World War II, air war, Russian front

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As Nazi Germany pushed eastwards on the Russian front of World War II, their relatively short-ranged bombers came into range to carry the air war to Russian industry. There was also intense tactical use of airpower.

Germany ground forces fought hard, but after the summer of 1944 they were defeated in every battle, in large part because they had lost control of their airspace, and because strategic bombing cut the front lines off from their industrial base.[1]

Close air support

Both the Germans and Soviets emphasized close air support to ground combat, rather than battlefield air interdiction. The Germans, especially, regarded air support as a substitute for less mobile artillery.

Tanks were vital in the breakthroughs. Both sides emphasized the use of aircraft in fighting armor. The Soviet Il-2 Shturmovik was the outstanding antitank and close support aircraft of the war, and the prototype for later specific antitank aircraft such as the U.S. A-10 and Russian Su-35. Even so, the most decorated German pilot of the war, Colonel Hans Rudel, destroyed over 500 tanks with a relatively primitive Ju-87 Stuka.

Strategic defense

The Soviets carried dispersion to the logical extreme. As the Germans pushed east in 1941-42, the Russians loaded trains full of blueprints, engineers, skilled craftsmen, critical materials, vital parts, and necessary tools, and set up shop in makeshift quarters in the Urals. Often the new quarters lacked heat and the workers froze in place. A complete dispersal outside the major cities could indeed drastically limited the direct damage done by strategic bombing. However, dispersal to small, remote locations with poor transportation and communications created extremely complex management problems. It slowed everything down and multiplied the difficulties of overall coordination, of recruiting, training and housing workers, of supplying fuel and raw materials, of cross-shipping of sub-assemblies, and of final shipment to the front line soldiers. Postwar analysts in the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey who stressed the unexpectedly small amount of damage done to individual plants overlooked the vast damage done to the German and Japanese system of providing munitions to the battlefront.


  1. Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (1969) p. 287; Richard Overy, The Air War: 1939-1945 (1981) p. 122