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Soviet Bombers - Great Patriotic War

In the Soviet Union, as elsewhere, size and geographic position were important determinants or military doctrine. The vast land area of the Soviet Union, and -- until the post Great Patriotic War years -- the presence on the Eurasian continent of one or more neighbors possessing powerful land armies, engendered a traditional and deeply established conviction that the primary defense of the Soviet homeland rested with the land forces.

Historically, this conviction gave rise to the concept that the primary role of aviation was to furnish support and protection to the soviet ground forces. This concept governed the design, organization and employment of the Soviet Air Forces in World War II. Air units were regarded essentially as auxiliaries - indispensable, just as artillery, to the successful prosecution or a military operation, but nonetheless subordinate to the ground forces they were designed to assist.

In March 1932, the resolution of the Revolutionary Military Council "On the Principles of the Organization of the Air Force of the Red Army" defined the prospects for the development of heavy bomber aviation, as well as new strategic and operational-tactical views on its organizational construction and application. Taking into account the increasing role of aviation in the armed struggle, units and units of heavy aviation were combined into large units providing for the independent resolution of operational tasks. At the beginning of 1933, separate squadrons, squadrons and brigades were combined into air corps, and from the end of 1936 to the beginning of 1938, brigades and corps based in the European part of the country were consolidated into three long-range bomber special forces. One of them was based in Moscow (Commander V. Khripin, then V.S. Holzunov), the second - in Voronezh (commander II. Proskurov, later - Lieutenant General of Air Force SP Denisov), the third - in Rostov-on-Don (Commander - TI Butorin). The air brigade, which entered the aviation army, had four squadrons of 12 TB-3 or DB-3 aircraft, as well as a scout squadron of scouts and fighters. It was the Air Force of the Main Command, subordinate to the USSR NCO.

In 1938, instead of large squadrons in its composition, air regiments were formed, which are part of the air division. The regiments became the main tactical unit and consisted of three or four squadrons of 12 aircraft each. In November 1940, under the guise of improving management and eliminating the multistep in the leadership, the long-range bomber special forces were disbanded. Instead, they re-created the management of air corps. The long-range bombing corps was an independent type of aircraft and was not a means of district (front) command. Commander of the Air Force military districts they were subordinate only in operational terms.

Assessments of Soviet air operations in World War II sometimes overlook the point that the development of air strength and doctrine primarily for participation in land campaigns was a logical -- almost inevitable response to the kind of war the Soviet Union had chosen to fight. That Soviet air doctrine proved successful in the kind or war the Soviet Union fought in 1941-1945 is a matter of history. While the USAAF and the RAF waged a telling air campaign against Germany from the other side or Europe, the Soviet Union achieved its war objectives without being obliged to develop an arm for such a campaign or to resist one.

The fact remains, however, that the beginnings of a Soviet concept or long range air power made their appearance long before the close of World War II. The Soviets demonstrated interest in large airplanes and long range flights during the 1930's. They built the L-760, an experimental 8-engine plane in 1934, and in 1937 they set long distance flight records crossing the North Pole from the Soviet Union to California. Prior to the war the Soviets had a small "heavy bomber force" equipped originally with four-engined TB-3, which were larger than the contemporary American B-17, and twin-engined aircraft. The TB-3 had a range of 1,430 miles with two tons of bombs -- at a cruising speed or 98 miles per hour. Peacetime activities of this "heavy bombing force" were largely concerned with civil transport, but it presumably was intended to operate in wartime as a bomber force and a carrier or airborne troops.

Available evidence indicates, however, that the Germans took a very heavy toll or this force in the early months or the war (many or the losses being on the ground) and that activities of "heavy bomber" units were limited to small scale strikes disconnectedly delivered to meet immediate needs.

The order of the State Committee for Defense of the USSR, which was drafted at the dictation of the Chairman of the State Defense Committee I.V. Stalin at two o'clock in the night from August 8 to August 9, 1941. The document obliged the commander of the 81st Air Division to carry out a bombing raid on the capital of the Hitlerite Reich.

This largely ineffective force was reorganized in 1942 into an independent agency known as the Long Range Force (ADD). Its 1942 strength did not exceed 600 aircraft, and its basic equipment was the IL-4, an airplane comparable to the British Wellington. By the close of 1944, the Long Range Force had a strength of almost 1,600 aircraft, including considerable numbers or B-25s and A-20s acquired under lend lease. At this time it was redesignated the 18th Air Army and subordinated to the Chief Diractorate of the Soviet Air Force.

Throughout this period the Long Range Force and 18th Air Army was commanded by Alexander Golovanov. A colonel when placed in command of the Long Range Force in March 1942, he had risen by August 1944 to the rank or Chief Marshal of Aviation -- comparable to American four-star rank. Golovanov was the only officer other than Alexander Novikov -- who headed the Soviet Air Forces -- to receive that rank.

Actually, however, neither the Long Range Force or its successor, the 18th Air Army, ever functioned in an air campaign. It was neither designated as, nor had the capabilities for, a bomber force as such was understood by the Western Allies. In the early phases of the war, a number of attacks were carried out against German towns, but the strikes were delivered without observable connection with one another. They were, moreover, without any identifiable strategic purpose, unless it was that of demoralizing the German civil population and producing some degree or industrial dislocation by haphazard night bombing of a city.

The most purposeful series of attacks was made against Finnish cities with an aim to bending Finnish public opinion towards acceptance of Soviet peace terms. This was in 1944, but the attacks were poorly planned and largely ineffectual. From then on, operations of the 18th Air Army were tied directly to objectives of particular ground offensives. During the last year of the war it was carrying out reasonably effective night operations against targets lying at a distance of 50 to 100 miles in rear of the battle lines. Railway facilities, control points and rolling stock were the principal targets.

No formations were used, and takeoff time determined the interval in the bomber stream. Missions were planned so as to get the bombers across the main defense line as soon as possible after dark. No operations were flown if lengthy flight under conditions of poor visibility would be required and unless there was good night visibility over the target area. Altitude of attack was always stipulated, and ranged tram 1,600 to 6,600 feet for objectives in the main fighting zone and from 10,000 to 16,000 feet in rear areas. A-20 patrol regiments provided indirect protection for attacking searchlights, antiaircraft installations and night fighter fields, but there was no direct provision for fighter escort.

It is difficult to assess the value which the Soviet high command itself put on the Long Range Force. The creation and subsequent growth of the Long Range Force evidently indicated a considerable interest in its progress and a high confidence in its ultimate operational effectiveness. Fersonnel for the force were picked on a selective basis and there appeared to be expectation that it would emerge as an elite corps. At the same time, however, needs or the air armies for aircraft and equipment were given a higher priority than were the Long Range Force requirements.

There were those who, noting that the Long Range Force was neglected over long periods in tavor or the air armies, believe that the prominent position given the lang range units in Soviet propaganda was connected with the existence of a worldwide knowledge of the power of the bomber forces of the western Allies. In any event, the Long Range Force failed to make an adequate return in terms or operational effectiveness for the labor and attention expended upon it.

Reasons for the low efficiency appear to be many. During the first half of the war the Long Range Force command apparently failed to appreciate either the capabilities or limitations of the force. The ill-conceived and scattered operations which made up the Long Range Force's strategic contribution to the war were a serious dissipation or effort. Many of the tasks attempted were beyond the capacity or the force to perform, no task was performed thoroughly, and the aggregate effort was of little account. All through the war, operational control was centralized in the operations staff of the Long Range Force at Moscow.

Within the operating units themselves, the low level of efficiency resulted from a combination of inadequate training and a lack of the refined equipment which plays such a large part in the execution of modern long range bombing. Even when certain relatively modern equipment did become available it appears that crews were not systematicly trained in its use, so that air crews remained incapable of deriving tull benefits from their mechanical aids. Mental limitations of the personnel were one factor in this, for the Long Range Force crews did not measure up to an educational level which, by western standards, could be regarded as adequate. Crews relied on the simple, the well proved and the familiar.

Inefficiency in navigation was, more than any other single air crew factor, responsible for the poor striking power and fighting value of the Long Range Force. Poor navigation was usually the major cause of poor performance and relatively high wastage. There was an extreme reliance on good weather for operations and dead reckoning navigation, but radio bearings were also used. There is no established evidence that any operational aircraft of the Long Range Force were equipped with radar navigational apparatus.

With the close of the Great Patriotic War, two factors almost immediately resulted in increased Soviet attention to the creation of a significant long range air force -- one was a reevaluation of the strategic situation in which the USSR found itself, and the other was acquisition of a proved long range aircraft in the American B-29.

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Page last modified: 19-12-2021 19:00:20 ZULU