Russian Offensive

Operation Barbarossa

It will be the duty of the Air Force to paralyse and eliminate the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force as far as possible. It will also support the main operations of the Army, i.e. those of the central Army Group and of the vital flank of the Southern Army Group. Russian railways will either be destroyed or, in accordance with operational requirements, captured at their most important points (river crossings) by the bold employment of parachute and airborne troops.

In order that we may concentrate all our strength against the enemy Air Force and for the immediate support of land operations, the Russian armaments industry will not be attacked during the main operations. Such attacks will be made only after the conclusion of mobile warfare, and they will be concentrated first on the Urals area.

Adolf Hitler
Extract from Hitler's War Directive No 21: Operation 'Barbarossa'
18 December 1940

Operation Barbarossa 1941 – 1943

Timeline of the German Invasion of the Soviet Union - Up to the Defeat at Stalingrad

German tanks roll into the USSR

Operation Barbarossa: Was the German codename for the invasion of the USSR which took place on 22 June 1941. Launched by Hitler in violation of the existing non-aggression treaty with Stalin, it was designed to provide the Reich with 'living space in the East'.

The German dictator had advocated the conquest of the USSR as early as 1924 in his book, Mein Kampf. At the same time, the campaign was to lay the foundations for the expected conflict with the two Anglo-Saxon powers for primacy as a world power and to free Germany of the economic warfare the Allies were waging against it.

The German invasion marked the beginning of a rapacious war of annihilation and conquest in which a scorched earth policy was employed by both sides. Hitler intended a 'ruthless Germanization' of the occupied eastern territories, conducted with great severity.

Orders violating international law, such as the Kommissarbefehl, the order to execute all Red Army political commissars, and the 'Barbarossa jurisdiction Decree', which exempted German soldiers from prosecution if they committed a crime against any Soviet civilian, meant a departure from traditional military conduct for the Wehrmacht. At the same time, Einsatzgruppen were to carry out the murder of Jewish and Slav elements of the population.

1941 The Southern and Central Thrusts

  • June 22 1941 Operation Barbarossa begins:
  • Army Group North – Wilhem Ritter von Leeb
  • Army Group Centre – Feodor Von Bock
  • Army Group South – Gerd von Runstedt

Invade Soviet Territory and head for Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev respectively. Easy progress is made in the North and Centre but Runstedt meets desperate Soviet resistance in the South.

Date: 25 June 1941

June 24 – 30 1941 Army Group Centre seals off Soviet resistance into pockets at Bialystok, Novogrudok and Volkovysk

June 25 1941 Finland entered the war against the Soviet Union

June 26 1941 In the centre, Brest Litovsk falls after a four day siege. Manstein's panzers of Army Group North enter Daugavpils

July 1 1941 In the centre, Heinz Guderian's panzers cross the Berezina. Panzer spearheads of Army Group North cross the Dvina and advance on Pskov.

July 4 1941 Army Group North captures Ostrov and reaches the pre-1939 Russian frontier.

July 9 1941 Army Group Centre ends Soviet resistance in the Minsk pocket and captures Vitebsk

July 10 -11 Panzers of Army Group Centre cross the Dniepr. In the South, a Soviet counter-offensive by 5th and 6th Armies fails. Kleist's Panzers approach to within ten miles of Kiev.

July 15 1941 A breakthrough in the Centre leads to the encirclement and fall of Smolensk, cutting off a Soviet concentration of 300,000 men between Orsha and Smolensk.

July 20 1941 In the Centre, Bock orders Guderian to close the ring at Smolensk before any further advance to the East.

July 22 1941 After a month's scorching advance Army Group North is checked West of Lake Ilmen by the exhaustion of the troops.

July 30 1941 In the South Kleist begins to seal off the Soviet concentration at Uman

August 1941 In August 1941 the Regia Aeronautica sent an Air Corps of 1,900 personnel to the Eastern Front as an attachment to the "Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia" (Corpo di Spedizione Italiano in Russia, or CSIR) and then the "Italian Army in Russia" (Armata Italiana in Russia, or ARMIR) were known as the "Italian Air Force Expeditionary Corps in Russia" (Corpo Aereo Spedizione in Russia). These squadrons, initially consisting of 22° Gruppo CT with 51 Macchi C.200 fighters and 61° Gruppo with the Caproni Ca.311 bomber, supported the Italian armed forces from 1941 to 1943. They were initially based in the Ukraine and ultimately supported operations in the Stalingrad area. In mid 1942 the more modern Macchi C. 202 was introduced to operations in Russia. The CSIR was subsumed by the ARMIR in 1942 and the ARMIR was disbanded in early 1943 after disaster during the Battle of Stalingrad. The Air Corps pulled out of operations in January 1943, transferring to Odessa.

From 1944 to 1945, Italian personnel operated from the Baltic area and in the northern part of the Eastern Front under the direct command of the Luftwaffe under the name Air Transport Group 1 (Italian: 1° Gruppo Aerotrasporti "Terracciano" , German: 1° Staffel Transportfliegergruppe 10 (Ital)). This group was part of the National Republican Air Force of the Italian Social Republic.

August 3 1941 In the South, Kleist and Stulpnagel seal off the Uman pocket: the inner pincers close.

August 5 1941 End of Soviet resistance in the Smolensk pocket: Army Group Centre has succeeded in breaking out of the Smolensk land-bridge but is still faced with determined Soviet counterattacks in the South. Rumanian troops begin the 73 day siege of Odessa.

August 12 1941 Hitler insists on the destruction of the Soviet South-West Front before resuming the advance in the Centre, as Guderian heads South towards Gomel and Starodub. Army Group North advances on Leningrad from the Luga bridgehead.

August 23 – 30 1941 Guderian heads South belatedly, the Soviet front commander Yeremenko prepares to forestall the threat to Kiev from the rear.

August 25 1941 Panzers of Army Group South consolidates the Dniepr crossing at Dnepropetrovsk: path cleared for the Southern arm of the German pincer movement to engulf the Uman/ Kiev concentration.

August 30 / September 2 1941 Failure of Yeremenko's counter-offensive against Guderian's flank.

September 12 1941 Kleist heads North from the Cherkassy/ Kremenchug beach-heads.

September 15 1941 The outer pincers close: Panzer spearheads of Kleist and Guderian meet at Lokhvitsa, trapping four Soviet armies in the Kiev area.

September 17 1941 STAVKA belatedly orders a Soviet withdrawal from Kiev

September 18 – 27 1941 In the South, slaughter and surrenders inside the Kiev pocket. Nearly two thirds of the Red Army's strength on the outbreak of war has already been eliminated.

October 23 -24 1941 Army Group South enters Kharkov

November 28 1941 Army Group South is forced to retire from Rostov by heavy Soviet counter-attacks, after an occupation of eight days.

June 22 1941 Drive in the North, Army Group North invades the USSR heading for Leningrad.

June 26 1941 Army Group North captures Dugavpils and the Dvina river-crossings.

June 29 1941 Dietl's force advances on Murmansk from Finland, but it is finally halted on the Litsa River.

July 10 1941 Mannerheim's Karelian Army invades the USSR from Finland heading South-East to clear the Karelian Isthmus.

July 13/16 1941 Army Group North spearheads reach the Luga River, 60 miles short of Leningrad. Mannerheim's army reaches the Northern shore of Lake Ladoga.

August 3 -4 1941 Mannerheim begins his drive to recover the Karelian Isthmus for Finland.

August 8 1941 Army Group North advances from the Luga bridgeheads.

August 16 1941 Army Group North reaches Novgorod and crosses the Volkhov River.

August 27 1941 Despite successes Mannerheim refuses to act in direct co-operation with Army Group North.

September 1 1941 German long-range artillery begins to bombard Leningrad.

September 15 1941 Army Group North completes the encirclement of Leningrad – the siege begins.

October 23 – 24 1941 Finnish Southern front stabilised.

November 7 1941 Finnish advance halted on all fronts.

November 9 1941 The vital railhead at Tikhvin falls into German hands.

December 6 1941 A 200 mile –long roadway from Leningrad to Zaborie built in 27 days at a cost of thousands of lives, begins operation. But as a lifeline it is almost useless, the greatest distance any lorry manages to cover in a single day is 20 miles.

December 9 1941 Soviet forces led by General Meretskov recapture Tikhvin. The railway resumes operation, bringing desperately needed supplies to Leningrad.

The Germans attack Leningrad

December 25 1941 Despite increased supplies from the outside some 3700 Leningraders starve to death on Christmas Day, bringing the total for the month to 52,000. In Moscow the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet institutes a medal for the defence of Leningrad.

The Attack on Moscow

September 26 1941 "Operation Typhoon" – the German offensive for the capture of Moscow is ordered.

October 2 1941 The offensive to capture Moscow begins in ideal weather conditions.

October 7 1941 Panzer spearheads seal off the Soviet forces in the Vyazma and Bryansk pockets.

October 8 1941 Heavy rains set in. The "mud season" begins to strangle the German mobile units, except for tanks.

October 14 1941 Resistance ends in the Vyazma pocket.

October 19 1941 Stalin proclaims a state of siege in Moscow.

October 20 1941 Resistance ends in the Bryansk pocket, but many Soviet troops manage to escape the net.

October 20 – 25 1941 Stiffening Soviet resistance and struggling supply lines halt the original "Typhoon" offensive. New orders are issued for advances on more limited objectives to safeguard the German front line.

November 15 1941 After initial success, the second phase of the Moscow offensive is paralysed by 20 degree of frost and ever –strengthening Soviet forces.

November 27 1941 Panzer spearheads struggle to within 19 miles of the northern outskirts of Moscow, but are halted by fierce counter-attacks. South of Moscow, the advance German units reach Kashira, but are also halted.

December 5 1941 After obstinate argument, Hitler agrees to abandon the Moscow offensive for the winter. Army Group Centre begins to retreat to safer defensive positions.

December 5- 6 1941 The Soviet counter-offensive begins, at first the Kalinin / West Fronts to relieve the threat to Moscow.

December 13 1941 Moscow has been saved from the attack of Army Group Centre, but Stalin determines to extend the offensive to the entire Soviet / German front.

December 17 – 18 1941 Stalin orders Volkhov and North –Western Fronts to take the offensive against Army Group North.

December 26 – 30 1941 Red Army units land on the Kerch Peninsula to relieve Sebastopol


January 9 - 25 1942

North – Western Volkhov, and Kalinin Fronts drive deep into the Whermacht's rear but find their efforts too dissipated and their objectives too distant. German resistance stiffens.

January / February 1942 The Soviet offensive continues to win small victories in the Centre and North but fails in the South. By March 1942 all Soviet fronts have run out of resources – the offensive is over.

January 18 1942 Southern wing of the general Soviet winter offensive begins.

January 24 1942 Barvenkovo captured.

March 1942 Soviet winter offensive halts.

May 8 1942 German XI Army launches its attack against the Crimean Front.

May 12 1942 Russian South - West Front launches an offensive to break out of the Barvenkovo salient, thus forestalling a German offensive to liquidate it.

May 15 1942 German forces break through on the Crimean Front and occupy the town of Kerch, forcing the Russians to evacuate the Kerch peninsula. The Crimean Front has collapsed.

May 17 1942 German counter-offensive against the Barvenkovo salient . Army Group Kleist attacks from the North and the VI Army from the South.

May 19 1942 Soviet offensive is called off, but the German pincers cannot be halted.

May 23 1942 German forces link up, thus cutting off all Soviet troops in the salient.

June 2 1942 The Germans open up a five day barrage of Sevastopol with "super power" artillery, including 800-mm mortars.

June 7 1942 The German infantry assault on Sebastopol begins, supported by as many as 1,000 Luftwaffe sorties a day. But the Russians hold on.

June 10 - 26 1942 German offensives on the Volchansk and Kupyansk axes force the left wing of South –West Front back to the River Oskol.

June 30 1942 After 24 days of bitter fighting the Russians begin to evacuate Sebastopol. To commemorate the prolonged struggle the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet awards a special medal to the city's defenders.


June 28 1942 The German summer offensive begins with a breakthrough at Kursk.

July 5 1942 Army Group B reaches the Don River on either side of Voronezh.

July 12 1942 STAVKA sets up a new "Stalingrad" Front.

July 23 1942 Bock is dismissed. IV Panzer Army under Hoth is ordered to swing away from Stalingrad and assist I Panzer Army under Kleist to cross the Don.

July 25 1942 Kleist gets his light forces across the Don River. VI Army continues its advance toward Stalingrad, but fails to liquidate Russian bridgeheads on the West bank.

July 29 1942 Hoth's Panzers cross the Don at Tsimlyanskaya. Kleist captures Proletarskaya.

August 10 1942 Von Paulus troops reach the outskirts of Stalingrad, while Hoth moves up to rejoin them.

August 19 1942 First German attempts to storm Stalingrad.

August 22 1942 XIV Panzer Corps force a narrow breach in the Russian perimeter at Vertyachi.

August 23 1942 Germans reach the bank of the Volga.

German troops storm Stalingrad

August 23 - 24 Luftwaffe makes a terror raid on Stalingrad.

August 25 State of Emergency declared in Stalingrad. Heavy fighting halts the German advance.

September 13 1942 "Final" German attack on Stalingrad begins. A breakthrough in the Centre forces General Chuikov to commit his last reserves. But the German attack is halted.

September 24 1942 Franz Halder, Chief of the OKW is dismissed by Hitler.

October 4 1942 The fourth German attack at Stalingrad, directed at the Tractor Factory, the Barrikady and the Krasny Oktyabr, begins nearly three weeks of bitter fighting.

October 14 1942 Hitler orders all forces to take the defensive and stand fast except for those in the Stalingrad area and some small sectors in the Caucasus.

Early November 1942 The Red Army prepares a plan (Plan Uranus) for the relief of Stalingrad, a large scale operation to be carried out along a front of 250 miles.

November 19 1942 At exactly 07:30 hours, some 3,500 Soviet guns and mortars open fire on the breakthrough sectors. The Soviet blow to free Stalingrad has begun. By the second day of the attack, mobile forces of South-West Front have advanced up to 25 miles.

November 20 1942 Stalingrad Front takes up the offensive.

November 21 1942 The onrush of Soviet armour forces General Paulus to move his headquarters from Golubinsky to Nizhne- Chirskaya. Hitler then orders Paulus to relocate his headquarters again near Gumrak.

November 23 1942 On the fifth day of the counter-attack, South –West and Stalingrad Fronts link up, closing the ring around 22 German divisions, a total of about 330,000 men.

November 24 1942 The Red Army launches operations to annihilate the encircled German forces. But although the Red Army forces halve the territory held by Paulus, their numbers are insufficient to destroy his army.

December 12 1942 General Manstein launches Operation Winter Storm, a counter-strike with 13 divisions to relieve the trapped VI Army. Fighting rages for 11 days but the operation fails. Hoth's "storm group" is halted 25 miles from the beleagured Germans at Stalingrad. Meanwhile, Soviet South –West Front handed the Germans a crushing blow, on the middle Don, North-West of Stalingrad.

Field Marshal von Paulus surrenders at Stalingrad

December 24 1942 Soviet forces now attack Hoth's relief group. The Germans withdraw, and by December 31 it is clear that the Red Army has fresh opportunities for a strategic offensive in the whole Southern sector.


January 4 1943 STAVKA approves the plan for "Operation Ring" – the methodical dissection, of the trapped German forces and their destruction, unit by unit.

January 8 1943 STAVKA proposes to Paulus that he capitulate, otherwise his forces will be annihilated. Paulus rejects the ultimatum.

January 10 1943 Operation Ring begins at 08:00 hours, the Red Army opens its final assault on von Paulus' forces with a massive artillery bombardment. At 09:00 hours Don Front takes the offensive.

January 31 1943 Field- Marshall Paulus trapped in Stalingrad, surrenders the Southern group of his army. Two days later General Schreck surrenders the Northern group. The VI Army is no more.

Operation Barbarossa

When Adolf Hitler launched Operation 'Barbarossa',[1] his attack against the Soviet Union, he took the first steps towards achieving what he regarded as two of his life's main goals: the destruction of the "cradle of Communism" and the creation of Lebensraum; living space in the East for the German people.

Preparations for the launching of 'Barbarossa' were immense. Assembled against the Soviet Union's western frontiers were 3.6 million German and other Axis soldiers, 600,000 vehicles, 3,600 tanks and more than 3,000 first-line aircraft, the total might of which formed the largest invasion force the world had ever seen. When the invasion began, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring's Luftwaffe was undoubtedly the most effective air force in the world. Combining modern aircraft with new tactics and a high standard of aircrew training, Germany's air force was without parallel and the Spanish Civil War, the Blitzkrieg, and the Battle of Britain had created a core of immensely experienced airmen. In the fighter force, the Bf-109F-4, the latest version of Professor Willy Messerschmitt's single-engined fighter, was without peer.

Opposing the German forces, the Red Army was numerically superior but had been debilitated by Josef Stalin's autocratic rule. On the day of the German invasion, the Soviet Union possessed a total of approximately 20,000 combat aircraft, including 11,500 fighters, but the vast majority of these aircraft, especially the vulnerable twin-engined SB bomber, the I-153 biplane fighters and the slow Polikarpov I-16 Ishak (known to the Germans as the Rata), were technically inferior.[2] Although in June 1941 a new generation of Soviet fighter types was about to enter service with first-line units, only the Yak-1 could compete on relatively equal terms with the Bf-109E or F-2, while the MiG-3 and the LaGG-3 were both slower and less manoeuvrable. In addition, most Soviet aircraft had no radio transmitters installed, whereas this was standard equipment in all Jagdwaffe's air combat units.

However, the technical inferiority of Soviet aircraft in mid-1941 should not be exaggerated as the situation was more a question of high proficiency on the part of the Germans than low Soviet standards. Indeed, the performance of the majority of Soviet-designed aircraft in 1941 was generally higher than in most other air forces and the Il-2 Shturmovik, just beginning to reach front-line units in June 1941, was probably the best ground-attack aircraft anywhere. Far worse for the Soviet armed forces was that they still suffered from the effects of Stalin's Great Purge of 1937/38 when the intelligentsia and tens of thousands of officers were liquidated. In the wake of these persecutions, the Soviet government decided to shorten pilot training with the result that thousands of newly trained pilots, barely able to take off and land their aircraft, were forced to meet the best airmen in the world. Moreover, 91 per cent of all commanders of larger Soviet Air Force units had held their posts for less than six months.

The Soviet airmen were further impaired by outmoded tactics. As in all but the German and Finnish air forces, they continued to fly in outdated, inflexible three-aircraft V-formations, and their general doctrine was defensive rather than offensive. Furthermore, they were frequently instructed to patrol a specific territorial area and were not allowed to pursue even damaged enemy aircraft beyond the borders of that area. Later, many Luftwaffe crews on the Eastern Front were saved due to this practise, which also resulted in the proportion of repairable Luftwaffe aircraft being higher on the Eastern Front in 1941 than anywhere else. In contrast, the pilots of the Jagdwaffe were encouraged to fly aggressively and experience during the Battle of Britain had shown that the best way to protect bombers was not to keep the fighters in slow-flying close escort missions, but to employ them in freie Jagd missions in which they hunted for potential opposition in the target area.

On 21 June 1941, the air forces of the Soviet Army and Navy, collectively known as the VVS (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Si/y, Military Air Force), had less than half the country's total number of combat aircraft stationed in the western regions. The Army Air Forces in the western regions were divided into five military districts which, after the German attack, were reformed into Army Groups, or Fronts, as follows:

VVS Northern Front and VVS North-Western Front, both positioned along the Finnish border and in the Soviet-occupied Baltic states.

VVS Western Front positioned in the Soviet-occupied parts of Poland.

VVS South-Western Front in north-western Ukraine.

VVS Southern Front in south-western Ukraine.

In addition, there were the Naval Air Forces of the Northern Fleet in the Far North (VVS SF), the Red Banner Baltic Fleet (VVS KBF), the Black Sea Fleet (VVS ChF) and the long-range (strategic) bombers, the DBA.

22 June 1941

Operation 'Barbarossa' opened in the early hours of 22 June 1941 with massive Luftwaffe attacks against 31 major Soviet airfields from the Baltic Sea in the north to the shore of the Black Sea in the south. Not only were the Soviets caught totally by surprise, but the Soviet Army Air Forces in eastern Poland and the Baltic states were in the middle of a re-equipment programme which resulted in the airfields in the western parts of the USSR being completely overcrowded. Hundreds of aircraft were therefore destroyed in the first attack wave alone, during which the Bf-109s of the Jagdgeschwadern mainly carried out low-level attacks in which they strafed the rows of parked aircraft and dropped SD-2 bombs. Four Bf-109s led by the Staffelkapitim of 4./JG27, Oblt. Gustav Radel, managed to put no fewer than 45 Soviet aircraft out of commission with their SD-2s during a single raid and JG51, commanded by Obstlt. Werner Molders, claimed to have destroyed a total of 129 Soviet aircraft on the ground. Later, the fighters flew as escort for bomber and Stuka formations as well as flying freiejagd sorties.

The initial Soviet response to the German attack was sporadic and lacked any central co-ordination, but the first aerial encounters nevertheless revealed several surprises. Not only did the Soviets display a stiff determination to fight, but Jagdwaffe pilots were alarmed when the Polikarpov fighters they were pursuing suddenly made a snap lS0-degree turn and counter-attacked head-on. Moreover, several German aircraft were brought down by deliberate air-to-air ramming, the so-called tarans, one early victim of this tactic being Major Wolfgang Schellmann, Geschwaderkommodore of JG27, who was captured and shot by the NKVD.

Despite the destruction of hundreds of their aircraft on the ground, the Soviets immediately began sending waves of SB and DB-3 medium bombers against the invaders. In some cases, these bombers succeeded in inflicting severe casualties among German ground troops but, in the main, their efforts resulted only in a series of losses. Lacking radio equipment, the Soviet bombers flew in open echelon formations so that each pilot could remain in visual contact with the formation leader, even though this made concentrated defensive fire against Luftwaffe fighters impossible. In addition, due to the general chaos, almost all bomber missions had to be flown without fighter escort and scores of bombers were lost. Thus, while German bombers and Stukas continued to pound Soviet airfields, the Bf-109s attacked the relentless waves of Soviet bombers. These astonished the Luftwaffe fighter pilots with their tactics, for even when attacked the bomber pilots took no evasive action whatsoever but maintained their course, often until all were shot down. Such a fate met Soviet Bomber Regiment 39 BAP, which lost all 18 SBs despatched against German forces crossing the River Bug. Similarly, II./JG53 shot down eight of 40 SBAP's SBs but, in this engagement, the Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Heinz Bretnutz, was obliged to make a forced landing in Soviet-controlled Lithuania. Badly injured and requiring urgent hospital treatment, Bretnutz was hidden by friendly locals until rescued four days later by advancing German troops. He was then taken for immediate medical treatment and although his left leg was amputated in an attempt to save his life, Bretnutz, a Knight's Cross holder credited with 37 aerial victories, died soon afterwards.

The repeated clashes between German fighters and Soviet bombers continued, and at about 09.30 hrs, I./JG51's Lt. Heinz Bar and his wingman, Ofw. Heinrich Hofemeier, were escorting a damaged He 111 back over German-controlled territory. In the Siedlce area, they spotted a formation of 25 to 30 SB bombers without any fighter escort. The two German pilots immediately attacked, at the same time calling for reinforcements. Hofemeier succeeded in shooting down four of the bombers, his first victories in the war, before he was forced to break off because of a bullet wound in his left arm. Bar shot down another two, his 19th and 20th victories, and when other JG51 pilots arrived on the scene they destroyed six more SBs. JG51's Geschwaderkommodore, Obstlt. Molders, also claimed four victories which increased his total number of victories to 72.[3]

Without doubt, the Luftwaffe played a key role during the onslaught on 22 June and, had it not been for its successful actions, the VVS would have inflicted severe blows against the German forces. On 22 June, the Germans claimed to have destroyed 1,489 Soviet aircraft on the ground and 322 in the air. According to Soviet figures, more than 800 aircraft were destroyed on the ground and 336 were shot down in the air. These figures underline the vast technological and tactical superiority enjoyed by the Luftwaffe, quite apart from its superior training and combat experience. Conversely, the stiff Soviet resistance can be seen in Luftwaffe losses in the East on 22 June, which were by no means light: 111 aircraft lost[4] due to enemy action on this day alone, including 61 totally destroyed or written off.

The Fight for Air Superiority

After 22 June 1941, Luftflotten 1 and 2 continued attacking Soviet airfields, reportedly destroying another 1,357 Soviet aircraft on 23 and 24 June. Meanwhile, devastating strikes were flown against Soviet troop positions, marching columns and headquarters in the rear area. The German 2., 3. and 4. Panzergruppen charged through Soviet defence positions which were in increasing disorder and surrounded large parts of Soviet Army Group Western Front. In view of the weak aerial opposition by the VVS in this sector on 23 June, Luftflotte 2's fighter units were able to carry out low-level attacks against airfields and retreating Soviet columns.

To the north, Luftflotte l's fighter units, JG54 and 4. and 5./JG53, were in action against VVS Baltic Military District which had suffered heavily from the first day's attack but was still able to maintain continuous air activity throughout 23 June, on which date is was redesignated VVS North-Western Front. Before dawn on 23 June, ten Soviet bombers raided the East Prussian city of Konigsberg and at 10.00 hrs, 16 SBs were despatched against Gumbinnen aerodrome in East Prussia. They were intercepted by Stab and II./JG54, and not a single Soviet aircraft returned to its base. Less than two hours later, nine 7./JG54 pilots commanded by 9./JG54's Staffelkapitan, Oblt. Hans-Ekkehard Bob, bounced ten SBs to the north of Kaunas. All ten SBs were shot down, two of them by Lt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann. The last SB, piloted by the Soviet formation leader, was shot down by Oblt. Bob, but in the process, Bob's own Bf-109 was hit by the bomber's defensive fire. He forced-landed in Soviet-controlled territory but returned to the German lines two days later.

In total, JG54 claimed 39 victories on the second day of 'Barbarossa' but, owing to the confused situation, German fighter pilots frequently attacked their own bombers by mistake and at least five of the Ju-88s lost by KG 76 and KG 77 on 23 June were shot down by friendly fighters. During the late afternoon a Ju-88 returned fire, shooting down and killing 5./JG54's Uffz. Walter Puregger.

With new reinforcements arriving, VVS Western Front was able to increase its activity on 24 June. Its fighters, mainly from fighter division 43 lAD, which had been spared the destruction of 22 June, were assigned to air defence tasks in the Minsk region. Here, six I-16s from 43 lAD's fighter regiment 163 lAP, led by StLt. (Starshiy Leytenant, Senior Lieutenant) Zakhar Plotnikov, fell upon 27 Ju-87s from II. and Ill.jSt.G 1 and shot down six within a matter of minutes. Meanwhile, the Jagdgruppen were fully occupied dealing with the re-appearing Soviet bombers from both the DBA and VVS Western Front. These flew without any fighter escort and attacked the advancing German Panzer columns. On one occasion, III./JG27's Bf-109E pilots observed 27 DB-3s from Long-Range Bomber Regiment 53 DBAP which were intent on attacking advance elements of 4. Panzergruppe. III./JG27 claimed seven of the bombers shot down in this engagement, while 53 DBAP's records show that in fact nine were lost, eight of them to Bf-109s. There were similar scenes over the advance columns of 2. Panzergruppe advancing further to the south, where Oblt. Karl-Heinz Schnell, Staffelkapitfm of 9./JG51, destroyed seven SBs, four of them in only four minutes, while Lt. Ottmar Maurer of the same Gruppe shot down another six. JG51's score for the day was 57 victories, all against SB bombers.

On 25 June, as the Soviet Western Front collapsed in the face of Army Group Centre's armoured spearheads, General der Flieger Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen brought forward many units of VIII. Fliegerkorps in order to render air support, including Stab, II. and III./JG27 and III./JG53, which moved up to the large aerodrome at Vilnius which had been captured on the 24th. As soon as Soviet aerial reconnaissance established that the Germans were using Vilnius aerodrome, all available bombers were despatched to neutralise the Germans on the ground. In fierce air fighting against repeated attacks by formations each of ten to 20 SBs and DB-3s throughout the day, the Bf-109 pilots at Vilnius claimed 54 Soviet bombers shot down for the loss of a single Bf-109. Stab and III./JG53 claimed 30 of these kills, including four by JG53's Geschwaderkommodore, Major Gunther Freiherr von Maltzahn, while II./JG27 contributed 24, seven of them by Lt. Gustav Langanke, which brought his total claims to eight. To the south, JG51 brought down another 68 SBs, six of them by Oblt. Hans Kolbow. These few examples illustrate perfectly the Soviets' determination and also how helpless were the SBs against intercepting German fighters. Nevertheless, the German victories were not easily achieved, and every interception was met by frantic defensive fire from the bombers' gunners who were equipped with extremely rapid-firing machine-guns. Frequently it was reported that Soviet gunners refused to bale out of their stricken machines and kept firing at the Bf-109s until their aircraft crashed. However, only a few Bf-109s were totally destroyed in air combat although many others were severely damaged as, for example, in JG51, where a total of 18 Bf-109s were put out of commission on 24 and 25 June.

Because of insufficient deliveries of spare parts, an increasing number of the German combat aircraft were grounded, often as a result of only minor damage or technical faults which could not be rectified due a lack of spare parts. After a week of fighting in the East, the number of serviceable German aircraft in Luftflotten 1, 2 and 4 had dropped from 1,939 to 960. Nor was German fighter production significantly increased, but built up only slowly from an average of 156 machines per month during the second half of 1941 to only 243 during the first half of 1941, after which production actually dropped below even this relatively low level. These facts indicate that not only were German preparations for Operation 'Barbarossa' insufficient, but also that they had not properly prepared for war on more than one front.

The situation, however, was infinitely worse for the Soviets. On 26 June, Soviet long-range bomber division 40 DBAD, to which 53 DBAP belonged, was unable to carry out any operations. On the same day, other DBA units recorded 43 DB-3s lost in efforts to halt the invaders. When 2. and 3. Panzergruppen completed their pincer movement at Minsk and surrounded approximately 400,000 troops of the Soviet Western Front, the VVS in the area had virtually bled to death. In their desperation, the Soviet commanders brought together their last reserves and, on 30 June, launched them against the German Berezina River bridgehead at Bobruysk. First the Soviet aircraft ran into the concentrated fire from the Luftwaffe's Flakregiment 10. The dispersed bombers were then attacked by the Bf-109s of JG51 which within six minutes also completely annihilated another group of 22 Soviet bombers that attempted to attack one of JG51's airfields. Thus, when the day was over, JG51 had claimed 113 victories against five combat losses. The Geschwaderkommodore, Obstlt. Werner Molders, as well as Hptm. Hermann-Friedrich Joppien and Lt. Heinz Bar, each scored five victories, bringing Molders' total score to 82 and Joppien's to 52. With this, JG51's victory tally surpassed the 1,000 mark, about 400 of which had been attained since 22 June 1941.

Similar scenes occurred in the skies over Army Group North on the last day of June, when the Soviets made fruitless attempts to prevent 4. Panzergruppe from crossing the Daugava River at Daugavpils. The DBA and Army bomber forces in this area had been so weakened that VVS KBF, the Red Banner Baltic Fleet, had to be called in for this task. Approaching without fighter escort at altitudes of up to 7,000 feet, the DB-3s and SBs of bomber brigade 8 BAB were attacked by JG54 which claimed to have shot down 65 bombers before they could fulfil their task but in fact destroyed 43. JG54's losses amounted to five Bf-109s and two pilots.

According to Soviet figures, 1,669 Soviet aircraft were lost in the air alone between 22 and 30 June 1941 so that on 1 July, VVS Western Front could muster no more than 500 aircraft. In view of the weakening Soviet resistance in the air over the German Centre Front, the Luftwaffe could afford to re-allocate its units and while parts of VIII. Fliegerkorps were transferred north to support the drive by 4. Panzergruppe towards Leningrad, II./JG27 left the Eastern Front entirely and moved to the Mediterranean area of operations.

While the VVS adopted more defensive tactics, concentrating on fighter interception or strafing missions in daylight and bombing at night, the huge salients between Bialystok and Minsk were compressed. Up to 9 July, Army Group Centre took more than 300,000 Soviet troops as prisoners and captured 3,332 tanks and 1,809 artillery pieces. By that time, too, the Germans estimated, probably without exaggeration, total Soviet aircraft losses to be 6,223, of which 1,900 had been shot down in aerial combat.

The Advance Through the Baltic States

By 30 June 1941, VVS North-Western Front, responsible for air cover in the Baltic states, had lost almost 900 aircraft to enemy activity, including 425 lost in the air. In addition, VVS KBF had been dealt a heavy blow during its failed attempt to halt the German advance at the Daugava River in south-east Latvia. With air support reinforced by parts of VIII. Fliegerkorps, 4. Panzergruppe swarmed across the Daugava on 2 July and continued its advance to the north-west. VVS Northern Front, the only Soviet air fleet in the western territories to escape the devastation of the first days of the war, was immediately brought forward to help counter this threat. Between 4 and 6 July, following a brief lull caused by adverse weather, VVS Northern Front carried out a series of large-scale operations against 4. Panzergruppe but failed even to slow the German advance. Instead, in these three days, the Russian formations were met by fully alerted German fighter units which claimed 121 victories, most being destroyed over Latvia by Hptm. Dietrich Hrabak's II./JG54 which, on 5 July, exceeded its 300th victory. On the Soviet side, VVS Northern Front's composite air divisions 2 SAD and 41 SAD alone registered 60 combat losses during operations against German advance columns between 4 and 9 July.

As the SB and DB-3 bombers started to disappear due to their enormous losses, so larger numbers of fighters from WS Northern Front and WS KBF started confronting the German fighters and Soviet opposition grew stronger. Thus, when 7./JG54's Lt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann claimed his 19th and 20th victories on 6 July, he saw two of his fellow pilots shot down while three I-16 pilots of 154 lAP claimed to have shot down three Bf-109s without loss to themselves. On 7 July, 11 of JG54's Bf-109s were destroyed or severely damaged, and six of the Geschwader's best pilots, all from III./JG54 and including the Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Arnold Lignitz, were posted missing as a result of missions on 6 and 7 July. On 6 July, Oblt. Heinz Lange had just shot down one of the WS's new Pe-2 bombers when his Bf-109F-2 'Black 5', WNr. 6781, was severely damaged and forced landed close to a German Flak battery. At the same time, Lt. Erwin Leykauf's Bf-109F-2, 'Black 3', WNr. 6788, was damaged by a 202 SBAP SB's rear gunner over enemy-held territory and came down in marshland where Leykauf managed to evade detection. Hptm. Lignitz was the first of these pilots to return and immediately set out in a Bf-108 liaison aircraft to search for his missing comrades. He found Leykauf, stark naked, trying to dry his wet clothes. Much to the relief of Major Hannes Trautloft, Geschwaderkommodore of JG54, it was later reported that the Bf-108 had returned to Ostrov aerodrome with another four of the six missing men.

Although I. Fliegerkorps reportedly shot down 487 Soviet aircraft and destroyed another 1,698 on the ground between 22 June and 13 July, the Luftwaffe's numerical superiority was in fact deteriorating. Indeed, on 9 July, Hptm. Dietrich Hrabak's II./JG54 reported that only five of its 40 Bf-109s were serviceable and the strength of Luftflotte 1 was reduced to 350 aircraft. Facing Luftflotte 1 were some 1,300 [5] Soviet aircraft comprising most of the combined forces of VVS North-Western Front, VVS Northern Front and VVS KBF.

By mid-July, German Army Group North had driven the Soviets from Lithuania and Latvia and was advancing into Estonia and towards Leningrad in Russia itself, but the German motorised units had been severely depleted and their supply lines stretched. On 14 July, the Soviet 11th Army counter-attacked 4. Panzergruppe at Soltsy, west of Lake limen. The powerful Soviet strike was supported by an ad hoc force of 235 aircraft commanded by General-Mayor Aleksandr Novikov, the new commander of the united air forces of the former North-Western and Northern fronts, now known as WS Northern District. The German Panzer troops were thrown back, parts of 8. Panzerdivision were surrounded, and a Staffel of II./JG54 was forced to abandon the advanced airfield at Porkhov. Meanwhile, other German airfields in the area were subjected to small but surprisingly effective raids by modern Pe-2 bombers. In one such attack at Pskov, a single Pe-2 caused a number of casualties and injured several of II./JG53's personnel.

Even though 8. Panzerdivision was eventually saved, it was clear that the Blitzkrieg in the north had ended. Even more apparent, especially to the ground troops of Army Group North, strafed relentlessly from mid-July 1941 by Soviet fighter-bombers, was that the VVS was far from defeated.

Between 22 June and 19 July 1941, the Luftwaffe recorded 774 of its own aircraft destroyed (including 216 fighters) and 510 (including 187 fighters) severely damaged on the Eastern Front.

Into the Ukraine

As in the north, it was important that the Wehrmacht should destroy Soviet forces before they could withdraw into the interior. However, Army Group Centre, which was to advance in the direction of Moscow, was separated from Army Group South, which was to advance into the Ukraine, by the Pripet Marshes, a huge natural barrier running in an east-west direction through eastern Poland. Furthermore, Army Group South was split geographically from Luftflotte 4 by neutral Hungary. From its positions in southern Poland, 1. Panzergruppe, supported by V. Fliegerkorps, attacked south of the Pripet Marshes and advanced towards the city of Kiev. Further south, the German 11th Army and Rumanian forces remained waiting along the Rumanian-Soviet border. These forces were supported by IV. Fliegerkorps, the fighter component of which consisted of Stab, II. and III./JG77, plus I.(J)/LG2 and certain Rumanian fighter units.

As in the north, VVS units opposing Army Group South and Luftflotte 4 were very active during the first days of the invasion. This was particularly the case in south-eastern Poland, where VVS South-Western Front (formerly VVS Kiev Special Military District) and DBA units went into action against the advancing German Panzer spearheads. The main task of Major Gunther Lutzow's JG3, the Jagdgeschwader available to V. Fliegerkorps, was to clear the skies of Soviet aircraft through freie Jagd missions over the advancing Panzer columns and, on 23 June, this unit claimed 38 victories, mostly SB and DB-3 bombers. The offensive operations by V. Fliegerkorps' bomber units operating in support of the ground troops had to be carried out mainly without fighter escort, but few Soviet fighters were encountered in the air and German losses were very limited. To the south, Stab, II. and III./JG77 and I.(J)/LG2 carried out bomber escort missions and also flew freie Jagd and ground-strafing sorties against airfields, claiming 16 victories on 23 June against a single combat loss.

The most effective Soviet resistance in the air during the early days of 'Barbarossa' was that which met Luftflotte 4, and on 24 June Soviet bombers succeeded in inflicting severe losses on 1. Panzergruppe while II./JG3 claimed only three victories but lost two of its own pilots. Over Bessarabia, II./JG77's Fw. Otto Kohler was killed, possibly shot down by St.Lt. Aleksandr Pokryshkin of Fighter Regiment 55.

In Rumania, the task of III./JG52, part of the Deutsche Luftwaffenmission Rumanien, was to protect the Rumanian oilfields. This units had recently exchanged its old Bf-109Es for the latest Bf-109F-4 which was fitted with the powerful 1,350 hp DB 601N engine and armed with the very effective MG 151/20 automatic cannon. As a result of the Gruppe's defensive duties, it did not participate in operations over the frontline for several weeks, but on 24 June, 36 Soviet bombers of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet attacked the Rumanian oilfields and airfield at Constanta. In their first attack, the Soviet aircraft succeeded in returning without loss, but when the bombers attempted a second raid later that day, III./JG52 was scrambled to intercept and the Bf-109F-4s shot down a total of 32 SBs and DB-3s, ten being destroyed in the first few minutes. It was during this engagement that Uffz. Gerhard Koppen of 7./JG52, later to become one of the Gruppe's top scorers, achieved his first victory.

By this time, V. Fliegerkorps had been reinforced by the arrival of I.(J)/LG2 and Stab and I./JG53, and for the next few days these units and the original JG3 flew in defence of the airspace over 1. Panzergruppe. On 25 June, the Soviet bomber crews flew a total of 780 sorties against 1. Panzergruppe in the Brody area, claiming the destruction of 30 tanks, 60 other vehicles and 16 artillery pieces, but the bombers were unprotected and so many formations of SBs and DB-3s were destroyed that soon there was almost none left. During these attacks, a Schwarm from II./JG77 led by Oblt. Walter Hoeckner reportedly destroyed ten out of a force of 12 SBs, eight being claimed by Hoeckner alone. On 25 and 26 June, hundreds of Soviet aircraft were destroyed and by 30 June, the fighter units of Luftflotte 4 had claimed approximately 380 victories. German combat losses in this period were just 15, but the level of serviceability was steadily declining and in II./JG3, for example, after one week of war in the East, the number of serviceable Bf-109s had been reduced from 32 to 20.

One of the most skilful Jagdwaffe pilots serving with Luftflotte 4 during this period was Hptm. Walter Oesau, Gruppenkommandeurof III./JG3. Already a holder of the Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves awarded during the Battle of Britain, Oesau increased his victory tally from 42 to 50 between 22 and 30 June 1941, and on 1 July he destroyed three Soviet bombers, followed by another three on 6 July and four'on the 8th. In Oesau's Gruppe, Oblt. Kurt Sochatzy, Staffelkapitan of 7./JG3, also emerged as a successful pilot. Claiming only his second aerial victory on 26 June, by 9 July, on which date he shot down five Soviet bombers, he had increased his tally to 18.

Between 22 June and 5 July 1941, Soviet units opposed to Luftflotte 4 lost a total of 1,218 aircraft. However, they were soon replaced and from around 10 July, Soviet air activity against Army Group South started to mount. That day, two pilots of II./JG3 spotted 12 18-3s flying in formation without any fighter escort. The two Bf-109 pilots, Oblt. Franz Beyer and Uffz. Werner Lucas, attacked and claimed to have shot down five of the huge four-engined bombers although the records of the bomber unit in question, Heavy Bomber Regiment 14 18AP, show that in fact seven were lost. Meanwhile, in III./JG3, only six serviceable Bf-109F-2s remained on 11 July, but these were flown by the best pilots including Hptm. Oesau, who achieved another five victories on 10 July, a further seven on the 12th and three days later received the Swords for 80 victories. On 15 July, 9./JG3's Ofw. Hans Stechmann brought JG3's victory total to over 1,000 by shooting down three I-153s.

In mid-July, the Soviets' situation in the Ukraine deteriorated considerably when, on the 16th, 1. Panzergruppe seized Biyala Tserkov, south-west of Kiev, and wheeled southwards towards Pervomaisk. The next day, the German and Rumanian armies in Rumania started their main offensive across the Dniestr River and advanced northwards to meet 1. Panzergruppe and encircle Soviet forces at Uman in a giant pincer movement. Since the entire railway system in the rear area had been destroyed by Luftflotte 4's bombers in one of history's most effective air interdiction operations, Soviet troops in the area were deprived both of supplies and much of their freedom to manoeuvre. Furthermore, the four weeks of air action against WS forces in the area had been so effective, that in 282 sorties flown by JG77 and 1.(J)jLG2 on 17 and 18 July in support of the drive from the south, they met virtually no Soviet opposition.

To the north, large parts of V. Fliegerkorps were concentrated on a huge airfield near Biyala Tserkov, from where operations to support the continued drives against both Uman and Kiev were flown. Biyala Tserkov was typical of the kind of airfield soon to become familiar to German forces on the Eastern Front, being virtually nothing but a huge, flat field where the personnel usually were billeted in tents.

During this period, Major Gunther Lutzow's JG3, operating on Army Group South's northern flank, played a particularly important role, being ordered to cover the north, where the German 6th Army was advancing eastwards towards Kiev, and also to support the drive in the south aimed at surrounding the Soviet troops at Uman. JG3 carried out fighter sweeps over the area of the German advance and escorted the dive-bomber unit St.G77, which had been transferred from Luftflotte 2 to support Army Group South's battle of encirclement. During this time, Major Lutzow achieved his 42nd victory on 20 July and was awarded the Oak Leaves. Oblt. Robert Olejnik, I./JG3's most successful pilot, received the Knight's Cross on 30 July for 32 victories and three days later, Oblt. Viktor Bauer, Staffelkapitan of 9./JG3, also received the Knight's Cross for 34 victories. Operating in the same area as JG3 were Stab and I./JG53, which had also been brought in from Luftflotte 2. JG53's Kommodore, Major Gunther Freiherrvon Maltzahn, was awarded the Oak Leaves on 24 July when he claimed his 42nd victory. Meanwhile, one of the Luftwaffe's most famous pilots, the escaper Hptm. Franz von Werra, Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG53, increased his victory total from eight to 21 in slightly more than three weeks. Owing much to the air support provided by such experienced pilots, the German armies linked up at Pervomaisk on 3 August and trapped the Soviet armies in the Uman area.

The effectiveness of the earlier Luftwaffe attacks on the Russian railway system now worked to the detriment of the German forces and resulted in severe supply difficulties. Aircraft serviceability in Luftflotte 4's units was badly affected and dropped rapidly during the second half of July so that by the 31st, I./JG3 was down to only seven serviceable Bf-109s. At the same time, while the strength of the WS Southern Front had dwindled from 671 aircraft on 1 July to 258 on 1 August, the surviving Soviet airmen nevertheless continued to put up a determined esistance.III./JG3 was dealt a severe loss on 3 August, when 37-victory ace Oblt. Kurt Sochatzy was brought down in a Soviet air-to-air ramming, a taran, and taken prisoner. Awarded the Ritterkreuz on 12 August, Sochatzy remained in Soviet captivity until released in September 1947.

In early August, Stab and I./JG53 were withdrawn from the Eastern Front, leaving their aircraft to JG3, but at the same time, III./JG52 arrived from Rumania. Stationed at Belaya Tserkov, III./JG52 fought its first combats over the Kiev area on 4 August when the names of two men, later to become among the best-known of the Luftwaffe's pilots, first began to appear on III./JG52's victory board. Oblt. Gunther Rail, Staffelkapitan of 8./JG52 achieved his fifth, six and seventh victories when he shot down three I-16s on the first mission of the day and during the same flight, Lt. Hermann Graf of 9./JG52 achieved his first victory, also an I-16. Three days later, III./JG52 reached its 100th victory, one of the main contributors to this success being Ofw. Josef Fernsebner of 8./JG52 who was himself shot down and killed shortly after scoring his 15th victory on 9 August. By that time, the battle of encirclement at Uman had ended with a German victory and more than 103,000 Soviet soldiers marched into German confinement. Now the emphasis was on Kiev, where the Red Army would be dealt its greatest single defeat in history.

Messerschmitt's Over Smolensk

By the end of June, Army Group Centre had pinched off a Soviet salient at Bialystok and by 9 July had put an end to Soviet resistance in the Minsk pocket, capturing nearly 300,000 prisoners, 2,500 tanks and 1,400 artillery pieces. German forces continued their advance and by 16 July had broken through to Smolensk, but Soviet counter-attacks temporarily prevented German forces from completing another encirclement. There then followed almost three months of bitter fighting as the Soviets launched wave after wave of new air and ground forces against Army Group Centre's drive towards Moscow. These Soviet attempts were strategically successful, but the cost to themselves was extremely high.

Operating over this area of the front was one of the Luftwaffe's most successful Jagdgeschwader, JG51, led by Obstlt. Werner Molders, the Luftwaffe's highest-scoring ace. On 5 July, Molders brought his victory tally to 86 [6] by shooting down two SBs and two MiG-3s. The MiGs are believed to have belonged to 401 lAP, an elite unit of test pilots posted to the Smolensk area on 1 July and commanded by Hero of the Soviet Union Podpolkovnik (Colonel) Stepan Suprun. Suprun declared he wanted to "test the German aces", but in fact the unit's MiG-3s proved inferior to the Bf-109F-2 and the hardened veterans in JG51 were more than a match even for the skilled fliers of 401 lAP. Indeed, on 4 July, Suprun himself was killed in combat with JG51.

In their attempts to stop the German advance, all types of Soviet aircraft were committed against Luftflotte 2 and Army Group Centre, from modern Yak-1s, 11-2s and Pe-2s to the most obsolete types. On 6 July, IV./JG51's Lt. Heinz Bar, one of Molders' most promising pilots, claimed two "Severskys" which were probably 11-2s from Ground-Attack Regiment 4 ShAP, the first unit to bring this formidable ground-attack aircraft into combat. On 9 July, Molders' claimed two elderly I-153 biplane fighters as his 87th and 88th victories and, next day, encountered two of the even older, very slow and weakly armed R-Z reconnaissance biplanes which now served as light bombers. On 11 July, when JG51 claimed 34 kills against fouraircraft lost, Lt. Bar reached his 40th victory when he destroyed two DB-3s. Meanwhile, Ofw. Heinrich Hoffmann of IV./JG51 shot down two Pe-2s as his 16th and 17th victories.

In total, JG51 achieved more than 200 victories during the first 12 days of July, and on the 12th, III./JG51's Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Richard Leppla, was credited with bringing down the Geschwader's 1,200th victory, of which 509 had been achieved on the Eastern Front. Since the beginning of the Russian campaign, JG51's combat losses were 24 Bf-109s destroyed, 22 severely damaged and eight pilots lost, but this Geschwader, too, was affected by the inadequate German supply system on the Eastern Front. During the first four weeks of the war in the East, the number of serviceable Bf-109s available to JG51 dropped from 121 to 58, of which, Molders noted, 26 were unserviceable simply because they lacked spare parts. In this situation, the veteran pilots became even more important and the serviceable Bf-109s were flown mainly by the most successful pilots. It was, therefore, a bitter blow when Oblt. Hermann Staiger, Staffelkapitan of 7./JG51, was severely injured on 14 July and, two days later, the Bf-109F-2 flown by Oblt. Hans Kolbow, Staffelkapitan of 5./JG51, received a direct hit by anti-aircraft fire during a strafing mission. Kolbow attempted to bail out from an altitude of less than 60 feet but fell to his death. These men were two of JG51's best officers, Staiger having 25 victories and Kolbow 27.

Meanwhile, on the 15th, Molders had become the first Luftwaffe pilot to exceed a total of 100 victories but was immediately grounded by Hitler who feared that his loss would be a severe blow to German morale. At the same time, Molders became the first recipient of the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, and he was assigned to the post of General der Jagdflieger.

The situation on the ground was now frequently extremely confusing as there were no clearly defined frontlines over a huge area. JG51's main mission, however, was clearly defined and called for it to fly freie Jagd sweeps to secure air superiority and provide air cover for the ground troops. In this role its pilots continued to find opportunities to achieve higher personal successes than ever before. One example was Lt. Georg Seelmann of II./JG51, who had flown since the beginning of the war but up until the opening of the Eastern Front had two victories. However, in the first four weeks in the East he increased his victory tally to 20 as JG51 continued to eliminate one after another the WS units thrown into this area. A Pe-2 squadron from Bomber Regiment 411 BAP arrived at the front on 22 July and the next day despatched half its force against JG51's airbase at Shatalovo. All were shot down. Later that day, three of the five remaining 411 BAP bombers were shot down during a second attempt to raid Shatalovo, two of them being Lt. Bar's 43rd and 44th victories. In the evening of 23 July, one of 4 ShAP's new IL2s fell as Bar's 45th kill, this Soviet unit recording a total of 55 11-2s lost on operations by the end of July. Similarly, 411 BAP's last two Pe-2s were sacrificed on 24 July, one of them claimed as the 23rd victory of IV./JG51's Ofw. Heinrich Hoffmann, the other being 4./JG51's Lt. Georg-Peter Eder's tenth victory. A similar fate met 410 BAP which arrived at the Smolensk sector on 5 July with 38 Pe-2s but which by 26 July had lost 33 of them including 22 shot down by German fighters. Even though WS Western Front received 900 aircraft as replacements during July, the VVS opposed to Luftflotte 2 was unable to carry out more than an average of 240 combat sorties per day during the period 10 to 31 July, during which time Luftflotte 2's combat sortie rate averaged 575 per day.

Unable to close the ring around Smolensk, Army Group Centre was ordered to stop its drive north-eastwards towards Moscow until the city had been completely surrounded. The main emphasis of the advance now became Army Group North, which had advanced further than either Army Group Centre or Army Group South, and the seizure of Leningrad. To secure this goal, in late July the entire VIII. Fliegerkorps was temporarily detached from Luftflotte 2 and was transferred to Luftflotte 1. Thus, III./JG27 and II./JG52 were transferred northward. On 5 August, after being aided by Army Group North, the Germans announced the encirclement of Smolensk and the capture of 310,000 prisoners, 3,205 tanks and 3,120 artillery pieces. By that time, total Soviet aircraft losses since the opening of hostilities was estimated by the Germans to be 9,082. In the intense air fighting during the period between 10 July and 6 August alone, the Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed almost 3,000 Soviet aircraft - 771 by Luftflotte 1, 1,098 by Luftflotte 2, and 980 by Luftflotte 4. But, up to 2 August, the Luftwaffe also recorded 1,023 of its own aircraft destroyed and 657 severely damaged on operations on the Eastern Front.

Meanwhile, throughout most of August, Army Group Centre and Luftflotte 2 concentrated on clearing the confused battle situation in the Smolensk-Gomel area, where JG51 and III./JG53 warded off increased VVS activity, not least over the German 2nd Army's bulge at Yelnya. Between 1 and 16 August, these units were credited with the destruction of 169 Soviet aircraft against 11 combat losses, and on the 16th also, Oblt. Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, Kommandeur of IV./JG51, attained his 40th victory.

Despite their enormous losses, the Soviets still possessed a tremendous will to resist and a relentless stream of reinforcements allowed the strength of the VVS to increase. On 18 August, I. Fliegerkorps' bombers and the troops of 2nd Army noted intense Soviet air activity. At this time, III./JG53 was obliged to cease all operations because it simply had no serviceable aircraft left, and the few fighters remaining to II. Fliegerkorps succeeded only in destroying eight Soviet aircraft and lost two of its own. Two days later, Soviet 129 lAP reported a major success by claiming nine victories for no losses over the Yelnya Bulge.

Toward Leningrad

Before launching the final assault against Leningrad, it became necessary for Army Group North to check its flanks. Strong forces of Soviet troops still remained in northern Estonia where there was also a strong presence of Soviet fighters which made German aerial reconnaissance in particular very hazardous. To combat the Soviet fighters, JG54 carried out freie Jagd missions over Estonia and the Gulf of Riga, and during one such mission on 19 July, Lt. Walter Nowotny of Erg.Gr./JG54 was shot down by a Yak-1 and came down in the sea south of the Soviet-occupied Isle of Osel. Climbing into his one-man dinghy, Nowotny paddled away from the island and continued to do so for 52 hours. In that time, he covered a distance of 60 km and reached the coast of Estonia where he was rescued. For more than three years afterwards, Nowotny always flew wearing the same trousers he had on that day, considering them a lucky charm. On the one occasion he flew without them, on 8 November 1944, he was killed.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the forthcoming offensive against Leningrad, the bombers of I. Fliegerkorps were concentrated against the flow of Soviet supplies on the railways. These operations were also supported by JG54 and on 20 July, five pilots from III./JG54 succeeded in destroying six locomotives on the Dno-Staraya Russa section of the line and completely blocked it. Nevertheless, the problem of supply was greater for the Germans than for their opponents and by 22 July, II./JG53 reported only six serviceable aircraft. Five days later, the Gruppe transferred to Germany to refit with new Bf-109F-4s and was non-operational for three weeks. It was at this time that VIII. Fliegerkorps was attached to Luftflotte 1 from Luftflotte 2, bringing with it the fighter units III./JG27 and II./JG52.

On 27 July, Major Hannes Trautloft, Geschwaderkommodore of JG54 and also commander of the fighter units in I. Fliegerkorps, was awarded the Knight's Cross. Three days previously he had scored his 20th victory against an 58 bomber. On 30 July, Oblt. Hans Philipp, Staffelkapitan of 4./JG52 achieved his 50th victory by downing five Soviet aircraft and on 1 August, 7./JG54's Lt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann shot down a D8-3 as JG54's 1,000th victory. However, immediately following this success, the Staffel was attacked by two Soviet fighters which set Ostermann's Bf-109 on fire and shot down Oblt. Gunther Scholz, both pilots being lucky to escape alive.

On 6 August, Oblt. Reinhardt Hein, Staffelkapitan of 2./JG54, was shot down and captured by Soviet troops but, on the same day, Oblt. Hubert Mutherich and Oblt. Josef P6hs, both of 5./JG54, were awarded the Knight's Cross for 31 and 28 victories respectively.

The intended final offensive against Leningrad opened on 8 August, but heavy rain and reinforced Soviet defence forces slowed the German advance. When the skies cleared on 10 August, large-scale air fighting took place above the slowly advancing Panzer columns with Luftflotte 1 carrying out 1,126 sorties while the VVS flew 908 in the same sector. II./JG52 lost four Bf-109s on 10 and 11 August but, generally, it was the German fighters that were the masters of the air, destroying most of the 54 Soviet aircraft claimed by Luftflotte 1 on 10 August. On 12 and 13 August, Major Trautloft's fighters were credited with 35 victories for no losses of their own and, on the 14th, Oblt. Erbo Graf von Kageneck of III./JG27 shot down five Soviet aircraft. Two days later, as the strategically important city of Novgorod fell into German hands, Grafvon Kageneck increased his total score to 45.

JG54's first ace killed on the Eastern Front was Ofw. Georg Braunshirn with 13 victories, shot down and killed on 16 August. Three days later, Luftflotte l's fighter force was again strengthened when II./JG53 returned from Germany after re-equipping with Bf-109F-4s and started flying operations in the Lake limen area. That day, Oblt. Hans Philipp's 4./JG54 achieved its 200th victory, a higher number than any other Jagdstaffel. A few days later, Oblt. Philipp himself brought down his 62nd enemy aircraft and was awarded the Oak Leaves.

To the north of Lake limen, a fierce battle raged as the Soviets fought to defend their main supply line from Moscow to Leningrad. II./JG52 was in the forefront of these battles and lost two Bf-109s on 19 August. On the 22nd, Lt. Gerhard Barkhorn of 4./JG52, later to become the second-most successful pilot in history with 301 confirmed victories, shot down what was recorded as a "Vultee 11", probably an 11-2, as his fifth victory. On the 26th, Barkhorn's Staffelkapitan, Oblt. Johannes Steinhoff, shot down two aircraft and two more on the 27th, receiving his Knight's Cross shortly afterwards.

On 27 August, II./JG54 and III./JG53 each attained their 500th victories and about this time, IV./JG51 was transferred to Luftflotte 1, increasing further the pressure on the VVS. Oblt. Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, Kommandeur of IV./JG51, achieved his 50th victory on 28 August and his wingman, Uffz. Franz-Josef Beerenbrock, reached his 40th kill by downing three Soviet aircraft on 30 August, the same day that Oblt. Heinz Bar of 12./JG51 shot down six. Between 20 and 30 August, Soviet fighter corps 7 IAK of Leningrad's air defence lost 52 of its 150 fighters, yet still the Soviets resisted strongly and inflicted losses. Lt. Georg Seelmann of II./JG51 shot down a DB-3 as his 36th victory on 30 August, but was rammed later the same day by a Soviet bomber. Seelmann baled out over Soviet-controlled territory but managed to evade capture and returned to the German lines. Bar had a similar experience after scoring his 79th and 80th victories against two Pe-2s on 31 August. His 'Black 1' was shot down behind enemy lines but despite two sprained ankles, Bar also returned to the German lines. III./JG53's -Lt. Erich Schmidt was less fortunate. With 47 victories, Schmidt was the most successful pilot in III./JG53 but when his 'Yellow 6' was shot down by ground fire on the 31st, Schmidt baled out over Soviet-controlled territory and was never seen again. Three days later, III./JG53 was moved south to participate in the offensive against Kiev.

Among the last successes achieved by IV./JG51 on the Northern Front were two SBs brought down on 8 September by Ofw. Heinrich Hoffmann as his 54th and 55th victories. Soon afterwards, the Gruppe transferred to Army Group Centre to help suppress the increasing Soviet air activity in that sector of the front.

As the German Panzer troops closed in on Leningrad in early September, the ground fighting grew even harder. At the same time, the Luftwaffe was forced to re-locate some units to other sectors of the front at the very time the Soviets transferred new units, including seven fresh fighter regiments, to the Leningrad sector. The inevitable result was that Luftflotte 1 received a series of severe personnel losses. On the 6th, II./JG52 lost the 30-victory ace Oblt. August-Wilhelm Schumann when his 'Black 1' crashed near Lyuban.

On 9 September, 5./JG54's Staffelkapitan, 43-victory ace Oblt. Hubert Mutherich, was shot down by Soviet fighters and was killed when he attempted to belly-land his badly damaged 'Black 10'. When the Germans made a fruitless attempt to break through Leningrad's defence perimeters on 11 September, there were severe losses on both sides. Although JG54 recorded 17 victories against three losses and II./JG53 claimed nine, this latter Gruppe lost Ofw. Stefan Litjens (24 victories) when he was shot down and severely injured. III./JG27 also claimed nine kills on 11 September but lost Lt. Hans Richter (21 victories) when he was shot down by an I-16; and on 19 September, III./JG27 lost Fw. Ernst Riepe (six victories) who went missing in his 'Yellow 11' after an aerial combat. Six days later, Ofw. Franz Blazytko (30 victories) of III./JG27 was captured after being shot down, possibly by M.Lt. (Junior Lieutenant) Dmitriy Tatarenko of the independent fighter squadron 13 OIAE/VVS KBF. Finally, on 30 September, III./JG54's Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Arnold Lignitz, was shot down over Leningrad by an I-153. Lignitz, a Ritterkreuztrager credited with 25 victories was held by Soviet troops in Leningrad where he died.

Despite the loss of many of Luftflotte l's best fighter pilots, however, the Luftwaffe fighter arm remained superior in airmen and aircraft. The Soviet situation was incomparably worse, and of the 445 pilots available to 7 IAK on 1 July 1941, this number had dropped to 88 three months later. Nevertheless, the stiff Soviet defence and the German Army's inability to bring forward replacements and spare parts to its first-line units made it impossible for the Germans to achieve their goal of capturing Leningrad. Eventually, they decided not to assault Leningrad but to besiege it and starve it into surrender. Thus, from late September, when VIII. Fliegerkorps returned to Luftflotte 2, JG54 remained as the only fighter unit in Luftflotte 1.

Annihilation at Kiev

After the successful conclusion of the battle of encirclement at Uman in the Ukraine during the first half of August 1941, German Army Group South concentrated its forces against the mighty Dnieper River in the east, and by 23 August had seized its first bridgeheads at Zaporozhye, Cherkassy and Gornostaypol. This drive was supported from the air by Luftflotte 4, which mustered the fighter units Stab, I., II. and III./JG3; Stab and III./JG52; Stab, II. and III./JG77; and I.(J)/LG2.

Meanwhile, Army Group Centre's 2. Panzergruppe, commanded by Generaloberst Heinz Guderian, opened a major offensive to the south from its positions in the Gomel area, 130 miles north of Kiev, with the aim of meeting up with Army Group South and trapping the entire Soviet South-Western Front in a huge pincer manoeuvre. Initially, Soviet opposition against Guderian's attack was weak and the heavy losses in the air during the past weeks had reduced the strength of the VVS to less than one hundred aircraft.

Control of the air cover over Guderian's troops was the responsibility of II. Fliegerkorps, but JG51 achieved only two aerial victories in the first two days of the offensive. Soviet reinforcements in the form of a complete army group, General-Leytenant Andrey Yeremenko's new Bryansk Front, were rushed in to meet Guderian's offensive with an air force mustering 464 aircraft, but the bulk of WS Bryansk Front's airmen lacked combat experience, were inadequately trained, and relatively few of the aircraft they manned were of the latest models. The VVS units of the Bryansk Front first went into action on 25 August and during a battle with MiG-3s and bombers, Hptm. Hermann-Friedrich Joppien, Kommandeurof I./JG51, was killed. With 70 victories to his credit, Joppien was the Luftwaffe's fourth-ranking ace at the time of his death. Despite this loss and the numerical superiority of the VVS Bryansk Front, the quality of the Jagdwaffe pilots compared with their Soviet opponents was such that JG51 soon established air superiority and on 27 August claimed 35 victories for no losses. Thus VVS Bryansk Front was already crushed when, on 3 September, III./JG53 arrived from Luftflotte 1. On 8 September, the Kommodore of JG51, Major Friedrich Beckh, was credited with the Geschwader's 2,000th victory, more than 1,300 of which had been achieved since 22 June 1941.

Further south, the air fighting over Army Group South increased in intensity as the Soviets attempted to suppress the increasing number of German bridgeheads on the Dnieper's eastern bank, but again the main result was further losses in the Soviet air units. The 13 September was a particularly dramatic day, JG3 claiming 25 Soviet aircraft shot down including 13 "V-l1s", probably 11-2s, for the loss of one Bf-109 over the bridgehead at Kremenchug. Twenty of these kills were claimed by II./JG3 and the Geschwaderkommodore, Major Gunther Lutzow, contributed by bringing down two DB-3s for his 69th and 70th victories. Also on this day, I./JG3's last three serviceable Bf-109s carried out their final combat sorties before the Gruppe was withdrawn to Germany where it was eventually redesignated II./JG1.

As the Panzer groups from Army Groups South and Centre converged, forming the jaws of the war's greatest pincer movement, the lines of retreat where Soviet troops tried to escape entrapment were attacked by hundreds of German bombers from Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 4 while Bf-109s from five Jagdgeschwader kept the skies clear of opposition. On 16 September, 1. and 2. Panzergruppen met at Lokhvitsa, 130 miles east of Kiev, and closed the ring around five Soviet armies. The final stage of the Kiev battle was characterised by complete German control of the air and between 17 and 26 September, JG51 recorded a total of 41 victories, with JG3 claiming 35 and III./JG53 claiming 14. When the battle was over, 440,000 Soviet soldiers had been taken prisoner in the collapsed Kiev pocket.

Beckh is Appointed Kommandeur

It was under these circumstances that Major i. G Friedrich Beckh proposed that he should himself become Kommandeur. He had the requested rank, had for a long time been seeking action and, despite already being 33 years of age, felt he had the skills of a 20 year old. Moreover, as a staff officer, he possessed all the theoretical knowledge necessary to lead a Gruppe. However, besides his age and physical size, Beckh's eyesight had deteriorated since he had joined the Luftwaffe in 1935 and by 1941 he had to wear spectacles. Although Molders finally accepted the solution and officially named Beckh as Kommandeur of lY./JG51, he certainly had his doubts about Beckh's abilities and ensured that he would always be escorted by an excellent Rottenflieger with sufficiently good eyesight to serve both the Kommandeur and himself.

Accordingly, on 5 March 1941, when IY./JG51 became involved in its first action since the loss of Keitel, Major Beckh was escorted by the former Legion Condor member and later Ritterkreuztriiger, Ofw.Adolf Borchers, who flew as his wingman. In this action, Beckh was able to claim his first victory, a Spitfire shot down from an altitude of 8,200 metres in combat off Boulogne, while Borchers also claimed a Spitfire. A few days later, on 10 March, Beckh claimed his second victory north of Le Touquet and, on 6 May, with the excellent Oblt. Karl-Gottfried Nordmann as his wingman, he claimed another Spitfire as his third victory. His fourth, a Hurricane, fell on 21May.


During the first months of Operation 'Barbarossa', Major Beckh became very successful and, on 21 July 1941, was finally chosen by Molders to succeed him as Kommodore of JG51. Beckh's place as Kommandeur of IV./JG51 was taken by Oblt. Karl-Gottfried Nordmann and the new Kommodore also attracted to his Stab another famous pilot, the Austrian Lt. Bernd Gallowitsch of 12./JG51, who at that time was credited with about 20 victories and who flew as Beckh's wingman. Soon, the Beckh-Gallowitsch team proved most successful and on 8 September 1941, Beckh claimed JG51's 2,000th victory.

Beckh's luck turned for the first time on 16 September when, during a low-level mission, his Bf-109F- 2 was hit by flak.Although badly wounded in his left foot, Beckh survived and, two days later, he was awarded the Ritterkreuz. By this time, he had been successful in 27 combats, including his four in the West, and had also destroyed about 20 Russian aircraft on the ground.Although his wound temporarily prevented him from flying further missions, he continued to lead his Geschwader from the ground until, on 3 October, he finally had to resign himself to enter hospital in order to avoid the risk of infection in his wounded foot Jagdgeschwader 51 then came under the command of Major Gunther Lutzow who, for a while, led his own JG3 as well as JG51. Having temporally lost his Rottenfuhrer, 'Gallomir' Gallowitsch returned to 12./JG51 where he soon claimed his 40th victory.

Apparently, in early 1942, Beckh was again able to fly missions and claimed approximately 20 more victories before he was posted back to the Reichsluftfahrtministerium. His successor as Kommodore of JG51 was, once again, the same Major Nordmann who, six months earlier, had succeeded Beckh as Kommandeur of IV./JG51. However, Beckh's new position in the RLM certainly did not please him and soon he was pressing to be returned to the front. He was granted his wishes when, on 3 June, following the death in action of Major Wilhelm Lessmann, he was named Kommodore of JG52.

Beckh, however, scored no more victories. On 21 June 1942, he took off in a Bf-109F-4 coded 'Black 4' for a fighter sweep against enemy airfields, the kind off mission he particularly liked. He was accompanied on this occasion by the experienced Ofw. Berthold Grassmuck who subsequently wrote the following report:

Grassmuck Oberfeldwebel, I./JG52

In the field, 21st June 1942,

At 0935 on 21.6.42, I took off as wingman to Major Beckh in order to carry out a fighter sweep in the area of Isjum-Kupjansk-Waluiki.1 observed a Russian air base east of Waluiki. With Major Beckh, I circled over the landing field three times at an altitude of 3,000 metres.

Afterwards, Major Beckh headed down to 1,000 metres toward another enemy landingfield which was covered with Russian fighters. Then nine LaGG-3s came towards us. Immediately Major Beckh attacked the aircraft in front and shot it down. The pilot baled out. During the dogfight other LaGG-3s took off so that there were about 20 Russian fighters in the air. During the air battle the flak discharged a heavy concentration of fire. After the first kill Major Beckh attacked another aircraft. During the air combat, numerous LaGG-3s attacked Major Beckh from the rear. I was able to shoot down one of these aircraft. When it was no longer possible for me to cover Major Beckh, I called out on the radio, "Ten enemy fighters behind us." Major Beckh pulled up at a shallow angle and was able to shake off the Russian fighters. As we were pulling up, I saw the detonations of four flak bursts directly under Major Beckh's aircraft. Afterward it trailed white smoke. I called out over the radio, "Head for own lines, aircraft emits white trail of smoke." Since I received no answer from Major Beckh, I repeated this message. The aircraft continued to fly in the same direction for about 50 seconds and then nosed down and dived into the ground at a steep angle. The aircraft burst into flames upon impact. I could not circle over the crash site since there were six LaGG-3s behind me. I could not determine if Major Beckh had taken to his parachute. The crash site is about 3-4 km. SW' of Waluiki...

(Signed) Ofw. Grassmuck

A Mystery Solved

On the evening of 21 June, Beckh's family listened to a radio broadcast announcing the Heldentod, or Hero's Death of Friedrich. The next day the family received from the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe an official written confirmation of his death and, for a while, there seemed little doubt concerning the certainty of his fate.

Beckh's reported death was a severe blow to JG52 as he was the Geschwader's second Kommodore lost in three weeks. However, in view of Grassmuck's doubt about whether or not the Major had baled out, rumours quickly began to circulate that perhaps Beckh had after all survived the crash and had been taken prisoner. Indeed, about a week later, interrogation of a captured Russian pilot revealed that an injured German officer with the red stripes of the General stab on his trousers had been taken prisoner a few days earlier. When shown several photographs of Beckh, the Russian confirmed that indeed he recognised him as the officer captured earlier. This information clearly introduced an element of doubt over Beckh's fate and his loss was amended in official records from 'killed' to 'missing' in action.

Thus began the hope that Beckh may have survived and, for several years after the war, Beckh's father contacted many former pilots and made enquiries about his son. Although nothing conclusive emerged, hope that he may have survived was maintained by such letters as the following, written in 1951 by the ace Adolf Borchers:

'[Although] I did not participate in your son's last mission, the statement of the German pilot regarding the crash of your son's aircraft cannot however be entirely accurate. Among us pilots of JG51 'Molders', the official version at that time was that your son received hits during a low-level attack on a Russian aiifield, had to carry out a crash landing, and was taken alive into Russian captivity. This report was later supported by a statement made by a captured Russian pilot who claimed that, a few days earlier, a German Major'with red stripes on his trousers had crash-landed near his airfield and had become a prisoner of war. This is consistent with the fact that your son, as a member of the General Staff, flew while wearing his staff trousers. Unfortunately, during my own period of captivity in Russia, I heard nothing further about your son.'

Adolf Borchers

Eventually, as the years passed and all hope faded, Beckh was tin ally declared "Gefallen".' Then, in early 2002, the author of this biography was contacted by Russian aircraft enthusiast Evgenij Be1ogurov who asked if the name Major I.G. Friedrich Beckh was known to him. The enthusiast then explained that in 1976 he had visited the site of a crashed Bf-109 which, according to an eye-witness, had been pursued by four Russian aircraft, one of which had shot it down. The German machine had then plunged into a marsh near Waluiki, in the Belgorod province, and there, at a depth of three metres, the enthusiast had found a well-preserved body, a number of personal documents in which the name Beckh appeared several times, and a diary in which the last entry was dated 19th June 1942.

At last it was possible to inform Beckh's family and the German War Graves Service of these facts and, at the time of writing, it is hoped that Friedrich Beckh may finally receive a decent burial.

1. Killed in action.

Unternehmen Taifun

When the assault against Moscow was launched under the code-name Unternehmen Taifun', or Operation 'Typhoon', it marked the decisive stage of 'Barbarossa'. By 30 September 1941, the Luftwaffe had claimed a total of 14,500 Soviet aircraft destroyed, including approximately 5,000 in aerial combat, whereas its own total losses on the Eastern Front between 22 June and 27 September 1941 amounted to 1,603 aircraft destroyed and 1,028 severely damaged.[7] The strength of Luftflotte 2 which had II. and VIII. Fliegerkorps under its command and which was assigned to provide air support, had dwindled from 1,200 to 549 aircraft. The fighter units participating were Stab, II. and III./JG3; III./JG27; the entire JG51; I. and II./JG52; and III./JG53. Included in III./JG27 was the first Spanish fighter unit to participate in the war, 1/0 Escuadrilla Azu/, which was designated 15.(Span.)/JG27. By 27-28 September, the total strength of the whole of JG3 amounted to just 30 serviceable Bf-109s, III./JG27 possessed only 11 while the entire JG51 had no more than some 50 serviceable fighter aircraft.

Operation 'Typhoon' commenced on 30 September with an attack launched by Generaloberst Guderian's 2. Panzergruppe, later redesignated a Panzer Armee. On the first day of the offensive there was virtually no Soviet aerial opposition, but strong reinforcements were soon allocated to the contested area and as early as 1 October the Soviets were able to assemble 301 serviceable bombers and 201 fighters against Luftflotte 2, followed shortly afterwards by the fighters of Moscow Air Defence's 6 IAK which were also brought into action. A relatively large number of these aircraft were of the latest types; MiG-3, LaGG-3 and Yak-1 fighters, 11-2 ground-attack aircraft and twin-engined Pe-2 bombers. Meanwhile, more Luftwaffe units were withdrawn to rest and refit, II. and III./JG53 leaving in early October. Despite the diminishing number of serviceable aircraft, this may have been quite a sound decision since, at that time, there were more pilots available at the front than aircraft. All aircraft and technical stocks belonging to the units that left for Germany were handed over to those that remained.

On 2 October, Oblt. Karl-Heinz Leesmann's I./JG52, which had transferred to the Eastern Front from Holland prior to 'Typhoon', made a conspicuous debut by shooting down four Soviet aircraft. The next day, JG51 reported two victories against two losses, one of which was IV. Gruppe's Ofw. Heinrich Hoffmann, credited with 63 victories, who went missing in his 'Brown 2' after an air combat near Shatalovo aerodrome, possibly shot down by 233 lAP's St.Lt. Sergeyev. The next day, Spanish Gomandante (Lieutenant-Colonel) Angel Salas Larrazabal achieved 15.(Span.)/JG27's first two victories when he destroyed an I-16 and a Pe-2.

The air war during Operation 'Typhoon' reached a climax on 5 October, when JG51 claimed 20 victories without suffering any losses. Meanwhile, in JG3, the Geschwaderkommodore, Major Gunther Lutzow, shot down four DB-3s, and II. Gruppe's Kommandeur, Hptm. Gordon Gollob, reached his 51st victory by downing two fighters. Lutzow scored another four victories on 9 October, two on 10 October, and one on 11 October. On the latter date he became the fourth serviceman of the Wehrmacht, all of whom were fighter pilots, to be awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. The largest contribution by any single Jagdgruppe was that given by Hptm'. Karl-Heinz Leesmann's I./JG52 which, between 2 and 10 October, was credited with 58 victories against seven losses.

The Soviets now sent further reinforcements to the endangered sector, four bomber regiments arriving from the Central Asian Military District on 10 October, and all available aircraft took part in an offensive against Luftflotte 2's air bases. However, this operation, which commenced on 11 October and lasted for eight days, was a total failure. During this period, Oblt. Erbo Grafvon Kageneck of JG27 shot down three 11-2s on the 11th followed by a MiG-3 on the 12th, bringing his Eastern Front victories to 47 and his total victory tally to 65, for which he was awarded the Oak Leaves on 26 October 1941. Also on the 12th, III./JG27, less 15.(Span.)/JG27, left the Eastern Front and II./JG3 left Luftflotte 2 and transferred south to reinforce Luftflotte 4 in the Crimea. On 13 October, JG51 claimed ten victories for the loss of 7. Staffel's Lt. Joachim Hacker, credited with 32 kills. Next day, Soviet 10 SAD, 12 SAD and 450 ShAP attacked German columns in the Yukhnov-Spas Demensk area; 15.(Span.)/JG27 reported three DB-3s shot down, two of them by Gte. Angel Salas Larrazabal. JG3's Major LCitzow claimed a MiG-3 and a DB-3 for his 96th and 97th victories.

By 7 October, large pockets of Soviet troops had been cut off around Vyasma and Bryansk, but the next day, the Autumn weather began to have an effect as heavy rains and mud began to slow German units pushing towards Moscow from the north and south. The effect on aerial operations, however, was more gradual and spasmodic, so that while Luftflotte 2 mounted only 51 sorties on 19 October and hardly any the next day, an improvement in the weather between 22 and 23 October allowed 939 sorties to be flown. However, the subsequent air battles also showed that the VVS was improving and in those two days, although JG51 claimed 17 victories, it sufferred five losses including 7. Staffel's Ofw. Robert Fuchs, credited with 23 victories, and 1. Staffel's 12-victory ace Ofw. Heinz Schawaller.

The next day, JG3's Major Gunther Lutzow carried out two missions. Shortly after 10.30 hrs, he engaged a small group of MiG-3s and shot down one, his 99th victory, in his first attack. There then followed a ten-minute turning combat before Lutzow was able to shoot down his next MiG-3, making him the second pilot to achieve 100 confirmed victories in the Second World War. On his second mission, at 14.23 hrs that day, Lutzow shot down a third MiG-3, following which he was ordered not to fly any further combat missions.

By this time, both sides had become almost bogged down in the mud some hundred miles west of Moscow. Luftflotte 2 did its utmost to intervene against counter-attacking Red Army units but suffered from a rapidly diminishing number of serviceable aircraft. In addition to this, conditions on the improvised frontline airstrips were frightful, and aircraft which did manage to take off were confronted by steadily mounting opposition from the VVS. The 15.(Span.)/JG27 was dealt its first combat loss on 25 October when Teniente (Lieutenant) Abundio Cesteros Garcia was wounded in action. Two days later, 7./JG51's Oblt. Herbert Wehnelt was shot down by an 11-2 shortly after achieving his 19th victory and was seriously injured.

The first five weeks of 'Typhoon' had indeed resulted in enormous Soviet losses, the Red Army facing Army Group Centre suffering more than 650,000 casualties between 30 September and 5 November 1941. In the air war, JG51 claimed a total of 289 victories in October against 13 Bf-109s lost due to enemy action. Actual VVS losses during the defence operations to the west of Moscow between 30 September and 5 November 1941 were 293 aircraft and many Soviet air units were badly depleted. On 29 October, 29 lAP and 187 lAP reported only two serviceable fighters apiece, while 198 ShAP was down to a single serviceable 11-2.

Between 1 October and 8 November, the Luftwaffe claimed to have destroyed a total of 2,174 enemy aircraft on the entire Eastern Front; 1,293 in aerial combat, 412 by Flak, and 469 on the ground. Although these figures reveal a considerable drop in the intensity of the air fighting, the daily average of Soviet aircraft claimed shot down in air combat now being 33 compared to 100 during the first weeks of the war in the East, they also indicate that the Soviets had learned from their previous mistakes and were taking greater care in dispersing and camouflaging their aircraft on the ground.

Over Kharkov and the Crimea

Meanwhile, Army Group South had launched attacks to capture Kharkov and secure the Ukraine. After the Battle of Kiev in mid-September 1941, Luftflotte 4's forces were dispersed between three main targets; the Soviet industrial centre in Kharkov and the Donets Basin; the Crimea; and Rostov. Since JG3 had been transferred to Luftflotte 4 to participate in Operation 'Typhoon', Luftflotte 4 could muster only four Jagdgruppen for these tasks, namely III./JG52, which was transferred to Poltava in the eastern Ukraine to support the drive against Kharkov, and II. and III./JG77 with I.(J)/LG2 which were in action on the right flank of Army Group South.

Despite its numerical inferiority, after about ten days of intense aerial activity, III./JG52 managed at least to achieve local air superiority. During this period, Uffz. Gerhard Koppen of 8./JG52, who had scored his first victory only on 24 June 1941, achieved his 18th and 19th victories on 24 September when he destroyed a MiG-3 and an SB; and on 4 October, Koppen's Staffelkapitan, Oblt. Gunther Rail, shot down his 19th and 20th victories which were claimed as "Severskys" but which were probably 11-2s. Between 3 and 14 October, III./JG52 was credited with more than 50 aerial victories without losing one of its own aircraft to hostile action and by 17 October, Oblt. Rail had already claimed his 25th victim, a Yak-1.

Nevertheless, Soviet bomber and ground-attack aircraft continued to attack the German advance columns with considerable effect and on 9 October, German 17th Army complained about "incessant enemy aerial attacks which are most troublesome to our advance". Two days later, an Armee Korps under 17th Army reported 196 casualties as a result of the day's Soviet air attacks. This contributed largely towards slowing down Army Group South's advance. Meanwhile, in an unparalleled evacuation operation, the Soviets succeeded in dismantling and transferring eastwards 1,523 factories, installations and research establishments. This included 85 per cent of their airframe and aero-engine production facilities and was a feat which German bomber operations against rail lines in the area failed to prevent.

Farther south, an attempt in mid-September by the German 11th Army to seize the Crimean Peninsula had failed due to stiff Soviet resistance. Supported by 200 fighters and 130 bombers of VVS ChF, the Soviets managed to hold their positions on the Perekop Isthmus connecting the Crimea with the mainland. In a further attack by 11th Army on 26 September, although JG77 and I.(J)/LG2 claimed 29 Soviet aircraft shot down against two combat losses, the Soviet airmen succeeded in providing their ground troops with decisive support and this second German attack also failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough.

Most of the Soviet aircraft shot down over the Perekop Isthmus on 26 September were bombers or ground-attack aircraft, some of them biplanes, which became easy prey to Bf-109s which bounced them from above, but the situation was greatly different in pure fighter versus fighter combat. Among the Soviet fighter units in the Crimea was Kapitan (Captain) Ivan Lyubimov's 5 Eskadrilya (Squadron) of VVS ChF's 32 lAP, equipped with Yak-1s. On 30 September, Kapitan Lyubimov and St.Lt. Mikhail Avdeyev, one of his best pilots, intercepted a pair of Bf-109s from 4./JG77 and shot one down. The Bf-109's pilot, Uffz. Julius Dite, baled out and although he was taken prisoner, Dite later perished in captivity. However, his pistol, which he reportedly handed over to Lyubimov and Avdeyev, is today on display in St. Petersburg's Central Navy Museum.

On 1 October, III./JG77 claimed three I-16s shot down but lost two Bf-109s. Two days later, LlV Armee Korps under the German 11th Army described the air situation at the Perekop Isthmus thus:

"The enemy air force was very active throughout the day, attacking villages, artillery positions and troop quarters in relentless waves (up to 27 aircraft participating in a single attack) to such an extent that [the situation] can only be described as [the enemy] having total control of the air."

A severe loss was inflicted on III./JG77 on 8 October when 38-victory ace Oblt. Kurt Lasse, the Staffelkapitan of 9./JG77, was killed during air combat with two MiG-3s. According to a German report, Lasse collided with his wingman, Fw. Robert Helmer.

Meanwhile, a new front was opened as German 1. Panzergruppe wheeled from the area east of Kiev and advanced south-eastwards to the Sea of Azov, enveloping the Soviet 18th and 9th Armies. On 9 October, VVS Southern Front, which was left with only 134 serviceable aircraft on 1 October, made strong attempts to relieve the entrapped forces, but 4 ShAP and 210 ShAP, despatched to attack 1. Panzergruppe, were met by II./JG77 which claimed eight 11-2s shot down during repeated clashes during the day. Other Soviet units suffered even worse during attacks on the German air base at Chaplinka, north of the Perekop Isthmus, and when the day was over, III./JG77 had claimed 14 of the raiders, four being awarded to Oblt. Kurt Ubben who thus achieved his 45th victory.

Nevertheless, the pressure exerted by the VVS on 11th Army in the Perekop Isthmus could not be broken and General Erich von Manstein, commanding 11th Army, pointed out that even the German anti-aircraft batteries hesitated to open fire for fear of revealing their positions. To help resolve this situation, II./JG3 was withdrawn from Operation 'Typhoon'. This Gruppe, commanded by Knight's Cross holder Hptm. Gordon Gollob, was at that time one of the most successful Jagdgruppen and had been credited with more than 400 victories in the East since 22 June 1941. Arriving at Chaplinka on 16 October, II./JG3 carried out its first mission over the Crimea the next day. This involved escorting bombers to Yevpatoria and during this mission, Hptm. Gollob claimed his 59th and 60th victories. Confident that Gollob's fighters would provide his troops with sufficient air cover, General von Manstein launched his next attack against the Crimea on 18 October. Gollob did what he could to break the Soviet air superiority, noting in his diary that day: "Nine victories, all against I-16s [actually MiG-3s]. First take-off at 06.47 hrs: two victories; second take-off at 09.45 hrs: five victories; third take-off at 1430 hours: two victories. "

On the ground, German troops did indeed note a certain relief, but it was far from sufficient and, once again, the German attack broke down under the weight of Soviet air attacks, one of which, a surprise attack carried out the following night by Pe-2s of 40 BAP /VVS ChF, succeeded in neutralising Chaplinka aerodrome. Eventually, German fighter forces were further reinforced by the arrival of III./JG52 and this proved to be the key to German victory in this sector. On 23 October, II./JG3, III./JG52 and III./JG77, led by the inspector of the Luftwaffe fighter arm, Oberst Werner Molders, then acting as Nahkampffuhrer Krim, were launched en masse against Soviet aircraft swarming over the Perekop Isthmus. By the end of the day, 34 Soviet aircraft had been claimed shot down, and 11th Army had achieved a decisive breakthrough. The next day, II./JG3 and III./JG52 dealt harshly with the weak Soviet fighter units that arrived on the scene and tried to regain what had been lost in the air on the 23rd. In III./JG52, Oblt. Gunther Rail shot down an I-153 and an I-16 for his 27th and 28th victories, Lt. Hermann Graf knocked down two "I-61s" for his 15th and 16th victories, and Lt. Adolf Dickfeld claimed five victories, bringing his total to 20. Meanwhile, Hptm. Gollob destroyed an I-153 for his 85th victory and on 26 October he was awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross.

During the next few days 11th Army was able to occupy almost the entire Crimea, the exceptions being the Kerch peninsula, which was not cleared until May 1942, and the heavily fortified strategic port at Sevastopol which held out until July 1942. In early November, II./JG3 left the Eastern Front and was transferred to Germany for a period of badly needed rest. Its aircraft were handed over to III./JG77 which remained based in the Crimea, Hptm. Gollob's personal aircraft being taken over by Oberst Molders, the General der Jagdflieger, who preferred to stay with III./JG77 rather than to return to his office in Berlin. Albeit grounded on Hitler's orders, Molders continued to fly unofficial combat missions with III./JG77 in November 1941 and even achieved a number of unofficial aerial victories.

In the Far North

On the extreme north flank of Germany's war against the Soviet Union, Wehrmacht forces marched from German-occupied northern Norway to seize the town of Murmansk, the Soviet Union's only port which remained ice-free throughout the year and had direct access to the open seas. At the outbreak of hostilities, the operation against Murmansk was supported by Luftwaffenkommando Kirkenes, a detachment from Luftflotte 5 which mustered some 100 aircraft including about 20 Bf-109Es from 1. and 14./JG77. This force was opposed by 263 Soviet aircraft, none of which included the most modern types.

In contrast to the other sectors of the Eastern Front, there was almost no flying on 22 June 1941 due to thick fog and one of the Luftwaffe's first operations in the Far North was carried out on a later date when a Rotte composed of Oblt. Horst Carganico, Staffelkapitan of I./JG77, and Ofw. Hugo Dahmer, strafed the large Soviet lighthouse at the mouth of Kola Bay, the entrance to Murmansk. The two Jagdwaffe pilots were later strongly rebuked for this action, since German U-boats operating in this area used the lighthouse as an orientation point.

Carganico and Dahmer would soon earn fame as the deadliest Luftwaffe duo in the Far North. When the war against the USSR opened, Carganico had six victories, whereas Dahmer's score already stood at 11, reached while serving with JG26 in the West. In fact, Dahmer, who had better eyesight than Carganico, also developed the so-called Sauhaufen, or "hog wild" tactics, that led him and his Staffelkapitan to great success. According to these tactics, Carganico and Dahmer attacked Soviet bomber formations singly, relentlessly and irregularly, each from various directions, confusing the Soviet bombers' gunners by creating the impression that there were more than two German fighters attacking.

The progress of Luftwaffe operations in the Far North was assisted when Finland joined the war on Germany's side and, after a while, a Freya early warning radar was installed to support Luftwaffenkommando Kirkenes. This was quite unique, being the only case on the Eastern Front in 1941 when the Luftwaffe could make any use of radar, but despite this technical advantage the airmen had to fight hard. There were several highly experienced Soviet pilots serving in this sector, and one of them, St.Lt. Boris Safonov of the Northern Fleet's (SF) 72 SAP, would develop into the most successful Soviet fighter ace of 1941. Although Hptm. Alfred von Lojewski, Staffelkapitan of 14./JG77, was shot down on 29 June and was captured, on most occasions the German fighters had the upper hand against the Soviet Polikarpov fighters and SB bombers.

By 12 July, Dahmer's victory tally had reached 22 while Oblt. Carganico's stood at 13. At this time, Carganico and Dahmer were stationed at Petsamo, the Finnish town that had been annexed by the Soviets in 1940, and when the German Army's advance against Murmansk failed and both sides became bogged down in static warfare, wild dogfights took place in the air over the frontline. This was the period of the Polar Summer, when the sun shone for 24 hours and rendered air operations possible around the clock. Oblt. Carganico achieved an unusual victory on 25 July when he shot down an MBR-2 seaplane, but his air combat five days later would be even more spectacular. At this time the British aircraft carriers HMS Victorious and Furious were operating in northern waters, and on 30 July, 30 Fairey Albacore torpedo aircraft and nine Fairey Fulmar fighters from the Royal Navy's 827, 828 and 817 Squadrons, took off from these vessels to attack German ships at Kirkenes. The British formations were intercepted by nine Bf-109s from Hptm. Carganico's I./JG77 and four Bf-110s from the neighboring 1.(Z)/JG77. A total of 12 Albacores and four Fulmars were shot down (the Germans claimed 28) for the loss of a Bf-110 and a Ju-87. Although Ofw. Dahmer did not participate in this action, two days later he achieved his 25th victory against a Soviet aircraft and became the first pilot in the Far North to be awarded the Knight's Cross.

Another successful pilot in I./JG77 was Lt. Heinz Mahlkuch, who had a total of 16 victories before being posted missing in action on 23 August 1941. Shortly afterward, a 20 year-old Unteroffizier was posted to I./JG77 from the Erganzungsgruppe. His name was Rudolf Muller, and on only his third combat flight, on 12 September 1941, he scored his first victory against an I-16 followed by a DB-3 and an I-153 on 17 September. Muller would eventually become one of the highest scoring Luftwaffe pilots in the Far North.

By this time Soviet air forces in the Far North were being reinforced. MiG-3s and LaGG-3s arrived to replace the Polikarpov fighters, and Western lend-lease war equipment started arriving by sea aboard convoys sailing into Murmansk. The first convoy brought the RAF's 81 and 134 Squadrons with a total of 39 Hurricane fighters, and the British pilots carried out their first combat in this sector on 12 September when a Bf-109E was shot down for the loss of a Hurricane. However, contrary to various British accounts, the Hurricanes, whether flown by British or Soviet pilots, did not bring any decisive qualitative improvement to the Soviet side, and of the three Bf-109s claimed shot down by the British Hurricane pilots on 26 September, for example, not one can be confirmed by German loss records. In contrast, however, the new pilot Uffz. Rudolf Muller shot down one of these Hurricanes on the 27th as his fourth victory.

During the first three months of operations against the Soviets, I./JG77 was credited with about 100 victories for the loss of 10 Bf-109s and three pilots. On 25 September, two days before his 24th birthday, Oblt. Carganico became the Staffef's second Knight's Cross holder with a victory tally of 27. By that time, the Jagdstaffeln in the Far North had been united under the command of Major Hennig Strumpell to form the Jagdgruppe zur besonderen Verwendung, or Fighter Group for Special Duties.

From October 1941 the approaching Polar winter with its greatly reduced hours of daylight and adverse weather severely curtailed flying in the Far North. A Schwarm commanded by Dahmer was transferred to an airfield near Alakurtti, 175 miles south-west of Murmansk, to support the Finnish III. Army Corps' attack in this area. On 25 October, Dahmer's Schwarm took off to attack a Soviet army patrol of about 150-200 men which had penetrated the Finnish lines during the night and had surrounded Alakurtti aerodrome. During two strafing missions, the four Bf-109s managed to almost completely wipe out the Soviet unit.

Uffz. Muller shot down his next Soviet aircraft, two SBs and an I-16, on 2 and 4 November, and a few days later, I./JG77 was withdrawn from first-line service. During the last weeks of 1941, it became apparent even from the relatively few encounters in the air, that Soviet aerial opposition had improved. When Lt. Alfred Jakobi of Jagdgruppe z.b. V. was shot down and wounded in his shoulder by a Soviet Hurricane near Zapadnaya Litsa, his aircraft became number 15 on Boris Safonov's list of shot-down German aircraft; 20 if Safonov's shared victories are included.

A troublesome incident took place on 8 November, when the newly appointed Jagdfliegerfuhrer Norwegen, Oberst Carl Schumacher, flying a mission in a Bf-109, misidentified a Finnish De Havilland Dragon Rapide ambulance aircraft. Believing it was a Soviet SB bomber, Schumacher attacked and shot down the Finnish aircraft. Fortunately, there were no fatalities, and to avoid an awkward incident, the Germans awarded the Finnish crew with Iron Crosses and rapidly transferred Schumacher to another position.

A comparison between German and Soviet loss files show that whereas Luftflotte 5 registered 89 aircraft destroyed or severely damaged due to enemy action in the air between June and November 1941, the Soviets lost 221 aircraft in combat with both Luftflotte 5 and the Finnish Air Force.


In late October and early November 1941, the notorious Russian rasputitsa - the deep mud created by the heavy autumnal rainfall - almost brought the German offensive along the entire Eastern Front to a complete standstill. The VVS tried to exploit this situation by attacking the columns of stranded German vehicles, and whenever conditions permitted, the Bf-109s of the Jagdgeschwader in the East carried out freie Jagd standing patrols over the front area. On the Northern Front, JG54 reported eleven kills on 6 November, thus bringing the Geschwader's total number of victories to over 1,500, and to the south, over the road to Rostov, I. (J)jLG2, III./JG52 and II./JG77 dealt the VVS airmen grievous losses. Of these Jagdgruppen, III./JG52, which had transferred to Taganrog on the northern shore of the Sea of Azov on 2 November, was particularly successful. Fw. Gerhard Koppen achieved the Gruppe's 400th victory in early November, the Staffelkapitan of 8./JG52, Oblt. Rail, achieved his 30th victory when he shot down a MiG-3 on 8 November, and throughout the month the Gruppe's victory-to-loss ratio was 20:1.

The most effective resistance in the air was encountered by Luftflotte 2 near Moscow where the Soviets gave the defence of the city the highest priority and, indeed, the proportion of modern Soviet aircraft was larger here than anywhere else along the front. Nor was the situation helped when the whole of II. Fliegerkorps left Luftflotte 2 and transferred to the Mediterranean where it was require9 to attack Malta, the British base which threatened German convoys to North Africa. After the departure of the last elements of JG3, JG27 and JG53, the only Jagdwaffe units left to provide Army Group Centre with air cover were JG51 and I. and II./JG52. During November, JG51 registered an average of ten victories for every loss and on 4 November recorded 18 Soviet aircraft shot down against two losses. Between the 4th and 15th, I./JG52 achieved 35 victories against four losses, but included among its casualties was the Gruppenkommandeur, Oblt. Karl-Heinz Leesmann, who was seriously injured in air combat on the 6th; Leesmann had 32 victories and had been awarded the Knight's Cross. On 13 November, the 57-victory ace Ofw. Edmund Wagner of 9./JG51 had just shot down a Pe-2 bomber when his Bf-109F-2, 'Yellow 1', was hit by defensive fire from a Soviet bomber and crashed near Pafmutovka.

With the arrival of the Russian winter in mid-November, the roads froze and the German advance could be resumed, 1. Panzer Army renewing its offensive against Rostov on 17 November. Here the Soviets tried to block the advance by launching heavy air strikes and, on 17 November alone, the VVS carried out a total of 400 sorties but was stalled by III./JG52 and II./JG77. That day, 9./JG52's Staffelführer, Lt. Hermann Graf, achieved his 25th victory by shooting down an I-16. When the first German troops reached Rostov on 20 November, III./JG52 still had 18 serviceable Bf-109s to hand and was in firm control of the air in this sector.

Nevertheless, the Wehrmacht was inevitably losing its strength as battle fatigue, over-extended supply lines and a chronic lack of spares and replacements made it increasingly difficult to fulfil demands. Indeed, it was largely due to the deteriorating supply situation in the East that Ernst Udet, the Luftwaffe's chief of supply and procurement, was driven to commit suicide on 17 November. Five days later, the General der Jagdflieger, Oberst Werner Molders, boarded an He 111 of KG 27 at Chaplinka in order to fly to Udet's state funeral, but the Heinkel crashed in bad weather during an intermediate stop at Breslau, killing the popular fighter leader. To preserve his memory, JG51 was awarded the honour-title Jagdgeschwader Molders on 24 November and, similarly, the honour-title Jagdgeschwader Udet was later bestowed upon JG3.

On 27 November, a sharp drop in temperature added to the Germans' problems and in the Moscow area a temperature was measured of -40°C The Wehrmacht was totally ill-prepared to meet such harsh conditions and found itself with troops that lacked suitable clothing and had technical equipment not designed to operate at such low temperatures. The Luftwaffe, too, was frequently paralysed by the cold as most first-line units were based largely on primitive front airstrips where there were no heated hangars available.

Conversely, the Red Army and VVS proved far better prepared to meet such harsh conditions and on 28 November incessant Soviet air attacks succeeded in halting the 10th Motorised Division of Guderian's 2. Panzer Army. Only a few of JG51's Bf-109s could take off that day, and although they shot down a total of five Soviet aircraft, this was hardly sufficient to block the Soviet air attacks. Also on 28 November, 8./JG52's Oblt. Gunther Rail was severely injured when his Bf-109F-4 was shot down by a Yak-1 near Rostov. Two days later, a Soviet flank attack against the 1. Panzer Army succeeded in forcing the Germans to withdraw from Rostov.

On 2 December, a clear day with temperatures of around -15°C, Army Group Centre made a final effort to seize Moscow and actually managed to penetrate the Moscow suburb of Khimki before its forces were halted by tenacious Soviet resistance. On account of the favourable weather, both Luftflotte 2 and the VVS could send all available forces to support the ground fighting and JG51 claimed a total of 18 Soviet aircraft destroyed, the Gruppenkommandeurof II./JG51, Hptm. Hartmann Grasser, achieving his 40th victory while the Staffelkapitan of 4./JG52, Oblt. Johannes Steinhoff, claimed his 50th.

Despite these successes, however, Luftflotte 2 was gradually losing the battle for air superiority in the skies above Army Group Centre and by 6 December, when the Soviets counter-attacked in the Moscow area, it could commit less than 600 aircraft against the Soviets' 1,376. During the first days of the Soviet counter-offensive, air operations were complicated by a low-pressure system which brought mild air to the Moscow area and created a thick fog. As the German ground troops fell back in increasing disorder, the German fighters flew low-level ground-strafing sorties against the Soviet advance columns and, as a result, JG51 achieved no more than a dozen victories between 6 and 10 December.

To the north of Moscow, with clear skies and sinking temperatures, the Soviets retook Tikhvin on 9 December and, on 13 December, the VVS Kalinin Front carried out a devastating raid against Klin aerodrome north-west of Moscow, knocking out half of II./JG52's aircraft park before the airfield was evacuated due to the Soviet advance. Luftwaffe statistics show that between 13 and 19 December, the amount of air activity declined sharply and that in this period only 45 aerial victories were claimed along the entire Eastern Front. Aided by reinforcements, a greatly strengthened Luftflotte 2 then ordered all available aircraft against the advancing Soviet troops and helped Army Group Centre to bring the Soviet offensive to a halt during the last week of the year. But by that time, German forces all along the Eastern Front had been forced onto the defensive.


The importance of the role played by the Jagdwaffe during Operation 'Barbarossa' cannot be underestimated, for whenever the Bf-109s appeared in any strength they dominated the skies, often even when vastly outnumbered. In their first six months on the Eastern Front between June and December 1941, the Jagdflieger achieved previously unparalleled numerical successes and claimed a total of more than 7,000 aerial victories, a number which accords with Soviet loss statistics. These high Soviet losses were due to a combination of factors but mainly to the purging of the Red Army in the late 1930s and the Luftwaffe '5 superiority in combat experience, tactics and equipment. The most successful Jagdgeschwader during Operation 'Barbarossa' was JG51, which accounted for 1,820 victories in the East in 1941 against 240 of its aircraft destroyed or severely damaged. In the same period, JG54 reported 1,185 victories against slightly more than 200 of its own aircraft destroyed or severely damaged.

Between 22 June and 6 December 1941, total Luftwaffe aircraft losses including aircraft damaged on the Eastern Front are recorded at 3,422, of which 2,093 were completely destroyed or written off. Total fighter losses amounted to 981, of which 568 were completely destroyed or written off. Compared with the number of Soviet aircraft destroyed, these German losses are surprisingly low but cannot be regarded as insignificant because of the inadequate supply system which made losses, however small, difficult to replace. For this reason, the attrition sustained by the Luftwaffe in the East in 1941 is one of the main reasons for the Wehrmacht's failure at the gates of Moscow in December.

II.(Schlacht)/Lehrgeschwader 2

After action in the Balkans, II.(Schlacht)/LG2 prepared for action in the East and provided valuable support for the ground forces. As with I(Jagd) Gruppe, II. Gruppe was still equipped with the Bf109E and was in action from the first day of ' Barbarossa'. Its activities are summarized below.

22-24 June: Supported the breakthrough of 9. Army and 3. Panzergruppe from the border fortifications east and south-east of Suwalki in East Prussia.

25 June-1 July: Took part in the encircling battles of Grodno, Bialystok and Minsk and participated in the advance of 3. Panzergruppe via Vitebsk to Smolensk.

2-20 July: Supported 2. Panzergruppe in the Dnieper River crossing.

21-29 July: In action against Russian forces defending Smolensk and took part in the battle of encirclement at Smolensk.

7-26 August: In support of 16.Army in drive to reach Novgorod.

27 August-8 September: Advanced with Panzergruppe Schmidt on Schliisselburg.

9-28 September: Operated in support of 4. Panzergruppe in the attack on Leningrad and fought Russian counter-attacks near Lake Ladoga.

2- 7 October: Participated in the battle of encirclement at Vyazma.

8-14 October: Supported the push on Kalinin with 3.Panzergruppe and AOK 9.

28 October-28 November: Took part in the battles to isolate Moscow from Tula to the south and from Klin to the north of the city.

29 November: Returned to home base in Germany for refitting. Later redesignated and formed part of Schlachtgeschwader 1, returning to the front in May 1942.

Pilots I./JG54 Gerhard Proske

Through forest, marsh and swamp


At around 10.15 hrs on 27 October 1941, the I./JG 54 engaged a number of Soviet]-26s (1-26s) in combat. After I had shot down one of them in the vicinity of Tichwin, my aircraft was attacked by another Russian fighter and sustained numerous hits. With a seized engine and a coolant temperature of 160°, I was forced to crash-land my Me 109 on its belly in a snow-covered marsh near a tall, dense forest in Soviet territory, approximately 30 km. south-east of the bridgehead. As I climbed out of the cockpit, I saw in the distance numerous Russian soldiers with rifles advancing rapidly in my direction. Because I had to escape to safety immediately, I therefore had no time in which to retrieve the emergency rations from the fuselage of my Me 109.The Russians fired at me and, crouching to make myself as small a target as possible, I hurried towards the cover of the trees and concealed myself so that the Russian soldiers were unable to discover me. Later, under the protection of darkness and with the assistance of my compass, I headed west through forest, marsh and swamp.

Even during the night, because the snow and trees formed a strong contrast, I was able to maintain a straight course, but my pilot's fur-lined boots were heavy and wet due to wading through the snow and my feet were stiff. During the day I hid and rested, but I did not sleep for fear of freezing to death. It was very cold and, from time to time, I performed all kinds of exercises to keep warm. On the second day, my pilot's fur-lined boots were heavy and wet due to wading through the snow and my feet were stiff and very painful. By the third and fourth days I had lost all feeling in them.

To add to all this misery I suffered from hunger and thirst. I had nothing to eat, nothing to drink and nothing to smoke, so I had to sustain myself for four days without food, liquid and tobacco. On the first day I had felt little hunger and cold, but on the second and third days I thought I would collapse. Occasionally I ate some snow to satisfy my thirst, but the march through the snow tested me severely and due to my exhaustion I was able to make only slow progress. I began to feel an indifference which reached its height on the fourth day. Oddly, this feeling came on at night when everything was quiet, but as soon as I heard the sound of combat, new courage and hope reappeared and I wanted to return to my comrades!

During the fourth night, I reached a forest near the village of Petrowskoja. I waited there until dawn approached, since I did not know for certain if I was within German or Russian lines. That morning, under cover of the trees, I crawled toward the sound of a firing artillery piece. When I was about 100 metres from this gun, I recognized a Russian guard, and as I pulled back, I noticed two more Russian soldiers behind their machine- gun. I crawled along this machine-gun's line of fire and thus toward the German lines.At the same time, I heard the firing of the German machine-guns but I could not make out the German troops as they were well-camouflaged in their white coats. I moved toward the explosions of the Russian shells and finally, on the evening of the fifth day, reached a German battery. At last I was safe.

Two German infantrymen brought me to Petrowskoja where my frozen feet were bandaged and I finally received something to eat and drink. That night, I slept on a plank bed, but it seemed like heaven. On the following day, I was brought to Tschudowa in a army personnel vehicle and ten days after my emergency landing I was reunited with my comrades of the 1. Staffel. I was home!*

* On 30 January 1944, by which time Proske had been promoted to Feldwebel, he was again forced to land on the other side of the lines due to engine failure. On this occasion, however, he fell into Russian captivity and it was not until September 1949, after five years of harsh conditions as a prisoner of war in the Urals, that Proske returned home to Germany.

Pilot 4./JG51 Friedrich Beckh

Early Career

Friedrich Beckh was born in Niirnberg on 17 January 1908. Although his early years, and also those of his brother, Wilhelm, were marred by the premature death of their mother, they were fortunate to find in their father's second wife a good stepmother who also gave them a stepbrother. After completing his Abitur, or school leaving examination, Friedrich Beckh entered the then 100,000-man strong German Army in 1926 and joined the cavalry. There, in spite of his height and weight (he was nearly two metres tall, weighed almost 100kg and wore size 47/48 shoes) he succeeded in becoming one of the best riders in his unit and participated in many riding competitions. Beckh, however, had always been attracted by the thrills and risks associated with speed and, shortly after the official creation of the Luftwaffe, he asked for a transfer to the still-expanding German Air Force. Officially integrated into the Luftwaffe with the rank of Oberleutnant in 1935, he started flying training and, simultaneously, began to enter air rallies and races where soon he again became well known for his skill. Later, he also developed an attraction for elegant sports cars and his men became accustomed to see him arrive at his airfield in these splendid vehicles.

Naturally, in view of his character, Beckh opted to fly fighter aircraft and, despite his unusual height and weight, was posted toJG 134 in 1936. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the war, because he was then over 30 years of age, he did not take part in any war flights and was sent instead to the Luftkriegsschule where he occupied different positions in the General Staff. It was probably there that he met Werner Molders, with whom he became a close friend and whose operational experience in the Spanish Civil War was often cited in the different levels of authority within thejagdwaffe.

On 27 July 1940, Major Molders became Kommodore ofJG 51 and, shortly afterwards, he arranged for Hptm. Beckh to transfer to that Geschwader, Beckh arriving in October as an officer detached from the General Staff. At the year's end, Beckh was promoted Major i.G. and, at the same time, I./JG 77, which had for several weeks been under the command ofJG 51, officially became IV/JG 51, so makingJG 51 the first jagdgeschwader to possess four full Gruppen. On 16 February 1941, the Kommandeur of IV/JG 51, Hptm. Johannes Janke, left the unit to take over a position in the Stab of a Nachtjagddivision and, while awaiting a new, official Gruppenkommandeur, Obit. Hans-Karl Keitel, formerly Staffelkapitan of 10./JG 51, was meanwhile selected to lead the Gruppe. Although it was unusual to have an Oberleutnant in a position normally occupied by a Major, or at the very least by a Hauptmann, Molders had chosen to appoint Keitel, who then had eight victories, in accordance with Goring's wish to have only experienced and successful pilots in positions of command. However, Keitel's tenure as acting Kommandeur was brief as he was killed in action on 26 February 1941 and Molders was again faced with the problem of appointing a successor.


It will be the duty of the Air Force to paralyse and eliminate the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force as far as possible. It will also support the main operations of the Army, i.e. those of the central Army Group and of the vital flank of the Southern Army Group. Russian railways will either be destroyed or, in accordance with operational requirements, captured at their most important points (river crossings) by the bold employment of parachute and airborne troops.

In order that we may concentrate all our strength against the enemy Air Force and for the immediate support of land operations, the Russian armaments industry will not be attacked during the main operations. Such attacks will be made only after the conclusion of mobile warfare, and they will be concentrated first on the Urals area.

Fw.Johann Pichler, 7./JG 77.

Some Myths Dispelled

Several myths surround the German defeat at the gates of Moscow in December 1941. One concerns the Soviets' supposed vast numerical superiority, but after the heavy losses it had suffered in the Summer and Autumn of 1941, the Soviet Army was actually numerically inferior to the Wehrmacht in troops, tanks, and artillery pieces. Only in the air was the Soviet Air Force - the VVS able to maintain a marked numerical superiority, and when the Soviets launched their Moscow counter offensive against Army Group Centre on 6 December 1941, the VVS possessed 1,376 aircraft against less than half that number in the Luftwaffe.

Another, perhaps more widespread myth regarding the Soviet counter-offensive, is that it was the arctic cold which paralysed German Army Group Centre. There had indeed been a cold spell in late November and early December 1941, but from 8 December milder temperatures thawed the snow so that when the German Army's offensive against Moscow collapsed, it occurred in mild weather and rain. Although the temperature again fell below minus 20°C around Christmas, Army Group Centre had by that time managed to rebuild its defence positions. That this was possible was largely due to the efforts made by new Luftwaffe units which had been rushed in but, nevertheless, by the end of 1941, German forces all along the Eastern Front had been forced onto the defensive.

Army Group South under Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt was the first to suffer defeat in the battle against the Soviet Army. In late November it had been expelled from Rostov and, under strong attack, Rundstedt ordered a general retreat. The withdrawal was already in progress on 30 November when Rundstedt received the first of the FCthrer's "hold at all costs" orders. This Rundstedt was unable to do, and he was relieved of his command.

In the north, Feldmarschall Ritter Wilhelm von Leeb's Army Group North had been forced to retreat from its advanced position at Tikhvin, which then allowed the Soviets to rebuild their supply route to Leningrad via Lake Ladoga. Further north, General Dietl's German troops and their Finnish allies had proved unable either to capture the important port of Murmansk or to sever the lifeline of the Kirov railway.

But an incomparably worse blow had been dealt Army Group Centre which, while the Soviets effectively removed the threat against Moscow, was brought to the verge of collapse only a few weeks after it had proudly announced the annihilation of almost all Soviet forces before the capital. What failed at Moscow was German combat morale. Their previously unimaginable defeat against the Soviet Army - which German propaganda had portrayed as a force not to be taken seriously - shook the confidence of many German soldiers during those days in December 1941.

However, as German ground troops abandoned their positions and started to withdraw, the Luftwaffe was called in as a 'fire brigade'. In the air, the Germans still held a convincing qualitative superiority, particularly in fighters. Although the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A had started reaching first-line units in the West in the Autumn of 1941, on the Eastern Front the Messerschmitt Bf 109 would remain the standard German fighter type. Indeed, it remained the only German fighter in operational use in the East until well into 1942 for, apart from the Yak-1 - which in early 1942 was not yet available in any numbers - there was no Soviet fighter which could compete with it on equal terms. Thus, aerial engagements involving Bf 109s on the Eastern Front in 1941 invariably ended in favour of the Luftwaffe, a fact confirmed by German victory claims and by Soviet records.

Another misconception concerning the quality of Soviet aircraft and the notion that the WS was technically inferior also deserves close examination, for while the Luftwaffe's overall aircraft inventory was indeed technically superior to that of the VVS, it should be remembered that the Luftwaffe in 1941 had better aircraft than any other air force, and even the RAF with its Spitfire V - itself an outstanding aircraft - was suffering a disproportional number of losses. In the VVS, even older types, notably the I-16 Ishak fighter, or Rata, were at least equal to prevailing average world standards, whereas the most modern types produced by the Soviet aircraft industry in 1941 - the MiG-3, LaGG-3 and Yak-1 fighters, the Pe-2 dive-bomber and the ground-attack IL-2 Shturmovik - were of highest world standards.

However, the decisive German qualitative superiority in the air was due not only to the excellence of the Bf 109 F. An additional factor was that Luftwaffe aircrew were better trained and were more experienced. They also employed superior tactics which called for Luftwaffe fighter pilots to operate in close teams in which the Rottenführer was the sword and the wingman, or Rottenflieger, served as a shield. With good, reliable radio receivers and transmitters installed in all German fighters, this tactic could not be beaten, certainly not by Soviet fighter pilots, whose aircraft in most cases had no transmitters installed. Furthermore, VVS fighter pilots still clung to the inflexible three-aircraft Vee formation which originated during the First World War when the doctrine was to fight individually.

The high victory scores attained by German fighter pilots, was the emphasis placed on freie Jagd, or free hunting missions. Inspired by Baron Manfred von Richthofen during the First World War, this not only allowed ambitious fighter pilots to search out their prey but it also permitted them to choose whether to accept or avoid combat. Conversely, Soviet fighter pilots operated under completely different conditions; their mission was simply to beat the enemy wherever they encountered him, whether in the air or on the ground. While the German word for fighters was Jager, or hunter, the Soviets adopted Istrebitel, or destroyer, and when carrying out pure fighter missions were bound either to provide close escort for slower aircraft - which deprived them of both speed and freedom of action - or to fly fighter patrols within strict territorial boundaries. If an enemy aircraft crossed the boundary, pursuit was abandoned, an important reason why the number of Luftwaffe aircraft returning to base with battle damage, compared with those totally destroyed, was higher on the Eastern Front than elsewhere.

Even before the outbreak of hostilities, Soviet aircrew were less well trained than their Luftwaffe opponents, but after the German invasion of June 1941, the Soviets' huge losses compelled them to shorten aircrew training from already inadequate levels to a standard where novice pilots barely were able to land their aircraft. Additionally, more than two years of war had produced a core of elite German airmen, the best of which were unequalled anywhere in the world. Needless to say, a Bf 109 pilot such as, for example, 9./JG 54's Oblt. Hans-Ekkehard Bob - who by the end of 1941 had logged 1,541 flights, 437 combat missions and had 39 confirmed victories - already possessed a tremendous advantage over almost any Soviet airman he encountered.

General Winter Paralysed the Luftwaffe

The events during the Soviet Winter offensive of 1941/42 serve to confirm the Luftwaffe's important role in the East, for when rain and low clouds prevented the Luftwaffe from interfering decisively during the first half of December 1941, the Soviet Army's counteroffensive achieved success. Then, when a ridge of high pressure cleared the skies and new Luftwaffe units arrived, the first stage of the Soviet offensive was immediately halted. But the real cold spell of the Winter - the one which made meteorological history - arrived in the new year. On 4 January 1942, temperatures of minus 42°C were measured in the Moscow area and caused the Wehrmacht tremendous technical difficulties. Not only did aero engines refuse to start, but an already chaotic supply system collapsed as locomotives froze and, almost instantly, the Luftwaffe practically vanished from the skies over the Moscow area. Meanwhile, Soviet aircraft were stationed on well-equipped peacetime air bases around Moscow.

"The railway situation was chaotic. German locomotives were not designed to operate in temperatures of minus 30° C and were to be found on railway tracks almost everywhere, frozen and immobile. "

Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's Luftwaffe adjutant.

"Huddled close together, we sat in a Heinkel bomber converted to a passenger aircraft. Beneath us the dreary, snow-covered plains of southern Russia flowed by. [...J To keep our direction, we flew along the railway line. Scarcely a train could be seen; the stations were burned out and the servicing sheds destroyed."

Albert Speer, later Armaments Minister.

After the withdrawal of Luftflotte 2 and II. Fliegerkorps to the Mediterranean area, air support for Army Group Centre was entrusted to General Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's VIII. Fliegerkorps. In early January 1942, the fighter units available to von Richthofen were Stab, II., III., and IV./JG 51, plus I. and II./JG 52. On 10 January, these units had available a total of 69 serviceable Sf 109s, but when sub-zero temperatures arrived, the greater part of the available aircraft became forcibly grounded. Under these circumstances, many soldiers of Army Group Centre lost all hope, and after a few weeks of renewed Soviet attacks, resolutely supported by the VVS, resulted in a situation where Army Group Centre was brought close to complete collapse. Utilising the surprise factor, Soviet mobile units infiltrated weakly held sectors and grounded Luftwaffe air units frequently had to man trenches in order to fight off such attacks. On one occasion, II./JG 52 lost its adjutant, Oblt. Carl Willi Hartmann, in such ground fighting.

Whenever conditions did permit any of VIII. Fliegerkorps fighter aircraft to take off, the situation on the ground was so desperate that they were mainly used to fly fighter-bomber missions. These were not popular because all Soviet soldiers were encouraged to open fire on low-flying German aircraft and the fighter pilots knew only too well that a single small-arms round in the vulnerable cooling system of the Sf 109's liquid-cooled engine was all that was required to bring them down.

All of this had a severe impact on the morale of the German air units and the Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 52, Hptm. Erich Woitke, was removed from his command and court-martialled for displaying obvious symptoms of demoralisation. Similarly, combat spirits in 7./ JG 51 were found to be so low that it had to be disbanded, its pilots being dispersed among other units. Some airmen who were found to have lost their fighting spirit reportedly were transferred to the Luftwaffe field divisions, then being established for front-line service on the orders of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring, where they served as ground troops.

While III./ JG 51 was almost exclusively flying fighter-bomber missions and filed no claims for aerial victories in January 1942, II./JG 51 was achieving more favourable results and accounted for most of VIII. Fliegerkorps aerial victories during the Soviet winter offensive. Particularly successful was a team from 5./JG 51 comprising Lt. Hans Strelow and Ofw. Wilhelm Mink. They opened their 1942 successes by claiming five MiG-3s on 4 January - probably in an engagement with 16 IAP - in which Mink claimed three. Nine days later - when JG 51 lost 28-victory ace Fw. Egon Grosse in a weather-related flight accident - Mink claimed a Pe-2 while Strelow destroyed two R-Z biplanes as his 30th and 31st victories. However, these achievements had no influence on the general situation and, on 24 January, Strelow's and Mink's commander, Oblt. Hartmann Grasser, was shot down and injured.

With their morale considerably boosted, the VVS airmen now offered more resistance than previously, and the statistics of WS Western Front for January 1942 show that 4,175 combat sorties were flown that month. At the same time, VVS Western Front recorded a loss of 74 aircraft and claimed to have shot down 34.

The Situation is saved by the Luftwaffe

The use of 'Alert Boxes' - portable heated shacks erected to prevent aircraft engines from freezing together with a policy of rotating units between Germany and the East, were two dominant factors in the German revival west of Moscow in February 1942, and VIII. FIiegerkorps was able to quadruple the number of sorties it carried out in the first two months of the year.

At the same time, WS regiments moved forward to airstrips abandoned by the Germans, only to find that they were now confronted with extended lines of supply and primitive airfield conditions, exactly as their Luftwaffe counterparts previously. It was in February 1942 that 5./JG 51's Lt. Hans Strelow rose to real fame. Born on 26 March 1922, Strelow was only 19 years of age when he achieved his first victory on 25 June 1941. By the turn of the year, Strelow had amassed 27 victories and had earned himself the profound respect of his Geschwader, which had now adopted the honour-title 'Jagdgeschwader Molders'. On 4 February, Strelow increased his victories to 36 by shooting down four Russian aircraft in one day. From then on, his reputation started to spread beyond Jagdgeschwader 'Molders '.

Strelow claimed his 40th victory on 28 February and claimed 4 victories on 6 March, repeating this feat on 17 March. The next day he was awarded the Ritterkreuz and also shot down seven Soviet aircraft, after which the Wehrmachtsbericht mentioned him by name, an honour that previously had been bestowed only upon a few of JG 51's airmen. When he was awarded the Eichenlaub on 24 March, his victory score stood at 66.

Shortly afterwards, Strelow left for a home leave, by which time Army Group Centre's situation had been stabilised. However, it had sustained tremendous losses in personnel and material from which it would never completely recover, and although irrevocably placed in a defensive position, it had been saved from complete annihilation due mainly to the efforts of the Luftwaffe. When the Winter battle ended, JG 52's two Jagdgruppen were withdrawn from first-line service, but the remaining fighter units of VIII. Fliegerkorps - Stab, II., III. and IV./JG 51 - were in a more favourable situation than three months previously. On 8 April 1942, JG 51 became the first Jagdgeschwaderto reach 3,000 victories.

Geschwader Trautloft's First Winter in the East On Army Group Centre's left flank stood Army Group North. Positioned between Lake Ladoga and the area around Lake limen, it was supported from the air by Luftflotte 1 with its only air corps, I. Fliegerkorps. The fighters in this area were united under the command of Kommodore Major Hannes Trautloft, Geschwaderkommodore of JG 54 and undoubtedly one of the Jagdwaffe's best unit commanders. Although JG 54 took the name 'GrCmherz', or 'Green Heart', after Trautloft's home in Thuringia, the 'Green Heart of Germany', it became known to both friend and foe mainly as Geschwader Trautloft.

Trautloft, who took great care to attend to the well-being of every man in his Geschwader, arranged for his unit to be billeted in the old palace of the Czar at Krasnogvardeisk (now known as Gatchina). Based on such well-equipped aerodromes as Siverskaya, which had large, heated hangars, JG 54 was not as affected by the cold as JG 51. The VVS units in the area were unable to challenge the convincing air superiority of JG 54's pilots, although a bold attempt was made on 2 January 1942 when five Pe-2s escorted by eight I-16s succeeded in destroying ten aircraft on the ground at Siverskaya. But in the air, Trautloft's men were without peer. That day, 7./JG 54's Ofw. Karl-Heinz Kempf shot down five Soviet aircraft in a single mission, including one of the Pe-2s that had raided Siverskaya.

Opposing Luftflotte 1 were the air forces of the Volkhov, North-Western and Leningrad Fronts, plus VVS KBF (the Red Banner Baltic Fleet) and Leningrad's air defence unit 7 IAKjPVO, but these were in a sorrowful state because the best units had been withdrawn to the defence of Moscow. The heavy losses inflicted by JG 54 in 1941 were replaced largely with such obsolete biplane trainers and reconnaissance aircraft as U-2s, R-5s and R-Zs converted into bombers. In January 1942, more than half of the approximately 200 serviceable aircraft with VVS Volkhov Front were of these three types.

In the sector immediately to the south of Lake limen, the strength of VVS North-Western Front had plummeted from 1,211 aircraft on the eve of the German attack on 22 June 1941 to an astounding 79 exactly six months later. Nevertheless, the indefatigability of the city of Leningrad was a real nuisance to the Germans and their Finnish ally. A source of embarrassment to Generaloberst Alfred Keller - Luftflotte 1's commander - was that the powerful Soviet air defence of Leningrad, in particular anti-aircraft artillery, rendered his air fleet incapable of carrying out any effective air attacks against the surrounded city. Instead, he ordered his units to attack the ice road the Soviets had opened over the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga and which allowed lorries to bring supplies to Leningrad. This however changed from 7 January, when the Soviet Volkhov Front launched an offensive against the German lines to the north of Lake limen while the North-Western Front attacked to the south of the lake. These offensives were intensified on 13 January, leading to a narrow but deep penetration into German 18th Army's lines north of Lake limen.

During the upsurge in air fighting that followed, VVS Volkhov Front, VVS Leningrad Front and VVS KBF all took heavy losses from JG 54, and among Trautloft's experts the exploits of 3./ JG 54's Oblt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann were particularly prominent. Ostermann had already received the Ritterkreuz in September 1941, and by the end of the year his score stood at 46. On New Year's Day 1942, a Yak-1 fell as Ostermann's 47th kill, and then another two on 8 January, one on the 9th, and a MiG-3 on the 11th. In the last ten days of January, Ostermann's next victories followed in quick succession: a Yak-1 on 20 January, an I-16 and an IL-2 on 23 January, and another I-16 the next day. On 25 January an MP-l hydroplane from VVS KBF took off from Priyutino for a courier flight to Novaya Ladoga escorted by two I-153 biplane fighters from 711APjVVS KBF. None of these aircraft reached its destination and all fell prey to Oblt. Ostermann's skills. The next day, Ostermann destroyed a Pe-2 and, by adding an 1-15 and a MiG-3 to his tally on 28 January, surpassed his 60-victory mark. On the latter date, Hptm. Franz Eckerle, Ostermann's Gruppenkommandeur, attained his 50th victory and, in total, JG 54 claimed 99 victories against eight combat losses during the first month of 1942.

JG 54's most successful pilot was Hptm. Hans Philipp, who returned to 4./JG 54 after home leave in late January 1942. Philipp was already credited with 72 victories, and he opened a new series of successes by shooting up a forced-landed MiG-3 on 2 February. His probable victim was St.Lt. Ivan Chulkov, an ace in 41 IAP with nine personal and two shared victories, who was reported missing after a sortie over the Volkhov battlegrounds on that date.

However, the relentless quest for new victories also led many Jagdflieger to recklessness. On 13 February, while Major Trautloft was away on home leave, JG 54 attained its 1,699th victory. Eager to become the pilot responsible for the Geschwader's 1,700th victory, Hptm. Franz Eckerle bounced a formation of four I-16s and four 1-15bis from 71 IAP in the region south of Lake Ladoga on 14 February. In his second attack, at 14.25 hrs, Eckerle managed to shoot down Serzhant Aleksey Baranovskiy's 1-15bis - recorded as the German ace's 59th victory. Immediately afterward, Eckerle's Bf 109F-2, W.Nr. 9728, CH+OP, was hit by bursts of fire from three Soviet aircraft and crashed to the ground. The victory was shared between M.Lt. Petrukhin, M.Lt. Markov, and Serzhant Savosin. Eckerle reportedly baled out but was killed on the ground by Soviet troops. His place as I./JG 54's Gruppenkommandeur was taken over by Hptm. Hans Philipp.

To the north of Lake limen, the German 18th Army managed to contain Soviet 2nd Assault Army, which eventually became isolated in the so-called Lyuban Pocket, but south of the lake, the North Western Front succeeded in isolating two German army garrisons, at Demyansk and Kholm.

Protecting the Demyansk and Kholm Airlifts

Holding Demyansk and Kholm was a cornerstone of German 16th Army's strategy in the sector south of Lake limen, for once the Spring thaw set in, the Soviet Army would encounter severe supply problems in this area all the while these two communications centres remained in German hands. Hence, the Germans hastily organised an air bridge to provide these two strongholds with supplies, but with most of JG 54 concentrated north of Lake limen, Major Trautloft stationed only 9./ JG 54 and I./JG 51 - the latter subordinated to JG 54 - to the south. Although these two units had a mere eight serviceable Bf 109s apiece, they were more than sufficient because of the weakness of VVS North-Western Front: in January 1942, 32 of the 79 aircraft available to the Soviets were lost in combat, and in the period between 20 January and 16 February, although Oblt. Hans-Ekkehard Bob, Staffelkapitan of 9./JG 54, logged 23 combat missions in this area, only once did he encounter any Soviet aircraft.

However, in mid-February, this period of relative quiet ended, and at approximately the same time III./ JG 3 arrived in the sector after resting and refitting in Germany. The men of this Jagdgruppe, the first of JG 3 to return to the Eastern Front after this Geschwader had received the honour- title Jagdgeschwader 'Udet', soon found that they had little use for the briefing they received from 9./JG 54, which they replaced. Being unable to crush the Demyansk and Kholm strongholds, the Soviets decided to concentrate on severing their airborne flow of supplies. To complete this task, WS NorthWestern Front received substantial reinforcements, although the pilots of III./JG 3 'Udet' and I./JG 51 'Molders'thought that the Soviets had built up their battered WS Front with only inadequately trained novice pilots with poor flying skills, for between 18 February and 18 March, III./JG 3 alone was able to chalk up 81 victories for only three combat losses. In the same period, I./JG 51 lost not a single aircraft but, nevertheless, between 22 February and 10 March some 39 Ju 52s were destroyed.

On 20 March, Stab and II./JG 54 moved to Relbitsy aerodrome to complete the task of supporting the German Army's attempt to relieve the Demyansk garrison, known as Operation 'Bruckenkopf'.

The Soviets in turn countered by bringing to the area a number of more-experienced airmen and flying units, and German pilots soon noticed an improvement in Soviet aerial opposition. Oblt. Wolfgang Spate, one of II./JG 54's best aces, shot down a MiG-3 and a lend-lease Curtiss PAO on 26 March, but in return the Soviet fighters shot down one of II./JG 54's Bf 109s. Two days later, III./JG 3 lost 47-victory ace Lt. Eckhardt Hubner and his wingman, 17-victory ace Fw. Rudolf Berg, during a freie Jagd mission near Demyansk.

"We engage a group of 1-1.8s that intercept our dive-bombers. Other Me 1.09s join in the fight, and a stiff turning combat develops. Twice I tried to attack an 1-1.8 from behind, but on both occasions I am myself attacked by another Russian who forces me to disengage. Suddenly I hear the voice of our Geschwader Adjutant, Hptm. Otto Kath, over the R/T: 'Oil temperature 1.20 degrees, "11 have to make a forced-landing!'''

Major Traut/oft's description of an engagement, 28 March, 1942.

More successful were I. and III./JG 54, operating to the north of Lake limen, and on 29 March, Hptm. Hans Philipp reported his 98th victory and Oblt. Ostermann his 80th. The next day, Trautloft and his wingman were forced to flee into a layer of clouds in order to escape an attack by six MiG-3s. One consolation for Trautloft was the report that Hptm. Hans Philipp - I./JG 54's Gruppenkommandeur achieved his 99th and 100th victories on the last day of March. In all, the fighter units under Trautloft's command claimed 359 aerial victories in March 1942 for the loss of 15 Bf 109s in combat.

In April, the fighting over the sector immediately to the south of Lake limen intensified. By this time, German transport aircraft flying in supplies to Demyansk and Kholm operated only in tight formations protected by Bf 109s, and this dramatically reduced their losses. In addition, the Germans obtained further good results by means of their freie Jagd tactics. While VVS North-Western Front registered 168 combat losses (including 114 fighters) in April 1942, III./JG 3, I./JG 51 and II./JG 54 lost only eight Bf 109s in combat. After attaining the Gruppe's 700th victory on 6 April, III./ JG 3 returned to Germany.

Further north, in the Leningrad area, Ofw. Rudolf Klemm scored JG 54's 2,000th victory by destroying a Pe-2 at 10.42 hrs on 4 April and the next JG 54 pilot to reach the 100-victory mark was Oblt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann, who completed this feat on 12 May. By that time, a land corridor to the Demyansk garrison had been opened and the bulk of both the Jagdgruppen and the transport units could be transferred to other sectors.

A Jagdgruppe in Trouble

Due to a combination of heavy losses in 1941 and the need to concentrate the best equipment in the defence of the capital, Soviet air opposition to German Army Group South and Luftflotte 4 in the eastern Ukraine - VVS South-Western and VVS Southern Fronts, each with around 200 aircraft - was made up mainly of older aircraft types such as the I-16 fighter. Interestingly, this is in complete contrast to the situation prior to the German attack in June 1941, when this region possessed a larger proportion of modern aircraft than any other sector.

Luftflotte 4Luftflotte 4 LF4-GenOb-Alexander-Lohr 
Luftflotte 4

Genera/oberst Alexander Lohr, commander of Luftflotte 4, had three fighter units at his disposal: III./JG 52 at Kharkov-Rogan in the north, I.(J)/LG 2 (later redesignated I./JG 77) at Mariupol, west of Rostov, and III./JG 77 on the Crimean Peninsula. Because of adverse weather and the numerical weakness of the VVS in the region, these Jagdgruppen had little contact with the enemy, but when they were encountered, the Germans noted that compared to those in the Ukraine, those in the Crimea showed greater skill and combat spirit, so that in January, III./JG 77 recorded only 2.7 victories per combat loss in the air, a ratio far below the average for the Jagdgruppen in the East.

The war in the Crimea flared up in late February when the new Soviet Crimean Front - which had established a foothold after landing in the Peninsula's eastern region in late December 1941 - launched an offensive aimed at relieving the surrounded Sevastopol and ousting the Germans from the Crimea. Again the results of air action between III./JG 77 and the Soviet airmen show that III./JG 77 recorded three Bf 109s crash-landed or shot down against a single victory on 4 March, and when they compared their own hard-earned victories with those of other Luftwaffe fighter units in the East, the pilots of III./JG 77 felt all but encouraged. Typically, when Oblt. Wolfdieter Huy achieved the Gruppe's 600th victory on 11 March, he was himself badly injured, and although a series of air combats on 16 March resulted in 10 victory claims for III./JG 77, again three of its Bf 109s were shot down. After this, III./JG 77 was relieved of first-line service and returned to Germany for a period of rest.

A Reversal of Fortunes

Replacing III./JG 77 was II./JG 77 which had exchanged its Bf 109 Es for new Bf 109 F-4s during a three-month period of rest and refit in Germany. Led by Hptm. Anton Mader, an extremely able unit commander, the pilots of this Jagdgruppe immediately set about striking a more favourable balance and indeed made an impressive start, shooting down 21 Soviet aircraft for no losses on 19 March. Four days later, a group of Mader's pilots pounced on a formation of 247 IAP Yak-1s and shot down two, killing 21-victory ace Mayor Mikhail Fedoseyev, at that time one of the top-scoring Soviet aces. For some reason, II./JG 77 managed to achieve a far better victory to loss ratio than the Geschwader's III. Gruppe, attaining in a ten-day period 60 victories against four combat losses.

Together with the failure of the Crimean Front to achieve any breakthrough, the loss of such a legendary ace as Fedoseyev was a hard blow for the Soviets in the Crimea, but instead of having a demoralising effect, this seemed to spur their airmen to even greater efforts. This was noticed by II./JG 77, which sustained two Bf 109s shot down in air combat against only one victory on 30 March, and another two Bf 109s shot down on 3 April, this time without any successes of their own. A strong Soviet bomber attack against Sarabuz aerodrome on the night of 4/5 April also dealt II./JG 77 some material losses, but the worst setback occurred on 6 April, when 42-victory ace Ofw. Rudolf Schmidt was shot down and killed by a Naval 40 BAP Pe-2.

Meanwhile, Spring arrived in the Ukraine and all became quiet along the Ukrainian front for now came the thaws and the infamous rasputitza, the seemingly bottomless slush and mud created by the melting snow. Thus, for III./JG 52, operating against VVS South-Western Front, most of April went by without many encounters with the enemy and in a four-week period in April, the entire III./JG 52 achieved no more than ten victories. On their base at Kharkov-Rogan, the men of this unit were amazed to hear totally contrary reports about the air war further south in the Mius sector. Operating there was I./JG 77, commanded by Hptm. Herbert Ihlefeld, a veteran of the Legion Condor in Spain, and already holder of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. During these Spring weeks, Ihlefeld's name was mentioned repeatedly in the Wehrmachtsbericht, the daily Wehrmacht radio bulletins:

"Hauptmann Ihlefeld achieved his eighty-second victory by shooting down seven enemy aircraft in one day." Wehrmachtsbericht, 31 March 1942

"Yesterday, Hauptmann Ihlefeld achieved his eighty-ninth to ninety-fifth victories on the Eastern Front." Wehrmachtsbericht, 21 April 1942

"Yesterday, Hauptmann Ihlefeld achieved his ninety-eighth to one hundred and first victories on the Eastern Front." Wehrmachtsbericht, 23 Apri/1942

Of the 62 victories claimed by I./JG 77 in April 1942, remarkably without any losses, no fewer than 43 were claimed by Hptm. Ihlefeld and his wingman, Oblt. Friedrich Geisshardt. On 22 April, Ihlefeld crowned these remarkable successes by surpassing his 100-victory mark while Geisshardt attained his personal 60th. Two days later Ihlefeld was awarded the Swords and at the same time was promoted to the rank of Major. Shortly afterwards he was selected to be trained as a Geschwaderkommodore.

A study of I./JG 77 provides a picture of a typical Jagdgruppe, where over 90 per cent of the victories accumulated in March 1942 were attained by the unit's officers. III./JG 52 appears to have had a slightly different character, since some of its best aces were NCOs, the most famous being Fw. Leopold Steinbatz, Fw. Gerhard Koppen, and Fw. Alfred Grislawski. Steinbatz achieved his 40th to 42nd victories on 8 January, for which he was awarded the Ritterkreuz. Koppen had attained these feats already in December 1941, and following his 69th to 72nd victories on 24 February, he was awarded the Oak Leaves. Grislawski flew as wingman to Lt. Herman Graf, 9./JG 52's Staffe/kapitan, and had amassed a total of 17 victories in March 1942.

In late April, III./JG 52 was transferred southwards to the Crimea as part of the build-up of Luftwaffe forces supporting a counter-attack against the Soviet Crimean Front. Genera/oberst von Richthofen established the staff of his VIII. Fliegerkorps in the Crimea, and III./JG 52 was one of several fighter units brought under his command. The other Jagdgruppen were I./JG 3, II./JG 52, 15. (Kroat)/JG 52, and I. and II./JG 77 which were mostly stationed at lurichtal.

The arrival of III./JG 52 immediately plunged VVS Crimean Front into severe difficulties. On 30 April, Graf shot down six of its aircraft while Grislawski bagged two, followed by another four on 1 May. Next day, seven Soviet aircraft fell to Graf's Bf 109 F-4, his 70th to 76th victories, while Gerhard Koppen (in the meantime promoted to Leutnant) attained his 80th to 84th. Competition between Koppen and Graf was brought to a fatal conclusion on 5 May, when Koppen was shot down while carrying out a reckless attack against a Pe-2. The German pilot ditched in the Sea of Azov and was never seen again.

The German attack against the Crimean Front opened on 8 May. Superior in both numbers and technical equipment, VIII. Fliegerkorps was able to eliminate VVS Crimean Front in only a few days and, after two weeks in the Crimea, III./JG 52 was moved back to Kharkov-Rogan on the 12th. Lt. Graf's 9./JG 52 had attained 90 victories without a single loss, Graf himself scoring his 90th personal victory during the transfer flight from lurichtal to Kharkov-Rogan.

While the final battle was fought over the city of Kerch in eastern Crimea, German fighters dealt harshly with Soviet air units that flew in from the north-western Caucasus. Two new names appeared here: Hptm. Gordon Gollob and Hptm. Heinz Bar. Gollob, who had earned fame with JG 3 in 1941, arrived to assume command of JG 77 on 16 May 1942. Five days earlier, Bar, who had been one of the greatest aces in JG 51, had been appointed Major Ihlefeld's successor as 1./ JG 77's

Gruppenkommandeur. While Gollob refrained from reporting four of his victories, thus avoiding the usual grounding order bestowed on any pilot reaching 100 victories, Bar shot down his 99th to 103rd victims on 19 May. That day too, JG 77 celebrated its 2,000th aerial victory.

Meanwhile, at Kharkov-Rogan, the pilots of III./JG 52 found they had returned to a hornet's nest. On 12 May, Soviet South-Western Front had launched a major offensive against German Army Group South's positions to the south and north of Kharkov. This drive was strongly supported from the air and on the first day III./JG 52 made its mark on the attacking VVS formations. Of 65 Soviet aircraft claimed shot down over the Kharkov battlefields on 13 May, the greatest number - 42 - was achieved by III./JG 52, including six by Lt. Herman Graf (victories 91 - 96) and the Jagdgruppe's 1,000th in total. The next day Graf claimed another eight victories, bringing his tally to 104, while his wingman, Grislawski, claimed two and Lt. Adolf Dickfeld claimed nine bringing his total to 90.

These aces continued to reap a deadly harvest among the inadequately trained Soviet airmen while, on the ground, troops of South-Western Front succumbed to a German pincer movement. On 18 May Dickfeld surpassed all previous records by claiming 11 kills in a single day, reaching a total of 100 in the process. He was awarded the Oak Leaves the following day. Meanwhile, Lt. Herman Graf had been awarded the Oak Leaves on 17 May and, just two days later, the Swords. His wingman, Grislawski achieved 22 confirmed victories plus one unconfirmed during May alone, and his friend, Ofw. Leopold Steinbatz, shot down 34 during the same period.

By the time the Battle of Kharkov reached its bloody conclusion, Herman Graf's 9./JG 52 had become famous among even the most humble German ground troops in the Kharkov area as the 'Karayastaffel'. The 'Karayastaffef' was characterised by its relaxed relationship between the Staffelkapitan Graf, and his subordinates, and its extraordinarily high combat spirit. On these grounds, it would develop into the war's most successful Jagdstaffel, eventually including in its ranks the 352-victory ace Erich Hartmann.

Contested Skies

Controlling all German military operations in Norway and Northern Finland was Genera/oberst Hans Jurgen Stumpff's Luftflotte 5. This air fleet was tactically divided into three parts, of which Fliegerführer Nord-Ost was charged with the daily contest for air superiority along the German - Soviet front in north-eastern Laponia. Early 1942 saw the formation under Luftflotte 5 of JG 5, a new Jagdgeschwader under the command of Obst/t. Gotthard Handrick, the modern pentathlon gold medal winner in the 1936 Olympic Games. The II./JG 5 had been formed by redesignating the old Jagdgruppe zur besonderen Verwendung and, in early 1942, this was to be the only Bf 109 unit to confront the air forces of Soviet Northern Fleet (VVS SF), 14th Army, and 122 IADjPVO. Its main task was to provide fighter escort for the Ju 88s of KG 30 and the Ju 87s of I./St.G 5 (formerly IV./LG 1), both of which raided the port of Murmansk and the Kirov railway, two important strategic goals which German and Finnish troops had been unable to seize. II./JG 5 reported a strength of 18 serviceable Bf 109 Es on 10 January 1942. These were supported by the Bf 110s of 6.(Z)/JG 5 (redesignated 10./JG 5 on 16 March).

In the Far North - the area comprising northern Finland and the extreme north-western corner of the USSR - German fighter pilots met with a situation similar to that in the Crimea, for the enemy in the air was more formidable than in most other places in the East. This was despite the fact that the Hurricanes and Curtiss P-40s which constituted the main equipment of VVS fighter forces in the area were much inferior to the Bf 109 E, and the benefit to the Germans of being aided by reports from a Freya radar station, in itself a unique phenomenon on the Eastern Front.

Air operations in the Far North were strictly limited by the long Polar Winter, during which the sun never rises above the horizon. Therefore, in the first two months of the year, only rarely was there any air fighting and in March 1942, Fliegerführer Nord-Ost logged 20 victories against the loss of 11 aircraft, five of them from JG 5. Only in April did activity increase, starting on the 4th when three of II./JG 5's Bf 109s intercepted a formation of VVS SF Hurricanes. In the ensuing engagement, Soviet fighters managed to injure two of the German pilots while the third German shot down a Hurricane. Five days later, six of II./JG 5's Bf 109s were bounced by Tomahawks and Hurricanes of 769 IAP with the result that two Bf 109s were shot down for no Soviet losses. Both German airmen, one of them being Lt. Alfred Jakobi with ten victories, were captured on the ground by Soviet troops.

Reinforced to a strength of over 30 Bf 109s by mid-April, II./JG 5 set about regaining the initiative. One morale-boosting event occurred on 23 April when a single pilot from 6./JG 5, Uffz. Rudolf Muller, destroyed four Hurricanes and an SB bomber during one and the same mission, all being verified in Soviet loss files. Five days later, 2 GSAP, which had lost two aircraft to Uffz. Muller on the 23rd, lost another five Hurricanes, including two to Muller.

The size of Fliegerführer Nord-Ost's fighter force was doubled in May through the arrival of another Jagdgruppe, III./JG 5. This unit was led by Hptm. Gunther Scholz, a veteran who had flown previously with 7./ JG 54 where he had attained 26 kills. Now the German airmen were gradually able to improve their position and in May 1942, JG 5 recorded 149 victory claims against 11 pilots shot down.

Not even the arrival of newer and better Kittyhawk and Airacobra fighters could break the new German dominance and JG 5 was now re-equipping with Bf 109 F-4s, a type superior to anything in VVS service. On 12 June II./JG 5 could report its 500th victory - not surprisingly scored by Rudolf Muller, now promoted to Feldwebel. By now, the Gruppe was being led by Hptm. Horst Carganico, who had attained 23 kills between late May and late June 1942 and thus surpassed the 50-victory mark.

Aces over Sevastopol

Although the Wehrmacht would never completely recover from the immense losses, particularly in heavy equipment such as artillery, that the Soviet Army had inflicted in the Winter of 1941/42, the Soviets had been even more weakened. Moreover, the successful defensive battles of May 1942 had resulted in the Wehrmacht being in a position to regain the initiative on the Eastern Front and, albeit at the expense of all other areas, Hitler was able to rebuild an offensive force on at least one sector of the front.

At the same time, German industry was beginning to overcome many production bottlenecks, and aircraft output figures increased from below 900 (including 232 fighters) in November 1941 to 1,400 (456 fighters) in March 1942. Nevertheless, by April 1942, although Germany controlled the bulk of Europe's workforce and industrial capacity, the USSR - even with most of its natural resources in German hands - started out-producing Germany. That month, 1,321 German and 1,515 Soviet combat aircraft left the assembly lines. Hence, it was logical that Hitler should direct all available means against the most critical point of Soviet industry, the concentration of oil fields in the Caucasus. For this purpose, more than 50 per cent of all serviceable combat aircraft available to the entire Luftwaffe for day operations (i.e. excluding night fighters) were concentrated under Luftflotte 4 which was supporting Army Group South on the Eastern Front.

Before the new Summer offensive - Operation 'B/au' - could begin, it was necessary to eliminate the threat posed by powerful Soviet forces still holding the port of Sevastopol in western Crimea. To complete the task of air support for this attack, Genera/oberst Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen's VIII. Fliegerkorps was reinforced with units brought in from the Mediterranean area and eventually mustered 600 aircraft, a tremendous force to be mounted against a single city. The fighter units which were directed against Sevastopol - III./JG 3, plus Stab, II. and III./JG 77 - were led by Hptm. Gordon Gollob. Although their opponent's air resources were limited to around 50 serviceable aircraft, German fighters met with formidable resistance whenever they encountered any enemy aircraft; indeed, some of the Soviet fighter pilots were the same aces who had put up such stiff resistance against III./JG 77 earlier that year.

The attack on Sevastopol opened with large-scale aerial bombardments on 2 June, and as early as the next day Hptm. Gollob found it necessary to instruct his fighter pilots to avoid turning combat with the Soviet fighter pilots who flew from Sevastopol. On 7 June, Gollob's fighters claimed nine victories but lost ll-victory ace Lt. Wolfgang Werhagen, and Gollob himself barely managed to reach friendly territory after a Soviet fighter damaged his radiator. Ultimately, the Soviet Sevastopol airmen were defeated because they were so hopelessly outnumbered, but they never ceased to impress their German opponents.

Conversely, the Soviet airmen also learned to respect their foe, and naval fighter ace Kapitan Mikhail Avdeyev later dedicated a chapter in his memoirs to one of the Bf 109 aces over Sevastopol, positively identified as II./JG 77's Oblt. Anton Hackl. When Sevastopol fell after a month's battle, the Germans counted a total of 123 Soviet aircraft shot down against 30 of their own destroyed or severely damaged.

Forward Again

The first stage of Operation 'B/au' opened on 28 June 1942 when three armies were launched eastward from the Kursk region with the aim of capturing the important communication centre of Voronezh. By that time, Luftflotte 4 had been brought up to a strength of about 1,700 German combat aircraft, of which approximately 1,200 were operational. A total of 211 operational Bf 109s was divided between JG 3 with Stab and all three Gruppen; JG 52 with Stab and all three Gruppen plus the 15. Croatian Staffe/, I./JG 53 and JG 77 with Stab plus II. and III. Gruppen (I./JG 77 had been sent to the Mediterranean area to counter renewed RAF activity around Malta.)

These Luftwaffe forces enjoyed a numerical superiority of around 1:0.7 against WS forces in the area, but the Soviets had drawn many important lessons from their setbacks in the past Winter and Spring, and their air force had undergone several qualitative improvements. Among other things, the structure of their front-line units had been modernised and organised into more independent air armies, three of which (2 VA, 8 VA and 4 VA) met the first onslaught of Operation 'B/au'. These air armies could count on support from an increasing pool of reserves and, moreover, the Soviet fighter pilots began adopting the German tactic of teamwork in air combat. In addition, their technical equipment was also updated, most fighter units being equipped with modern, improved Yak-1s, Yak-7s and LaGG-3s. The newall-metal Pe-2 dive-bomber became more common in front-line service, and the heavily armoured IL-2 Shturmovik ground-attack aircraft appeared in larger numbers than ever. Perhaps the most decisive factor, however, was that a number of truly elite air units were assigned from the Stavka reserve to 2 VA and 8 VA.

The Jagdwaffe, however, was able to deal decisively with all of this, for due to the need to shorten pilot training schemes, the flight skills of the average novice airman posted to VVS units in mid-1942 was at the lowest level of the war. Moreover, the Jagdgruppen assigned to Luftflotte 4 included many of the most experienced fighter pilots of the war, most notably JG 52's Obstlt. Herbert Ihlefeld, JG 77's Major Gordon Gollob, and 9./JG 52's Oblt. Herman Graf, each of whom had shot down over 100 enemy aircraft. Nevertheless, already during the weeks preceding Operation 'B/au', even these Jagdwaffe aces noticed a surprising increase in the quality of Soviet aerial activity. JG 52's Geschwaderkommodore, Major Wilhelm Otto Lessmann, was killed in combat on 2 June, as was Hermann Grat's new wingman in 9./JG 52, StFw. Alfred Emberger (credited with 25 kills), ten days later. On the 15th, 9./JG 52's Ofw. Leopold Steinbatz perished when his aircraft sustained a direct hit from anti-aircraft fire. With 99 kills to his credit, Steinbatz was the most successful fighter pilot lost to enemy action at that time. Posthumously, he became the first and only NCO to be awarded the Swords. On 21 June, after less than a week, JG 52's next Geschwaderkommodore, Obst/t. Friedrich Beckh, was shot down by four 2 VA MiG-3s and was killed near Valuyki. Beckh was credited with 48 aerial victories and had been awarded the Knight's Cross.

Even though the Germans had built up a local numerical superiority of at least two to one in the area east of Kursk, both sides suffered about equal losses in the air during the first days of Operation 'B/au'. Among the German casualties on the last day of June was I./JG 53's Lt. Joachim Louis, who was shot down and captured shortly after scoring his 22nd victory, but these sacrifices were not in vain; the numerically weaker 2 VA proved unable to take such losses, particularly as theirs included a number of experienced unit leaders.

By the time the German ground troops began penetrating into Voronezh in the first week of July, a radical change in the character of air fighting took place. Suddenly, the skilful Soviet airmen of the first days seemed to have disappeared, to be replaced by apparently new pilots who, in some cases, seemed so inexperienced they hardly knew how to fly. These mainly came from the newly formed Soviet 1st Fighter Army (1 IA), prematurely rushed to the Voronezh sector with the task of hallenging the air superiority of the Bf 109s. The first air battle between 1 IA and the German fighter pilots occurred on 5 July and resulted in a Soviet disaster, the Jagdflieger claiming 48 victories against only two losses. Oblt. Viktor Bauer, the Staffe/kapitan of 9./ JG 3, added four victories to his tally to reach a total of 74. Hptm. Georg Michalek, commanding I./JG 3, surpassed his 50-victory mark, also by destroying four, and in II./JG 77 - which had arrived straight from the Crimea the same day - the four kills claimed by Oblt. Erwin Clausen brought his total to 62. Altogether, between 28 June and 9 July, Luftflotte 4 claimed to have shot down 540 Soviet aircraft in the Kursk - Voronezh area.

In the forefront of these battles was Hptm. Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke who served in Stab/ JG 3 where Obstlt. Gunther Lutzow was to familiarise him with the duties of a Geschwaderkommodore. Wilcke appears to have specialised in destroying lend-lease aircraft, claiming a Hurricane on 30 June, three Bostons on 3 July, and another Boston plus two LaGG-3s on 4 July. Of Wilcke's six claims on 5 July, three were Hurricanes and one a Boston, and after shooting down two IL-2s on the 9th, Wilcke again destroyed four Bostons on 10 July.

Thereafter, when the bulk of the German ground forces at Voronezh veered south with the aim of surrounding the Soviet South-Western and Southern Fronts between the rivers Donets and Don, II./JG 77 was left as the only Jagdgruppe at Voronezh but, under the leadership of acting Gruppenkommandeur Hptm. Heinrich Setz, it performed splendidly. During July alone, Hptm. Setz scored 50 victories, Oblt. Anton Hackl 37, Lt. Lutz-Wilhelm Burkhardt 24, and - before he was wounded in a flying accident on 26 July - Fw. Ernst Wilhelm Reinert 26. This was quite sufficient to secure a convincing German air superiority in the region.

Meanwhile, the Soviets had to rob their reserves in order to be able to maintain their presence in the air. On 16 July, III./JG 3 tore apart a formation of Pe-2s which attempted to attack the air base at Millerovo, and the same evening, 9./JG 3's Experten team of Oblt. Viktor Bauer and Ofw. Eberhard von Boremski encountered a formation of Curtiss P-40s. Bauer claimed three, including his 90th victory, and von Boremski one, and on their way home the two Germans spotted a formation of IL-2s escorted by fighters. Bauer bagged one IL-2 and his wingman sent a MiG-3 burning to the ground.

However, neither the German means nor system of bringing forward supplies had been improved since the previous Summer. With too few lorries and transport aircraft available, and with inadequate roads and railways in the area, the supply organisation more or less disintegrated as soon as the troops moved forward. Frequently, it was only the level of personal contact between first-line units and supply store which proved to be the decisive factor in obtaining spare parts, ammunition or fuel. Therefore, while the numerical achievements of the Jagdgruppen were indeed astonishing, in view of the chaotic supply situation their own losses cannot be considered as particularly light. Just as during 'Barbarossa', the same discouraging situation arose and the acute lack of spare parts rendered aircraft unserviceable after they had sustained only minor damage or technical faults. Only by cannibalising their own aircraft - normally strictly prohibited - and other such measures, collectively known as "organising", could operational levels be maintained. Inevitably, however, the level of serviceability dropped, as for example in JG 3 where a figure of 78 per cent on 20 June had reduced to 44 per cent one month later resulting in the actual number of serviceable Bf 109s in Jagdgeschwader Udet plummeting from 72 to 33.

It can be attributed only to the German fighter pilots' superior quality that the situation in the VVS was even worse. When German troops captured Rostov and started moving across the lower Don in late July, there were two VVS air armies, 4 VA and 5 VA, available to meet the German onslaught against the Caucasus in the air, but together, they could field no more than 220 serviceable aircraft by 28 July.

Stopped in the Caucasus When Hitler split his 1942 Summer offensive and ordered the new Army Group A to push south towards the Caucasus while Army Group B turned east towards the Don Bend and Stalingrad, Luftflotte 4 was also operationally divided. The air fleet was now under the command of Generaloberst von Richthofen, and he directed the bulk of his fighter forces to support Army Group B in the east, leaving Army Group A with Stab, III., and 15. (Kroat)/JG 52 as the only fighter units to support the important drive against the Caucasus oil fields. On 20 July, these units fielded a total of only 28 serviceable Bf 109s.

However, von Richthofen knew what he was doing. Not only were these units among the first in the East to be fully equipped with the new Bf 109 G-2, but among the pilots were to be found the two leading fighter aces of the entire Luftwaffe at that time; Major Gordon Gollob and Oblt. Herman Graf. While Gollob maintained his position as Kommodore of JG 77, at the same time he also assumed command of JG 52 - its fourth Geschwaderkommodore in a period of less than two months - due to a take-off accident which injured JG 52's previous commander, Major Herbert Ihlefeld. Moreover, while the Panzer troops crossed the lower Don on their way into the Caucasus, I./JG 52 was training on Bf 109 G-2s in the rear and would soon arrive to support the Geschwader's III. Gruppe.

III./JG 52 was commanded by Major Hubertus von Bonin, and apart from its two lOa-pius aces, Oblt. Herman Graf and Lt. Adolf Dickfeld, it counted a large number of very experienced pilots each with around 40 or more victories, namely Oblt. Otto Decker, Ofw. Heinrich Fullgrabe, Ofw. Ernst Suss, Ofw. Josef Zwernemann, Ofw. Kurt Ratzlaff, Fw. Edmund Rossmann, Fw. Friedrich Wachowiak, and Fw. Hans Dammers. Fw. Alfred Grislawski, who previously had served as Graf's wingman, was on home leave after being awarded the Knight's Cross on 1 July 1942 after 42 victories. The dominance of NCO aces was a particular feature within III./JG 52, and this was especially noted by Oberleutnant Gunther Rail. Rail had advanced to become the Geschwader's most successful pilot before being shot down and injured in November 1941 and, returning to his unit in late July 1942 to resume command of 8./JG 52, he was shocked to find that his 36 victories were overshadowed by the achievements of many ordinary sergeants.

Although Rail still suffered from a back injury and had to be lifted in and out of his aircraft, he was eager to catch up. On 2 August he claimed an I-153 and a 'MiG-l' (probably a Yak-1), but he had a long way to go. When Oblt. Herman Graf shot down an IL-2 on 3 August, it was his 112th, and the next day Major Gollob claimed a Yak-1 as his ll1th. During Army Group A's sweep south through the steppe in the northern Caucasus, German fighter activity in the area was marked by the competition between Major Gollob, Oblt. Graf and Oblt. Rail. When Gollob transferred Graf and one third of III./JG 52 to the Stalingrad region, as demanded by von Richthofen on 18 August, Gollob' score stood at 130, Graf's at 127, and Rail's at 55. However, Gollob did not select Graf to command the detachment as he nurtured a professional officer's scepticism towards the Kriegsoffizier Graf, and instead Oblt. Decker was assigned to lead the detachment.

During the period from the 14th to 29 August, Major Gollob claimed 33 victories and became the first pilot to reach 150, the last being a Pe-2 on 29 August. Meanwhile, III./J JG 52 was credited with 32 victories (against three losses), and the pilots of 15.(Kroat)/JG 52 claimed nine kills.

On 30 August, Gollob became the third Wehrmacht soldier (after the two fighter pilots Oberst Werner Molders and Oberst Adolf Galland) to receive the highest of Germany's military awards, the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Gollob was withdrawn from first-line service for the remainder of the war and posted to various staff positions, commencing with Luftflotte 1. His place as JG 52's Geschwaderkommodore was taken by Major Dietrich Hrabak, former commander of III./JG 54.

As Gollob left JG 52, the German offensive in the Caucasus was faltering in the face of increasing Soviet defence all along the front-line. I./JG 52 had only stayed a short while in the Caucasus operational area, and was already operating on the Central Front. Simultaneously with the departure of ObIt. Decker's III./JG 52 detachment, the bulk of the Luftwaffe's bomber forces had also left the Caucasus to be deployed against Stalingrad. The fact that immediately afterwards Army Group A was halted short of its objectives, the Grozny and Baku oil fields, is testimony to the German Army's dependence on air support.

JG 51 'Molders' in Trouble

As the fierce Winter battles on the Central Front died down and Spring arrived, German and Soviet forces had each fought to the point of exhaustion. Both sides then sought to rebuild their strength, and the period April to June 1942 was calm with comparatively little fighting in the air. It was, therefore, bad luck rather than enemy activity which deprived JG 51 of three of its greatest aces in less than ten days. Lt. Hans Strelow, with 68 victories, was lost when he was shot down over Soviet territory on 22 May; 2./JG 51's Oblt. Erwin Fleig, once wingman to the legendary Werner Molders, baled out over Soviet territory on 29 May and was captured immediately after achieving his 66th victory; and two days later, Hptm. Josef Fozo, the 27-victory veteran Kommandeur of I./JG 51, was severely injured in a landing accident and would never return to first-line service.

In the Spring of 1942, the Luftwaffe units on the Central Front were, following the departure of VIII. Fliegerkorps staff, organized into Luftwaffenkommando Ost, commanded by General der Flieger Robert Ritter von Greim. While several German air units that previously had operated on the Central Front now served under Luftflotte 4 - including I. and II./JG 52 - the Germans attempted to delude the Soviets into believing that their Summer offensive would be launched by Army Group Centre, and not by Army Group South. This succeeded, with the result that Luftwaffenkommando Ost had to face increasing Soviet numerical superiority.

By 20 June, Luftwaffenkommando Ost reported a total strength of 155 serviceable combat aircraft, including 73 Bf 109 fighters. The latter were grouped into Stab, II., III. and IV./JG 51 'Molders' (I./JG 51 served under Luftflotte 1 in the Demyansk area), plus 15.(Span)/JG 51. A feature of JG 51 'Molders' at this time was that it was the only Jagdgeschwader in the East to retain the old Bf 109 F-2 as its standard aircraft. Also, JG 51 did not have the same concentration of top aces as other Jagdgeschwader in the East. This is due mainly to the fact that its best pilots of 1941 - Molders, Joppien, Bar and Hoffmann - had either been killed or, in Bar's case, been posted elsewhere while, as already mentioned, in May 1942 three other great JG 51 aces - Strelow, Fleig and Fozo - had been lost. Certainly, Soviet airmen transferred from another sector noted that the weakest German fighter opposition was provided on the Central Front, i.e. by the pilots of JG 51.

The appearance of the Spanish volunteer fighter unit 15.(Span)/JG 51, as mentioned above, perhaps requires a word or two of explanation. During Operation Barbarossa, the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco had supplied the Luftwaffe with a Bf 109-equipped fighter squadron, la Escuadrilla de Caza, which was incorporated into VIII. Fliegerkorps as 15.(Span.)/JG 27. After a poor performance - ten victory claims against five pilots killed and one injured - this unit was pulled back to Spain in January 1942. In the Summer of 1942, Franco decided to despatch a second Escuadrilla to support Hitler's crusade against "The Red Menace" in the East. This time, however, one of the most able Spanish fighter pilots was picked to lead the unit; Comandante Julio Salvador Diaz-Benjumea, an ace with 24 kills in the Spanish Civil War. 2a Escuadrilla, or Escuadrilla Azul (Blue Squadron) as it was called, duly arrived at Orel where, in order to reinforce Luftwaffenkommando Ost's fighter force, it was decided to deploy the Staffel under JG 51's command as 15.(Span.)/JG 51. The first victories of the Escuadrilla Azul occurred on 1 July 1942, when Capitan Provicional Juan Frutos Rubio and Teniente Ramon Escude Gisbert each accounted for a LaGG-3.

A few days after Rubio's and Gisbert's initial success, the war on the Central Front flared up again as each side launched powerful offensives against the other. The ADD - the reorganised Soviet strategic bomber force - made a number of successful night attacks against German rail junctions. These could be carried out without encountering any opposition other than Flak, for one of the Luftwaffe's weaknesses on the Eastern Front was the lack of a night-fighter force. In the Leningrad sector, this could be overcome temporarily by taking advantage of the bright mid-Summer nights in the north. Carrying out freie Jagd missions over the area where Soviet transport aircraft regularly flew supplies to surrounded Soviet troops near Lyuban, a handful of JG 54's pilots developed into 'night fighter aces', the most famous among them being III./JG 54's Lt. Erwin Leykauf, who once knocked down six Soviet transport aircraft during a single mission, while II./JG 54's Hptm. Joachim Wandel achieved a total of 16 night victories that Summer, half of which were achieved on the nights of 6/7 and 7/8 July. But on the Central and Southern Fronts, where there were no night fighters available whatsoever, the ADD was carrying out its attacks with increasing success. In June 1942, it managed to put a large part of JG 51's aircraft out of commission on the airfields at Orel, Bryansk and Dugino.

Nevertheless, when the Soviets despatched their bombers and ground-attack aircraft en masse in daylight against the same targets on 5 July, it proved to be a huge mistake. II./JG 51 was scrambled, and as the Bf 109s hurled themselves against the large Soviet formations, the scenes from the previous Summer were repeated. By the end of the day, the Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Hartmann Grasser, calculated that 46 Soviet aircraft had been shot down against only two Bf 109 F-2s which received severe battle damage. Fw. Anton Hafner was credited with seven kills, bringing his total past 40; Oblt. Karl-Heinz Schnell also bagged seven, repeating the day in June 1941 when he had destroyed four bombers in four minutes; Oblt. Karl Rammelt shot down five (three IL-2s and two Pe-2s), and Hptm. Grasser himself accounted for eight victories. The Spanish pilots of Escuadrilla Azul contributed with another four victories – two Pe-2s, one 11-4, and one LaGG-3. On 17 July, the commander of Soviet 1 VA who had ordered the operation, General-Leytenant Timofey Kutsevalov, was replaced by General Mayor Sergey Khudyakov. Subsequently, and whether due to Khudyakov or not, it is a fact that the Soviet units opposed to Luftwaffenkommando Ost were substantially strengthened during the latter half of July. At the same time, the Kalinin and Western Fronts started to prepare a powerful offensive against German 9th Army in the so-called Rzhev Bulge, with the intention of diverting Wehrmacht forces from the Southern Front. General-Mayor Aleksandr Novikov, the new C-in-C of WS KA, personally supervised the task of reinforcing 1 VA and 3 VA, which were to support the offensive.

When the Soviet offensive began on 30 July, heavy rain grounded the German aircraft and large scale air battles did not develop until the next day. Massive formations of IL-2 Shturmoviks, appearing in larger numbers than ever before, helped the Soviet Army to split the front between German 87th and 256th Infantry divisions. Major Karl-Gottfried Nordmann, Geschwaderkommodore of JG 51, instructed his pilots to concentrate on the IL-2s and this was not without success, for on 1 August, 20 of the 26 aircraft JG 51 claimed to have shot down were IL-2s. More than one-third of this achievement was made by Ofw. Franz-Josef Beerenbrock of Stab IV./JG 51, who shot down no fewer than nine aircraft in three separate engagements. Beerenbrock's performance was of great significance, for these victories pushed his total tally to 102, for which he was awarded the Oak Leaves. In accordance with usual practice, Beerenbrock was then sent home on leave, and JG 51 therefore lost an outstanding fighter pilot at a very serious time.

The air battle reached a climax on 2 August, when Stab, II., III. and IV./JG 51 recorded 45 victories, again mainly against IL-2s, but when confronted with the fighters of 1 VA and 3 VA, events took a different turn and during the first three days of August no fewer than 20 pilots of JG 51 were shot down. On 2 August, the Gruppenkommandeur of III./JG 51, Hptm. Richard Leppla, was shot down and was seriously injured, almost losing the sight of one eye, as a result of which Leppla, Ritterkreuztrager and victor in 68 aerial combats, spent most of the remainder of the war in staff positions and schools. The next day, 11./JG 51's Staffelkapitan, Oblt. Georg Seelmann was shot down by a Soviet fighter near Rzhev at 15.25 hrs. Seelmann, another Ritterkreuztrager credited with 39 victories, baled out with injuries. Two other Staffelkapitane in JG 51 were injured during the air fighting on August 3; Oblt. Harald Jung of 4./JG 51, and Lt. Gottfried Schlitzer of 9./JG 51. The latter, an ace with 25 victories to his credit, died from his wounds three days later. The 16 victories claimed by JG 51 on 3 August was a poor consolation. As JG 51 was losing aircraft and, particularly, one experienced veteran pilot after another, it became clear that the Soviet fighter pilots were gaining the upper hand. It therefore meant much to Jagdgeschwader Molders when Major Joachim Muncheberg arrived to be groomed under Major Nordmann's supervision for the role of Geschwaderkommodore. Muncheberg had served with JG 26 'Schlageter' for four years. In 1941, his 7./JG 26 had earned fame for its feats against the RAF in the Mediterranean area when it shot down 52 British fighters, 25 by Muncheberg, without losing a single pilot. Two of the 16 victories filed by JG 51 on 3 August 1942 became Major Muncheberg's 84th and 85th kills. Muncheberg arrived with the same preconception of the air war in the East as held by most German fighter pilots on other fronts, namely that it was something of an "easy game." After Soviet fighters twice shot him down within four weeks, he modified his opinion.

Major Hannes Trautloft, commanding JG 54 in Luftflotte 1, received an urgent call to transfer parts of his Jagdgeschwader to Luftwaffenkommando Ost in order to assist JG 51. This indicates the situation was indeed desperate, for by that time Luftflotte 1 and Army Group North were assembling forces for Hitler's intended 'final blow' against Leningrad. At the same time, the German 11th Army was moving northwards from Sevastopol to the Leningrad area, and now Luftflotte 1 had to divert large parts of its forces to save the situation to the south.

Accordingly, on 6 August, Stab and II./JG 54 together with I./JG 51 arrived at Dugino aerodrome, 40 miles south of Rzhev, where almost the entire JG 51 was concentrated. Major Nordmann received Major Hannes Trautloft with the words, "All hell is loose in the air!" The previous day, Lt. Herbert Puschmann had achieved II./JG 51's 1,000th aerial victory by downing two Pe-2s, a MiG-3, and an IL-2, but on 6 August, JG 51 lost another of its most formidable pilots in 19-victory ace Lt. Benno Gantz.

JG 54 was also suffering severe setbacks of its own. On 9 August, Oblt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann, now appointed Staffelkapitan of 8./JG 54, perished when he was shot down by a LaGG-3 east of Lake limen. Ostermann had just returned to the front after a long home leave following his 100th victory and subsequent award of the Swords in May. He had striven to become the first fighter pilot to reach the 150-victory mark (this was before JG 52's Major Gollob had achieved that feat), but the constant rivalry between the top aces in the Luftwaffe eventually compelled some among them to push themselves too far or to become careless, often with fatal results. Upon receiving the news of Ostermann's death, Major Trautloft wrote in his diary: "We often, and sometimes somewhat carelessly, speak about an 'irreplaceable loss,' where perhaps some less strong expression could be used, but in this case 'irreplaceable' felt inadequate." With 102 victories to his credit, Ostermann was the Luftwaffe's first ace with more than 100 victories to be killed in action.

On this 9 August, II./JG 54 claimed 21 Soviet aircraft shot down including four Yak-1s destroyed by 6. Staffel's Lt. Hans Beisswenger in a single combat. The next day, however, Beisswenger's Staffelkapitan, Hptm. Karl Sattig - credited with 53 victories - went missing during an engagement. The following night, a devastatingly successful Soviet bombing attack on Dugino aerodrome put 25 German aircraft out of commission, including 16 Bf 109s from JG 51 and II./JG 54.

With both sides launching huge forces in futile attempts to achieve a major breakthrough, the situation along the Central Front had many similarities with the trench warfare on the Western Front during the First World War. Meanwhile, overhead, large-scale dogfights took place and on 13 August, when JG 51 recorded 18 victory claims, the top ace in 12./JG 51, Oblt. Ernst Weismann, with 69 victories, was lost in combat with Soviet fighters. On 14 August, Jagdgeschwader Molders lost another ace when Fw. Richard Quante, credited with 49 victories, was shot down and killed ~ Soviet fighter.

The units of Luftwaffenkommando Ost, as well as those of the Soviet 1 VA and 3 VA, rapidly became worn down. In JG 51, 73 Bf 109s were destroyed or severely damaged due to various causes between 30 July and 13 August. On the Soviet side, 201 lAD lost 17 Yak-1s and four MiG-3s in combat operations during the same period, with another nine fighters receiving severe battle damage.

On 15 August, a sixth Jagdgruppe, I./JG 52, equipped with the new Bf 109 G-2, arrived to strengthen Luftwaffe forces on the Central Front. On 23rd, this Gruppe lost its top scorer, Ofw. Heinz-Wilhelm Ahnert, shortly after he had downed his 57th enemy aircraft. On the other hand, between the 15th and 23 August, 1./ JG 52 was credited with 43 victories. Also on the 23rd, 1./ JG 54 - also equipped with Bf 109 G-2s - arrived to further bolster Luftwaffenkommando Ost, which was thereby provided with the strongest Luftwaffe fighter force in any single sector. Mustering 226 Bf 109s, of which 174 were serviceable, these Jagdgruppen tipped the balance in the air to the German advantage, and on 27 August, I./JG 54 achieved its 800th victory while, the next day, I./JG 52 bounced a formation of 15 Soviet aircraft and claimed seven shot down.

"Five IL-2s were sent [against Dugino aerodrome). Only Dol'nikov returned. . . Why are people being sent to be slaughtered?"

Lt. Lyadskiy of Soviet 687 ShAp, 26 August 1942.

On 28 August, Major Hannes Trautloft wrote in his diary: "There are only a few enemy aircraft in the air." After claiming to have shot down 547 Soviet aircraft during the Battle of Rzhev between 30 July and 29 August, the units of Luftwaffenkommando Ost had decided the struggle for air superiority on the Central Front in their favour. JG 51 alone was credited with a total of 391 victories in August 1942 and, due mainly to the considerable reinforcement of Luftwaffenkommando Ost's fighter force, its bomber and Stuka units suffered lower losses than their Soviet counterparts.

It would take the Soviet 1 VA and 3 VA several months to replace the immense aircraft losses, quite apart from the experienced pilot losses, inflicted by Luftwaffenkommando Ost's fighter force during the Summer of 1942, but the price for these achievements had been terrible. Although the accumulated rate of attrition had been a serious problem since the opening of 'Barbarossa', with few exceptions the Jagdgruppen on the Eastern Front were accustomed to achieving high scores in return for relatively light losses. This changed abruptly on the Central Front in August 1942, and it was JG 51, the most successful Jagdgeschwader of 'Barbarossa', which took the first really heavy beating at the hands of Soviet fighter pilots. JG 51 recorded 101 Bf 109s destroyed or severely damaged due to all causes in August 1942, plus 17 pilots killed, missing, or injured. One possible explanation for JG 51's exceptionally high losses compared to other Jagdgeschwader in the East, is that it still operated old, and in many cases pretty worn-out, Bf 109 F-2s.

Aces Over Stalingrad

When Adolf Hitler issued his Order No. 45 directing Army Group B against Stalingrad on 23 July 1942, the VVS units available to meet this advance were meagre and all that could be assembled against von Richthofen's mighty VIII. Fliegerkorps was 8 VA. On 22 July, this air army had been reduced to 337 serviceable aircraft, of which one third were obsolescent biplane night bombers. Nevertheless, 8 VA's remaining 85 fighters, 48 Shturmoviks, and 88 day bombers were utilised to the maximum.

The majority of the Soviet airmen were inexperienced and ill-trained youngsters, but there were also a few experienced veterans, most notably in Mayor Ivan Kleshchyov's 434 IAP, which dealt the German Stukas and the Italian Macchi C. 200 escort fighters of 21 Gruppo Autonomo C. T. a series of severe losses. However, even the best VVS units suffered dearly at the hands of the Jagdwaffe's Experten, the best of whom had reached a level of experience incomparable with any other air force. The Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 52, for example, Hptm. Johannes Steinhoff, logged his 600th combat flight during this period, and on 26 July, the II./ JG 3 Rotte of Lt. Joachim Kirschner and Ofw. Alfred Heckmann shot down three Yak fighters apiece in only four minutes. Also that day, their Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Kurt Brandle, claimed two Pe-2s and a Yak fighter, bringing his score to 77 victories. 434 IAP registered three Yak-1s, and 512 IAP three Yak-1s and one Yak-7 lost on 26 July, in addition to ten of 8 VA's IL-2s, seven Pe-2s, two Hurricanes, and a U-2.

On the last day of July, Hitler declared "the battle of the Caucasus would be decided at Stalingrad" and instructed the 4th Panzer Army to veer to the east from its position south of the River Don in the northern Caucasus, and head towards Stalingrad. Thus the focus of the entire war in the East shifted toward this single city. Stalin's reaction demanded that the troops of the new Stalingrad Front, which had been created in mid-July, should defend Stalingrad "to the last man." In the intensified air fighting which developed, Lt. Hans Roehrig, one of the aces in I./JG 53 'Pik As', was shot down on 6 August in combat with a Soviet fighter pilot, probably StLt. Mikhail Baranov of 183 IAP, who claimed four victories in a single battle. Four days later, on 10 August, I./JG 53 lost Lt. Helmut Macher and Ofw. Heinrich Leschert, each with a personal score of 23 victories. An even worse setback was when 9./JG 3's Staffe/kapitan, Oblt. Viktor Bauer, was so badly injured that he was rendered unfit for first-line service for the remainder of the war. The loss of this 106-victory ace naturally affected the Staffe/'s combat spirit, and this was not improved when Bauer's successor, 30-victory ace Lt. Leutnant Rolf Diergardt, was also shot down in air combat the following day and listed as missing.

However, regardless of the fact that these large-scale air battles inevitably resulted in significant overclaiming, these Jagdgeschwader losses are limited compared with the huge victory claims that were made. For example, up until 13 August, units under the command of VIII. Fliegerkorps claimed to have shot down 606 Soviet aircraft and destroyed another 107 on the ground during the battle of the Don Bend, but between 20 July and 10 August 8 VA recorded 230 aircraft losses (114 fighters, 70 Shturmoviks, 29 Pe-2s, four Su-2s, and 13 night bombers). Similarly, the 315 victory claims filed by 8 VA between 20 July and l 10 August were far beyond the actual total, for against 187 Bf 109s or "He 113s" claimed, in the same period Luftflotte 4 recorded 62 Bf 109s shot down, destroyed or forced-landed due to battle damage. In other words, whereas the Luftwaffe was claiming three aircraft for everyone destroyed, the Soviets claimed five. Some 447 replacement aircraft were delivered to 8 VA between 20 July and 17 August, and these made it possible for the VVS to maintain a steady pressure on Army Group B. During five weeks of bloody fighting, the Soviets succeeded in halting Army Group B inside the Don Bend, west of Stalingrad. During this period, the IL-2 Shturmoviks played a crucial role in disrupting German movements on the ground and von Richthofen's headquarters received daily requests from the Army for improved protection. In order to deal more effectively with these heavy-armoured ground-attack aircraft, Bf 109s were equipped with an extra pair of wing-mounted MG 151/20 automatic cannon, the so-called 'Gondo/waffen'.

Between the 11th and 22 August, 8 VA recorded a further 152 operational losses (100 bombers and 52 fighters), as a result of which when Luftflotte 4 was deployed against Stalingrad en masse to support the ground attack against this city, Soviet air opposition was so weak that only a single Ju 87 and an He 111 were lost to VVS fighters. Everything launched into the air by the Soviets was effectively eliminated by the fighters of JG 3, II./JG 52, Oblt. Decker's III./JG 52 detachment and I./JG 53 'Pik As', the three latter units being equipped with the new and improved Bf 109 G-2. On 23 August, Hptm. Kurt Brandle, Kommandeurof II./JG 3 'Udet', destroyed three WS aircraft to become the 17th German fighter pilot to exceed the 100-victory mark. Meanwhile, the Gruppenadjutant of III./JG 3, Lt. Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel, shot down a Yak bringing his total to 33, 23 of which had been achieved during the past five weeks. II./JG 52's Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Johannes Steinhoff, surpassed all of this by shooting down five Soviet fighters, raising his tally to 85 victories, and Lt. Walter Zellot contributed four of the 17 claimed that day by I./JG 53.

But by displaying an incredible determination, the Soviet pilots day after day continued not only to rise against these hopeless odds, but to strike back. On 25 August, Lt. Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel barely evaded being shot down by a Soviet fighter and was lucky to escape with light injuries.

Two days later, 40-victory ace Oblt. Otto Decker was shot down and captured by the Soviets who brought him to 41 IAP's air base where he was interrogated by VVS pilots. His place was taken by Oblt. Herman Graf, who in the meantime had increased his tally to 137. On 30 August Lt. Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel was shot down by Soviet fighters and was captured, a fact which more than pleased the Soviets when they learned that he was not only one of the leading aces in III./JG 3 but also the great grandson of the 'Iron Chancellor', Prinz Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of the German Reich.

The fight between the numerically and qualitatively superior VIII. Fliegerkorps and the battered VVS was immensely unequal, and by 1 September 8 VA had only 57 serviceable fighters and 32 serviceable IL-2s remaining. On 2 September, 1.1 JG 53 'Pik As' claimed 16 of these aircraft shot down, including four by Hptm. Friedrich-Karl Muller who thereby reached his 70th victory. In 9./JG 52, the Staffelkapitan of the 'Karayastaffe/', Oblt. Herman Graf, scored his 145th kill by bringing down five Soviet aircraft one of them a lone four-engined Pe-8 - in three separate engagements. Unavoidably, even the renowned Soviet tenacity, which endured throughout most of the Russo-German war, sometimes suffered from such blows and, on 2 September, a demoralised Soviet Leytenant defected and landed his MiG-3 on the German aerodrome at Tuzov.

The names of the Jagdgeschwader in action over Stalingrad, JG 3 'Udet' and JG 53 'Pik As', became well-known to all VVS airmen in this area and Soviets even occupied themselves with the single most successful individual ace at Stalingrad, Oblt. Graf who, on numerous occasions in September 1942 was personally addressed by Soviet radio operators. Various VVS documents from the time also name Graf, who on 3 September increased his score to 149 victories when he shot down a LaGG-3 and three Yak-1s.

On 4 September, a new air army, 16 VA, was hurriedly made operational at Stalingrad but the reports after its first day of operations were gloomy. Twenty aircraft were reported lost, including 17 Yak-1s from 220 lAD alone, one of them being Graf's 150th victory.

On 6 September, JG 3's Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke who, although only holding the rank of Hauptmann, commanded the German fighters at Stalingrad, accounted for his 100th victory, for which he was awarded the Oak Leaves, and in I./JG 53, Hptm. Friedrich-Karl Muller increased his tally to 75 when he shot down three Soviet aircraft on this date. 16 VA recorded another 24 aircraft lost on 8 September, a large part of them to I./JG 53, which reported a total of 30 victories that day, four of them being credited to Fw. Wilhelm Crinius. In return, I./JG 53 lost three Bf 109s and two of its greatest aces; Ofw. Alfred Franke, with 59 victories, perished when he was shot down by an IL-2, the pilot of which was awarded the Order of Lenin, and Ofw. Hans Kornatz with 36 victories, who survived with injuries.

Meanwhile, the ground troops of 6th Army and 4th Panzer Army were unable to break Soviet resistance at Stalingrad, and a contributing factor to the Soviets' defensive success was the relentless attacks carried out by IL-2s against all German troop movements on the ground. Combating the IL-2s therefore remained the German fighter pilots' main task and, on 9 September, 'Pik As' ace Hptm. Friedrich-Karl Muller broke all his previous records by claiming six IL-2s shot down with his 'Gondola' armed Bf 109 in a single combat.

Only 12 miles west of Stalingrad, III./JG 3, I./JG 53 and Graf's III./JG 52 detachment were brought forward to Pitomnik aerodrome, and on 10 September I./JG 53 'Pik As' scored 22 victories, including four by Fw. Wilhelm Crinius, who thus ran up his tally to 69. Uffz. Heinrich W6hrle also brought down four Soviet aircraft on this day, but it ended with W6hrle being shot down and injured. Also on 10 September, Fw. Franz Hagedorn, who previously had served as Crinius's wingman, was killed in combat with IL-2s shortly after scoring his 37th victory and another serious loss to I./JG 53 occurred when Lt. Walter Zellot was shot down and killed over Stalingrad. With 85 victories to his credit, Zellot was the top-scorer in I./JG 53 at that time.

To describe fully the huge air battles which took place over Stalingrad would require more space than available here, but it should be emphasised that the German aces had to fight hard to maintain their superiority against an enemy which defied losses and continuously sent new air units into the skies over the city. This is best illustrated by figures relating to just one Jagdgruppe, I./JG 53, which although claiming 230 Soviet aircraft destroyed in the three weeks following the opening of the offensive across the River Don, also reported that in the same period 25 per cent of its pilots had been killed, missing or injured.

On 11 September, 9./JG 52's Oblt. Graf spotted a formation of 270 BAD Pe-2s at 9,000 feet over Stalingrad's industrial area. A group of Bf 109s from another unit intercepted the bombers, and before he was able to intervene, Graf saw two Bf 109s being shot down by the Soviet rear gunners. Graf then attacked and managed to shoot down a Pe-2 before he found himself under attack by a formation of Soviet fighters, and the German ace was himself almost shot down before he finally destroyed one of his adversaries. Thus Graf, by this time the leading fighter ace of the war, achieved his 164th victory. Another pilot with great achievements over Stalingrad was I./JG 53's FW.Wilhelm Crinius. Of 29 Soviet aircraft shot down by I./JG 53 between 12th and 14 September, ten fell to the guns of Crinius's Bf 109 G-2.

The losses sustained by the Soviet airmen, mainly due to a handful of Jagdwaffe Experten, is clearly displayed by the statistics of 220 lAD which comprised four regiments of Yaks; 43 IAP, 237 IAP, 581 IAP, and 867 IAP. On 4 September, this unit had 42 aircraft available but between the 1st and 15 September lost 58, a loss rate of 138 per cent in two weeks.

Worse was to follow, for the Soviet airmen in the Stalingrad area were opposed by probably the strongest concentration of fighter aces ever assembled in such a limited area. By this time, only about 40 serviceable German fighters remained for action over Stalingrad but, according to the British and US practice of considering a pilot with five or more victories an ace, the majority of the German fighter pilots who flew over Stalingrad were aces. This was not the result of any deliberate policy, but was due mainly to the large-scale air fighting of the past weeks. The Geschwaderstab of JG 3, with only two operational Bf-109s, was led by Hptm. Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke, victor in more than 100 aerial combats. Wilcke frequently flew his missions with Hptm. Walther Dahl, who would score his 20th victory on 19 September.

III./JG 3, which had only ten operational Bf 109s available, was commanded by 35-victory ace Hptm. Wolfgang Ewald. In this Gruppe, Lt. Wilhelm Lemke achieved his 61st kill on 16 September. On the same day, Fw. Siegfried Engfer reached his 48th by knocking down three IL-2s, and Fw. Heinz Kemethmuller achieved his 49th victory.

I./JG 53 'Pik As', the most powerful Jagdgruppe at Pitomnik, was now down to 14 operational Bf 109s. On 16 September, this Gruppe's Oblt. Wolfgang Tonne claimed five kills to bring his total to 86 victories, while Hptm. Friedrich-Karl Muller and Fw. Wilhelm Crinius downed four each, both reaching a total of 87. At the same time, Lt. Hans Roehrig achieved his 46th, and Uffz. Heinz Golinski scored his 37th and 38th. In the III./JG 52 detachment, Ofw. Heinrich Fullgrabe and Lt. Ernst Suss both had around fifty victories, Uffz. Johann Kalb had achieved 32, and Uffz. Hermann Wolf scored his 23rd by shooting down a Yak-1 on 15 September. The commander of this formation, Oblt. Graf, was the war's top-scoring fighter ace by that time and at 07.35 hrs on 16 September, he destroyed an Su-2 as his 173rd victory, followed four minutes later by a Kittyhawk from 731 IAP. Afterwards, as Graf landed, he received the news that he had been awarded the Diamonds, Germany's highest military award.

And still the relentless fighting continued. Concentrated at Stalingrad was a large proportion of the best WS pilots, including female fighter pilots such as Lidiya Litvyak, and also its best fighter aircraft; Yak-1s, Yak-7Bs and La-5s. On 16 September, the crack Soviet fighter unit 434 IAP attacked a group of Ju 87s escorted by Bf 109s and claimed two Ju 87s and two Bf 109s shot down, one of each being claimed by the unit commander, Mayor Ivan Kleshchyov. In this engagement, Uffz. Johann Kalb, the 32-victory ace who served as Grat's wingman, was shot down but baled out of his blazing Bf 109 G-2 coded 'Black <4' and landed in the Volga. He swam to the river bank where Soviet soldiers were waiting to take him prisoner.

Never before had there been such vast air fighting over such a small area as the ruined city of Stalingrad. On 18 September, all available aircraft on both sides clashed violently as the Soviets made a fruitless attempt to counter attack north of Stalingrad. German fighters claimed 77 victories for a single loss, and 9./ JG 52's Herman Graf, newly promoted to Hauptmann, achieved his 180th victory by destroying in a single sortie two LaGG-3s and an IL-2. In I./JG 53, Hptm. Muller exceeded the five Abschusse per day he had twice claimed previously and shot down seven, thus reaching a tally of 99.

ObIt. Tonne and Fw. Crinius of the same unit, and JG 3's Hptm. Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke and Fw. Heinz Kemethmuller, each shot down four aircraft on 18 September. Counted among the Soviet losses on this day alone were several aces and Heroes of the Soviet Union, as well as StLt. Vladimir Mikoyan, the son of the Prime Minister of the USSR, Anastas Mikoyan.

Despite the bloodletting of 18 September, the survivors of the Soviet air forces were despatched to provide air support for yet another fruitless counter-attack on 19 September. Two tarans - air-to-air rammings were recorded over Stalingrad that day, but over a dozen cases of such acts of self-sacrifice were carried out by young VVS pilots over the city in September 1942 alone.

On 22 September, I./JG 53's ObIt. Tonne and Fw. Wilhelm Crinius both became the next pilots to claim 100 victories. The three leading aces in I./JG 53 'Pik As' - Muller, Tonne, and Crinius were all awarded the Oak Leaves on the 23rd and 24 September, Crinius receiving the Knight's Cross and Oak Leaves simultaneously. The achievements of these three 'Pik As' aces were indeed outstanding, for since the opening of the offensive against Stalingrad one month previously, Hptm. Muller had increased his victory tally from 60 to 101, and Tonne from 68 to 101. Perhaps most remarkable of all was the career of 21 year-old Wilhelm Crinius who had flown his first combat sortie as a Gefreiterwith I./JG 53 just seven months previously and had only claimed his first two victories on 9 June 1942. In little over three months, he had then increased his tally to 101, of which 57 were claimed within the last four weeks.

Towards the end of September, I./JG 53 'Pik As' left Pitomnik for a badly needed period of rest and refitting in Germany. The impact of this Gruppe over Stalingrad had been so great that, for many years after the war, it was mentioned in various Soviet accounts, including the memoirs of aircraft designer Aleksandr Yakovlev, who specifically referred to the "renowned 'Ace of Spades' Wing."

Only the achievements of Hptm. Herman Graf, commander of the 'Karayastaffel', surpassed those of the 'Pik As' Experten. Graf's most successful day occurred on 23 September when, on his first mission early in the morning, he and Fw. Heinrich Fullgrabe engaged two IL-2s and five Soviet fighters 30 miles behind the Volga. In a 20-minute combat, the two German aces despatched six of the Soviet aircraft in flames, four by Graf, and two by Fullgrabe. During his fourth sortie that day, in three minutes Graf also shot down a Yak-1 and two Su-2s, Finally, during a mission two hours later, the German ace managed to shoot down two Yak-1s and a LaGG-3, thereby having accounted for ten aircraft in the one day. With this, Herman Graf's total tally stood at 197.

Needless, to say, the intense air operations over Stalingrad began to take its toll and after six weeks of fighting, pilots of Graf's detachment from III./JG 52 began to show signs of mental and physical exhaustion. Fw. Fullgrabe, Graf's wingman, who had just reached his 50th victory, suffered a nervous breakdown and was grounded. About this time, Graf himself noted in his diary, "I had to take a day's rest," adding, "I just couldn't take any more." Nevertheless, Graf would not leave before he had become the first pilot to reach the magical 200-victory mark. This he did on 26 September, and he and his detachment left Stalingrad. Herman Graf, the most successful fighter pilot in the world, was sent home to Germany - with strict orders to avoid air combat - and I./JG 3 and I./JG 52 arrived at Pitomnik to take the place of the departing fighter units.

In only five weeks over Stalingrad, the Jagdfliegerclaimed almost 1,000 victories against true Soviet losses in September of 503 recorded by 8 VA, 163 by 16 VA and 36 by 102 IAD/PVO. From the Soviet viewpoint, these figures were discouraging enough, but since average aircraft strength at that time was only slightly above 300 aircraft, the total of these losses, 702 aircraft, represents a loss rate in five weeks of 234 per cent. Little wonder that Soviet ace Mayor Boris Yeryomin later wrote, "Throughout the entire war, I never saw more fierce and stiff air combats than those in the skies above Stalingrad."

By early October, the VVS had virtually disappeared from the skies over Stalingrad.

Over the High Mountains

Meanwhile, 4 VA and 5 VA, the Soviet air armies in the Caucasus, were advocating increasing the pressure on German Army Group A. It is obvious that the weak Luftwaffe forces which remained in the Caucasus in early September were inadequate to meet this challenge, but the extent of the sometimes alleged Soviet numerical superiority in this area in the Autumn of 1942 is a misconception. In fact, in September 1942, each side mustered between 200 and 250 operational aircraft in the Caucasus. With bombers forming the main part of VVS forces, most notably lend-lease Bostons grouped into 219 BAD, 4 VA was able to gain the initiative. To counter this, in early September, II./JG 52 was transferred to the Caucasus from the Stalingrad area. The air fighting on 6 September is indicative of the entire situation: 4 VA conducted 460 sorties and claimed the destruction of 14 German tanks, plus a direct bomb hit on the German assault bridge across the Terek at Mozdok, and sank seven troop ferries. In return, 219 BAD alone lost three Boston bombers and three LaGG-3 escort fighters. Two of the latter fell prey to 8./JG 52's Staffelkapitan, Oblt. Günther Rall, at 09.55 and 10.35 hrs. 7./ JG 52's Ofw. Alfred Grislawski destroyed a LaGG-3 and a Boston, while his wingman Fw. Edmund Rossmann shot down two I-16s and one LaGG-3. Hptm. Rudolf Resch, Staffelkapitan of 6./JG 52, claimed II./ JG 52's first victory in this sector by scoring his 50th victory.

On 8 September, the team of Grislawski and Rossmann encountered a formation of 219 BAD Bostons escorted by a large number of Soviet fighters. While Rossmann attracted the attention of the escort fighters, Grislawski attacked the Bostons and shot down four within two minutes - his 47th to 50th victories.

Throughout September 1942, 4 VA lost a total of 149 aircraft in combat, with 88 pilots killed or missing in action. The bulk of these losses were due to II. and III./JG 52, at a cost of 11 Bf 109s shot down in the southern Caucasus. III./JG 52 had received its worst loss on the 29th, when 68-victory ace Ofw. Kurt Ratzlaff was shot down by an La-5 from the 131 IAP, Kapitan Dmitriy Sigov and Kapitan Dmitriy Nazarenko each claiming a Bf 109 destroyed in this engagement.

The most successful German fighter pilot in the Caucasus in September 1942 was Oblt. Rail, who during the month added another 28 victories to his tally bringing his total to 90. Rail achieved his 100th victory on 22 October and was awarded the Oak Leaves, but the relentless fight in the air continued, with 6./JG 52's Lt. Walter Krupinski being rammed by an I-16 on 25 October, shortly after the German ace had achieved his 53rd victory. Krupinski nevertheless survived whereas his opponent perished. Four days later Krupinski was awarded the Ritterkreuz while the Soviet pilot who had rammed him posthumously received the Order of the Red Banner.

JG 52's aces definitely had the upper hand during the aerial combats over the Caucasus throughout the Autumn of 1942. On 26 October, 131 IAP's Kapitan Dmitriy Sigov (15 victories, including six shared) was shot down and killed when his La-5 was attacked from above by two Bf 109s. On 29 October, when II./JG 52 attained its 1,00Oth victory, 236 lAD's ace Podpolkovnik Dmitriy Kalarash (17 victories, including six shared) was killed in combat with Bf 109s. He probably fell victim to either 15.(Kroat)/JG 52's pilots Natporucnik Ljudevit Bencetic or Zastavnik Slavko Boskic, each of whom claimed a LaGG-3, or 4./JG 52's Oblt. Gerhard Barkhorn, who claimed a "Yak-1" as his 75th victory. Incidentally, cases of misidentification frequently arose as such Soviet in-line engined fighter types as the Yak-1, Yak-7, Yak-9, LaGG-3 and MiG-3 all had appearances so similar that accurate identification in air combat was very difficult.

On the last day of October, 7./JG 52's Ofw. Josef Zwernemann surpassed his 100-victory mark, but one of the toughest Jagdwaffe Experten in the Caucasus during this period was the young Oberfeldwebel Alfred Grislawski. On 2 November, his 23rd birthday, Grislawski became involved in an air battle with some I-153s, during which he shot down one in flames. The pilot of the blazing aircraft, Aleksandr Klubov, managed to crash-land and, although badly burned, survived later to become one of the war's most famous VVS aces with 31 personal and 19 shared victories. Three days later Grislawski achieved his 66th victory after shooting down four IL-2s, one of which was flown by a leading ace of the Guards unit 7 GShAP.

Although Grislawski was not as concerned about personal victory scores as several other Luftwaffe aces, III./JG 52's Gruppenkommandeur, Major Hubertus von Bonin regarded him as one of the unit's most important pilots and a cornerstone in the Gruppe. Von Bonin even placed Grislawski as his own Rottenführer on some occasions, and when a young and talented Leutnant by the name of Erich Hartmann joined III./JG 52 from an Erganzungsgruppe, von Bonin instructed the team of Grislawski and Rossmann to teach Hartmann the necessities of air combat. Hartmann not only absorbed what was required but, using the knowledge gained as a basis, later developed into the war's most successful fighter ace. As an interesting aside, it was Grislawski who also gave Hartmann his famous nickname "Bubi", or "Little Boy".

The VVS Routed

When, in the Spring of 1942, Hitler realised his mistake in not capturing Leningrad in the Autumn of 1941, he decided to correct it. A plan of attack was drawn up but, on 27 August 1942, while German forces were still deploying, the Soviet Army launched a powerful attack of its own to sever the German held corridor on the southern shore of Lake Ladoga. All the reserves that the Germans had assembled for the attack on Leningrad therefore became involved in a defensive, rather than offensive battle.

In the event, although its attack was spoiled, Army Group North, and in particular 18th Army, was able to hold its positions, largely due to operations by Luftflotte 1. This in turn was because, despite a numerical disadvantage, the fighters of JG 54 were able to master the situation in the air. In early September, there were about 550 aircraft of VVS-KBF, VVS-Leningrad Front and 14 VA in the area, and although this gave the VVS a two-fold numerical superiority over the Luftwaffe, the Soviets still managed to lose their air superiority. During the first two days of September, JG 544 recorded 42 Soviet aircraft shot down, after which a decrease in Soviet air activity in the sector south of Lake Ladoga was noted.

Meanwhile, southwards on the Central Front, Soviet 1 VA and 3 VA were in no position to regain their air superiority and the units from JG 54 which had arrived to bolster Luftwaffenkommando Ost could return to Luftflotte 1. Luftwaffenkommando Ost's remaining fighter units - Stab, II., III., IV. and 15.(Span)/JG 51, plus I./JG 52, with a total of over 100 serviceable Bf 109s - were in firm control of the air. On 5 September, Major Joachim Muncheberg, JG 51's acting Geschwaderkommodore, achieved his 100th victory.

When I./JG 52 returned to Luftflotte 4 in the south, Major Kurt Brandle's II./JG 3 'Udet' was allocated to Luftwaffenkommando Ost and arrived just in time to help counter a Soviet assault against the German positions at Zubtsov, southeast of Rzhev. On 14 September, both 1 VA and 3 VA were concentrated to attack the German ground troops in this area, but at around 10.00 hrs on 14 September, Hptm. Hartmann Grasser's II./JG 51 engaged numerous IL-2s with fighter escort and claimed 12 shot down against a single loss of their own. In total, JG 51 accounted for 21, including five shot down by II./JG 51's Ofw. Otto Tange, which brought his score to 68, and three by Major Muncheberg.

In the area immediately south of Lake Ladoga, Major Gordon Gollob, the top-scoring fighter ace who had recently been grounded following the award of the Diamonds, arrived from the Caucasus to assume command of Luftflotte l's fighter units. Two Jagdgruppen also brought in from Germany to strengthen Gollob's force were Hptm. Kurt Ubben's Bf 109 G-2-equipped III./JG 77, and Hptm. Heinrich Krafft's I./JG 51 with its new Fw 190 A fighters. Thus the Fw 190 A, which had first been introduced to front-line units in France a year earlier, finally arrived on the Eastern Front, although at first neither of these units saw much combat.

The lack of opposition by the VVS is indicated by the fact that JG 54 achieved an average of no more than six aerial victories each day during the period from the 9th to 20 September and in this period lost only six Bf 109s destroyed or severely damaged due to hostile action. Among these casualties was 9./JG 54's Ofw. Wilhelm Schilling, who was awarded the German Cross in Gold on 13 September. Three days later, shortly after achieving his 46th victory, Schilling was pursuing a formation of IL-2s which had attacked Tosno railway station when anti-aircraft fire scored a direct hit on his aircraft and shattered one of his legs. Despite great pain and loss of blood, the 25 year-old Oberfeldwebel managed to nurse his Bf 109 to the advanced airstrip at Mga and was immediately taken to hospital. Another casualty in one the few aerial encounters on the Northern Front was 49-victory ace Fw. Peter Siegler of 3./JG 54 who was killed on 24 September.

Largely due to the support from the air, German troops were able to encircle the Soviet 6th Guards Corps west of Gaytolovo on 25 September. On 26 September, the Leningrad Front made a last attempt to cross the Neva River at Dubrovka and push across the German corridor. There is some evidence to suggest that VVS airmen were not giving of their best at this time, as Josef Stalin personally intervened and sent a harshly-worded telegram to 14 VA threatening to court-martial any Soviet fighter pilot who avoided combat with German fighters. It is reported that this apparently had some effect, although 6th Guards' attack was unsuccessful.

On 26 September, II./JG 54's Oblt. Hans Beisswenger achieved his 100th victory and on the 29th, Major Gollob's fighters shot down more than 20 VVS aircraft, one of which, a LaGG-3, was the 50th victory for Oblt. Hans-Ekkehard Bob of 9./JG 54. The only loss sustained by JG 54 'Griinherz' on that date was a Bf 109 piloted by the Technical Officer of III. Gruppe, Lt. Erwin Leykauf, credited with 25 victories, who was pursuing an 1/-2 over Dubrovka when his aircraft was severely hit by enemy fire and Leykauf's arm was injured by a machine-gun bullet. He succeeded in baling out and was rescued from no-man's-land by German soldiers of the 227th Infantry Division.

On 30 September, pilots of JG 54 claimed another 15 victories and while I./JG 51's Gruppenkommandeur, Hptm. Krafft, achieved his 60th victory, III./JG 77's Hptm. Kurt Ubben increased his score to 92 by downing a Yak-1.

By now, Army Groups North and Centre had lost the initiative and were being forced onto the defensive. Moreover, during the Autumn of 1942, and despite its previous losses, the VVS again started to rebuild its strength. On the German side, however, fighter Gruppen were being transferred, some to other theatres. Three of the Jagdgruppen which had been deployed on the Northern and Central Fronts, II./JG 3, II./JG 51 and III./JG 77, had to be transferred elsewhere, the latter two Gruppen going to the Mediterranean area. With the departure of II./JG 51, Luftwaffenkommando Ost lost its most successful Jagdgruppe. Of the 11 Ritterkreuztrager serving with JG 51 at that time, six belonged to II. Gruppe and included such formidable fighter pilots as Hptm. Hartmann Grasser with 92 victories, Fw. Anton Hafner with 62 and Uffz.' Kurt Knappe, who scored his 51st and last victory on the Eastern Front on 4 October 1942.

On 7 October, JG 54 lost another of its Ritterkreuztrager, Oblt. Joachim Wandel, the Staffelkapitan of 5./ JG 54, when he and his wingman, Uffz. Ransmeyer, engaged two Yak-1s near Ostashkov. Wandel claimed one of the Soviet fighters shot down, but was then himself shot down by the other. This was Wandel's 75th and last victory.

Worse was to come, and on 9 November, 3 VA's fighter pilots managed to deal their enemy two heavy blows, both in the Velikiye Luki - Vitebsk sector, where Kalinin Front held its western-most positions. The first occurred over German-held territory near Gorodok, slightly north of Vitebsk, when a Soviet fighter sweep resulted in a combat during which III./JG 54's 53-victory ace Lt. Hans-Joachim Heyer was killed. In return, Hptm. Hans Knauth, Kommandeur of IV./JG 51 sent some of the Bf 109s under his command on fighter sweeps from the airfield at Vitebsk. One of the flights was led by the Staffelkapitan of 10./JG 51, Lt. Franz-Josef Beerenbrock, by that time the leading ace in JG 51 'Molders '. During the past eight days, Beerenbrock had increased his victory score by ten, reaching'a total of 114. Beerenbrock's formation had just crossed the frontline at Velizh, 40 miles north-east of Vitebsk, when they encountered a formation of 3 VA fighters and a stiff combat ensued Lt. Beerenbrock once again displayed his superior skills by shooting down three Soviet aircraft in quick succession but was suddenly heard calling over the R/T, "I'm hit in the radiator! Attempting a Bauchlandung1" His Bf 109 F-2, 'White 12', was then seen skidding along on the ground, after which the pilot was observed climbing from the cockpit and preparing himself for the inevitable capture.

In November 1942, 1 VA and 3 VA had gathered almost 1,400 aircraft - more than, 1,000 in 3 VA alone - and were preparing to support the pending Winter offensive planned to destroy Army Group Centre.

The Turn of the Tide

Despite the German fighter pilots' impressive victories, it was obvious that the VVS remained unbeaten and, in fact, was continuing to gain in strength. Nowhere was this tendency more clear than in the Far North.

By the beginning of the unusually hot and dry Polar Summer of 1942, Luftflotte 5 had been considerably reinforced, and on 1 July 1942 possessed a total of approximately 250 serviceable aircraft. Operationally, these were controlled by Fliegerführer Nord-Ost, Obstlt. Walter Lehwess Litzmann, and by Fliegerführer Lofoten, Oberst Ernst-August Roth, the former responsible for operations over the front-line and the latter mainly for anti-shipping operations. At first, due to the dominance established by II. and III./JG 5 in the Spring, Luftflotte 5 enjoyed a numerical and considerable qualitative superiority, for the opposition amounted only to 173 serviceable Soviet aircraft. Moreover, Fliegerführer Nord-Ost benefited from a Freya early-warning radar station.

During the Summer, however, this situation began to change, mainly due to the Soviets' ability to bring in new forces. However, one of the new units to arrive was 20 IAP jVVS SF equipped with the first Yak-1s to appear in the Far North and the first Soviet type which could compete effectively with the Bf 109 F. 20 IAP mounted its first operation on 19 July when, together with 2 GSAP, 19 GIAP and 769 IAP, it took off to attack seven Ju 87s and five Ju 88s, escorted by 12 Bf 109s from II. and III./JG 5, which were dispatched to attack Murmansk. Once intercepted, the Bf 109s immediately split up and engaged the Soviet fighters, allowing the bombers to slip away unscathed. In the following fighter versus fighter battle, 7./JG 5's Lt. Bodo Helms and Ofw. Franz D6rr claimed one Yak-1s each, and Uffz. Werner Schumacher claimed two Soviet fighters shot down. Actual Soviet losses amounted to five aircraft: a MiG-3 of 2 GSAP, three aircraft from 19 GIAP, equipped with Airacobras and Kittyhawks, and a 769 IAP Hurricane. In return, 6./JG 5's Fw. Leopold Knier was shot down by 20 IAP's Kapitan Krylov, while Uffz. Hans Döbrich, credited with 14 victories, was shot down by Lt. Yevgeniy Petrenko and Krasnoflotets Vladimir Burmatov of the same regiment. Both German pilots baled out. Knier was seized by Soviet troops, while D6brich - who landed 12 miles east of Murmashi - was able to evade capture and walked back to his own lines.

The ability of pilots to return to their unit after trekking through the dry Karelian wilds was, in fact, quite common. On 22 July, the Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 5, Hptm. Horst Garganico, was obliged to start walking after his Bf 109F4, WNr. 10256, developed engine trouble and he crash-landed near Zimnaya Motovka. His aircraft was recovered by the Soviets but Garganico evaded capture and succeeded in returning to the Finnish-German front-line on 25 July.

In total, Luftflotte 5 recorded 26 combat losses in July 1942, while VVS SF registered 32 of its own aircraft shot down or missing.

In early August, the fighting in the Far North moved southwards as a Waffen-SS unit attempted to capture an area in the hills in the Kestenga-Loukhi sector, south of Kandalaksha Bay and more than 200 miles south of Murmansk. The Soviet air force in this area, VVS 26th Army, had experienced a prolonged period of calm, but the first engagement between the Luftwaffe and VVS 26th Army in August 1942 was a good indication that the Germans would meet stiff opposition in this sector. On 2 August, two Bf 109s of 4./JG 5 escorted an Hs 126 of 1.(H)j32 which set out on a reconnaissance mission over the lines near Kestenga, but they were intercepted by Hurricanes from 760 IAP VVS 26th Army. The Soviet fighter pilots destroyed all three German aircraft for the loss of one Hurricane.

A few days later, three Bf 109 pilots on a transfer flight to the same area became disorientated and landed in Soviet-occupied territory where they were all captured. One of them was Uffz. Werner Schumacher who had claimed at least ten victories and was the highest-scoring pilot of 7./JG 5.

On 12 August, Hptm. Horst Garganico's Schwarm from Stab II./JG 5 was involved in combat with Soviet fighters while escorting an Fw189 over the Litsa Front and Murmansk. The outcome was a single MiG-3 claimed, while a Soviet fighter pilot from 19 GIAP shot down Garganico, who came down behind enemy lines for the second time in only a few weeks. This time, he was rescued by an Fi 156 Storch after one day.

On 21 August, pilots from the Expertenstaffe 6./JG 5 claimed to have shot down 14 Soviet fighters out of 35 which intercepted the Zerstorer Staffe 13.(Z)/JG 5. According to Soviet files, 12 Soviet fighters took part in this clash, and two LaGG-3s from 1 AE/255 IAP and two I-16s from 3 AE of 27 IAP/VVS SF were shot down near Vayenga. Another I-16 from 27 IAP/VV SF and one Kittyhawk from 2 GSAP jVVS-SF made forced landings at the airfield. The Germans lost two Bf 109s, one of which was flown by the new Staffelkapitan of 6./JG 5, ObIt. Hans Dieter Hartwein, victor of 16 combats, who was posted missing. Furthermore, 'Rudi' Muller returned with a hole through the canopy of his Bf 109 where a bullet had missed his head by only a few inches.

During this period, overclaims were made by both sides, and it is indicative of the character of fighter pilots in general that both Germans and Soviets felt that they each enjoyed a convincing superiority. The pilots of JG 5 were certain that they were inflicting crippling losses on the enemy, claiming a total of 72 victories in August, but Soviet statistics show only 24 Soviet aircraft lost with another seven damaged and 13 aircraft missing. Another four were shot down by ground fire.

Contrary to the general assessment of the air war on the Eastern Front, Soviet fighter pilots in the Murmansk area were more successful against the Bf 109 at this time than RAF Fighter Command. According to the loss statistics of both sides, in 1942, Fighter Command lost on average of 3.5 aircraft for every German fighter destroyed in combat over Western Europe, and in North Africa the ratio was even higher. In comparison, and including aircraft shot down by Finnish fighters, the Soviets lost 34 fighters and the Germans ten in the Karelia - Murmansk area during the same period, a ratio of 3.4 Soviet aircraft destroyed to each one lost. However, discounting the Finnish pilots' successes, Soviet losses due only to action by Luftflotte 5 amounted to no more than six fighters, indicating that the Germans were losing approximately two of their own fighters for every Soviet one destroyed. From the Autumn of 1942, the initiative in the air in the Far North slipped gradually and irreversibly further in favour of the Soviets.


Some of the numerical successes attained by German fighter pilots in 1942, particularly during the Summer, were unparalleled, surpassing even the astronomical achievements of the previous year. Before the German 1942 Summer offensive opened on the Eastern Front, 11 Luftwaffe fighter pilots had each surpassed the 100-victory mark, but between July and October 1942, another 18 pilots in the East achieved the same feat. Moreover, in August 1942, JG 52's Geschwaderkommodore, Major Gordon Gollob, became the first pilot to achieve 150 victories, and the next month Hptm. Herman Graf of 9./JG 52 exceeded 200. The important contribution of the Jagdwaffe is evident, too, in the comparatively low losses in the Kampf- and Stukagruppen which in turn allowed these units to provide air support vital to the survival of the Wehrmacht's ground forces.

Between January and October 1942, the Luftwaffe claimed to have shot down in aerial combat more than 12,000 Soviet aircraft. Although Soviet sources indicate that this amounts to an overclaim rate of 2:1, it still represents a tremendous achievement, and yet the VVS forced the Jagdwaffe to fight bitterly and many Experten lost their lives or were captured. Three of these had exceeded 100 victories; Lt. Franz-Josef Beerenbrock (117 victories, PoW), Oblt. Max-Hellmuth Ostermann (102 victories, killed) and Oblt. Viktor Bauer (106 victories, severely injured). All three were shot down by Soviet fighter pilots. It is noteworthy that in August 1942, JG 51 - the Luftwaffe's most successful Jagdgeschwader by that time - suffered heavier losses than ever previously in the war. And in the Far North, JG 5 lost its air superiority in the Autumn of 1942.

True, in 1942, the Jagdwaffe had succeeded in achieving what it had been unable to do in 1941 - namely to break the famous Soviet stamina. However, the Soviets' ability to revive remained unaffected and Stalingrad, the scene of the VVS's most humiliating defeat, would also witness its most dramatic revival.

Reference Sources:

  • ISBN Luffewafe in Color Jagdwaffe Vol 3 Section 2 - Barbarossa, The Invasion of Russia, June-December, 1941 by Mombeek, Eric
  • ISBN Luffewafe in Color Jagdwaffe Vol 3 Section 3 - The War in Russia January - October 1942 by Mombeek, Eric
  • ISBN Luffewafe in Color Jagdwaffe Vol 3 Section 4 - The War in Russia January - October 1942 by Mombeek, Eric
  • History of the Second World War published by Purnell & Sons 1966.
  • The World at War by Richard Holmes published by Ebury Press 2007.
  • The Field Men by French L MacLean published by Schiffer Military History Atglen PA 1999.
  • Moscow to Stalingrad: Decision in the East. Ziemke, Earl F. Washington DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1987
  • Holocaust Historical Society
  1. Named after a medieval crusader.
  2. The Germans erroneously referred to the 8B as the Martin bomber, 8B-2 or 8B-3, while the I-153 Chayka was frequently misidentified by the Germans as a Curtiss.
  3. This figure does not include victories in Spain.
  4. A loss indicates the number of machines lost to front-line service due to enemy action. Thus, in this instance, of the 111 aircraft lost to front-line service, 61 were totally destroyed or otherwise written off.
  5. Includes a few hundred aircraft based along the Soviet-Finnish border.
  6. One hundred victories, if Molders' 14 victories in the Spanish Civil War are included.
  7. Fighter losses in this period amounted to 466 destroyed and 333 severely damaged.


This webpage was updated 27th March 2023