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"Some Features of German Air Tactics" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A report from Russian sources on WWII German air tactics on the Eastern Front, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 32, August 26, 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.]


In a recent issue of the Red Star, the following article written by a Red Army Staff Officer, describes some features of German air tactics during the spring operations on the Eastern Front.

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During the operations conducted this spring certain features of German air tactics stood out very clearly. Great air battles fought in the Kuban area and other regions of the front give many examples which characterize present tactics of the German Air Force.

In the first place let us note the use of very strong concentration of planes of all types for a blow on a chosen target. In order to achieve strong concentrations of planes at a given time on a target, the Germans, besides considerable regrouping of squadrons, use the following maneuver: groups of German bombardment planes based on airfields at a considerable distance from the chosen target take off according to a prearranged time schedule arriving over the target simultaneously, or within a very short time of each other. For example, during one raid in which several hundred bombers took part, the planes were over the target only 20 to 25 minutes. These planes flew from airfields widely scattered in depth and in front. Such a maneuver is often necessary as our [Russian] reconnaissance planes usually discover large concentrations near the front lines in time for our attack planes to disperse such concentrations. It is necessary to note that the maneuver described above is not always successful. Organizational difficulties, changes in weather conditions, and actions of opposing aviation often disrupt the plans of the German command. In one particular instance where five groups were to take part in a raid, only one reached its destination and was there dispersed by our air defense.

Combining both the concentration of planes on airfields near the front lines, and the air maneuver, Germans are often able to achieve strong concentrations of air power on a given target. This is done in the following manner: pursuit planes with limited gasoline capacity, and light bombers, are gathered on the airfields in the vicinity of the chosen target. For this purpose the Germans use squadrons trained for direct support of ground troops. The main force of bombardment planes follows a time schedule, taking off from widely scattered airfields.

The character of the German air attack depends on the air situation and the objective. If large numbers of fighter planes are available they arrive over the target ahead of the bombers. They endeavor to drive from the air the largest possible number of our fighter planes leaving the air over the target area uncontested to the bombers and their fighter protection. If sufficiently large numbers of fighter planes are not available, the bombers attack with almost no protection.

In the massed attack of fighter planes that precedes the appearance of the bombers each group of fighter planes echelons vertically and in depth in such a way that it can fight independently of the others. Missions of these groups are varied. Some groups composed mainly of Me-109's and FW-190's engage fighter planes, employing horizontal and vertical maneuver. Often during the course of the battle Germans detach groups of four or six of the most experienced fighter pilots in order to intercept our reinforcements. Other groups somewhat smaller than the first endeavor to secure control of the air over the target.

The following example drawn from actual battle illustrates German methods of attacking our bomber formations. A group of "Lagg 3" fighters was protecting an echelon of "Ilushin 2" bombers which were operating over a battle field. In the vicinity of the target our planes were met by German fighters. After trying to separate our fighters from the bombers, German planes, for the most part Messerschmitts, formed an "echelon in line ahead" on the right side of our bombers while the fighter escort was echeloned on the left side. This maneuver gave the German fighters certain advantages. It was difficult for our fighters to intercept the attack against the bombers without subjecting themselves to fire from succeeding enemy planes; each enemy plane was protected by the following one; and enemy planes could take turns firing against the same target.

Germans have also changed somewhat their bomber formations. Typical of the formations used recently is a group of 30 to 40 Heinkels or Junkers which fly either in a wide formation or in groups of 9 to 12 planes "in line ahead". On some occasions the number of bombers in group was increased from 60 to 80 planes. During daylight hours these attack in large groups, while at night they attack singly or in small groups.

Against our ground forces Germans use low-flying or diving attacks made with the improved Junkers-87 which they call Panzerjagdflugzeug. It is now equipped with two automatic cannon, its speed is slightly increased (320 km/ph), and its range is increased. In combatting these attacks our "Ilushin 2" which has very strong armament is especially useful.


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