Military Review

Soviet aerial photography in the sky of war

Soviet aerial photography in the sky of war

Combat operations of the ground forces are successfully deployed only if they are provided with all the necessary information about the enemy. Much of this data is obtained by aerial reconnaissance. Its role and importance in the Great Patriotic War is difficult to overestimate. It was with the help of aerial reconnaissance that it was possible to quickly enough ensure that information about the actions of the enemy in the colossal territory stretching from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea could be obtained tens or hundreds of kilometers in depth from the front line. Aerial photographic intelligence provided an opportunity not only to obtain the documentary data required by various branches of the armed forces for the conduct of hostilities, but also had a significant impact on their methods themselves. It is worth noting the effectiveness of aerial photography, its actual impact on the course of the battle, was ultimately determined not only by the ability of intelligence officers to obtain the necessary data, but also by the ability of staffs and commanders to properly use the information received.

In the thirties, junior and secondary specialists were trained for aerial reconnaissance at the Moscow school of special services. Later, in 1940, on the basis of this school, the Gomel School of Aerial Photography Services was organized, which graduated mechanics and photo equipment technicians, photo labs and photogrammetry decoders. At the beginning of the war, the school was relocated east, to the city of Davlekanovo, where in 1942 the evacuated Taganrog Aviation School was combined with it. On the basis of these two schools, the Militaryaviation intelligence school (WAUR), in which, in addition to photo specialists, they began to train crew members of reconnaissance aircraft.

An example of how professional air reconnaissance forces were formed during the war can be the combat path of individual reconnaissance air regiments. In December, the 1942 of the year in the 17-th Air Army (VA), after the re-formation arrived bomber air regiment, armed with Pe-2. This regiment took part in the battles in the Don and Ukraine. In February, the 1943 of the year, the unit will be converted to the 39 th separate reconnaissance air regiment (OPR). All crews begin to perform tasks on aerial reconnaissance, and then, after equipping with aerial cameras and creating photo-separation, and aerial photographic surveys.

The 39 scouts orap provided the South-Western Front (then 3 Ukrainian) and 17 VA troops with data and materials for shooting in the battles in Ukraine, in the battle for the Dnieper, as well as in the Yassy-Kishinev operation, in the battles in Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria.

The battle path of the 98 separate Guards Red Banner Order of Kutuzov reconnaissance air regiment of the High Command was developed differently. Unlike the 39 orap, this regiment was originally a reconnaissance aviation unit, although it underwent a number of transformations during the war years: in the 1941 year, the 215-I separate reconnaissance air squadron (Orae); in 1942, the 4-th separate long-range reconnaissance air regiment (odrap); on 1943 - 98 orap. During the war years, the 13 regiment pilots became Heroes of the Soviet Union.

In addition to the regular reconnaissance aviation units, aerial photographic surveys were conducted by specially assigned for this purpose crews of bombers, attack aircraft and fighters. Sometimes they were united in freelance reconnaissance air squadrons.

The main reconnaissance aircraft on the Soviet front was the Pe-2 dive bomber, in which the bomb holders were removed from the bomb bay and mounted an aerial camera, and special photo faces were cut out in the bomb bay doors. The crew of the reconnaissance aircraft did not change relative to the bomber variant. Reconnaissance aircraft performed combat missions, usually alone, only in some cases under the cover of fighters.

In addition to the front-line aviation, three separate long-range reconnaissance air regiments led directly to the Supreme Command Headquarters, long-range aviation and the Navy. They used the same aerial cameras as the front-line aviation, but in addition to the Pe-2, in the long-range reconnaissance air regiments, American combat aircraft received lend-lease.

The use of the results of aerial photography was very dependent on the literacy of the decoders. For example, the British systematically bombed the most important industrial enterprises in Germany and conducted aerial photography surveys. Specialists of those industries, whose enterprises were subject to destruction, were specially invited for interpretation, for people who know the general structure, the main elements and the technology of a particular production. They could, better than others, by pictures, determine whether the enterprise was disabled after the raid, whether the restoration work reached a level after which it is possible to resume production and, therefore, whether re-raid is necessary, etc.

The most prepared interpreters at the beginning of the war were graduates of the Moscow school of special services and the Gomel school of aerial photo service, who had experience in deciphering during the Winter War with Finland. However, their number was insignificant, and we did not have any decoder specialists with a higher education at that time. The main personnel of the decoders had to be prepared during the war.

A rather typical example of how this happened can be the fate of A.S. Lyubchenko. At the beginning of the war he graduated from the infantry school; then half a year was at the front, fought at Stalingrad, was wounded, was taken to hospital. After the hospital - Davlekanovskoye Vaur, a three-month interpreter course, and at the end of 1943, he was appointed senior interpreter of the 39 orap.

The experience of preparing decoder commanders from the general commanders who, as a rule, were discharged after being wounded from the hospital, and sometimes even found to be unfit for military service, was fully justified. Lyubchenko, for example, in 1944, became the head of the photo division - a highly qualified interpreter who successfully obtained intelligence information during the end of the battle for the Dnieper, during the Yassko-Kishinev operation, during the liberation of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, on the outskirts of Budapest and Vienna.

After the Winter War, it became clear that it was necessary to have not only a sufficient number of interpreters - junior and middle managers, but also highly skilled craftsmen. However, with the beginning of the war with Germany, there was no time left for their preparation. They found a way out of the situation by deciding to prepare in a short time at the Faculty of Electrical Special Equipment (FESO) of the Zhukovsky Military Air Academy cartography (MIIGAiK). This did not cause any difficulties, since the theoretical and technical foundations of aerial photography carried out in the interests of solving national economic problems and for the purpose of military intelligence are generally close.

The scale of the work performed by the aerial reconnaissance of the Air Force can be judged, for example, by the results of the combat activity of the 98th separate guard Red Banner Order of Kutuzov reconnaissance air regiment. During the period from June 22, 1941 to May 9, 1945, his pilots made 4941 sorties, during which a total area of ​​1 square meters was photographed. km, including 339 sq. km. km of enemy defensive lines. In the regiment, 400 air films were processed (299 276 frames); 5041 thousand photographs were printed; 459 139 photographs and 340 10 photographic plates were compiled and decoded; manufactured 142 business targets. The pilots of the regiment, in total, explored 19 airfields, 990 railroad stations and nodes, 1131 industrial facilities, 2789 settlements; 10410 15 aircraft found, 612 56 tanks, 448 vehicles, 266 steam locomotives, 21 wagons and railway platforms, 872 bridges and crossings, 1 military depots, 681 anti-aircraft guns, 140 field artillery guns, 6686 machine gun nests, 3187 bunkers and bunkers, 16599 command posts and communications centers, as well as more than 16 thousand other enemy targets (armored vehicles, armored trains, mortars, tractors, tanks, fuel depots, etc.).

Of course, the different air regiments had different data describing the total combat activity, were not the same. But, given that during the war 20 of individual reconnaissance air regiments and air squadrons, as well as a significant number of non-standard aerial reconnaissance aircraft in bomber, assault and fighter aviation, you can imagine what a huge flow of intelligence information came during the war years from aerial photo prospecting, and how much work it was necessary to do this. “Photo reconnaissance is everything for us. Without aerial photo reconnaissance, we are blind,” practically all Soviet commanders of that era, who led large operations, could subscribe to one of the front commanders of the front, said in 1944.

It is known, for example, that in the summer of 1944 of the year, during the preparation of the Iasi-Kishinev operation, the enemy defense system, which was in front of the 3-th Ukrainian Front, was repeatedly photographed to the full depth by the 17-VA reconnaissance aircraft. Photographing was done both by 39 oraps and by crews of bomber, assault and fighter aircraft. Aerial photographs of various scales (up to very large-scale perspective ones) were obtained, fixing the enemy’s defense at various stages of its creation, which, in combination with the data provided by ground military intelligence, ensured the opening of the enemy’s entire defense system.

The German battalion commander, Captain Hans Liebsch, captured on August 20, during interrogation did not cease to be surprised that "the Russians absolutely knew the location of all the firing points, firing positions, command posts, observation points and very correctly struck them." This recognition is not only high quality intelligence, but also the ability to effectively use its data.

In 1945, the intensity of aerial photographic exploration reached a maximum - approximately 7,5% of all combat sorties of aviation was carried out to conduct it. Thus, in the interests of the Berlin operation from March 20 to April 16 of the year 1945, 2588 aircraft were flown for reconnaissance, and the enemy’s defense system was photographed 8 once and for all its depth. G.K. Zhukov wrote: "According to the results of aerial photography, captured documents and interrogations of prisoners, detailed diagrams, plans, maps were prepared, which supplied all troops and command and command instances up to and including companies."

Scheduled checks of the results of deciphering, aerial photography materials of the German defense after the last occupation by our troops showed high reliability of opening all the most important elements of enemy defense (80-90%. Defensive structures were identified). However, enemy fire weapons during air strikes and artillery preparation of the Berlin operation, in particular, located on the Seelow Heights, were not reliably suppressed, as a result of which the enemy’s defenses were able to break through only on the third day.

Thus, it turns out that this time, for the preparation of the operation, the aerial and photo prospecting materials for some reason were not properly taken into account. This resulted in ineffective artillery firing at squares, the use of tanks to break through defenses, and eventually led to the unjustified death of a large number of our soldiers and officers who attacked the enemy in conditions where his defense was not reliably suppressed.

Equally tragic are for ordinary soldiers, both the underestimation of the command of active and purposeful intelligence, and the inability to use its results during the planning, preparation and conduct of the operation. And this was confirmed in many post-war local conflicts, including the most recent ones.

Matiyasevich L. Aerial Photography. Past present Future. M .: Polygon-Press, 2011 C. 48-87.
Monetchikov S. The All-Seeing Eye of Aerial Photography // Bratishka. 2013. No.1. C. 36-42.
Ermilov S. Fights began with intelligence // Sea collection. 1990. No.4. C. 48-51.
Matiyasevich L. Aerofotorazvedka: lessons of the new time // Red Star. December 10 2008 of the year.
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  1. Monster_Fat
    Monster_Fat 11 November 2015 07: 45
    However, the following must be said - despite the importance of photographic reconnaissance before the war, and even during the war, high-quality cameras for photographic reconnaissance were not created in the USSR. Those that were available were very cumbersome, inconvenient in handling, had a lot of weight and, most importantly, the low quality of optics did not allow taking high-quality images from heights of more than 6000-7000 meters. And what did this mean in practice? And in practice, this meant that a bulky and heavy apparatus could not be put on a faster machine like a fighter, which led to losses from enemy air defense. The fact that the optics did not allow shooting from high altitudes also led to unnecessary losses of photo reconnaissance aircraft from enemy air defense. Bulky cassettes with filmed material required special processing by specialists of sufficiently high qualifications and therefore could not appear and decipher on the spot, which reduced the operational supply of the filmed material. The low quality of the photographic image, due to the poor resolution of the camera lens, made it difficult to decipher the photographs, turning, often into guessing "on the coffee grounds", what it could be depicted in the photograph. Our industry was not able to correct the difficult situation with the lack of high-quality photographic equipment for photographic reconnaissance until the very end of the war, for objective reasons, the weak development of the optical industry and precision instrument making. However, thanks to the help of the Allies, who provided us with high-quality photographic reconnaissance devices of British and American production, the situation was rectified in 1943, and already starting from 1944 our photographic reconnaissance was quite coping with its duties.
  2. Evgeniy667b
    Evgeniy667b 11 November 2015 07: 49
    Indeed, it is not a fact that the reconnoitered and decrypted information will be used correctly. The mentality and ability of spatial thinking comes first. And at the same time, a lot depends on the pilot or UAV operator. You can stupidly fly over, and the result will be nothing. Good aerial photographs and decoders are God's gift.
  3. parusnik
    parusnik 11 November 2015 08: 07
    The main reconnaissance aircraft on the Soviet front was the diving bomber Pe-2,.. It’s a pity that the target reconnaissance aircraft was not developed .. I don’t say about the P-5 .. the old model .. although at one time it was recognized as one of the best aircraft of this class, reconnaissance aircraft ..
  4. miv110
    miv110 11 November 2015 08: 44
    It would be nice to have more visual material and directly related to Soviet aerial photography. It is doubtful that the above images relate to our scouts and even to the described period, especially in the lower image of the shadow of 4 motor aircraft (maybe if it is only TB - 3). The shot of our crew in itself is very remarkable in connection with the original emblem on the plane, and it would be nice to clarify who is captured in this picture.
  5. igordok
    igordok 11 November 2015 08: 45
    Unfortunately, there are practically no Soviet aerial photographs on the network. But German, quite a lot.
    1. miv110
      miv110 11 November 2015 10: 50
      Yes, this is what I also noticed and offhand I recall only pictures from Drabkin's book about attack aircraft, where there is a photo of the control of the air strike from the IL-2 cockpit. Therefore, raising this topic, it would be just great to find our aerial photographs somewhere. And there are a lot of German photos, in particular, in the book "Swastika over the Volga. Luftwaffe against Stalin's air defense" M. Zefirov, D. Degtev, N. Bazhenov.
      1. The comment was deleted.
    2. uzer 13
      uzer 13 11 November 2015 18: 19
      Where do they come from, all material taken from the air is considered secret and must be destroyed.
  6. SIT
    SIT 11 November 2015 13: 20
    Equally tragic are for ordinary soldiers, both the underestimation of the command of active and purposeful intelligence, and the inability to use its results during the planning, preparation and conduct of the operation. And this was confirmed in many post-war local conflicts, including the most recent ones.

    This quote from the article is fully applicable to Grozny 1994. After all, there was the experience of the Second World War as described in the article. Why flooded into the city for 2 typesetting, without performing any ground or aerial reconnaissance !?
  7. uzer 13
    uzer 13 11 November 2015 18: 37
    I myself served as a decryptor in 10 ORAP (Moscow-Koenigsberg Red Banner Order of Suvorov 3st), training-5th Military School of Aviation Mechanics in Vyshny Volochyok, the beginning of the 70s. Compared to the reconnaissance of the Great Patriotic War, both ours and German, huge qualitative changes, greatly expanding the capabilities of the reconnaissance regiment. New equipment and photo materials were supplied to the troops. We used AFA32, AKAFU, ASHAFAA devices, night type NAYA 7-9. Work was carried out on the use of infrared and polarized shooting, we also started work on the appropriateness of camouflage painting aircraft. For this it was necessary to take a series of shots in different conditions. The aircraft were Yak 28R.
  8. Ruby
    Ruby 11 November 2015 20: 08
    Quote: uzer 13
    I myself served as a decryptor in 10 ORAP (Moscow-Koenigsberg Red Banner Order of Suvorov 3st), training-5th Military School of Aviation Mechanics in Vyshny Volochyok, the beginning of the 70s. Compared to the reconnaissance of the Great Patriotic War, both ours and German, huge qualitative changes, greatly expanding the capabilities of the reconnaissance regiment. New equipment and photo materials were supplied to the troops. We used AFA32, AKAFU, ASHAFAA devices, night type NAYA 7-9. Work was carried out on the use of infrared and polarized shooting, we also started work on the appropriateness of camouflage painting aircraft. For this it was necessary to take a series of shots in different conditions. The aircraft were Yak 28R.

    Greetings to a colleague.
    Training Vyshny Volochek 1985. Further Belaya airbase. 5th ODRAE on the AN30. Photogrammetric decoder. Our part was mainly engaged in mapping throughout the Union. Although 1-2 cars constantly worked abroad. Afghanistan, Angola.
    1. uzer 13
      uzer 13 12 November 2015 18: 48
      My best wishes. I was there in the summer of 1971, very warm weather. Cartography was also commissioned. We were in the BSSR, Shchuchin. Now there is no airfield, nor our unit.
      1. Ruby
        Ruby 13 November 2015 23: 36
        Well, our unit is no longer the same :( In my opinion, in the year 90, all three An30 squadrons that were then brought down to the regiment in the Union and relocated to Ukraine, where they rotted safely. Probably one of the last years was shot down in the Donbass. And so there was a good service. Mostly business trips around Central Asia for the shooting. They were based in Balkhash and Karshi, where the scouts stood, so that the laboratory would not be dragged along.
  9. moskowit
    moskowit 11 November 2015 20: 39
    He doubted that the commissars and political leaders could allow such a coloring of combat aircraft, as shown in the article. But I remembered that I had seen something like that somewhere.

    "The plane of the Hero of the Soviet Union, Guards Captain Mikhail Semenovich Mazan, who was the deputy squadron commander of the 85th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment of the 6th Guards Fighter Aviation Division of the 3rd Guards Fighter Air Corps of the 5th Air Army of the 2nd Ukrainian Front. He flew 440 sorties. , took part in 91 air battles, shot down 21 enemy aircraft. Killed in air combat on the territory of Hungary on December 12, 1944. Awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (posthumously) after the war - on May 15, 1946. "
  10. dvg79
    dvg79 12 November 2015 04: 54
    As for the coloring, during the Second World War, the staff officers said "Where aviation begins, discipline ends there," the pilots could simply ignore the comments on the coloring of the aircraft.
  11. iouris
    iouris 12 November 2015 21: 06
    Aerial photography is only useful when the environment is static. Sometimes it takes too long from the moment of shooting to the moment of hitting. That is why reconnaissance and strike complexes appeared. During the war we had nothing similar to German "frames" and "crutches". It remains to be hoped that the renaming of the Air Force into the Aerospace Forces is associated with the transformation of strike combat aviation complexes into reconnaissance and strike complexes.
  12. Truth-lovers
    Truth-lovers 22 November 2015 00: 08
    Due to the lack of specialized aircraft, in general, reconnaissance was a deadly business. And with such a formulation of the work, which was in the USSR - until the summer-autumn of 1944, it did not give practically any effect, mainly information came from the ground (while the Luftwaffe conducted EVEN STRATEGIC AIR RESEARCH AND SUCCESSFULLY - in particular, filigree raids on Gorky and already in 1943 they prove it). And only partly starting with "Bagration" - and relatively normally with the Yasso-Kishinev operation, Soviet aerial reconnaissance more or less improved. But there is an opinion that it has improved solely because of the "disorder" of the Luftwaffe - which has become quantitatively and qualitatively very few + the factor of a monstrous fuel shortage after the bombing of oil-producing complexes and factories (even Romanian) by the USAAF and our air reconnaissance officers simply stopped shooting down in large numbers.