Gaming Northern Fleet Naval Aviation Air Ops subject logo: MILGAM
Posted by: badanov

Air Operations for naval aviation of the Soviet Northern Fleet during WWII were characterized by long winter nights and endless summer days.

On June 22, 1941, the Soviet Northern Fleet counted three aircraft divisions, one Mine and Torpedo bomber division of about 90 SB-2 ( likely navalized )bombers, one mixed division of bombers and fighters and one fighter division of about 120 aircraft. The Northern Fleet also counted a recon Regiment of about 40 aircraft, by this time, likely the newly deployed MiG-3, making a total of about 352 aircraft.

Most, if not all the fighter aircraft were the “Rata” as the Germans called it, the I-15, which was a single seat aircraft so slow that even German bombers could outrun it. As in the rest of the front, few of these aircraft saw operations after the first days having been caught on the ground by initial air raids by the German Luftwaffe.

The Soviet Northern Front, later dubbed the Soviet Karelian Front, was essentially a sideshow for the Wehrmacht until the Allies began shipping supplies and war materiel to the Soviet Union via way of Murmansk, Russians' only warm water port.

When German ground operations to take Murmansk failed in October 1941, and the Germans dug in at the Litsa River, the mission of the Soviet Northern Fleet naval aviation changed dramatically towards a naval role, this time to protect supply convoys.

We were unable to find much in the way of information about the Soviet Northern Fleet air operations except for a document at Red Army Sudies, where we found a document which outlined how the Soviet Northern Fleet went about its task in protecting convoys.

Some of those missions included recon operations to watch the ice from the Arctic Ice Cap as well as patrols to locate submarines and other hostile naval craft based in Norway.

None of this explains how ever how this information was gathered during the long arctic night. Soviet air operations during WWII included the occasional night bombing raids into Germany, as well as air insertions of spies and special operations units. But these missions were special, not routine, as would be needed for weather and to record enemy disposition.

It is because of that that we suspect the Soviets likely employed a coast watching system in Norway using both land based and seaborne means to conduct naval reconnaissance. This doesn't mean there were no recon flights for Soviet Northern Fleet naval aviation, for certain there may have been, but only under ideal conditions during the winter, calm, clear moonlit nights. And our understanding of the Barents Sea during winter was those conditions were rare.

During the summer months, air operations, especially CAP operations were stepped up and likely round the clock. Escorts were another fighter mission for the MTAP units when they likely routinely mined Norwegian fjords to contain German naval craft.

Anti-submarine warfare such as anti-submarine dawn patrols were employed, SOP for the US Navy aircraft carriers in the Pacific by this time, to try to catch German u-boats at dawn on the surface recharging their batteries Fighters were likely also used to vector sub chasers to submarine coordinates.

The Luftwaffe at this time was weak, relegated to counter-CAP, recon and army group CAP operations only. We do not know if Soviet Northern Fleet naval aviation was ever used in a ground strike capabilities until the Kirkenes-Petsamo operation in October of 1944, but we consider it unlikely, as the Karelian Front did have their own aviation component, the 7th Air Army.

From January 1942 on aircraft used changed. The SB-2 was used as well as the new US-made A-20 Boston bomber as a mine torpedo naval bomber. Fighter aircraft included the P40 Tomahawk, the Kitty Hawk, as well as the MiG-3, the La-5 and LaGG fighter, and finally the Yak series of fighters.

During the summer months in gaming air operations add extra crew fatigue and much higher losses to aircraft as well as air crews for the Soviet. If a naval fighter did land in the drink, pilots knew no one would be coming for them.

On the German side, losses were far lower, but then so was the activity. Eventually, the Soviets won the war in the north, but at a far higher cost than the Germans were willing to pay.

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