Eastern Onslaught

WINTER 1943/44–AUTUMN 1944

By incredible efforts and courageous fighting the German Army managed to slow down the Russian offensive on the central sector of the Eastern Front. Throughout July Army Group Centre was withdrawing steadily through Poland. Its weary soldiers had been forced back towards Kaunas, the Neman River and Bialystok. The last of the German infantry units capable of retreating along the Warsaw highway over the Vistula at Siedlce was undertaken and assisted by the crack Waffen-SS division Totenkopf and the Luftwaffe’s Hermann Göring Division. The whole German position in the east was now crumbling, and any hope of repairing it was made almost impossible by crippling shortages of troops. German infantry divisions continued desperately trying to fill the dwindling ranks. However, by the end of July the Red Army was already making good progress towards the Polish capital, Warsaw. On 7 August 1944 the Soviet offensive finally came to a halt east of Warsaw. Feldmarschall Model sent Hitler an optimistic report telling him that Army Group Centre had finally set up a continuous front from the south of Shaulyay to the right boundary on the River Vistula near Pulawy. The new front itself in Poland stretched some 420 miles and was manned by thirty-nine divisions and brigades. Although the force seemed impressive the German Army was actually weak; the divisions were under-strength, and were thinly-stretched. With these, the Germans were compelled to hold large areas along the Vistula River, which included Warsaw. What made matters worse was the fact that they faced a Russian force that was a third of the total Red Army. To the Germans, Warsaw possessed great strategic importance due to the vital traffic arteries running north-south and east-west, which crossed into the city. The Germans knew that if they wanted to keep control of the Eastern Front, they must hold onto the city at all costs.

As news reached Warsaw that the Russians were approaching, the Polish Home Army rose against the German forces in what became known as the Warsaw Uprising. In the north of the city the 4th and 19th Panzer Divisions, together with the Herman Göring Division, saw extensive action in trying to repulse the uprising. While the fighting raged inside the capital, north of the city Soviet troops had already made some impressive gains by pushing the 2nd Army towards the Narew River. Fortunately for the German troops the Red Army were too exhausted and the offensive ground to a halt.

But the lull in Poland was not mirrored elsewhere. In the north, Soviet forces were already in East Prussia threatening the German forces in that area by reaching the Baltic and cutting off Army Group North. In southern Poland the 1st Ukrainian Front captured Lemberg, while Romania fell to the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts. Soviet forces had also penetrated Hungary, and its powerful armoured forces soon reached the capital, Budapest. On 20 August, the 2nd Ukrainian Front broke through powerful German defences, and the Red Army reached the Bulgarian border on 1 September. Within a week, Soviet troops arrived along the Yugoslav frontier. On 8 September, Bulgaria and Romania then declared war on Germany. It seemed that nothing but a series of defeats now plagued the German Army during the summer of 1944.

In a radical effort to stem the series of setbacks, General Heinz Guderian, Chief of the General staff, proposed that thirty divisions of Army Group North, which were redundant in Kurland, be shipped back to the Homeland so they could be resupplied and re-strengthened to reinforce Army Group Centre in Poland. Hitler, however, emphatically refused Guderian’s proposal.

As a consequence of Hitler’s negative response, by October Army Group North was, as predicted, cut off, leaving 4th Army with only four weak corps to defend East Prussia against the full might of the Soviet forces. In Army Group Centre the 3rd Panzer Army and 4th Army were holding tenaciously to a weak salient in the north, while to the southwest, along the Narew River, the 2nd Army was still holding the river line. Army Group A had dug a string of defences from Modlin to Kaschau, with the 9th Army positioned either side of Warsaw along the Vistula. The 4th Panzer Army had dug in at Baranov and was holding positions against strong Russian attacks. The 17th Army had fortified its positions with a string of machine gun posts and mines between the Vistula and the Beskides, while the 1st Panzer Army was holding the area of Kaschau and Jaslo.

For the remaining weeks of 1944 the German Army defended Poland with everything it could muster. The bulk of the forces left to defend the frontlines were exhausted and undermanned. With reserves almost non-existent the dwindling ranks were bolstered by old men and low-grade troops. Struggling to find more manpower, convalescents and the medically unfit were also drafted into the ranks into what were known as ‘stomach and ear’ battalions because most men were hard of hearing or suffered from ulcers. Poland it seemed would be defended at all costs, despite the age and quality of the soldiers that manned the lines.

WINTER 1944/45–MAY 1945

The year 1944 ended with the German Army still fighting on foreign soil trying desperately to gain the initiative and throw the Red Army back from its remorseless drive on the German frontier. But despite the skill and determination shown by the German soldiers in late 1944, most of them were aware that 1945 would be fateful – the year of decision.

In January 1945 along the Vistula Front hope dawned among some of the more fanatical commanders of the German Army. The strongest of the forces deployed along the Vistula against the Russians were in Army Group Centre. Its battle line ran more than 350 miles. However, each division that was placed on the front lines was perilously under strength and would not be able to contain a Russian attack for any appreciable length of time. On 13 January 1945 the Soviet offensive opened up and soldiers and Panzer crews from the 4th Panzer Army bore the brunt of the attack on the Vistula. Almost immediately the army was engulfed in a storm of fire. Across the snow-covered terrain Red Army troops and massive numbers of armoured vehicles flooded the battlefield. By the end of the first day the battle had ripped open a breach more than twenty miles wide in the Vistula Front. The 4th Panzer Army was virtually annihilated. Small groups of German soldiers tried frantically to fight their way westwards through the flood of Red infantry and tanks.

As the whole German military campaign in the east began collapsing it was proposed that all German forces located between the Oder and Vistula rivers be amalgamated into a new army group named ‘Army Group Vistula’. SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler was to command the new army group. German soldiers together with elite formations of the Waffen-SS were supposed to prevent the Soviets from breaking through. However, the once mighty German Army was now suffering from an unmistakable lack of provisions. By January 1945, the problems had become so critical that even children and old men were being thrown into what was now being called the last bastion of defence for the Reich. In Army Group Vistula the German Army could no longer function properly.

There was no contact between units on the battlefield, battalions were out of touch with their companies, and regiments had no link with their divisions. Successive blows by the Red Army began to tear apart Himmler’s Army Group and send scattered German formations reeling back westward towards the Oder or north-westwards into Pomerania. As the whole front began withdrawing both the 9th Army and 2nd Army’s right wings lost contact with each other. In a drastic measure to restore the disintegrating situation General Weiss, commanding the 2nd Army, tried to stabilise the front on the Vistula between the town of Thorn and Graudenz. But still Soviet forces were overwhelming many German positions and pushing back Hitler’s exhausted forces.

Despite the best efforts of the German Army to bolster its dwindling ranks on the Eastern Front, nothing could now mask the fact that they were dwarfed by the superiority of the Red Army. It was estimated that the Russians had some six million men along a front which stretched from the Adriatic to the Baltic. To the German soldiers facing the Russians, the outcome was almost certain death. They were well aware that what they had done in Russia and the occupied territories had caused the Red Army to exact a terrible revenge.

As the Nazi empire was sheared off piece by piece, Dr Josef Goebbels, the Reich’s propaganda chief, begun to switch from terror-mongering to reassuring the population that victory was just around the corner. However, in an atmosphere of near panic, stirred up by refugees and their stories of Russian atrocities, there was little to console them. Many stories had already reached the German front lines as to how the Red Army had raped and murdered women. The widespread panic among the civilians was causing the German command many problems, especially with supply and troop movements. In some areas the roads had become so congested with civilians and soldiers that many miles were brought to a complete standstill.

Out on the battlefield, the realisation among troops that they might lose the war was seldom admitted openly; but most of the soldiers already knew that the end would come soon. Troops were not convinced by their commanders’ encouragements especially when they were lying in their trenches subjected to hours of bombardment by guns that never seemed to lack shells. Poorly armed and undermanned, infantry and Panzer divisions were exhausted shadows of their former selves.

The last great offensives that brought the Russians their final victory in Eastern Europe began during the third week of January 1945. Marshal Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front surged into Silesia after the capture of Radom and Krakow. On the night of 27 January, the German divisions of the 17th Army pulled out of the region towards the Oder River. The principal objective of the Red Army during late January 1945 was for an all-out assault along the Baltic to crush the remaining under-strength German units that had formed Army Group North. It was these heavy, sustained attacks that eventually restricted the German-held territory in the north-east to a few small pockets of land surrounding three ports: Libau in Kurland, Pillau in East Prussia and Danzig at the mouth of River Vistula. It was here along the Baltic that the German defenders attempted to stall the massive Russian onslaught with the few weapons and men they had at their disposal. Every German soldier defending the area was aware of the significance if it were captured. Not only would the coastal garrisons be cut off and eventually destroyed, but also masses of civilian refugees would be prevented from escaping from the ports by sea. Terrified civilians eager to board the next ships to the homeland queued night and day until the next vessel came in. They were so desperate to leave that they stood out in the open, enduring constant bombing and strafing by low-flying Russian aircraft, whose presence was now unchallenged in the sky.

For the next several weeks thousands of civilians risked their lives in order to escape from the clutches of the Red Army. Even to the end of March 1945, as Soviet troops fought their way into the outskirts of Gdynia, the German Navy continued rescuing many refugees before the Russians could get to them. German soldiers too, even remnants of elite Waffen-SS units, found themselves faced with a similar experience. Thousands of dishevelled troops streamed towards the coast, mingling with countless numbers of terrified women and children. Just along the coast in Danzig, the Russians stormed the ancient Teutonic city, smashing into the rear of fleeing German troops who were making their way desperately along the Vistula estuary. To the German soldiers that saw Danzig fall, it marked a complete disaster along the Baltic. Russian soldiers, however, saw Danzig as a way of exterminating Teutonic culture, which had long since been despised. All over the city, they blew up old buildings, set alight churches and randomly executed groups of soldiers that had not raised the white flag of surrender, but had fought on until they ran out of ammunition.

Elsewhere along the Baltic coast isolated areas of German resistance continued to fight on, but still they had no prospect of holding back the Russians. Hitler made it quite clear that Army Group Kurland was not to be evacuated. To the Führer, Kurland was the last bastion of defence in the east and every soldier, he said, was to ‘stand and fight’ and wage an unprecedented battle of attrition. In fact, what Hitler had done in a single sentence was to condemn to death some 8,000 officers and more than 181,000 soldiers and Luftwaffe personnel. Those soldiers who managed to escape the destruction of Army Group Kurland retreated back towards the River Oder or returned by ship to Germany.

On other parts of the Eastern Front fighting was merciless, with both sides imposing harsh measures on their men to stand where they were and fight to the death. Since September 1944, Hitler had appreciated the importance of holding the city of Breslau from the approaching Red Army and declared it a fortress. As with other towns and villages lining the approaches to the Homeland, Breslau’s infantry formations consisted mainly of old men and young boys who were poorly-equipped and hastily trained for combat. Four months later in January 1945, the city was still poised for the arrival of the Russians. By February, the sound of approaching Russian guns brought the city to panic stations. It was the 269th Infantry Division, withdrawing in the face of the massive Soviet advance, that was given the objective of forming the main defence of Breslau.

To test the defenders of Breslau, the Red Army launched a series of probing attacks into the city. Four Soviet divisions then carried out a furious assault that penetrated Breslau’s defences. Volkssturm, Hitlerjugend, Waffen-SS and various formations from the 269th Infantry Division put up a staunch defence with every available weapon they could muster. As the battle raged, both German soldiers and civilians were cut to pieces by Russian fire. The Red Army drive was so powerful and swift that by 14 February the city was cut off and isolated, miles behind the Russian front.

During these vicious battles, which continued into May 1945, after Berlin had fallen, there were many acts of courageous fighting. Cheering and yelling, old men and boys of the Volkssturm and Hitlerjugend advanced across open terrain into a barrage of machine gun and mortar fire. By the first week of March, Russian infantry had driven back the defenders into the inner city and were pulverising it street by street. Lightly-clad Volkssturm and Hitlerjugend were still resisting, forced to fight in the sewers beneath the ravaged city. Almost 60,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded trying to capture the city, with some 29,000 German military and civilian casualties. When Breslau finally capitulated, the Red Army was bitter and vented its anger against the civilians.

As the massive Russian forces pushed ever westward, the German Army, along with the Waffen-SS, Luftwaffe, Volkssturm and Hitlerjugend formations, withdrew under increasing pressure nearer and nearer to the Homeland. With every defeat and withdrawal came ever-increasing pressure on the commanders to exert harsher discipline on their weary men. The thought of fighting on German soil for the first time resulted in mixed feelings among the men. Although the defence of the Reich automatically stirred emotional feelings to fight for their land, many soldiers were quite openly aware that morale was being completely destroyed. They had all received a message from the Führer telling them to fight to the death, and they no longer had the manpower resources or strength to wage a bloody war of attrition. More young conscripts began showing signs that they did not want to die for a lost cause.

Conditions on the Eastern Front were miserable not only for the newest recruit, but also the battle-hardened veteran who had survived many months of bitter conflict against the Red Army. The cold harsh weather during February and March prevented the soldiers digging trenches more than a few feet deep. But the main problems that confronted the German Army during this period of the war were shortages of ammunition, fuel and vehicles. Some vehicles in the divisions could only be used in an emergency and troops were strictly prohibited from using them without permission from the commanding officer. The daily ration on average per division was for two shells per gun. Thousands of under-nourished civilians, mostly women and slave labourers, were marched out to expend all their available energy to dig lines of anti-tank ditches. For the benefit of the newsreel camera, which was intended somehow to help bolster the morale of the troops, Hitler made a secret visit on 13 March 1945 to the Oder Front. In fact, Hitler did not meet one ordinary soldier at the front and was surrounded by well-armed SS guards. During his brief war conference on the terrible situation faced by his Army, he gave a formal speech on the necessity of holding the positions. He told General Busse, commander of the 9th Army, to use all available weapons and equipment at his disposal to hold back the Russians.

However, nothing could stop the Red Army’s drive. Out on the Vistula Front, German troops were now barely holding their wavering positions that ran some 175 miles from the Baltic coast to the juncture of the Oder and Neisse in Silesia. Most of the front was now held on the western bank of the Oder. In the north the ancient city of Stettin, and in the south the town of Küstrin, were both vital holding points against the main Russian objective of the war – Berlin.

By late March, the situation in Army Group Vistula had become much worse. Not only were supplies dwindling, but rations too were becoming so low that some soldiers were beginning to starve. In the ranks rations were more abundant: most days each soldier received an Army loaf and some stew or soup, which was often cold and not very appetising. But the main problem was the lack of clean drinking water. As a result of this, many of the soldiers suffered from dysentery.

The bulk of the Vistula front was manned by inexperienced training units. Some soldiers were so young that in their rations they were handed sweets instead of tobacco. More experienced soldiers observed that the Soviets were playing with them like ‘cat and mouse’. Sitting in their trenches, cowering under the constant Soviet shelling, almost all of the men seemed fixated on one thing: ‘the order to hurry up and retreat.’

Despite all its weaknesses on the Vistula Front, the German Army could still be a formidable opponent. Both young and old alike fought together to hold some kind of line in the face of the massive Russian onslaught.

In the last months of the war on the Eastern Front, German infantry divisions tried their best to form some kind of defensive line along an increasingly shrinking front. Exhausted and demoralised skeletal units that had been fighting for survival in previous weeks were now fully aware of the impending defeat in the east. Yet the German General Staff was still determined to fight at all costs, even if it meant throwing together unfit or badly depleted regiments and battalions.

In late March 1945, east of Berlin, German infantry and Panzer troops were compelled to hold the front against superior Soviet artillery and aviation. The German soldier had neither the manpower nor the weapons to hold the Russian onslaught, in spite of determined resistance along some sectors of the Front.

The Eastern Front, over which the German soldier had marched victoriously into heartlands of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, was now no more than 100 miles from the Reich capital. Between Berlin and the River Oder was a motley assortment of German soldiers, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm, Hitlerjugend and Luftwaffe troops preparing for the final onslaught of the Russian Army. When the final attack began on the River Oder on 16 April 1945 the German soldier was overwhelmed within days, and was slowly beaten back to the gates of Berlin. It was here that the German soldier fought out the last days of the war in the east until he was either captured or destroyed.


Russian Air Power 1924 to 1941 Part I

On 31 December 1940, hundreds of Russian airmen met at the Pilots’ House on Gorki Street in Moscow with their wives and girlfriends to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ as they welcomed in the New Year.1 In crowded rooms people chattered and toasted each other while couples waltzed and tangoed on the dance floor in celebration of the end of their three-year ordeal.

On 1 December 1934, the popular Leningrad Party boss Sergei Kirov was assassinated outside his own office. This triggered Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s nascent paranoia and offered him an excuse to purge his rivals, or as Greta Garbo’s Ninotchka observed, ‘There are going to be fewer, but better, Russians.’ The purge initially focused upon the Communist Party, but from May 1937 it swept through the armed forces with the arrest of the Red Army’s leading commanders, including Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevskii. His radical ideas were based upon mechanised forces capable of driving deep into enemy territory, with air support clearing the way. But his failure to make it work, because Red Army command and control lacked radios, was used to push him into the execution chamber.

During the next two years the armed forces suffered a holocaust at the hands of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Narodny Komissariat Venutrennikh Del, NKVD), with thousands of officers arrested, hundreds executed and many more cashiered on suspicion of disloyalty merely for seeking to modernise the forces. The impact upon Soviet air power was devastating, with the Red Army of Workers and Peasants Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sili-Raboche-krest’yanski Krasnoi Armiyy, VVS-RKKA), usually referred to as the (Army) Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sili, VVS), losing more than a third of its officers in 1937. A total of 4,773 personnel were dismissed, of whom 1,590 were arrested, including the commander-in-chief, two chiefs-of-staff, most district air commanders and the head of air training.

Those associated with air power also suffered, with aircraft designers Andrei Tupolev, Vladimir Myasishchev and Vladimir Petlyakov arrested, together with the entire staff of the Aviation Industry Research Institute (Tsentralnyy Aero-gidrodinamicheskiy Institut, TsAGI). An aircraft-design Gulag was established where Tupolev began work on his Tu-2 medium bomber, although it was not until 1940 that he was sentenced to 15 years in jail for being ‘a French spy’. He would be released in July 1941 to ‘conduct important defence work’, but he was not formally ‘rehabilitated’ until 1955.

The new generation of military leaders lacked their predecessors’ experience, while the climate of fear undermined their self-confidence. At any moment a disgruntled junior or a tortured acquaintance might denounce them and, to avoid displeasing their superiors, they rarely displayed any initiative. The result was the appalling failure of Soviet air power during the Winter War with Finland, whose 120 aircraft faced down nearly 3,900 Soviet aircraft almost to the end. The VVS commander, General-leitenant Yakov Smushkevich, who had led airmen with distinction in Spain and China, was ‘kicked upstairs’ as Deputy Defence Minister in March 1940, and five months later became General Inspector of the VVS. He was replaced by fighter ace General-leitenant Pavel Rychagov, who was credited with 20 victories in Spain while serving under Smushkevich. Rychagov had also distinguished himself in the summer of 1939 during future Marshal Georgii Zhukov’s Khalkin-Gol campaign against the Japanese on the Mongolian border.

Prowling through the Pilots’ House that December night in 1940 was a man who had suffered indirectly during the Purges, but would soon lead Stalin’s long range bombers. Aleksandr Golovanov was Aeroflot’s Chief Pilot and an instrument flying expert. He was also a former member of the secret police who turned to civilian aviation and honed his skills during a training course in France. When he returned to the Soviet Far East in 1937 he learned that his brother-in-law had been shot as ‘an enemy of the people’ and his local Communist Party had deemed him guilty by association, removing his Party membership card and banning him from flying.

Golovanov and his wife became pariahs, ignored by everyone and forced to sell almost everything to survive. Ironically, his NKVD friends saved him by arranging his transfer to Moscow, where he renewed his career and regained his Party membership card. Although a civilian, Golovanov is reported to have flown some of the NKVD’s victims from the Far East to Moscow. During the Winter War he flew leaflet missions at night using the skills common among Civil Air Fleet (Grazhdanskiy Vozdushnyy Flot, GVF) pilots.

He was astonished to discover Russian bomber crews, including those in the long range force, were unable to emulate these feats, and he tried to persuade the VVS leadership to improve navigation and instrument flying training. Leningrad Party boss Andrei Zhdanov showed some interest in the subject during the Winter War but Rychagov was dismissive, although he did create a navigation academy in March 1940. However, its instructors had little experience in instrument flying, so Golovanov now sought a meeting in more pleasant surroundings to put his case.

In the Pilots’ House he encountered Smushkevich, who was with the Aviation Industry Minister (Commissar) Andrei Shakhurin. Smushkevich was interested, but felt he was under a cloud after the Winter War. He also lacked the technical expertise to make a presentation, so he suggested Golovanov write directly to Stalin, and offered to have a courier convey his letter to the Kremlin. Golovanov followed his advice, and after meeting Stalin he was transferred to the Long Range Bomber Aviation (Dahl’niy Bombardirovochnaya Aviatsiya, DBA) to form an operational training unit, 212th Independent Long Range Air Regiment (OAP, DD) in February 1941, with GVF pilots and two PS-84 ‘flying classrooms’, while in March work began on a VVS electronic navigation aids system.

Rychagov was still not impressed, unlike DBA head General-leitenant Ivan Proskurov, who had been deputy commander of the Far Eastern VVS before his appointment in October 1940. Also formerly Head of the Red Army Intelligence (Glavnoe Razvedyvatelynie Upravlenie, GRU), Proskurov was an experienced bomber pilot who had also seen combat in Spain – indeed, he was responsible for the bombing of the German pocket-battleship Deutschland in 1937. Smushkevich was also pleased with the expansion of the DBA for he was all too aware that Russian air power was a giant with feet not of clay but of sand.

The VVS had blossomed in the 1930s, having especially benefited from the industrial cornucopia of the First and Second Five Year Plans (1928–32 and 1933–37). The new factories produced more than 20,000 aircraft and VVS strength rocketed – in 1924 it had 341 combat aircraft, which rose to 1,285 (including 48 TB-3 heavy bombers that could carry two tonnes of bombs 1,100 kilometres) by 1 January 1929. In 1933, at the beginning of the Second Five Year Plan, front-line strength was 3,156 (including 647 heavy bombers), and by 1937 it was 8,139, including 443 medium and heavy bombers. When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, the VVS had 7,321 aircraft, including 569 TB-3 four-engined heavy bombers organised into three Armies for Special Employment (Armiya Osobogo Naznachiya, AON), and by June 1941 the total had doubled to 15,599 combat aircraft and 3,934 trainers; but, as George Canning observed, ‘Statistics can tell you everything you wish to know, except the truth.’

Until 1939, the quantitative expansion was matched by a qualitative one, as shown by Tupolev’s bomber designs. In 1930 there was the maiden flight of a four-engined bomber based upon Junkers corrugated duralumin (aluminium) technology that became the TB-3, which served until 1945. Yet within four years Tupolev had produced a smoothed duralumin, stressed-skin design as the SB, with two M-100 engines – deliveries began in 1936. Industry was able to meet contemporary fighter requirements for both traditional, slow but ‘agile’ I-15/I-15bis biplane fighters with fixed undercarriages and ‘fast’ I-16 Donkey (Ishak) monoplane fighters with retractable undercarriages. Yet they suffered from industrial weakness for, with limited aluminium production, these Polikarpov fighters and the I-153 Seagull (Chaika) interceptor biplane with retractable undercarriage were largely of wooden construction, augmented by duralumin, steel and doped fabric. Like all the biplanes, the Chaika lacked the performance either to sustain attacks on enemy bomber formations or to inflict serious damage with their four rifle-calibre machine guns. Later Ishaks had heavy (12.7mm) machine guns or even 20mm cannon, which were more destructive, and all of these fighters, together with the SBs, proved effective over Spain and China. Nevertheless, experience showed the need for advanced replacements.

Their development and production proved prolonged as the Soviet aircraft industry expanded steadily from 1939 to 1941. In Shakhurin the Soviet Union had a dynamic and able administrator who was a graduate of the Moscow Engineering-Economics Institute and who had briefly served in the Red Army. From 1934 he had worked with, or in, the aviation industry, and would be a safe pair of hands throughout the war. Shakhurin headed the People’s Commissariat for the Aircraft Industry (Narodnoi Komissariat Aviatsionny Promyshlennosti, NKAP or Narkomaviaprom), which was established in January 1939. In the next two years he supervised a steady expansion of the industry with the NKVD using Gulag labour to build new plants in Kuibyshev, in Siberia. He also took a leaf from the British in taking over civilian factories and facilities that could be used for aircraft production. Via these means he had significantly expanded production capacity by the time of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, and had some 174,360 workers who switched to 24-hour production in March 1941.

Yet his ministry did not have supreme authority in the highly politicised field of aircraft development and manufacture. An exception was the Air Force Scientific Test Institute (Naucho-issledovatelskii Institut, NII-VVS), which conducted state acceptance trials and also monitored aircraft for technical problems for which it provided solutions. But the designers, notably Aleksandr Yakovlev, exploited contacts with senior Party officials, the Party regional organisations and ultimately Stalin himself. Stalin changed his mind four times about authorising production of the four-engined TB-7 bomber! This might also have been influenced by his ne’er-do-well son Vasilii, who was in the VVS and would play an undistinguished role in air operations.

Yet despite Shakhurin’s efforts there were significant weaknesses, for the expansion was fuelled by drafting much unskilled labour into the factories which in turn resulted in half the components they made having to be rejected. This shortage of skilled workers made it difficult for the craft-based and under-capitalised industry to introduce sophisticated, all-metal, stressed-skin aircraft, which required more working hours to build than traditional designs. The weakness was illustrated when Moscow decided to build the famed DC-3 airliner at Factory 84, leading to production of the PS-84 transport (Li-2 from 9 September 1942). This was not a copy of the Douglas aircraft but a Russian version whose empty weight was more than one tonne less than the original, but whose two Russian engines developed only 2,000hp, compared with the 2,800hp of their American equivalents, thus making it up to 50km/h slower and reducing range from 2,575 kilometres to 2,330 kilometres.

Despite the problems, factories were expected to increase production, but the Purges had removed the best managers, leaving inexperienced men in fear of the NKVD. Their priority was to meet production targets with little regard for quality or adequate stocks of spares. Indeed, quality was regarded as a ‘bourgeois’ concept and therefore treasonous. Tupolev, for example, would always rush aircraft into production despite shortcomings, which he would later work to overcome. He failed, however, with the SB’s forward defence, which remained a pair of machine guns that could move vertically but not laterally.

Production of modern aircraft was also handicapped by the Soviet economic system based upon extremely bureaucratic central planning on a ‘top-down’ model. The development and marketing of new technological products depends upon vision and the willingness to take risks – features rarely found among bureaucrats, with the result that the Soviet Union lagged behind Germany and its future Western allies in key elements of technology. Aluminium was the basis of modern aircraft production, yet the Soviet Union produced only 60,000 tonnes in 1939 compared with Germany’s 194,000 tonnes, while the 100,000-tonne 1941 target compared badly with the 324,000 tonnes received by the Reich in 1941. The Russians tried to buy aluminium from Germany, but the first deliveries were due only in the summer of 1941. Throughout the war Moscow depended upon its allies to augment its own limited resources.

The Russian electronics industry also trailed behind its European competitors, and indeed continues to do so in the 21st century. Consequently, the VVS would be short of navigation aids throughout the war. Furthermore, while radio-telephone transmitter–receivers (transceivers) were in service with the Luftwaffe and the RAF in 1939, they did not become universal in Soviet-built combat aircraft until 1943. The need to have them in fighters was recognised by Russian pilots serving in Spain as early as 1937, but their reports were pigeonholed. This meant that until 1943, only formation leaders had transmitters while the remainder of the pilots had receivers, which hindered cooperation in air combat. Worse still, throughout the war the Russians had only high frequency (HF) radios, even in foreign aircraft, at a time when their allies and enemies had HF, VHF (very high frequency) and even UHF (ultra high frequency) sets. Reception on many of the radios installed in Russian aircraft was poor due to low quality and bad installation. Russian radar was also hamstrung by the Purges when Pavel Oshchepkov, the man spearheading development, was arrested and not released until 1946. Even when its allies delivered some modern sensors, the Soviet Union lagged compared with the Germans.

The petrochemical industry also caused problems for the VVS. When exposed to sunlight the Perspex in aircraft canopies tended to degrade and become opaque – a problem which does not appear to have been overcome until later in the war. Because of this, even in the bitter Russian winter, pilots would fly with open canopies and often end up with blackened, frost-bitten cheeks. The oil refineries produced only 70–78 octane fuels (B-70, B-74 and B-78) that front-line units had to mix with additives to provide the fuel required for the high-performance engines installed in combat aircraft. B-70 was used for trainers and night bombers and B-89 was the equivalent of the Luftwaffe’s 87-octane B4, used for bombers and transports. German fighters used C3 (94–100 octane) and Western fighters had 100–130 octane fuel. The Russians produced little of the essential ingredient – tetraethyl lead – in this high octane fuel, so all of their fighters, including Western ones, were restricted to B-95. Additives created a crisis for General-polkovnik Sergei Rudenko’s 16th Air Army (Vozdushnaya Armiya, VA) in the summer of 1944 on the verge of the great ‘Bagration’ offensive, for which it had the largest concentration of Soviet aircraft. Although he received thousands of tonnes of fuel, they lacked additives without which aircraft performance was degraded and engine running time reduced to 20–30 hours between overhauls. Yet Moscow’s bureaucrats claimed they were unnecessary and refused to supply them. Rudenko passed concerns to his political officer or commissar, General Konstantin Telegin, and then they discovered that the octane labels were unreliable with different readings in nominally the same batch. Telegin raised the matter at the State Defence Committee (Gosudarstvennyi Komitet Oborony, GKO), which brought Stalin into the picture, and he ordered the distribution of additives that brought the fuel up to the correct octanes within two days.

Russian Air Power 1924 to 1941 Part II

In 1939 and 1940 the aircraft industry produced more than 10,000 aircraft per year, while a December 1940 plan called for 16,000 in 1941. During the first half of that year 3,900 aeroplanes rolled out of the plants, and this rose to 11,800 during the remaining six months of 1941. Total engine production that year was 28,700 units, although the Soviet aero-engine industry suffered the perennial problem of developing reliable, high-performance motors. Instead, they usually produced derivatives of imported designs, while the change to new engines meant that production output dropped from 22,686 in 1939 to 21,380 the following year, although it then recovered. However, the engines that powered the wartime generation of Russian-built VVS aircraft were often unreliable, leaked oil and were difficult to maintain.

The collective impact of these problems was severe. The Ilyushin DB-3 medium bomber with composite construction of a wooden fuselage and steel wings, and the improved DB-3F (Il-4 from March 1942), began to augment the TB-3 from 1939. However, the new heavy bomber, Petlyakov’s four-engined TB-7 (Pe-8 from January 1942), proved more difficult to produce. Indeed, although its maiden flight took place in December 1936, only a handful were in service by 1941.

Spearheading the re-equipment programme from 1939 was a new generation of fighters – Yak-1, MiG-3 and LaGG-3, together with light bombers such as the twin-engined Yak-2/4 and single-engined Su-2, all of which began to trickle into the regiments from 1940. In their aircraft-design Gulag, Petlyakov and Myasishchev began work on a long range escort fighter, rather like the Bf 110, but in 1940 this was changed at the NKVD’s behest to a long range dive-bomber as the Pe-2.

Many pilots distrusted the new aircraft, and with some reason. The MiG-3 was not only heavy but some had defective synchronisers that meant the nose-mounted machine guns shot off their propellers when fired, the hydraulics of the LaGG-3 were extremely unreliable, the Yak-1 engine proved troublesome and the canopy tended to stick when the aircraft dived.

One field where the VVS was ahead was in ground-attack, or ‘assault’ (Shturmovaya), aviation. Its assault trooper (Shturmovik) pilots provided the Red Army’s spearheads with direct air support by strafing and bombing enemy concentrations. Most of these aircraft were armoured versions of the single-engined Polikarpov R-5 army cooperation biplane, the R-5Sh and R-Z, augmented by I-5 and I-15bis fighters. Experience in Spain had confirmed the need for the dedicated ground-attack aircraft, and Sergei Ilyushin began designing the Il-2, whose pilot and engine were in an armoured compartment with armoured glass windscreen. The aeroplane entered production in 1941, and it would be the backbone of VVS ground-attack units despite the fact it was never a very stable weapons platform.

Unfortunately for the VVS, the re-equipment programme was bungled, for rather than withdraw units to re-equip, the bureaucrats often despatched a quota of new aircraft to regiments. At the Baltic District’s Kovno airfield, for example, two fighter regiments had 253 aircraft, including 128 MiG-3s, while a few bomber regiments on the airfield received the Su-2 and others small numbers of Pe-2s.

Many of the new generation of aircraft would receive affectionate nicknames often based upon their official designations. The Yakovlev fighters were called ‘Yakovs’ (Jacob/Jake/Jim) or ‘Yakis’ (Jakes), the Pe-2 was ‘Peshka’ (Pike) while the single-seat Il-2 would be called ‘Gorbun’ (Hunchback), although throughout the war the Il-2 was commonly called ‘Ilyusha’ and the units that flew them were known as ‘Mudlarks’ (Ilovs), based upon the word for mud (il). Not all the names were complimentary, and the lumbering, wooden LaGG-3 with its unreliable hydraulics was reportedly described as a Guaranteed Lacquered Coffin (Lakirovannyi Garantirovannyi Grob), although some have dismissed this claim, arguing that the Soviet authorities would have regarded it as ‘defeatism’. The new aircraft helped to fuel a further expansion of the VVS, and in February 1941 it was decided to create 106 regiments, including 15 (later 13) equipped with long range bombers. In 1939 regiments were organised into air brigades, but the Winter War showed the need to concentrate air power into larger formations. Each district was reorganised into a number of divisions, with two to five regiments of three to five squadrons, each with 12 aircraft, augmented by a few independent army cooperation squadrons with R-5s. Most divisions were mixed (Smeshannaya), with both fighter and strike (bomber or assault) regiments, and every army had at least one to support its operations. Dedicated fighter and bomber divisions tended to remain under district command, fragmenting VVS strength. Although each army headquarters was supposed to have a VVS commander, few did, and few of them would prove competent.

Their operations, together with those of reserve units, the DBA and PVO, were coordinated in peacetime by District VVS commanders who became Front VVS commanders in wartime. With the disbandment of the AON in the winter of 1939–40, the long range bombers were concentrated into the DBA and organised into bomber divisions (usually of three regiments) and then paired into corps from 5 November 1940. One or two corps were assigned to each Western military district, which, in the event of war, would become a Front (army group). To support the new divisions, work started on reorganising the rear services’ infrastructure, although this was not scheduled for completion until August 1941.

For the Soviet Union, the prospects of war seemed to recede in August 1939 when the USSR and Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression pact that helped Hitler take Poland and allowed Stalin to regain territory lost to nationalists during the Russian Revolution. Stalin sought to buy time for a renaissance of his forces by bribing Germany with substantial quantities of food and raw materials, but he knew that sooner or later the Nazis and Communists would fight.

The pact allowed the Red Army to invade eastern Poland and the Baltic states and deploy up to 250 kilometres west of the original frontier, but this aggravated VVS problems. Each regiment was supposed to have its own airfield, but there were few in the occupied areas. The Russians hastily began an extensive construction programme, which was hampered by two severe winters and the NKVD, who were responsible for its execution. NKVD head Lavrenti Beria would criticise his subordinates on 22 May 1941, for trying to build large numbers of airfields rather than well-equipped air bases. This left most VVS squadrons on little more than cleared fields. Indeed, of 1,100 VVS airfields, only 200 – mostly DBA bases in the rear – had concrete runways, while there were too few satellite airfields to house dispersed regiments.

Within the Western District only 16 of 62 airfields had concrete runways, while none of the 23 scheduled for the Baltic District had been completed. Furthermore, some 30 ‘airfields’ were actually airstrips designed as satellites to the main bases. On 10 April 1941, Moscow approved plans for another 251 airfields, mostly in the West, but work had not begun by the time the Germans attacked. With space at a premium, 14 airfields held two or three regiments. Most of the available airfields were too close to the German border. The situation was most acute north of the Pripet Marshes, where the Russians had advanced deeper into Poland but found fewer suitable airfield sites. In the Baltic Military District 39 per cent of the aircraft were concentrated in three airfields, while in the Western District 45 per cent were on six airfields. South of the Pripet Marshes the advance was shorter and sites more plentiful – only 25 per cent of the Kiev District’s aircraft were on four airfields, including 206 at Lvov, while in the small Odessa District 17 per cent of the aircraft were in Odessa itself.

On 27 December 1940, Defence Minister (Commissar) Marshal Semon Timoshenko ordered all airfields within 500 kilometres of the border to be camouflaged by 1 July 1941. Progress was slow, and attempts within the Kiev District during the spring of that year to build revetments for aircraft, vehicles and supplies were hamstrung by labour shortages. Acute shortages also plagued the VVS. The lack of accommodation meant that in the Western District some pilots were billeted five kilometres from their bases, while few airfields had adequate stocks of fuel and ammunition. There were also severe shortages of trained radio operators for the district VVS headquarters, which were often at a third of establishment. This left commanders dependent upon landlines, with fatal consequences in the summer of 1941.

Rychagov faced tremendous challenges in trying to prepare the VVS for future combat – he needed to re-equip his regiments, ensure their crews were adequately trained, provide sufficient supplies for a prolonged campaign and organise an infrastructure that could move those supplies, repair damaged aircraft and bring in replacements. This required a mature individual with broad experience in all aspects of military aviation and the administrative skills to address the prime problems in detail. What Moscow got was a 30-year-old who had peaked in the Winter War as commander of a small air force on a minor Arctic front, who disliked ‘flying a desk’ and preferred to visit the regiments to enjoy the convivial company of fellow airmen. Smushkevich was also no administrator, and being crippled with leg injuries following a crash, he frequently had to work from his bed, which he moved into his office.

The only silver lining was that, unlike the mechanised forces, there were few disputes over doctrine. In a comprehensive review of the Red Army’s Winter War shortcomings, Smushkevich noted, ‘The need to divide the VVS into the Red Army’s air arm to operate with the ground forces and an Operational Level air arm supporting large-scale operations has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.’

Soviet military aviation was divided into four elements – Frontal Aviation Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sili-Frontovaya Aviatsiaya, VVS-FA), Naval Fleet Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sili- Voyenno-Morskoy Flot, VVS-VMF), Long Range Bomber Aviation (Dahl’niy Bombardirovochnaya Aviatsiya, DBA) to March 1942 then Long Range Aviation (Aviatsiya Dahl’nevo Deystiviya, ADD) and Home Air Defence (Protivovozdushnaya Oborona, PVO). The VVS-FA and VVS-VMF provided support for the Red Army and the Red Navy at the Tactical/ Operational Level (army and army group levels), with operational command delegated to army groups (Fronts) and armies, each with their own air commander. DBA was under the control of the Defence Ministry in peacetime and VVS headquarters in wartime, and was to conduct Operational/ Strategic Level missions (army group and the rear) with formations assigned to front commands, as were many fighter regiments of the PVO.

While it recognised the value of defending, and attacking, industrial and administrative centres, the Red Army leadership had no truck with Italian General Giulio Douhet’s claims that strategic bombing alone could win a war. Indeed, the Russians would use the term ‘attacks upon administrative, political and military sites in the hinterland’.

The VVS’s army support mission would be reflected throughout the Great Patriotic War against Germany and her allies. From the beginning to the end of this conflict, nearly two-thirds of VVS sorties (63.44 per cent) were at the Tactical Level either supporting the troops in the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) or shielding them from air attack, while 5.52 per cent were spent striking Operational Level (operations for commands up to army group/ front headquarters) targets. Another 14.62 per cent of sorties were escort missions, while 11.18 per cent were reconnaissance. DBA would also be diverted to Tactical Level air support, which accounted for 40.44 per cent of its sorties, while 45.80 per cent were Operational or Strategic Level attacks. Before the war VVS doctrine anticipated destroying enemy air power in the air and on the ground, while the PVO covered the assembly of reserves for a counter-offensive in which Soviet airmen would pound enemy communications to ease the way for the armoured formations.

The Red Army leadership could see for itself the potent power demonstrated by combining mechanised forces with air power, and during 1940 there was growing disquiet about the ability of the VVS. Confusion about organisation and the execution of operations became all too clear in December 1940, at the moment when Hitler published his directive for the invasion of the Soviet Union. During the summer of that year, following the successful German campaigns in the West, Timoshenko summoned senior officers to the Defence Ministry for a conference on the Red Army’s status. Afterwards, five reports were presented looking at the latest ideas in warfare, including one by Rychagov on ‘Combat aviation in the offensive and the struggle for air superiority.’ This sparked a bitter argument over the best way to achieve air superiority. The Baltic and Kiev District VVS commanders, General-leitenantii Gregorii Kravchenko and Yevgenii Ptukhin, said their experience fighting the Japanese at Khalkin-Gol and the German– Italian forces in Spain showed this goal was best achieved in the air. Rychagov straddled the fence and advocated the destruction of the enemy both in the air and on the ground, but he produced no concrete plans to achieve this goal.

From 8 January 1941, watched intently by Leningrad Party boss Andrei Zhdanov as Stalin’s representative, the senior commanders conducted war games involving German invasions, firstly in the Western (Belorussia and eastern Poland) District and then the Kiev District. The Red Army was judged to be successful in its defence of these areas, although the exercises had a considerable degree of unreality. Yet Zhdanov was sceptical, and when the war games concluded, Stalin summoned the participants to the Kremlin on 13 January to discuss the results. He was not pleased by the explanations and demanded realistic discussions among the commanders, which led the VVS officers to complain bitterly about their structure and training.

While these complaints were largely dismissed, the Communist Party’s Central Committee decided on 25 February to introduce the aviation division instead of the smaller aviation brigade, and Rychagov apparently implemented this on 10 April. Of more immediate effect was Stalin’s appointment of Georgii Zhukov as Army Chief-of-Staff on 14 January. Although he was an advocate of air power, having been a grateful customer at Khalkin-Gol, his pursuit of excellence began a process which, ironically, almost destroyed the VVS.

The war games confirmed the Soviet General Staff’s belief that the main enemy thrust would be towards the Baltic states and Belorussia, but Stalin was convinced the Germans would go for the Ukraine’s mineral and agricultural riches. Consequently, the defence plan was a compromise, with the largest concentration in the Kiev and Odessa Districts, while retaining substantial forces in the Baltic and Western Districts. Naturally, VVS dispositions in 1941 reflected this, although General-maior Aleksandr Novikov had some 1,000 aircraft, plus 227 PVO fighters, to shield Leningrad from the Finns.

Kravchenko had been sent to the General Staff Academy and replaced in the Baltic District by General-maior Aleksei Ionov, who had another 1,200 aircraft, while in the Western District, General-maior Ivan Kopets had 1,500 aircraft. The largest concentration – more than 1,900 aircraft, and 114 PVO fighters – was under Ptukhin, augmented by more than 800 aircraft plus 72 PVO fighters in the Odessa District under General-maior Fyodor Michugin.

These figures exclude some 180 reserve aircraft, but on 1 June 1941, only 1,597 (19.4 per cent) were new generation aircraft. Some 768 of these were in the southern districts, the latter also receiving most of the 600 modern aircraft delivered to the military districts in the following weeks. Nevertheless, by 22 June only 27 per cent of combat aircraft were modern, with 690 aircraft awaiting delivery from the factories. Most of the DBA’s 1,300 aircraft were modern DB-3s but, with the exception of nine TB-7s, the 212 heavy bombers were obsolete.8 The VVS reconnaissance force was similar in size to the Luftwaffe’s, but many of its 270 long range aircraft lacked cameras – an essential sensor found in all Fernaufklärungstaffeln aeroplanes.

Because Soviet industry (like its counterpart in Germany) was more interested in producing aircraft than spares, the number of serviceable aeroplanes declined. On 1 June 1941, 12.9 per cent of VVS and DBA aircraft in the West were officially unserviceable (that figure was nearly 24 per cent in the DBA). This total may in fact be an underestimate, although it compares favourably with the Luftwaffe, where the figure was 26 per cent. However, the Russian numbers may relate only to aircraft undergoing overhauls or major repairs, for it is worth noting that on 15 June, 29 per cent of all tanks were being overhauled while 44 per cent were unserviceable with lesser problems.

In addition to air forces supporting the armies, the Navy also had small forces supporting each fleet. The strongest naval air concentration was the Baltic Sea Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily Baltiyskogo Flota, VVS-KBF) with 656 aircraft (including 353 fighters and 172 bombers), closely followed by the Black Sea Air Force (Voyenno-Vozdushnyye Sily Chernomorskogo Flota, VVS-ChF) with 624 (including 346 fighters and 138 bombers). The NKVD also had a small air force in the West, with 12 squadrons (150 aircraft) of mostly reconnaissance aircraft, but with some SB bombers and two squadrons of MBR-2 flying boats.

The World’s Largest Submarine

5 of 6. Project 941 Akula “Shark”. NATO designation: Typhoon. 172m long, 23m wide. 24,500 ton displacement (surfaced). Test depth 400m (1300ft).

Line drawing showing the starboard side of the Project 941 (Akula) Soviet ballistic missile submarine. The vessel’s waterline is marked in red.

The massive “sail” of a Project 941/Typhoon SSBN. A single periscope is raised; the other scopes and masts are recessed and protected. The anechoic tiles are evident as is (bottom center) the outline of the top of the starboard-side escape chamber (with exit hatch).

Four hatches of this Typhoon’s 20 missile tubes are open. The safety tracks that are fitted over the tubes are evident in this photograph. The Soviets developed a scheme to rearm SSBNs from supply ships. The U. S. Navy had provided that capability for its Polaris submarines.

Drydock..note worker near propulsion.

The American pursuit of the Trident program caused an acceleration of the third-generation Soviet SSBN. During their November 1974 meeting at Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and President Gerald Ford agreed on a formula to further limit strategic offensive weapons (SALT II). In their discussions Brezhnev expressed his concern over the U. S. Trident program and declared that if the United States pursued deployment of the Trident system the USSR would be forced to develop its Tayfun strategic missile submarine.

Although Soviet naval officials and submarine/missile designers believed that liquid-propellant missiles “had irrefutable merit,” and those SLBMs were used in the first- and second-generation SSBNs, research continued on solid-propellant SLBMs at V. P. Makeyev’s SKB-385 design bureau. In 1972 work had began on the missile submarine, Project 941 (NATO Typhoon), and the following year on the solid-propellant RSM-52/R-39 missile (later given the NATO designation SS-N-20 Sturgeon).

The Project 941/Typhoon SSBN would be the largest undersea craft to be constructed by any nation. The submarine was designed by S. N. Kovalev at the Rubin design bureau. Kovalev and his team considered numerous design variations, including “conventional” designs, that is, a single elongated pressure hull with the missile tubes placed in two rows aft of the sail. This last approach was discarded because it would have produced a submarine more than 770 feet (235 m) long, far too great a length for available dry docks and other facilities.

Instead, Kovalev and his team developed a unique and highly innovative design-the 441st variant that they considered. The ship has two parallel main pressure hulls to house crew, equipment, and propulsion machinery. These are full-size hulls, 4883/4 feet (149 m) long with a maximum diameter of 232/3 feet (7.2 m), each with eight compartments. The 20 missile tubes are placed between these hulls, in two rows, forward of the sail. The amidships position of the sail led to the submarine’s massive diving planes being fitted forward (bow) rather than on the sail, as in the Project 667 designs.

The control room-attack center and other command activities are placed in a large, two-compartment pressure hull between the parallel hulls (beneath the sail). This center hull is just over 98 feet (30 m) in length and 192/3 feet (6 m) in diameter. The sail structure towers some 422/3 feet (13 m) above the waterline. An additional compartment was placed forward, between the main pressure hulls, providing access between the parallel hulls and containing torpedo tubes and reloads. Thus the Typhoon has a total of 17 hull compartments, all encased within a massive outer hull 5641/6 feet (172 m) long. This arrangement gives the Project 941/Typhoon a surface displacement of 23,200 tons. Although the submarine is approximately as long as the U.S. Ohio class, it has a beam of 743/4 feet (23.3 m). With a reserve buoyancy of some 48 percent, the submerged displacement is 48,000 tons, about three times that of the Ohio (which has approximately 15 percent reserve buoyancy).

The large reserve buoyancy helps decrease the draft of the ship. In addition, it contributes to the ability of the submarine to surface through ice to launch missiles. (On 25 August 1995 a Typhoon SSBN surfaced at the North Pole, penetrating about eight feet [2.5 m] of ice, and launched an RSM-52 missile with ten unarmed warheads.)

Beneath the forward hull is the ship’s large Skat sonar system, including the MGK-503 low-frequency, spherical-array sonar (NATO Shark Gill).

There are crew accommodations in both parallel hulls, and in the starboard hull there is a recreation area, including a small gym, solarium, aviary, and sauna. The crew is accommodated in small berthing spaces; the large number of officers and warrants have two- or four-man staterooms. Above each hull there is an escape chamber; together the chambers can carry the entire crew of some 160 men to the surface.

Within each of the parallel hulls, the Typhoon has an OK-650 reactor plant with a steam turbine producing about 50,000 horsepower (190 megawatts) and an 800-kilowatt diesel generator. The twin propellers are housed in “shrouds” to protect them from ice damage. The ship also has two propulsor pods, one forward and one aft, that can be lowered to assist in maneuvering and for hovering, although missiles can be launched while the Typhoon is underway.

The design and features of the Typhoon SSBN were evaluated in a one-tenth scale model built at Leningrad’s Admiralty shipyard. The model was automated and provided an invaluable design and evaluation tool.

The keel of the lead Project 941/Typhoon-the TK-208-was laid down on 30 June 1976 at Severodvinsk, by that time the only Soviet shipyard constructing SSBNs. 56 A new construction hall-the largest covered shipway in the world-was erected at Severodvinsk, being used to build the Typhoon SSBNs and Project 949/Oscar SSGNs. Most U.S. intelligence analysts had been confused by Brezhnev’s reference to a Tayfun missile submarine. Not until 1977-when U.S. reconnaissance satellites identified components for a new class of submarines at Severodvinsk-was it accepted that an entirely new design was under construction. The TK-208 was put into the water on 23 September 1980; trials began in June 1981, and she was commissioned in December 1981. Series production followed.

The D-19 missile system, however, lagged behind schedule with failures of several test launches of the RSM-52/R-39 missile. The Project 629/Golf submarine K-153 was converted to a test platform for the RSM-52/R-39, being provided with a single missile tube (changed to Project 619/Golf V). That missile became operational in 1984. It carried a larger payload, had greater accuracy than any previous Soviet SLBM, and was the first Soviet solid-propellant SLBM to be produced in quantity. The missile is estimated to have a range of 4,480 n. miles (8,300 km) carrying up to ten MIRV warheads of approximately 100 kilotons each. Their firing rate is one missile every 15 seconds (the same firing rate as the U. S. Trident submarines). Still, the use of solid propellant in the R-39 led to a sharp increase in the dimensions of the missile, with the launch weight reaching 90 tons.

Six Typhoon SSBNs were completed through 1989. Eight ships had been planned, with the seventh, the TK-210, having been started but then abandoned while still in the building hall. The six-Typhoon SSBN division was based at Nerpichya, about six miles (ten km) from the entrance to Guba Zapadnaya Litsa on the Kola Peninsula, close to the border with Finland and Norway. The Typhoon base was distinguished by the extremely poor facilities ashore for the crews as well as for the base workers and their families.

At sea the Typhoon SSBN had some difficulties with control and seakeeping. Still, the ships could be considered highly successful and provided a highly capable strategic striking force. Their Arctic patrol areas made them immune to most Western ASW forces, and simplified Soviet naval forces providing protection, if necessary. On 9 September 1991, during a missile test launch by one of these SSBNs of this type, a missile did not exit the tube and exploded and burned. The submarine suffered only minor damage.

The TK-208 entered the Severodvinsk shipyard in October 1990 for refueling of her reactors and for modernization to launch the improved R-39M missile (NATO SS-N-28 Grom). The other ships were to follow, but the end of the Cold War brought an end to the Project 941/Typhoon program. The TK-208, which was renamed Dmitri Donskoi in 2000, did not emerge from the Severodvinsk yard (renamed Sevmash) until 2002. She sailed for her home base of Guba Zapadnaya Litsa on 9 November 2002. She had been refueled but instead of the R-39M missile, which had encountered development problems, she was refitted to carry the smaller, solid-propellant RSM-52V Bulava, a variant of the land-based Topol-M (SS-27).

Meanwhile, of the five other Typhoon SSBNs, the TK-12 and TK-202 were taken out of service in 1996, and the TK-13 in 1997. They are being scrapped. When this book went to press the TK-17 (renamed Arkhangel’sk) and TK-20 were also to be refueled and rearmed with the RSM-52V missile, although such planning was considered tentative in view of the continuing Russian fiscal problems. The three modernized Typhoon SSBNs would be expected to remain in service at least until 2010-2012. The Russian Navy canceled its Typhoon modernization program in March 2012, stating that modernizing one Typhoon would be as expensive as building two new Borei-class submarines. With the announcement that Russia has eliminated the last SS-N-20 Sturgeon SLBMs in September 2012, the remaining Typhoons have reached the end of service

There have been proposals to convert some of the giant submarines to cargo carriers; this could be done expeditiously – albeit at considerable cost-by replacing the missile tubes with a cargo section. Ironically, an earlier analysis of the Typhoon by the Central Intelligence Agency addressed the possibility of using submarines of this type to (1) carry mini-submarines; (2) support other submarines in the milch cow replenishment role; (3) carry troops for special operations; and (4) serve as major command ships.

Discussing Project 941/Typhoon on the macro level, Viktor Semyonov, the deputy chief designer of the Typhoon, stated that the program had encountered “No technical problems-the problems are all financial.” But Soviet views of the submarine and her D-19 missile system were not unanimous. One submarine designer wrote:

To my mind the creation of the D-19 missile system and the Project 941 was a great mistake. A solid-propellant SLBM had no appreciable advantages [over] a liquid-propellant SLBM. . . . Such an expensive project like the D-19 missile system and the Project 941 which had been [developed] parallel with D-9RM and Project 667BDRM were the ruin of the USSR. Such ill-considered decisions, which were lobbied by the definite industrial circles, undermined the economy of the USSR and contributed to the loss [of] the Cold War.

German Logistics – Rail in Russia I

August 1941. Victories along the whole eastern front. Russian broad gauge railways are converted to German gauge.

Track gauge conversion

One surprising aspect of the German Army in 1939 was the limited extent to which it was motorized. The British had dispensed with the horse apart from ceremonial duties, but the Germans surprisingly had made less progress in converting their army to motor vehicles. This was partly because of Hitler’s lack of attention to detail, which meant he focused on the more sexy hardware like tanks and aeroplanes, but was also a result of the German motor industry’s inability to meet army requirements. According to van Creveld, ‘of 103 divisions available on the eve of the war, just 16… were fully motorised and thus to some extent independent of the railways’. The rest of the army marched on foot while their supplies were, for the most part, carried in horse-drawn wagons as lorries could not cope with the demands of the army and, in any case, there were not enough of them. In the technological conditions of 1939, an astonishing ‘1,600 lorries would be required to equal the capacity of just one double-track railway line’. Worse, trucks use up vast amounts of road space and require more fuel and people than an equivalent railway, greatly elongating the army’s ‘train’, which meant that in relation to payload, ‘the railway maintained its superiority at distances of over 200 miles…however great the effort, there was little chance that motor vehicles would relieve, much less replace, trains as Germany’s main form of transportation in the foreseeable future.’

Hitler’s focus on motorizing his army and his failure to see it through left the railways suffering from comparative neglect, with the result that there were fewer locomotives and wagons available in 1939 than there had been at the outbreak of the First World War. To a large extent, the marching German armies depended on scavenging trucks from the local populace – a move that increased antagonism towards the invaders – and, equally unpopular, even from their own civilians.

While the German invasions of Poland, and France and the Low Countries in 1939 and 1940 respectively, were astonishing victories, they exposed weaknesses in the Army’s logistics. German advances were characterized by having two sections, a small rapid motorized advance party which quickly took over vast swathes of territory but lost contact with its supply line, and a much larger, slower-moving rear. This tactic was fine in these early assaults since they were successfully concluded rapidly enough not to require reinforcements and the prolonged maintenance of supply lines. In Poland, the destruction of the railways by the retreating Poles had been so complete that it was only the rapid surrender of their army that prevented a logistical bottleneck for the Germans, who lost about half their trucks to the atrocious roads on which they were wholly reliant. By January 1940, the supply organization at Army HQ (OKH) was forced to resort to horse-drawn transport to make up the shortfall in available trucks. In France, the logistical failings did not escape Hitler’s notice since they contributed to the decision of the Germans not to press home their advantage in their sweep through northern France. The armoured spearheads speeding over the Meuse towards Paris progressed faster than expected and, as the railways had all been destroyed by the French, lost contact with their supply lines, leaving a gap between the two flanks. Hitler called a halt to allow for the supply lines to be re-established, which is why the British Expeditionary Force was able to escape from the beaches of Dunkirk, an event which contributed much to the Allies’ morale. Although the sabotaged railways were reinstated as soon as possible, there were too few Eisenbahntruppen to carry out the work quickly enough or to work the lines efficiently. There were frantic calls to requisition ‘all the lorries of Germany’ but by the time they arrived the Dunkirk beaches had been cleared. Again, as in Poland, had the French not crumbled so quickly, the split between the two parts of the army could have been exploited by the Allies and the Germans would have been forced to stop and consolidate.

It was the invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941 where the logistical failings were to be cruelly exposed. In truth, however, Operation Barbarossa, the name given to the massive plan to invade Russia, was always doomed to suffer the same fate as all previous attempts to overcome the Great Bear. The Germans decided on a rather muddled three-pronged attack on a vast 1,400-mile front aimed respectively at Leningrad (formerly St Petersburg, then Petrograd), Moscow and Kiev, involving more than 3 million men, five times the number that Napoleon had at his disposal, and the largest invading army raised in the history of warfare. The basic orders for the operation, which van Creveld calls ‘a rambling and confused document’, provided for an advance to the line Dvina-Smolensk-Dnieper, respectively 600, 700 and 900 miles away from the point of departure. Yet, each army group only had one railway line to supply it during the advance, with motorized transport expected to do the rest. It was simply impossible because of the massive shortfall of motorized transport. Not only was the fleet of trucks a ramshackle collection of vehicles of 2,000 different types largely purloined from occupied countries, but to replace rail with road movements to reach Moscow would have required ‘at least ten times the number of vehicles actually available’. Operation Barbarossa was overwhelmed by the logic of its supply constraints and its failure changed the course of the war.

There was, therefore, no alternative to using Russia’s sparse railway network and that was fraught with difficulties. Locomotives with boilers that kept functioning in the arctic conditions would have to be produced and track relaid because of the change in gauge between Germany and Russia. In other words, as Len Deighton puts it, ‘the speed of the advance would be limited to the speed at which a new railway could be built’.

The plan for the German advance was therefore drawn up in the light of these logistical constraints. To be successful Russia had to be conquered before winter and to achieve that a series of optimistic assumptions were made by the German HQ. It was to be the apogee of the blitzkrieg method of warfare, the strategy that combined tanks, infantry and air power in a single overwhelming attack concentrating tremendous force at points of weakness in order to overcome the enemy quickly. The plan for Barbarossa envisaged the rapid motorized units of all three army groups speeding 300 miles into Russia and then pausing while new railways were built and supply depots created to prepare for the final assault further east. To this end, remarkably, the Eisenbahntruppen, charged with repairing and converting the railway, were sent ahead as part of the advance party, even before the territory where they were expected to work was properly secured. This contradicted normal military practice. As van Creveld puts it, ‘instead of the logistic apparatus following in the wake of operations, it was supposed to precede them, a procedure probably unique in the annals of modern war’. Such expediencies were a measure of the desperation of the Germans, who grasped that the successful invasion of Russia depended entirely on their ability to supply their armies. And they couldn’t. The attack was launched on 22 June, rather later than seemed wise given the short Russian summer. Military historians argue about whether the start had been fatally delayed by Hitler’s last-minute decision to invade the Balkans to get the Italians off the hook in Greece, where they were being beaten by a poorly equipped Greek army, or whether he always intended to begin the invasion on the longest day of the year. Initially, the Germans met only feeble resistance from the shell-shocked Russians, allowing the fast advance units to reach their targets within days. However, the unmetalled roads proved to be even worse than expected, and deteriorated in the face of unusually heavy rainfall during the first week of July. A quarter of vehicles had failed within three weeks of the start of the campaign. On the railways, the difference in gauge meant the invaders were heavily reliant on using captured rolling stock but the Russians took away the best locomotives and destroyed the rest, leaving only a few wagons and coaches behind.

Not surprisingly, the Eisenbahntruppen could not cope with the scale of their task and were beset by a host of difficulties. Undermanned and lacking requisite skills, they failed to carry out conversions and repairs thoroughly, tending only to provide the tracks without installing such vital equipment as platforms, workshops and engine sheds. They were forced to travel by road but were not given the priority they needed because the officers of the combat regiments did not understand the importance of their task.

Changing the gauge was a slow and cumbersome job and proved to be the major obstacle for the efficiency of the lines of communication. While captured wagons could be adapted to standard gauge, it was impossible to convert locomotives and therefore, effectively, the Germans were always having to contend with two separate railway systems. At the point of change of gauge, which was advanced into Russia as quickly as possible and therefore had to be moved frequently, huge bottlenecks built up, at times delaying loads for two or three days.

Railways tend to have their own particular characteristics and the Russians had built theirs with lighter rails and fewer sleepers, with the result that the lines, even once converted, could not cope with the more modern but heavier German locomotives which were used on the sections where the gauge had been changed. German engines struggled in the winter, too, as they had not been built to withstand the extreme temperatures. Unlike the Russian engines, their pipework was external and in the harsh climate of the Russian steppe, far colder than anything ever experienced in Germany, the pipes quickly froze and burst, putting the locomotives out of action.

Shortages of fuel, both coal and petrol, were a perennial problem. Russian coal was inferior and therefore needed to be mixed with some imported fuel in order to power the German locomotives. To compound the supply difficulties, Russian petrol had such a low octane value that it was unusable for German vehicles. Even the horses were of the wrong kind. To pull their heavy wagons, the German army relied on strong draught horses, which proved unsuited to the cold conditions and required enormous quantities of forage. Amazingly, in order to ensure supplies could be carried, half the infantry divisions were equipped with small hand carts, Panje wagons, which meant the world’s most modern army was dependent on a transport method familiar to Christ.

Each of the three German armies was accompanied by two armoured trains. The Wehrmacht had been rather unenthusiastic about armoured trains, especially after their failure during the invasion of Poland, where attempts to use them to spearhead attacks on key railway crossings over rivers were stymied when the Poles simply blew up the bridges. The Poles themselves deployed five armoured trains, which proved effective in several encounters with German Panzer (armoured) units, but three of them were destroyed by the Luftwaffe, demonstrating their vulnerability to air attack. Nevertheless, the Wehrmacht decided that they would be useful in the initial stages of Barbarossa to seize railway bridges and then, after conversion to the wider Russian gauge, to protect the long stretches of railway line from attacks by partisans, which as the Germans advanced deeper into Russia increased in both severity and effectiveness. The Germans used not only their own armoured trains but several captured from the Soviet forces, who had started the war with a far bigger fleet but lost many in the early battles of Barbarossa. Some of the trains used by the Germans were even protected with armoured cars, mostly French Panhards, converted to rail use and sent out in front of the train to reconnoitre the line and draw any fire.

Of the three armies that invaded Russia in theory the northern group led by Field Marshal von Leeb, which headed towards Leningrad, had the easiest task as it only needed to cover a distance of 500 miles from East Prussia. And at first, helped by the good road and railway network in the Baltics, which had been prosperous independent states before their occupation by the Soviets in 1940, progress was remarkable, with the motorized units covering 200 miles in just five days. However, as the convoy headed north-east, the forests became denser and the roads fewer, and the supply trucks became entangled with the huge infantry columns marching ahead of them. Soon airlifts had to be organized to keep the forward troops supplied and although by 10 July the leading armoured troops led by General Max Reinhardt were within eighty miles of Leningrad, and were in the process of overwhelming the outer defence line of the city, launching an all-out attack proved impossible because the infantry was strung out over the Baltics and the tanks could not operate in the heavily wooded terrain. This was typical of many similar offensives in the Second World War in which the attacking armoured forces ran ahead of their logistical support that then failed because it was predominately road-based. By then the Eisenbahntruppen had converted 300 miles of railway but the railhead was still well behind the front and in any case the line was in such poor condition that it could only accommodate one train per day. The armoured troops therefore had to wait for supplies to arrive by road and for the transport situation to improve, and consequently the opportunity to take Leningrad swiftly was lost. Moreover, Russian resistance stiffened with numerous partisan attacks on German supply lines, making life difficult for the invaders, and in August heavy rain turned the roads into quagmires. By September, Hitler, recognizing that Leningrad could not be taken quickly, ordered the withdrawal of the Panzer tank unit, Panzergruppe 4, to join the assault on Moscow, leaving the Luftwaffe with the impossible task of trying to take the city. Van Creveld concludes that the strategy of the attack was fatally flawed at the outset: ‘It seems certain that Army Group North’s best chance for capturing Leningrad came around the middle of July, when Reinhardt’s corps had penetrated to within eighty miles of the city. At this time, however, supply difficulties ruled out any immediate resumption of the offensive.’ By the time any attack was possible, the citizens of Leningrad had built a series of fortifications, including anti-tank ditches, trenches and reinforced concrete emplacements that proved all but impenetrable during the siege, which lasted two and a half years and became one of the most deadly in human history.


As Chief of the Army General Staff (O.K.H), General Kurt Zeitzler was very much the prime mover of Zitadelle, being permitted by Hitler to draft the documentation and oversee its detailed planning. Although initially very much the vocal champion of the offensive, he was concerned about the continuing delays. By June, he began to express public doubts about continuing with Zitadelle.

Three days later, convinced that events in the East no longer required his presence, Hitler gave the order to close down Werewolf, his Russian headquarters at Vinnitsa in the western Ukraine, and return to Rastenburg. The flight to East Prussia was made via Smolensk and the headquarters of Army Group Centre, where Hitler, with Zeitzler in tow, arrived shortly after midday on 13 March, to confer with Field Marshal von Kluge. In expectation of gaining some insight into the Führer’s thinking on the expected wide-ranging summer offensive, von Kluge and his staff expressed surprise at the seeming modesty of his aspirations. When asked about his intentions for the coming campaign, Hitler revealed that there would be no offensive campaign in the summer of 1943. The Ostheer would hold the line and conduct merely limited operations in support of that objective.

The primary purpose of his visit however, was not to discuss strategy but to assess the progress of the step-by-step retreat of Colonel General Walter Model’s Ninth Army from the Rzhev salient. The retreat was reaching its climax and the Ninth Army’s availability for employment in the proposed early, limited summer offensive, was the key to its execution and success. Hitler, until little more than a month before, had been consistently stubborn in his refusal to abandon this most forward German position on the road to Moscow. Its retention continued to pose a symbolic, if not an actual threat to the Soviet capital, which lay just 112 miles to the east. As such, the Rzhev salient maintained the fiction that a future German assault on Moscow remained a possibility. Although the Red Army had been most vigorous in its attempts to destroy the salient throughout 1942, the very skilful German defence of the position had stood as a rock in the face of numerous bloody and abortive Soviet assaults. Despite the losses inflicted on the Red Army, the Rzhev salient nevertheless tied down very extensive German forces at a time when demands for manpower from other sectors dictated that it should be abandoned to allow the front line to be shortened, permitting those divisions deployed therein to be released and made available for employment elsewhere. Such had been the constant refrain of Zeitzler in the weeks following the encirclement of Sixth Army. Hitler, unsurprisingly, would have none of it, until in the days following von Paulus’ surrender at Stalingrad, events fortuitously conspired to permit Zeitzler to get his way, by putting to the Führer an offer that given the circumstances, he could hardly refuse.

With the beginning of the New Year and even before the end at Stalingrad, the Army Chief of Staff had privately concluded that the Ostheer would have little choice but to adopt a strategic defensive in the East in 1943. He also realised that the general weakness of the Wehrmacht precluded the adoption of a purely passive defence that would grant the ever-growing Red Army the luxury of assaulting the German line at any time and point. Whereas Hitler was prepared to ridicule and dismiss the increasingly pessimistic intelligence summaries of the Fremde Heer Ost, Zeitzler viewed the dispassionate reports of Colonel Gehlen’s department about the Red Army’s burgeoning military strength with growing alarm. It forecast that by the spring of 1943 Soviet manpower would total some 5.7 million combatants deployed in 62 armies, three tank armies and 28 armoured and mechanized corps. This in turn would translate into some 400 infantry divisions, 194 infantry brigades and 48 mechanised brigades. At this time it was estimated Soviet industry was producing about 1,500 tanks per month – once again an underestimate – to which would need to be added the growing numbers of armoured fighting vehicles being delivered by the Allies through the Lend-Lease programme.

Zeitzler concluded that the only solution lay in the execution of a limited offensive by the Ostheer, the purpose of which – through the destruction of large numbers of Soviet formations – would be to neutralise the Red Army sufficiently to stabilize the Eastern Front for the remainder of the summer. Mindful that OKW already had designs on ‘his’ mobile formations in the event of an Allied landing in Europe, it was imperative that such an operation be launched as early as possible before they were inevitably pulled out for service in the West. Already convinced in his own mind that only an offensive solution, albeit limited, could resolve the impasse in the East, Zeitzler was present at Rastenburg on 6 February when von Manstein obligingly volunteered his own tentative ‘forehand’ proposal for the same.

Given his daily proximity to Hitler, Zeitzler was party to the wider factors impinging on the Führer’s thinking in a way that the Field Marshal was not. Sensitive to Hitler’s own predilection for offensive solutions and mindful of the German leader’s continuing loss of confidence in the wake of Stalingrad, the Chief of Staff of the Army was prompted to exploit his own present high standing and seize the opportunity offered by these discussions to kill two birds with one stone.

With von Manstein’s departure, Zeitzler pointed out to Hitler the twin advantages that would accrue from withdrawing the Ninth Army from the Rzhev salient. Not only would it shorten the front line, thereby making the new one more economical to defend, but in addition, the one army command, five general commands and twenty-one divisions, including three panzer and two motorised infantry thus released would form an operational reserve. This could be drawn upon for employment in the limited offensive ‘forehand’ option outlined by the Field Marshal, to be directed at some as yet unspecified sector of the Soviet front, in the late spring/early summer. This was a horse trade Hitler could both understand, and to which he could assent. So taken was he with the possibilities opened up by Zeitzler’s proposal that the order for the withdrawal of Ninth Army and elements of Fourth Army from the Rzhev salient was sanctioned by him that very night, but on the strict proviso that the forces released be retained as an operational reserve for future offensive employment.

Enacting long prepared plans to address such an order, the systematic withdrawal of the 250,000 men of the Ninth Army thus began in conditions of the greatest secrecy on 1 March. When Hitler arrived at Zaporozhye to confer with von Manstein on the 10th, Operation Buffel was still underway and moving towards a successful conclusion. In the meantime, it had also become apparent that halting the Soviet Central Front in its westward advance along the Sumy-Rylsk line at the end of February had served to generate a huge Soviet salient projecting deeply into Army Group Centre’s position. This provided the Red Army with a superb jumping-off point for future offensive operations. It was not lost on either Hitler or Zeitzler that the numerous Soviet forces now deeply echeloned within the position and being reinforced by other units flowing into the salient on a daily basis, was creating the optimum target for the limited and early offensive they wished to launch against the Red Army. Furthermore, the formations of Ninth Army – which by the 25 March would include fifteen infantry, three panzer and two motorized infantry divisions – along with the SS Cavalry division, redeploying into the sector of 2nd Panzer Army and earmarked for the planned ‘forehand’ operation, was now ideally placed to provide the strike force against the northern neck of this salient.

Thus, by 10 March, Hitler and Zeitzler had already agreed in principle to the destruction of the Kursk salient as being the primary focus of early German offensive action once the dry weather returned and the mobile formations had been rested and refitted. On this occasion, Hitler took an uncharacteristic back seat in the actual planning of the operation, devolving oversight of it and the drawing up of the necessary directives to Zeitzler. The continuing loss of nerve he had suffered in consequence of the Stalingrad débâcle had resulted in his willingness to defer to the advice of the professional military, and Zeitzler was more than happy to embrace the opportunity. So the primary force behind the planning for the operation was the Army Chief of Staff. General Warlimont of the OKW was later to observe how Zeitzler certainly viewed Zitadelle – at least in this early period – as very much his offensive.

In addition to those other factors that prompted Zeitzler to embrace the ‘forehand option’, he was all too aware that there were many in the senior ranks of the army who still regarded him as a relative parvenu. Many believed that he was promoted above his station, and held none of the advantages of seniority, experience or authority of his highly-regarded predecessor, General Franz Halder. There was a strong sense following his appointment on 24 September 1942 that Zietzler was very much Hitler’s man, having been selected because he would be a willing and pliable instrument in executing the latter’s will with respect to the conduct of the war in the East. Certainly his initial address to his staff officers at OKH – where he demanded that they must ‘believe in the Führer and in his method of command’ – seemed to bear out this perception. In his first year of office it was apparent that ‘he enjoyed Hitler’s confidence, but not necessarily that of his own general staff subordinates or of the army groups in the East, for he tended to be a mouthpiece and telephonic link between them and the Führer’. That being said, he was no mere poodle, as there is ample documentary evidence to show that when push came to shove he could, and did stand up to Hitler, thereby gaining his respect. It is against this backdrop that we should understand his advocacy for Zitadelle. Its successful execution would clearly do much to enhance his credibility in the eyes of those senior army commanders in the East who at present still nursed doubts about his capacity to exercise the role of Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

This is not to say that Hitler was divorced from the planning process, as has been implied elsewhere. It is clear that both men were in frequent discussions between 6 February and 13 March, and that Operational Order No.5, presented by Zeitzler to Hitler for his signature on his return to Rastenburg – while produced by Zeitzler and thus reflective of his own agenda – was nevertheless thoroughly in accord with Hitler’s own wishes and desires.


KV-1 with 132mm BM-8 Katyusha rocket launchers was developed in May 1942 by tank factory No. 100. That rocket system had name KRAST-1 (short rocket artillery system for tanks-1) – four armored boxes for two rocket launchers each were installed on the sides of KV – this is visible on the side photo above: two KRAST-1 were located on each side near the turret, another two – near engine compartment. So the tank was armed with 8x132mm rockets in addition to its main armament (driver had electric fuze for KRAST-1).

The tests were very successful (Research Firing Ground of Small-arms Weapon at Chebakul, August-November 1942), KRAST-1 was a powerful, effective and cheap weapon, it was possible to install it easily by army workshops on every serial KV and T-34. But there was no serial production of such system.

The driver of the tank had addition control panel with electric fuse [it was possible to fire single rocket as well as 2-8 rockets salvo fire even on the move, effective range of fire was 600-800 m and special angle indicator for determination of tank hull elevation. 3 crew members (from 5 of KV tank) were responsible for KRAST loading – it took 8 min.

The accuracy was quite good despite the fact that KRAST had shorter rocket launcher (1200, 1250, 2000 and 2400 mm launchers were tested) in comparison with standard BM-13 (5000 mm). The main disadvantages of the system were need in steering of the whole tank for laying and relatively short range of fire because of low elevation of rocket launchers, also rear rockets couldn’t be fired during turret rotation.