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"Shuttle Operations" B-17 from the USSR

Burnt American B-17 bombers at the airfield near Poltava on June 22, 1944.

The idea of ​​shuttle bombing has long been favored, and the Americans supported it with enthusiasm, although the first experience gave cause for thought when on August 17, 1943, American bombers based in England flew to North Africa after the raid on Regensburg, and then returned through Bordeaux in England. However, shortly thereafter, the Soviet government was asked if it could provide several bases close to the front. The desire to show goodwill to cooperate with the Soviets and provide direct military assistance also played an important role in this matter. The Kremlin, however, did not appear to have shown much interest in this. The more conservative British air strategists weren't keen on this idea either. Despite this, in November 1943, US Air Force Generals Dini and Vanderberg arrived in Moscow for talks. The position of the Soviets was very evasive, but in the end Molotov "in principle" agreed.

At the Tehran conference, Roosevelt found an opportunity to talk about this personally with Stalin. Elliot, the president's son, was an ardent advocate of this idea. In the end, after many objections, Stalin apparently agreed, but months passed and nothing happened. In February 1944, after lengthy negotiations with Stalin, Harriman achieved what he wanted. The Kremlin dictator announced his intention to equip six airfields capable of receiving 200 American bombers, as well as their fighter cover, but at the same time he refused to create such structures in Siberia for conducting strategic raids against Japan.

After such a signal to the beginning, General Spaats immediately sent a military mission to Russia. The original promise of six bases was reduced to three, with all three in dire straits. Their location was as follows: Poltava, Mirgorod, Pyriatin, while, contrary to the wishes of the Americans, they all lay too far to the east. Throughout April and May, while expansion and refurbishment work began there, American convoys traveled across the Atlantic and the Persian Gulf to deliver the necessary ammunition, equipment, fuel and whatever the bombers needed. The Russians provided manpower, but in smaller numbers and not as skilled as the Americans demanded. In the meantime, a date was roughly set for the invasion, with coordinated American raids from the west and east hoping to have a special shock-like effect.


At the end of May, after long and tedious formalities required for the entry of 1,200 American ground personnel, three Soviet airfields were ready to receive the first American bombers. Operation Raging Joe could begin. Since the 8th American Air Force was completely occupied with preparations for the invasion, the order to carry out the first raid was given by the 15th Air Force. General Yeaker, the commander of the United States Air Force in the Mediterranean, personally flew in the vanguard of 130 Flying Fortresses, covered by 70 Mustang fighters, which took off on 2 June. The target was Debrecen in Hungary. However, raids on aircraft factories in Riga and Milec in Poland were originally planned, and as a more or less courtesy gesture, Spaats asked the Russians if they agreed with the choice of such targets. Moscow strongly objected to this. There was a long diplomatic confusion, but Moscow stood its ground. It offered targets in Hungary and Romania, although there was no need to land in Russia for the targets Moscow chose. Very dissatisfied, the Americans began the operation. The crews were given strict instructions on how to behave when they encountered their brothers-in-arms from the Red Army. No familiarity! Impeccable behavior! No political conversations under any circumstances!

After the flight, which proceeded without incident, all air units landed as if on a parade. One of the planes exploded during the flight for an inexplicable reason. Moscow announced the successful completion of the first shuttle raid between Italy and the Soviet Union. On June 11, the unit returned back to Italy. But in Germany the expected effect, like a shock, was not observed, apparently because the whirlwind of the beginning of the invasion drowned out the news of this event. And only when the Americans repeated the operation on June 21, while part of the forces detached from the large-scale raid of the 8th Air Force on Berlin, we suddenly became interested and drew attention to this.

Apparently, the first news concerning this event was delivered by "Non-177", which flew behind the American compound, not losing sight of it. The German command acted with incredible speed: 200 German bombers of the 4th (strategic) air corps took off early on the evening of June 22 from their base in Eastern Poland with the aim of attacking this important and noteworthy target at a distance of 1000 km. Our units mastered the technique of night raids in the form of a stream of bombers with the help of guidance aircraft and light signals, which the British perfected. The weather was favorable, the defense was weak. Without any loss, German bombers dropped their load of bombs on planes that were standing with peaceful carelessness at the airfield in Poltava: 43 Flying Fortresses, 15 Mustangs and several Soviet planes were destroyed, and 26 more planes were damaged. 300,000 gallons of fuel, shipped so hard across half the world, burned in the fire, killing one American and twenty-five Russians. The next day, Mirgorod and Piryatin were also raided. Although the Americans hid their planes to safety this time around, the ammunition and fuel were destroyed. The German Air Force has once again proved its ability to conduct strategic military operations.

True, this was the last successful operation of this kind. On June 23, Soviet troops launched a large-scale offensive that could not be stopped in any way, so that all the forces of the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front were called up to help the army.

Adolph Galland.
Commander of Fighter Aviation of the Luftwaffe.

Bibliography

  • First and Last. German Fighters on the Western front / Adolph Galland /