The book begins with a short but interesting development history of the Pe-2. Interesting and to me new information on how Petlyakov got arrested in autumn 1937 and how long he resisted his interrogators before cracking and confessing his ‘anti-Soviet crimes’.
Then the story of how Petlyakov and his team designed the high altitude fighter/fighter-bomber ‘100’ while serving their time in the special prison, Special Technical Department of the NKVD. The plane was later radically redesigned to the dive-bomber PB-100, later re-designated as Pe-2. Also new to me was the information that the German air raids during summer of 1941 had effect on Pe-2 production.
The authors go briefly through the main modifications of the Pe-2. One notice, KlimovM-105R vs PF, the poorer high altitude performance of the latter was the result not only of the poorer propeller efficiency but also of the lower full throttle height. According the authors the last big change to production Pe-2s was the changing of the shape of the leading edge of the outer wing section at the very end of 1944. My other Pe-2 sources say that these charges, designed Pe-2B, tested on Pe-2 c/n 19-223 and 14-226, were proved beneficial especially during take-off and landing, making them clearly easier and safer but because of the strong demand of Pe-2s it was decided not to disturb production by new outer wings and so the change was not implemented into production aircraft.
The combat descriptions are based predominantly only on Soviet information, but sometimes the authors has checked it against information from German documents. While I hope that authors would use sources of both sides so that readers would learn what really happened in this case the authors at least clearly state when given information is based solely on Soviet documents which is good and fair. And as said sometimes they give both the Soviet losses and claims and also the German claims and losses based on the information from German documents.
The 17 pages long Guards Bomber Air Regiments chapter is a bit list-like, but that is not surprising because the authors go through the combat histories of eight regiments. But it still shows how heavy and costly the first months, in fact even the first one and a half years of the Great Patriotic War were for the Soviet bomber units. E.g. 31st SBAP (later redesignated as 4th GvBAP), even if it dispersed all its SB bombers on the evening of 21 June 1941 and so none of its bombers was destroyed on the ground during Luftwaffe bombing raids the following morning, lost 88 percent of its original strength of 59 aircraft in less than a month. Of course also many successful operations are mentioned.
Interesting to note how effective the bombing attacks on Soviet airfields by the Luftwaffe were in Far North during the first couple months of the war when one thinks how meagre resources the Luftwaffe had there and they had no advance of surprise because the weather was very poor there during the first week of the Operation Barbarossa. The first attack on airfields was made on 23 June 1941 but only with two Ju 88s. I had seen the German claims earlier but because bomber crews often reported very optimistic results it is nice to have info on the real results.
On the page 17 “the port town of Vyborg and the railway station at Vipuri”, the latter should be Viipuri, and it is the Finnish name of the city which Russians call Vyborg.
The Mannerheim Line had been the main defensive line of the Finns during the Winter War (30 Nov. 1939 – 13 March 1940) but Soviets had blown up all those its bunkers that had not been destroyed during the fighting immediately after capturing them in mid-February 1940, so it did not have any significant defensive importance in 1944. The Finns’ main defensive line in Karelian Isthmus in 1944 was based on field fortifications because it was also the front line. Authors probably mean the VT-Line, which was Finns’ second defence line in 1944. It was partially completed line of permanent fortifications. But it was manned entirely by Finns. German reinforcements (a Sturmgeschütz-Brigade and an infantry division) arrived only after Soviets had broken through the VT-Line and conquered Viipuri/Vyborg.
On the bombing of the railway yards of Viipuri/Vyborg. The biggest attack was done by the ADD (Soviet long-range Air Force, their Bomber Command so to speak) when 142 of its planes bombed Viipuri during the night 14/15 June 1944 but the worst damage was achieved on 15 June, when 72 aircraft (Pe-2s, Il-4s and escort fighters) attacked on Maaskola railway yard at Viipuri/Vyborg and Karjala suburb, two ammunition trains were hit and began explode at Maaskola railway yard causing extensive damage. According to Inozemtsev, the 34th GvBAP (Guards Bomber Air Regiment) participated amongst others the quite an effective 17 June attack on Maaskola railway yard. It also made a rather ineffective, contrary to what crews reported, attack on Hovinmaa station on 19 June, the through pair of tracks was broken but it was repaired quickly. Only other results were a few damaged wooden houses and one wounded. And it seems that it participated the very effective raid on Elisenvaara railway yard on 20 June. There almost all of the tracks in the yard were damaged, only one thorough pair of tracks remained intact, 38 railway carriages and a couple engines were more or less damages, 167 people were killed, mostly civilians.
There were also other effective Pe-2 strikes in Finland during the June 1944 e.g. on 20 June bombing of Kirkonmaa which destroyed a mine depot, German mine transport ship ‘Otter’, two mine barges and eight motorboats.
In the 13 pages long Guards Bomber Air Division chapter there are more descriptions of individual missions, both very successful and very costly ones and the developments of tactics used to reduce losses and increase effectiveness. But there were only two Pe-2 equipped Guards Bomber Air Division.
The authors explain the formation of the ‘punishment squadrons’ and their intended use. The punishments were much harsher with the Soviet and German armed forces than with the Western ones. And the battles on the Eastern front were bitterer.
I was surprised to learn that a recce squadron under 204th BAD (Bomber division) was still equipped with Su-2s in January 1943, then I remembered that while the type was at least mostly withdrawn from bomber and ground attack units by then it was still at that time used as a reconnaissance aircraft.
The massive attack by 3rd GvBAD on a German airfield on 14 September 1943 which according to Soviet intelligence information destroyed 50-55 German combat aircraft on Borovsk airfield (according to the caption on page 45) or on the airfield at Vorovsoye (according to the text on page 46) and according to the authors based on on German reports the Stukageschwader operating from the airfield temporarily lost its combat capability after as many as 20 of its Ju 87s were destroyed. Probably the unit hit was II./St.G. 1 which lost according to de Zeng IV and Stankey on the ground at Shatalovka-East airfield five Ju 87 Ds destroyed, seven more severely damaged and seven more moderately damaged and this reduced the Gruppe to the strength of a single Staffel. A loss of 20 planes did not usually made a circa 100 planes strong Geschwader inoperative but would critically weakened circa 33 aircraft strong Gruppe. Identifying places in ex-Soviet Union is sometimes difficult because Germans and Soviets sometimes used different names on certain locations and many places were renamed after fallen heroes after liberation.
The chapter Guards Bomber Air Corps is also 13 pages long. The first one and a third pages of the chapter in fact tells the story of Aviation Armies, naturally mostly the 1st Bomber Aviation Army. When these were found too cumbersome it was decided to form less cumbersome Reserve Air Corps and 1st Bomber Aviation Army became 1st Bomber Air Corps (BAK) in September 1942 and became 2nd GvBAK on 5 February 1944. Again besides information on selected missions, both very successful and exceptionally costly, also on improvements in tactics. The other Guards Bomber Air Corps was 1st GvBAK, originally 2nd BAK which was formed October/November 1942 and became Guards formation on 3 September 1943. The famous 587th Women’s SBAP had became a seventh regiment of 2nd BAK by the end of 1942. At the end of June 1944 1st GvBAK was redesignated as 5th GvBAK in order to avoid numerical duplication as ADD merges with the VVS RKKA.
Next there is 16 pages of information on the guards reconnaissance units, reconnaissance was and is an important part of the aerial activity which often does not get the attention it deserves in aviation literature.
On the attack on Idriza airfield on 27 February 1944. On the Luftwaffe units based on Idritsa/Idriza airfield according to Henry L. deZeng IV; its anti-aircraft defence consisted only elements of gem.Flak-Abt. 294 at that time. So maybe the reports of dozens of flak batteries were exaggerating. What AA defences the nearby station and the town of Idritsa itself had I don’t know. Of the flying units based there 1. /Nahaufklärungsgruppe 5 had no losses in February 1944, 2./Nahaufklärungsgruppe 5 lost one Bf 109 G-6/U3 as destroyed or badly damaged by enemy action in February 1944 and sent one to overhaul. 1.(H)/Aufklärungsgruppe 31 lost one Fw 189 A-2 destroyed or badly damaged by enemy action in February 1944 and sent two to overhaul. I have no information of the possible losses of Nachtschlachtgruppe 1 but anyway it was not yet using Ju 87s but still using normal NSGr equipment, He 46s, Ar 66s etc. According to Arro Nachtschlachtgruppe 11 (estnisch) had left the airfield in early February 1944.
On the Ju 87 units of Luftflotte 1. I./SG 3 was based in February 1944 at Tartu/Dorpat, appr. 265 km NNW of Idriza. It lost (destroyed or badly damaged) in February 1944 five Ju 87 Ds because of enemy actions.
II./SG 3 was based in February 1944 at Pskov/Pihkova appr. 170 km north of Idriza. It lost (destroyed or badly damaged) two Ju 87 Ds because of enemy actions in February 1944 and sent five other to overhaul.
I./SG 5 was based in February 1944 at Korowje-Selo, 145 km north of Idriza and in February 1944 it lost (destroyed or badly damaged) three Ju 87 Ds because of enemy actions.
For the Germans Idriza airfield was a field airstrip (Feldflugplatz).
Not mentioned in the book but for comparison and because one Pe-2 guards unit mentioned in the book participated in it. On 2 July 1944, at Lappeenranta the attacking force consisted of 16 Pe-2s from 34th GvBAP and 36 Il-2s plus fighter escorts. Finns lost on ground two Bf 109 Gs and two war-booty Pe-2s and two Bf 109 Gs were so badly damaged that their repairs were completed only after the Continuation War. In this case Pe-2s dive bombed. At Immola, where Luftwaffe Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey was based, 44 Pe-2s made a level bombing attack and 28 Il-2s low-level attack. There three Finnish Brewster 239s were lost when a maintenance hangar was hit and burned. Germans lost nine planes: 4 Ju 87 Ds and 6 Fw 190s, and 15 of their other planes were very badly damaged, two less so and seven suffered only minor damage. In both cases bombing was accurate. At Immola the attack was more successful because the very well and cleverly planned attack using a feint and very carefully planned approach routes achieved complete surprise, only two of II./JG 54 Focke-Wulf Fw 190 As got airborne before Soviet planes attacked. So Il-2s could make three attacks. At Lappeenranta most of Finnish Bf 109 Gs were already airborne when Soviet attack force arrived and they began engage Il-2s during their first attack and so prevented any follow-up attacks.
While writing on the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive the authors make overstatements. Army Group North Ukraine was forced to retreat but the fighting was hard and both sides suffered heavy losses, so it was not complete routed and while it lost, besides other losses, most of its XIII Corps in the Brody encirclement, it did not ceased to exist, it was simply renamed to Army Group A, probably mainly because it was mostly pushed out from Ukraine, northern half of it was fighting west of the Curzon Line, so definitely in Poland and the southern part on the north-eastern slopes of the Carpathians, so still just inside pre-1938 Poland or post-1945 Ukraine.
The last chapter is eight page long Guards Bomber Air Regiments of Naval Air Forces. The account of 73rd BAP KBF (later 12th GvBAP KBF), KBF = Soviet Baltic Fleet, attacks on the Narva railway bridge reminded me that I read decades ago a report of the Finnish liaison officer at the HQ of the Luftflotte 1 which informed the Finnish Air Force HQ of a German warning that the Soviet Air Force had several highly skilled units that could execute well planned and highly effective strikes, one example given was a cleverly and skilfully executed dive bombing attack on an important bridge somewhere in Baltic States. IIRC the attack began with low level attack, probably by Il-2s, against the bridge and the AA positions. When AA crews were distracted by this a sudden dive-bomber attack destroyed/badly damaged the bridge.
On the sinking of German 4,030 t, not 6,000 t as claimed in the caption of the front cover, AA ship (Schwimmende Flakbatterie / Flakschiff) Niobe in the port of Kotka on 16 July 1944. The high command of the Soviet Baltic Fleet Air Force was certain that Niobe would in fact be the Finnish coastal defence ship Väinämöinen, which has the displacement of 3,900 t, so it was almost the same size and sent a massive air group of 132 or 133 planes to sink it. The attack was well planned and executed and Niobe was sunk. According to Finns and some Soviet/Russian sources it was the four very low flying A-20Gs from the 51st Mine-Torpedo Aviation Regiment of the Baltic Fleet Air Force which achieved the fatal hits with two 1000 kg bombs. According to Kotelnikov and pseudonym Warjag at www.forum-marinearchiv.de Niobe was hit by two FAB-250s and two FAB-1000s. The former were dropped by Pe-2s and the latter by Bostons. Niobe, ex- Gelderland, was originally a Dutch protected cruiser, not a coastal defence destroyer, the term used by the authors it the text, Finnish Väinämöinen was a coastal defence ship, a kind of mini-battleship. While in the authors used the right term on Väinämöinen in the text and the caption of the cover image, in the caption on the page 84 the term coastal defence destroyer is used.
The authors also give three pages long description of the Operation Arcturus which consisted five big raids by the Baltic Fleet Air Force against the port of Liepaja/Libau in October and December 1944. Liepaja was the main supply port for the isolated German Army Group North, later renamed as AG Kurland. The description includes German defences, Soviet preparations, the Soviet planes participating the raid on 30 October, a recollection of one Soviet pilot of the 22 December raid, the number of German fighters usually participating the defence, German fighter pilots claims versus the real Soviet losses during a couple raids etc. There is also a table showing for each raid the number of Soviet aircraft participating, how many of these were Pe-2s or Il-2s, the total number of Soviet aircraft lost and the number of German ships claimed sunk. After the table in the text the results according to Germans.
The authors give a brief descriptions of the main organizational changes with the Soviet air forces and the beginning of the tradition of awarding the title of Guards units to combat units after a success in battle in September 1941. The first six aviation units were awarded the title on 6 December 1941.
One piece of Interesting information is that members of Guards units got 1½ - 2 fold increase in their financial allowances.
Many interesting but small photographs with informative captions. There are also a couple wartime instructional drawings on tactics used by Pe-2 units.
30 colour profiles by Andrey Yurgenson with several camo patterns and with interesting individual markings in ten cases.
There is one appendix in the book, Scheme of Pe-2 Guards units transition. It shows when units got their guards status, old and new unit designations and if the unit was formed after the beginning of the Great Patriotic war, 22 June 1941, roughly when it was formed. I did not check the table but noticed that of the naval units, in the table 34th Guards BAP previous designation is given as 34th BAP Baltic Fleet Air Force but in the text as 34th BAP of the Air Forces of the Pacific Fleet and that it stayed a part of that throughout the WW2.
In the book there are the following scale drawings: a 3-view of Pe-2 18th series, a 2-view of Pe-2R based on the 110th series and a side view of Pe-2R based on the 83rd series. And also an index, not all-encompassing but reasonably comprehensive.
So a good nice book on its subject, worth getting. The authors give numerous times the number of sorties, the amount of bombs dropped, the number of planes and aircrews lost and claimed results during the given timeframe by the given unit or formation.
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