Major Soviet Air Operation: June 25th, 1941 subject logo: MILGAM
Posted by: badanov

We did some reading about the Soviet Air Force during WWII, using hard copy and Internet resources.

The hard copy: A book from the series on Soviet Military Thought entitled Command and Staff of the Soviet Army Air Force during the Great Patriotic War.

As with most party-approved Soviet writings, you have to take with a grain of salt, though no more than you would need to take reading the NY Times, Kos or Time magazine.

Anyway, in the section entitled The Nature of Aviation Actions by the Belligerents in the First Days of the War is a small paragraph detailing a massive offensive air operation conducted jointly by the Soviet Northern Frontal Aviation, the Soviet Red Banner Baltic Fleet and the Soviet Northern Fleet.

Apparently on the third day of the war, plans were approved for this operation to include 540 Soviet aircraft, 236 bombers and 334 fighters again 19 Luftwaffe airfields in Norway identified by Soviet intelligence staffs. The strike was launched on the morning of 25 June, 1941.

In the description, the Soviets said the Germans were not expecting an air strike and were unable to effectively counter the operation. The Soviets claimed 41 German aircraft destroyed on the ground, to zero losses by the Soviets.

According to the book, over the next five days this operation carried out 1000 sorties, claiming a total of 130 aircraft destroyed or crippled. The claim was that this operation was so devastating, the Germans were forced to withdraw “its aviation to airfields in the deep rear area...”

This was the first major offensive air operation by the Soviets of the war.

What do German sources say about this operation?

Very little as far as we can tell. Going by a couple of online sites about the Luftwaffe in Norway, we know the German air wing the Soviets faced was the Luftwaffe 5th Air Wing, a composite air group consisting of five air superiority fighter squadrons, one ground attack squadron, one bomber squadron, and two seaplane/naval recon squadrons.

Major Luftwaffe airfields were at Stavanger, Herdla, Trondheim, all in central and south Norway, and Petsamo and Kirkienes, both near the Soviet border, as well as one airfield in Rovenlemi, in Finland.

Our count of aircraft for the Luftflotte 5 was in all around 283 aircraft, but the seaplanes and some transport aircraft we cannot include since it was more likely they were deployed against the western coast of Norway. According to this source, the total aircraft ready for combat in Luftflotte 5 on June 24, 1941 was 189 total. We can rule out virtually all the seaplane and naval aviation, about 52 aircraft, which leaves 137 aircraft on the ground on June 24th. It appears to us that the Soviet figures could be an exaggeration, but then the source doesn't say how the aviation was withdrawn.

There is, however, some evidence that the Luftwaffe did suffer severe losses during this time. We do not really know how aircraft losses were recorded. The material online is incomplete, but there is no doubt something took place between June 24th and June 30th.

From the view on the ground, the German historian Paul Carrell wrote in his description in “Hitler Moves East, 1941-1943” of the start of the German operation to take Murmansk, which began on June 24th, that Soviet aviation was largely absent from the battle field for several days, and in fact, a large airfield with a number of I-153s was captured abandoned in the first hours of the German's maneuver to begin their military oepration.

The ground operation was originally conceived to capture Murmansk and to cut the Murmansk-Kirov railway in two places. But the entire operation never got closer to the railway than about 22 miles, and the Germans, after failing to take Murmansk, were eventually forced to set up and maintain a static line on the Litsa River, where the war in the arctic remained until 1944.

What Carrell does write about was that the Germans were forced to relocate some of their aviation, but for the purpose of supporting this new operation, and there is no mention of this Soviet air operation.

If you have something to add, Fire Away!

Number of Comments so far: 0

Click here for a list of stories in the War and Military category