Monday, July 27, 2015

Barbarossa – Soviet Air Force

After graduation from the Red Army Military Academy (1921–1924) Alksnis was appointed the head of logistics service of Red Air Forces; in 1926 deputy commander of Red Air Forces. In 1929 he received wings of a fighter pilot at the Kacha pilot's school in Crimea and was later known to fly nearly every day. Defector Alexander Barmine described Alksnis as "a strict disciplinarian with high standards of efficiency. He would himself personally inspect flying officers... not that he was fussy or took the slightest interest in smartness for its own sake, but, as he explained to me, flying demands constant attention to detail... Headstrong he may have been, but he was a man of method and brought a wholly new spirit into Soviet aviation. It is chiefly owing to him that the Air Force is the powerful weapon it is today." According to Barmine, Alksnis was instrumental in making parachute jumping a sport for the masses. He was influenced by one of his subordinates who has seen parachutists entertaining public in the United States, at the time when Soviet pilots regarded parachutes "almost a clinical instrument".

In the same year he was involved in establishing one of the first sharashkas – an aircraft design bureau staffed by prisoners of Butyrki prison, including Nikolai Polikarpov and Dmitry Grigorovich. In 1930–1931 the sharashka, now based on Khodynka Field, produced the prototype for the successful Polikarpov I-5. In June 1931 Alksnis was promoted to the Commander of Red Air Forces, while Polikarpov and some of his staff were released on amnesty terms. In 1935, Red Air Forces under Alksnis possessed world's largest bomber force; aircraft production reached 8,000 in 1936

The first Five-Year Plans triggered a massive buildup of Soviet aviation, including many airplanes of indigenous design. Among them were maneuverable fighter biplanes, such as the Polikarpov I-15 and I-15 bis; the first cantilever monoplane with retractable landing gear to enter squadron service, the Polikarpov I-16; and a variety of bombers, including the Tupolev TB-7, SB-2/SB-3, and DB-3.Yet the Soviets failed to develop a reliable long-range bomber force. The established Soviet concept of air warfare envisioned the use of airpower predominantly in close support missions and under operational control of the ground forces command.

The Red Army Air Force under the command of Yakov Alksnis during 1931–1937 developed into a semi-independent military service with a combat potential, good training, and a logistics infrastructure spreading from European Russia into Central Asia and the Far East. Still, the Red Army Air Force exhibited marked deficiencies in several local conflicts (e.g., against the Chinese in 1929 and in the Spanish civil war, 1936–1939). In contrast, during the 1937–1939 air conflicts with Japan (China, Lake Khasan, Khalkin Gol) the Soviets effectively challenged the Japanese air domination and provided decisive close air support in the campaigns on Soviet and Mongolian borders. During the Winter War with Finland (1939–1940), however, the Red Air Force suffered heavy losses due to inflexibility of organization, its command- and-control structure, poor training of personnel, and deficiency of equipment.

The failures in Soviet airpower were reinforced by the terror of Stalinist purges. About 75 percent of the senior officers were imprisoned or executed, and some 40 percent of the officer corps was purged. The result was the critical decline of experience, initiative, and responsibility within the command of the air force and its combat personnel.

The main reason for the large aircraft losses in the initial period of war with Germany was not the lack of modern tactics, but the lack of experienced pilots and ground support crews, the destruction of many aircraft on the runways due to command failure to disperse them, and the rapid advance of the Wehrmacht ground troops, forcing the Soviet pilots on the defensive during Operation Barbarossa, while being confronted with more modern German aircraft. In the first few days of Operation Barbarossa the Luftwaffe destroyed some 2000 Soviet aircraft, most of them on the ground, at a loss of only 35 aircraft (of which 15 were non-combat-related). Many of these were obsolete types, such as the Polikarpov I-16, and they would be replaced by much more advanced aircraft as a result of both Lend-Lease and the miraculous transfer of the Soviet aviation industry eastward from European Russia to the Ural Mountains. The sporadic Soviet retaliatory strikes were poorly coordinated and led to devastating losses in aircraft and combat personnel.

World War II caught Soviet aviation unawares—more than 1,200 aircraft were lost on the first day of the Nazis’ June 1941 invasion. For the next 6–8 months, aircraft and other factories were shifted eastward to the Urals and Siberia, a huge undertaking largely completed by early 1942. Relocation made transport of finished aircraft to the fronts more difficult, but by late 1942 and in 1943 Soviet aircraft began to appear in huge numbers. Germany’s output was exceeded in 1943. Fighters such as the Yak-3 and Yak-9 (more than 16,000 of the latter), Lavochkin La-5 (10,000), and La-7 (nearly 6,000) began to take a toll on German air strength. The Ilyushin Il-2 attack plane was the most-produced plane in the war (1,000 made every month after 1942 for total of over 36,000), and the later Il-10 reached production numbers of 5,000.

Luftwaffe reconnaissance units worked frantically to plot troop concentration, supply dumps, and airfields, and mark them for destruction. The Luftwaffe's task was to neutralize the Soviet Air Force. This was not achieved in the first days of operations, despite the Soviets having concentrated aircraft in huge groups on the permanent airfields rather than dispersing them on field landing strips, making them ideal targets. The Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed 1,489 aircraft on the first day of operations. Hermann Göring — Chief of the Luftwaffe — distrusted the reports and ordered the figure checked. Picking through the wreckages of Soviet airfields, the Luftwaffe's figures proved conservative, as over 2,000 destroyed Soviet aircraft were found. The Luftwaffe lost 35 aircraft on the first day of combat. The Germans claimed to have destroyed only 3,100 Soviet aircraft in the first three days. In fact Soviet losses were far higher: some 3,922 Soviet machines had been lost (according to Russian Historian Viktor Kulikov).The Luftwaffe had achieved air superiority over all three sectors of the front, and would maintain it until the close of the year. The Luftwaffe could now devote large numbers of its Geschwader to support the ground forces.


The Soviet Liberation of Kiev November 1943

Aerial bombardment of Kiev began on 22 June 1941, the very first day of Adolf Hitler’s monumental assault on the Soviet Union code-named Operation Barbarossa. The Nazi armies advanced quickly. In the first three weeks of fighting alone, the Soviet Army lost two million men, 3,500 tanks, and 6,000 aircraft. On June 27 machinery and inventories began to be evacuated from Kiev’s arsenal, which required 1,100 railway cars. Over the next two months, 197 enterprises were dismantled and sent eastward. Kiev’s ‘‘Bolshevik’’ plant, for example, was reassembled near Sverdlovsk, in the Urals. In early July, some two hundred thousand Kievans began to construct antitank and anti-infantry fortifications around the city.

Stalin had initially refused Ukrainian Communist Party boss Nikita Khrushchev’s recommendation to abandon Kiev, but given the hopelessness of the military situation, relented on 17 September. On 21 September, the battle for Kiev ended. The Germans captured some 665,000 Soviet troops in the encirclement of Kiev, which Hitler called ‘‘the greatest battle in world history,’’ but in reality the victory gave the Germans no strategic advantage. By October, half of Kiev’s 850,000 residents had been evacuated, mobilized into the Red Army, or killed.

The German occupation of Kiev lasted for two years. Policies designed to starve the remaining population were put into place; already in November 1941 one onlooker described Kiev ‘‘as a city of beggars.’’ Epidemics swept the city; murder for bread became an everyday occurrence. Kievans were not allowed to enter many shops, trams, and theaters, and curfew was set at 6:00 P.M. Streets and buildings were given German names, and at least twenty-three German industrial enterprises were established in the city. By mid- 1943, however, about eighty partisan and sabotage units were operating in or near the city. Perhaps twenty thousand people were involved in the Resistance, which carried out some nine hundred operations, mostly against railway lines and roadways, supply depots, and police facilities.

Although Hitler’s goal of reducing Kiev to rubble was averted because of a shortage of bombs, by the time the Nazi occupation was broken, on 6 November 1943, eight hundred industrial enterprises and six thousand buildings (about one-sixth of the total number of structures in Kiev) had been destroyed. Soviet sources estimate that two hundred thousand Kievans were killed during the war and another hundred thousand were sent into Germany as conscript laborers. Valuable books, archives, and records had been looted from libraries, museums, and various institutes. The Khreshchatyk and the central district lay in ruins, and an estimated two hundred thousand Kievans were left without housing. Rationing of basic goods continued until December 1947. Kiev was declared a ‘‘Hero City’’ by the Soviet government, but the human tragedy of the battle for Kiev was not discussed openly until the Soviet political climate thawed briefly under Khrushchev (now Soviet premier) in 1962–1963. In January 1963, Leonid Volynsky published a short story in the journal Novy Mir (New World) about the battle, calling it ‘‘a vast and inexplicable tragedy.’’

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Book - Kursk: The Greatest Battle

Lloyd Clark

Product Description
A monumental, enthralling work charting the greatest land battle of all time which changed the course of World War Two, by a highly regarded military expert

5th July 1943: the greatest land battle of all time began around the town of Kursk in Russia. This epic confrontation between German and Soviet forces was one of the most important military engagements in history and epitomised 'total war'. It was also one of the most bloody, characterised by hideous excess and outrageous atrocities. It was a monumental and decisive encounter of breath-taking intensity which became a turning point, not only on the Eastern Front, but in the Second World War as a whole. As Churchill noted, for Russia, 'Stalingrad was the end of the beginning, but the Battle of Kursk was the beginning of the end'. Using the very latest available archival material including the testimonies of veterans and providing strategic perspective alongside personal stories of front line fighting, Lloyd Clark has written a lucid, enthralling and heart-stopping account of this incredible battle. 

About the Author
Lloyd Clark is a senior academic in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Professorial Research Fellow in War Studies, Humanities Research Institute, University of Buckingham. He is the author of several books, including Anzio: The Friction of War and Arnhem: The Greatest Airborne Battle in History, has contributed to numerous others and lectures on military history all over the world. He is a frequent guide to battlefields on four continents and often works on radio and television as both historical adviser and interviewee. He lives in rural Hertfordshire with his wife and three children.

A Very Good Narrative Account of Kursk
In his book; "The Battle of the Tanks", the author, Lloyd Clark, has provided the reader with an admirably told and well-presented account of the climactic battle of WW2; Kursk, that occurred on the Russian steppe in July 1943.

The author has produced a well-researched, easy to read and easy to follow account of the massive clash between German and Russian forces at Kursk during Operation Zitadelle.

With the use of numerous first-hand accounts, diaries, letters and after-action reports the author's style of writing easily puts the reader in the heart of the action, this is from the first page:

" ..... The Tigers advanced, their engines whining as they climbed a low rise before juddering to a halt. The 100 tank Soviet wave sped towards them in an attempt to get close enough for their guns to penetrate the panzer's armour before the powerful German 88mm guns had an opportunity to pick them off. The Tiger gunners peered down their optical sights at the olive-green armour a mile away, but even as their cross hairs settled on a target, the T-34s dipped into a gentle fold in the ground like an armada sailing on a rolling sea. A tense minute passed before the enemy rose again and now they were just half a mile away. Anticipating the breaking wave, the Tiger commanders gave the order to fire. The 63 ton beasts jerked as their high-velocity guns blasted off their armour-piercing rounds.

The T-34s were devastated. An intense white explosion stopped one dead, another slew to the right before coming to a blazing stop while a third was ripped apart and disembowelled with appalling ease. The German intercoms were alive with impassioned voices as commanders sought to break up the enemy formation and the five-man crews fought for their lives. The T-34s plunged on as the Tigers found new fire positions and unleashed more destruction. Wittmann's skilful gunner, Helmut Graser, took rapid aim and loosed off. The round buried itself into a victim and dislodged the turret. The Tiger was re-positioned, the gun erupted, another hit.

The Soviets closed within a couple of hundred feet and returned fire on the move. Wittmann's Tiger was hit twice - the tank, ringing like a bell, was saved by two inches of steel - and four from his company were disabled. The field was littered with burning wrecks sending plumes of black smoke into the steel grey sky. The officer of one T-34 lay dead, slumped across his hatch as flames licked around the turret and his crew screamed from within. The acid air hung heavy over the charred corpses and the broken bodies of the wounded."

Nor does the author forget the human aspect of this gigantic struggle, this account is from a Russian soldier moving to take up a new defensive position against the advancing Germans:

"We were marching towards a river where we were to take up a defensive position in June 1942. We passed through a small non-descript place and it seems as if the entire population had crowded onto the road to stare at us. There was no cheering although one or two shouted encouragement for they knew that we were doomed. They also knew that if we were taking up positions close to their village, that they were doomed as well .... As we were leaving the village a middle-aged woman ran up to me and handed me a loaf of bread and kissed me on the cheek. She had a tear in her eye and sobbed, `For my son - my lovely boy'. I never saw her again but in that moment realized what terrible pain the nation was suffering as families were being torn apart. It reminded me of my family so far away. I tucked the bread into my jacket and began crying myself. I did not realize the stress that was building up in me. It was a release."

The book is full of these personal accounts and at no stage does the narrative bog down in too much detail but just drags the reader along to the next clash of arms. This following account is one of the better descriptive accounts I have read for some time about what happens when a tank is hit:

"After an hour of fighting, the fields was covered in blazing hulks, Any survivors of the initial calamitous shell strike had just seconds to evacuate the tank before it was engulfed in flame, which threatened to ignite the fuel and ammunition. Nikolai Zheleznov was knocked to the turret floor when his T-34 was hit. The white-hot explosion had shattered his driver's head, torn the loader's arm from his body and sent scores of large metal shards into the gunner's unprotected body. A fire sucked the oxygen out of the compartment and set light to Zheleznov's uniform as he struggled to open the commander's hatch. Eventually pushing it free as the flames leapt up around him, he fought to pull himself out of the void but his leg had been broken at the knee. Passing comrades pulled him clear of the tank just before it exploded but he sustained horrendous burns."

Here are two accounts from the fighting that occurred during the first few days of Kursk as the German formations fought their way through the Russian defensive positions:

"At the tip of the Das Reich, for example, acting Panzer Grenadier company commander SS-Untersturmfuhrer Kruger spent six hours leading his unit in hand-to-hand fighting during which he was twice wounded. Remaining with the company, he continued to lead his men as they wrestled with several T-34s. Darting forward with a magnetic mine grasped tightly between muddy hands, Kruger was grazed by a round, which ignited a smoke grenade in his pocket and set his trousers on fire. Ripping the flaming cloth from his legs, he continued his attack on the T-34 in his underwear and succeeded in knocking out the tank."

And the German Tiger tank again:

" .... The Tigers, despite their lack of mobility, proved difficult for the Red Army to stop. Once again, well-aimed rounds achieved little more than shaking the tanks' occupants, although when Obersturmfuhrer Schutzs' Tiger took a direct hit and the driver's glass vision block struck him in the stomach, he needed more than a couple of minutes to compose himself."

Overall this is an excellent story, not as detailed as David Glantz's account but still a worthy effort and should be in the library of anyone who has an interest or passion for books covering the war on the Eastern Front.