Chapter 24. The way it happened-1

The reader who has been patient enough to read hundreds of pages above should probably already have a clear view of quantitative parameters of the Soviet air forces: the number or regiments, aircrafts, airfields and crews. The only way to solve a large-scale problem of destroying all the air forces of the western districts was through a massive nuclear missile strike. Something that Germans did not have. Neither did they have conventional means of destruction in quantities enough for a simultaneous strike at most of the airfields of the western districts. They did not even have forces in quantities they managed to concentrate on the 10th of May, 1940 at the front line of invasion into Belgium and France. It's worth mentioning that the greatest criminal and adventurer of all times understood the excessiveness of his plan himself and admitted it aloud:

"...immense space makes in necessary to concentrate troops in key points. Massive involvement of aircrafts and tanks in key locations is required. These vast lands make it impossible for the Luftwaffe (highlighted by me here and from now. – M.S.) to handle them all simultaneously; it can only dominate separate parts of the giant front at the beginning of war...." ( 12 )

        Destroying "all the air forces in the western districts" in the first hours of war was not possible simply because it was impossible. What the Luftwaffe command hoped to achieve was covering the attacking tank groups from the air "in the key locations of the giant front". The actual success surpassed the wildest expectations of Hitler's command. When the number of Soviet aircrafts found on the ground exceeded two thousand, Hermann Göring himself (fat and ugly, but still a war pilot of World War I) ordered a special commission created in this connection to inspect airfields captured in order to check the truthfulness of the reports made by German commanders...


       So what happened in the first hours and days of war?

       "The heaviest losses were sustained in the first hours by the air forces of the Western front.

By the end of the first day of war casualties here amounted to 738 aircrafts, with 528 planes on the ground and 210 in the air." This is the classical version promoted by Soviet historiography (the quote above is taken from the truthful "Pravda" newspaper - with "pravda" meaning "truth" in Russian). The fundamental monograph by M.N.Kozhevnikov (27) gives an important explanation to these figures: "9th mixed air division (MAD) lost 347 airplanes, 10th MAD lost 180 and 11th MAD lost 127 airplanes… The enemy destroyed 387 air fighters and 351 bombers which belonged to the air force of the Western special military district".

         These figures, getting from one book to another, mismatch elementary school arithmetic completely. Three "mixed" air divisions (according to the classification used at that time) of the first air force echelon of the Western front (11th MAD, 9th MAD, 10th MAD) had only 172 bombers listed in their ranks. Even if we suppose all of them were destroyed on the first day (a supposition which is rather hasty), then arithmetic tells us that the number of fighters lost in these three divisions would be 482 (374+180+127-172), but definitely not 387. If at least some bombers in the 9th, 10th and 11th divisions managed to survive, then casualties among fighters would be even greater arithmetically. And even greater than that – taking into consideration fighters of the 43rd fighter division.

         It's probably time to ask the simplest and most important question: who saw that "destruction of Soviet air forces resulting from sudden strike at airfields"? This strange hypothesis which has been offered to us for more than half a century as an axiom out of court – where does it actually come from? What do these "figures generally accepted" base upon?

        Territory of the "Belostock flange" upon which the 11th, 9th and 10th MADs were situated was outflanked by infantry and tank divisions of the Wehrmacht in the first 3 or 4 days of war. Tens of generals, thousands of tanks and hundreds of thousands soldiers were lost in action in isolation and at panic retreat. Could any of participants of this unequalled catastrophe make a credible list of aircrafts destroyed at airfields with an air strike? With an exact record of damage sustained by there aircrafts and exact times of air strikes? And if there is such a list, then why hasn't it been published in the last six decades?

        The above-mentioned academic monograph by Kozhevnikov states casualty rates in air forces of the Western front, and then… it refers to a popular "Aviation and cosmonautics in the USSR" book. This is just as appropriate as a, say, reference to a Jules Verne novel in a modern monograph devoted to submarine construction. In his "Tactics in combat cases" work meant for air force command personnel Marshal G.V.Zimin (after repeating the must-say "the enemy managed to destroy up to 1200 airplanes, among them 800 in the airfields") gives a reference to a propagandistic "Combat glory of Soviet air forces" brochure issued in 1953. And this reference comes together with several pages of continuous references to Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense in the end of the book…

        Now let's get from school arithmetic to tactics and operational mastery. Canonical version tells us that three air force divisions of the Western  front lost more than half of the total number of airplanes lost on the first day of war (654 out of 1200), with more than two thirds (528 of 800) of "land" casualties. How could it be possible? It is commonly known that only telegraph posts can be absolutely straight and identical, but one reason common for all Soviet air forces ("a sudden air strike at air fields") could not produce results so different. If the core reason for all this mess was the fact that "Stalin, not wanting to give Hitler an occasion to attack, prohibited to get troops fully operational", then why is the effect of this evil (or stupid) Stalin's will so non-uniformly distributed? Why casualties in three divisions out of twenty five made up half of total losses?

         Strictly speaking, the number of air divisions was much greater than 25. The Soviet air force group in the western operational scene included 48 air divisions. Let's exclude air force divisions of the Leningrad district, most of newly formed units, long-range bomber aviation (which could not be reached by the first air strike because of its geographical location), and we get the minimum figure of 25. You'll have to admit that Soviet (and some Russian) historians show strange logic: what happened at 3 objects out of 25 is considered "common", while situation at 22 objects out of 25 is considered a rare exception not worth simple mentioning!

         We'll take another way. Let's first look at the course of events at the flanks of the Soviet-German front, then turn to Kiev and Baltic districts, and only then – having already familiarized ourselves with the common scene – we'll get to the conditions of the unprecedented defeat of the first air force echelon of the Western front.



         Leningrad military district 


         Land and air forces of the Leningrad military district (Northern front) did not participate in active combat actions in the first three days of war. German air operations were limited to a few reconnaissance aircrafts flying over Leningrad (one of them was shot down on the 23rd of June by air defense artillery, another one was damaged with anti-aircraft gunfire and crashed trying to get back to its airfield). The same day of June 23 brought the first air victory to the Northern front air forces: 158th fighter air regiment pilot Lieutenant A.V.Chirkov, while flying the newest YAK-1 air fighter, shot a German aircraft between Pskov and Ostrov. The most significant event of the first days of war was mining of the Kronstadt bay from air made by a squadron of Ju-88 Junkers from the "naval" KGr-806 group at dawn of June 22.

         Baltic fleet air forces were somewhat more active. It was at 6:00 in the morning of June 22 (that is, the very time when the first urgent meeting was underway in Stalin's office in the far-away Moscow) when aircrafts of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet bombed Finnish ships disembarking troops to the Aland islands (which belonged to Finland but were a demilitarized zone) and fortifications on the Korpo island (30 kilometers west of the Finnish town of Turku). However, this air strike turned out to be virtually useless.

         The real war started early in the morning on the 25th of June when the Northern front air forces together with air forces of the Baltic and Northern Fleets made a massive strike at military objects (airfields among then) in Finland. The element of surprise used by the Soviet command to the full was complemented with by geographical factors extremely "unfortunate" for the defenders. Most of Soviet airplanes approached their targets from the Gulf of Finland. The Finns could not allocate hundreds of observation posts of the aerial surveillance service, and the Finnish army had no range finders in the inventory. Thus, the air-raid alarm often sounded after the first explosions took place already. Let's not get distracted with political reasons which resulted in the events of June 25, but still examine the course and results of this "first multi-day operations of the Soviet air force" as it was called by Soviet historians.

         The monograph by Major General of aviation Doctor of Science Professor M.N.Kozhevnikov ("Air Force Command and Staff of the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War") already mentioned above plenty of times reads the following:

       "Early in the morning on June 25 236 bombers and 224 fighters made the first massive air strike at 19 airfields (highlighted by me here and from now on. - M.S.). The enemy did not expect this strike, was actually taken by surprise and did not manage to conduct any resistive action. As a result, Soviet pilots successfully performed bombing of parked aircrafts, fuel and ammunition depots. 41 enemy aircrafts were destroyed on airfields. Our air forces didn’t sustain any losses. Over the next five days these and new airfields identified by reconnaissance aircrafts were effectively bombed several times. According to the photo control data, Soviet pilots, having attacked 39 airfields in total, have made approximately 1000 take offs and destroyed 130 enemy aircrafts. Command of the German fascist forces in Finland and Northern Norway had to retreat its air forces to rear airfields…" (27)

        You'll have to admit that this text mainly matches the commonly known description of the first Luftwaffe air strikes at Soviet airfields. Quantitative parameters (460 airplanes in the "first wave") are also quite comparable to the actions of the Luftwaffe 1st Air Fleet in the skies of Baltic. The difference only lies in the results. Supposing that the numbers above are truthful, Soviet air forces had to make 1000 air missions to destroy 130 enemy aircrafts in the first six days (not six hours!). This arithmetic alone hardly matches the legend of the inevitable "1200, with 800 of them on the ground".

         Documents of the Northern front air forces command stored in the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense, together with works of modern Finnish historians, tell a story quite different from that. The only word of truth in Professor Kozhevnikov's work is probably the name of the month (June). The rest of that looks like a sample of "black humor" against the background.

         The operation actually lasted for exactly two days, on the second of which (June 26) bomber troops of the Northern front air forces only made a few reconnaissance missions over Finnish territory. The total number of airfields with real Finnish aircrafts based on them subjected to bombings was seven. It was only one airfield (in Turku) where a single Finnish aircraft was destroyed. It was a strange irony of fate that this aircraft was a trophy Soviet SB bomber. All other "strikes at airfields" were either absolutely unsuccessful or resulted in heavy losses of attackers.

         One of the most dramatic episodes of that kind was the Soviet air strike at the Finnish Joroinen airfield. A large group of SB bombers of the 72nd bomber regiment (14 or 15 according to data from different sources) approached the airfield at 11:45 at a relatively low altitude. Tactically competent action of the regiment command was complemented with a bit of luck: our bombers approached the airfield exactly when the 2nd squadron of the LLv-26 fighter group landed on the airfield after a long air patrol with empty fuel tanks. Let's note in parentheses that this very situation (a strike at an airfield while aircrafts back from patrol are being re-fuelled) is often used in the native historiography to explain the giant "land" losses of Soviet air forces: Germans were supposed to always come "in bad time"… The 72nd bomber regiment strike group also came to bomb the Joroinen airfield "in bad time" (from the Finns' point of view). The only difference was that the respond of Finnish fighter pilots turned to be quite timely and accurate.

         Two "Fiats" of the flight being on duty got off the ground immediately and attacked the enemy which greatly outnumbered them. This resulted in three bombers being shot down right above the airfield with the rest of them making a reverse turn after a random bomb drop. In a few minutes the 3rd LLv-26 squadron intercepted the 72nd regiment bombers near the Kerisalo village (12 kilometers south-west of Joroinen). In the subsequent air fight the 72nd bomber regiment strike group was completely defeated. According to the report of the Finnish squadron commander Lieutenant U.Nieminen, only 4 SBs survived the fight, with a "smoke tail after one of them". Actually, Finnish fighters show down 9 bombers of the 72nd bomber regiment (instead of 10, as they reported). The tenth SB was shot down over the Russian territory by a Soviet fighter. Commander of the 72nd bomber regiment squadron Captain Polyakov was among the killed. The Finnish LLv-26 fighters group did not lose a single aircraft that day – neither on the land nor in the air.

         Air forces of the Northern and Baltic fronts irretrievably lost 24 bombers in two days of operation (142). There was not a sign of the Finnish aircrafts being redeployed to "far rear airfields". These numbers ("39 airfields", "130 enemy's aircrafts") which are absolutely unreal do not match any real events in any approximation…


    In general, troops of the Northern front and its powerful air forces continued following the totally obsolete pre-war cover-up plan point by point in June 41. The breakthrough of German tank divisions to Šhauliai, Kaunas and Vilnius did not have any apparent effect upon decisions and actions of the Soviet command in Leningrad. It's even hard to say whether the Northern front command was aware of the catastrophic course of events of the neighboring front area. It sounds bizarre from the modern point of view but the Staff of the Northern front issued Operational instruction #5 on the 24th of June (that is, on the 3rd day of war). Point 3 of this document read the following: "Practical experience of the first days of war has demonstrated the great role of the initiative of the command staff. The initiative shown made it possible to stop the German advance at the Western and South-Western fronts except for one area where the Germans managed to advance 20 kilometers deep due to great advantage in manpower" (153).

         We'll say it again: this is not an editorial in a regional newspaper and not a "black humor" sketch. This is an Operational instruction by the Staff of a Front. A top secret document which is supposed to be a guideline for commanders at all levels in their practical actions.. Cheering themselves and their subordinates up (or simply deceiving them), command made the Northern front air forces passively wait for the Germans to break through to Western Dvina (Daugava). This waiting ended in the evening on the 1st of July, when large groups of bombers of the 2nd MAD made their first air strikes at German column convoys (154). Unfortunately, these convoys were already near Kraslav (40 kilometers east of Daugava), without a trace left from the air forces of the North-Western front (former Baltic special military district).


         While the main air forces of the Leningrad military district started their combat actions against the German troops with a great delay, sky battles on the far northern flank of a highly stretched district started with a significant "time advance". It was at 20:50 on the 18th of June, 1941 that German reconnaissance aircrafts were first targeted by air defense gunfire of the Main base of the Northern Fleet (Polyarnyi - Murmansk). These must have been the very first artillery gunfire of war. At 11:32 on the 19th of June anti-aircraft batteries started firing at a German Ju-88 Junkers which flew over the Main base at a great altitude. More than 240 shells were fires – with no result, unfortunately. At 16:45 on the 20th of June yet another unidentified airplane was fired at by air defense artillery of the Northern Fleet in the sky of Severomorsk (155).    It's worth mentioning that there is no sign of the notorious "Stalin's order which prohibited shooting down German reconnaissance aircrafts" in the documents and events which really took place. Trespassing aircrafts were met with heavy gunfire, and the fact they were not shot down is definitely not explained by needless peacefulness.

         On June 22 German air forces – flights and individual aircrafts – bombed ships, bases and airfields of the Northern Fleet air forces – with no tangible result. The first one of the series of effective counterstrikes was made on the 24th of June by 9 SBs from the 72nd mixed air regiment (MAR). After a bomb strike at the German Hebukten airfield (near the Norwegian town of Kirkenes) fire arose on this airfield, and report from the Fleet's radio reconnaissance tells that "at 18:53 the Kirkenes radio station gave its aircrafts notice about the damage of the airfield". One of the SBs was shot down by German fighters on the way back from the mission. That very day brought the first air combat victory: at 19:40 Senior Lieutenant B.Safonov (the future best ace of transpolar skies), flying an I-16 fighter, shot down a German Junkers-88 from the KG-30 bombing group. In the following ten days commanders of the bomber (II/KG-30) and fighter (IV/JG-77) Luftwaffe air groups were also killed in action.

        Early in the morning on the 25th of June eight SBs from the 72nd MAR took off to bomb the Finnish Luostari airfield – the location to which the only transpolar 1./JG 77 fighter squadron had been redeployed by that moment. Low cloud cover and mist prevented them from completing their mission, but the first strike was followed by next ones. Till the end of that day Luostari was attacked by small aircraft groups five more times. None of the parties sustained any losses in aircrafts (except for one SB who had lost its bearings and was forced to land in deserted tundra). 

        The Luostari airfield was not the only object for air attacks on the 25th of June. Air forces of the Northern Fleet attempted to bomb the Norwegian Kirkenes port but had to return to base due to heavy fog. The Finnish Liinahamari port near Petsamo was bombed. In the evening on the 25th of June Fleet aircrafts made a bomb strike at a far Norwegian airfield of Banak which served as base for German bombers. On the 26th of June, 1941 air forces of the Northern Fleet ran on individual and group missions striking at Petsamo, Kirkenes, Luostari and Vadsø. Bombers from the 137th bomber regiment of the front-line air forces made two raids deep into the Finnish territory and conducted air strikes against the Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi airfields (more than 400 kilometers along a straight line from Murmansk). Alas, the flight of long-range reconnaissance Luftwaffe aircrafts basing in Rovaniemi did not sustain any losses.

Combat actions of German air forces were somewhat more effective. On the 29th of June a German air strike destroyed 6 Soviet aircrafts on the ground of the Vayenga airfield. Total losses of Soviet air forces in June, 41 in the Transpolar region made up 38 aircrafts, of which 8 were destroyed on the airfields. The heaviest fighting went on in July 1941 – the Germans were dying to get to the Murmansk port and the railway between the Transpolar region and the continent. Late at night on the 3rd of July ("night" here only means formal time, as the sun in those regions does not go under) eight Junkers covered-up with six Messers made another attempt to attack the Soviet Vayenga airfield. The air combat that followed resulted in two enemy aircrafts shot down by our "donkeys" (I-16) and "seagulls" (I-153) air fighters, with no irrecoverable losses from our side – neither on the ground nor in the air. Being somewhat previous, let's note that the heaviest attack at the Vayenga airfield was made by the Germans on the 6th of August: 36 Luftwaffe bombers approached the airfield from different sides at different altitudes in 5 echelons. The result was one Pe-3 destroyed and three aircrafts damaged.

        On the 7th of July air forces of the Northern Fleet made a powerful counter strike. Nine SBs from the 72nd MAR bombed the Hebukten airfield. 36 "-100" HE bombs, 12 flame bombs and cassettes with low-caliber frag bombs were dropped onto the airfield from the 3 km altitude. Aircraft crews reported 15 enemy aircrafts destroyed on the ground (German documents confirm two airplanes being destroyed) (133).

         A brief summary of combat actions and losses of air forces in the Northern Fleet and Northern front lets us make the following conclusion: the "magic wand" of airfield strikes refused to function at northern latitudes – both in Soviet and in German hands. Total losses of Soviet air forces in the Transpolar region (for all reasons, including crashes) in July 1941 made up 80 aircrafts, with 21 of them lost on the airfields – which makes exactly one tenth of the original total amount of the air group. And these are losses for the whole month of combat actions – not a single day.


          Odessa military district 


          Soviet air forces in the southern flank of the battle scene consisted of Odessa district (Southern front) and Black Sea Fleet air forces and amounted to 52 squadrons (640 crews) of fighters and 37 squadrons (290 crews) of bombers. The Germans (the 4th air corps of the 4th Luftwaffe Air Fleet) had 12 fighter squadrons (150 crews) and 12 bomber squadrons (100 crews). Understaffing of Luftwaffe bomber squadrons was not accidental: KG-4 and KG-27 squadrons had had enough battle experience at other fronts and sustained significant losses (thus, the II/KG-4 group with its staff size of 40 aircrafts only had 24 Heinkels, with only 8 of them being combat-ready). Besides, units of Romanian air forces participated in combat actions from the very first hours of war (they had 8 fighter squadrons and 11 bomber squadrons in total). Leaving apart battle characteristics of Romanian aircrafts and qualification of personnel, the presence of Romanians made Soviet air forces "only" twice as great as enemy ones.

         Early in the morning on the 22nd of June, 1941 an armada of various aircrafts appeared in the sky above the airfields of the Odessa district – German Heinkels and Messerschmitts, English Blenheims, Italian Savoia-Marchettis, French Potezes, Polish PZL-37 bombers and PZL-11 fighters. The enemy attacked six airfields (of the 107 in total, including operative ones), on which units of three regiments of the 20th MAD (4th and 55th fighter regiments and 45th bomber regiment) and one regiment of the 21st MAD (67th fighter regiment) based. Thus, 4 regiments out of 12 in the ranks of the district air forces sustained enemy strike. The enemy did not bomb Odessa and Kishinev in the first days of war (Antonescu, the Romanian dictator, did not want to start his "crusade for the liberation of Bessarabia" with bombardment of residential blocks in crowded cities for political reasons).

         Soviet pilots and air defense gunners offered powerful rebuff everywhere. Romanian air forces lost 11 aircrafts irrecoverably, with 9 two-engined bombers among them (156). The Germans lost one Messerschmitt shot down near the town of Balt, and at least three Heinkel-111 aircrafts were damaged (these figures may be somewhat underestimated as the losses of the 22nd of June could have been reflected in Luftwaffe documents for the subsequent days). Figures in reports of Soviet fighters are certainly much greater, but even a dozen of combat aircrafts destroyed in only a day was a sensitive loss for the enemy (primarily for the few Romanian air forces).

         Fighters of the 67th fighter regiment were most active that day. Pilots of this regiment went on 117 combat missions (2 missions per each operational aircraft on the average which was a rather high figure for Soviet air forces) and reported 18 enemy aircrafts shot down. Losses among them made up 6 aircrafts of which only one can be attributed to the "destroyed by the enemy on the airfield" category (an I-16 ran onto an airbomb crater and turned over). The 4th fighter regiment did not lose any airplanes at all on the 22nd of June; however, combat performance of this regiment who had taken 60 MIGs into its ranks was quite limited (one Blenheim reliably shot down). This could also be due to the lack of a decent enemy, as the regiment based near Kishinev and Grigoriopol where enemy was not active enough.

         There wasn't a single irrecoverable loss in the 55th fighter air regiment, either, although at least three MIGs were damaged by enemy air strike at the Beltzi airfield. The heaviest casualties of the day were the loss of 5 bombers on the ground (3 SBs and 2 Pe-2 units from the 45th bomber air regiment) (156). In general, irrecoverable losses of air forces in the Odessa military district slightly exceeded 1 percent (!) of the original total number of aircrafts. One can hardly make total casualties of air forces in the district as high as 25-30 units (taking into consideration training aircrafts and those damaged). Certainly, native historians could not bear this violation of the myth about the "first devastating strike at the airfields". And so, we see a book by D.Khazanov dated 2006 with the following phrase in it: "Losses turned to be significantly higher than stated in the original report (23 aircrafts). According to the German data … 16 Russian aircrafts were shot down and 142 destroyed on the ground by the airplanes of the 4th air corps ONLY." (156).

          I placed ellipsis instead of two following words remarkable in their revelatory frankness: "clearly exaggerated". There can be no doubt about that formula: pilot reports on the number of aircrafts destroyed on the ground clearly were "fish stories" in the wildest sense of these words (see Chapter 22 above for reported and actual figures of "land" losses of the Luftwaffe). Why was is necessary to drag those Luftwaffe Munchausen stories into the book, which also contains plenty of the references to reports of Soviet air regiment commanders on the numbers of missions and losses (with numbers of relevant archive files there)?   

        Appeal to "fish stories" of German pilots is a new spin in struggling to preserve the mossy myth. Traditional approach here was different: "a myth can by strengthened with another myth". A new "legend" was invented behindhand: Odessa military district command was supposed to have violated the notorious "Stalin's prohibition" and got the district's air forces fully operational on its own initiative, dispersing and masking it. That's why losses from the first strike at airfields turned to be minimal.

        Unfortunately, this version is deceitful on the one hand and false on the other. It's deceitful because the "collective Stalin" (that is, highest military and political command of the USSR) kept issuing directives to increase combat readiness, mask and disperse air forces for all districts without exception right before the war, and not only did ALL air force commanders receive these cipher messages, but they also reported to have followed the instruction. And the idea that orders in the Odessa district were followed better than anywhere is simply false.

         "…In spite of the fact there was enough time from the moment of the alert till the enemy's strike, troops failed to evade it with minimal losses and cause loss to the enemy. The enemy left unpunished, while we sustained great losses on the ground due to criminal negligence and disorderliness. Deconcentration of the materiel was unsatisfactory in all the regiments… There was actually no masking either; the 55th fighter air regiment was especially bad at that…" This is a quote from an order in which commander of the 20th MAD Major General Osipenko summarized the first day of war( 156 ).

         How does this terrible assessment correspond to the rather optimistic scene we depicted above? It does, and quite well. Cognition comes through comparison. Commander of the 20th MAD did not compare actions and achievements of his subordinates to the "first devastating Luftwaffe strike" legend (how would he know that legend in the evening on the 22nd of June?), but rather to requirements of Statutes and Manuals, and also to tasks and operational capabilities of the division he was in charge of. The 20th MAD was the largest and best armed division of the Odessa district (325 aircrafts as to the 1st of June, 1941, with 122 newest MIG-3 units in two fighter regiments). If the Romanian air forces "flying aerumuseum" made it back to its base with only a dozen aircrafts lost in a fight with such a monster, then it could probably be said that "the enemy left unpunished".

          Just another touch to a picture of the "remarkable organization" of the Odessa military district air forces could be the Soviet Su-2 aircraft shot down by Pokryshkin on the first day of war (yes that's right, our best ace, the triple Hero of the Soviet Union A.I.Pokryshkin started his combat career in the 55th fighter regiment (the one with "no masking at all"). The aircraft belonged to the 211th bomber air regiment of the very same 20th MAD, but the "bolsheviks' conspiration" was so high that fighter pilots had never been shown even a picture of this new Soviet bomber!

          After the obvious failure of the German and Romanian air forces on the 22nd of June combat actions in the air got significantly less intensive. Opposing sides gathered themselves up, made air reconnaissance and exchanged sporadic strikes of small groups of aircrafts. Much more significant events took place on the airfields in the Crimea those days.


         The reader familiar with the native memoir bibliography and historical journalism must know the "Legend of Admiral Kuznetsov and Sevastopol".  It's briefly the following: People's Commissar for the Navy N.G.Kuznetsov "dared to violate Stalin's prohibition" and issued the fateful order to get the fleet fully operational, which resulted in the first enemy air strike at Sebastopol being fought off successfully with great losses for the attacker. A slightly closer inspection of the case in fact reveals some interesting details. First of all, the directive sent by the People's Commissar for the Navy at 01:12 on the 22nd June of 1941 to the command of the fleets was virtually identical to the Directive 1 sent an hour before to the command of military districts and signed by the People's Commissar for Defense Timoshenko, including the infamous ambiguous instructions ("to resist any provocative actions which can result in serious complications…to mask thoroughly combat readiness being increased… not to take any other measures without special orders...").  
Second, the order in the fleet was not poorer (but neither was it better) than in other branches of arms of the Soviet Armed Forces. The course of events on the main base of the Black Sea Fleet was the following. At 2:15 on the 22nd of June the antiaircraft defense headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet ordered to implement blackout in Sebastopol. In order to ensure that it is done, the main on/off switch of the city's electricity supply was turned off. Sebastopol fell into the total darkness of a southern night which was cut through with dazzling glow of two lighthouses: Inkerman and Chersonesos ones. Cable connection to them turned out to be broken (supposedly by saboteurs). The messenger from the Fleet Staff failed to reach the Inkerman lighthouse, and the lighthouse, with its sight distance being 24 nautical miles, kept glowing and unmasking the city and the port.

         At 2:35 on the 22nd of June the RUS-1 radar station on the Tarkhankut cap detected an air target approaching from the west. At 3:05 sound location stations detected sound from aviation engines 20 kilometers far from Sebastopol. Equipment worked flawlessly. Unfortunately, one can not say the same about people. Commanders at all levels started trying frantically to shuffle off the burden of taking the decision to open fire. Black Sea Fleet commander Vice Admiral Oktyabrskiy for some reason started calling Moscow trying to reach Chief of General Staff Zhukov, although the fleet was not under his command. Duty officer of the Fleet Staff (it was Black Sea Fleet flagship chemist Commander N.T.Rybalko that night) received the following fair instruction from Admiral Oktyabrskiy: "Keep in mind that any of our aircrafts getting up into the air will result in you being executed tomorrow." Supposing Rybalko's memories are truthful, he and the Chief of the Fleet Staff Read Admiral I.D.Yeliseyev took the decision to open fire at the unidentified aircrafts. However, I.S.Zhilin (Fleet air defense commander at that time) reports in his memoirs that neither the Chief of the Fleet Staff nor Chief of the Air Staff of the Black Sea Fleet Colonel Kalmykov gave him any direct orders, so he ordered at his own risk to the commanders of air defense units to "consider all the aircrafts above Sebastopol to be enemy ones, lighten then with searchlights and open fire at them."

        The first bomber appeared above Sevastopol at 3:13 on the 22nd of June. It was detected and lightened with searchlights, but right after that an order came to turn off all the searchlights and hold fire. Chief of staff of the 61st anti-aircraft artillery regiment I.K.Semyonov explained it with an order that came from the air defense staff of the Fleet, but Zhilin points out at confused action of the regiment commander himself… Anyway, four (5 or even 9 by other data) German He-111 "Heinkel" bombers from the KG-4 aircraft group participated in the first strike at the main Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol. Aircrafts approached the target one after one in large intervals (15 to 25 minutes) and parachuted bottom magnetic bombs. Air defense artillery of Sebastopol spent 2150 shells. Besides, air defense artillery of the Black Sea ships fire-stormed German bombers, as well. The operations record book together with evidence from many participating parties tell that one of the Heinkels was shot down and fell into the sea at 4:10, but according to the German document, the II/KG-4 group did not sustain any irrecoverable losses that day (158).

        This is the true course of events on the 22nd of June, 1941 in Sebastopol. Memoirs of one of our respected naval commanders (whose name we'd better delicately withhold) read the following:     

"At quarter past three powerful searchlight beams cut the cloudless starry sky through and swung as pendulums feeling the horizon, upon which some monotonous swelling roar spread over. Finally, a horrendous armada of low-flying aircrafts came from the sea. Endless crow-like ranks of them (highlighted by me – M.S.) passed by the Northern bay one after another... Gloomy shadow figures of bombers yet unknown to us kept appearing in searchlight beams just to be lost again in the empty skies..."

        "The history gave us too little time." This was the phrase which Hitler had to say in the evening on the 21st of June, 1941 (although the best choice for him for the sake of the whole world would have been to shoot himself that very evening and not wait for the 30th of April, 1945). The Luftwaffe which was at war from Brest at Bug to Brest at the Atlantic coast of France, from Northern Africa to Northern Norway did not have "endless crow-like ranks" of aircrafts. The Germans failed to find a full bomber squadron even for such an important target as the main base of the Black Sea Fleet. In the summer of 41 Germans did not have any fighters capable of covering heavy bombers on their far way to the Crimean coast at all. This was the reason for the fact that the "first devastating strike" at ships, bases and airfields of the Black Sea Fleet did not take place at all.

         The first strike (or "gnat-sting" would be the proper word) of the Luftwaffe in June 1941 proved to be the last one. It was the next day when Germans already had no time for night strikes at Sevastopol…

Mark Solonin became the first who dared to say: But the emperor has no clothes! The very first step, the simplest comparison of the number of airplanes, announced as being destroyed on land (800 units), with the total number of Soviet AF, deployed on the Western USSR borders (more than 8.500 units), as well as a comparison of the number of airfields being attacked (66) with the total number of airfields in the Western military districts (613), knocks over like skittles. However, the content of a 600-page long research "At the Airfields That Seemed to Be Asleep is much deeper; questions which the author is asking, are much more complex than unmasking of obvious nonsense.
Every step, every try as well as a documented, fair and unprejudiced answer to these three issues lead the researcher to a deadlock of unsolvable, at first sight, contradictions. Why Stalins empire, after years of preparation for the Big War, having concentrated all resources of the richest country in the world, and, finally, having amassed the biggest army size in the world, suffered a crushing defeat in the summer of 1941? Why Stalin, who didnt believe his closest comrades, did believe to Ribbentrops signature in the non-aggression pact? Why the Soviet Union utterly militarized totalitarian empire found itself to be the only participant of the WWII, which started mobilizing its Armed Forces not before the start of combat actions (as did everybody else) and not even on the date of Hitlers invasion, but only on the second day of the war, on June 23, 1941? Why hours before the German invasion fighter regiments of Soviet AF received a day-off, while surface-to-air divisions were withdrawn to the far home front airfields? These are among the questions that will be addressed in my book.
Copyright Mark Solonin
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