Our next Official Campaign was based on combat over the Eastern Front during 1941. The campaign was split into 2 parts.
The time-line of this section of the campaign was from the start of Operation Barbarossa on 22nd June 1941, till late August of the same year.
Part 1: We flew mostly as the 55th Fighter Regiment of the Soviet Air force, based initially east of the river Prut in the Bessarabia region, at the southern tip of the Axis attack. We equipped at first with obsolete, outclassed aircraft as we tried to hold back the Axis air forces, before upgrading to more modern types. The Axis air forces didn’t have things all their own way and we got opportunities to go on offensive strikes. However, it was a backs to the wall affair as we tried to support the Red Army as they fell back eastwards towards Odessa. Our opponents were not only the Luftwaffe, but also the Romanian air force, equipped with Bf109s, IAR 80s, Hurricanes, PZL 11s & Blenheims.
Part 2: At the beginning of September 1941 we left the seige of Odessa to move north and join 151 Wing of the RAF at Murmansk, to conduct operations in support of the Red Air force against both the Luftwaffe and the Finnish Air Force. Our mount, as the first snow of the Russian winter started to fall, was the Hurricane IIb. We expected escort missions and patrols in defence of Murmansk to be the order of the day.
For many years Bessarabia, with it’s large ethnic Romanian population had been part of the Russian Empire. At the end of the First World War, the province became part of Greater Romania. The Soviet Union did not recognize incorporation of Bessarabia into Romania and throughout the entire interwar period engaged in constant, fruitless diplomatic disputes with the government of Romania over the territory. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed in August 1939, and by Article 4 of the secret Annex to the Treaty, Bessarabia fell within the Soviet interest zone.
In spring 1940 Western Europe was overrun by Nazi Germany. On June 26th 1940 the USSR issued an ultimatum to Romania, demanding immediate cession of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. Romania was given four days to evacuate its troops and officials. Two days later, Romania yielded and began evacuation. During the evacuation, groups of local Communists and Soviet sympathizers attacked the retreating forces, and civilians who chose to leave. The Romanian Army was also attacked by the Soviet Army, which entered Bessarabia before the Romanian administration finished retreating. The casualties reported by the Romanian Army during those seven days consisted of 356 officers and 42,876 soldiers dead or missing.
On August 2nd the Moldavian Socialist Soviet Republic was established on most of the territory of Bessarabia, merged with parts of the former Moldavian ASSR. Following the Soviet takeover, many Bessarabians, who were accused of supporting the deposed Romanian administration, were executed or deported to Siberia.
On November 23, 1940, Romania joined the Axis Powers. Between September and November 1940, the ethnic Germans of Bessarabia were offered resettlement to Germany, following a German-Soviet agreement. Fearing Soviet oppression, almost all Germans (93,000) agreed. On June 22nd 1941 the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union commenced with Operation Barbarossa. Back to Top
On June 22 1941, the Wehrmacht along with the Romanian Army and other Allies attacked the Soviet Union. On the Romanian-Soviet border, matters stayed relatively calm for the first week of the war. The Axis forces waited until July 2nd, to allow the rest of the advance to ‘catch up’ before launching operation “München” – the assault on the Bessarabia region. The German 11. Armee was ordered to take Dubossary and Balti while the Romanian 4th Army moved towards Kishinev and Tighina. Further north, the 3rd Romanian army aimed for the Bukovina area. On July 7th, amidst bad weather, and after heavy fighting, Romanian troops reached the river Dnestr
From July 8th to 10th, the area of Balti, especially around the village Mandresti was the scene for much heavy fighting. After which, the soviet 12th Army initiated a rapid but organized withdrawal while awaiting reinforcements in the form of the soviet 9th Army, approaching from Moscow.
On July 7th, a strong soviet counterattack took place near Miclauseni which caused considerable losses to the Romanian 35th Reserve Infantry Division. In response to this, on July 9th, the Romanian Air Force flew over 80 sorties and dropped more than 22 tons of bombs after being called to help. Meanwhile, north of Miclauseni, the German 76. Infanteriedivision went on the defensive in order to secure its position.
The heaviest fighting of the operation took place during the battle of Tiganca, with both sides flying numerous air support missions between July 2nd & 14th. Such was the ferocity of the fighting here, that some Romanian air force units lost as much as 40% of their strength.
On July 13th a new axis attack including armoured support was launched towards Kishinev. Within two days the advance stood 8 km from what is now Moldavia’s capital, & on the following day, Kishnev fell. Due to the axis success in the northern area, the soviet 9th Army was forced to retreat from its positions along the southern part of the river Prut back to the Dnestr, and by July 20th, all Red Army forces had withdrawn behind the river Dnestr (the old Soviet/Romanian border). This brought Operation München, the attack on Bessarabia to a conclusion. Back to Top
In August, the two axis armies started the next stage of their operation. Attacking towards Vosnessensk (just off the north-eastern corner of the IL2 map), they tried to isolate the Soviet 9th Army from the main front, then destroy and take Odessa. By August 7th, Kotovsk, Pervomaisk, Kirovograd and Vosnessensk were taken.
On August 10th, around Odessa, the Red Army set up a defensive line some 20-25 km away from the port to protect it from artillery fire. Behind that, two more defensive lines were still under preparation. Under the command of Konteradmiral G. V. Zhukov, the Soviet ground forces could also rely on the support of the Black Sea Fleet and its Air Force VVS-ChF.
On August 13th, the Romanian 4th Army launched a three pronged attack on the defences around Odessa. The Red Army, supported by ships of the Black Sea Fleet such as the old destroyers Frunze, Dsershinsky, Shaumyan, Nezamozhnik and the cruiser Krasny Krym fought back fiercely. Even with the support of the Fleet and air elements, the Soviet troops were pushed back by the Romanian advance - both sides suffering heavy casulties. Inside the besieged city, despite the continuing high morale of the troops & civilians, ammunition and other supplies were by now running very low.
On September 22nd, a carefully planned amphibious counter-attack was launched from Sevastopol aiming to relieve Odessa. However within a week Sevastopol and the Crimea themselves were coming under increasing threat, so, the Soviet high command made the decision to evacuate Odessa, which was successfully realized between the 7th & 15th of October. Back to Top
During “München”, the Axis advance to the Dnestr, the air forces of both sides were heavily engaged in the intense battles for the crossings over the Prut and Dnestr rivers. Also, the Soviet VVS flew several unsuccessful attacks on Romanian shipping. Both sides attacked enemy airfields as well as bridges, troops and transport columns.
A lot of air action took place during the siege of Odessa, including the sinking of several Russian vessels by Luftwaffe dive bombers, the destruction of a huge Soviet depot inside the city by Romanian bombers and numerous ground attacks by IL2’s as well as IAR-80, PZL.11 and other types. A Soviet analysis of the siege emphasized the big influence of air power on the successful defense of Odessa - Soviet fighters inside the Odessa defensive perimeter alone flying 3.780 sorties between August 22 and October 16. Back to Top
The delay in starting the Finnish-German offensive from northern Finland gave the British an opportunity to intervene. Within days of the start of the offensive against the Soviet Union, the British and the Soviets entered into a formal military alliance. The British were anxious to offer immediate support to their new ally and British submarines, minelayers, and aircraft carriers soon appeared off the northern Finnish coast. On July 31, 1941, carrier-borne aircraft from HMS Furious attacked the harbour of the Finnish town of Petsamo. The British lost three aircraft and inflicted only minor damage on a small freighter and harbour facilities. In a further attempt to hinder naval traffic in the area, the Royal Navy mined the approaches to Petsamo.
The British undertook to provide air support in the Murmansk area and No. 151 Wing was formed for this purpose composed of the reinforced No.81 and No.134 squadrons. The first elements of 151 Wing, consisting of 24 Hurricane IIb aircraft, arrived at Murmansk-Vianga airfield, four miles northeast of Murmansk, on August 28, 1941, after flying from the carrier HMS Argus. These were quickly reinforced by aircraft, equipment, and personnel transported by merchant ships. The 550 members of the unit were ferried from Archangel by airplane, ship, and train. The wing was commanded by Wing Commander H.N.G. Ramsbottom-Isherwood.
The Wing was charged with training the Soviets and providing operational support to them. The Hawker Hurricane was not the most modern aircraft by late 1941, having been designed in the 1930s with priority given to ease of maintenance and operation under arduous field conditions, but it proved well suited to conditions around Murmansk. And the British groundcrew and aircrew were highly experienced, mostly veterans of the Battle of France and Battle of Britain. They also brought a modern radio and radar air-control system with them.
During the following months, the Royal Air Force provided air cover to Soviet troops trying to hold enemy forces away from Murmansk and the Murmansk railway. They also provided fighter escorts to Soviet bomber aircraft operating along the front and deep inside Finland. The RAF pilots carried out their final operational flights in October, 1941; by that time, the immediate crisis on the front had passed and the British handed their aircraft and equipment over to the Soviet air force and returned to Britain.
The 1941 expedition to Murmansk achieved three objectives from the point of view of the British government: it provided vital aid to the Soviets at a critical moment; it introduced the Soviets to the use of modern technology, control systems, and fighter tactics; and it showed the Finns that offensive action against the Soviets would result in direct military confrontation with the Western Allies. Back to Top