial attacks from SKG 210. Meanwhile, the medium bombers of KG 3 and KG 53 devastated the railway junction at Chernigov, on the Desna River 100 miles to the south. On the first day, Guderian’s armored troops advanced sixty miles. On August 24, they seized the intact Desna bridge at Novgorod-Severskiy.

Fighting desperately to relieve its ground troops from the air, the crack 126 IAP filed an extraordinary claim on this day—seventeen aerial victories. Counting aces such
as Leytenant Stepan Ridnyy and Mladshiy Leytenant ■ Vladimir Kamenshchikov in its ranks, 126 IAP had been 1 credited with thirty-six aerial victories against twenty – я seven MiG-3s and l-16s lost in combat during the first я seven weeks of the war.

Soviet reaction to the new double threat was swift. Я To the south, General-Leytenant Kirponos, the com – jfl mander of the Southwestern Front, ordered his aviation 9 assets against the Dnieper bridge at Gornostaypol. These I forces were met by strong concentrations of German fight- | ers and antiaircraft fire, which were credited with the 1 destruction of thirty-three attacking aircraft on August 1 24 alone. But finally the pilot of one of the new 11-2 1 Shturmoviks, Leytenant Sergey Kolybin of 74 ShAP, man – | aged to place two incendiary bombs on the wooden bridge. | Kolybin’s plane was hit by AAA fire and crashed into a concentration of vehicles.1 The surviving German sol – | diers helplessly witnessed the costly bridge falling prey to я the flames.2 Fliegerkorps V’s Oberst Hermann Plocher 1 established that the loss of this bridge “adversely affected | further river-crossing operations and considerably delayed I the attack by the Sixth Army.”3

As Army Group South’s Panzergruppe 1 established a a new bridgehead across the Dnieper at Dnepropetrovsk, Я

north of Zaporozhye, on August 25, the Germans were immediately confronted with heavy air attacks from the DBA and VVS-Southern Front, including 11-2 Shturmoviks entering service with 210 ShAP. During the first two days, the aircraft of 210 ShAP were reported to have put several tanks and eighteen vehicles out of commission in the Dnepropetrovsk bridgehead. The diary of the German High Command noted: “In spite of own fighter cover, there are heavy and uninter­rupted low-level attacks against the bridge and bridge­head at Dnepropetrovsk. These attacks were intensified during the evening hours.”4 Thirteen airmen from 210 ShAP were decorated for these missions, which were carried out in defiance of the intercepting Bf 109s of D./JG 3.

By this time the rapid decrease in the number of serviceable aircraft became a mounting problem to the Luftwaffe. During the last days of August, Luftflotte 4 could muster no more than 320 bombers, 20 fighters, and 35 reconnaissance aircraft. At the same time, the WS of the Southwestern and Southern fronts possessed 493 bombers, 473 fighters, and 20 reconnaissance air­craft. The support by the air forces of Germany’s allies was vital in this sector.

Thus the Soviets met pilots of several different nationalities who were fighting on the German side. Apart from the Romanians in the South, there already were Hungarian and Slovakian airmen flying alongside the Luftwaffe in the Ukrainian skies. On August 27 the Italian 22 Gruppo, equipped with fifty-one MC.200 Saetta single-engine fighters, commenced operations with a low – level attack against Soviet troops near Dnepropetrovsk. When they returned to base, the Italian fighter pilots reported eight confirmed and four “probable” victories.

In the North, the impact of the strafing attacks by SKG 210 permitted Generaloberst Guderian’s troops to cross the Rozhok River almost without suffering any casualties on August 26. Meanwhile, Stalin was prepar­ing a great surprise for Guderian. A new Soviet army group—the Bryansk Front—was formed under command of General-Leytenant Andrey Yeremenko. The intention of the Bryansk Front, equipped with the best Soviet material, including Katyusha rockets and T-34 tanks, was to annihilate Guderian’s presumptuous Panzergruppe through a threefold attack from the east, south, and west.

An air force consisting 464 combat aircraft was assigned to Yeremenko’s new front. The foundation of the new VVS-Bryansk Front, commanded by General – Mayor Fyodor Polynin, is quite telling with respect to the Soviet reinforcement capacity. In August 1941 the new’ Stavka Reserve, including strong aviation units, was built up. Within a short time, six reserve aviation groups (RAGs), equipped with the most modern aircraft, were commissioned. The first RAG was allocated to the Bryansk Front, and all 11-2 Shturmovik regiments from the Reserve Front were transferred to the VVS-Bryansk Front. Other units arrived from the Transcaucasus Mili­tary District, from the Moscow PVO, from the Naval Air Force, and by means of the absorption of the Central Front into the Bryansk Front. These forces were supple­mented with aircraft brought in from flight schools.

The largely inexperienced airmen of the new VVS – Bryansk Front stood little chance against the veterans of JG 51, w’ho claimed thirty-five victories in the air over the Panzer spearheads on August 27. The bombers of Fliegerkorps II effectively frustrated Yeremenko’s prepa­rations for the offensive, delaying the arrival of large contingents of the Bryansk Front’s combat divisions to the deployment area. But when Yeremenko finally launched his offensive on August 29, it was with such force that it compelled Guderian to halt his advance and turn to defense.

Fliegerkorps II and VVS-Bryansk Front launched everything they had along the front. On the first day of the counteroffensive, crew’s in TB-3 four-engine bomb­ers of 42 BAD (formerly З BAK) made two sorties each; the SB, Pe-2, and 11-2 crews, three or four sorties each; and the fighter pilots, six or seven sorties each. Forty – three aircraft were claimed shot down by the Germans on the first day, but despite these losses, the Soviets car­ried out a total of fiften hundred sorties on August 30 and 31.

Nevertheless, the hardest strikes against ground tar­gets were dealt by the Luftwaffe. A Red Army senior officer later recalled how’ “the continous enemy air strikes held our troops down.”3

In the South, the preparations for Army Group South’s pincer movement were completed during the last two days of August, as a number of new bridgeheads were established across the Dnieper River south of Kiev. In the Dnepropetrovsk area on. August 30, I1I./JG 77 Herzas claimed three victories against two losses in

image111Подпись: Bombing up an 1-153. Although outclassed by enemy fighters and vulnerable to ground fire, this biplane was used extensively in the ground-attack role before the modern II-2 arrived to outfit the VVS's Shturmovik regiments. (Photo: Seidl.)combat with VVS units that included 88 IAP. Among the Soviet pilots shot down was six-victory ace Leytenant Vasiliy Knyazev, who was fortunate to survive. On Au­gust 31, in the same area, Il./JG 3’s Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Brenner claimed a DB-3, followed by a “V-l 1” (probably an 11-2 of 210 ShAP). That day, also, the pilots of I1./JG 3 destroyed six Soviet aircraft in the air over the Kremenchug sector, including a TB-3 heavy bomber of 14 ТВАР shot down by the unit commander, Hauptmann Gordon Gollob (his thirty-sixth victory).

On the first day of September, stiff dogfights cost Ш./JG 52 three pilots, including the Staffelkapitan of 7./JG 52, Oberleutnant Hans-Jorg Zimmermann, who was credited with seven victories. Meanwhile, Oberfeldwebel Brenner of II./JG 3 continued his string of successes by downing an SB. Minutes later, a Soviet fighter pilot in an 1-16 scored hits on the radiator in Brenner’s Bf 109. The German pilot disengaged and man­aged to bring his plane back over German lines, where he made a nice belly landing.

Early in September, the largest aerial combats in the operational area of Luftflotte 4 were fought over the Dnepropetrovsk and Kremenchug bridgeheads in the South, where the decimated forces of VVS-Southern Front made desperate attempts to destroy the bridgeheads of the German Seventeeth Army and Panzergruppe 1. With the bulk of the aircraft on the southern combat zone concentrated in the VVS-Southwestern Front, the

Southern Front could count no more than 119 service­able aircraft on September 1. One hundred two aircraft had been registered as “total losses” during the past five weeks, including seventy-seven during combat missions.4 210 ShAP had lost eleven of its planes, with two others severely damaged, during its first weeks of combat.7 і On September 2 the Soviets lost another of their precious experienced airmen in this combat zone when 43 lAP’s Leytenant Sergey Zaytsev, credited with seven personal victories, was shot down and killed.

Luftflotte 4 concentrated all three Gruppen of JG 3 in the Kremenchug area, and on September 4 the Ger­mans severely handled the remains of VVS-Southem| Front, claiming forty-two Soviet aircraft destroyed. The commander of the VVS-Southern Front, General-MayofJ Shelukhin, decided to dispatch some of his best airmen to neutralize the threat from JG 3. On September 7, at dusk, 249 LAP, under the command of Kapitan Aleksandr Khalutin, to which Kapitan Farit Fatkullin’s crack Staff Eskadrilya/44 IAD was attached, launched a surprise attack on the JG 3 base at Mironovka, on the right bank of the Dnieper south of Kremenchug.

249 LAP was one of the most successful Soviet fighter; units in the Southern Front during this period. Among its pilots was the famous fighter ace Kapitan Petr Kozachenko. The regiment had a mixed composition of | l-153s (deriving from the disbanded 248 LAP), l-16s, and one LaGG-3. The LaGG-3 involved a very peculiar story. While the regiment was based at Kotivets Airdrome in the vicinity of Dnepropetrovsk in August 1941, one of the pilots found a deserted LaGG-3 that had made a forced landing near the airfield. This plane was repaired and passed among the pilots in the regi­ment. More than twenty pilots thus man­aged to become familiar with the LaGG – 3 prior to the regiment’s official transi­tion to LaGG-3 later in September. | The Mironovka raid was described both in Pravda8 and in the following words from the German point of view: “Fcldwebel [Werner] Lucas of 4 Staffel, who was airborne, spotted the incoming bombers. He sent a warning through ra­dio. Nevertheless, the bombs were already falling as the Gruppe scrambled.”9 Feldwebel Lucas dived on the attack-

Подпись: An He 111 unit on an airfield in the southern USSR. The vast open areas in the Ukraine offered generous opportunities for airfield construction—to the advantage of both warring sides. (Photo: Batcher.)

during the air war above the Dnieper bridges farther to the north. Commanded by Senior Lieutenant Ivan Haluznicky, 12 Letka was entrusted with the task of defending the new bridge at Gornostaypol, north of Kiev. While fending off nine I-16s attempting to attack the bridge on September 7, ten Avia B-534s claimed to have shot down two of the attackers. On September 8 three Avias of 12 Letka battled with two Ishaks over Gornostaypol and shot down one of them.[1] [2]

On the latter date, General-Leytenant Yeremenko was compelled to cancel his counteroffensive against Guderian’s Panzergruppe 2 in the North, and started to retreat. As a measure of the enormous impact the Ger­man bomber units had on the Red Army, take the suc­cess claims by KG 3 Blitz: During the first eleven weeks of Operation Barbarossa, this Kampfgeschwader was cred­ited with the destruction of 349 trains, 488 trucks, 30 tanks and 450 Soviet aircraft on the ground, to which should be added twenty-one Soviet aircraft claimed shot down in the air. In the sky over the battlefield, littered

with scores of burning Soviet tanks, Oberst Werner Molders’s successor as Geschwaderkommodore in JG 51, Major Friedrich Beckh, achieved his Jagdgeschwader’s 2,000th aerial victory on September 8. Counted on the loss side this day was the deputy commander of II./JG 51, thirty-victory ace Oberleutnant Erich Hohagen, who was shot down in aerial combat and severely wounded.

On the lower Dnieper, 63 BAB and 32 1AP of the ChF launched a Zveno raid against the German river crossing at Berislav on September 8. The Soviet aircraft were intercepted by the Bf 109s of I1I./JG 77 and lost one I-16SPB and one of the escorting Yak-ls, the former being registered as Leutnant Emil Omcrt’s eighteenth victory. Another clash between the same units over this target area on the following day ended in the Soviets’ favor, with 32 1 АР/ChF claiming two Bf 109s shot down lor no losses. In fact, 7./JG 77 recorded two Bf 109s force-landed with battle damage.

The Kiev drama unfolded rapidly. On September 10, Army Group South’s Seventeenth Army and Panzergruppe 1 started moving out of the Dnieper bridge­head at Krcmenchug to advance toward the north. They were heavily supported by the units of Fliegerkorps V. Soviet strongholds and troop movements were subjected to intense aerial attacks. In the North, Romny, 120 miles to the east of Kiev, was captured by Guderian’s troops on September 10.

At this point Stalin decided to intervene personally by directing 90 percent of VVS-Southwestern Front against the enemy’s armored spearheads in the Romny sector. The missions carried out in this area on Septem­ber 12 claimed one of the first Soviet female-pilot casual­ties of the war, Starshiy Leytenant Yekaterina Zelyenko, one of the first women to enter service in the VVS as a combat pilot. Having had her baptism of fire in the Win­ter War against Finland, Zelyenko was appointed deputy commander of an Su-2 Eskadrilya of 135 BAP in 1941.

Returning from a combat sortie in the Romny sec­tor, Starshiy Leytenant Zclycnkos bomber was attacked by seven Bf 109s from JG 51. During the initial fighter attack, otic Bf 109 was claimed shot down by Zelyenko’s gunner, but the other Messerchmitts continued to attack the bomber, and a full burst killed the gunner. As Zelyenko’s machine guns had run out of ammunition and the bomber was set on fire, she directed her Su-2 right into the closest Bf 109. Shrapnel from the smashed

Bf 109 hit and killed Zelyenko instantly. Only on May 5, 1990, did Mikhail Gorbachev decide to award Yekaterina Zelyenko the title of Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously.

To the south, Marshal Budyonny ordered the. Soviet Thirty-eighth Army to launch a counterattack against Panzergruppe 1 at Kremenchug. The Thirty-eighth Army was immediately beset by “rolling attacks” from the air. On September 12 the army headquarters reported: “Im­possible to move in open terrain due to aerial attacks.”1’ The entire counterattack was canceled that day.

The Soviets next resorted to hit-and-run fighter – bomber sorties against the river crossings. On September 13, more than a dozen major fighter-bomber raids were carried out in this sector. The sky over the Dneiper bridges at Kremenchug was filled with Soviet fighter-bombers attempting to evade the aggressive attacks of the Bf 109s. On September 13 alone, II./JG 3 was reported to have shot down twenty Soviet airplanes, including thirteen “V-l Is”—probably 11-2s—for the loss of only one Bf 109.

As the ring was closing around the Southwestern Front in the Kiev area, the Soviet commanders appealed to the Stavka for permission to withdraw. But Stalin had decided to defend Kiev at all costs. He dismissed Mar­shal Budyonny as supreme commander of the South­western Zone and replaced him with Marshal Timoshenko. Stalin also sent the following harsh wire to the Kiev defenders: “Once and for all, you have to stop looking for possibilities to retreat. Instead, you must concen­trate on the possibilities of resisting and only resisting.”

Early on September 14, Soviet aircraft raided the base of JG 3 at Mironovka once again. Two Bf 109s managed to take off. The pilots, Hauptmann Gollob and his wingman, Oberleutnant Walthcr Dahl, pursued the attackers back over the Dnieper and later returned with claims of two I-153s shot down. Both Gollob and Dahl were known to be very ambitious, and at least the latter has been proven to have wildly exaggerated some of he successes.

Also on September 14, Leytenant Arseniy Stepanov, f rom Kapitan Farit Fatkullin’s Staff Eskadrilya/44IAD, was out on a patrol mission in the same area when he discovered an enemy airfield on which two Ju 87s were j being refueled. Stepanov put the nose of his 1-І 53 Chayka down and strafed the field, sett ing both Ju 87s on fire | Heading for home after the attack, Stepanov found him – j

self pursued by two Bf 109s. A stiff twenty-minute dogfight ensued until Arseniy Stepanov managed to hit one of the Bf 109s and then get away.13 Shortly after­ward, the 1-153 flight led by Starshiy Politruk Boris Vasilyev, from the same unit, made another attack against the same airfield. This time seven enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed on the ground. During the return flight, Leytenant Grigoriy Kotseba became separated from his comrades and got involved in a prolonged dogfight with four Bf 109s, from which he was lucky to escape alive.

Meanwhile, the bombers and dive-bombers of Fliegerkorps 11 and V were engaged in preventing any “volunteer attempts” by the Soviet Southwestern Front to escape to the east. Day and night, hundreds of He Ills and Ju 88s hammered the lines of communication in the rear area, repeating the successful “envelopment from the air” that had preceded the battle of annihila­tion at Uman in July and August. By September 14, Fliegerkorps V had destroyed or damaged 727 trucks in this sector. During the “envelopment from the air” against Kiev, Hauptmann Rudolf Kiel’s I./KG 55 Greif was credited with the destruction of 58 railway cars, 675 trucks, and 22 tanks. One He 111 crew, led by Oberleutnant Adalbert Karbe, the Staffelkapitan in 3./ KG 55, distinguished itself by destroying seven railway trains during a single mission. The Ju 88 crews of I./KG 54Totenkopf also achieved considerable success during these operations, and on September 19 the commander of this Gruppe, Major Richard Linke, was awarded the Knight’s Cross. By that time his 1./KG 54 had been cred­ited with the destruction of 240 Soviet aircraft on the ground, hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces, and thou­sands of vehicles. Moreover, the Gruppenkommandeur had knocked out thirty Soviet tanks himself.1,1

Oberst Hermann Plocher, the Fliegerkorps V chief of staff wrote: “The German isolation of the Kiev pocket was exemplary, with the bombers of the Fliegerkorps V ; (Luftflotte 4) operating from the Kirovograd area in the south and those of the Fliegerkorps II (Luftflotte 2) from north of Gomel and Orsha in the north.”15

j On September 16, Panzergruppen 1 and 2 met at і Lokhvitsa, 130 miles east of Kiev, thus closing the ring around five Soviet armies. The full meaning of Stalin’s I order that Kiev must be held “at any cost” was nothing j less than total annihilation, in the air as well as on the ground.

image113

Oberst Hermann Plocher served as chief of staff of Fliegerkorps V from 1940 to 1943. He had received pilot training at Lipetsk in the USSR in 1928 and served with the Condor Legion in Spain. After the war, he wrote an important book about the German Air Force versus the Soviet Union. (Photo: Bundesarchiv.)

On September 18 the German Sixth Army opened its offensive against Kiev from the west By now the intense air activity in combination with strung-out sup­ply lines and inadequate transport space created a severe fuel shortage on the Luftwaffe airfields in the Ukraine. Most twin-engine bombers of Fliegerkorps V w-ere grounded during the days following the closing of the ring around Kiev. Thus increased demands were put on the single-engine Ju 87 dive-bombers of lII./StG 77. Fly­ing four to six sorties each day, the Stuka airmen of this unit fell upon the bunkers and artillery positions in the approaches to the Kiev citadel, breaking all resistance. On September 19 the fortress was in German hands. On September 20, the commander of the Southwestern Front,

General-Polkovnik Mikhail Kirponos, was killed in combat.

Stalin had already practically given up Kiev and the hundreds of thousands of entrapped Soviet soldiers. The skies over Kiev were completely handed over to the Luftwaffe. The remains of the WS-Southwestern Front were concentrated in the Poltava sector, against the east – bound advance of the German Seventeenth Army, now two hundred miles from Kiev. Here, the Soviet airmen fought vehemently to halt the German offensive and relieve their ground forces. On September 20 I1I./JG 52 lost four Bf 109s in this sector.

Even if the fuel shortage would not permit Fliegerkorps V to carry out more than an average of 140 sorties per day during the final-stage of the Battle of Kiev, this was fully sufficient to deal crippling blows against the tight concentrations of Soviet troops and equipment inside the narrow Kiev pocket. Between September 12 and September 21, Fliegerkorps V claimed 42 aircraft, 23 tanks, and 2,171 motor vehicles destroyed on the ground, plus 65 Soviet planes shot down in the air.

The Soviet Twenty-sixth Army made a desperate attempt to break out to the east on September 21. The Bf 110 high-speed bombers of SKG 210 were brought into action against this maneuver, with devastating results. General-Leytenant Fyodor Kostenko, the com­mander of the Twenty-sixth Army, radioed an urgent appeal to the Stavka: “All efforts to cross the river are futile. No ammunition left. Help required from the air force!"

On September 26, the greatest battle of annihilation in history was over. The Soviet Fifth, Twenty-first, Twenty-sixth, and Twenty-seventh armies had ceased to exist. According to German reports, 440,000 prisoners were taken in the Kiev pocket. Altogether, 665,000 Soviet soldiers ended up in German confinement on the battlefields in the southern combat zone between August 31 and September 26."’ The VVS recorded more than 1,500 of its aircraft lost over the Ukraine between June 22 and September 26—to no avail in preventing the disaster at Kiev.

image114

A Luftwaffe bombing attack against retreating elements of the Red Army, as seen from the a German airplane. (Photo: Bundesarchiv.)

The commander of the VVS-Southern Front, Gen­eral-Mayor P. S. Shclukhin, was made the scapegoat for the failure in the air, and was replaced on September 24 by Polkovnik Konstantin Vershinin, a veteran of the Russian Civil War. The commander of the VVS – Southwestern Front, General-Leytenant Fyodor Astakhov, was trapped in the encirclement but managed to evade capture. He reached Soviet lines in November 1941, hav­ing made it three hundred miles through enemy-held territory.

The Kiev battle was an immense operational victory for the Germans, but nothing else. After the war, the German General Kurt von Tippelskirch declared: “The Russians had indeed lost a battle, but [they] won the campaign.” This would prove true as the final offensive! against Moscow was launched, too much delayed because | of the diversion of Gudcrian’s Panzergruppe to the south. I As this offensive finally opened, the Wehrmacht on the | Eastern Front had been reduced to between one-half and j one-third of its original strength.

. Air War Over Odessa

W

hile the battle of annihilation raged in the Kiev area, a prolonged parallel battle was waged between mainly Romanian and Soviet forces for the I besieged Black Sea port of Odessa, which had been turned ї into a veritable fortress by the defenders. Most of the I Romanian front aviation—Gruparea Aeriana de Lupta B(GAL)—was concentrated at the latter battle scene. This t included the cream of the FARR: the Bf 109-equipped I Grupul 7 Vanatoare; Grupul 5 Vanatoare, outfitted with He 112Bs; Escadrila 53 Vanatoare, with Hurricanes; and I Grupul 8 Vanatoare, with Romanian-designed I. A.R. 80 I single-engine fighters. Since the Romanian assault on ^Odessa proceeded following German demands, Fliegerkorps IV allocated KG 27 Boelcke, KG 51 Edel­weiss, and the Bf 109s of Major Anton Mader’s H./JG ; 77 to strengthen the initial operations. The main aim of the German Kampfgcschwadern was to neutralize Vitse-

Admiral Filipp Oktyabrskiy’s powerful fleet, which largely dominated the entire Black Sea.

Early in August 1941, only weak air forces stood at the disposal of the Odessa defenders. The main air unit in Odessa was 69 1AP, led by Mayor Lev Shestakov. As Odessa was surrounded, Mayor Shestakov could count roughly twenty operational 1-16 fighters under his com­mand. Apart from 69 LAP, there were only three inde­pendent Black Sea Fleet aviation Eskadrilyas based at Odessa, two equipped with MBR-2 flying boats and one with SB bombers. These units were supplemented by sorties flown over Odessa by the remaining fighters and bombers of the Black Sea Fleet’s 62 LAB and 63 BAB, which were stationed in Nikolayev and the Crimea.

Mayor Shestakov’s fighters would very soon earn glowing reputation for their aggressive fight to protect the Odessa defenders from the air. Unfortunately, some

image115

Although not comparable to the best fighter planes of the day, the Romanian-designed I. A.R. 80 fighter was the pride of the FARR. It remainedifl service throughout the war. (Photo: Bemad.)

 

image116The l-16-equipped 69 IAP was reinforced during the Battle of Odessa by detachments from several units of VVS-ChF. including 8 IAP. This unit achieved fame throughout Soviet Union for its performance during the bitter fight for air supremacy in the late summer and autumn of 1941. This photo shows an 1-16 pilot receiving last – minute instructions from a VVS naval kapitan prior to takeoff. (Photo: Denisov.)

of the official credits given to the undoubtedly brave men of 69 LAP seem to be based on optimistic overclaims. On August 9 (or August 8, according to another Soviet source),17 69 IAP reported a major success against a for­mation of Bf 109s, claiming nine shot down without loss. There are no corresponding losses registered on the
side of the Axis air forces. I1./JG 77 filed no losses on! August 8 and only two Bf 109s damaged, neither of them due to combat, on August 9. The log of the Roma­nian Bf 109-equipped Grupul 7 Vanatoare makes no mention of any combat losses.

The main task to the Soviet bombers in Odessa was l

tactical—to raid the Romanian ground forces and their supply lines. In doing so, they suffered heavy losses, par­ticularly at the hands of II./JG 77. Within a short time, U./JG 77 was able to achieve air supremacy for the Axis in the skies over Odessa. In sixty-four fighter-escort and fighter-bomber sorties over the Black Sea port on August 10, the Bf 109 Gruppe claimed fifteen victories against only one loss. On top of this, these Messerschmitt pilots, experienced in antishipping fighter-bomber missions since the Battle of Crete, scored bomb hits on one light cruiser and a 6,000-ton steamer.

Shortly before noon on August 12, the Rotte com­posed of Oberleutnant Erich Friedrich and Leutnant Franz Hrdlicka, of II./JG 77, was on the way back to base after a fighter-bomber attack against shipping in the port of Odessa. Both had missed a "fat” 5,000-ton freighter. Suddenly they spotted three SBs. The Soviet bomber crews, belonging to 40 BAP/63 BAB, didn’t have a chance: In minutes, all three had been shot down. Oberleutnant Friedrich claimed two as his eighth and ninth victories, and Leutnant Hrdlicka claimed one as his second victory. Soviet sources confirm all three losses, listing two SBs force-landing in Soviet-held territory and the third close to enemy lines. The navigator and the
gunner of the latter made it back to Red Army positions while the pilot was captured by Romanian soldiers.

Later that day, one II./JG 77 pilot, Oberfeldwebel Eugen Wintergest, claimed what would become a rather famous act. As he returned from a single-plane test flight, he stunned his comrades by rocking seven victory signs with the wings of his Bf 109. Upon landing, Wintergest was surrounded by enthusiastic ground-crew personnel and pilots, whom he told of how he had come across nine “Martin bombers” (the incorrect German designa­tion for the SB early in the war) and had shot down seven. Hauptmann Anton Mader, the Croatian-born vet­eran Gruppenkommandeur, was not so sure about the young NCO’s story, so he flew to the area where Wintergest had reported his success. To his amazement, he actually found seven bomber wrecks on the ground in the area Wintergest had designated.18 Subsequently, all seven victories were officially confirmed as Wintergest’s eighth through fourteenth victories.

Подпись: A destroyed late-version SB equipped with 960-hp M-103 engines featuring tunnel coolers beneath the engines. (Photo: Roba.)
Soviet sources note that six SBs, all belonging to 40 BAP, were lost in the same area on this day, including the three downed by Friedrich and Hrdlicka at noon. At about the same time that Wintergest reported his spec­tacular successes, 1 Eskadrilya/40 BAP reported three

image118

Hauptmann Anton Mader was appointed Gruppenkommandeur II,/JG 77 in June 1941. Under his leadership, II./JG 77 would claim nearly four hundred victories by December 1941. Mader was an extremely popular unit commander who became famous for paying great attention and care to each of his subordinates. He survived the war with a personal score of eighty-six victories. (Photo: Bundesarchiv.)

SBs lost in combat with a Bf 109, probably Wintergest’s. There may be gaps in the Soviet loss files on this particu­lar date, but the bomber wrecks seen by Hauptmann Mader could also have been the remnants of both air combats on this day.

Meanwhile, the bombers of the Black Sea Fleet con­tinued to carry out their small-scale strategic air offen­sive against Romania. An attempt was made on August 10 to interrupt traffic across the important Danube bridge at Cernavoda, connecting the port of Constanta with the interior. The attack was conducted in three waves: Five DBAs from 2 MTAP, in the first wave, and six Pe – 2s from 40 BAP, in the second wave, failed to strike the target decisively, but six I-16SPB Zvenos from 32 LAP damaged nearby oil pipelines.

On August 13, three TB-3 Zvenos took off from Yevpatoria in the Crimea at 0330 hours. Two hours and ten minutes later, the six I-16s were released ten miles off the coast. They came diving down on the bridge, caught the defenders totally by surprise, and placed five FAB-250 bombs directly on the span. The bomb damage caused considerable disturbance to the road and railway traffic across this bridge and destroyed the nearby oil pipelines. During the return flight, the six l-16s strafed a Romanian infantry column and finally landed at Odessa Airdrome at 0705 hours. Later that day they returned to Yevpatoria, where the 1-16 Zveno commander, Kapitan Arseniy Shubikov, became the first in VVS-ChF to be awarded the Lenin Order.

But all the efforts of the airmen of VVS-ChF could not hold the numerically superior enemy back. On August 13, Odessa was completely surrounded.

At this point, the Luftwaffe raids against supply ship­ping to the beleaguered port were intensified. On August 13, II./JG 77’s Fahnenjunker-Gefreiter Gunther Marschhausen, who had won the competition of the day on August 10 by downing three Soviet fighters, was killed by a direct AAA hit while attacking shipping off Odessa. During an attack on a Soviet ship convoy between Odessa and Sevastopol on August 15, a Ju 88A piloted by Lcutnant Heinz Unrau of 3./KG 51 was recorded lost through ramming by a Soviet fighter.14 Extraordinarily, there is no mention of any taran in this area in the Soviet records.20

To strengthen air support to the defenders, the ll-2s of Mayor Mikhail Kravchenko’s 46 OShAE from the small WS-Pinsk Flolilya, originally aimed at the protec­tion of naval operations on the Pripyat and Dnieper riv­ers, were flown in to Odessa. During the following days this unit suffered heavily in close-support missions over the front lines. Shortly afterwards the small VVS forces in Odessa were also joined by three Yak-Is from 32ІАР/ 62 IAB and four I-15bis from 94 OIAE.

The deteriorating situation forced the Zveno units to be deployed in tactical missions. 32 IAP/ChF and 63 BAB carried out their final strategic Zveno mission on August 17, scoring bomb hits on three ships in the Romanian port of Constanta. At least one 1-16 SPB was claimed shot down by I.(J)/LG 2.

On August 18 KG 27 and KG 51 reportedly sank or damaged more than thirty’ thousand tons of shipping during a single raid on Odessa. KG 27 was reported to have sunk eight transport ships totaling thirty-six thou-

Подпись: Although it was equipped with Bf 109s in 1941, the Romanian Grupul 7 Vanatoare did not enjoy the same successes as its German allies. The fifty Bf 109Es delivered to Romania, in fact, were used aircraft that had been taken out of service from Luftwaffe units reequipped with the new Bf 109 F version. This photo shows Romanian Bf 109s in flight with a Luftwaffe fighter, possibly from l.{J)/LG 2. {Photo: Consiglio via Cauchi.)

sand tons, and an additional twenty-four ships were dam­aged between August 11 and August 18. A bomber crew that single-handedly managed to sink a 10,000-ton freighter off Odessa achieved the greatest individual suc­cess. Shortly afterward, the commanders of II. and 111./ KG 27 Boelcke, Hauptmann Reinhard Gunzel and Hauptmann Hans-Henning Freiherr von Beust, were awarded Knight’s Crosses.

One of the few losses suffered by 11./JG 77 in air combat occurred on August 18, when an 1-16 from 69 IAP shot down a Bf 109 of 6./JG 77. Three days later, Unteroffizier Wolfgang Polscher, of 6 Staffel, was shot down by an 1-153 and eventually machine-gunned by the Soviet fighter as he hung in his harness.

The effectiveness of the fighter escort provided by IL/JG 77 is demonstrated by the fact that KG 27 lost only four He Ills during the month of August 1941. The contrast to the poor showings by the Romanian air men is evident. On August 21, the Bf 109-equipped Grupul 7 Vanatoare was engaged by the 1-16s of 69 IAP, which were escorting a small group of Il-2s against Romanian ground positions. Locotenent Comandor Alexandru Popisteanu, the unit leader, was lost.

Having scored fifty-four kills in the air over Odessa, II./JG 77 left this sector for the southern Dnieper area on August 28. This proved to be a turning point in the air-war situation over Odessa. Following the departure of the experienced airmen of this Jagdgruppe, the Soviet fighters in Odessa made a frantic effort to gain air supe­riority. A series of stiff air combats followed, with severe losses on both sides. On August 28, air combat over Odessa claimed the lives of 69 LAP’s Leytenant Vitaliy Topol’skiy, victor in eight combats (including four shared kills), and Mladshiy Leytenant Ivan Berishvili of 81АР/ ChF. Berishvili died ramming a Romanian PZL P. ll fighter at treetop level. Next day, Starshiy Politruk Semyon Kunitsa (69 LAP) was shot down by a Roma­nian Bf 109. Kunitsa bailed out, but he came under fire from the ground and was killed.

GAL—counting ninety-one operational aircraft on September 221—proved unable to maintain the air supremacy achieved earlier with support of 1I./JG 77. During the first days of September, the Soviets gradually took control of the air over Odessa. This further increased the difficulties faced by the beleaguered Romanian Fourth Army. A large part of at least twenty Romanian aircraft

image120Подпись: Lev Shestakov was one of the best known Soviet fighter pilots of World War II. Fighting on the Republican side in Spain, he scored eight personal and thirty-one shared victories. He assumed command of 69 IAP before the German invasion and scored his first two kills on June 22,1941. In this photo, taken later in the war, Shestakov wears a Luftwaffe flight cap. This legendary pilot was killed in combat in March 1944. By then, he had been credited with twenty-nine personal and forty-five shared victories.(Photo: Authors’ collection.)shot down during the Battle of Odessa22 fell victim to the fighter aces of Mayor Lev Shestakov’s 69 IAP. Lev Shestakov was credited with the destruction of eleven enemy aircraft (including eight shared victories) by mid-September 1941.

Among other successful pilots of 69 IAP were Kapitan Yuriy Rykachyov, with three personal and eleven collective vic­tories by the end of September. Kapitan Mikhail Astashkin (four personal and six collective kills), and Kapitan Konstantin Denisov of 8ІАР/ChF. Kapitan Denisov managed to destroy one Ju 88 in the moonlight on the night of August 29- 30, followed by an He 111 the next day.

Soviet soldiers found both wrecks. (Three months later, fighting over the main Crimean port of Sevastopol, Denisov shot down a Ju 87. The German pilot, who bailed out and was captured, asked the Soviet soldiers if he could meet the pilot who had shot him down. He was intro­duced to Denisov and handed over his flight pistol. From then on, Denisov never flew a combat mission without this German weapon.)25

Kapitan Mikhail Astashkin was killed near Odessa on September 14. Having shot down a Ju 88 (probably from Stab 1II./KG 51) as his tenth victory (four per­sonal and six collective kills), Astashkin was bounced by – two Romanian Bf 109s. Following the example of sev­eral other Soviet airmen, Astashkin reportedly crashed
his burning fighter into a concentration of enemy troops. He was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.24

image121

Подпись: Nothing could be viewed with greater trepidation by the Soviet seamen on the Black Sea than the approach of a Ju 88— the single most effectiveGerman aircraft type sent against enemy shipping during all of World War II. The Ju 88s of KG 51 sank several ships of the Soviet fleet that evacuated Odessa in October 1941, but the Luftwaffe's resources were stretched too thin at the time to stop the entire evacuation operation. (Photo: Baeker.)

On the night of September 21-22, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet made a surprise troop landing behind the Ro­manian lines at Grigorevka, west of Odessa. All available Soviet aircraft in Odessa were dispatched to neutralize the enemy air force in the area. The captured pilot of a Romanian PZL P. ll shot down by 69 LAP’S Batalyonnyy

Komissar Nikolay Verkhovets on September 21 had revealed that the Stukas of IlI./StG 77 had been called in to this sector again. Led by Mayor Shestakov, twenty l-16s from 69 1AP strafed the supposed Stuka bases at Beltsy and Baden on September 22, claiming twenty en­emy aircraft put out of action on the ground for the loss of one 1-16. Meantime, the fighters of 69 1AP and VVS – ChF managed to drive the Romanian airmen from the skies above the landing grounds, claiming twelve Axis aircraft shot down during the following three days. But the attempt to cripple StG 77 on the ground failed, with disastrous results to the Soviets. According to Luftwaffe loss statistics, not a single Ju 87 of IIL/StG 77 was de­stroyed during the Soviet air-base raids on September 22. By sinking the destroyer Frunze plus one gunboat and a tug, and damaging the destroyers Bezuprechnyy and Besposhchadnyy, the Stukas managed to seal off the in­vasion force. Hauptmann Helmut Bode, the Gruppenkommandeur of Hl./St. G. 77, was awarded with the Knight’s Cross shortly afterwards.

While the two Zveno units had been shifted to tacti­cal missions, the DBA DB-3s based in the Crimea contin­
ued to carry out small raids against Romania on an almost daily basis throughout the summer and most of the fall. Constanta withstood a total of thirty-four day raids and twenty-five night raids, mostly of a nuisance character. The most successful raid was carried out on October 9, when the oil pipeline at Cernavoda was once again heavily damaged. It was not until the German offensive against the Crimea began in the fall of 1941 that these air attacks diminished considerably. When Odessa and the Crimea finally fell into German and Romanian hands, these air attacks finally ended.

Подпись: The experienced veterans of Hauptmann Anton Mader’s II./JG 77 earned a healthy respect from its Soviet adversaries in the air. Seen in this photo is a dejected and injured Soviet pilot (center, with bandaged head) near to the remnants of his aircraft, which is being inspected by the much happier men of II./JG 77 who had a hand in shooting it down. (Photo: Setz/Mathhiesen via Prien.)
Early in October, as the German pressure on the Crimea mounted, the Soviets decided to give up Odessa and transfer its garrison to the defense of Sevastopol. Vitse-Admiral Oktyabrskiy launched the entire Black Sea Fleet in an impressive Dunkirk-like evacuation. Despite relentless enemy air attacks against the evacuation fleet, 350,000 soldiers and civilians, and 200,000 tons of materiel were ferried to Sevastopol. The last defenders in Odessa were either killed or captured on October 14. A final Soviet air raid against Constanta was flown on October 15.

During the bomber offensive against Romania from June 22 to October 15, 1941, the German fighter units operating in this area—I.(J)/LG 2, I1I./JG 52, and Erganzungsgruppe/JG 77—claimed to have shot down fifty-five aircraft.25 The last air combat over Odessa was fought on October 18, as Romanian fighters shot down two MBR-2 flying boats on a reconnaissance mission.

The sixty-four-day-long siege of Odessa proved to be extremely costly to both sides. About 100,000 Romanian soldiers were either killed or injured, while on the Soviet side, 16,578 Red Army and Black Sea Fleet soldiers were reported killed or missing, with another 24,690 injured.

Soviet airmen engaged in the defense of this port had demonstrated an outstanding ability to fight an effective defensive battle. 69 LAP. earned a reputation that would last throughout the war. This unit was cred­ited with ninety-four enemy aircraft and three transport gliders shot down between June 22 and October 14, the highest claims made by any VVS regiment during that period. After being pulled out of combat to convert to LaGG-3s after the Battle of Odessa, twelve 69 LAP pilots were made Heroes of the Soviet Union at the same time.

Although several loss records for the Soviet air units in Odessa appear to have been lost during the evacua­tion, the 144 aerial victories claimed by the Romanian airmen between August 29 and October 16 must be con­sidered a large exaggeration. A Romanian evaluation eventually also concluded that the claim figures over Odessa were highly inflated. As a consequence, the High Command of the FARR issued new’ and sharpened de­mands for approving confirmation of aerial victories,26 While the Bf 109s of H./JG 77 had confirmed the supe­riority of the German fighter arm against the Soviets, the FARR had produced modest results. This is an indica­tion of the long years of combat experience enjoyed by the German pilots—an advantage absent among the Romanian airmen—as the main factor behind the superiority of the Luftwaffe airmen against their VVS counterparts.

After the Battle of Odessa, the number of service­able aircraft of the Romanian GAL was down to one – fifth of its original strength. With the exception of three liaison squadrons, GAL was withdrawn from first-line service after the Battle of Odessa.

Aces Over the Tundra

T

he war in the Arctic area, on the border between the USSR and German-occupied Norway and, from June 25, in Soviet and Finnish Laponia, was fought with very limited resources on both sides. Nevertheless, the little-known air war in this area is one of the most inter­esting chapters in the history of air conflict. Here, true dogfights of the same character as over the Western Front in 1917-18 were fought between some of the greatest fighter aces of both sides.

As the only ice-free port in northern Russia, the small town of Murmansk has been of vital strategic impor­tance to the Russians for at least the past two centuries. During World War 11, Murmansk would play a vital role in the shipping of American and British military equipment to the USSR. Prior to the German invasion in 1941, the Soviet leadership, however, was caught in the same dilemma as the Germans would encounter later in the war: Even if gigantic military resources were at hand, the dimensions of the huge country and the long borders along which an enemy invasion could be expected forced a prioritization. Before the war started, the bulk of the Red Army was deployed in the area between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, where the most powerful Axis forces were situated. Apart from this, French plans to launch an attack against the oil fields in the Caucasus in the spring of 1940 called for the concentration of considerable Red Army forces in this area. On top of this, there remained a permanent threat of yet another Japanese invasion in the Far East. The weakest hostile forces, in fact, were in Finland and Norway, where Hitler’s main preoccupation was the fear of a British invasion. Thus only limited Soviet forces were deployed along the Soviet borders with Norway and Finland. The entire Karelian sector from Lake Ladoga, northeast of Leningrad,

to the south shore of the Barents Sea, in the far north— a front of about 600 miles—was covered by only two Soviet armies, the Seventh and the Fourteenth. The bulk of these forces, the Fourteenth Army, was concentrated in the 180-mile border zone to the west of the Kola Pen­insula, with the protection of Murmansk as its main task.

The VVS of the Fourteenth Army, supplemented by the VVS of the Soviet Northern Fleet (WS-Sevemyy Flot, SF), was commanded by an able fighter pilot, Gen­eral-Mayor Aleksandr Kuznetsov. On June 22, 1941, the Soviet air units deployed in defense of the Kola Penin­sula in the Arctic area were:

VVS-Fourteenth Army: 1 SAD, consisting three regiments (137 BAP at Afrikanda Airdrome with thirty – eight SBs (reinforced with eighteen SBs on June 29); 145 1AP at Shonguy Airdrome with fifty-six I-16s; and 147 IAP at Murmashi Airdrome with thirty-four I-153s and nineteen I-15bis.

WS-SF: 72 SAP at Vayenga Airdrome, with four 1-16s, seventeen 1-153s, twenty-eight I-15bis, and eleven SBs (reinforced on June 26 with twelve I- 16s); 118 RAP at the hydro airfield at Guba Gryaznaya, with thirty-seven MBR-2s and seven GSTs; 49 ORAE with ten MBR-2s; and 24 Aviazveno Svyazi with two MBR-2s.

This left the Soviet Seventh Army to protect almost the entire Soviet-Finnish border, between Lake Ladoga and the southern part of the Kola Peninsula. At the out­break of the war, the VVS of the Seventh Army had only one aviation regiment, 72 SBAP/55 SAD.

The invaders possessed equally weak forces in this area, and their troops were badly hampered by huge logistical distances. It was only when the Swedish gov­ernment, following the invasion of the USSR, agreed to allow military equipment to be transferred through their country that these logistical problems could be overcome and any serious attempt to occupy Murmansk could be made. At the opening of Operation Barbarossa, the main task of the German troops in Norway was to secure the long Norwegian coast against any British invasion attempt. Only limited ground and air forces were assigned to the offensive aimed at capturing Murmansk. Having failed in the latter mission, the main task of the Luftwaffe in this area became the permanent interdiction of the Kirov railroad line, connecting Murmansk with the Soviet mainland.

On June 22, 1941, Generaloberst Hans-Jiirgen

StumpfPs Luftflotte 5 comprised a total of 240 aircraft in Norway and a small detachment in Finland. The main units were KG 30,1./KG 26, parts of JG 77, and IV.(St)A LG 1. The units brought up against the Soviet Union before the outbreak of the war were organized in Luftwaffenkommando Kirkenes under Oberst Andreas Nielsen.

On June 22 1941, the following units stood at Oberst Nielsen’s disposal: 5./KG 30 at Banak (northern Nor-! way) with ten Ju 88s; IV.(St)/LG 1 at Kirkenes (north-| em Norway), with thirty-six Ju 87s; 13./JG 77 at Kirkenes; with ten Bf 109s; Stab/ZG 76 at Kirkenes with six Bf 110s; I.(F)/124 at Kirkenes with three Ju 88s; l.(H)/j 32 at Kemijarvi and Rovaniemi (northern Finland) with seven Hs 126s and three Do 17Ps; l./KuFIGr 406at Banak with Нс 115s and Do 18s. Also, two He 11 Is and two Ju 88s of a weather reconnaissance Schwarm and eleven Ju 52s of a Transportstaffel were attached to Luftwaffekommando Kirkenes.

The buildup of the German military forces in this area had been carried out with the support of the Finn­ish government. According to the German-Finnish agree­ment of September 12, 1940, the Wehrmacht was per­mitted to establish strongholds in northern Finland.; During the months preceding Operation Barbarossa, sev­eral thousand German troops were stationed in north­ern Finland. Between June 7 and June 21, 1941, large quantities of German military equipment, vehicles, and troops disembarked in Finnish ports and were deployed to Laponia. Aircraft of Luftflotte 5 were stationed at Finnish airfields.

In fact, the air war in the Far North area started before the official outbreak of the war. On June 17,1941, a lone Ju 88 sweeping over Kola Bay, the entrance to Murmansk, was pursued by two flights of 1-153s and I-16s. Only the superior speed of the German aircraft obviated an exchange of fire. Later that day, more Ju 88s appeared over Ozerko Bay, between the Rybachiy Penin­sula and the mainland northwest of Murmansk. This time they were fired on by AAA. After that, there were daily intrusions by Luftwaffe aircraft. The next day, a Ju 88 of l.(F)/124 was hit by Soviet ground fire over the Rybachiy Peninsula. The flight engineer, Unteroffizier Josef Hausenblas, was killed, probably the first German victim in the conflict with the USSR. On June 19, Starshiy Leytenant Vasiliy Volovikov of 72 SAP/SF attempted to attack an He 111 and a Bf 110 with his 1-153 in the

image123Подпись: Boris Safonov was undoubtedly one of the most brilliant fighter pilots of Worid War II. He graduated from flight training in 1934 and drew his first blood during the Winter War with Finland. In the first difficult days of the war with Germany, Safonov carried out five, six, or even seven sorties a day, knocking down one Luftwaffe airplane after another. His high self-esteem was an important source of inspiration for the hard-pressed fighter pilots of VVS-SF at this time. On May 30,1942, the engine of his Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk was damaged while pursuing three Ju 88s of KG 30; Safonov crashed into the Barents Sea and was never seen again. His victory total is the subject of disputes, but his personal logbook shows seventeen personal and six shared kills—plus three attributed to him on his last flight. (Photo: Seidl.)same area. He was in turn bounced by four Bf 109s. The Soviet pilot managed to escape in a cloudbank.

The mission of Luftwaffen – kommando Kirkenes was to establish con­trol of the air (i. e.. to wipe out the entire Soviet Air Force in this area) and give air cover to the ground troops aiming at the capture of the port of Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula. But while the Luftwaffe struck with tremendous impact on the “main Eastern Front,” most air­craft of Luftwaffenkommando Kirkenes were grounded due to bad weather dur­ing the first days of the war. Only small raids were conducted against Ura-Guba and Kola near Murmansk on June 22.

Unlike their colleagues elsewhere along the front, and contrary to German reports promulgated in histories of the conflict, the VVS and Red Fleet com­manders in the North had dispersed and camouflaged their aircraft on the airfields.

No doubt influenced by wartime German propaganda material, the German historian Paul Carell incorrectly stated, “The Russians left their hundred Ratas unpro­tected and uncamouflaged on the two airfields at Murmansk even after June 22. An attacking German Kampfgeschwader destroyed the majority of the Soviet fight er force."1 In fact, and notwithstanding strong ef­forts by the Luftwaffe, no more than nineteen Soviet aircraft in this region were destroyed on the ground dur­ing the first eighteen days of the war.2

The standard among Soviet airmen in this area was far above the average. Nearly half the pilots had been in active service in Karelia and the Far North for more than two years, and several had experienced combat in the skies of Spain and Khalkhin-Gol, or during the Win­ter War. Among the Soviet fighter pilots on the airfields around Murmansk was a young and rather self-made officer named Boris Feoktistovich Safonov. Royal Air Force fighter pilots who met Safonov later that year re­member him as “a high-profile, photogenic figure.”3 Safonov was the equivalent of the Luftwaffe’s Werner ‘Vati’ Molders, a most talented and aggressive fighter pilot who educated and inspired his proteges. Several of the pilots under his command went on to become aces
themselves. Safonov taught them all a very simple and straightforward maxim: “The main thing is to have faith in yourself and the will to defeat your enemy!” Boris Safonov had both; during the following eleven months he wrould score at least twenty’ personal and six shared victories, thus becoming the first great Soviet fighter ace of the war.

On Tuesday, June 24, the sighting of a lone Ju 88 alerted the airmen at Vayenga Airdrome, northeast of Murmansk. Boris Safonov, at that time starshiy leytenant and commander of a Zveno in 5 Eskadrilya/72 SAP, immediately took off in an 1-16 armed with RS-82 rock­ets. Climbing in the bright sunlight, he caught sight of the twin-engine enemy aircraft at an altitude of 18,000 feet on the approaches to Vayenga. This was a Ju 88 of 6../KG 30, sent out to the area on a reconnaissance mission.

Safonov placed himself up-sun and cocked his weap­ons. The pilot of the Ju 88, Unteroffizier Reinhard Schellern, had no chance of escaping before Safonov had damaged the aircraft with one of his RS-82 rockets.

Unteroffizier Schellern tried to get away in a dive out over the sea, but the Soviet fighter pilot mercilessly followed the damaged Ju 88. The radio operator in the

Junkers warplane, Gefreiter Georg Crecki, opened a des­perate and ill-aimed fire with his two 7.92mm aft machine guns. Without looking back or caring about the badly aimed fire from the twin-engine enemy bomber, Safonov finished it off over Zalentsa Bay with a few precise bursts of his machine guns. The entire crew was killed. The victorious Soviet pilot returned to his base, where he received an enthusiastic welcome. One of the officers under Safonov’s command, Starshiy Leytenant Sergey Kurzenkov, wrote: “He had showed that it was possible to beat the fascists.”4

From the first day of the war, the Ju 88s of KG 30 Adler were committed to incessant raids against Soviet coastal shipping, the Murman railway, and, most diffi­cult, Murmansk itself. The single bomber Staffel attached to Luftwaffenkommando Kirkenes, 5./KG 30, was supplemented by the two other Staffeln of II./KG 30. At Murmansk, the threat from the Soviet concentration
of antiaircraft artillery was added to that of the defend­ing fighters. In 6./KG 30, only one Ju 88 remained undamaged by AAA after the two first missions against Murmansk, on June 23 and 24.5 Murmansk soon earned the reputation among German bomber crews as one of the four major antiaircraft concentrations of the war – the so-called “two L’s” (London and Leningrad) and “two M’s” (Malta and Murmansk). A Ju 88 airman even said, “I’d rather fly three times over London than once over Murmansk!”

On June 25, the bombers of the Red Army’s North­ern Front and VVS-SF went into action against airfields across a huge area between the Gulf of Finland and the Barents Sea, attempting to wipe out the forces available to Luftflotte 5 and the Finnish Air Force.

Подпись: KG 30 Adler carried the main burden of raiding Murmansk in 1941. “I will never forget this summer at the Barents Sea,” wrote Oberfeldwebel Peter Stahl of KG 30. “We flew 'round the clock, because the sun never went down.” Seen on this photo is a KG 30 Ju 88 with heavy bombs being loaded for an attack on the port installations at Murmansk. (Photo: Roba.)

This Soviet air-base offensive, which would last six days, was due to an order from the staff of the Northern Front. With this followed the inevitable renewed out-

image126
Подпись: The Ju 87R, equipped with two 79-gallon drop tanks, was originally intended for the German aircraft carrier program, which was never materialized. IV.(St)/LG 1 was outfitted with Ju 87Rs in 1941 in anticipation of long-range missions against Soviet shipping in the Barents Sea. These Stukas, however, were mainly used for tactical purposes, as were the Ju 87Bs on the “main front" to the south. The Ju 87R-2 was about 2,700 pounds heavier than the Ju 87B and, with a maximum speed of only 206 mph, considerably slower. (Photo: Bernad.)

break of hostilities between the USSR and Finland. Although this work is limited to a description of the air war between Germany and the Soviet Union and does not embrace the operations by the Finnish Air Force, this operation deserves to be mentioned.

Both the qualities (obsolete aircraft models and inaccurate bomb aiming) and the size of the attacking force were inadequate to achieve any successes. And the price paid was high. On just the first day of the air offen­sive, twenty-three bombers were lost (the major part over Finland).6 Mladshiy Leytenant Nikolay Gapeyonok of 202 SBAP (based near Leningrad as a part of WS-North – em Front, which was guarding almost the entire Finnish border area until August 23) had a startling experience on his first combat mission of the day. Flying as as the number three with two other SBs, piloted by Starshiy Leytenant Rudenskiy and Leytenant Kuznetsov, men with experi­ence from the Spanish Civil War and the Winter War, Gapeyonok suddenly found himself alone: “An antiair­craft shell directly hit the bomb hatch of the leading SB, seriously wounding Starshiy Leytenant Rudenskiy, who barely managed to reach friendly territory. He was hospital­ized and never returned to the regiment again. Kuznetsov’s aircraft also was seriously damaged and one of the engines was put out of order. Nevertheless, the pilot managed to make an emergency landing in friendly territory.”

Having lost orientation over enemy territory, Mladshiy Leytenant Gapeyonok finally returned to base on the last drops of fuel. During the landing approach, both engines of his SB stopped:

“1 received a stormy welcoming. The fire engine came rushing, it was overtaken by the ambulance car, and people came running to meet me, including the CO, Polkovnik Yefimov. 1 climbed out of the cockpit, soaking as after a Russian sauna, anxious because I had lost two of my commanders. I reported to the CO that the Mladshiy Leytenant had returned. I couldn’t think of anything clever to say.”

”In seven days of raids, the Russians partially suc­ceeded in their objective,” wrote the British historian Jerry Scutts.7 But this is a reverse account to that of Paul Carell, above, here based entirely on Soviet sources. It demon­strates the distorted picture if the version of only one of the belligerent sides is given. This is particularly the case with the Eastern Front. In reality, the Soviets did not succeed in destroying a single Luftwaffe airplane during these rather limited raids, while the Finns counted no more than two slightly damaged aircraft.

Following the costly air-base raids during these first days, the Soviet air units were compelled to turn to the defensive. Soviet bombers and ground-attack planes were

mostly assigned to nuisance raids during the remainder of the year, nonetheless achieving some spectacular successes.

The drive by General Eduard Dietl’s 2nd and 3rd Mountain divisions against Murmansk, heavily supported by the Stukas of IV.(St)/LG 1, provoked the main attention of the Soviet fighters in this sector. These Soviet fighters rose on a large scale on June 27, when the Luftwaffe attacked the air base at Murmashi, southwest of Murmansk. Starshiy Leytenant Leonid Ivanov, who had been credited with his first aerial victory the previ­ous day, led his Eskadrilya of 147 IAP toward the Ju 87s. While several I-15bis fighters under Ivanov managed to break up the German dive-bomber formation, claiming three victories, the 1-16 Ishaks of 145 IAP fought with the escorting Bf 110s.

Meanwhile, some Bf 109s of l./JG 77 set out for a free-hunting mission in the same area. Approaching Murmashi, they saw a group of Soviet fighters landing at the airfield. This was Starshiy Leytenant Ivanov’s Eskadrilya, returning from the hard combat described above. The Messerschmitt pilots immediately fell upon the helpless I-15bis fighters. Three were claimed shot down, and in one of them, Leonid Ivanov w’as killed.

During another encounter that day, Oberfeldwebel Herbert Kern from l.(H)/32, piloting an Hs 126 recon­naissance plane over the front lines, was spotted by two I-16s. Minutes later, the Henschel lay a burning wreck on the ground, the victim of Starshiy Leytenant Boris Safonov and Mayor Georgiy Gubanov, the commander of 72 SAP/VVS-SF.

According to Soviet sources, ten German aircraft were shot down for the loss of six VVS fighters and two bomb­ers on the Arctic front on June 27, 1941. But the only operational losses recorded by Luftflotte 5 on this day were two Hs 126s.8

The limited air forces on both sides continued to do their utmost to influence the war on the ground. Gen­eral Dietl’s XIX Mountain Corps encountered severe problems and met with stiff Red Army resistance during its advance in a wilderness almost without any roads. It was mainly due to the pinpoint attacks by the German dive-bombers against the bunker system on the way to Murmansk that any advance at all was possible during the first days.

Meanwhile, the Ju 88s of II./KG 30 continued to defy the antiaircraft and fighter defenses of Murmansk.

On June 29, considerable damage was wrought upon the shipyards in the port, and the central power plant of the town was destroyed.

But the Soviets also made clever use of their air units, displaying the skills of many of the VVS airmen in this sector. On June 29 and 30, small formations of SB bomb­ers managed to inflict heavy damage on the wharf area and oil storage tanks in German-occupied Petsamo, where a steamer was sunk.

Another mission that had to be carried out by the Ju 88s of II./KG 30 was the severance of the Kirov rail­road, the main route for the transportation of war equip­ment to and from Murmansk. This route was breached more than a hundred times in 1941, but with repair materials stockpiled by the tracks at various points, the Soviets were always able to facilitate quick repairs. While carrying out these sorties, the German bomber crews were taught a healthy respect toward the intercepting enemy fighter pilots. Oberfeldwebel Peter Stahl, a pilot in 6./ KG 30 during this time, recalls: “The Ratas followed us like a bee swarm. They fired against us even if the dis­tance w’as hopeless. Those poor guys that lagged behind stood no chance of escaping unscathed.”9

On July 3, 1941, Starshiy Leytenant Vasiliy Volovikov of 72 SAP/SF shot down a Ju 88 flown by the Gruppenkommandeur of II./KG 30, Hauptmann Eberhard Roeger, who was killed. According to Hauptmann Roeger’s successor, Major Horst von Riesen, II./KG 30, starting with a normal complement of forty aircraft, lost twenty Ju 88s from June to December 1941,10 Based on official Luftwaffe loss statistics, the Finnish his­torian Hannu Valtonen gives the figure as seven Ju 88s of I1./KG 30 shot down (destroyed or severely dam­aged) between June and December 1941," but the Ger­man fighter escort paid the Soviets back in kind.

A taran reported on July 4 is rather dubious. : According to the Soviet version, Mladshiy Leytenant Sergey Tkachev of 145 IAP sacrified his life by smashing his 1-16 into the leading bomber in a Ju 88 formation heading for a Soviet air base on the Kola Peninsula.12 A comparison with German records reveals that Tkachev probably was shot down by a Bf 110 flown by Hauptmann Gerhard Schaschke of Stab/ZG 76, who was credited w’ith twelve kills (numbers two through thirteen) dur­ing this period. Historian Werner Girbig describes the particular method behind Schaschke’s successes: “He de­veloped a personal fighting tactic. Covered by a Bf 109,

Подпись: The main task of the Bf 110-equipped units of Luftflotte 5,1 ,{Z)/JG 77 and Stabsschwarm/ZG 76 was to escort the Ju 88s of KG 30 on long-distance missions over the wilderness in the Far North. (Photo: Roba.)

he circled above the Russian air bases and struck down on the scrambling fighter flights.”15

A typical “Schaschke mission” was carried out on July 13. Three Bf 109s brazenly flew low over 145 lAP’s base at Shonguy. This was the bait. As a Zveno of three 4th Eskadrilya I-16s, commanded by Ley tenant Ishakov, scrambled after the three 109s, Hauptmann Schaschke’s undetected Bf 110 appeared at treetop level behind the Soviet fighters. Flying at a slow speed, Schaschke had plenty of time to place a burst from his 20mm cannon and 7.92mm machine guns into the belly of the nearest Ishak. As this plane burst into flames, Schaschke gave full throttle, passed beneath Ishakov’s second wingman, and allowed his rear gunner to shoot this Ishak down. Still unaware of what was taking place behind him, Leytenant Ishakov continued to climb straight ahead. Men on the ground saw Ishakov start to turn, but it was too late; the 1-16 caught a full burst from the Zerstorer’s nose cannon. Ishakov bailed out, but he was too low, and his parachute failed to open in time. Schaschke’s twin – engine Messerschmitt executed an outrageous victory roll and turned west, mission accomplished.

Hauptmann Schaschke soon became well known and earned a special hatred among his adversaries. They even
gave him a nickname, “Ryzhyy” (“Red-Hair,” or more correctly, “Carrots”).1”

An important advantage held by the German fight­ers in this area was the assembling of a Freya early – warning radar station. This was quite exceptional, since the main part of the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front operated almost entirely without radar assistance during most of the war. Operating on a 2.4-meter wavelength, the Freya equipment had a range of eighty to a hundred miles. The outcome is clearly mirrored by the fearsome losses suffered on the Soviet side. Of fifty-three Polikarpov biplanes on hand with 147 IAP on June 22, thirty-three had been lost three weeks later.1’

The Zerstorer ace Hauptmann Gerhard Schaschke w’as closely followed by the Bf 109 pilots Oberfeldwebel Hugo Dahmer and Oberleutnant Horst Carganico, both of l./JG 77, who claimed eleven and seven kills, respec­tively, during the first three weeks of the war.

Oberfeldwebel Dahmer developed a fighter tactic, the “wild boar hunting tactic,” w’hich was quite similar to that of Schaschke’s. Flying under guidance of radar at high altitude, he managed to bounce Soviet air formations from above time after time, picking off one plane after another. Having scored his twenty-fifth kill,
on August 1, he became the first pilot of Luftflotte 5 to be awarded the Knight’s Cross.

Dahmer’s Staffelkapitan, Oberleutnant Horst Carganico, a hard-core Nazi, was described by one of his young pilots as unsympathetic and ambitious: “Stubborn, never admits his own mistakes, and in this way as a commander he often becomes unjust.”16

The Messerschmitts never managed to put an end to the Soviet fighter-bombers that continously harassed the XIX Mountain Corps. As the German XXXVI Army Corps got involved in a difficult battle at Salla, about two hundred miles south of General Dietl’s Mountain Corps, most of IV.(St)/LG 1 had to be rushed to this area. Deprived of its close support from the air and with inadequate supplies due to bad communications and Soviet air attacks,1′ the offensive against Murmansk bogged down to a snail’s pace.

The diversion of the attack force against two objec­tives—seizure of Murmansk by General Dietl, and the severing of the Kirov railway by the XXXVT Army Corps—proved to be fatal. The Battle of Salla lasted more than a week. Finally the German dive-bombers managed to break up the Soviet defense lines. Later in July, the dive-bomber unit was deployed a hundred miles to the southeast of Salla, where it successfully supported the combined German-Finnish drive, resulting in the cap­ture of Kestenga. These missions took a terrible toll of lV.(St)/LG 1. Before the end of the year, twenty-two of its originally thirty-six Ju 87s had been shot down. The unit commander, Hauptmann Arnulf “Blasmich” Blasig, was awarded the Knight’s Cross on September 4 after personally executing 130 dive-bombing missions. But iso­lated triumphs did not alter the situation. The rising losses inevitably weakened the striking capacity of the

image128

Hauptmann Arnulf Blasig receives congratulations upon his return from 1 his hundredth dive-bombing mission of the Barbarossa campaign—an | attack against Rovaniemi Airdrome in northern Finland in late summer of j 1941. “Blasmich" Blasig was one of the Luftwaffe’s Stuka pioneers, with j dive-bomber experience dating from 1936. Following action over Poland, I France, and the English Channel, Blasig was appointed commander of IV.(St)/LG 1 in the Far North on July 1,1941. He was posted to a star1 j position in 1942 and survived the war. (Photos: Taghon.)

Stukagruppe. The German offensive against the Kirov ] railway never succeeded in achieving any major break­through. The Soviets managed to halt the invaders at ] Alakurtti, forty miles from the Kirov railroad. With this, j three years of positional warfare commenced.

A few months later, the Kirov railway would be the main supply line on which British and American mili – і tary goods unloaded in Murmansk reached the Red Army. ]

Assistance from The West

E

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

1942.

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

image130

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.)

image131

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*

Air Combat Over Leningrad

A

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.

Typhoon Against Moscow

I

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

image142

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.

image143

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.

image145

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.)

image146

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.

The Race for the Soviet Industrial Plants

E

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

1

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.

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

F

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

image155

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

image158

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.

Difficulties in the South

days of the war was met in the southern combat zone, where the first mission of Luftflotte 4 was to attack and destroy the Soviet Air Force in this area. Fliegerkorps V—with the Bf 109s of JG 3 as the main fighter unit – operated on the northern (left) flank. Fliegerkorps IV— to which the Bf 109s of JG 77 and I.(J)/LG 2 w’ere assigned—was given the task of achieving air superiority on the Soviet-Romanian front.

Stalin had concentrated the strongest defense forces and the best equipment in this area. At the same time, this was the sector given the lowest priority by Hitler. Here the Soviet early warning system worked much bet­ter than farther to the north. The NKVD border troops were alerted and offered frantic resistance. The entire area was covered with dense forests and crisscrossed with numerous rivers and creeks. On top of this, most roads here were in even worse shape than those to the north.

Подпись: --el "53'<»i — а-.-:me a;:plot: I'on r.scell wing w) O^tirecwithaS:.-: or 930 hp engine, it could reach a sceeb of around 270 mph and could complete s full turn mten seconds. In 1941. the 1-153 was used mainly as a fighter-bomber. Note the bomb racks, two beneath each wing. Each bomb rack could carry a 50-kilogram bomb. In the background is a DB-3F. (Photo: Balss.)image40While the VVS on the central combat zone was more or less paralyzed on June 23 by the crippling blows dealt by the Luftwaffe on the first day of the war, the Soviet Air Force in the southern combat zone managed to main­tain a high level of activity, mainly due to the quality of the air force commanders in this area. On the first day of the war, General-Mayor Yevgeniy Ptukhin, commander of VVS-КОVO/Southwestern Front, had instructed his bomber and ground-attack units to concentrate all efforts against the advancing enemy columns and the airfields of the enemy. The fighter regiments received orders to protect the Soviet troops at the front from Luftwaffe attacks.

The advancing German troops found that all bridges across the rivers in the border area had been blown up by the retreating Soviets, and as soon as the Germans constructed new bridges, Soviet aircraft arrived in scores to destroy them.

“Ivan came buzzing in huge masses” according to Hauptmann Hans von Hahn, who flew with T./JG 3 over the spearheads of Panzergruppe 1 during the first days of the war. I./JG 3 was credited with the destruc­tion of nineteen enemy aircraft, all SB – and DB-3 bomb­ers, in the air on June 23 alone.

Nowhere did the Luftwaffe encounter as strong opposition in the air as did Fliegerkorps IV on the So­viet-Romanian border. Of 827 first-line aircraft in WS-

Odessa Military District/Southcrn Front, more than one hundred were MiG-3 fighters. In this area some of the most skillful VVS fighter pilots were active. Noteworthy were Starshiy Leytenants Aleksandr Pokryshkin and Anatoliy Morozov and Kapitans Petr Kozachenko and Afanasiy Karmanov.

Having shot down a Soviet Su-2 bomber on the first day of the war, Starshiy Leytenant Pokryshkin, of 55 TAP, claimed his first “real” aerial victory against a Bf 109 on June 23.

That day, twenty Bf 109s of Stab and II./JG 77 attacked the Soviet airfields in the Kishinev area in Soviet-occupied Moldavia. They claimed eight aircraft destroyed on the ground and were involved in a diffi­cult fight with the MiG-3s of 4 IAP. Карі tan Afanasiy Karmanov, a squadron leader in 4 IAP, claimed to have shot down three Bf 109s in this combat. Karmanov, who was one of the most experienced Soviet test pilots, had achieved his first two victories (a Ju 88 and a Bf 109) on the previous day. At most, one of his claims can he veri­fied with German loss records—the Bf 109 piloted by Fcldvvcbcl Hans lllncr of 4./JG 77.

Having landed at Revaka Airfield in the vicinity for refueling his aircraft, Karmanov saw four Bf 109s approaching the airfield. Immediately, almost without fuel and ammunition, he trxrk off and attacked them. He was shot down and hailed out, but his parachute did not open and he fell to a certain death. Possi­bly this brave pilot fell victim to Ill./JG 77!s Oberleutnant Kurt Lasse, who claimed his fourth victory.

Over the same area, 249 lAP’s Kapitan Petr Kozachenko, one of the most: experienced Soviet fighter pilots, with fifteen victories over Japanese and Finnish aircraft, also scored his first vic­tory in the Russo-German war on June 23. Intercepting twelve Нс 112B fighters of the Romanian FARR ’s Grupul 5 Vanatoare that attempted to raid Bolgrad southern Moldavia, Kozachenko, who was leading a forma­tion of seven 1-І 53s, shot down the He 112 piloted by Adjutant Aviator Anghel Codnit before leading his group home without losses.2 ’

Meanwhile, the Soviet DBA and the

Подпись: The missions earned ou- by KG 2? Зое сче against airields aid fortfications of the Sov et Southern Front and WS-ChF on June 24,1941, cost this unit seven He 111s destroyed or severely damaged. One of these aircraft was brought down in a taran by Starshiy Leytenant Konstantin Oborin of 156 IAP Shown on this photo is a He 111H of 1 ./KG 27, (Photo: Roba.) air force of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet (ChF) subjected Germany’s ally Roma­nia to the heaviest Soviet strategic bomb­ing raids made during the entire war.

These raids were nevertheless flown un­der very primitive conditions, with inad­equate planes, poor navigation equip­ment, and ill-aimed bombing. The port of Constanta was the main target.

Locotenent Aviator Horia Agarici of FARR’s Escadrila 53, equipped with Hur­ricane fighters, managed to down three DB-3s out of a force of seventy-three SBs and DB-3s that raided Constanta on June 23. The next day the Soviets fared better during the first raid of the day, in which eighteen SBs and eighteen DB-3s were able to drop 178 bombs over the airfield and oil fields at Constanta without loss.

Attempting to follow up this success later that day, a formation of thirty-two SBs and DB-3s lost ten bombers, nine of them to the Bf 109s of III./JG 52.

On June 24,55 IAP’s Starshiy Leytenant Pokryshkin was in “hot air” again, scoring his second “German” vic­tory, yet another Bf 109, possibly piloted by 1I./JG 77’s Feldwebel Otto Kohler, who was killed in the air above the Soviet-Romanian border area in the vicinity of Iasi.

Starshiy Leytenant Konstantin Oborin of 146 IAP achieved the first nocturnal taran of the war during the night of June 24-25. While in the vicinity of Odessa, Starshiy Leytenant Oborin slammed his MiG-3 into a He 111 of 4./KG 27. The Heinkel went down over Soviet – held territory, but a second aircraft of the same Staffel landed close to the crash site, picked up the surviving and unhurt crewmen, and left for home before any Soviet soldiers appeared. The seriously injured MiG pilot managed to land his crippled fighter, but he died from his injuries on August 18, 1941.24

Even if they were encountering the best the VVS could field, the units of Luftflotte 4 proved to be vastly superior in the air. On June 25, a Schwarm of four Bf 109s led by Oberleutnant Walter Hoeckner of I1./JG 77 ran into a formation of twelve SB bombers escorted by the MiG-3s of 55 IAP. When the combat was over, ten SBs had been destroyed, of which Oberleutnant Hoeckner had lagged eight. Devastating blows were dealt to the Soviet Air Force on the ground even in this area.

Between June 22 and June 25, Fliegerkorps V on the left flank alone was credited with destroying 774 Soviet air­craft on the ground and 136 in the air.

After June 25, the main task of Fliegerkorps V was shifted from air-base raids to tactical support of the Ger­man Sixth Army and Panzergruppe 1 in the drive on Kiev. This was particularly important because Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist’s Panzergruppe 1 had run into large numbers of Soviet T-34 and KV tanks that effectively blocked any further German progress in the Novograd Volynskiy region, halfway to Kiev. The tank battle would last almost a week. Here the Soviets managed to achieve local superiority on the ground. The Germans were able to hold out only due to Fliegerkorps V. Covering the sky above the troops of Panzergruppe 1, JG 3 and I.(J)/LG 2 claimed to have shot down more than a hundred Soviet aircraft, the majority of them DB – 3 and SB bombers, during two days of large-scale air battles on June 25 and June 26. With one of the six Bf 109s downed in these battles, Hauptmann Lothar Keller, the twenty-victory ace commanding I1./JG 3, was lost.

On the Soviet-Romanian border, the MiG-3 pilots of Mayor Viktor Ivanov’s 55 LAP experienced a dishearten­ing struggle—as was the case with all Soviet front-line aviation units during this period. On June 26, Starshiy Leytenant Pokryshkin claimed two Hs 126 reconnais­sance aircraft (or, according to another source, one Hs 126 and one PZL P.24) in the Beltsy region, but he lost

his wingman, Mladshiy Leytenant Petr Dovbnya. On the following day, six MiG-3s, led by Mayor Ivanov, attacked a lone Hs 126. The regimental commander shot up the Henschel, but while attempting to finish off the flaming airplane, Ivanov’s wingman crashed and was killed.

The five remaining MiGs strafed an enemy truck column in the same area and suddenly were jumped by eight Bf 109s of II./JG 77. Pokryshkin turned to meet the enemy, but he found that none of his comrades had followed him; Mayor Ivanov and the rest simply escaped! The German fighter pilots split into two groups, four planes pursuing Ivanov’s fleeing formation and four entering com­bat with the lone MiG-3. Having failed in his first attack, Pokryshkin made a quick half loop and sought refuge in a thick cloud. Coming out of the cloud, he was lucky to find one Bf 109 diving just
in front of him. The Soviet ace pulled out of his dive and fired at the “Messer" from short distance. In the next second, tracers came whistling close to his own aircraft. Only by using all his skills, Pokryshkin managed to evade the attack­ing Messerschmitts during the following minutes. Realizing that this “Ivan" was too much for them—or simply because they were running out of fuel—the Bf 109s finally disengaged.

Returning to the airfield, Pokryshkin learned that one MiG-3 of Ivanov’s group had been shot up and force-landed. In 5./JG 77, Feldwehel Rudolf Schmidt claimed one MiG-3 as his fifteenth victory.

Shortly afterward, as a formation of enemy bombers approached Kishinev, Pokryshkin, Mladshiy Leytenant Leonid Diyachenko, and Mladshiy Leytenant Nikolay Lukashevich scrambled in the three MiG-3s that remained serviceable. They spotted seven Ju 88s, of which Pokryshkin and Diyachenko each shot down one. Then they were in turn bounced by four Bf 109s. Sasha Pokryshkin managed to escape, but Diyachenko was shot down, probably by Unteroffizier Hans Esser of 5./JG 77. Lukashevich re-

Подпись: On the eve of the Polish surrender to the German and Soviet armies in 1939. approximately two hundred Polish combat aircraft flew to neutral Romania. Several of these aircraft were incorporated into the FARR, including PZL P.37 Los bombers. Shown here is a Los crew from Grupul 4 Bombardament. which launched a raid against the Hungarian city of Kosice on June 26,1941. Posing as Soviet aircraft, the Los bombers succeeded in achieving the strategic aim of provoking Hungary into declaring war on the USSR. Later Grupul 4 Bombardament was transferred to Tarutino in Bessarabia, where it participated in the air offensive against Odessa. (Photo: Bernad.)
turned to base with the claim of one Bf 109. 5./JG 77’s Unteroffizier Loy made a successful forced landing near Iasi.

During the first week of the war, Aleksandr Pokryshkin claimed to have shot down six enemy air­craft-three Bf 109s, one Ju 88, and two Hs 126s. Unfor­tunately, all the 55 IAP documents were lost during the retreat, and most of these claims were never officially registered.

Having flown a number of raids against Constanta during the first days of the war, the Soviet bombers expanded their target list to include Bucharest and Iasi. Lacking fighter cover and performed mainly by the vulnerable SB bombers, these raids were tantamount to suicide.

On June 26, a large bomber formation attempted to cover a warship raid against the Romanian coast. During the approach flight the Soviet bombers were intercepted by Bf 109s from 8./JG 52 and III./JG 77. Each of the eight pilots of 1U./JG 77 participating in this combat returned to base with claims, including Leutnant Emil Omert and Oberfeldwebel Reinhold Schmetzer, who each
claimed five. The Staffelkapitan of 8./JG 52, Oberleutnant Gdnther Rail, comments: “It was a very – easy game, since the Russian bombers appeared without any fighter cover.”2:> In total, the Soviets registered nine bombers lost, all SBs from 40 BAP/ChF. In addition, the flotilla leader Moskva was sunk by a mine, and coast artillery damaged the flotilla leader Kharkov.

In the context of strategic air raids, the Romanian FARR carried out one of the most decisive strategic bomb­ing missions in history during these days. On June 26, 1941, three P.37 Los bombers of the Romanian Grupul 4 Bombardament were sent on an ultrasecret mission: Posing as “Soviet” planes, they dropped thirty 50-pound bombs on the Hungarian town of Kosice with the inten­tion of provoking Hungary to declare war on the USSR. Thirty-two people were killed and 280 injured.26 The sinister planning is revealed by the fact that one unexploded bomb (intentionally unarmed?) carried wTit – ings in Russian. The plot worked, and Hungary joined the war on the German side. On only the next day, the first sorties were flown by the Hungarian Air Force (Magyar Kiralyi Honved Legiero) against the Soviet

image45Подпись: The Hungarian Air Force—Magyar Kiralyi Honved Legiero—was composed exclusively of outdated aircraft at the time Hungary was provoked into declaring war against the Soviet Union. Shown here, a Hungarian Vadaszszad "Nyil" (Arrow) pilot of Fighter Squadron 2/4 poses in front of his Italian-built Fiat CR.42 Falco fighter at Koloszvar (now Cluj, Romania). The CR.42 proved to be slightly slower than the Soviet 1-153 fighter biplane, and it had weak armament, consisting of only two 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns. (Photo: Bernad.)city of Stanislav, north of the Hungarian border.

Magyar Кігйіуі Honved Legiero con­sisted of 530 combat aircraft, mainly rela­tively obsolescent models. One Fiat CR.42 from Fighter Squadron 2/3 was shot down during Hungary’s first day at war.

The pilot, Sergeant Laszlo Bardossy, was captured by the Soviets.

This action provoked a limited Soviet air raid against the Hungarian rail­way station at Csap two days later. The CR.42 fighters of Captain Zoltan Kiss’s Fighter Squadron 2/3 rose to intercept and claimed three SBs out of an attack­ing force of seven.

Meanwhile, the medium-bomber units of Fliegerkorps V—KG 51, KG 54, and KG 55—were involved in continous low-level attacks against the strong Soviet tank forces that blocked the way of Panzergruppe 1 on the road to Kiev. Other mis­sions were flown against Soviet reinforcements in the rear. This resulted in the decisive delay of the Soviet XV Mechanized Corps. On June 26 the corps headquarters
was hit by an air attack in which the commander, Gen­eral-Mayor Ignat Karpezo, was badly wounded.

Подпись: The German-designed He 170 operated with the Hungarian 1st Independent Strategic Reconnaissance Group at Budaors and Ungvdr in June 1941. The first sortie over the USSR was carried out on June 26,1941, and during the following weeks another thirty low-level reconnaissance missions were flown over the Soviet Southwestern Front in the Lvov, Tamopol, and Podolsk areas. One He 170 was shot down by Soviet fighters, and the type was soon withdrawn from first-line service due to its limited operational range. It was succeeded by He 111s delivered from Germany. For some reason, the correct designation, He 170, was not used by the Hungarians; they referred to the aircraft as He 70, its predecessor. (Photo: BernM)

Between June 22 and June 30 the Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 201 tanks in the southern combat zone, mainly in front of Panzergruppe 1. This onslaught finally permitted the German ground forces to break

image47

Подпись: The Hs 126 tactical reconnaissance aircraft played an invaluable role for the German Army during the first years of the war. Outfitted with an automatic Zeiss camera, it became known as "The Eye of the Army.” (Photo: Consiglio)

through. On June 30 the Stavka decided to pull back the Southwestern Front.

The first nine days of the war in the southern com­bat zone had revealed that even the best forces the Sovi­
ets could field were not comparable to the qualitative force of the Wehrmacht. The most decisive part was played by the Luftwaffe, which had put large parts of the WS out of action on the ground, shot down scores

The high losses sustained by the Luftwaffe during the first phase of the war on the Eastern Front had not been anticipated by the German commanders. Seen in this photo are four damaged Bf 109s waiting to be transported to be refurbished by the aircraft industry in Germany. (Photo: Grislawski.)

of the modern MiG fighters, and made any serious Soviet attempt to hold a defense line impossible. Among such grievous losses, WS-Southem Front registered fifty- eight of its new MiG-3 fighters lost between June 22 and July l.2′ At the same time, the inabilities of the Soviet “strategic” bombers stood clear. The first air raids against Romania had been disasters, although only weak fighter forces opposed the attackers. Only due to a later radical change in tactics were the Soviets able to continue these raids on a scale larger than a nuisance level.

After only two weeks, victory seemed to be in sight for Hitler. But to those who knew the Soviet Union, things looked different. Hitler’s Luftwaffe had played a major part in inflicting unprecedented losses on the Red Army. But air strategists were already raising their voices in warning. Not only had the number of serviceable Ger­man aircraft at the front fallen dramatically—by June 30, the operational strength of the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front had dropped to 960 aircraft—it could also be clearly seen that the Luftwaffe was becoming little more than a complement to the army.

In general, the main doctrine of the Luftwaffe was tactical and operational—to act in immediate support of the Blitzkrieg ground forces. This had been one of the most important keys to the rapid victories over Poland in 1939, France in 1940, and the Balkans in the spring of 1941. This Blitzkrieg doctrine also was a dominant reason for the German success during the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa. But as the German Army con­tinued its march into the Soviet Union, increasing losses in combination with the vast operational area soon created a situation in which the strung-out German divisions became totally dependent on close support from the air. At the same time, the daily rate in attrition caused a rapid decrease of the number of aircraft available to the Luftwaffe combat units. After only a few days, the medium bombers—originally intended to strike at supply columns, airfields, bridges, and other targets in the enemy’s rear—had to be used in close-support missions in the immediate front-line zone. With this, the Luftwaffe was gradually reduced more or less to what can be described as a “flying artillery” force. This in turn badly affected the ability of the Germans to isolate the Soviet front lines from the rear area, not to mention that it obviated any strategic bombing missions.

In 1941 the Germans were ill prepared to sustain the losses inflicted by the tenacious Soviet resistance. After nine days of war, 699 German aircraft, including 286 bombers, had been lost. It is highly remarkable that the Soviet claims during the same period—613 German air­craft shot down by fighters and 49 by AAA—are so close to the actual Luftwaffe losses.28 While this process of attrition continued, the Soviets manufactured the mass quantities of war equipment that would eventually bring down Hitler’s Third Reich.