Top Gun Meets Hell: When The Nazi And Russian Air Forces Went to War

November 1, 2019 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: World War IINaziSovietStalinHitlerMilitaryHistory

Top Gun Meets Hell: When The Nazi And Russian Air Forces Went to War

Locked in combat and mutual respect.

“Until today, I don’t know if I managed to shoot him down or not, nor do I know if it was General von Richthofen himself, or one of his favorites. But we never saw ‘Z’ again. In vain we looked for his dirty reddish-brown machine in the sky.”

Although Avdeyev may have come out with a “moral victory” from his last engagement with the infamous “Z,” it is clear that neither “Toni” Hackl nor any other German fighter pilot was shot down over Sevastopol on June 15. However, Avdeyev’s observation that Hackl disappeared from the skies in this area is correct. On June 14, Hackl received the Knight’s cross during a ceremony led by Gordon Gollob. After that, Hackl left for a well-deserved home leave. Incidentally, Mikhail Avdeyev and Konstantin Alekseyev were appointed Heroes of the Soviet Union on the same day.

The German Army Captures Severnaya Bay

Day after day, thousands of bombs rained upon Sevastopol and its fortifications. The combat record of I./KG 100’s Hauptmann Hansgeorg Bätcher reads: “June 9: Fort Cheek hit with an SD 1000-bomb; June 13: Fort Kappa hit with SD 1000; June 15: SD 1000 on Fort Bastion.” On June 17, the Germans concentrated their efforts against the Soviet Coastal Battery 30, also known as Fortress Maxim Grouchy I—the key to the Soviet defense in the north. Between 3:15 and 3:30 pm, 27 Ju 87s of Hauptmann Alfas Orthofer’s II./StG 77 attacked the fortress.

A German infantry Leutnant later wrote: “Our Stukas come buzzing. They dive away over their wings and descend toward Maxim Gorkiy with screaming engines. Over and over again! Their machine-guns are spitting small flames. The air trembles from the bomb detonations. Dark smoke and gigantic dust clouds rise….”

One of the Ju 87 pilots, Oberleutnant Maué, succeeded in scoring a direct bomb hit on the last remaining gun tower of the fortress; shortly afterward the German soldiers were able to seize the stronghold. It proved to be the turning point of the battle.

With Coastal Battery 30 neutralized, the German LIV Corps managed to breach the Soviet lines north of the Severnaya Bay, opposite to the city of Sevastopol.

 

It then became increasingly difficult for the Soviets to counteract against the Germans, who had the attacker’s advantage of choosing where to locate his main effort. The German air superiority also became increasingly overwhelming. On June 18, the flotilla leader Kharkov was severely damaged by the close hit of a German bomb near Khersones.

Meanwhile over Sevastopol eight Il-2 Shuturmoviks of the Soviet 18th Ground-Attack Aviation Regiment (18 ShAP) and a number of escort fighters were bounced by some 20 Me-109s during takeoff from the Sevastopol airfield Khersonesskiy Mayak. Within a few minutes, Gordon Gollob sent one Il-2 and one fighter (claimed as a LaGG-3) back to the ground. Other pilots of JG 77 were credited with four kills. Because Gollob earlier had refrained from reporting four of his victories, his two kills on June 18 were officially recognized as his 100th and 101st victories—which rendered him a mentioning in the OKW Bulletin the following day.

On June 19, the German ground troops reached the northern shore of Severnaya Bay, and were able to subject the Soviet airfields to an intense artillery shelling, which destroyed four Soviet naval aircraft on the ground and almost completely paralyzed any Soviet air activity. German LIV Corps reported: “No enemy air activity.”

On June 19, Heinrich Setz patrolled above Sevastopol searching for an opportunity to achieve his 80th victory. Only after 12 hours did he spot the first Soviet aircraft. Setz dived straight on a group of LaGG-3s that were taking off, shot down one—it crashed straight on Khersonesskiy Mayak Airdrome—and then made a quick escape.

On June 20, all hydroplanes and bombers were flown out of Sevastopol. One GST (a license-built U.S. Catalina) was intercepted by I./JG 77 Me-109s near the Kerch Peninsula and ended up as Feldwebel Ottokar Pohl’s fifth victory. The pilot, Kapitan Chebanik, was killed.

Von Manstein then launched an amphibious landing on the southern shore of Severnaya Bay, at the outskirts of Sevastopol. In preparation, the Luftwaffe carried out a concentrated bombardment against the inner fortification belt around the city. While the German troops lay waiting in their trenches, the bombers and Stukas kept coming throughout June 23, unloading their deadly cargo over a small area. “The thick smoke that rose from Sevastopol completely covered the horizon,” Gordon Gollob wrote in his diary.

Continued Soviet Resilience

But still the last Soviet airmen in the besieged fortress kept fighting, as Gollob noted on June 23: “We drop bombs against ships and quays in the western part of the bay, and strafe vehicles and other targets of opportunity. But even though the airfield Sevastopol IV is subjected to continuous shelling from our antiaircraft artillery, Russian aircraft continue to take off and land at this place.” That day, Setz was amazed to see a single I-153 carrying out what he described as “aerial acrobatics” above Khersonesskiy Mayak Airdrome. “One minute later, I had destroyed the biplane,” Setz wrote—his 81st.

The brave 6 GIAP/VVS-ChF fought its final combat over Sevastopol—at least for almost two years—on June 24, 1942. On June 25, as only 32 aircraft remained in Sevastopol, the decision was taken to evacuate all airmen of 6 GIAP/VVS-ChF.

Each day, the Soviet situation deteriorated. Von Manstein pressed hard for increased air support, and on June 26, the fortifications on the Sapun hills, which had blocked the advance of XXX Corps in the eastern sector for so long, were completely devastated by the air attacks. Meanwhile, 16 Soviet aircraft were put out of commission during air raids and artillery shelling against Khersonneskiy Mayak Airdrome.

Other German aircraft were launched against the Soviet supply shipping. Flotilla leader Tashkent of the Soviet Black Sea Navy was able to evade the attacks by He 111s of I./KG 100 “Wiking” and arrived with badly needed reinforcements of the 142 Rifle Regiment. The destroyer Bezuprechnyy, en route to Sevastopol with 320 soldiers, did not have the same fortune. The combat report of II./StG 77 for June 26 reads: “Eight Ju 87s attacked the destroyer in grid 34 East 4588. Two direct hits were scored. The destroyer sank after two minutes. The decisive hit, which resulted in the splitting of the vessel in two halves, was scored by Oberfeldwebel Werner Haugk. The second hit was scored by Stabsfeldwebel Bartle.”

Early next morning, III./StG 77 and I./KG 100 pursued flotilla leader Tashkent as it withdrew from Sevastopol with 2,100 injured soldiers on board. Soviet journalist Yevgeniy Petrov, who experienced the struggle between the commander of the ship, Kapitan Vasiliy Yeroshenko, and the Luftwaffe fliers, recalled:

“Yeroshenko rushed between starboard gaff-end and backboard gaff-end during the entire air attack. He peered at the diving aircraft and with a hoarse voice gave the correct instructions in the right time: ‘Shift the helm backboard—Shift the helm starboard!’ On occasion, he even waved his hand to encourage me….”

Only after four hours, when 335 bombs had been dropped against the ship, did Oberfeldwebel Herbert Dawedeit of 8./ StG 77 manage to score a close hit that caused severe damage to the ship. But it survived and could be towed back to Novorossiysk.

Nevertheless, the bomb attacks against Bezuprechnyy and Tashkent compelled the Soviets to refrain from dispatching further large sea vessels to Sevastopol—a decision that would be most fateful to the remaining men in the besieged garrison.

The Soviets Break

A final effort to supply the badly mauled defenders was made by 20 PS-84 transport planes—license-built U.S. C-47s brought in from the famous Moscow Aviation Group MAGON—that carried out 288 night supply flights between June 21 and July 1, but it did not suffice. By now, the Soviet defenders were in complete disarray.

On June 28, the Luftwaffe carried out a relentless bombing of Sevastopol in order to drown the sound of the assault boats that were brought forward, and the amphibious landing took place the following night. The Soviets were caught by surprise, and the Germans managed to get a foothold. Early next morning, the German fliers carried out “rolling attacks” to the east of the city, where German XXX Corps launched yet another attack. More than 1,300 Luftwaffe sorties were carried out on June 29 alone. The only Soviet opposition in the air was when eight Yak-1s of 45 IAP intercepted an StG 77 formation, with Kapitan L. Saprykin and Leytenant Nikolay Lavitskiy claiming one of the Ju 87s.

“Approximately three hundred Stukas are launched in merciless, deafening attacks against the Sapun Heights,” wrote a German infantry Oberstleutnant. “Never ever—neither previously, nor later—did the men of 42nd Infantry Regiment experience something like this.” Finally, the entire Soviet defense collapsed. With almost all artillery ammunition spent and no hopes for any significant reinforcements or supplies, thousands of Soviet soldiers fell back toward Cape Khersones, more or less in disorder.

“Panic is spreading, particularly among the officers,” wrote the commander of the Soviet Coastal Army, General-Mayor Ivan Petrov. His aviation arm carried out its last 22 sorties on June 30, and during the following night, 11 Yak-1s, one LaGG-3, four I-16s, three I-153s, one I-15bis, seven Il-2s, and four U-2s took off and flew to Anapa in northwestern Caucasus. Thirty nonoperational aircraft were set on fire on the ground.