Article published 31 July 1944 of the year
The land, on which the Red Army is fighting in central Poland and the Baltic coast, is no longer Russian, as is the sky. But Russians dominate this sky. The Red Army Air Force captured it no less decisively than land forces captured it.
Last week, at the southern forward observation post, Marshal Ivan Konev, a stout man without a hair on his head, instructed his commanders. The delicate aroma of blossoming apple trees poisoned the stench of highly explosive substances and dead bodies. Marshall spoke of new power aviation Of the Red Army and its main function: close, selfless support of the ground forces. At the same time, the units of the attack aircraft flew over the apple trees towards the front in order to smash the German infantry, firing positions and Tanks.
The exhausted, weakening Luftwaffe tried to repel the pressure, but in vain. From Moscow it was reported that in one day 128 German aircraft were shot down. About how aviation paved the way for tanks and infantry Konev, - a separate story.
In Dvinsk alone, nine German echelons were destroyed. The ammunition wagons, ruined by Russian bombs, exploded, spreading fire and destruction. German troops, retreating in the direction of Warsaw, poured lead attack aircraft, medium bombers and fighters, among them - "Air Cobra", "Boston" and armed with Mitchell guns, produced in the United States and controlled by Russian pilots.
Burden and gratitude
There is one person who has more than anyone else the right to rejoice at the news of the triumph of red air power. Rescue and restoration of the Air Force after the German attack destroyed almost all of the aircraft was not the work of one person. But one person put the heaviest burden on his shoulders, and in Russia he receives the lion's share of gratitude. This is the commander of the Red Army Air Force Marshal Alexander Alexandrovich Novikov.
Moscow does not say where Novikov was last week - but, probably, he, as usual, is moving at a furious pace between the airfields, looking at what his pilots live, chatting with them and encouraging them. Had his will, 42-year-old Marshal Novikov himself would undoubtedly have flown combat missions. But this is not permitted by his friend Joseph Stalin. Like other top aviation officials, Novikov is not allowed to risk his life in battle.
Do not pry
A few years before the war, the Kremlin kept all the information relating to its aircraft under such a dense veil of secrecy that foreign observers and even journalists working in the USSR had no idea what the Russians were flying and how they would fly case of war.
Even after the Soviet Union began to receive Lend-Lease American equipment, the Russians remained suspicious and kept their mouths shut. When the Allies began to gain the upper hand, the Russians began to noticeably freer to disclose information. Although, unlike the Americans, they do not inform the public about their newest combat aircraft, the main outlines of the development of Russian aviation have become clear.
Unlike political deviations, unorthodox military thinking has never been punished in Russia. In 1930, the Soviet theory of air warfare was characterized by bold ideas. It was the Russian, Amiragov, who was one of the first strategists who declared that a modern war should begin with a concerted strike by tanks and aircraft. The Germans developed the core of their blitzkrieg strategy, but the rest of Europe did not pay much attention to this. The Russians were the first to conduct large-scale experiments with a mass landing of an airborne landing and one of the first with airborne gliders. But it was the Germans who were the first to use this tactic in battle. At some point, the Russian experiments were interrupted.
The Spanish Civil War was a laboratory for both Russia and the Axis countries. The Russians watched the rehearsal of the German Blitzkrieg with both military and political interest; under Guadalajara, their planes defeated Italian tanks, demonstrating for the first time the capabilities of attack aircraft. But their planes are outdated. Soviet designers and manufacturers did not keep up with theorists. By the beginning of the Finnish war, the Russian planes were still damp, and the main work was done by good old artillery.
But the lessons of Spain and Finland were not in vain. The design of the Soviet aircraft was improved, and the plants switched to the production of new types. When this process was in full swing, Hitler attacked the country.
Germany’s attack in June 1941 caught the Red Army air force off guard. A huge number of red planes were destroyed on the ground. In the air, the Germans outnumbered the Russians in numbers, weapons and equipment. Unequal battles continued right through to winter, when a lull began on the fronts. The landing gear of the Russian aircraft made it easy to install skis instead of wheels, and their vehicles knew how to keep the engines and oil from freezing. In the conditions of winter, the Germans could only wallow bitterly. That year, the Russian winter killed more German planes than Russian aviation.
By the time the unfavorable warm weather returned, American and British aircraft began to arrive under Lend-Lease. But the Allied convoys heading to Murmansk suffered terrible losses from Luftwaffe planes operating from Norway and Finland. Much of the Lend-Lease shipments had to be redirected along a long route through the Persian Gulf. The Russians did not give up. They dismantled the aircraft factories that were in the way of the Wehrmacht, transported from to the rear and reassembled them there.
At Stalingrad, the Germans still had superiority in the air. But Stalingrad was a turning point in the war, including in the air. The Russians were getting more and more aircraft from their factories and lend-lease. The design of the aircraft and the training of pilots were constantly improved. The American and British Air Forces began to smash the Luftwaffe in their factories and in the air. When the great counterattack rolled westward, it was possible to say that the Russians achieved equality in the air.
'To hell with unnecessary trinkets'
For this, Joseph Stalin had to thank four people. Major Generals and Heroes of Socialist Labor, designers Sergey Ilyushin and Alexander Yakovlev, people's commissar of the aviation industry Alexei Shakhurin and Marshal Alexander Novikov. Novikov told Ilyushin and Yakovlev what kind of planes he needed, two designers created them on their drawing boards, Shahurin built them.
At the time of the Nazi attack, Novikov was the chief of staff of the Red Army Air Force responsible for planning. He was responsible for the salvation of aviation from destruction. In essence, Novikov said: “Make fighters for us. Improve current models and build them as soon as possible. To hell with unnecessary trinkets. To hell with all the extra details. We need airplanes that can fly and shoot. We have pilots. Those with insufficient training will complete their education in combat. Losses will be big, but we have people, and so we will work. ” In the field of view of Joseph Stalin, Novikov first came to 1939 at a meeting where they discussed ways and means of strengthening red air power. Novikov, who had recently been transferred to aviation from the infantry, was brought to the meeting by Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, who called him 'Shurik'. Resolute speeches and reasonable ideas of the young man impressed Stalin, and they became friends. In 1942, Mr. Shurik replaced General Yakov Smushkevich as Commander of the Air Force; The following year he was promoted to marshall, becoming the first red aviator to receive this rank. Today he is the Chief Air Marshal.
Russia had a certain number of heavy bombers in the hangars, and even more advanced were on the drawing boards. At the beginning of 1943, several test raids were made on East Prussia and Ploiesti. However, Novikov abandoned the idea of creating powerful long-range aviation. Development of aircraft and necessary equipment, as well as training crews navigation, radio communications and bombing would be overwhelming work.
Russia was in a hurry, the situation was desperate. She needed a plane for quick payoffs - fighters to fight enemy bombers and attack aircraft in order to smash tanks, infantry and all the other small targets. Novikov decided that the main task of aviation will be tight support for ground forces. There was no time for anything else.
The most famous combat aircraft of Russia, which is its most significant contribution to the tactics of air support, is the 'Sturmovik' + Ilyushin. He is armed with cannons, machine guns, rockets and bombs in different, but always powerful combinations. Not very fast and not super-maneuverable, it has solid armor to protect against machine-gun fire. It is most effective at heights in 150 feet or below - it is almost impossible to knock out large-caliber anti-aircraft guns. To protect against enemy fighters, attack aircraft fly accompanied by their fighters. The attackers, acting in concert with powerful Russian artillery, played a huge role in defeating the Germans.
Yakovlev fighters (of which the Yak-9 was declassified last) are usually considered the best in Russia. Due to the shortage of materials and production difficulties, both the Yaki and the attack aircraft are made partly of wood. Despite such a primitive, it is reliable aircraft: in addition, the 'Yak' is easy and quickly gaining height. He cannot be called an aerodynamic handsome, unlike the German FW-190 or the American Mustang, but the Germans treat the Yaks and their frantic pilots with great respect.
Another series of good Russian fighters was created by Simon Lavochkin. In 1942, Ilyushin, Yakovlev and Lavochkin received 30 000 dollars for the award and the title of the “creators of Stalinist aviation”.
Russian pilots with incredible warmth refer to the American fighters 'Air Cobra' company 'Bell'. Kobrushek, as they affectionately call this aircraft, has more than 4000. Criticism, which Kobrushek was subjected to in the United States for the fact that they could not fly at high altitude, did not embarrass the Russians. Like any other tactical force, the Russians conduct most of the air combat at a height below 15 000 feet. Virtually all the luckiest red aces fly on 'Aircobra'. Colonel Alexander Pokryshkin, the Alliance's leading ace, who recently shot down his 59 Nazi, defeated Bell's fighter 48.
These people are not joking
The vast majority of pilots are simple village guys. They fly confidently and brightly. Compared to American pilots, they seem older and larger. They have little youthful enthusiasm, they do not consider themselves handsome. Study and ideological treatment made them serious people doing serious work. They are not reckless in the sense of a conscious game of danger, but, unlike the American pilots, they are not surrounded by so many security measures and means.
In fact, their attitude towards danger is such that it should be avoided, but not if you are in a hurry or absorbed in something else. Some observers say they fly on their planes "just as the Cossacks gallop." It seems that they can perform any number of tasks without apparent fatigue. Few of them have heard of such ailments of capricious pilots as psychoneuroses.
Their morale is high - today is even higher than ever. Alexandra Novikova is valued and respected. Marshal visits the units so often that most pilots have seen him at least from afar.
Cards on the table
Americans who have met with Novikov speak of him as a 'delightful man'. This is a real Russian handsome man with soft features and a short haircut. He, a man who does not know cunning, is annoyed by someone else's cunning; He likes to lay out cards on the table, as far as the strictness of Soviet politics allows. When Novikov is in Moscow, his working day usually begins at noon, and ends not earlier than midnight. He spends every free minute reading books on the air war from his large library.
Portraits Novikov adorn the country's airports from Kharkov to Almaty, but his name rarely appears in Soviet newspapers. Like other high-ranking red figures, he protects his privacy. He loves society and feasts; when he has time, he appears at parties with his blond wife and drinks do dna vodka. The form sits on it flawlessly.
In addition to all its other virtues, Novikov is a diplomat. Some of his most capable employees, whose talents he could use at home, Novikov sent to Washington to exert mild but constant pressure to increase the supply of aircraft to Russia under lend-lease. Currently, several thousand pieces of equipment are sent annually from the US Air Force Base to Great Falls, Montana, from where the aircraft are being distilled to Russia via Alaska and Siberia. It is assumed that the USSR produces about 30 000 aircraft per year. These figures, in contrast to the declining production volumes in Germany, serve as sufficient evidence that the Red Army air forces (with substantial material and combat - in the skies of Europe - help from the allies) won the war in the air. If it were lost, Russia would have lost the war itself.