Russian Offensive +
Junkers Ju 52 during the Demyansk airlift Feb 1942-01
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.
This webpage was updated 15th September 2012
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