And why did you end up losing?
Evert Gottfried (Lieutenant, Wehrmacht infantry): Because a flea can bite an elephant, and kill - not.
Evert Gottfried (Lieutenant, Wehrmacht infantry): Because a flea can bite an elephant, and kill - not.
Anyone trying to learn history War in the air in World War II, is faced with a number of obvious contradictions. On the one hand, absolutely incredible personal accounts of the German aces, on the other - an obvious result in the form of complete defeat of Germany. On the one hand, the notorious brutality of the war on the Soviet-German front, on the other hand, the Luftwaffe suffered the most severe losses in the West. Other examples can be found.
To resolve these contradictions, historians and publicists are trying to build various kinds of theories. The theory should be such as to link all the facts together. Most do it pretty badly. To link the facts, historians need to invent fantastic, incredible arguments. For example, the fact that the Red Army Air Force overwhelmed the enemy with a number — therefrom the large bills of the aces. The great losses of the Germans in the West are explained by the fact that the air war on the Eastern Front was too easy: Soviet pilots were primitive and frivolous opponents. And most of the inhabitants believe in these fantasies. Although you do not need to rummage through the archives to understand how these theories are absurd. It is enough to have some life experience. If the shortcomings ascribed to the Red Army Air Force were in reality, then no victory over Nazi Germany would have been possible. There are no miracles. Victory is the result of hard and, most importantly, successful work.
In this article, the author tried to link some well-known facts about the war in the air into a single coherent theory without far-fetched fantastic explanations.
The beginning of the war in the East and the personal accounts of the German aces
The pre-war theory of air combat was based on the demand for a decisive victory in air combat. Each battle was required to end in victory - the destruction of the enemy's aircraft. This was the main way to gain air supremacy. Knocking down enemy planes, it was possible to inflict maximum damage to him, reducing the number of his fleet to a minimum. This theory was described in the writings of many pre-war tactics both in the USSR and in Germany.
It is impossible to say confidently, but, apparently, it was in accordance with this theory that the Germans built the tactics of using their fighters. Pre-war views demanded maximum concentration on the victory in aerial combat. The focus on the destruction of the maximum number of enemy aircraft is clearly visible by the criteria that were taken for the main, in assessing the effectiveness of hostilities - a personal account of downed enemy aircraft.
The accounts of the German aces themselves are often questioned. It seems incredible that the Germans managed to achieve such a number of victories. Why such a huge gap in the number of victories compared with the allies? Yes, in the initial period of the Second World War, the German pilots were better trained than their American, British or Soviet colleagues. But not at times! Therefore, there is a great temptation to accuse the German pilots of banal falsification of their accounts in favor of propaganda and their self-esteem.
However, the author of this article considers the accounts of German ases fairly true. Truthful - as far as possible in the confusion. Losses of the enemy are almost always overstated, but this is an objective process: it is difficult to ascertain in a combat situation whether you shot down an enemy plane or only damaged. Therefore, if the accounts of the German aces are overestimated, it is not 5-10 times, but 2-2,5 times, no more. Essentially it does not change. Whether Hartman shot down an 352 aircraft, or only 200, didn’t he get too far from the pilots of the anti-Hitler coalition. Why? Was he some kind of mystical cyborg killer? As will be shown below, he, like all German aces, was not much stronger than his colleagues from the USSR, the USA or Great Britain.
Indirectly, the high accuracy of the accounts of aces is confirmed by statistics. So, for example 93 best ace shot down 2 331 IL-2. The Soviet command considered dead from the attacks of 2 557 fighters Il-2. Plus, some of the number of "unidentified reason" was probably shot down by German fighters. Or another example - one hundred best aces shot down on the eastern front of 12 146 aircraft. And the Soviet command considers 12 189 airplanes shot down in the air, plus, as in the case of the IL-2, some part of the "unidentified". Figures as we see are comparable, although it is obvious that the aces still overestimated their victories.
If we take the victories of all the German pilots on the Eastern Front, it turns out that these victories are more than the Red Army air forces lost aircraft. Therefore, there is an overestimate, of course. But the problem is that the majority of researchers pay too much attention to this issue. The essence of the contradictions lies not in the accounts of the aces and the number of downed aircraft. And it will be shown below.
On the eve
Germany attacked the USSR, with significant qualitative superiority in aviation. First of all, this concerns pilots who had rich combat experience in the war in Europe. Behind the German pilots and commanders are full-scale campaigns with massive use of aviation: France, Poland, Scandinavia, the Balkans. The assets of the Soviet pilots are only local conflicts limited in scope and scale - the Soviet-Finnish war and ... and, perhaps, that's all. The remaining pre-war conflicts are too small in scope and mass use of troops, so that they can be compared with the war in Europe in 1939-1941.
The military equipment of the Germans was excellent: the most massive Soviet fighters I-16 and I-153 were inferior to the German Bf-109 model E in most characteristics, and model F absolutely. The author does not consider it right to compare the technique using tabular data, but in this particular case there is not even a need to get into the details of air battles to understand how far the X-NUMX is from Bf-153F.
The USSR approached the beginning of the war in the stage of rearmament and transition to new equipment. The samples that have just begun to arrive have not yet been mastered to perfection. The role of rearmament is traditionally undervalued. It is believed that if the plane left the gates of the plant, it already goes to offset the total number of aircraft in the Air Force. Although he still needs to arrive at the unit, the flight and ground crew must master it, and the commanders must understand the details of the fighting qualities of the new technology. On all this, a few Soviet pilots had a few months. The Red Army Air Force was distributed over a vast area from the border to Moscow and could not smoothly and concentrated repel blows in the early days of the war.
From the table it can be seen that the 732 pilot could actually fight on “new” types of aircraft. But for the Yak-1 and LaGG-3 they lacked aircraft. So the total number of combat ready units is 657. And finally, you need to carefully think about the term "retrained pilots." Retrained - this does not mean that they have mastered the new technique to perfection and caught up in the ability to conduct air combat with German opponents. Think about it yourself: the YK-1 and LaGG-3 types of aircraft began to arrive in the 1941 year, i.e. for the months remaining before the war, the pilots simply physically could not have time to gain sufficient and full experience of fighting in the new aircraft. This is simply unrealistic for the month 3-4. For this we need at least a year or two of continuous training. With the MiG-3, the situation is slightly better, but not at times. Only airplanes that got into the troops in 1940 could be mastered by crews more or less qualitatively. But in 1940, the entire 100 MiG-1 and 30 MiG-3 were received from the industry. Moreover, it was received in the autumn, and in the winter, spring and autumn in those years there were known difficulties with full-fledged combat training. There were no concrete runways in the border districts, they were just started to be built in the spring of 1941. Therefore, one should not overestimate the quality of training of pilots on new aircraft in the autumn and winter of the 1940-1941. After all, a fighter pilot should not just be able to fly - he should be able to squeeze everything out of his car to the limit and a little more. The Germans knew it. And ours just received new airplanes, there can be no equality. But those of our pilots, who have long and firmly grown into the cockpit of their aircraft, are pilots of the obsolete I-153 and I-16. It turns out that where there is experience of the pilot, there is no modern technology, and where there is modern technology, there is no experience yet.
Blitzkrieg in the air
The first battles brought the Soviet command heavy disappointment. It turned out that it was extremely difficult to destroy enemy aircraft in the air with existing military equipment. The high experience and skill of the German pilots, plus the perfection of technology left little chance. At the same time, it became obvious that the fate of the war was decided on the ground by the ground forces.
All this prompted to inscribe the actions of the Air Force in a single, global plan for the actions of the armed forces as a whole. Aviation could not be a thing in itself, act in isolation from the situation at the forefront. It was necessary to work in the interests of the ground forces, who decided the fate of the war. In this regard, the role of attack aircraft sharply increased, and IL-2, in fact, became the main striking force of the Air Force. Now all the actions of aviation were aimed at helping their infantry. The nature of the outbreak of war quickly took the form of the struggle over the front line and in the near rear of the parties.
Fighters were also reoriented to the solution of two main tasks. The first is the defense of their attack aircraft. The second is the defense of the orders of their ground forces against retaliatory strikes by enemy aircraft. Under these conditions, the value and meaning of the concept of “personal victory” and “shot down” began to fall sharply. The fighter’s effectiveness criterion was the percentage of the loss of the protected attack aircraft from enemy fighters. If you shoot down a German fighter, or simply shooting at a course will make him dodge an attack and step aside, whatever. The main thing - do not give the Germans sighting shoot at their IL-2.
Golodnikov Nikolai Gerasimovich (fighter pilot): “We had a rule that“ it’s better not to knock down anyone, and not to lose one of our bomber players, than to knock down three and lose one bomber ”.
A similar situation is with the enemy's strike aircraft - the main thing is not to allow bombs to be dropped on their infantrymen. To do this, it is not necessary to shoot down a bomber - you can get him to get rid of bombs before approaching targets.
From the NKO Order No. 0489 of 17 June 1942 on the actions of fighters to destroy enemy bombers:
“Enemy fighters, covering their bombers, naturally strive to pin down our fighters, prevent them from getting to the bombers, and our fighters go on this enemy trick, get involved in an air duel with enemy fighters and thereby enable the enemy bombers, with impunity, to drop bombs on our fighters, and with this, we can drop the bombs of our fighters without reckoning on our bombers with our fighters, and thereby drop the bomb on our fighters. on other objects of attack.
Neither the pilots, nor the regimental commanders, nor the divisional commanders, nor the air force commanders of the fronts and air armies understand this and do not understand that the main and main task of our fighters is to destroy the enemy bombers first and foremost, to prevent them from dropping their bomb load on our troops, on our protected objects ".
These changes in the nature of the combat work of the Soviet aviation caused the post-war accusations of the losing Germans. Describing a typical Soviet fighter pilot, the Germans wrote about the lack of initiative, excitement, and desire to win.
Walter Schwabedissen (General of the Luftwaffe): “We should not forget that the Russian mentality, upbringing, specific character traits and education did not contribute to the development of the individual wrestling qualities of the Soviet pilot, which are essential in air combat. The primitive, and often stupid, adherence to the concept of group fighting made him inactive in an individual duel and, as a result, less aggressive and assertive than his German opponents. ”
From this arrogant quotation, in which a German officer, who lost the war, describes the Soviet pilots of the 1942-1943 period, it is clearly seen that the nimbus of the superman does not allow him to descend from the heights of fairy-tale “individual duels” to everyday, but very necessary in the fight of massacre. Again, we see a contradiction - how did the stupid collective Russian principle prevailed over the individually unsurpassed German knighthood? The answer is simple: the Red Army air forces used tactics absolutely correct in that war.
Klimenko Vitaly Ivanovich (fighter pilot): “If an air battle broke out, by agreement we had one couple left the battlefield and climbed up from where they watched what was happening. As soon as they saw that a German entered our place, they immediately fell on top of them. They don’t even have to get there, just in front of his nose to show the track, and he is already coming out of the attack. If it is possible to shoot down, they knock them down, but the main thing is to knock him out of position for the attack. ”
Apparently, the Germans did not understand that this behavior of the Soviet pilots was quite deliberate. They did not seek to shoot down, they tried not to let their own down. Therefore, having driven the German interceptors away from the patronized IL-2 for some distance, they left the battlefield and returned. IL-2 could not be left alone for a long time, because other enemy fighter groups could attack them from other directions. And for every lost IL-2 upon arrival they will be strictly asked. For having thrown the stormtroopers off the front line without cover, it was easy to go to the penal battalion. And for a non-beat messer, no. The main part of the sorties of the Soviet fighters fell on the support of the attack aircraft and bombers.
At the same time, nothing changed in the tactics of the Germans. The accounts of the aces continued to grow. Somewhere they continued to shoot down someone. But who? The famous Hartman shot down an 352 aircraft. But only 15 of them is IL-2. Another 10 - bombers. 25 impact aircraft, or 7% of the total number of shot down. Obviously, Mr. Hartman really wanted to live, and really didn’t want to go to the defensive firing units of the bombers and attack aircraft. It is better to turn around with fighters that may not be in the whole battle for the attack, while the attack of the IL-2 is a guaranteed fan of bullets in the face.
A similar picture with most German experts. Among their victories is no more than 20% strike aircraft. Only Otto Kittel stands out against this background - he shot down 94 Il-2, which brought his ground forces more benefits than, for example, Hartman, Novotny and Barkhorn combined. Truth and fate in Kittel was formed accordingly - he died in February 1945 of the year. During the attack of the Il-2, he was killed in the cockpit of his plane by the gunner of a Soviet attack aircraft.
But the Soviet aces to go into the attack on the "Junkers" were not afraid. Kozhedub shot down the 24 aircraft drums - almost as many as Hartman. On average, in the total number of victories in the first ten Soviet aces, strike aircraft make up 38%. Twice more than the Germans. What did Hartman actually do when he shot down so many fighters? Reflected their attacks of Soviet fighters on their dive bombers? It is doubtful. Apparently, he shot down the security of the stormtroopers, instead of breaking through this security to the main goal - the stormtroopers, who were killing Wehrmacht infantrymen.
Klimenko Vitaly Ivanovich (fighter pilot): “From the first attack, you have to knock down the lead — everyone is guided by it, and bombs are often thrown over it. And if you want to personally shoot down, then you need to catch the pilots who fly last. Those damn do not understand, there is usually - young people. If he got out - yeah, that's mine. ”
The Germans carried out the protection of their bombers in a completely different way than the Soviet air force. Their actions were proactive - clearing the sky in the path of the shock groups. They did not carry out direct escort, trying not to hinder their maneuver with affection for slow-moving bombers. The success of such tactics of the Germans depended on the skillful opposition of the Soviet command. If it singled out several groups of interceptor fighters, then German strike aircraft were intercepted with a high degree of probability. While one group was shackling German sky clearing fighters, another group attacked unprotected bombers. This is where the large number of Soviet air forces began to show, even if not with the most sophisticated technology.
Golodnikov Nikolai Gerasimovich: “The Germans could get involved in a fight when it was not at all necessary. For example, when covering their bombers. We used it all the war, we have one group in the battle with the fighter cover got involved, "themselves" distracted them, and the other attacked the bombers. The Germans are happy, the chance to shoot down appeared. "Bombers" they immediately sideways and do not care that our other group beats these bombers as far as they can. ... Formally, the Germans covered their strike airplanes very strongly, but only they would get involved in the battle, and everyone — side cover, was rather easily distracted, and throughout the whole war. ”
So, having managed to rebuild the tactics and get a new technique, the Red Army Air Force began to achieve the first success. Received in a sufficiently large number of fighters "new types" are no longer inferior to German aircraft as disastrous as the I-16 and I-153. On this technique it was already possible to fight. The process of introducing new pilots into battle was adjusted. If in 41 and the beginning of 42, they were really “green” aviators, who barely mastered takeoff and landing, then at the beginning of 43, they were given the opportunity to carefully and gradually delve into the intricacies of air war. Newbies stopped throwing right into the thick of it. Having mastered the basics of piloting in the school, the pilots got into the Zapa, where they were used in combat, and only then went to the combat regiments. And on the shelves, they too stopped being thoughtlessly thrown into battle, giving them insight into the situation and flying experience. After Stalingrad, this practice has become the norm.
Klimenko Vitaly Ivanovich (fighter pilot): “A young pilot comes, let's say. School finished. He is given a little fly around the airfield, then - circled over the area, then in the end it can be taken in a couple. You won't let him go straight into battle. Gradually ... Gradually ... Because the target behind the tail I do not need to carry. "
The Red Army Air Force managed to achieve the main goal - it did not allow the enemy to gain air superiority. Of course, the Germans could still seek domination at a certain time, over a certain sector of the front. This was done by concentrating effort and clearing the sky. But, in general, they failed to completely paralyze the Soviet aircraft. Moreover, the volume of combat work increased. The industry was able to start mass production of not the best planes in the world, but in large quantities. And inferior to the German TTX very slightly. The first calls for the Luftwaffe sounded - continuing to shoot down as many planes as possible and spinning the counters of personal victories, the Germans gradually behaved to the abyss. Destroy the aircraft more than the Soviet aviation industry let out no longer work. The increase in the number of victories did not lead to real, tangible in practice results - the Soviet Air Force did not stop the combat work, and even increased its intensity.
1942 year is characterized by a surge in the number of Luftwaffe sorties. If in the 1941 year they made 37 760 departures, then already in 1942 - 520 082 departures. It looks like a stir in the calm and measured mechanism of the blitzkrieg, as an attempt to extinguish the fires that had been fired. All this combat work fell on the very small German air force — at the beginning of 1942 years, there were 5 178 planes of all types on all fronts in the Luftwaffe. For comparison, at the same time, the Red Army Air Force already had more than 7000 attack aircraft Il-2 and more 15000 fighters. Volumes are simply not comparable. For 1942 year of the Red Army Air Force made 852 000 sorties - a clear confirmation that the Germans had no domination. The survivability of the IL-2 increased from 13 departures to 1 the dead plane to 26 departures.
During the entire war from the actions of the Luftwaffe IA, the Soviet command reliably confirms the death of approximately 2550 IL-2. But there is still a column "unidentified causes of loss." If you make a big concession to the German aces and assume that all “unidentified” planes were shot down solely by them (and in fact this could not be), it turns out that in 1942, they only intercepted about 3% of IL-2 combat sorties. And, despite the continued growth in personal accounts, this figure is rapidly falling further, to 1,2% in 1943 and 0,5% in 1944. What does this mean in practice? What in 1942 year to their goals Il-2 flew 41 753 times. And in 41 753 times on the heads of German infantrymen something fell. Bombs, Nursa, shells. This, of course, is a rough estimate, since the Il-2 also died from anti-aircraft artillery, and in fact not every 41 753 sorties ended with bombs hitting the target. Another thing is important - the German fighters could not prevent this. Someone they shot down. But on the scale of a huge front, on which thousands of Soviet IL-2s worked, it was a drop in the ocean. German fighters were too few for the Eastern Front. Even making 5-6 sorties a day, they could not destroy the Soviet Air Force. And nothing, everything is fine with them, bills are growing, crosses are given with all sorts of leaves and diamonds - everything is normal, life is beautiful. And so it was until 9 May 1945.
Golodnikov Nikolay Gerasimovich: “We are covering up the attack aircraft. German fighters appear, spinning, but not attacking, they believe that there are few of them. "Elah" process the front edge - the Germans do not attack, concentrate, and drag down fighters from other sectors. The “silts” are moving away from the target, and here the attack begins. Well, what's the point of this attack? “Elahs” have already “worked”. Only on "personal account". And this was often. Yes, and even more interesting. The Germans could “scroll” like this around us and not attack at all. They are not fools, intelligence has worked for them. "Red-nosed" "cobras" - 2-th GIAP Navy CSF. Well, what are they, completely headless, to contact the elite Guards regiment? These and can bring down. It is better to wait for someone "simpler."
To be continued ...