May 2, 2015

1943. Heavy Air Fighting Over the Central Front

Pushing Toward Smolensk
Russian airmen in front of a Yak plane
Bill Downs

CBS

Sunday, 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.