Quarterbacking Soviet Northern Fleet Air Ops subject logo: MILGAM
Posted by: badanov

Trying to find material online about the Soviet Northern Fleet Naval Aviation is very hard since there is so little of it.

Most of the best material is likely to be in Russian anyway, and while we do read a smattering of Russian, a search in that pretty language may be too problematics for us.


We have also been thinking about what we have read and we have read other materials, some books we have about the Red Air Force and how they operated at night.

As you may remember, we originally said that the air war in the north was a side show when in fact it was a unique and major campaign all its own with close to 800 combat aircraft , around 100 combat vessels including about 30 submarines for the Russians; it was far from a sideshow.

We did learn that the Soviet did fly night missions and some of their aircraft were capable of flying at night, primarily bombers.

But how did they do ice recon, a standard mission in Soviet Northern Fleet operations for British and American shipping convoys, especially in the long arctic night?

Let us quarterback this a little, if you will...

We know the Russians didn't have radar, and we also know that the Russians did use their ice and mine cutters to perform this mission, but in the translated article it stated that aircraft also did much of this critical work.


We read in the Lend-Lease website, that some versions of the excellent Curtis P-40 series were not suited to night flying and thinking about this we came to the conclusion, the aircraft lacked one of two basic elements essential for night flying: lighted cockpits and and a calibratable altimeter.

The Russian area of operation in protecting convoys in and outbound by agreement was east of Hammer Fjord. That was a lot of area to cover by cutter, and aircraft was the best way to maintain regular, daily reports.

Soviet fighters, starting with the MiG-3 had an average range of 500 to 700 nautical miles. Essentially that constricted single engine fighters to cover from Murmansk to the North Cape of Norway. The rest of the scouting had to be done by seaplane or bomber, likely covered by a minimal Soviet fighter CAP.

Seaplane and bombers made use of their altimeters to fly in the ghastly weather of the Barents Sea, likely with low clouds and high ocean swells.

We think it was possible Soviet fighters and bombers used their altimeter to get as low as they could and in open spots, would pop parachute flares for a visual. You have to be an excellent map reader to fly any aircraft, but we suspect Soviet pilots were far above that in marking the extent of the northern ice cap for navigation purposes. We are not certain if Soviet naval aircraft radios could reach 500 to 800 miles or more for bombers and seaplanes.

We mention naval aircraft radios because it could significantly impact recon operations. If your navigator could relay the coordinates by radio, then that could shorten your mission and the temper the fleet's use of critical combat aircraft considerably.

You had to know, or your navigator had to know your position at all times, and trying to gain a fix on the extent of the ice flow wasn't your job anyway. Trying to find it was.

This had to be high pucker factor work especially for fighter pilots: one slip of the throttle or rudder and you and your aircraft were in the drink and you knew you weren't coming back. It was dark and ice cold in the waters of the Barents Sea during the winter.

If anyone has some additional insights into night flying with WWII technology, please don't be shy.

If you have something to add, Fire Away!

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