Aviation of World War II

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A Secret Aviation School

The first step to founding a secret German flying school in the USSR was taken back in Lenin's time, in 1920, when the German leaders turned to Soviet Russia's government with a proposal to establish German military training courses on its territory. The Politburo considered this proposal and approved it on the whole, but, in order to keep the matter confidential, they decided to organize the training of German military specialists in small provincial towns rather than in Moscow. The Bolsheviks were eager to imitate German war experience and become acquainted with modern military equipment, including aircraft. In addition, the Soviet leadership counted on the Reichswehr's help in attracting the German industrialists to restoring Russia's war potential and tried to maintain good relations with the Reichswehr.

Soon after the Rapallo Treaty was signed on 11 August 1922 the Red Army and Reichswehr concluded a secret agreement on cooperation. Germany was allowed to set up facilities in Russia for testing military equipment banned by the Versailles Treaty and for training military personnel. In turn, the German leadership promised to contribute to exporting German technological expertise to Russia in order to develop its defense industry. Besides that, the Soviet side received the right to participate in testing the German military equipment, including the latest aircraft, tanks, and chemical weapons.

In late 1923, a Special Moscow Group (Sondergruppe Moskau), also called Moscow Center (Zentrale Moskau) attached to the German Special Group R, was set up. Herman von der Lieth-Thomsen, former German Air Force Chief of Staff, headed it. Ritter von Niedermayer, a former intelligence officer in the Middle East, was his deputy. Captain Ratt, Lieth-Thomsen's adjutant, was responsible for aviation matters.

Pilots were trained in Germany at the Civil Aviation Pilot Training Center (Deutsche Verkehrsflieger-Schule) and in sports flying clubs. However, due to the ban on military aviation in Germany, it was carried out in light training airplanes, or Junkers passenger planes. So, it was impossible to train full-fledged military pilots and observers. That was why the idea of establishing a secret flying school abroad, where the German pilots could polish their skills in the newest combat machines, emerged.

A so-called Aviation Inspection, or Inspection No. 1 responsible for training pilots for the Reichswehr, directed the school's establishment. The first practical steps were taken in 1923, when the German War Ministry, through the mediation of major German industrialist H. Stinness, bought 50 single-seat Fokker D XIII fighters from the Fokker firm in Holland for the future school. In 1923-1925, a few Fokker D VII and Fokker D XI airplanes were acquired from the same source. The order supposedly was being fulfilled for the Argentine Air Force.

In 1924, the first group of German military aviation experts came to the USSR- M.Fiebig (he became a Luftwaffe general officer during WWII), K. Lite, G. Johanenson, R. Hasenor, and J. Schroeder. A few more persons joined them later on. For some time they worked on a contract basis as consultants with the RKKA Air Forces Directorate and the Air Force Academy in Moscow, then part of the group became staff members at the German flying school's in the USSR.

The Soviet government had chosen an airfield in the northwestern outskirts of Lipetsk, where a RKKA Air Forces unit was based, as the site where the German airmen would be trained.

The Germans appointed Major Walter Schtaar, who during the First World War was a fighter detachment commander on the Western Front, to head the Lipetsk Flying School. He held this job for 5 years despite rather unflattering references about him by the UGPU ("...a follower of Hindenburg, a Nazi of stern temper, demanding, and merciless. He is extremely hostile towards Soviet power and cannot tolerate Russians"). Such untypical tolerance on the part of the Bolsheviks towards such an attitude could only be explained by their acute interest in military cooperation with the Reichswehr at that time.

Establishment of the school began with construction of depots, hangars, housing for German personnel, and other facilities. A construction office with the former German ace E. Borian at the head accomplished this. An apartment house, two barracks, a few production premises, and telephone exchange were built. The Reichswehr allocated considerable sums-equivalent to some 2 million rubles-for the construction.

The steamship "Hugo Stinnes-IV" loaded with 50 boxed Fokker D XIII fighters aboard left the German port of Stettin in June 1925 and headed for Leningrad. At the same time, the first instructors (for the most part, experienced combat pilots whom Major Schtaar knew personally) and flying cadets headed to the USSR from Germany.

It goes without saying that everything was done in secrecy. Any security breach was immediately nipped in the bud. The airplanes and other equipment were shipped as commercial goods through Metachim, a specially founded joint stock company, and German pilots were sent to the USSR disguised as tourists or employees of private companies, with passports issued to fictitious names. In Lipetsk they wore civilian clothes or Soviet uniforms without insignia. In Soviet documents the German aviation unit appeared as the "4th Aviation Detachment of the RKKA Air Forces 38th (later 40th) Aviation Squadron," while the German personnel were coded as "friends". In German documents the Lipetsk organization was called the "scientific aviation testing station" or just "the station".

At first, the German flying school comprised a staff group with Schtaar at the head and fighter pilot training department headed by K. Schoenebeck, also a famous WWI pilot. The training fighter squadron had Fokker D XIII unbraced biplanes powered by British 450hp water-cooled Napier Lion engines. Their speed was 240 km/h and they were armed with two machine guns. This Dutch-made airplane was considered one of the best fighters in the first half of 1920s. In addition, the school had a few light Albatros trainers.

Pilot training began on 15 July 1925. The fighter pilot training course called for 4 weeks of intensive flying, with six to seven cadets in each training group. The instructor pilots were selected from the most experienced German pilots of the WWI period. The first trainees were pilots undergoing conversion training, then beginners began to be assigned.

After graduation they were commissioned in the corresponding military rank without indicating their affiliation with aviation.

From the very outset, the Lipetsk school did not limit itself to training pilots for the future German Air Force. As previously noted, the Soviet leadership was, above all, interested not in obtaining income from the German aviation center on Russian territory, but in using the German flying experience and familiarization with German aircraft for the sake of strengthening their own Air Forces. By 1925, competitive flights of German and Soviet fighters were staged. They demonstrated the superiority of Fokker D XIII airplanes over Fokker D XI fighters with 300hp engines. The latter were bought from Holland for the RKKA Air Forces in 1924. Soviet pilots were also allowed to try out the D XIII in flight.

Results of the school's first year of work were summed up during a spring 1926 meeting of Soviet and German Air force commanders. Senior Lieutenant Wilberg, Chief of the Reichswehr Aviation Department, announced plans to expand the activities of the fighter school and to establish a training detachment of reconnaissance aircraft to train observers and conduct experiments in aerial photography. The Soviet side supported all these suggestions. Military Commissar R. A. Muklevich, one of the RKKA Air Forces leaders, made this statement at the meeting: "You can count on total assistance and support on our part. ...Everything is based on ideological cooperation".

Eight German two-place Heinkel HD 17 reconnaissance aircraft with the 450hp Napier Lions engine were brought to Lipetsk in the summer of 1926 with the aim to train observers. These airplanes were designed and built by the Heinkel firm based on a special Reichswehr order for the Lipetsk Aviation School. E. Heinkel writes in his memoirs:

When I returned to Warnemuende from Sweden, I was told that a certain visitor wished to see me. When I met him, he didn't introduce himself. Later, I found out that his name was Student. In spite of his civilian clothes, I felt from the outset that he was a military man. He made it a condition that our talk should be kept in confidence.

After our first conversation, it still was not clear whom he really represented. Only some time later I understood who he was and the real reason for his visit. "With the government's permission, the Reichswehr assisted in reorganizing the army of Soviet Russia. That country needed the technological achievements Germany had. Wilberg headed the Reichswehr Aviation Department. He made a trip to Russia to study the possibility of training pilots there using airplanes built secretly in Germany.

At the time, I could not understand why the visitor asked whether I would be able to make a landplane with a speed of 220 km/h and ceiling of 6000 meters, which could be employed as a short-range reconnaissance aircraft. I asked him what financial resources he had. The man smiled and said that he was ready to buy such an airplane immediately after it was built. After a bit of thought, I agreed. Thus, from 1923 on I became a participant in providing armaments for the German Army. To the surprise of the judges at the Nuremberg trial, the government itself financed this. The HD 17, my first airplane for the Reichswehr, had to be built in secrecy, playing cat-and-mouse with the Allied Commission on Aircraft Construction. The game was extremely dangerous for me. I could lose all or find myself under strict surveillance and constant supervision. I think fortune was on my side.

A few Heinkel, Junkers, and Albatros trainers were brought to Lipetsk, as were two-place military multipurpose Albatros L76 and L78 aircraft built illegally at the Reichswehr's request. At the same time, two obsolete light Albatros L69 biplanes were shipped back to Germany.

In the autumn of 1926 the German flying school had 52 aircraft: 34 Fokker D XIII and Fokker D VII fighters; 8 Heinkel HD 17 reconnaissance aircraft; a few Albatros trainers; and 1 Heinkel HD 21 and 1 Junkers A 20 trainer. One Junkers F 13 transport served the staff group.

Gradually the number of airplanes grew. By late 1929, the school had 43 Fokker D XIIIs, 2 Fokker D VIIs, 6 Heinkel HD 17s, 6 Albatros L76s, 6 Albatros L 78s, 1 Heinkel HD 21, 1 Junkers A 20, and 1 Junkers F 13.13 In 1930, new types arrived to augment the fleet-Heinkel HD 40, Junkers K 47, Dornier Merkur, and a three-engine Rohrbach Roland. There was one of each in Lipetsk.

However, it must be said that, thanks to the comparatively small number of training groups, far from all the aircraft were put to use. According to a report by senior pilot S. G. KoroF, who was responsible for contacts with the German aviation detachment, in mid-1927 only 11 Fokker D XIIIs were employed in training. The others were dismantled and kept in hangars. Evidently, those airplanes were to serve as a reserve of the German Air Force in case of war.

An evaluation of the German aircraft inventory in Lipetsk also must take into account major losses of airplanes during training. Landings were the most serious problem. According to German documents, by late 1929 every seventh Fokker D XIII had been lost in accidents. Many were damaged through the fault of the Russian trainees. Reports to the RKKA Air Forces Directorate mentioned six such cases in 1926-1927. Four airplanes (including three two-place aircraft) were lost in 1930. But, the peak was in the summer of 1933: in 18 days of training flights, 6 accidents occurred.

As previously stated, most of the accidents were connected with landings at low speeds, and there were no casualties. But, people sometimes did die. In 1930, two German aircraft, a single-seat fighter and two-place reconnaissance aircraft collided at an altitude of 3000 meters. The pilot managed to bail out, but observer-gunner Amlinger was unable to get out of his plane and was killed. One more collision in the air took place in the summer of 1930 not long before the school was closed. Two Fokker D XIII fighters piloted by German pilots collided at the height of 700 meters. One pilot bailed out at once and remained alive, but the other, named Paul, took too much time and left the plane too late. His chute failed to open. Not only trainees were killed. The experienced German pilot Emil Thuy crashed and died while testing an Albatros L 76 reconnaissance aircraft near Smolensk.

The dead bodies were shipped to Germany. To keep the matter secret, the coffins were placed in boxes marked "Machinery Parts". Had the press learned of the accident, it was to be described as an incident involving a sports plane.

The number of pilots and ground personnel at the school grew steadily. There were only 7 Germans and about 20 Russians at the training center in 1925, but, in a few years, their number had risen to around 200. This number reached its peak in 1932, reaching 303, including 43 Germans, 26 Soviet military pilots, and 234 Soviet blue- and white-collar workers and technicians.

The number decreased drastically in the wintertime, when the airfield was covered with snow. Nevertheless, some German specialists remained in Lipetsk at that time. A report about the delivery of 30 pairs of fur boots, 25 fur collars, 50 protection masks, and other items from Germany to Lipetsk in late 1927 bear witness to this. In wintertime the airplanes were fitted with skis, as was the common practice in the Soviet Air Forces. The Germans used air-sleighs for traveling.

As the school grew, its training program became more complicated. In addition to blind flights, the pilots practiced firing machine guns at targets towed by planes and dogfights were simulated. Bombing (including dive-bombing) wooden mockups was practiced at a range allocated to the Germans in the northwestern outskirts of Lipetsk, and new types of bombsights were tested. It is clear that it would impossible to carry out such exercises in Germany because of the monitoring by the Allies. The pilots practiced air reconnaissance and aerial photography, too. High-altitude flights were planned, but, due to a shortage of liquid oxygen, it was decided not to go beyond exercising at altitudes of 5000-6000 meters where it was possible to do without oxygen masks.

The Germans used gun cameras to record the results of training attacks for the first time. The films were developed at a special laboratory set up in Lipetsk.

German pilots took part in joint maneuvers with the Soviet Air Forces in 1931. The actions of fighters against day bombers were practiced during these exercises. Besides that, at a training ground near the city of Voronezh, German pilots together with Soviet gunners practiced adjusting artillery fire from the air.

One more sphere of joint work by the Lipetsk Aviation Center and the Red Army was to study the capability of employing aircraft to deliver toxic agents. As is known, Germany practiced using toxic gases during the First World War. It is no accident that the Tomka organization (located near the town of Vol'sk) was intended for experimenting with toxic agent production and employment. This was one of the secret Reichswehr centers in the USSR. Great attention in the USSR was devoted to employment of aviation for chemical effects (including the military). For example, in 1925 two public organizations-the Society of Friends of the Air Fleet and Dobrochim-merged into one organization called Aviachim.

For the chemical warfare experiments the Lipetsk workshop fitted airplanes with so-called aviation spray tanks (VAP). Aircraft such as the Albatros L 76s capable of carrying relatively large payloads were chosen for this task.

The experiments began in 1926. I. S. Unshlikht reported the following to Stalin: "...The entire first part of the program is fulfilled. About 40 sorties accompanied by spraying the liquid from different altitudes were flown. A liquid with qualities analogous to those of mustard gas was used in the experiments. The experiments confirmed the full capability for aviation to employ toxic agents. Our specialists believe that, based on these experiments, it can be presumed that employment of mustard gas by aviation against enemy personnel and to contaminate the terrain and populated areas is entirely feasible from a technical point of view and is of great value." The experiments continued in 1927.

The German pilots who came to Lipetsk lived in rather clean and comfortable barracks built specially for them. As a rule, each of them had a separate room. Officers with their families rented apartments in town. Later, a three-story building with communal apartments was built for them near the airfield. A casino was built to make leisure time more colorful. This facility was in a comfortable wooden house with garden. True, at first, some troubles arose. In early 1927, when newly arrived Germans were examined, 50 decks of cards and 20 sets of dice were confiscated as items forbidden for importation into the USSR.

Strange as it may seem, despite strict secrecy surrounding the delivery of cargo and arrival of specialists, the Germans could walk around Lipetsk and go to the outskirts without restrictions. Some even settled down to married life. There were instances when German aircraft delivered to Lipetsk under the guise of commercial cargo were unpacked right at a railroad station and transported to the airfield in full view of everyone in town. Probably, the Soviet leadership not without foundation thought that no information would reach the international commission supervising the observance of Versailles Treaty provisions.

But what is more surprising, the Soviet authorities essentially did not restrict the flight routes of the German airplanes. The machines, often with Soviet markings, flew over the region and took pictures of Voronezh, Yelets and other inhabited localities and railroad stations. The Germans at the school laboratory then processed the photos. A three-engine Junkers with a German crew of four flew to a German colony in the Volga region in August 1928 to get acquainted with the life of colonists there. At that, they landed in Kuibyshev, Saratov, and Kazan'. An explanation, although not a very convincing one, for this astonishing lack of concern can be found in a report on cooperation between the RKKA and the Reichswehr forwarded to Voroshilov by Chief of Army Intelligence Berzin in late 1928: "There is no doubt that, apart from their immediate task, all German enterprises also have the task of gathering economic, political, and military information (espionage). The fact that the man supervising all these enterprises is Nie-dermayer, a dyed in the wool General Staff intelligence officer, testifies to this. From this standpoint, the enterprises do us some harm. But, according to all data we have, the espionage is not aimed at obtaining and gathering classified documents, but is carried out by the way of personal observation, chats, and verbal information. This kind of espionage is less dangerous than covert spying since it does not provide any specific documentary data, but confines itself only to the recording of what is observed."

In 1929, when the Stalin regime began its first round of repressions against its own people, the Lipetsk OGPU carried out an operation code-named "Pilots" to demonstrate its vigilance. Nineteen Soviet citizens connected through their work with the German flying school were arrested. Whether some of them were involved in espionage and what their fate was remain unknown.

Meanwhile, the Germans went on training their pilots without hindrance. In all, during the 8 years the Lipetsk school existed, 120 fighter pilots received basic and upgrade flying training for Germany (30 had taken part in the WWI, 20 were former civil aviation pilots). Among them were the men who later became aces and top officers in the Luftwaffe-Jeschoneck, Speidel, and Student; Heinkel company chief pilot Nietschke; and others. About 100 German observers were also trained there in 1927-1930. Beginning in 1931, they were trained in Germany.

It proved impossible to establish the exact number of Soviet aviation specialists who underwent training with German instructors. However, one could assume that their number was not much less than the figures shown above. It is known that in just 1 year (1926), 16 Soviet fighter pilots and 45 aviation mechanics were trained at the Lipetsk Flying School. True, the course was rather short, only 8? flying hours. In addition, a group of 40 skilled blue-collar workers was set up with the school. Guided by German engineers, they learned new wood- and metal-working methods.

Summing up the results of the school's activities in 1925-1926, Unshlikht wrote: "Through its work the school gives us the following: 1) fundamental reconstruction of our air base; 2) the opportunity in 1927 to begin working jointly with operational units; 3) a cadre of good specialists, mechanics, and blue-collars workers; 4) it teaches us the latest tactical procedures of the different of aviation types; 5) by testing armaments, photography, radio, and other auxiliary services with our representatives participating, the opportunity to become aware of the newest technical innovations; 6) gives us an opportunity to train our flight personnel to fly fighters, and, finally; 7) through temporary assignment of our pilots to the school, the opportunity to give them a refresher course."

In addition to the official cooperation, illegal study of German experience also took place. "I assign secret tasks to one mechanic," S. G. Korol' reported to his boss.

Training military pilots was only a part of the Reichswehr activities in Lipetsk. A testing center was founded at the school in 1928 to try out the planes illegally built in Germany based on aircraft orders from the War Ministry. This sphere became dominant beginning in 1930. The observer training group was eliminated, two-place airplanes shipped out, and the school became the WIVUPAL \Wissenschaftliche Versuchs und Preussanstalt fuer Luftfahrzeuge] Scientific Experimental and Test Establishment for New Aircraft. A new chief, Major M. Mohr, replaced W. Schtaar.

All this was done under pressure from the Soviet military leadership. Berzin reported the following in March 1931 at a conference at the People's Commissariat of Defense:

"Because the work of Germans in training pilots is of no interest to us, the Air Forces Directorate put forward a demand in future to carry out experimental and research efforts in Lipetsk using the latest materiel and equipment.

The German side accepted our suggestion and compiled a rather broad and interesting program for 1931. According to this program, 18 airplanes will arrive in Lipetsk in 1931, including 5 or 6 types of machines of absolutely new designs with which we are not yet familiar. By the way a new four-engine aircraft will also come to Lipetsk. New models of machine guns, cannon, and optics will be tested. To fulfill the program, the Germans suggested that we assume a certain portion of the expenses connected with expansion of research and experimental efforts. The Air Forces Directorate agreed to take upon itself supporting a part of the labor force, providing fuel at cost, and transporting freight at the military rate."

In 1928-1931, some 20 types of German aircraft were tested in Lipetsk. Among them there were: Arado SDH, SDIII, SSDI (floatplane), Ar 64, Ar 65 fighters, two-place Junkers K47 fighter, two-place Dornier Do 10, single-seat Heinkel HD 38, and Heinkel HD 45 and HD 46 and Focke-Wulf S 39 and A 40 reconnaissance aircraft. Multiengine airplanes were also tested in Lipetsk (true, the promised four-engine airplane failed to appear). The work began with conversion of three-engine Junkers G 24 and Rorbach Ro VIII passenger planes into bombers. These machines arrived in the USSR as transport aircraft and the German mechanics in the Lipetsk workshops fitted them with bomb racks, bombsights, and machine guns. A modified two-place multipurpose Junkers A 35 and a Dornier Merkur passenger plane were tested in the capacity of training bombers in 1929. Later, genuine bombers-twin-engine Dornier Do P and Do F and a two-engine multipurpose Heinkel HD 5 arrived in Lipetsk from Germany for trials. Some remained prototypes only, while others such as the Ar 65, Do F, and He 59 entered service with the German Air Force.

In addition to aircraft, bombsights, equipment for aerial photography, machine guns, various bombs (including a so-called "inextinguishable" chemical fire bomb), and radios were studied at the testing station in Lipetsk.

Some things were shown to Soviet specialists. For one, in 1930 a Junkers K 47 was sent to the Air Forces Scientific Research Institute in Moscow. But, in general, the Germans tried to keep Soviet experts away from the latest innovations in the military sphere.

In turn, the German personnel in Lipetsk were shown a few examples of Soviet equipment. The Degtyarev DA aircraft machine gun, only recently adopted by the RKKA Air Forces, was demonstrated at Lipetsk Airfield in 1930. That year, Schoenebock, the commander of the Fighter Department, and engineer Rei-denbach were allowed to visit an experimental TsAGI factory and the Ikar Engine Production Plant in Moscow. They were also shown a Tupolev heavy ANT-14 airplane. A little later, German pilots were familiarized with the R-5 reconnaissance aircraft, "rather gawky in appearance, but a good airplane" according to them.

High-ranking German officials visited Lipetsk several times. Major General H. von Mittelberger, Inspector General of the German Air Force and Flying Schools, visited twice, in 1928 and 1930. Major General W. von Blomberg, Chief of the Reichswehr Troop Unit Directorate, visited Lipetsk in September 1928. In his account he wrote: "The general impression from the organization of training, as well as evaluation of installations as being permanent, were just splendid."

The Soviet leaders were less ecstatic about the Lipetsk school. In September 1929, Voroshilov told the Reichswehr representatives: "The Lipetsk school has existed for a long time, this is the oldest institution [German military centers in the USSR are meant here-Author] and it has yielded good results for the Reichswehr, while, at the same time, we, unfortunately, have not gotten anything good from its existence."

As mentioned before, when the secret agreement with the Reichswehr was concluded in 1922, the latter promised to assist in every possible way in attracting German industrialists for development of the Soviet defense industry in exchange for setting up German secret schools in the USSR. But, later on, the German military leadership began avoiding this promise, saying that they could not interfere in the work of private companies. Actually, the fact that, beginning from the mid-1920s, Germany turned to the West in its foreign policy and the idea of close alliance with the USSR became unpopular explains everything.

The USSR was forced to cooperate independently with German aircraft companies and was not always successful is so doing. This caused growing irritation in the government. In his resolution regarding Major General Mittelberger's visits to Moscow and Lipetsk, Voroshilov wrote: "It is worthwhile to hear Mittelberger out and not give any advances. They feel their uncomfortable position, first of all, and try to hide their acts behind words and, at the same time, to dig their paws even deeper into our aviation..."

Moreover, the impression grew that the Germans were concealing their innovations in the military sphere. In 1931, Berzin reported to Voroshilov: "The results of work in Kazan' [a German tank school was located there-Author] and Lipetsk are not quite satisfactory for the Air Forces Directorate and the Motorization and Mechanization Directorate because our 'friends' are not eager to bring in the newest technical objects for testing, sometimes confining themselves to obsolete types (Fokker D-XIII airplanes). They do not always share with us their materials and information they get during the research and experimental testing work."

To a large extent that was true. When, in March 1932 during talks with Mittelberger in Moscow, Alksnis asked that a high-altitude airplane and aircraft diesel engines developed by Junkers be demonstrated in Moscow, that the opportunity be afforded to become acquainted with Focke-Wulf efforts on helicopters and to have a demonstration of the latest innovations in auto-piloting and auto-bombing, the chief of German Air Force made it clear that the Germans had no intention of bringing these things to the USSR.35 Talks in November 1932 between the Soviet and German military leadership concerning plans for German military centers in the USSR ended with the same result. The Reichswehr clearly was avoiding showing the latest achievements in the field of aviation.

Confronted with this, Soviet military leaders decided to act independently, using trips to Germany for contacts with German aircraft designers. M. N. Tukhachevskiy wrote the following in his report on the trip he made to Germany in autumn 1932:

...In Dessau I was shown a Junkers stratospheric airplane. It had already made an experimental flight to an altitude of 9000 meters, but further testing was suspended due to its collapse [in 1932, Junkers went bankrupt-Author]. The company has no funding to support it. The airplane was designed to have a ceiling of 16,000 meters. Junkers is agreeable to our participation in completion of this construction either in the form of our order, or by taking part in the experiments (and funding the latter). This question is so important and we are so far behind in this sphere that we should take advantage of this consent as soon as possible.

With regard to the powerful Junkers aircraft diesel engine [720hp Jumo 4-Author], Lufthansa representatives at Tempelhof stated that it worked without a hitch. Fuel consumption per horsepower per hour slightly exceeds 160 gallons, while the gasoline engine consumes up to 240 gallons.

Junkers asserts that he designed a supercharger for this engine to provide a high-altitude capability, but had to cease these efforts due to the collapse. He agrees to design this supercharger for the aircraft diesel engines we ordered from him and we must make use of it soon.

A new air-cooled Siemens engine installed in an airplane is undergoing testing at Tem-pelhof. The engine is so interesting that it is essential that we buy several of them. ...Regarding the orders for auto-pilots and tank auto-steering devices: Siemens agrees and accepts our requirements, but with the stipulation that it is impossible to guarantee the fulfillment of all requirements since we are dealing with new and unprecedented designs. Nevertheless, the company guarantees that the devices will be the most advanced of all modern units.

Not all of these plans came to fruition. A few months after the Tukhachevskiy visit, Hitler came to power in Germany and relations between the USSR and Germany became much worse. Military orders for the USSR were cancelled. The new German government threw H. Junkers out of his business. Now all aircraft companies had to work for the sake of strengthening German military might.

The aviation school in Lipetsk and other German military facilities on Soviet territory closed down in autumn 1933 and the German military specialists went home.

At first glance, it seems evident that the decision to close the Reichswehr bases in the USSR resulted from the change in Soviet-German relations after Hitler was appointed to head the German government. However, this was not the case. Documents show that the Reichswehr leadership had discussed the question of the advisability of shutting down the Lipetsk Aviation School back in 1932. Colonel Kestering officially informed A. I. Yegorov, Chief of the RKKA Staff, about its forthcoming liquidation on 11 January 1933, 19 days prior to Hitler's coming to power.

The necessity to save money was proclaimed the official reason for closing down the school. True, its maintenance cost the Reichswehr a considerable amount despite the fact that the Soviet government did not charge for the use of the airfield and adjoining buildings. H. Speidel, who worked at the school from 1927 until its liquidation, testified that the annual cost for housing construction, transportation of aircraft and equipment, fuel, payments to Soviet personnel, and so on amounted to about 2 million marks a year. The economic crisis in Germany in the early 1930s aggravated the situation.

But, in my opinion, there was another reason. Germany was in the good graces of the West and, from the early 1930s on, it developed its armed forces inside the country more and more actively. As a result, there was no need to maintain Reichswehr facilities abroad. Some 300-500 pilots were trained at German flying schools each year during that period. This was more than during the entire time the "Russian" school existed. Military equipment was successfully tested inside the country, too.

The Lipetsk Aviation Center was in a kind of "transition mode" in 1933. Pilot training was still going on, but worsening relations between the USSR and Germany and knowledge of the plans to close the school down already was affecting its work. During a March 31st conference of the heads of the RKKA Staff directorates, the decision was made to severely constrain the movement of German pilots throughout Soviet territory, cut the school's Russian staff to the minimum, refuse the preferential military tariff rate on shipments to the school, and forbid using the range for firing and bombing. H. Harder, a German flight cadet who learned to fly at Lipetsk from May to August 1933, wrote in his diary on June 26th: "The Russian government banned the flight of a W 33 plane to Moscow. Our commander said that situation was very tense and forbade us to criticize the Russians and their decisions."

The graduating class in 1933 comprised just 15 men.

Lipetsk Airfield was given back to the RKKA Air Forces on August 18th. A few days later, the Junkers W 33, K47, and A 48 airplanes based at Lipetsk, with German pilots and the most valuable equipment aboard flew to Moscow and then on to Germany, via the Deruluft Company route. The last Reichswehr representatives left Lipetsk on September 14th. The Soviets "inherited" the buildings the Germans had constructed, 15 obsolete Fokker D XIII aircraft, and a few automobiles.

To a certain extent, the Lipetsk Aviation School's existence was useful to both parties, especially in the early period. Germany managed to train about 200 military pilots there, some later holding command positions in Luftwaffe, as well as test new aircraft and weaponry. Thanks to this circumstance, there was an opportunity, albeit slight, to maintain and develop the military-technical potential accumulated during the First World War at a time development of military aviation was prohibited.

The Soviets had a unique opportunity to become familiar, if only in part, with the innovations of the German aircraft industry on their own territory and to study German combat experience in aviation employment. In particular, the first manual on bombing appeared in the USSR in 1934 as a result.

In addition, according to the agreement with the Reichswehr, the German military leadership pledged to receive high-ranking RKKA officers to allow them to master their skills and familiarize themselves with foreign military equipment in exchange for the bases on Soviet territory. From 1926 to 1932, Soviet Air Forces leaders Ya. I. Alksnis, S. A. Mezheninov, and B. M. Feldman, Revolutionary Military Council Deputy Chairman I. S. Unshlikht, RKKA Chief of Staff M. N. Tukhachevskiy, and others visited Germany. In the course of their visits, they were shown many German aircraft companies and factories (Junkers, Heinkel, Siemens, Hirt, BMW, and so forth.), flying schools, and scientific institutions. Based upon what he observed, in early 1933 Mezheninov prepared a special report in which he recommended that our designers employ wings with leading-edge and trailing-edge flaps so as to expand the range of speeds, as done by Arado and Heinkel, to follow the example of Junkers and work on aircraft diesel engines and superchargers to provide engines with higher altitude capabilities. Also, he advocated development of radio navigational equipment for flights during which the ground is not visible.

Immediately after the Germans departed, the RKKA Air Forces Higher Military-Technical School was founded using the Lipetsk Aviation School as the foundation. Later, it was transformed into the Combat Aircraft Flight Test Center.

Still, as V. V. Zakharov justly points out, there is no need to exaggerate the part the center played in developing military aviation in the Germany and the USSR. Basic military programs in these countries developed independently of each other. By 1932, Germany was able to train some 2000 future Luftwaffe pilots at illegal military flying schools in Braunschweig and Rechlin. The main types of German aircraft were designed in Germany already after the closure of "Lipetsk Station".

The number of Soviet specialists trained in Lipetsk with German assistance was also very small. In comparison, let me cite the figures for 1932 alone: our country's training centers turned out 1200 Air Forces officers; in 1933 this number was 3030.

The closing of the Lipetsk Aviation Center marked the end of the first phase of aviation cooperation between the Red Army and Reichswehr that lasted more than 10 years. That cooperation had tragic consequences for many Soviet Air Forces leaders. In the years of Stalin's repressions, "German spies" Ya. I. Alksnis, S. A. Mezheninov, A. P. Rosengol'ts, and B. M. Feldman were executed for their "friendship" with the Reichswehr. M. N. Tukhachevskiy I. S. Unshlikht, and many other major military leaders also were killed. Due to their business trips to Germany and their meetings with German general officers, they signed their own death sentences.

Personnel of the Soviet aviation detachment located nearby also suffered. A. M. Thomson, the detachment commander and WWI ace, and seven of his countrymen were arrested as agents of the German intelligence service 8 years after "Operation Pilots," in the bloody year 1937. When the war with Germany began, a new wave of spymania, arrests, and executions began in Lipetsk. This time, the number of victims was higher-39 people.

D.A. Sobolev, D.B. Khazanov


  • "The German Imprint on the History of Russian Aviation " /D.A. Sobolev, D.B. Khazanov/