Aviation of World War II
Night Short-Range Bomber Aviation in an Offensive Operation
Major V. Burgasov, Major F. Oleinikov
Light-engine aircraft "Po-2", widely used as night bombers, are essentially multi-purpose aircraft that solve various tasks. They provide communications, carry out the transportation of goods, evacuate the wounded, night reconnaissance, artillery fire adjustment, bombardment of the enemy’s forward edge and his operational reserves. In addition, night bombers strike at airfields, railway junctions, disrupt road and rail traffic, scatter propaganda leaflets and broadcast sound over the areas where enemy troops are located.
As combat practice has shown, these aircraft also successfully communicate with partisans, deliver various cargoes to them and throw paratroopers behind enemy lines.
Light-engine bombers are undemanding in terms of size and preparation of landing sites. Even during the thaw period, they do not reduce the number of sorties.
The ability of these machines to fly at low speeds allows them to conduct combat work at night with a minimum number of lights. It is their quality that increases the effectiveness and accuracy of bombing.
During the Patriotic War, units of night bombers accumulated a lot of combat experience and developed a kind of combat tactics.
Organization of Interaction Between the NBBA and Ground Forces
During the preparation of offensive operations, in which our night bombers took part, the commanders and headquarters of ground and air formations carefully developed the issues of using night short-range bomber aviation (NBBA). First of all, the tasks of the NBBA were determined by the periods of the offensive, the objects of bombing (targets), the time and order of their destruction were established.
The headquarters pay special attention to the organization of interaction between the NBBA and the ground forces, which is envisaged not only for the next stage, but, if possible, for the entire duration of the operation.
In the course of hostilities, the plan of interaction requires clarification, sometimes significant amendments, but it always remains a kind of guideline for mutual understanding between the branches of the military and our parts of the course of the entire operation.
In order to achieve clear interaction with the ground forces, after the task is formulated for each combined arms formation with an indication of the offensive front, direction and object of action, the tasks of the NBBA are indicated, the sequence of performing these tasks in the interests of the ground forces, its strikes on the planned objects.
When the sites of night bombers in an army offensive operation, they are usually assigned tasks by the combined arms headquarters. It also determines the sections of the flight of aircraft over the front line and measures to ensure its flight across the front. In addition, the headquarters organizes a checkpoint (checkpoint) and sets up an alarm system, establishes reliable communications with aviation headquarters and airfields. The ground and aviation headquarters necessarily agree on signals for guiding aircraft and NBBA groups to the target.
The headquarters of the aviation formation of night bombers in its work is guided by an extract from the planning table compiled by a higher aviation authority.
Experience has shown that when compiling the planning table, this main document of interaction, it is necessary to take into account the following general principles for the use of night bombers.
First of all, during the period of artillery preparation, it is necessary to calculate the actions of aviation and artillery in such a way that the conduct of artillery fire does not interfere with the actions of the NBBA.
Immediately before the start of the offensive, it is necessary to provide for systematic echeloned attacks by night bombers on the front line of the enemy defenses throughout the night. At the same time, in order to avoid the defeat of their troops, the flight crew must know exactly the outline of the leading edge.
Infantry must mark their positions with well-observed prearranged signals. Ground troops in all cases, when their aircraft appear over the battlefield, are required to give identification signals “We are our troops” and direct the aircraft to the target with the established target designation signals.
In the planning table, it is also necessary to provide for the artillery of the DD during the period of night aviation operations along the front line of the enemy with specially allocated batteries to fire at the suppression of the enemy's anti-aircraft artillery and its searchlights.
Otherwise, the conditions of interaction provided for by the planned table are the same as when organizing interaction with daytime aviation.
On the basis of all these data, the commanders of the interacting air and ground formations, through personal communication, refine the combat plan.
NBBA Tactics in Offensive Operations
The operations in which our units of the NBBA participated (in particular, on the 2nd Baltic Front) showed that the main condition for the successful completion of a combat mission by night bombers is the accurate approach of the crews to the target and the targeted dropping of bombs.
When the ground forces advance rapidly, the front line is constantly changing. In this regard, it is very difficult for pilots to determine targets. Signaling played a huge role in marking friendly troops and guiding crews to the target.
In the absence of targeting or poor designation of their troops, the crews, in order to avoid a blow to their troops, have to make an adjustment 2-3 km inland from a given object and drop bombs on a target found in this area. This undoubtedly reduces the effectiveness of bombing operations.
In the operations in question, the front line was most often marked by fires located at a distance of 500-800 m from each other. The places of passage of the front line were indicated by triangles laid out from fires, which helped the work of the crews of nightlights and contributed to an increase in the effectiveness of their strikes.
It should be noted that in an offensive operation, marking the front edge with fires is not always possible, and sometimes for these purposes it is necessary to use rockets, to fire artillery mortars and machine guns with tracer shells and bullets towards the enemy.
Night bombardment of enemy troops and equipment located at a distance of 800 - 1,000 m from the front line of our troops, as combat practice has shown, is quite possible, and it is absolutely necessary to strike at these targets.
But the greatest saturation of the enemy's defense with fire weapons is observed at a distance of 3-4 km from the front edge. Therefore, targets for NBBA bombing should be selected first of all at the specified depth.
However, we have learned how to deliver night bombing strikes also against enemy resistance nodes located directly on the front line. These strikes are often necessary to ensure the success of the offensive operations of our troops. So, for example, when our troops broke through the enemy’s Bolkhovsky fortified bridgehead, repeated attacks on the Karandakovo stronghold, located on the front line, did not give proper results. And only after a long night impact (600 sorties were made on this point, during which 119.5 tons of bombs were dropped), the ground troops, which went on the offensive again, without much effort and losses, captured this resistance center of the German defense. The capture of this point later had a positive effect on the general course of offensive operations.
At the beginning of February 1944, in the Nasva-Novosokolniki sector, it was much more difficult to break through the long-term and improved enemy defenses in the daytime. Our troops were located on terrain covered with forests and swamps, which complicated their advance. The enemy, however, had a sufficient network of communications and fortifications here, which put him in a more advantageous position.
The command of our ground forces decided to break through the German defenses at night. This decision was completely unexpected for the enemy and ensured the success of our offensive.
During this operation, the interaction of night bombers with ground troops was carried out as follows.
The command of the NBBA, having a direct wire connection with the headquarters of the ground forces and its communications officers, received constant information about the progress of our units. This gave him the opportunity in the process of the offensive to clarify tasks in a timely manner and redirect the actions of the bombers.
At one of the stages of the offensive, the ground command set the night bombers the task of inflicting a series of concentrated strikes on important targets in the path of the retreating enemy troops. This task was completed in a timely manner. The pre-established and well-trained signals “I am my own plane” and “We are our own troops”, as well as the designation of the front line with missiles and tracer shots, ensured the high efficiency of bombing operations and contributed to the successful advance of our units.
During the offensive, specially assigned crews - "night lights" to facilitate the orientation of the advancing ground troops, created fires in the direction of movement of our units, which ensured their planned exit to the planned lines on dark nights.
Continuously interacting with ground troops, night bombers provided them with great assistance. Along with the bombing missions, the crews of light-engine aircraft carried out thorough continuous reconnaissance, timely revealed the enemy’s plans for organizing counterattacks, etc.
So, on February 7, 1944, in the Vaskovo area, on one of the flanks, the enemy concentrated to deliver a flank attack on a group of our troops that had advanced forward. By passing reconnaissance actions of the bomber crews, the enemy's plan was revealed in a timely manner. The enemy's concentration was immediately reported to the ground command, and as a result of coordinated actions from the ground and from the air, the danger of an enemy flank attack was eliminated. In carrying out this task, the air command successfully used the reserve at its disposal.
During the fighting in the Dvina direction, crews were widely used to aim at targets by firing tracer bullets and projectiles from guns and machine guns, as well as throwing missiles towards objects. The crews, clearly interacting with the ground troops, attacked the indicated targets in a timely manner.
When breaking through the enemy's defenses in this direction, the NBBA formation made 1,100 combat sorties at night directly on the processing of targets located on the front line. This ensured the development of the success of the offensive ground forces. Well-thought-out and well-organized interaction completely ruled out attacks on friendly troops.
The interaction of the NBBA with ground troops in the Opochkovsky direction in the period from March 25 to March 28, 1944 also deserves attention. Velikaya with the subsequent exit of our troops to the line of Nov. The way, Gorushka was carried out at night.
Night bombers throughout the entire time were processing targets located directly on the front line of the enemy's defense, and destroying his reserves that were advancing to the front line.
Communication and interaction were carried out in the same way as in the operations described above. With the advance of the troops, air strikes, at the request of the ground command, were transferred into the depths of the enemy's defenses.
The experience of offensive operations confirms the necessity and full possibility of processing targets located directly on the front line of the enemy's defenses by forces of night bombers. Part of the bomber forces must be aimed at destroying enemy reserves advancing to the front line. Combat practice also shows that it is absolutely necessary for the NBBA aviation unit to have a reserve for actions based on intelligence data or for using it, depending on the evolving situation.
The appearance of night bombers over the location of the enemy has a strong moral impact on his troops. Therefore, it is expedient to use night bombers for long-term (during the whole night) exhausting and exhausting enemy troops in the zone of the proposed offensive.
To accomplish this task, it is enough to make 50-60 sorties on a front section 20-50 km long, with the expectation that each crew will patrol in a given area for 30-40 minutes with the methodical dropping of bombs on enemy batteries firing.
Simultaneously with combat work in cooperation with ground forces - processing the front line - night bombers also solve other tasks quite independently: disruption of enemy roads and railways in operational directions, destruction of bridges, blocking airfields, etc.
So, for example, our unit of night bombers repeatedly, simultaneously with actions to destroy enemy troops and firepower at the forefront, attacked ammunition depots, accumulations of reserves, columns and railway stations of the enemy. Of particular note are the attacks on the Samolugovo, Golennshchevo, and Loknya stations. The data of the controlling crews, photographs and documents of the headquarters of the partisan detachments confirmed that at all these facilities, the actions of the NBBA caused numerous explosions of ammunition depots and fuels and lubricants, explosions and fires of railway trains.
For two nights on March 25 and 27, night bombers blocked the enemy airfield Idritsa, covered by 20-25 points of ZA and MZA. The enemy also had up to 20 searchlight installations here. As a result of 25 sorties, strong explosions and fires were noted in the parking lots of enemy aircraft. Photo control of daytime aviation confirmed the destruction of several aircraft on the airfield. The systematic blocking of the airfield forced the Germans to withdraw their aircraft from Idritsa to an alternate airfield in Nevedritsa.
During the offensive of our troops at the turn of the river. Bolva, our night bombers acted to destroy enemy crossings across this river. During four flying nights, they made 450 sorties, dropped 105 tons of bomb cargo, as a result of which 4 crossings were destroyed. This did not allow the enemy to pull up reserves to the front line, made it difficult to maneuver troops and greatly complicated the withdrawal of enemy units.
Thus, performing the tasks of destroying enemy manpower and equipment at the forefront and in the depths of its defense, night bombers provide ground troops with significant assistance in ensuring the success of offensive operations. They perform a variety of tasks, while applying various tactics depending on the nature of the target, the degree of its removal from the front line, etc.
Particularly noteworthy is the tactical approach of the NBBA's actions by pairs of aircraft for the purpose of mutual illumination with the help of luminous aerial bombs. The use of such bombs by night bombers greatly facilitates the search for targets, as well as the approach of subsequent crews to the target. In addition to luminous aerial bombs, we also very effectively used the KS in the AZh-2, which, hitting the target, at the same time created fires, which made it easier for the crews to reach the target for subsequent strikes. The practice of combat operations has shown that it is most expedient to use night bombers for separation in places of accumulation of enemy manpower and equipment in forests and settlements. The crews going to the target first should, in these cases, drop the "AZH-2" and incendiary bombs to create fires.
Actions of the NBBA on Objects Heavily Covered by Air Defense Systems
As a rule, when attacking objects heavily protected by air defense systems, night bombers are divided into two groups: strike and cover. The cover group is allocated from 2 to 6 aircraft. Such groups are sent from one to three, depending on the situation. For each group at an advantageous distance from the target, cover zones are selected, where they patrol at different (strictly limited) heights.
The strike group processes the target, and the cover groups, each in its own sector, suppress air defense systems. In this case, it is more expedient to suppress the searchlights in the first place. The suppression of searchlights makes it impossible for enemy anti-aircraft artillery to conduct aimed fire at our aircraft. It should be noted that the use of luminous aerial bombs, on the illuminated field of which the beams of the searchlight are sprayed, turned out to be a very effective means of combating searchlights.
When night bombers operate singly or in pairs, and there is no cover group, then in this case the crews must mutually cover each other and produce highlighting.
In the actions of night bombers, surprise is of particular importance. To achieve surprise, the bombers, when approaching the target, gain an altitude of 1700-1900 m (at a given altitude of 1,500 m) and with the smallest glide angle and muffled engines reach the target, drop bombs from glide and continue to leave the target with the same flight mode, be sure using a tailwind in this case.
In this case, the aircraft loses no more than 350-400 m of altitude, while at the same time gaining the element of surprise, which increases the effectiveness of the bombing strike and makes it impossible for enemy air defense systems to provide effective resistance.
This method of attack, when operating on airfields, railway junctions, crossings and places of accumulation of enemy troops and equipment, fully justified itself.
In conclusion, a few words about the basing of the NVBA.
As practice has shown, it is advisable to base the NBBA 20-30 km from the line of contact. Such a distance fully ensures that the crews going on a combat mission gain the necessary height to fly over the front line.
The location of airfields of night bombers at a distance of 14-16 km from the line of contact gave negative results. Aircraft overloaded with bombs going on a combat mission are not able to climb the 700-800 m required to cross the front line in the 5-6 minutes of flight required to cover this route. In order to gain a given height, they are forced to go deep into their territory after takeoff. Excessive proximity of airfields to the front line also makes it difficult, and sometimes completely impossible, to mask them from enemy ground observation, even under the condition that aircraft approach airfields only at low level. Enemy artillery will always keep a visible airfield under fire, hindering combat work and training flights.
That is why, when determining the distance between NVBA bases and the front line, it is necessary to take into account both the characteristics of the NVBA equipment and the specific combat situation. Only under this condition will the tactical capabilities of Po-2 be used appropriately.
NBBA - Nochnaya Blizhne Bombardirovochnaya Aviatsiya - Night Close Bomber Aviation