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The Great Patriotic War: Conflicts In The Air

1258 words - 6 pages

June 21st, 1941. Hitler’s brainchild Operation Barbarossa is put into action: Disregarding the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and putting to use the Blitzkrieg tactic, sweeping across the soviet territories at amazing speed. This event caught the Red army and Airforce off guard, and as the Soviets suffer defeat after defeat, the situation became ever more dire for the Soviet Union.
The Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, was very experienced and well equipped, having flown hundreds of sorties during the Spanish Civil War in the then-advanced Messerschmitt Bf-109, and fully prepared for the invasion. In contrast, the Soviets, most with little combat experience and equipped with inferior aircraft, like the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika & the Polikarpov I-16, were caught off guard with little time to react, resulting in more than 300 aircraft shot down and 1400 destroyed on the ground, all in the first day of the war. The worst losses were experienced by General Sergei Chernykh, commander of the 9th Air Division, in Belorussia. Having lost 347 of 409 newly equipped Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3s. General Chernykh, a Hero of the Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War and the first pilot to shoot down a Bf-109, was used as a scapegoat for the early failures by the Soviet high command, and was arrested and shot. Also, when Ivan Kopets, commander of the Red Air Army in eastern Russia, realized the scale of the disaster, he shot himself. But despite the failures on the first days of the war, the remnants of the Red Air Army began to fight back. On the 25 of June, 1941, 27 Tupolev SB bombers departed to attack the German 2nd Panzer group as it massed across the Shchara River in Belorussia. They achieved their goal and destroyed several vehicles and the river crossings. On the way back however, they were attacked by several German fighters. 10 were shot down. The reason for these losses; In the early stages of the war, the Soviet Fighter regiments and Ground attack Regiments were under Army H.Q. command, while the Bomber regiments were under Front H.Q., or Army Group Command. It proved virtually impossible to coordinate their actions, resulting in bombers departing on sorties without fighter protection. And with the Soviet pilots trained to fly in loose formations, it would be impossible for their machine guns to cover each other, making them easy pickings for the German fighters. Despite the obvious loopholes in Soviet tactics, bombers were still launched to strike advancing German forces and strategic targets. These weaknesses would remain until halfway through the war.

In contrast, the Luftwaffe was very well managed and coordinated. Also, German fighter pilots, drawing from the experience gained during the Spanish Civil War, developed their own tactics. For example, German pilots flew in a flexible formation, known as the ‘Finger Four’, which allowed them to utilize their superior speed.
Other air forces, including the British and the Soviets,...

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