As usual the chaff spewing RAF planes were drawing a curtain over the English Channel that effectively blinded the primitive Soviet radar. It was even designed to work on the new American and best German equipment that the Soviets could have confiscated for their own use. The British electronics experts were confident that their curtain of tin foil could not be penetrated and they were correct. The Soviet radar was useless.
Unfortunately for the British, Beria’s stable of secret agents were deadly accurate on the details they conveyed to the VVS. The British plan was to catch the Soviets landing and preparing for their next wave. To catch the Soviets with their airfields crowded with fuel, bombs, personnel and low and slow fighters and bombers. They came in formed perfectly in their best carpet bombing formations. Packed in like sardines into an air space that was almost too small for their numbers.
The thunderous sound of thousands of Merlin engines flying in concert makes the heart of a every mechanical enthusiast a virtual worshiper of the combination propeller and internal combustion engine. On the Russian radar they appear out of nowhere from behind their aluminum foil curtain of chaff. Every day for at least a week nothing has emerged from that curtain except for today. Today they blow through it like the avenging angel Bomber Harris has dreamed of for months.
Out to the East unnoticed and hidden in the swarm of radar blips generated by the first wave of VVS bombers and fighters heading East, 62 Pe 9s armed with eight X4 air to air missiles each were screaming at top speed directly for the curtain of tin foil. Thanks to Beria’s spies they were fully aware that a thousand planes were about to explode from the air space over the English Channel.
The massive RAF formation turned and flew from South to North once it hit landfall and proceeded to start their bomb runs. With 10 km to go before the lead planes were to lose their bomb loads over the airfields identified in their flight plan the missiles from the Pe 9s started to hit home.
The Pe 9s would eventually be designated with the NATO Reporting Name of Beech. This naturally became Bitch, Son of a Bitch and SOB as time progressed and with good reason.
As the lead RAF bombers started to drop from the sky, another kind of battle took place below a thousand feet. The fighter bombers were in search of the Wasserfal surface to air missiles. Their mission was to suppress the missiles and they were low and slow in search of their prey. The Soviet fighters coming from the East were not low and slow and dove on the Hornets, Tempests, Mosquitoes and Typhoons in an attempt to knock them out of the sky.
Without the Soviet X4 missiles and the Pe 9s guidance of them it might have been an even fight. The top cover of Spitfires over the bombers and ground attack aircraft should have been enough to deal with the expected threat. Under normal circumstances it would have been. Except for the fact that the Soviet fighters had been timed to arrive from the east in numbers that were overwhelming.
Without the enemy having advanced information on exactly where and when the raid was going to occur, the plan by Bomber Harris was brilliant. As the Allies found out with their Ultra operation, it is much easier to defeat an enemy attack when you know it’s time and location. The first 1000 plane raid of WWIII took weeks to organize and all during those weeks the Stalin’s NKVD was watching every move and in some cases actually creating the plans.
The only thing that kept it from being a massacre was another Bomber Harris contingency plan. This one involved the Royal Navy. Beria’s NKVD did not have an operative high up in the Royal Navy and was therefore blind to the additional 256 Seafires and some of the first Sea Furies coming in from the Northeast. These additional fighters did not win the battle but kept it from being a major defeat by distracting the hordes of Soviet fighters from their intended targets.
The Yak 3 and Lag 7 took on the low level RAF fighter bombers and harassed them enough to make their attacks on the Wasserfal missile systems a very dangerous activity. Combined with the Soviet AAA the fighter bombers did what they could do in suppressing the missile threat. Many missile placements where hit and destroyed. Alas for the RAF they were not operational sites for the most part but well placed decoys. The 60 Wasserfal sites that contained live missiles where virtually untouched before launch as the fighter bombers went after the easier to see decoys. As the waves of bombers came in range the Wasserfals lifted off and 12 of them hit their targets and 18 planes fell or were crippled by their explosions including 3 fighters that were caught in explosions and flying debris.
Almost simultaneously the first launch of X4 missiles caught the attention of the bomber crews who had been watching the Wasserfals rising from the ground. They had been briefed on the X4 by the American’s but this was still a disconcerting sight to see the X4 being obviously steered as it got closer and closer. They were targeting the lead bombers of each succeeding group. The planes following their leaders looked on in horror as the missiles slammed into their commanders planes and disintegrated them one by one.
The bravery of those lead crews was beyond belief. No attempt was made to evade the guided missiles. The electronic geniuses in strategically placed Jammer Planes desperately tried every technique they could to ward off the X4. They appeared to have no effect. The missiles that missed did so at random as though some unseen mechanical failure was the cause and not their jamming efforts.
By now they could see that initially the X4 was wire guided but soon after launch appeared to be self guided. As if it had to be pointed in the right direction but then was able to function on it’s own once it obtained visual sight of the target. The ones that failed for the most part never gained that cone of visual contact with the bomber stream. From inside the Pe 9 Beech formations there was a primitive radar signal but the radar wizards of the RAF were positive that they were jamming them. The only problem was that the missiles kept hitting home at an unacceptable rate.
The first salvo had been launched by the missile gunners on the left side and nose gunners of the Pe 9 Beeches as they approached the bomber stream at an ever increasing angle. The first salvo of sixty plus missiles was guided for the first until the internal guidance system took over. As the Beeches with their accompanying escorts close the distance on the bomber stream the wire guidance was needed less and less and the X4 became almost fire and forget.
After the nose and left side gunners had fired their missiles the Beeches turned South and the right side gunners and tail gunners got their chance to launch. With all this going on the RAF formations did remarkably well and stayed in formation to a great degree. The carpet bombing pattern resembled a jigsaw puzzle with major sections missing. Where the bomber stream managed to stay in formation the effects were devastating just as the Soviets knew it would be.
Il-4 Medium bombers (NATO designation Bob) flew above the Pe 9s and also launched missiles. These were not guided and were designed to provide a decoy for the true launching platforms of the X4. A contingent of the RAF bomber escorts were detailed to drive off the Bobs and Beeches. They took heavy losses as the fighter cover for the Soviet air to air missile launchers was immense.
The Soviet tactical strategy was twofold; to destroy enough bombers to make any bombing effort unfeasible but more importantly to shoot down as many fighters as possible. The theory was that the loss of fighters was the key component in winning the greater battle for the skies above Great Britain. The attack on the bombers was more of a ruse to put the covering fighters in positions to be attacked.
As a result of the carpet bombing effort the four airfields targeted were destroyed.
As a consequence of the Soviet espionage effort they were devoid of personnel, equipment and supplies. The first wave of VVS attack pods took off that morning knowing that they would not be returning to their former home. The ground crews evacuated with enough time to be clear of the pre-designated kill zone.
The RAF tactical bombers and fighter bombers did remarkably well in destroying and surviving the Soviet decoy missile sites. 37 of the 158 ground attack aircraft did not return to Great Britain. The Soviet AAA batteries knew they were coming yet the RAF pilots and crews still drove home their attacks. 83% of the decoys were destroyed before they could theoretically have launched. It was an incredible job that was all for naught.
Of the live missile sites 6 were discovered and destroyed before launch and 17 were attacked after launch. At low level the Yak 3s and La 7s were in their element and the RAF fighter bombers and tactical bombers had their hands full. Getting down and dirty at 1,000 feet is not the way to defeat the VVS. The Soviet losses for the fight in the trenches stood at 11 fighters down.
Up at high level the fight was more even. The RAF fighters flying high cover were practiced and experienced in fighting at above 20,000 ft. For the Soviet VVS this was a rather new experience and it showed. Without the Pe 9 Beeches and Wasserfal missiles it might have been a major defeat. As it was the final tally for the fight for the high ground stood at 76 RAF bombers and 31 fighters down at a cost of 63 new Soviet Yak 3Ds and Yak 9Ds. In addition 11 Pe 9 Beeches suffered major damage or were destroyed. Fully 24 IL 4s were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
As in the Battle of Britain the aggressor lost their downed crews and pilots to either POW camps or grave yards. While a fair number of the even the defeated defenders lived to fly again.
These numbers would make both sides pause and take stock but the obvious fact was that the Soviets could absorb the losses and the British could not.
Foreknowledge of the enemy’s plans is an almost assured victory for even a mediocre leader and Novikov was not a mediocre leader.
For now the era of the daylight bomber was at a halt. These kinds of losses were unsustainable and Harris knew it. It was time to go back to the drawing board.