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"German Air Tactics--Russian Front" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A translation of a Russian report on German air tactics in the Belgorod and Orel-Kursk sectors, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 33, September 9, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The importance of aircraft concentration over one particular area to support a ground thrust was recognized by the Germans in the battles on the Belgorod and Orel-Kursk sectors according to an article appearing in the "Red Star", 11 July 1943, as described by a field officer of the Red army. It was necessary for the Germans to concentrate aircraft in order to obtain local air superiority in these sectors even for a short time. The article in question follows in the form of an English paraphrased version of the translation.

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The distinguishing feature of the battles on the Belgorod and Orel-Kursk sectors during the past week has been one of fierce engagements over the battlefield. As distinct from former tactics, the Germans have set only one problem before their aircraft - the closest possible coordination with tank and infantry units in breaking through our [Russian] front line of defense and in exploiting the success. Thus, all the air engagements took place over a narrow strip, a few kilometers wide, along the entire front.

The tendency of the Germans is to mass as many planes as possible over the battlefield at the greatest possible height. In doing this, several new aircraft have appeared on the front, such as, the Ju-87 dive bomber with retractable landing gear and mounting a 37-mm gun; the long range 4-engine He-177 bomber with a heavy bomb load; the Me-109G with a pressurized cabin designed for high-altitude battles.

The work of our fighter aircraft over the battlefield is divided into three main parts, closely linked together:

(1) Combat with enemy fighters to gain air supremacy so that other types of our aircraft can operate more safely in the area;

(2) Direct support and protection of our bombers and Stormoviks during raids on ground formations;

(3) Attacks on enemy bombers to reduce the effectiveness of their bombing.

This last type of activity is one of the most important in fighter operations.

The Germans use two methods for supporting and protecting their Junkers and Heinkel bombers over the battlefield:

(1) Massed concentrations of German fighters are used for neutralizing our fighters in the front-line area; (2) fighter escort is divided into two parts - one fighter escort preceding the bombers to engage our fighters behind the front lines, and, simultaneously, another close escort accompanies the enemy bombers.

Practice has shown that if the German fighter tactics are broken up in time, the enemy loses the initiative and suffers heavy losses. The following two episodes are examples of this:

On the first day of the battle one large group of our fighter planes on its way to the front, was met several times by a "shield" of German fighters. This group then divided into two parts. One part engaged with the enemy "shield", as before, holding the Germans in the area where they had chosen to intercept our fighters, while the other part changed course and intercepted groups of German bombers as they came up to the front line.

On another sector of the front one of our fighter formations continued the attempt to break through this shield, rather than going around it. The enemy, however, by distributing their forces at various altitudes, was able to keep our fighters engaged. Although we inflicted heavy losses on the enemy fighters, their bombers were unmolested.

The fact that the enemy has large plane concentrations adjacent to front lines must not cause fighters to be diverted from their main objective - that of attacking German bombers. Although fighter-versus-fighter battles clear the sky of enemy aircraft, this type of activity should be coordinated with fighters sent out only to intercept German bombers. Hence the tactics (a) German "shields" of fighters must be engaged by aircraft sent up for this specific purpose. (b) at the same time, other fighters must be sent out to intercept and destroy German bombers as they approach the front lines.

Such tactics have had good results on one sector of the Belgorod front, where the majority of planes shot down were intercepted bombers.

German ground forces are well equipped with antiaircraft artillery and large fighter patrols are maintained to intercept our Stormoviks and bombers. The antiaircraft guns are coordinated with fighter operations.

As a group of our Stormoviks prepares to bomb, the German antiaircraft immediately ceases firing to give the Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs a chance to attack. Therefore, our fighters must accompany the Stormoviks throughout the whole raid so that they will not suffer heavy losses in such attacks.

The experience of these recent battles shows that the work of protecting and supporting our bombers and Stormoviks must be organized in two ways:

(1) Close escort fighters retain their former tactics, protecting the Ilyushin-2 Stormoviks from large fighter patrols.

(2) When no enemy fighters are in the air, our fighters aid the Stormoviks in neutralizing enemy antiaircraft batteries.

The commander who organizes the escort should detail several fighters for this duty. In fighting our Stormoviks the Germans use a number of methods based on surprise. Their fighters keep to the side, ready at any moment to exploit the least error made by our escort formation.

For example, a shock group of Yakovlav-7 fighters engaged 4 FW-190's which had been specially sent out for diversion purposes at approximately 3,200 feet to 5,000 feet above a group of our Stormoviks. Seeing this, 10 other FW-190's attacked the Stormoviks which had been left with only two fighters to protect them. The enemy was beaten off but did not suffer any losses, as would have been the case had our shock group been at hand.

The duty of our commanders is to keep the initiative, and this can only be done if each new tactical method of the enemy is quickly understood and countered.


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