The Kuban Air Battles II


P-39D-2 “White 37” of Guards Snr.Lt. V.I. Fadeev, CO of the 3-rd Squadron, 16 GIAP. Kuban’, April-May, 1943

Major air campaign that marked the shift from German to Soviet air superiority on the Eastern Front during World War II. During April and May 1943, as the Germans struggled for their last North Caucasus foothold, Luftflotte 4 (Fourth Air Force) clashed with the Soviet 4 and 5 Air Armies, the Black Sea Fleet Aviation, and Long Range Aviation. Air activity was intense, often seeing as many as 100 air combats a day.

German forces began with about 900 aircraft, including the latest models of the Bf 109G and the Hs 129, and featured some of their top units, including Jagdgeschwader 52 with Erich Hartmann. The Soviets began with about 600 aircraft, swelling to 1,150 in May. The Soviets also committed their newest aircraft, including the first use in the south of the Douglas A-20, as well as the Bell P-39D, flown by Aleksandr Pokryshkin’s air division.

The Soviets showed a new aggressiveness in flying offensive fighter sweeps, and they introduced new tactics, including German-style four-plane formations and Pokryshkin’s Kuban Ladder, a stacked formation. Also playing a distinguished role was the Soviet women’s night-bomber regiment. The campaign ended suddenly on 7 June, at which point the Soviets had claimed 1,100 German aircraft destroyed; the Germans claimed 2,280 victories, but the tide of the air war had turned against them.

References Hardesty, Von. Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power, 1941–1945. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982.

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