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House of Balsa FW190, (HOUK14)
Wingspan: 36"
Scale 1/12
Building Skill / Flying Skill: Experienced / Experienced

1941: Invasion of Russia

[IMAGE Operation Barbarossa opened in June 1941, with striking initial German successes. In the air, many of the Soviets' aircraft were inferior, while the disparity in pilot quality may have been even greater. The purges of military leadership during the Great Terror heavily impacted command and control in all services.

The Luftwaffe operated from bases in Norway against the convoys to Russia. Long-range reconnaissance aircraft, circling the convoys out of their anti-aircraft artillery range, guided in attack aircraft, submarines, and surface ships.

At the outbreak of the war VVS (Soviet Airforce) had just been purged of most of its top officers and was unready, Stalin in 1939–41 vetoed efforts to prepare for a war with Germany, which he believed could not happen. By 1945 Soviet annual aircraft production outstripped that of the German Reich; 157,000 aircraft were produced.

In the first few days of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the Luftwaffe destroyed 2000 Soviet aircraft, most of them on the ground, at a loss of only 35 aircraft. The main weakness accounting for the heavy large aircraft losses in 1941 was the lack of experienced generals, pilots and ground support crews, the destruction of many aircraft on the runways due to command failure to disperse them, and the rapid advance of the Wehrmacht ground troops, forcing the Soviet pilots on the defensive during Operation Barbarossa, while being confronted with more modern German aircraft.

The Soviets relied heavily on Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik ground assault model and the Yakovlev Yak-1 fighter in its many variants; each of which became the most produced aircraft of all time in its class, together accounting for about half the strength of the VVS for most of the Great Patriotic War. The Yak-1 was a modern 1940 design and had more room for development, unlike the relatively mature design of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, itself dating from 1935. The Yak-9 brought the VVS to parity with the Luftwaffe, eventually allowing it to gain the upper hand over the Luftwaffe until in 1944, when many Luftwaffe pilots were deliberately avoiding combat.

Chief Marshal of Aviation Alexander Novikov led the VVS from 1942 to the end of the war, and was credited with introducing several new innovations and weapons systems. For the last year of the war German military and civilians retreating towards Berlin were hounded by constant strafing and light bombing. In one strategic operation the Yassy-Kishinev Strategic Offensive, the 5th and 17th Air Armies and the Black Sea Fleet Naval Aviation aircraft achieved a 3.3:1 superiority in aircraft over the Luftflotte 4 and the Royal Romanian Air Force, allowing almost complete freedom from air harassment for the ground troops of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts.

[IMAGE Initially German pilots had a huge training and experience advantage over their Soviet adversaries. Both sides had flown in the Spanish Civil War but the Germans had learned many significant lessons whereas the Russians appeared to come away with no real experience from their participation (much of whatever experience the Russians had learned was lost due to experienced officers being shot / executed during the purges).

The lack of success in the air for the Soviet airforces is also attributed to their doctrine to provide ground support as a priority, thus Soviet fighters were busy strafing ground units rather than hunting enemy aircraft.

Soviet commander's and pilot's fear of the NKVD was reported to be greater than the fear of the Germans. Thus virtually no improvisation was made by the Russians early in the war.

Even with the staggering losses of the bomber sorties where often not even a single plane would return, the Russians continued to throw themselves against the Germans. Braindead, brave, loyal or all of these? Certainly the will of the Russian forces to resist didn't collapse like Germany's previous enemies had.

Russian pilots armed with fighters unable to shoot down the enemy turned to making "taran" attacks (ramming). These became so frequent that Luftwaffe pilots began to fear it as the most dangerous enemy tactic.

"With the arrival of crack Soviet fighter units in the central combat zone in early July 1941, the previous instruction to all VVS fighter units to avoid combat with German fighters was abolished. For a brief period, the Soviet fighter pilots attempted to challenge the Bf 109s by emulating the Luftwaffe free-hunting tactic. This led to horrific Soviet losses and a precipitous increase in the victories scored by the Luftwaffe fighter Experten." 1

[IMAGE Both the Bf109E and Bf109F were "vastly superior to almost all that the Soviets could launch into the air in 1941" 1

When Barbarossa was launched the MiG-3 was just beginning to be deployed. "Still, this new fighter was inferior to the Bf109." 1

The LaGG-3, Russia's other "new" fighter was "inferior even to the I-16 in many aspects" and "outclimbed, outmaneuvered and outgunned by the Bf109". Soviet pilots nicknamed it "Lakirovannyy Garantirovannyy Grob" (Varnished Guaranteed Coffin). 1

The best Soviet fighter of 1941 was the Yak-1. The Yak-1 was nearly equal in speed, maneuverability and firepower to the Bf109F.

Both the MiG-3 and LaGG-3 had a tendency to go into a spin in tight maneuvers, the Yak-1 didn't have this problem.

The IL-2 Shturmovik was probably the most effective Soviet aircraft of the war. Heavily armored, at first it surprised the German pilots when they observed their bullets bouncing off the IL-2. Luftwaffe pilots agreed the IL-2 was the most difficult aircraft to shoot down of the war. Typically the IL-2s would approach at an altitude of 1500 meters and then dive down to make a ground attack at full speed, often in groups as large as sixty aircraft.

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