Fighting for Air Supremacy
|Ilyushin Il-4 bomber|
April 21, 1943
With the spring lull on the front bogging down the Red Army in every sector but the Kuban, we've been hearing more about Russia's bombing force than ever before. No foreigner knows very much about the Red Army bombers. But the pictures and the few details of these planes that have been printed add up to some pretty impressive facts.
The Soviet bombers have proved just how impressive they are to the citizens of Königsberg and Danzig. And a lot of other German cities are going to find out this summer when flying weather gets better. The Russian bombing force is growing.
Here's what we do know about Russia's bomb carriers.
The Soviet bombing force is based on five different types of Russian-built planes. The biggest plane is a four-motored heavy bomber which looks a little like our Liberator. It's called the TB-7. It was this type of plane that carried Mr. Molotov to the United States and Britain last year. And it's the plane that gets long distance heavy bombing assignments.
The Russian medium bomber is a bi-motored affair that looks like our B-25. These Soviet light-heavyweight planes are believed to have a longer range than the American-built planes of similar type. They also participate in the Russian bombings of Germany. The latest is called the SB-3.
We know very little about the Soviet dive-bomber. It's called the PF/PR/PB 2-8. It looks like the American A-20 attack bomber. Actually, this Soviet bomber is sort of a combination plane. It can be used as a dive-bomber or an attack bomber for bombing and strafing troops, or it can be used as a fighter bomber, and often is.
Then the smallest of the Russian bombers you already have heard about. That's the Stormovik, which is also known in Russia as the IL-2. The Germans call this plane "Black Death." It's a single motored job with guns sticking out of it like quills on a porcupine. It's not a very fast plane, but its armament makes it an infantryman's terror. This is probably one of the most successful war-planes developed in this war. It carries light bombs as well as special antitank rocket equipment.
And supplementing this equipment are the American planes sent to the Russian front. These planes include many medium bombers and attack bombers which now are attacking the rear of the German army. The Russian pilots love these machines, and they are the best manned and best equipped ships on the Russian front. The Soviet air officers to whom I have talked only say they wish they had more of them. The American lend-lease officials here assure me that more of these planes are arriving every day ready for action.
And it's an easy job to put these American planes into battle. All the ground crews have to do is take some red paint and turn the White Star of the United States Air Force into the Red Star of Soviet Russia.
March 21, 1943
The news from the Battle of the Donets this morning is more encouraging than it has been for the past several days. The German drive seems to have bogged on the wet right bank of the river, and the Red Army is inflicting heavy losses on the Nazi forces both in men and equipment.
This morning's communiqué from the Soviet high command admits that the Germans have made some progress in the Chuguyev sector, but they paid an exceedingly high price for a minor advance.
But on the other sectors of the Donets river battle line, not a single German advance was reported. Front dispatches say that the Soviet resistance has been so telling in this fighting for the river that the Germans have been forced to change their tactics.
In the early days of this counteroffensive, the Nazi command took advantage of its superiority in manpower and equipment and rushed the Red Army back by sheer force of arms in direct frontal assaults.
Today, however, the Germans are finding this to be too expensive. They have given up these frontal assaults and are now trying infiltrating flank attacks. This one fact alone makes good reading, especially when you consider just how different this battle is from the Nazi blitzkrieg warfare that used to carry Hitler's armies forward at a rate of twelve to fifteen miles a day.
Flying weather along the entire Russian front has improves during the past week. As a result, the war birds are again in full flight. For the first time this spring, large scale air operations are being used by both the Russians and the Germans to support their offensives.
The heaviest air fighting in the past few days has been on the front extending southward from Vyazma to the Bryansk sector. Here Soviet pilots have for the first time reported large numbers of the latest Focke-Wulf fighters. These fighters include not only the early two-cannon P-W 190, but also the latest four-cannon jobs, the Focke-Wulf 190 A-3. The Red Army fliers say that these new German fighters are out in large numbers on this central sector.
The air fighting is mostly done over the battlefields, although some of the fiercest fighting has been during Soviet air attacks on German supply bases in the rear.
The Russian pilots, like the American and British fliers operating from England, report that the Germans, even in their newest plane, will not give battle unless they have the advantage both in numbers and tactical position.
The new Russian fighter planes—that is the last models of the MiGs, the Yaks—have shown no inferiority in performance in these latest air battles on the Eastern Front. Twenty-three air battles were fought over the Central sector during the past two days. During this short period the Germans lost seventeen fighters.
Both the Russians and the Germans are taking advantage of the clear moonlit nights to carry out large scale night bombing on supply points. In the daytime, the bombing is mostly confined to Stormer operations by fighter-bombers who search out troop concentrations and artillery positions.
And remember, American planes are also playing a part in this Red Army aerial offensive. Medium bombers and fighters from the United States helped break the German resistance at Rzhev and Vyazma. Presumably they are still in the battle as the Russians push toward Smolensk.