Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Expect the Unexpected
September 24th, 1946
The RAF raid was not a disaster. It went pretty much as planned. The VVS rose to the occasion and gave as good as they got. It was noted that the vast majority of Soviet fighters were of the Yak 3 and La 7 variety. Short range fighters for the most part which made sense since they were on the defensive. Losses on both sides were acceptable unless you were the wife, mother, father, child or sweet heart of the fallen. Then it was devastating.
Each side lost 50 or so aircraft from all sources. The majority of the Soviet pilots that survived lived to fight again and the majority of the 53 British pilots were killed or captured as they bailed out or crashed into the Belgian country side. It was a fact at the Germans learned in the First Battle of Britain that the side that was on the offensive lost the majority of their crews shot down over enemy territory.
What happened next was startling to the RAF radar operators, and then Fighter Command. Just as the majority of the RAF fighters and bombers returning from the raid crossed into British territory, two Soviet 1000 plane raids were detected forming over Brest and Ringkobing in Denmark. By the time the RAF fighters had all landed these massive raids had started to cross the Channel. One seemed headed towards Wales and the other Scotland.
Fighter Command started to look at their charts and maps with increasing urgency to try and figure out where these swarms of planes where headed. They had no idea of the targets destined for destruction until minutes before the bombs fell. Then they were dumbstruck and enraged at themselves for not predicting where the raids were going and what was to befall the virtually unguarded machines and workers targeted.
The route taken by each separate 1000 plane raid circumvented the largest concentrations of radar guided AA guns and few kills were made. At a pre-designated spot on the map the huge raids split into smaller groupings and headed towards different targets yet stayed within support of each other.
The target in the cross hairs of the Soviet bombers and fighters bombers were not defended well. No one had thought of them as primary or even secondary targets worthy of a major Soviet attack. The victims on the ground of these massive attacks could only look around themselves in horror as the bombs started to scream down upon their heads. Each one seemed to be aimed directly at them, but of course they weren’t. The strafing Yak 9DD fighter bombers were indeed aiming at them however. They seemed to be purposefully targeting personnel and places where valuable mechanics, engineers, armorers and grounds crewmen would be trying to hide from the cluster bombs and Soviet version of napalm bombs that were raining down. The Yak 9s with the 37mm cannons punched holes in whatever material got in their way including skin and bone.
The parachute slowed cluster bombs and napalm bomblets started terrible fires and chewed through their intended targets like a whip saw through butter. Huge swaths of destruction followed in each of the Tu2S medium bomber’s wake. Traveling at over 500 km an hour, these proven workhorses of the VVS left devastation behind them. Massacring the few AA crews who valiantly tried to defend the un-defensible. Too few for so many targets. Too few for so many flammable concentrations of fuel. Too few for so many piles of ammunition, oil soaked rags and tires. Too few to even defend themselves.
After the bombs fell the various mini raids once again gathered together into two flying armadas and continued on their way. Fighter Command did an admirable job of rearming and forming Big Wings to pursue. The vast majority of the landing fighters from the previous British raid landed in 12 Group while a smaller number of squadrons were kept behind stationed in 11 Group for defense. 13 Group was filled with older planes and newer pilots. They were held back for training purposes, and they were now about to be thrown into the fire. The turnaround time for the fighters in 12 Group was admirable, but the Big Wings from 13 Group were able to reach the enemy first.
To their displeasure the Spitfires of 13 Group discovered that the Tu2S sans its bomb load made a formidable heavy fighter. Tough, agile and with massive fire power, they flew with wingmen and covered each other like wingmen should. If you got on the leader’s tail, the wingman slew around and either scared you off or shot you down. Now add into the mix the fact that there were hoards of Yak 9s also in the mix which made the odds a good 8 to one. You had a real challenge on your hands. The Tu2S did not drone on in formation but actually turned to dogfight.
Now normally this would have been a reasonably one sided affair, but when you add into the mix the Yak 9s, and you had a real tiger by the tail. A target rich environment to be sure… yet a targeted rich environment, as well. Needless to say, not many attacks were pressed home by either side. Losses were few as a Spitfire would maneuver onto the tail of the slower less nimble yet jinking and turning Tu2S Bat only to have his wingman expertly get on the leading Spitfire’s tail only to have the Tu2 wingman have his tail placed in danger by the wingman of the lead Spitfire only to have that Spitfire threatened by up to four Yak 9s. The Tu2S also had the distinct advantage of two rear firing gunners and substantial front facing firepower as well. The Spitfire who took on a Tu2s from head on or even front at an angle found himself facing a lot of lead.
Because of the utter surprise, the Yak 9DDs had made full use of their wing tanks and had plenty of fuel to carry the dogfight on for as long as they needed. There was no running home because of lack of fuel.
No having only 10 minutes of combat time over the target like the Germans in 1940. The Yak 9DDs code named Long Franks were in this for the long term and were not running. The Tu2S Bats had a range of over 2000 km. By the time many of the Group 12 Big Wings were able to catch up to the fast bombers the two 1000 plane raids had joined up into one massive 2000 plane swarm. One raid started a circular route from the South near Brest, France and other from the East in Denmark. The squadrons of 12 Group had to make the choice to attack head on or to waste time maneuvering for a better attack position. A number of frustrated Squadron commanders from 12 Group made the choice to bore right in and received a warm welcome from the two forward firing Barezin B-20 cannons of the Tu2S. It is an unwelcome match for the two 20mm cannons of your own machine. No, the Tu2S Bat did not die easily and could take quite a bit of punishment.
All in all, a very frustrating day for both groups of fighters who could not stay on each other’s tails long enough to get a good burst in. There was a lot of deflection shooting with remarkably few hits. Fighter Command blinked first, as the British radar on the coast caught the first ghostly echoes of another massive Soviet raid coming into range over France. They appeared to be headed towards London. Group 13 then Group 12 were recalled before the makeup of the newest massive group was discovered. They were the short range fighters escorting Pe 2s code named Bucks who turned around before land fall. A feint that had worked.
Losses were relatively low on both sides. 21 Tu2s, 24 Yaks, 29 Spitfires. The British jets did not have the range to participate in the fight. Hardly the decisive battle each would have wanted to win. As the fast bombers with their trusty escorts flew back unmolested towards the Channel heads were spinning in Fighter Command. Some were sure to roll as well. The Soviets had utterly destroyed their intended targets without losing more than a handful of planes. The loss of the targets attacked could prove utterly devastating to the RAF in a short term battle with the VVS.