About this Product. The four-year long Eastern Front campaign fought between Germany and the Soviet Union produced not only the greatest number of aces, but also the highest individual and unit scores ever recorded in the history of aerial warfare. An ideal complement to its bestselling predecessor, this fully illustrated volume covers the Luftwaffe fighter pilots credited with scores of between 50 and ; every single one of them amassing a greater number of victories than the highest and most celebrated of any British or American World War II ace.
Despite these huge personal totals, the names of these pilots who fought against the Red Air Force remain almost unknown to many English speaking readers. More Bf Aces of the Russian Front rectifies that omission, providing first-hand accounts from the combat veterans themselves, as well as never-before published photographs, vividly conveying the terrible experiences of the protagonists in this difficult theatre of war.
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Biographical Note. John Weal is Osprey's primary Luftwaffe author and artist. He possesses one of the largest private collections of original German-language literature from World War 2 and his research is based on this huge archive.
A freelance airbrush artist since the days of the monthly RAF Flying Review, he has illustrated some of the finest Luftwaffe profiles to date. You may also be interested in the following product s. More info. Military History. Powered flight in Europe was a possibility only for the lucky few because aircraft were expensive to acquire and operate. Certainly, sport flying was beyond the reach of most young men in their teens.
Under the stresses of war, the same young men could now become military pilots and find themselves the recipients of an education in aviation in which no expense was spared. By the German fighter force had begun to capture the imagination of the German people. Newspapers carried extensive publicity about successful fighter pilots.
Erich's imagination was captured by the seemingly glamorous trade of fighter piloting. So he decided to enlist in the Luftwaffe German Air Force. His father was against Erich's decision to join the Luftwaffe because he believed the war would end in the defeat of Germany. He completed basic flying training by the 14th of October , and began an advanced flying course.
His instructors at Berlin-Gatow had already determined that he was fighter pilot material. During his advanced training, he was introduced to an aircraft that he would fall in love with the Messerschmitt Hartmann would fly seventeen different types of powered aircraft by the time he flew the Me On October the 10th , Hartmann was sent to the banks of the Terek River north of the Caucasus Mountains to fly with the 7th squadron of Jagdgeschwader His first combat patrol took place on the 14th of October, and it nearly became his last. His good fortune was in flying his first mission with Paule Rossmann the flight leader of No.
The things Hartmann would learn from Rossmann would push him to the top of this lethal trade. Soon after take-off, the two pilots would put their Mes into a steep climb reaching 12, feet, then the two plane sortie followed the Terek River to the city of Prokhladay, where Rossmann noticed a formation of Soviet aircraft strafing a German supply column that was trying to leave the city.
Rossmann radioed his rookie wingman to follow him as he dove on the Soviet planes. After plunging for almost a mile, Hartmann finally was able to see the Soviet planes that Rossmann had in his gun sights. Suddenly Hartman over-reacted and pushed his Me's throttle up to full speed, cutting in front of Rossmann, targeting the closest Soviet plane, firing his machine guns and 20mm cannons at almost point blank range. He missed his target and barely avoided a collision with Rossmann's plane before leveling off, to find himself surrounded by dark green Soviet fighter planes who were turning behind Hartmann's Me for the kill.
Terrified, he pushed the throttle of his plane as far forward as possible and headed to the west through a cloud bank until he lost his pursuers. After outrunning the Soviet fighters, he continued to head west toward German lines when the engine of his Me suddenly sputtered and stopped. Almost twenty miles from his airfield he was forced to belly land his plane near a German infantry column.
Having destroyed a valuable plane without inflicting damage on the enemy Hartmann would be grounded for three days. After getting back in the air, Hartmann resumed flying with Rossmann and paid close attention to the veteran airman's fighting philosophy. Earlier in the war, Rossmann had suffered a bad arm wound and was unable to take his plane through the tight movements required for close-in dogfighting. Rossmann's remarkable eyesight saved his career, making it possible for him to see targets at extreme distances, diagnose each situation according to its own distinct characteristics, and then plot how to carry out his unique, unorthodox style of attack which involved a long-range surprise attack.
Rossmann's victims rarely saw him, exploding into flames long before he was close enough for his victims to realize that they were even a target. He used these sniper tactics to score kills on a regular basis while other German pilots of his wing charged bull-like into swarms of Soviet fighters taking as much as they gave. Some would barely make it back to their base alive or not at all. Hartmann would use Rossmann's style of attack throughout his career, but unlike his teacher he had no lame arm and was able to maneuver his Me through tight turns, climbs, and dives.
Along with his incredible marksmanship, he was able to combined Rossmann's rare ability to fatally wound his opponents at long range, but Hartmann also was able to use the dogfight tactics of other fighter pilots who preferred the point-blank attack.
Bf 109 Aces of the Russian Front
Germany's "Blond Knight" in the next two years would become the ace of aces, the greatest fighter pilot in history. For aesthetic reasons Hartmann had his Me's nose painted with a distinctive black tulip design on its nose cone. Soon the Soviet fighter pilots recognized his uniquely adorned aircraft and began calling him the "Black Devil of the South" and placed a 10, ruble bounty on his head. But Hartmann was so feared by his enemy they avoided him like the plague. So in January , he had the artwork removed. No longer recognizable he soon shot down another 50 Soviet warplanes over the next two months.
The cold blue Russian skies were filled with the smoke trails of falling Soviet aircraft, but the sheer weight of Stalin's air legions would finally become a deciding factor in the war. These were the largest air battles in history, and they just kept growing as the red star-emblazoned aircraft endlessly droned in from the east.
The Air Division under the reorganization became the largest unit, at the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union on June , it was estimated that the Red Air Force had between forty and fifty Air Divisions that contained almost regiments.
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The overall numerical strength of the Soviet Air Force was estimated by the German military at about 10, planes. Red fighter forces were equipped mostly with the I and I The Rata was a single seat gull wing biplane similar to what was flown by the air forces that fought in the First World War. The Luftwaffe almost completely destroyed Soviet air power in the first ninety days of the war, it was the Luftwaffe's glory days, a period where they enjoyed almost total dominance on the Eastern Front. Consequently, nearly all available Soviet aircraft, which included fighters were fitted to carry bombs.
Early in the war with the Soviets, German air superiority fighters who protected Luftwaffe bomber and fighter-bomber strikes took a terrible toll on bomb-carrying Soviet fighters intercepting the invaders. Subsequently, Soviet air commanders didn't allow Soviet fighter pilots to engage German fighters while on bombing missions, so combat was often refused by Soviet airmen. The Germans attributed this fact to a lack of aggressiveness, until interrogation of downed Russian pilots revealed the truth. The Soviets overall were better prepared to challenge the Luftwaffe for control of the skies in future battles than their western Allies.
The Red Air Force put an effort in building up a reserve of trained pilots years before the first shots were fired. Also, they made preparations for large scale aircraft production in the Ural Mountains and by the end of they were able to recover rapidly from the Luftwaffe's initial devastating air attacks of June and July. The Red Air Force was able to maintain a steady stream of pilots from their training schools to man the steady flow of fighters that rolled out of Soviet factories.
Soviet losses were extremely heavy throughout the Second World War, but their fighter pilots improved consistently as the war continued, as the Luftwaffe's fighter force began to slowly melt away under the avalanche of Soviet fighters. Like the Soviets the German Air Force lacked a four-engine strategic bomber that was capable of destroying the U. R's vast armament factories and flying schools beyond the Ural Mountains. As a consequence, the flood of material and personnel had to be dealt with in the skies above the German front lines all along the Eastern Front.
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From late onward, Soviet air power became an aerial tidal wave that grew as the Luftwaffe steadily declined. Despite these facts, many in the west considered that German pilots enjoyed any easy harvest of kills over the skies of the Soviet Union. But facts rule that out , instead the Red Air Force was a deadly adversary. Erich Hartmann would compare Eastern Front combat to the fighter assaults on the Allied bomber fleets that blacked out the skies above Germany. The clouds of lead and steel that filled the sky made it inevitable that a pilot constantly in action would eventually fly into some stray projectiles.
Often there were as little as ten German fighters against three hundred Russians. The odds were against the Germans, and there was a distinct chance of a mid-air collision as likely as being shot down. Some Soviet fighter pilots would intentionally ram German fighters, German pilots would term this suicidal maneuver the "Crazy Ivan. Though Soviet pilots in the beginning of the war lacked the training and combat experience of German aces as the war progressed they began to earn their respect.
In day to day operations over long periods, the Germans felt superior, both technically and psychologically. That was especially true of the best German pilots. Nevertheless all German pilots respected the quality of the Guards Fighter Regiments, the elite of the Soviet fighter arm. Crack Soviet pilots were concentrated in the Guards Regiments. They were real fighter pilot types, aggressive, tactically formidable, fearless and flew some of the finest fighter aircraft in the skies.
All the leading German aces on the Eastern Front were either shot down or forced down several times giving testament to the quality of Soviet pilots. The exposure rate of these fighter pilots was the greatest in history. With Erich Hartmann as an example, he flew on fourteen hundred sorties, and fought in eight hundred aerial battles, where it is estimated he found himself in Soviet fighter pilots gun sights approximately two hundred times.
Hartman was shot down three times during the war but luckily avoided capture on all those occasions.
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Hartmann and other top German Aces were most likely some of the most skilled air fighters in history, but the law of averages was against them implying that they would eventually be downed one way or another. Wherever the Guards Air Regiments fought the Luftwaffe's pilots expected a tough fight. The masses of Soviet pilots stood below the Guards in skill, but they still took a toll on German fighter pilots in the long battle of attrition that was the Eastern Front. The top Soviet fighter of the war, Major General Ivan Kozhedub, scored sixty-two aerial victories against the Luftwaffe, and seven other Soviet pilots are credited with more victories than the top-scoring American ace, Major Richard I.
Bong, with forty kills scored in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Whether Kozhedub flew any combat missions is to this day unknown, but it is quiet possible since at that time he was only thirty-one years old. American military commanders in Korea felt certain that experienced Russian pilots did fly combat missions in the skies over Korea, and it is possible that Kozhedub added to his sixty-two kills of the Second World War. Pokryshkin was credited with fifty-nine confirmed aerial victories, as a result he would win the Gold Star as Hero of the Soviet Union three times.
Surprisingly before the war Pokryshkin's mechanical aptitudes were so outstanding he almost never became a pilot, even though his superiors constantly dismissed his request for flight school, he never refused to be denied his true calling. Pokryshkin began his fighter training at Kacha, and soon afterward was assigned to a regular Red Air Force unit in His excellent piloting skill drew attention and soon he was accepted by all his fellow pilots.
He would literally write the book on Soviet aerial fighter tactics, throughout his career he would keep a journal on all the aerial maneuverers he learned in his combat sorties. Pokryshkin would become a great ace because he understood from the very beginning the importance of the individual in aerial combat. Through experience he acquired in mock combat and constant study of aerial maneuver before the war, Pokryshkin learned how to defeat a competent opponent in a superior aircraft. Like Erich Hartmann in his deadly Me, he became a follower of the sudden, swift and violent attack.
Like Hartmann, Pokryshkin was lucky enough to develop these tactics under the wing of a veteran pilot named Sokolov who fought in the Spanish Civil War. Sokolov taught Pokryshkin the art of the sudden, savage strike which won the psychological battle immediately, leaving his enemy confused and vulnerable to be blown out of the sky.
Pokryshkin would write in his diary, "The factors of success are maneuver and fire!
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Two days after the German invasion Pokryshkin was on a reconnaissance mission near Jassy, when he first encountered the veteran fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe's JG who Erich Hartmann would join a year later. Pokryshkin in a MIG-3 along with his wingman Lieutenant Semyonov would fly into a flight of five Mes, three below him and two above his Russian element flight of two aircraft. Pokryshkin would react very quickly pulling back on the stick of his MIG-3 and begin a rapid climb toward the higher German element.
Closing in at point-blank range, Pokryshkin sent a burst into one of the Mes with all his guns. The German fighter burst into fire and went spiraling to the earth, trailing smoke. The battle tested Pokryshkin would have little chance for more dogfighting with German fighters until autumn He would fly reconnaissance missions, but seldom found German fighters. Pokryshkin's new tactics were largely responsible for breaking the Red Air Force out of its out dated fighter doctrine. Taught to fly and fight in horizontal planes before the German invasion Soviet fighter pilots became easy prey to the combat veterans of the Luftwaffe.
Improved aircraft performance and the age of the low wing monoplane opened up vertical plane to fighter tactics, and Pokryshkin was among the most important contributors to modern Soviet fighter tactics. He used the climbing spiral often to evade his enemy. Against the advice of his more conservative comrades who made themselves easy targets to the more experienced German pilots.
His leadership brought him to the front ranks of the Soviet fighter pilot elite the "Guards Air Regiments. Pokryshkin's passion for knowing his enemy was non-stop. He considered the best Soviet fighter planes superior to the German Me In the summer of , over the Kuban Peninsula as German tanks rolled toward Stalingrad, Pokryshkin developed his basic formula for aerial combat altitude, speed, maneuver and fire.
With good aircraft and pilots like Pokryshkin, the Guards Fighter Regiments the threw down the gauntlet on the Luftwaffe. The Soviets painted their aircraft in wild colors, favoring brilliant red patterns similar to the Red Baron's flying circus of the First World War.
As Russia's most famous ace, Pokryshkin was much like Erich Hartman, he helped spread his tactics to new pilots making them aces. There is no firm evidence that Pokryshkin and Erich Hartmann ever fought each other, but it is possible it could have taken place. In more than eight hundred aerial battles that Hartmann fought in, many of them took place against formations commanded by both pilots.
Both aces were shot down or forced down numerous times, but we will never know if it was at the hands of Hartmann or Pokryshkin.