March 3, 2017

1943. Renewed Heavy Air Fighting on the Eastern Front

The Air War Expands as Spring Approaches
"Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 ground-attack aircraft during the Battle of Kursk in the southern side of the salient," July 1, 1943 (source)
The parentheses indicate portions that did not pass Soviet censors for military or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

March 23, 1943

One of the best ways to keep up on what's happening or about to happen on this tremendous Russian front is to keep close tabs on the Soviet air activity.

This is especially true at this time of year, when spring thaws tend to lessen ground activity and when clear weather allows large-scale air fighting.

As you know, the Soviet communiqués do not put the same emphasis on the air offensive as do the American and British communiqués from Britain, or General MacArthur's announcements in the South West Pacific. This is mainly because the Red Army, and not the Red Air Force, has been "carrying the ball" here in Russia.

However, I believe that from now on you will get more news of Russia's air war than has been given throughout the winter offensive. And this news will be highly significant in following the course of the fighting in Russia.

For example, this morning's communiqué mentions heavy air fighting in the Kuban for the second successive day. A total of eighteen German planes were shot out of the air in this sector yesterday, fifteen of these in air battles. The day before, Soviet pilots bagged another fifteen enemy planes while ack-ack got another six. This makes a total of thirty-nine German planes downed in forty-eight hours on this one sector alone.

The spring thaw should be just about over in the Kuban. This battle for air superiority on this sector is a fairly definite indication that the Soviet command is resuming the initiative aimed at throwing the trapped German forces across the Kerch Strait.

We have had very little news of the situation around Leningrad since the Red Army broke the ring around the city last January 18th. However, we know that there is fighting going on in this sector every day, and occasionally the Russian communiqués give a hint of it. Yesterday, for example, it was announced that in recent air activity the Red Air Force destroyed twenty-two German planes while antiaircraft downed another twelve Nazi planes.

These facts, of course, are sidelights to the main fighting now proceeding in the direction of Smolensk and the German counteroffensive along the Donets and the Bryansk sectors. However, they are sidelights well worth keeping an eye on.

American aircraft are going to play an increasing part in Russia's air war this spring and summer. We already know that large numbers of American fighters and medium bombers are participating in the Soviet offensive in the Kuban. Other American warplanes are also fighting in the battles west of Moscow as well as in the Bryansk sector.

A lot of Lend-Lease aircraft from the United States this winter and more are coming every day. Hitler's aircraft industry already is overstrained by the Allied air offensive in Western Europe. It's going to be even heavier taxed this spring and summer as the Red Air Force increases its offensive in the East.

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

March 25, 1943

Major Red Army activity this morning is occurring at points one thousand miles apart on the extreme ends of the Russian front.

Down in the Kuban, Russian forces are again on the move through the swamps and rice fields near the mouth of the Kuban River. The spring thaws have turned small streams into flooding rivers, and fighting in this sector is a series of amphibious attacks. Boats have replaced horses for the transport of supplies and artillery. (Not even horses can be used very much in the Kuban, and in many instances the infantry has been forced to roll its artillery pieces into position by hand.)

West and north of Moscow, two important developments are underway. The Red Army thrust across country toward Smolensk is now threatening the main defensive point northwest of that city. In a drive on the inhabited point of Dukhovshina, another arm made more progress westward last night along the railroad line toward Smolensk.

The other development in the north is the air over the Leningrad Front. Some of the heaviest air fighting on this sector in recent months was reported in this morning's communiqué. Thirty-two German planes were shot down on the Leningrad Front yesterday. There have been no details of just exactly what is going on there, but neither the Germans nor the Russians have ever conducted separate air actions on this front since the war began. Air fighting in virtually every case has been accompanied by some sort of land activity.

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 12, 1943

First details of the Russian bombing of Königsberg Saturday night give a satisfying picture of fires and explosions throughout the East Prussian city. The Soviet air force seldom releases details of its bombing missions with the completeness given in the reports from the United States air corps or the RAF.

However, the Russian part in the double-barreled bombing of Germany Saturday night is marked up as a success. The Russian bombers were led by the Guards squadron headed by Major Alexander Molodchy. Molodchy has been over Könisberg five times before. He is one of the few men in the Red Army to be twice decorated with the gold star of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

The weather was bad on the flight to the target, but all planes found their way and dropped their bombs. Despite the bad visibility, the fires and explosions could be seen from 15,000 feet. All of the planes returned to their bases.

In general, the Russian front was again quiet last night. Scouting parties and patrol clashes are keeping the 1,200 mile battle line alive. The German command has failed to develop its pressure on the Donets front. And in the Kuban, an uneasy lull prevails as both sides gather their strength in this critical sector.

For the past several weeks, you probably have noticed that the Russian communiqués have talked a lot about the large number of German self-propelling guns that have been knocked out on the various fronts. This is one of the best weapons developed by German engineers, although neither America nor Russia is behind the Germans in construction of these guns.

The other day, the Russians gave some details of this mobile artillery which the Germans used so successfully in Poland and France.

The German self-propelling gun is similar to a 22-ton tank armed with a 75-millimeter gun. (The four-man crew is protected in the front and on the sides by heavy armor. The top and rear of the gun has no covering.)

The German gun has a cruising speed of thirty miles an hour but it can go as fast as sixty to seventy miles an hour if it has to.

The Germans have been using the gun in surprise attacks against stationary lines of artillery. However, the Red Army has found out that ordinary antitank defenses easily knock out this "nomad artillery."

And lately the German command has been a little reticent in putting their self-propelling artillery under the strong fire of the Russian antitank weapons.

Although no details have been released, the Russians also have self-propelling guns. The Germans found out about them in the winter offensive.