February 22, 2016

1943. Soviet Air Campaign Targets Camouflaged Nazi Supply Lines

Camouflage Tactics on the Eastern Front
A German armored train (Panzerzug) in winter camouflage carrying a Panzer 38(t)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 15, 1943

There is a good-sized air war going on in Russia which the world has heard very little about. It's the day in, day out bombing of German communications—a Soviet practice which has become so common that the Russians have assumed everyone knows these bombings are continually going on.

These Russian bombing and strafing missions are similar to the fighter and fighter-bomber sweeps made over Western Europe every day by the American and British air forces. The big difference is that the Soviet air force has about ten times the amount of territory to cover.

As in France and the Low Countries, Hitler has found on the Eastern Front that his railroad and highway communications are too dangerous for daylight movement of troops and supplies. He has to operate at night.

As a result, the Soviet air force also shifted its bombing schedule to the hours of darkness. And now this Russian air war on German troops and equipment being moved to the Soviet front has turned almost entirely into a night battle.

The Germans have felt the damaging weight of the Russian bombs and have resorted to all kinds of trickery—it's an improved type of trickery which the Nazis started using during the early bombings of Germany by the Royal Air Force.

For example, the Germans have taken to trying to hide whole trains and evacuating entire railroad yards behind their lines. Soviet reconnaissance planes will report a crowded railroad yard or junction and the Soviet air command will order it to be bombed. On some occasions bombers have arrived at the target to find that the trains have disappeared. The bombers have found that the Germans sometimes run the trains out of towns onto sidings or into deep cuts in the hills. There they try to camouflage the trains to save them from harm.

On other occasions the Germans have set up false railroad stations near the real target. They group their searchlights and antiaircraft guns around this false target. Then, when the attack begins, the searchlights go on and the guns open up as if protecting this decoy. Nazi engineers have even devised explosions which look like bomb bursts on the false target. They also set dummy fires. This is designed to fool a bomber crew into thinking that the rest of his squadron has found the real target and is bombing it.

The Soviet command also has some tricks up its sleeve to combat these methods. "Pathfinder" planes are assigned to lead the bombers to the correct target. These planes also fly around the target during an attack and report the damage done.

But mainly the Soviet command depends on basic bombing tactics to hit their targets. This entails constant consecutive attacks, accuracy in bombing, and concentric assault from different directions.

The success of Soviet bombing strategy this spring at a time when Hitler is trying to regroup and reinforce his Eastern armies is of extreme importance in relation to the fighting that will be done in Russia this summer.