Chapter 1. 250.000

         "From the very first days of the Great Patriotic War German air forces dominated in the air."

          This thesis has never been in doubt in the Soviet war history literature. Each time when our war historians had to explain yet another defeat, another loss of people and equipment, another failure to obey the orders and frustration of all plans, it came out to help them – the invincible and legendary, almighty and ever-present German air force. Like a furious Valkyrie from ancient Scandinavian sagas, Messerschmitts and Junkers rush over the pages of native scientific and historical works, devastating depots and railway stations – in hundreds, tanks – in thousands, land troops – in tens of divisions… And besides – in a couple of days, and what's most surprising – without any rebuff from Soviet air forces.

         Talking about Soviet air forces – where were they?  Where were all those "Stalin falcons", heroes of all pre-war movies, idols for all girls, beauty and pride of the Soviet land?  Where were those aircrafts, with tens of records they had made, eclipsing the Sun above Moscow in days of air parades?  Where were the results of great efforts of huge air factories, of millions of people who had worked in three shifts well before the war, in years of peace, from dawn till dawn, with the sound of cheerful marches?..

         That's a complicated question. Communist historians understood it well – and that's why they built up powerful and multi-level defense to protect the myth of the "flash-like defeat" of Soviet air forces. Firmness in voice and no doubts – that's what should be above all. The whole Soviet historiography always considered the vanishing of Red Army air forces to be a thing absolutely normal, inevitable and the only possible under the circumstances ("sudden attack... lack of radio communication... enemy advantage in numbers… massive strikes at all airfields in western districts…").

         At the same time "historians" from the GLAVPUR (Political Directorate of Red Army) – exactly the way people with shoulder-straps should act – were preparing the second defense line to which they withdrew in an orderly way (unlike the summer of 1941!) as the Perestroika came and the myth of Luftwaffe's advantage in numbers was knocked down like a house of cards with part of archives declassified. The new Perestroika-times "truth" was the following: "recent publications unexpectedly helped us to find out that Soviet air forces DID outnumber the enemy, BUT:

- airplanes were absolutely obsolete and incomparable to German ones (”poorly armed… wooden…burned like candles…motor capacity of only 100 hours… fighters could not even catch up with a German bomber…")

- Luftwaffe aces with two-year combat experience were resisted by rookies ("six-months training… six flight hours in a "box-pattern"... prepared for parades and not for war... only 1192 crews were prepared for night flights...")

- the evil and (at the same time!) trustful comrade Stalin believed the peaceful intentions of his new friend Hitler (with his old friends almost all having been executed by the moment), and therefore prohibited to get ready for resistance, executing honest commanders who tried to get their units operational in violation of "Stalin's order" (which order? when issued? what about?).

        Finally, Victor Suvorov, who had raked up the stale swamp of Soviet historiography with his books ("The Icebreaker", "The M Day") developed a new hypothesis rather probable at the first sight. It's only the most "lazy and uncurious" ones today who do not know "the way it was in fact" yet: we were getting ready to invade Europe, moved all air forces to frontier markers – where it finally was nailed by the Germans. With the very first strike. At dawn of June 22. All at once.

        The "first devastating blow" myth caught fancy of a native reader. It gets replicated diligently even by those who do not seem to be in sympathy with Suvorov (rather the opposite). For example, a quite high-status historian D.Khazanov publishes a sizeable research named "The invasion. Start of the air war at the Soviet-German front" (56). The whole "invasion" fell upon one single day of June 22. June 23 and subsequent days do not seem to exist – they are of no interest and get replaced with analysis of reasons for the defeat that happened. And here's a historian somewhat less known to public: M.Timin from Ulyanovsk writes a book called "On the edge of the main blow: reasons for the defeat of the Western Special military district Air Forces". The author considers description of one single day of war – the first one – to be quite enough to start analyzing "reasons for the defeat". The second, the third and all the subsequent days are left "off-screen" in a usual manner…


         It's hard to argue against the common aberration – but let's try to.  First of all, let's try to find out: did the thing reasons for which have been discussed so actively for more than half a century actually happen? Was the Soviet air force really destroyed in the first days (or the first weeks, to be more reserved) of war?

"…June 26. About 20 enemy bombers are attacking us. Explosions are everywhere. Our fighters are not to be seen…

…June 27. Enemy bombers caught us again. It's getting really hard…

…The rain ended at dawn, with aircrafts appearing almost simultaneously and attacking troops of our division continuously... The number of enemy attacks was getting greater and greater each hour… the enemy completely dominated the air – at least here…

… the strike group had to stand a bomber attack on its way to Dubno… our anti-aircraft guns which keep firing at enemy airplanes over and over again failed to stop continuous air attacks – up to 80 times a day... bombs fell on columns of military equipment wave by wave. In the smoke of vehicles burning…"

       That's exactly the way – almost literally – that the first days of war get described in the books my dear reader used to read, isn't it? Authors of the memoirs quoted above tell us about the events of June 1941, at the very same war... But it was not Soviet, but rather German tank columns "in the smoke of vehicles burning..." (in fact, it's all about troops of Guderian Panzergruppe 2 and Kleist Panzergruppe 1; the "smoke of vehicles burning" also covered columns of the Gott Panzergruppe 3 those days, which was massively attacked with all air forces of the Western front accompanied by long-range bomber aviation).

        Can one draw any long-range conclusions based on personal memories of a couple enemy soldiers? Certainly not.  That's why we shall turn to a serious source – the monumental "1941: lessons and conclusions" research (3).

 This monograph was only published in the end of 1992 under authority of the General Staff of the then "United Armed Force of the CIS" with a label surprisingly modest for works of this scale ("for official use only"). Chief of the scientific team is Doctor of Military Science senior researcher Major General V.P.Nelasov. There are hundreds of links to CAMD (Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense) holdings in the end of the book. So, the authors let fall an interesting phrase on page 151 in a subclause:

"…of the 250 thousand air missions made by Soviet air forces in the first three months of war…"

       Two hundred fifty thousand air missions in three months.

      We are talking of destroyed air forces, aren't we?

       Halt. A misprint has probably crept in a serious work. A typist just added another 0? Nothing of that kind. All the 0s are in their places. Let's open the monograph by Kozhevnikov named "Air Force Command and Staff of the Red Army in the Great Patriotic War" and issued in the Brezhnev's "stagnancy" period quarter a century ago (27). The author (with references to archive holdings, as well) tells us that front-line air forces made 45 thousand air missions in the first 18 days of war (till July 10), with 2,112 missions more made by long-range bomber pilots. 47 thousand missions in 18 days exactly match the total number of 250 thousand in three months.

         Cognition comes through comparison. To see the true value of the figures above, let's recall that French air fighters made about 10 thousand missions in the five weeks of May and June, 1940 (that is, almost all the period of war and defeat of France) (21). German fighters made approximately 8 thousand air missions in the first three weeks of the "battle for England". German bombers only made 22 thousand air missions in the three most dramatic months of the colossal battle in the skies of Britain (August, September and October of 1940) (78).

          June of 1942 proved to be record-breaking by its intensity for the Luftwaffe: Germans made 83,949 air missions of all kinds at the Eastern front (according to data from Soviet air surveillance stations). Let's say it once again – this is the record-breaking peak level of combat intensity for German air forces (under the pressure of circumstances – the epic offensive from Kharkov to Stalingrad was taking place on the land).

         The peak of combat intensity for Soviet air forces fell upon the battle at the Kursk Bulge. In 40 long summer days of 1943 Soviet pilots made 89,300 air missions (25). In other words, Soviet air forces – "defeated and destroyed on the ground" – flew in the summer of 1941 with an intensity which could only be achieved later by both German and Soviet pilots for only one month throughout the whole war!

         Why do the same phrases keep being repeated throughout the great number of combat reports of summer, 1941: "our air forces are missing all the battle long…enemy air forces literally terrorize our troops, completely unpunished… our aircrafts are nowhere to be seen… main losses – and panic – are incurred by enemy aircrafts acting at fly-by altitudes almost unpunished, while our air forces are missing in the area..."

         By 1944 (not in three, but in 12 months of the year) Luftwaffe fighters made 69.8 thousand air missions at the Eastern front, with 226.5 thousand missions completed by bombers and attackers (131). 296 thousand missions in total. Throughout the whole year. And while German air forces had already lost – forever – their domination in the skies above the Eastern front by that moment, nobody ever said they were "destroyed" or reported that an aircraft with a hakenkreuz was not to be seen in 1944 in the war skies...


         It's commonly known that every coin has two sides.

         250,000 air missions are incredibly much.  Much when compared to the legend of the "air forces destroyed". Much when compared to poor results – and when compared to effective combat actions of the Luftwaffe, which, as it is commonly assumed (let's underline the latter comment with the heaviest line!), incurred terrible losses to Soviet troops.

         On the other side, 250,000 air missions in three months is surprisingly little. To be more exact – it's five times as little as it should have been, taking into account the original numbers of Soviet air forces and their aircraft replenishment capabilities. This statistical data is available for all the interested ones nowadays (I'll give the complete report in Chapter 3 of this book).

         According to the minimal estimated value (except for reconnaissance, sanitary and transport aircrafts, obsolete I-15bis biplanes and slow-moving four-engine TB-3 giants, hydroplanes from the fleet air forces, as well as air regiments and division that were being formed), the total numbers of Soviet air forces deployed on the battle scene by June 22, 1941 amounted to 4.8 thousand fighters and 3.5 thousand bombers. According to average figures of the combat air forces intensity (which figures are modest indeed ­– for the middle of summer with more than 17 daylight hours) – two missions a day for fighters, one mission a day for bombers – such a group was to provide for 13 thousand air missions per day. In fact, there were only 2.5 thousand missions a day made in the first 18 days of war.

         Conclusions we draw will be just as well strange when we look at the actual number of missions made by individual units and troops. Thus, two thousand missions made by long-range bomber pilots by July 10 mean (taking into consideration the initial numbers of nine long-range bomber divisions deployed in the Western battle scene) only one mission in 11 days. The reader should not be confused with the "long-range bomber" term. These are not giant B-17 "flying fortresses", but rather two-engine DB-3f  bombers, with their take-off weight being much lower than that of Junkers and Heinkels which bombed our troops many times a day.  The notorious "sudden strike at airfields peacefully sleeping" did not decrease the numbers of long-range bomber air force by a single plane. Long-range bombers were allocated near Novgorod, Smolensk, Kursk, Kiev and Zaporozhye before the war. Not a single attack was made against these airfields on the 22nd of June, and long-range bomber pilots only learned about the war with Germany at meetings held at all troops after Molotov's speech on the all-Union air.

        It was also at the meeting (at noon on the 22nd of June, 1941) that pilots of the 202nd bomber air regiment from the 41st air division learned about the war. This regiment was allocated near the town of Kingisepp (Leningrad region), and its airfields did not catch any enemy attacks in the first days of war. A monograph devoted to the war history of this regiment reads that "with only 22 planes in the regiment, the combat load falling upon each of the planes was 3 to 4 missions a day". And this is followed by summary data from the combat activity report of the 202nd bomber air regiment at the Leningrad front: "Throughout the combat actions between June 22 and August 28, 1941 the regiment made 194 air missions… 107 tons of bombs were dropped on enemy heads, about 100 tanks and mobile guns, 2 troop trains, 1400 various motor vehicles and wagons were destroyed…" (85).

        Let us leave alone the incredible efficiency of the regiment's combat actions, let us not think about the fact that if 194 missions of light SB bombers were enough to destroy "100 tanks and 1400 motor vehicles and wagons" (which make about a half of all materiel of a German tank division), then it must be amazing that 250,000 air missions left a single Wehrmacht soldier alive or a wagon intact… Let's answer a simple, purely arithmetic question. The number of missions specified must have been made by the regiment in three days – basing on the combat intensity specified ("the combat load falling upon each of the planes was 3 to 4 missions a day"). By June 25, not August 28.

        And the Leningrad district is the northern flank of the war. Air forces of the Odessa district and the Black Sea Fleet fought in the skies above the southern flank. 900 fighters and 350 bombers in total. A single Luftwaffe 4th air corps resisted this giant air armada – with 116 Messerschmitts in its ranks by June 22, 1941. There were 47 "messers" more in the ranks of the III/JG-52 fighter air group guarding rear objects in Romania. One of the monographs devoted to combat actions in Ukraine in the summer of 1941 reads the following: "In the days of heaviest combat for Berdichev (starting with July 13) only South front air forces worked in the area of the 6th Army, making 30 to 80 air missions a day" (40). 30 to 80 missions a day of "heaviest combat" could be made by one or two squadrons 12 airplanes each – not by air forces of the whole front!

        That was the strange war of the summer of 1941. Giant Soviet air forces faded like snow under the sun in spring – and the few planes left were only used at one fifth of their actual capabilities; the number of air missions amounted to tens and hundreds of thousands – failing to stop the enemy…

        After these – and many other – facts went public, it became very clear how wise and far-seeing Soviet historians were to have prepared plenty of stories of "dead technical weakness" of Soviet air forces. Without this theory prepared, they would have had to answer many painful questions. With the theory, one needed no questions at all – plywood "racks" incomparable to German aircrafts. Scuppered like hens… Why did we lose the war in the air? Planes were bad. And what tells they were bad? But we lost the war in the air…

        Being well ahead of time, I would like to warn the reader at once that any discussion of combat characteristics of Soviet planes at the start of war is absolutely senseless. The author is absolutely sure that even if our air forces had been completely re-armed with MiGs – no the MiG-3s of that time, but rather with modern MiG-29s – the outcome would have been the same. The most profound readers – those who are not going to just take anyone's word – are to deal with the next nine chapters, where we'll try to investigate the two questions in detail: why airplanes fly, and how they fight.

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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