Chapter 27. Devastating "redeployment"

        Now we have come to a moment when it is finally necessary to explain: why the author is "barking on the moon" so insistently and trying to prove something that nobody argues with. Yes, that's true: nobody has ever denied the fact that great aircraft losses took place not in air combat but rather on the ground.  

        The problem is that the "destroyed on the airfield" words can conceal events which would be very different. For example, enemy bombers strike at an airfield "in peaceful sleep". That's something that should never happen in military air forces, because not a single air unit ever "sleeps peacefully" – each of them has a duty officer, an orderly man, guards and so on. It is even far less possible that anything like that could happen in air force fighter regiments of western border districts, with all the necessary instructions to raise combat readiness, to deconcentrate and mask aircrafts, etc. received on June 18-21, 1941. Moreover: almost all of them were alerted at 2 or 3 in the morning on the 22nd of June. If the reality was different from what it should have been, then it should be admitted that the reason for the defeat was not a "sudden enemy attack", but rather criminal negligence of the command.

         Let's look at it another way: the enemy strikes an airfield with great force and destroys most of the aircrafts in spite of fierce resistance of the air unit basing on this airfield. That's something very uncommon for World War II, and besides, losses of attacking aircrafts and pilots were always much greater. As to the 22nd of June, 1941, the author of this book failed to find a single episode of that kind. Probably, something like that could have happened on the airfields of fighter regiments of the 10th mixed air division (MAD) (that is, in the area where the "Center" Army Group made its main blow and therefore had most Luftwaffe power concentrated). Probably, this matter requires further investigation. In all other cases all the German air strikes were made with small air groups (a flight to a squadron, that is, 4 to 12 aircrafts) and resulted in minimal or even individual losses of defenders – provided there was organized resistance.

        The third situation possible: lots of people, aircrafts and commanders on the airfield – but no military unit; that is, these "lost of people" do not act as a single entity according to Statute, orders and requirements of oath of allegiance. Just the opposite: all the orders, instructions and guidelines are ignored, aircrafts are lined up across the airfield "wing to wing", half of personnel stay "in the town with relatives", the rest start up a truck and get away at the very first shots. After that a flight of German aircrafts on a fly-by destroys aircrafts abandoned on the airfield with diligence and in no haste. Alas, examples of such criminal failure to act, negligence and actual deserting (or something very close to that) come out in great quantities.

        There is yet another way to "destroy aircrafts on the ground". Namely: a German rear service group of one sergeant-major and two soldiers comes to a Soviet airfield captured a few days (or weeks) ago. Sergeant-major lazily counts aircrafts abandoned, and after that soldiers drain the fuel from the tanks onto the ground and flip a lighter… It can surely be called "destroying on the ground", can't it? Moreover, if this sergeant-major belonged to Luftwaffe ground services (which would probably be the case), then the aircrafts can be justly considered "destroyed by the German air force". 

       It's extremely important to note that overplaying achievements of German air forces was convenient for both opposing sides! It's obvious that it was more convenient for the Germans – starting with an air regiment commander and up to Dr. Göbbels himself – to tell stories about a "devastating blow of Luftwaffe" than stories of a rear sergeant-major. It's obvious that commanders of Western front air regiments which had been defeated and "redeployed" 500 and more kilometers deep rearwards did not want to admit having abandoned tens and hundreds of working combat airplanes on empty airfields. In a situation when the battlefield was taken by the enemy and higher command had no practical way to check the trustworthiness of their reports, the "materiel was destroyed on the airfield with consecutive strikes of large enemy air units" formula was most convenient. It's obvious that Soviet "historians", with their academic ranks and positions given to them for vivid depictions of "unprecedented mass heroism", did not check trustworthiness of these reports.

         However, "historians" were somewhat right in certain sense. Desertion does not suppose any orders. Having an order turns desertion into a quite legitimate redeployment. Was there an order? This is just another "secret of June 1941". Anyway, the common nature of this phenomenon gives a reason to suppose there had been some kind of an order to withdraw air forces from the combat scene.

        Let's turn once again to the "Combat actions of the 4th Army forces" monograph. In this book which was issued in 1961 with a "top secret" label Colonel General L.M.Sandalov (who was colonel and chief of staff of the 4th Army at the start of war) writes in epic calmness: "Commander of the Cobrin air defense brigade area together with the 218th air defense battalion (that he was in charge of) and other units redeployed to Pinsk on the 23rd of June, and further rearwards later. Commander of the 10th MAD together with its staff and rest of air regiments moved to Pinsk on the 22nd of June, and further to Gomel area on the 24th of June under authority of staff of the front (34).

        Some strange war, isn't it. Not only air units, but also land air defenses "redeployed rearwards" rapidly – exactly at the moment when German air forces literally raged over the battlefield. Gomel is 500 kilometers east of Brest. The Germans took the Gomel area on August 17-19 only, almost two months since the start of war. Redeployment to Gomel let the rest of the 10th MAD "evade enemy strikes" reliably, as well as deprived the rest of the 4th Army of any air cover just as well reliably. Who was to stand the "blow" then? Kolkhoz conscripts with Mosin rifles? And the strangest thing of all is Sandalov's report that these amazing "redeployments" were made under authority of the Western front command!

        Whether there really was a redeployment order is a question for a prosecutor. A historian can do with simple affirmation of the indisputable fact that it was the hasty and chaotic "redeployment" which mainly devastated air forces of the Western front.

        Detailed summary of memoirs by S.Dolgushin in the previous chapter was there not by chance. His story includes almost all key points of the so-called "redeployment" and its inevitable consequences. Half a day turns a regiment to an absolutely helpless state: no ammo, refuellers fallen behind, depleted batteries, "neither arms nor legs functioning" with the air staff. And these are absolutely normal and, what is most important, quite predictable consequences of the so-called "redeployment". Why? Because if an air force unit were a "pyramid", then pilots would be a piece of dust on its top.

         An air division amounts to thousands of men. All these people are kept in the staff of air units not by chance. It's them who have to fuel, load, mask, repair, guard, alert, provide with weather reports and spare parts… And a fighter pilot must be given enough food and drink and sent to bed after the colossal physical and psychological strain of an air fight. It's other people who have to take 300 kilos of gas to the aircraft in buckets (is the refueller has really been lost). And it's not about ambitions and whims, but a requirement of guidelines and simple common sense. The so-called "redeployment" of air staff – apart from any technical and other teams and services – inevitably results in the loss of combat effectiveness.

        One link broken, the whole chain is broken. The first "redeployment" phase is quickly (in a matter of less than two days with air forces of the Western front) followed by the second one: the pilots "got into trucks and left". Or left on foot – which also resulted in the loss of most scarce pilots in addition to the loss of expensive aircrafts.

        Air units of the North-Western front got "redeployed" in the same way and with similar consequences. Front command documents that survived tell that it did not just fail to direct the process, but could also hardly imagine the scale of the spontaneous "redeployment". The reader can remember that the first report of the North-Western front Staff dated 22:00 June, 22 estimated air force losses across the whole front as 56 aircrafts destroyed and 32 damaged. The next day, at 22:00 on June 23, the Operational summary #03 contained the following front casualty figures for the front air units: "14 aircrafts destroyed, 8 of them in Mitava, 15 aircrafts damaged." (9, page 57). These losses seem to be minimal. But in a few days the front command acknowledges it does not have any air forces anymore: "Air forces of the front sustained terrible losses… and are not capable of supporting and covering land troops and attacking enemy effectively at the moment. 75% of crews are preserved. 80 % of materiel is lost (highlighted by me. – M.S.)". It's not even clear when this report was sent: it starts with the time of sending (20:35, June 26), but has the following phrase in the end: "I request to hand over to me on the 26th of June, 1941…"

         The scene is even worse based on the documents of "special departments". Thus, we can see the following in the report by the deputy chief of the 3rd Control (military counter-espionage) F. Tutushkin dated July 8, 1941:

"… Redeployment to other airfields was unorganized, each division commander acted independently without regard to instructions from the Air Force command of the district. Aircrafts landed in chaos, which resulted in 150 aircrafts accumulating on certain airfields... Crews left without materiel were lounging and are only going for materiel (which arrives very slowly) right now…" 

         A week later a special report from the 3rd Control 37738 dated July 14 tells the following:

"…The handful of fighters of the North-Western front Air Force is inactive due to the lack of compressed air required to start engines. Bombers sent to destroy enemy manpower without any cover from fighters sustain great losses both in material and operating personnel.

        Evacuation of bases and units from front lines is unorganized; command itself is in panic which results in lots of ammunition and other technical supplies being lost… On the 6th of July the 25th air base of the 8th air division was redeployed from the Karamyshev town; 4 platforms were conveyed to transport supplies, but Colonel Sh. ordered to blow up the rest of bombs and fuel, destroy 9 aircrafts and drop ShKAS machine guns into wells. This was done, and platforms together with auto vehicles were used to transport command staff's personal property (motorbikes, bicycles, cars shot down).

        The 13th, 127th and 206th air bases, being on panic retreat, left most of supplies on the territory occupied by the enemy without destroying any tactical supplies. Commander of the 127th air base left 5,144 air bombs of different kinds, 442,500 rifle and air defense shells and 10 ShKAS machine guns on the Groudjai field. 18 carriages of air bombs, 3 million air defense shells, several tons of fuel, ration and technical depots and warehouses were left in Siauliai.

        Having lost all the bases, air forces of the front have to overtake ammunition, fuel and motor transport from the Leningrad military district depots, while these supplies are not intended to provide two fronts and thus can not completely satisfy North-Western air forces…" (151).

 

         We have raised a question above, in the beginning of Chapter 24: how can this great difference in the numbers of aircrafts lost on airfields of different Red Army units and troops be explained? Now we can answer this question. The answer is very simple. As the main reason for aircraft casualties on the airfields was the panic "redeployment", so the number of aircrafts lost (that is, abandoned on empty airfields) depended directly on the tempo of the Wehrmacht's advance on different areas of the Soviet-German front. And what is very important about that, connection between the tempos of retreat of Red Army land units and "redeployment" of air forces was a two-way one.

         Bridges, roads, passages, depots, command posts, communication centers must be covered from the air at any meaningful action, be it attack, defense or retreat. And nevertheless, it's global withdrawal with great masses of troops getting out of trenches and covers and turning into long multi-kilometer march columns when gaining and maintaining air dominance becomes the most important task. Without it being fulfilled, march columns would turn into a target for enemy aircrafts, and withdrawal would inevitably turn into panic retreat. In the armies of the 20th century air forces are (or must by) rear-guard of retreat: they must be the last to leave the battleground. In June 1941 everything was done exactly vice versa, with German air forces raging in the skies unpunished (which is confirmed by thousands of witnesses) to become the most important means to demoralize the Red Army. On the other side, chaotic retreat of land units here and there forced air commanders to make a decision of an urgent "redeployment"…

         Enemy advance tempo in the Southern front area in June 1941 were close to zero (full-scale offensive of Romanian and German forces there only started on the 2nd of July), so there was no "redeployment" of Southern front air forces in June 1941 at all, which resulted in minimal losses of aircrafts. Fighter regiments of air forces of the Front only lost 1 to 3 planes irretrievably each on the first day of war. Achievement of the "devastating German air force" were just as well modest on the subsequent days. As a result, by the 10th of July air forces of the peripheral Southern front exceeded the three other fronts altogether in the number of fighters (537 units)! (23). The fate of the 69th fighter air regiment dislocated near Odessa is remarkable. This regiment under command of the famous Soviet pilot and commander L.L.Shestakov fought in the skies above Kishinev and Odessa for 115 days without any redeployment. It fought with those "completely obsolete" I-16 fighters with which it entered the war. Pilots of the 69th fighter regiment shot down (or reported shooting down, which would be more exact) 94 German and Romanian planes during this period of time.

         Air forces of the Leningrad district, Baltic and Northern Fleets did not redeploy anywhere in the first weeks of war, either. This resulted in the effectiveness of German air strikes at Soviet airfields being normal (that is, quite low) in this area.  Example of the 13th fighter air regiment is extremely remarkable. Two squadrons of this fighter regiment from the Baltic Fleet air force based … in Finland, on the Hanko peninsula (a Soviet naval and air base was created there after the first Soviet-Finnish war). After the second Finnish war begun (June 25, 1941) the proved to be reachable not only for aircrafts, but also for the Finnish artillery, and was constantly bombarded. According to the "logic" commonly used to describe the defeat of the Western front air forces, the 13th fighter air regiment should have been destroyed in a matter of hours. The way it happened to the 74th attack air regiment from Belov's division. In fact, the 13th fighter air regiment kept fighting on Hanko till late autumn of 1941. In March of 1942 this regiment, being one of the best in the Soviet air forces, was renamed to the 4th Guards Regiment. For more than a year and a half (till the beginning of January, 1943) the regiment fought quite successfully with its "donkeys" (I-16) being rather worn-out.  And it fought very well: in only a month (from the 12th of March till the 13th of April 1942) the 4th fighter air regiment of Guards reported 54 German aircrafts destroyed, having only lost two I-16 units (25, 32).

         Troops of the German Army Group "South" did not advance through Ukraine fast enough from the German command's point of view. As a result, the "magic wand" of striking at airfields failed to work properly there: as we have mentioned above, air forces of the South-Western front lost "only" one fifth of the original amount of airplanes on the ground in the first week of battle. Connection between the actions (withdrawal) of land troops and dynamics of losses of air units in different areas of the South-Western front is also quite evident. By the end of June reports on combat actions and enemy aircrafts destroyed start missing divisions of the rightmost (northern) flank of the front (14th MAD, 15th MAD, 16th MAD); later, in the first half of July, the wave of retreat in the southern flank of the front sweeps away the 63rd SAD, 64th FAD and 44th FAD which managed to survive in June.

          The situation was worst of all in Western Byelorussia and in the Baltic states where the Wehrmacht tank divisions advanced 50-60 kilometers a day in the first weeks of war – it was there where the "redeployment" of Soviet air forces was most massive. The further from the day and time of a "sudden attack", the greater figures of "losses" (that is, aircrafts found by the Germans on empty airfields of the Western and North-Western fronts) become.

         At 13:30 on the 22nd of June, 1941 Chief of the General Staff of the German land troops Colonel General Galder makes the following record in his diary: "Our air forces destroyed 800 enemy aircrafts."  These figures do not change by the end of the day: "Luftwaffe command reported having destroyed 850 enemy aircrafts today."  But in three days, in the evening of the 24th of June, Galder makes the following record: "Enemy air forces, having sustained terrible losses (2000 aircrafts approximately) redeployed rearwards completely" (12)

           And this is the very start of the process. In a few more days the number of Soviet aircrafts destroyed on the 22nd of June, 1941 is estimated by the Germans as 1811 (instead of 850), with 1489 of them being reported as "destroyed on the ground". Achievements of the 2nd Luftwaffe Air Fleet increase five times by the 28th of June (1570 versus 300 in the first day reports). Losses of the North-Western front air forces in the first three days of war are increased 15 times in German reports (1500 instead of 100), with 1100 of them reported as "destroyed on the ground". Actually, what should we expect from official (mostly propagandistic) enemy reports if such a weird term as "unaccounted decrease" appears in official document of the Soviet air forces in summer of 1941? According to the report made by Colonel I.Ivanov (staff officer of the Red Army Air Force), this "unaccounted number" amounted to 5,240 aircrafts by the 31st of July, 1941! (175). The giant mass of equipment abandoned was attributed to the "sudden strike at airfields" behindhand. And nobody said a word against that – neither German pilots (which is clear) nor Soviet historians (which is even clearer)…

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.
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