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.

“The Russian will to resist is broken,” noted German XXX Corps on the evening of June 30. And still von Manstein shuddered at the prospect of drawn-out and merciless streetfighting inside the city of Sevastopol. “In order to avoid that,” he wrote, “I instructed the artillery and the Luftwaffe to have a word once again.” All bombers, Stukas and all available artillery pieces opened a terrible bombardment against the city early on July 1.

Leutnant Herbert Kuntz of I./KG 100 recalls: “The impact of our heaviest bombs is terrible. Entire blocks of houses disintegrate. Rocks, parts of roofs and rafters are flung 3,000 feet high.”

The assault “was met with full success,” von Manstein noted. On the afternoon of July 1, the German flag was raised in the ruins of Sevastopol.

The Soviet Supreme High Command surrendered to the harsh realities and issued an order that permitted General-Mayor Petrov to abandon Sevastopol. Petrov and the other commanders of the Coastal Army were evacuated by the submarines Shch-209 and L-23, and PS-84s flew the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Vitse-Admiral Filipp Oktyabrskiy to safety in the Caucasus. General-Mayor Petr Novikov assumed command of the defense positions at Cape Khersones.

While the Soviet troops flocked to Cape Khersones hoping for the arrival of an evacuation fleet, Hauptmann Hanns Heise led I./KG 76 and parts of I./KG 100 in an attack against the Black Sea Fleet in the Caucasus ports of Taman, Anapa, and Novorossiysk. The Soviet fighter interception force was severely dealt with by the escorting Me-109s of II./JG 77—which claimed six victories for no losses—only one German bomber was shot down. The damaged flotilla leader Tashkent and destroyer Bditel’nyy were sunk, as were a dozen other ships of various size. With this, the last Soviet hope for a large-scale evacuation of Sevastopol was lost.

At the same time, other German aircraft broke up all Novikov’s attempts to organize a defense at Cape Kersones. Hauptmann Hansgeorg Bätcher of I./KG 100 carried out his 300th bombing sortie against these targets on July 2. Two days later the main Soviet resistance on the Khersones peninsula was broken, and the last sporadic fighting subsided on July 9. General-Mayor Novikov, the last commander of the Soviet Defense District, was found among the 95,000 Soviet troops that surrendered. Novikov eventually was executed by the SS in Concentration Camp Flossenburg.

After an eight-month siege of Sevastopol, the Soviet resistance had finally been crushed. It is clear that this immense German victory could not have been achieved without the contribution made by Fliegerkorps VIII/Fliegerführer Krim, which launched 23,751 sorties from June 2 through July 3, dropping 20,529 tons of bombs.

 

Aftermath

According to German sources, 123 Soviet planes were destroyed in the air (including 118 by fighters) and another 18 on the ground. StG 77 alone carried out 7,708 combat sorties, dropping 3,537 tons of bombs. Total combat losses by the participating Luftwaffe units were limited to 23 aircraft destroyed and seven damaged in the vicinity of Sevastopol between June 2 and July 3.

The most outstanding fighter pilots received the highest awards. Hauptmann Gollob was awarded the Swords to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves—Gollob was the 13th member of the Wehrmacht and the 11th fighter pilot to be awarded the Swords, the second highest German military award. Setz and Oberleutnant Friedrich Geisshardt received the Oak Leaves to their Knight’s Crosses. The commander of the Eleventh Army, Erich von Manstein, was not even awarded the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross following the victory at Sevastopol—although he was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall.

On July 5, a victory banquet was held in the old Czar castle Livadia at Yalta. All unit commanders of the Eleventh Army, from battalion commanders and above, and several Luftwaffe unit commanders, took part. But as to remind the participants of the stiff fight that had been offered by the defenders of Sevastopol, the Soviet aviation also had a voice in the matter. A sudden attack by twin-engine SB bombers of Soviet 6th Bomber Aviation Regiment, commanded by Podpolkovnik (Lieutenant-Colonel) V.I. Lukin, sent the festively dressed officers tumbling toward the basement, and the bombs dropped caused considerable bloodshed among the waiting drivers outside.

The defenders of Sevastopol indeed amazed the world for their long and tenacious resistance. It cost the German Eleventh Army more than 24,000 casualties, and four thousand from participating Romanian units. The Soviet aviation at Sevastopol—which had mustered no more than 53 serviceable aircraft at the onset of the battle—carried out 3,144 sorties, including 1,621 ground-attack sorties, between May 25 and July 1. This cost them 69 planes and 50 airmen.

The eight-month defensive fight for Sevastopol was an example set for the upcoming battle of Stalingrad. As the exhausted troops of the German Eleventh Army raised the German flag in Sevastopol, the Wehrmacht had already embarked on its road to that ill-fated city.

Of the famous aces who fought each other in the Sevastopol skies, all but one survived the war. On March 13, 1943, Heinrich Setz was killed during a dogfight with RAF Spitfires over France. He was credited with a total of 138 victories and was awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves.

Gordon Gollob would become the first pilot to reach the 150-victory mark—in August 1942—and he ended the war as Adolf Galland’s successor as Inspector of the Fighter Aviation Arm. He died on September 17, 1987. “Toni” Hackl, the formidable high-side attacker who was even mentioned in his opponent’s postwar memoirs, died in 1984. Mikhail Avdeyev rose to command 6 GIAP/VVS-ChF and experienced the triumph of flying above the re-conquered Sevastopol two years later. After the war, he reached the rank of General-Mayor and died in 1979. Konstantin Alekseyev died in 1971, at age 56.

Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert—who eventually fought the RAF and the USAAF in Tunisia, where he achieved 51 victories between January and April 1943—ended the war with a total of 174 victories. Although diseased, 81-year-old Reinert is still alive to tell the story of the stiff duels with some of the best Soviet fighter pilots over Sevastopol, 58 years ago.

This article by Christer Bergström and Andrey Mikhailov originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikipedia.