SITE MENU / This Article Content
Even during these early days of the Russian campaign it became obvious that the use of bombs against tanks was most unsatisfactory. On 26 June the whole of St.G 2 had attacked a concentration of 60 tanks south of Grodno, but only one tank was knocked out and this was due to a lucky round of machine-gun fire. Although the impracticability of dive-bombing tanks was clear to the pilots themselves, it was only slowly appreciated by the Luftwaffe's policy-forming staff, a fact which was eventually to have far-reaching consequences, for one of the greatest German mistakes in the East was the failure to provide a step-by-step answer to the growth in Russian tank strength.
The potentially disastrous implications of this oversight were lost in the summer months of 1941, as the Germans drove ever deeper into Russia. The constant operational flying in support of the summer advances caused pilot fatigue, but the campaign seemed to be going well and morale in the Stukagruppen was high. Although Russian fighters occasionally pressed home their attacks with great determination - some penetrated the fighter screen by diving down and ramming the Stukas - the greatest hazard so far encountered was the Russian flak. Often, as at Kronstadt, this was accurate and intense.
Major Walter Enneccerus, Gruppenkommandeur of II/St.G 2, over the Mediterranean in his Ju87R-2 coded T6 + AC. On 26 May 1941, Enneccerus's Gruppe attacked and badly damaged the carrier HMS Formidable. On 17 March 1942 the Gruppe was re-designated III/St.G 3, and operated from Sicily against Malta from 21 March to 24 May. (US National Archives)
Meanwhile, in the far north, IV (Stuka)/LG I had been flying in support of German forces struggling towards Murmansk. During the opening stages ot the drive the Ju87Rs bombed pillboxes forming the Soviet defences and then flew intensive operations for more than a week in support of exhausted infantry who advanced over very difficult terrain and took Kandalaska; but here the advance faltered and petered out. Similarly, the northern thrust bogged down and the Stukas were again transferred, to support an offensive which ground to a halt outside Murmansk.
The first ominous signs of an exceptionally early Russian winter appeared on the Central Front in early October, Heavy rains turned the roads to mud and slowed the advance towards Moscow. As the temperature dropped the Luftwaffe was presented with all manner of technical difficulties and at the same time Russian resistance became increasingly stubborn. II/LG 2 and I/St.G 2, which had recently begun converting to the Ju87D-1, were forced to break up an attack against their own airfield at Kalinin, and St.G 1 carried out numerous sorties against the Mozhaysk defence lines before Moscow, By 19 November forward German Army units were within nineteen miles of Moscow, but further progress was impossible. Russian counter-attacks threw back the worn out troops and a great deal of ground was lost before the front could be stabilised.
Meanwhile, attack and counter-attack in the far north exhausted both sides alike, and the Northern Front froze rigid. In February 1942 IV (Stuka)/LG 1 was redesignated and, under the command of Maj. Hans-Karl Stepp (RK 7.2.42, EL 27.4.44), became I/St.G 5. The unit frequently attacked installations on the Belomorsk-Murmansk railway, destroyed rolling stock and cut the branch lines running to various sectors of the front. Prolonged interruption of traffic proved impossible, however, and weather conditions finally forced the unit south to join St.G 1 under Oberst Walter Hagen (RK, EL 17.2.42), which had begun converting to the Ju87D-1 on the Leningrad Front.
As a result of experience in the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent success of the Hs123s during the Polish and French campaigns, a decision was taken in mid-1941 to expand the ground-attack arm of the Luftwaffe, It was intended that the principal item of equipment would be the Henschel Hs129, a heavily armed and armoured aircraft which had been in the process of development since 1937. Although the Luftwaffe had flatly refused to accept the early pre-production version in 1940, improved variants were subsequently developed and pressed into service with 4 Staffel of the first of the specialised ground-attack units, Schlachtgesehwader 1.
Originally equipped with the Hs123 and Bf109E, I Gruppe of Sch.G 1 had been activated in Germany during January 1942. At the same time, II (Schlacht)/LG 2 was redesignated to form II/Sch.G 1; and in May the Geschwader arrived on the southern sector of the Eastern Front, where Luftflotte 4 was to support an offensive into the Crimea to clear the Kerch Peninsula and take Sevastopol. The attack commenced on 8 May with simultaneous ground assaults and merciless dive-bomber attacks upon the deeply organised Russian positions by units of VIII Fliegerkorps, Russian fortifications were attacked by St.G 77 while Sch.G 1 strafed and bombed every movement in the enemy rear area until, with the exception of the fortress of Sevastopol, the Peninsula was secure. A Russian attack on Kharkov necessitated the removal of Sch.G 1, but the remainder of VIII Fliegerkorps took off at first light on 2 June and, led by St.G 77, struck at positions in the suburbs and city area of Sevastopol. Between 2 and 6 June a daily average of 600 sorties was recorded, imposing a considerable strain on pilots, ground personnel and machines alike. St.G 77 cut off the city water supply by destroying the pumping installations, reservoirs and electric power station and attacks were also carried out against airfields in the Western Caucasus and on Black Sea ports to prevent the arrival of any aid for Sevastopol. Hptm. Herbert Pabst, who flew with Stukageschwader 77, gives his personal account of such a sortie against ports on the Caucasus coast:
Stuka attack on the Tobruk trenches, seen from the gunner's position of a Ju87D of Major Kurt Kuhlmey's St.G 3. (James V. Crow)
Stuka attack on a convoy - diving, seen from the pilot's position, and climbing away, seen from the gunner's position. (Author's collection)