Fists crush fingers: why did the Red Army never win the war in the air?

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Fists crush fingers: why did the Red Army never win the war in the air?
Fists crush fingers: why did the Red Army never win the war in the air?

Already on the first day of the Great Patriotic War, red-star aircraft flew more often than German ones - there were more of them. Despite this, German aviation dominated the skies until the second half of 1943. And even in 1944, the turning point in the air was achieved mainly by the non-Soviet Air Force. The main reason for the failures of the USSR in the air was not in the aircraft and not in the insufficient training of pilots, but in the specific mistakes of aviation generals. All this would be easy to fix, if not for one big "but". Despite this, many Soviet pilots became aces, and ground troops heroically ended the war in Berlin. Let's understand the details of the tragedy of Soviet aviation.


Analyzing the defeat of Soviet aviation in 1941, you can always try to push everything to an unsuccessful start of the war. They like to consider the situation of 1942, justifying it with the huge losses of 1941. In order to completely remove the influence of these factors, below we will consider events that were not influenced by the events of the very beginning of the war. Let's get started.

The combat work of aviation comes down to two points. She must:

a) fly;

b) hit the enemy.

Sounds easy. However, as Clausewitz said: “Military affairs are simple and quite accessible to the common mind of a person. But fighting is difficult. " (The reader has already noticed this in part from the first part of this text, the link to which is below.)

Only air forces of the highest quality can handle both of these tasks properly. Moreover, when we say “the quality of the Air Force,” we basically mean not the quality of the aircraft or their pilots. As we will show below, even if the Soviet air force had met on June 22, 1941 with German planes and with German pilots, the German air force would have defeated them anyway. Precisely because the Soviet Air Force had serious quality problems that had nothing to do with either the pilots or the material part.

Twice a day or every two days?

Let's start with point a: fly. German pilots on the Eastern Front often flew twice a day. Take the best German bomber pilot, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, who flew 2,530 sorties. If you subtract the days of hospitalization from his stay at the front, then just get it twice a day. Take the best German fighter, Erich Hartmann: 1404 sorties, taking into account his time off the front and in command positions - about the same pair per day. As a result, the total number of sorties by German fighter pilots was large: three dozen people made 700 sorties and more in the East.

But if we take Soviet daytime aviation pilots, then there is no one among them who has flown as intensively for any length of time. Alexander Pokryshkin - 650 sorties, taking into account the time at the front and command positions - approximately one sortie in two days. Ivan Kozhedub - 330 flights, taking into account the same factors - the same one flight in a couple of days. As a result, zero pilots made 700 sorties or more among Soviet fighters.


It is more difficult to compare with strike aircraft, because if the Ju.87 was unarmored and dive (and, accordingly, lived over the battlefield for a very long time), then the Il-2 was armored and dive, which made it extremely difficult to survive on it.One thing is clear: even those of the Soviet attack aircraft that managed to survive on such aircraft flew even less often than Soviet fighters. For example, Alexander Efimov, during his participation in battles, made an average of one sortie in three days (288 per war).

And do not think that these statistics apply only to the aces. Soviet combat aircraft made only 3.8 million sorties during the war. This is less than 2,700 per day, while the average number of combat aircraft in the active army was in no way less than eight thousand. It is clear that a third of the aircraft in the war are always out of order due to combat damage of the past days, which have not yet been repaired. But all the same it turns out that serviceable cars flew only once every two days. And this was the case already in the first days of the war.

If you go to work four times less often than your neighbor, then most likely you will have less output - even if you do more of him in one trip. So it was on the Eastern Front: Hartmann shot down 352 aircraft, one in four sorties. Kozhedub shot down 62 in 330 sorties. The German did not fly to the ground attack, and Kozhedub spent a third of his sorties on it - that is, as a fighter, he made about 220 sorties for 62 downed ones.


It turns out that on one fighter sortie he shot down even more than Hartmann. But in the end he shot down six times less, because it is banal six times less "fighter" sorties. Rudel added half a thousand Soviet tanks to his account (one for every five sorties). Soviet record-breaking attack aircraft recorded more than a hundred tanks at their expense, but with a much smaller number of sorties. Again, it turns out that they have written more tanks for one sortie than Rudel, but they flew so little that the absolute lists of destroyed equipment of the German pilot are still much longer.

The question arises: why is this? Why did Efimov fly six times less often than Rudel per unit of time? Why Kozhedub and Pokryshkin flew four times less often than Hartmann?

The dead don't fly

Let's turn to the recollections of the pilots. For example, Ivan Andreev, attack aircraft:

“We arrived at the 810th Attack Aviation Regiment on May 23 [1943]. The regiment had three squadrons [12 aircraft each], thirty-six pilots. I made my first sortie on July 5 or 6 [the beginning of the Battle of the Kursk Bulge] as part of a division … Almost every day they shot down a man. We all sleep together on grass mattresses - sometimes this is not, then the other. You lie and think: "Who is next?" By May 9, 1945, out of those with whom I started, only three remained in the regiment [out of 36]”.

Only in the first 27 days of the Battle of Kursk (and in total it lasted 49 days) Andreev's regiment lost 12 pilots, 11 - irrevocably. Every third pilot finished his combat path in his very first battle. Losses in aircraft - 20 out of 36. The regiment, which had shrunk at times in 27 days, in the middle of the battle was taken to the rear for re-formation. Andreev, seeing the situation, throughout the war did not even write a single letter to his mother. Only after May 9 did he write her a four-word letter "Mom, I stayed alive."

Andreev made one sortie every six days - 105 in almost two years. On the Kursk Bulge, despite the enormous need of ground troops for air support, he flew on average only once a day. And not because he could no longer, but because his command physically could not allow their pilots to fly more often.


Losing one pilot in two days, the assault air regiment (SHAP) will be completely useless in a couple of months: there will be no one to fly. In fact, this will happen even earlier: aircraft become unusable much more often than their pilots. The commander of the ShAP - like the commander of his air army and front - does not know in advance how many days the battle will last.

What will happen if he gives his pilots in the midst of a battle to fly more than once a day, but with the frequency of Rudel and Hartmann (during intense battles, both made 3-4 sorties a day)? It is true: the assault air regiment will have to be withdrawn to the rear for reorganization not in 27 days, but in one or two weeks.

Such a practice at any moment could leave the front command without attack aircraft at all.Naturally, the Soviet aviation commanders avoided it and severely limited the number of sorties.

(We must emphasize: in this case, we showed a picture of the Il-2 regiment according to the documents, but in reality everything was even worse than the documents show. But the description of this moment would take too much space, so here is a substitute link).

The same applies to fighters and day bombers of the USSR. The commanders were forced to limit the frequency of flights of their pilots so that they would not be killed ahead of time.

For comparison: in 1944, the Germans on the Eastern Front made 354 thousand sorties, having lost 2557 aircraft. Combat survivability - 138 sorties per aircraft loss. These are huge losses by German standards. But these losses are one and a half times lower than the average Soviet losses during the war. And several times lower than the Soviet losses in 1941-1943. Naturally, the average German losses during the war were well below 138 sorties per lost aircraft.

That is why the German command could allow its pilots to fly four times more often than ours. If you lose pilots many times slower than the enemy, then you can afford to allow them to fly twice a day. You will still be sure that you do not have to withdraw your unit to the rear in the midst of a battle, because planes will simply disappear in it.

Natural selection in the sky: why it worked for the Germans and did not work well for us

So, we found out that the German Air Force flew more often than the Soviet ones, because they suffered significantly less losses. But why is this happening?

There are two main reasons. And the first of these is natural selection.

The point here is that most pilots arriving in the Air Force will never shoot anyone down. They are either not trained enough or not capable enough to do it before they die or before the war is over. Shoots down a minority of pilots: the rest are shot down.

Take the famous Soviet air regiment "Normandie-Niemen": he fought for two years, the pilots, as you know, are foreigners, all as one, with a lot of flying time. Already in the first set, the average flight time per person was 857 hours. 98 pilots passed through it, most of them shot down zero aircraft. But 17 out of 98 shot down 200 enemy aircraft, another three dozen "average" - 73 aircraft. It is easy to guess that most of the losses of the regiment itself were just not among 17, but among the remaining eight dozen.


Of course, the Germans had a similar picture. Many of their supers, the same Barkhorn or Rall (301 and 275 aircraft shot down), spent the first dozens of their sorties very, very mediocre: they survived by a miracle. And this despite the hundreds of hours of flying time behind them in aviation schools. Only after gaining practical experience in battles, they began to energetically shoot down themselves. But most of their colleagues, which is characteristic, died: they were destroyed by natural (combat) selection.

And no wonder: after all, such a selection was extremely intense. The Germans used only a couple of dozen fighter groups in the East throughout the war, each of which is approximately equal to the Soviet air regiment. Seven hundred single-engine fighters - this is the number of these two dozen groups. This would by no means be enough for the huge Soviet-German front, if they were not constantly being thrown from place to place. Today the group is fighting near Leningrad, in a week - near Moscow, in four - near Stalingrad and so on without stopping.

All weak pilots in this system simply died, and quickly. The strong ones survived and flew a couple of times a day. Therefore, until 1944, the bulk of German pilots were more skillful than their Soviet fighter opponents.

The Soviet side had more than enough aces. It is enough to look at the biographies of Pokryshkin and Kozhedub to notice: they were shot down often, but they were rare. Moreover, if you choose only high-class pilots who shot down at least 16 enemy aircraft, then there were more than 800 of them in our air force. If five or more, then three thousand.

If the Soviet Air Force were used in the same way as the German (that is, they would constantly be transferred from one sector of the front to another), then the bulk of the many thousands of Soviet fighters would have perished. And part of the three thousand, capable of shooting down, and not just being shot down, survived and formed the backbone of the fighter aviation. Just like the Germans, they could fly twice a day throughout the war - and not once every two days, as they did in practice.

But in reality this was not the case. The thing is that the Soviet units basically did not move from their direction to other places. The 55th Pokryshkin Fighter Aviation Regiment began the war in the southern direction and ended it there (only with the 16th Guards). Of course, most of the time there were no active battles in this area. Since they were not there, the Germans, of course, did not keep a large air force there. Since they were not kept there, who were the Pokyshkins supposed to shoot down? The same thing happened on the other fronts.

The consequences of the "immobility" of most of the Soviet air units were dire. As we have already noted, most of the pilots arriving at the front cannot kill anyone. But they can be perfectly shot down - which increases the scores of the enemy aces. And this was precisely the fate of the overwhelming majority of the Soviet Air Force fighter pilots. When Luftwaffe shock "fists" were moving to their sector of the front, Barkhorns, Rallys and other Hartmanns, hardened by dozens and hundreds of battles, were in these air groups. The percentage of weak pilots among the Germans was lower, because, due to the intensity of the fighting, they quickly died. On average, German "kulaks" were much firmer than Soviet air units: those who passed through the crucible of natural selection survived, which put much more pressure on German pilots than on Soviet pilots.

If Soviet fighters were transferred from front to front, their weak pilots would have been eliminated by life in the same way. Then the strong German aces were opposed by the same aces of the Soviet side. But in reality, the conditional one thousand Soviet aces were always scattered across a dozen fronts - and seven hundred German pilots were concentrated on those two or three fronts where their ground troops fought.

And even those aces who were on one or another Soviet front could change little. The Germans could knock out the "youth" from the Soviet units in the necessary sector of the front in a few weeks so that the Soviet aces were numerically outnumbered. Yes, there were also experienced pilots from the Russian Air Force on the neighboring front - but they could not be transferred to where it was required: this was not accepted in our country.

Fists against fingers: who wins?

Another important difference between the actions of Soviet and German aviation is the different principles of use. The Soviet side believed that fighters should patrol over them to cover their troops. And to cover their attack aircraft - they need to be accompanied by the same fighters.

The German Air Force had no such exotic ideas. Therefore, their bombers flew without fighter cover. The Germans considered the task of the fighters to shoot down enemy aircraft - and if they were shot down, then they would no longer be able to threaten the German strike aircraft.

In practice, this meant that even making an equal number of sorties, the Germans had many fighters in those places where they wanted to arrange air battles. And the patrolling Soviet fighters had air superiority where the Germans did not plan any air battles. Simply put, they ironed the air to no avail, while the Germans concentrated their fighters where they fought, rather than wasting fuel.

Let's take a vivid example: the first day of the battles of the Kursk Bulge - July 5, 1943. German fighters in the northern part of the arc (160 units) made only 522 sorties, and Soviet fighters (455 units) - 817 sorties. It would seem that this is it: the number of the Soviet Air Force is so great that even the fact that each individual German pilot flies more often than a single Soviet pilot interrupts.


However, in real life, everything was not so great:

“The feeling of the constant numerical superiority of the Germans was caused by their skillful build-up of forces and the concentration of aircraft over the most important sectors of the front. Passively patrolling at predetermined altitudes and speeds, Soviet pilots gave the initiative to the enemy in advance, who determined when and how it was more convenient to attack. The vast majority of the 76 air battles held on July 5 began under conditions unfavorable for the "Stalinist falcons". The documents of the 163rd IAP testified: "At the same time there were so many hotbeds of attack on our facilities that it was not possible to send more than four to fight them … For each of our fighters there were up to 6-8 enemy fighters."

Why is that? Yes, because the Soviet 163rd Fighter Aviation Regiment covered patrolling places that the Germans wanted to attack. The Germans gathered many of their fighters there, and created a local advantage of 6-8 times. And at the same time, other Soviet fighters plowed through the sky in the neighboring sectors of the front - but, wanting to cover everything, the command of the Soviet Air Force as a result could not cover anything. Actually, in war it always happens that way, if you do not know how to concentrate your forces.

If more than two opponents fall on one of your fighters at the point of battle, then your wingman is unlikely to cover the leader. After all, he himself will be tied in battle by two enemy aircraft. If you are attacked by two, then you will not really go into the tail of the enemy - and you will not really attack him head-on. After all, while you are doing this, the second enemy will come into the tail already for you.

Results: On July 5, 1943, in this sector of the front, the German Air Force lost 35 (13 shot down, 22 written off from damage) aircraft, Soviet aviation - 98 (only shot down are taken into account, since those written off from damage were not recorded as losses in Soviet statistics). And it was the Red Army Air Force that was very lucky: the Germans were advancing in this sector, so our anti-aircraft guns fired at their planes much more often than the German ones at ours. The net ratio of losses in aerial battles was 1 to 4, 5.

Imagine that Soviet pilots were on German planes and had the same number of flight hours as German ones. To make a difference? Nothing special. All the same, two (or eight) enemy fighters would have piled on one of our fighters. By the way, one of the Soviet pilots shot down that day had a flight time of 1489 hours - like an air regiment of "young" Soviet pilots. But experience did not help him: it is difficult for one to fight with six.

All the same, the Soviet Air Force and fighters would not be enough, because they fly more than the enemy - but often in vain (patrolling places where there are no Germans). The consequences of the shortage of fighters were too predictable:

“The losses of fighters affected the work of Soviet strike aviation - not having sufficient cover, attack aircraft on the first day of the battle performed less than one sortie per each serviceable aircraft, and daytime bombers - less than one sortie per two serviceable aircraft. The command of the 1st German Air Division provided three to four sorties of each combat-ready No.111 or Ju.88 and at least four to five sorties Ju.87. The tonnage of the bombs dropped on the Soviet troops approached 1385 tons, which is almost 12 times the weight of the response salvo of our aviation”.


In total, the Germans had almost three times fewer fighters here than we did, and fewer strike aircraft. But they shot down 4, 5 times more than the Soviet Air Force in the same sector. And they dropped the bombs - 12 times more.

This, we note, is not 1941-1942 - this is already the third year of the war. There is no surprise. There is no German strike on airfields. Radios are on every Soviet fighter. On the ground, there are Soviet radars, long mastered by units and in theory making it possible to concentrate forces where necessary. However, this one-to-one picture resembles many battles of 1941-1942: the enemy has fewer aircraft, but throws them in his fists.That is why, in specific battles, he very often has superiority in the number of aircraft - although on the whole, the Soviet Air Force has superiority at the front.

For the third year, the Germans have been teaching Soviet aviation generals the basics of the art of war. For example, the fact that forces must be gathered into "fists" on the sector of the front where the battles are going on; that inside the front they should not be scattered on patrols or escorts, but collected where you are fighting and bombing the enemy.

And the Soviet Air Force will never learn. Why?

This is not to say that Soviet air commanders did not try to learn. The commander of the 16th Air Army, Sergei Rudenko, who led the Soviet efforts on the northern face of the Kursk Bulge, the very next day, July 6, tried to operate in larger groups. Allocate fewer fighters to directly escort their strike aircraft, and more to fight for air supremacy, as the Germans did.

But he did it in half. The Germans still concentrated their forces better, and on the second day they lost no more than 18 aircraft (rather less), and the Soviet side - 91. The situation was more or less corrected by the ground command: Rokossovsky brought the concentration of Soviet anti-aircraft guns in the direction of the German strike to 10-12 guns per kilometer, which greatly simplified the life of the infantry.

On the southern face of the Kursk Bulge, everything was very similar. To quote a representative of the General Staff at the headquarters of the Voronezh Front:

“In these battles, our fighter aviation, in the presence of numerical superiority, failed to gain air supremacy. It allowed enemy bomber aviation to bombard our battle formations in an organized manner. The reason is that our fighters performed purely passive missions - covering the area where their troops were located, patrolling and directly escorting attack aircraft, while fighter aircraft did not perform active combat missions."

Let's call a spade a spade: on most of their sorties, it would have been impossible for Soviet pilots to hit the enemy, even if they were the best fighters of all times and peoples. This is because on most patrol missions over the front - or to escort bombers - they could not meet German planes. After all, they simply were not there. It is not surprising that the Germans could fly more efficiently: they did not "iron the air", almost all sorties of their fighters were about searching for and destroying Soviet aircraft, not "crawling through the air."

The reason why Soviet commanders for years could not learn to massage their forces into fists was that our Air Force, both in peacetime and in wartime, did not have adequate leadership. It was not Rudenko who decided how the air force charters should be written, and how the planes should be used normally. It was not Rudenko On July 5, 1943, he had to think about how he could adopt the German methods of concentration of forces.

This leadership of the Air Force even before the war - according to the extremely sad Spanish experience, where everything was the same - had to abandon the idea of ​​direct cover for their troops and strike aircraft. It was supposed to comprehend the German experience of fighting in Europe - which was widely covered in the open press - and notice that either the red-star planes would be used massively, at specific points, or they would be hit.

However, in practice, the USSR had such aviation leaders as Marshal Novikov. As we noted in the first part of this text, this man never learned to fly fighters. This could be corrected by polling the pilots with the front line and trying with them to understand what the Soviet side is doing wrong. But Novikov did not do that either. As a result, our air force flew to patrol and cover their strike aircraft until the end of the war.


Subtotal: the Germans completely dominated the air from the summer of 1941 to the summer of 1943 (and to be honest, even in the fall). But not because Soviet planes or pilots were worse.

If the Germans had been left with their planes and pilots, but had been given Soviet commanders of air units, the Germans would have been beaten.If Soviet planes and pilots were left to the Soviet units, but the German commanders of the units were given, then they would already beat them.

When you let the enemy beat your air force in parts, spraying them with "spread fingers" against the enemy's shock fists, then you will definitely be defeated. No options.

But how, with all this, did we win the war in the air?

A strange picture is emerging. At the beginning of the war, the Soviet side had better aircraft than, for example, in 1943. There were fewer new types of fighters (less effective and tenacious than the I-16) and Il-2 attack aircraft (less effective and tenacious than the I-153). At the beginning of the war, there were more fighters and attack aircraft of the old types, whose survivability was 2, 5-3, 5 times greater than that of their "replacements". Despite this, in 1941 the Soviet Air Force was defeated in the air.

The reasons are simple: the Germans concentrated their aviation where their troops were advancing, the Soviet Air Force did not know how to concentrate aviation (especially fighter aviation) to the same extent. Therefore, the Germans in air battles often had a numerical superiority - although they almost always had fewer aircraft. And so it was in 1941, and in 1942, and in 1943.


And the reason for the inability of the Soviet Air Force to concentrate forces was not mythical problems with communication: the Japanese in the war over the sea perfectly concentrated their "zero" fighters, despite the fact that they had no radio stations at all. The reason was the wrong views of the Soviet side on how to use the aircraft. The desire to cover everything, to patrol over the front line, and to cover every sortie of their strike aircraft. Incorrect views, which could not revise the entire war, due to the insufficient mental flexibility of the leadership of the Soviet Air Force.

But if everything is so, how did the USSR achieve air supremacy in 1944-1945? How did he win the air war? After all, having the wrong views on strategy and tactics, it is simply impossible to win against a comparable opponent.

The correct answer to this question is that the USSR never won in the air. The widespread idea that Red Star pilots achieved a turning point in the course of a war in the air are wrong. Let us explain with specific numbers.

In 1944, the Germans lost 2,557 aircraft in battles in the East (354,000 sorties). During the same time, the Soviet side lost 9, 7 thousand of its own with less than a million sorties. It turns out that, even in 1944, the Germans lost fewer aircraft per sortie than we did, and in absolute figures, almost four times less. Somehow not very similar to air domination.

Maybe this is not a problem for the Soviet Air Force? Maybe the German anti-aircraft gunners are to blame, who fired well, while the Soviet anti-aircraft gunners fired badly? Here we have such large losses in the air, while the Germans have small ones.

Alas, this hypothesis does not pass the test of facts. Even if we exclude the losses from anti-aircraft fire from the Soviet losses, it still leaves 7, 5 thousand (and this is not taking into account the losses of the aviation of the fleet). That is, with a very big stretch in our favor, the Germans in 1944 lost three times fewer aircraft in the air than we did.

The true reasons for the break in the air in 1944 are easy to see from this table.


So: the overwhelming majority of German air losses at this time falls on the western front. If there were no active battles there - or there would be few of them, as in the first half of the Great Patriotic War - the Germans could have made on our front not 354 thousand sorties, but a million. If they had made this million sorties, they would have shot down not 7, 5 thousand of our planes, but much more. So much so that we would never have seen any domination in the air.

Because you can't beat a comparable opponent if he hits you with his fists, and you defend yourself with your fingers spread out.

Defeat in the West

The reasons why the turning point in the war in the air during the Second World War happened in the West, and not in our country, is that the Germans before the war were not seriously involved in preparing for the raids of the enemy's strategic bombers. Because of this, they did not have special types of aircraft in order to withstand such raids.

They tried to improvise by using single-engine front-line fighters (the same as in the East) against the four-engined bombers of the United States and Great Britain. And as a result, they inflicted huge losses on the allies: Britain alone in these raids (night!) Lost many more flight personnel than all Soviet aviation during the entire war. The combat survivability of the Anglo-American bombers over Europe was even lower than that of the Red Army aircraft over the Eastern Front (however, the mistakes of the Allied command also made an important contribution to this).

But it was precisely the Germans who could not win the war in the air in the West. It is difficult to hammer in nails with a screwdriver - more convenient with a hammer. The Bf.109 was as little for disrupting strategic attacks as a screwdriver was for replacing a hammer.

German single-engine fighters simply could not be effectively concentrated at one point to counter the raids of the western armada - they simply did not have enough range. Because of this, they were divided into groups, "sitting" in their own air defense zone, and could not attack huge groups of allied bombers with "fists".

As a result, in almost every attack on the Anglo-American "strategists" the Germans were in the minority. That is why the total weight of a salvo of their aircraft cannons in battle was less than the total weight of a salvo of allied defensive machine guns. From the beginning of 1944, the Americans began to escort their vehicles with fighters - and again they could collect them in a much larger fist than the Germans, whose fighters did not have the necessary range for this.


In the West, the Germans were already forced to catch the allied "fists" with the fingers of their fighters scattered across the country. And they eventually broke these fingers - despite the fact that the Allies did not have a single ace who shot down at least as many German planes as Kozhedub or Pokryshkin. The German "fingers" broke in general the same way they broke Soviet "fingers" (scattered combat aircraft) with their "fists" on the Eastern Front in 1941-1943.

Let's summarize. Some commanders manage troops well, while others poorly. And this is the main reason why their troops win or lose. A war in the air is not won by planes (or even their pilots); it is the air force as a whole that wins it.

The Germans won in the air for the entire first half of the war because their aviation generals were more mentally active than ours. No airplanes - and no pilots - would have helped us avoid being destroyed in the air in 1941-1943. The Soviet flight personnel did everything in their human power to inflict maximum losses on the Germans. But before the Germans lost the air war in the West, all this, in principle, could not reverse the war in the air. And this (and not at all Lend-Lease) is the main contribution of the Allies to our victory.

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