Kursk MkII - The Air Battle

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by parsifal, Jul 25, 2011.

  1. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Well we had our last thread closed because of two reasons; we wandered off topic far too much, and people were just not treating each other with enough respect in their dialogues. However, I was encouraged at the very end of that thread to see people attempting to dicuss the issues a little better. We were still wandering off topic a litle, but i felt we were at least drifting a little closer to the topic

    This thread is about Kursk the air battle. I believe it relevant to discuss the leadup, the consequences and the possible alternatives, to the battle, but the concentration has to be the battle itself, tactics, course of the battles, results, effects.

    Because I have started the thread, again, I will lead into the discussion with my last post

    "....in essence the points i wanted to make were

    1) VVS emerged from Stalingrad with some additional skills and better survivability. For the first time they had conducted operations that had a strategic effect

    2) However, though they now possessed many of the ingredients needed for an effective offensive posture, they still lacked sufficient experience and an effective doctrine to be effective in offensive operations.

    3) LW continued to demostrate marked superiority in its fighter operations over the Kuban. However the campaign as a whole has to be seen as a Soviet maturing of strategy and application of airpower. No longer was the priority for theVVS to shoot down German Fighters and gain air superiority in the traditional sense. VVS fighters were there to keep losses amongst friendly bombers tolerable, and to harass German bomber operations to the point of writing them down to insignificance. losses continued to heavily favour the LW, but the LW was being reduced to no more than nuisance value....VVS completed its mission, which was now firmly wedded to the ground support mission. Germans despite inflicting very heavy losses on the VVS were unable to have any appreciable effect on the ground operations (particularly near Myshakko) and their bomber formations no longer could operate with impunity over the battlefield

    4) Many LW bomber operations had to be conducted at night because of the effects of VVS fighters. Also, VVS losses were inflated by the significant effects of the newly re-constituted 9 flak division, operating at the front and with many hundreeds of heavy and light guns attached. Just the same rounds per kill for the flak arm were rising. Over Stalingrad, LW flak had expended around 5000 rounds per kill, now it was over 9000 rpk.

    5) Thiings were getting harder for the LW. VVS now had a workable offensive strategy, an expanding experience base, lessons that it could absorb, and equipment that rivalled LW quality. It could always count on a numerical superiority because of the simplicity of its equipment

    6) In the coming three months to Kursk, Soviet frontal Aviation in the TO was to grow by over 75% in frontline strengths which was not done at the expense of other sections of the front. Overall quality was improving in a numbe of areas....Higher echelon leadership, servicieability rates, mechanization, ground organizations, arguably even, aircrew experience. LW expansion between the end of April and the start of the battle in July was extremely modest....question then begs, with such a rapid rise in size, experience and effectiveness by the VVS in that 3 month period, was it a mistake for the germans to wait until July....should they not have continued their offensive-defensive operations as had been demonstrated by Manstein. To successfully implment this stratgy, Germans needed to at least maintain mobility for thei Infantry, but by the latter part of '43 this had gone, and with it, the last hope of salvaging anything in the east. "


    I am referring here to the Kuban battles, the last great crucible before Kursk itself. I was alluding to whether the delay in joining battle so late (July) was a better idea than continuing the limited offensive/defensive postures advocated by Manstein....would the Germans have been better off with an earlier start?

    The rough statistics of the Kursk battle are that the Germans entered the battle with 2100 aircraft in the front line formations. The Soviets entered the battle with about 2900 aircraft (will post a more accurate OB in my next posts). The Russians lost approximately 4 times as many aircraft as the germans (there is a lot of dispute about the figures however, which I hope to explain in the thread). The effects of the bombers for both sides are vastly overstated.....perhaps 90 tanks destroyed by the Soviets from air strikes, whilst the germans may have destroyed as many as 150 Soviet medium or heavy tanks with their stukas, if they were lucky. Like the other great myth about this battle, that it was the greatest tank battle in history (in reality it was mostly an infantry battle, fought along traditional lines, with the German flair for manouvre and breakthrough removed from the equation) Yet, air power played a crucial part in the outcome of the battle, not because of its material effects on losses, but for other, more subtle reasons. The same can be said about the effects of tanks on the battle....they were not central to the profit/loss sheet, but they were still pivotal to the execution of the battle.

    Kursk is a complex battle, one of the most misunderstood battles that ever occurred. For that reason we have to work hard to keep our comments relevant. We can explore the peripheries of the battle, things like preprations, alternatives etc, but really this needs to relate to the historical context, not pure hypotheticals. And we need to do this as a cop-operative exercise...pool our resources, accept differences work together, because the subject is a complex one that can defeat us as we have already seen

    Good luck guys....this is your second chance at this...use it wisely
     
  2. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    Want to help some. Heres a map of the area.
     

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  3. Altea

    Altea Banned

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    #3 Altea, Jul 25, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2011
    BTW, can you just quote your sources for the Kuban?

    Regards

    Soviet map for Kursk, in russian but more precise, with defence lines and armies sectors

    koursk2.JPG
     
  4. Ratsel

    Ratsel Banned

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    can't speak for parsifal but heres what I know from the Kuban Bridgehead -

    Kuban bridghehead only:
    Sorties on day: German 698 (750) – Soviet: 446
    Sorties on night: German 953 (997) – Soviet: 56
    Sum: German 1,651 – Soviet: 502

    Losses of aircraft: German 94 – Soviet 462

    Source is Friedrich Forstmeier, “Die Räumung des Kubanbrückenkopfes im Herbst 1943”, pp. 265-267
    .


    to answer you next question. this is from Luftwaffe sources. unless you can post reliable russian sources, this will have to be taken as the bottom line.
     
  5. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    Ratsel what is given as the German LW units taking part during Kuban ? of note is the many evenings sorties of which the WS could not respond to
     
  6. Rivet

    Rivet Member

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    Gladdened here to see this this topic of enquiry receive another lease on life. The first rendition arrived just as I was considering the importance of this Battle of Kursk in the overall scenario of the Second World War. I don't have many answers, or even questions to raise at this point. I have been in contact with some of the offspring of the participants, asking for recommendations of what to read in order to understand. I wish to include some of their recommendations. Regards

    Bergström, Christer (2007). Kursk — The Air Battle: July 1943. Hersham: Chervron/Ian Allen. ISBN 978-1-903223-88-8.

    Il-2 Shturmovik Guards Units of World War 2
    Paperback: 96 pages Publisher: Osprey Publishing (March 18, 2008) Language: English ISBN-10: 9781846032967 ISBN-13: 978-1846032967
     
  7. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    #7 Erich, Jul 25, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2011
    for LW unit histories I would recommend finding the appropriate LW units over Kursk and then doing a search for their histories as some have been written the bomber and fighter Geschwaders of note....... nothing yet though StG 77 has it's won book up till end of 43, not bad really. Bergstroms I had already mentioned to Parsifal in the other thread of which he has ordered a copy.

    some hopeful helpful info's :

    Early May 1943:
    Bagerowo: 10./ZG 1 (Bf 110), Stab, I III/KG 51 (Ju 88A)
    Saki: II/KG 55 (He 111H)
    Kertsch: StG 2 (Ju 87D), III/StG 77 (Ju 87D), NAGr 9, 1.(H)/21 (Fw 189A), 7.(H)/32 (Fw 189A)
    Sarabus:4.(F)/122 (He 111H, Ju 88A/D)

    Stab, II JG 3 (Bf 109G), 8./SchG 1 (Hs 129), II/SchG 1 (Fw 190A, Hs 123)
    Stab, II, III,13 (Slow), 15 (Kroat)/JG 52 (Bf 109G)
     
  8. Ratsel

    Ratsel Banned

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    The German Fourth Luftflotte, which included the elite JG52 (Udet), JG51 (Molders) and JG54 (Green Hearts), was responsible for this area. I believe JG3 was responsible for night operations. I also think JG53 (Pik-As) were also involved. Will have to check my references. You would probably know more on which bomber units and/or ZG units were operational in the area then I.
     
  9. mhuxt

    mhuxt Active Member

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  10. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Hi Altea

    My main source for that statement of 4:1 loss ratios comes from Hardesty's "Red Phoenix" , however I stress its an approximation. I have also seen indirect sources, mostly web based that say they are based on Friesner, Glantz and Bergstrom, to name a few. I have a copy of Bergstrom on order, and am eagerly awaiting its arrival

    Care needs to be exercised when looking at losses. When is a loss a loss? The figures given for the VVS and the LW may not be necessarily comparable. Many aircraft may return, but may never fly again. I suspect this to be particularly true of the LW, who were labouring under a strained logistics system. The LW would only write an airframe off if it was assessed as having more than 70% damage, whilst most nations would consider an airframe written off at amaximum of about 35% damage. I cannot prove my hypothesis, but i strongly suspect the LW adopted their own system primarily for political reasons....hitler and goring were interested in totals, more than serviceability rates.

    However, I am also reasonably confident that VVS losses were significantly higher than the LW. Soviet aircrew were entering combat with only about 20 hours of flying time, compared to over 200 in the LW. VVS was a force still reaching maturity in mid 1943, so it should not be a surprise they sufferd heavy losses. It should also be noted that this disproportionate loss rate was rapidly changing....whilst it was about 4:1 in July, it had droppd to about 3;2 in December, mostly because the VVS leadership made serious efforts to improve the training of replacement aircrew. Ive read somewhere that by the end of the year average training hours were up around 150 hours, whilst the LW was beginning to take a nosedive by that time....

    It also needs to be acknowledged that the VVS's primary mission was not to destroy LW fighters, or even to shoot down LW bombers. These were considered desirable bonuses to the primary mission for the VVS in mid - 1943. Primarily the VVS was concerned about providing effective support to their own ground forces, which they were demonstrably successful at, and secondly to disrupting LW air support, which i think they were also successful at. VVS success is demonstrated by the obvious at both Kuban and Kursk. At Kuban LW and the heer were unable to dislodge major threats to their front intergity, and many bombers were forced to fly at night...evidence of growing VVS proficiency and threat. At Kursk, it is my contention that the VVS was effective at their primary mission, which was not destruction of ground forces, but rathr interdiction, something that is also the primary CAS mission of all air forces....far more important than destroying the hardware
     
  11. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    #11 Juha, Jul 26, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2011
    Hello Parsifal
    I wonder where you got the info that “The LW would only write an airframe off if it was assessed as having more than 70% damage” because the right figure is more than 60%, and even some of those which were initially judged as over 60% damaged were later repaired and flew again, the opposite might also happened, but that was how all AFs worked, initial assessments could change later.
    And what is your source on that “whilst most nations would consider an airframe written off at amaximum of about 35% damage”?
    If you thing that Germans counted how much of airframe was damaged and then gave x% damage assessment to it, that isn’t how the LW system worked, their % system was only a system which told to their organizations the level of damage or what was left from the a/c, a bit same way than the RAF letter and number combinations, even if the RAF system was more based on to what was needed to do in the next stage and the LW system combination of the a/c condition and what was needed to do in the next stage.

    What is true, that during the rapid withdrawals some of LW planes which were damaged were lost because there was no way to evacuate them, but that was not the situation during the Kuban battles.

    Juha
     
  12. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Hello Ratsel
    a bit odd, first of all IMHO we are talking on the air fighting over Kuban during the Spring 43 not during the Autumn 43 and difficult to believe that VVS would have lost almost all its planes participating in the Autumn 43 battles, ie while flying 502 sorties losing 462 a/c.

    Juha
     
  13. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    #13 parsifal, Jul 26, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2011
    Hi Juha

    I am at work, so my ability to respond is limited. however from memory I picked up my understanding of how th Luftwaffe sytem of damage assessment and repair worked from Hayward book on Luftwaffe operations on the Eastern Front.

    One thing to note about the Luftwaffe operations in the East....systems almost never worked the way that the textbooks and the procedures manuals would have you believe. When your army is reliant on trains for strategic supply and communications, and even as late as 1944 you are only receiving about 42% of the requireed train movements in your section of the front, you are not going to adhere to the rules and move aircraft with more than 40% assessed damage back to the factory for rebuild. This was the german system in the west, and there it kinda worked....well you can add stated losses by 15-25% in the westfor the LW, but in the east it almost never worked that way. There just wasnt the train capacity to get heavily damaged airframes back to the rear areas for re-construction. They were either repaired at the front, or cannabalized for spares (because spares were not getting through in sufficient quantities). This goes a long way to explaining the very high attrition rates in LW units in the east, compared to the west (roughly three times the loss rate, from memory, for non-combat related causes).......according to hayward, whilst the LW was operating some hundreds of miles forward of the railheads, actual LW losses in the forward airfields was 50-80% higher than the stated combat losses that you often see. Once the Lufwaffe retreated back to supplied airfields in Feb '43, attrition rates fell back to "normal" (for the east front) of about 16-20% per month (attrition rates in Germany were about 7% per month, for JGs, by comparison). I do not know what soviet attrition rates were, but for comparison purposes only, Allied non-combat attrition rates for units based in England were about 2-3% per month, whilst attition rates in the monsoonal jungles were about 8-10% (again from memory....will try and check tonite when i finish work).

    The east front was the most machine nasty environment of the war in my opinion, and it affected the finely tuned German machines very badly....something not readily seen by most published loss accounts
     
  14. Tante Ju

    Tante Ju Banned

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    Sorry this is discussed already.. It was 60%+ for write-off, and also: plane was classed 60% if it was to be write off. Not write off if 60%.. there was system for assessing damage %. It did not depend on how many parts were hit, how many bullet strikes, but what was hit. Vital main element or just a rudder blown off..? Wing tip flew away, or fuselage badly damaged?

    Also: Most nations did not use Luftwaffe % system, but something else, equivalanent. For example RAF had Category A for what LW called 10-30%, or Category B for what LW would call 30-60%, and Cateroy C for 60-99%. And, like LW, many Cat B plane would end up re-assessed as Category C (write off) at factory inspection. It is normal. Military organisations would be foolish to "bend" numbers for propaganda reasons - fool whom, themselves?

    And this "hitler and goring were interested in totals" - this is originating from pre-war say of H Goring who said about twin engined bombers. This was true that time, LW was important "deterrent" while army re-armed. Not true for later war.. great generalisation.

    IMHO there is no need to "re assess" reported loss numbers. It only serves propaganda who's losses people want to inflate.. "they reported this number, but it was really much higher". It is possible of course, but needs very strong and precise evidence for exact case. Say 10 July they reported this and that, but I have paper of factory say: 5 plane lost, 10 plane received for repairable, but we after though 3 of 10 not really repairable, so total loss is 8 not 5.

    It is bit like loss of tanks. Tanks can be repaired even if shot. Aircraft also.
     
  15. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    #15 Juha, Jul 26, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2011
    Hello Parsifal
    now not knowing very well LW repair systems in the East, in the west it utilized also local a/c factories, that was done also in the East at least in tank repairs, even 68 ton Elephants were repaired and got their total overhauls in Ukraine after Kursk in Late Summer/Autumn 1943. Also when Finns got their second batch of 16 109G-2s, which were totally overhauled second-hand planes, some had been earlier damaged over 60% in the East, from memory at least one somewhere near the eastern part of the Black Sea. So clearly they transported badly damaged planes for factory repairs, also in the East.

    BTW a good source for later part of war LW losses and loss rates, in the West vs in the East
    http://don-caldwell.we.bs/jg26/thtrlosses.htm

    Juha
     
  16. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Hi guys

    Zetterling, in his book "Kursk 1943" gives a pretty good appraisal of the problems faced by the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front. For the record its not a complete endorsement of my own opinion, but it does give a pretty good insight as to why tabulating losses, for either side is so fraught with uncertainty.

    At page 124 he states "Thus, apparently the German forces operating in the vicinity of Kursk lost 193 aircraft shot down while performing 27,221 sorties.....However, this figure does not include aircraft written off when damaged, when aircraft were often cannabalized. It is also unclear if the figures given also include losses due to all causes. The differences can be substantial. For example, during 1942, the Luftwaffe lost 4151 shot down due to enemy action,, plus another 497 were brought home but not repaired. However, a further 3163 were lost without any influence from the enemy, and a further 1791 were damaged but not repaired" (apparently without passing through the normal damage assessment processes).

    Further loss assessment differ substantially from the figures relied upon by Zetterling. The author himself notes "Williamson Murray states that the Luftwaffe lost 1030 planes on the eastern front in July-August 1943. Tony Wood and Bill Gunston put LW losses on the Eastern Front at 911 in July and 785 in August." Zetterlings opinion is that these figures are not necessarily wrong, rather in each case Murrays figures are referring to combat losses, whilst Woods and Gunstons figures are referring to losses from all causes. Zetterling notes that "contemporary Soviet claims of 3700 LW aircraft lost 5 July to 23 August are very exaggerated".

    All of this serves to underscore that quoting figures you "know" to be correct and representing total losses, or that processes for dealing with damaged aircraft in the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front in particualr as some kind of "situation normal" is a highly debateable topic. Long ago I learned to treat any kind of absolutely correct figure for ewast front losses with a great deal of circumpsection.....

    There is one thing that you guys mentioned , and it has been mentioned before, was the ability to repair aircraft at rear area workshops within Russia itself. Surely the spare part, the specialist repair jigs, the mechanics, the body fitters, the machinist, indeed the factories to repair and fabricate the parts needed could not have been present in great quantities so far forward when reports to implement the exploitation program (I will dig out the report from the Reich supply ministry later tonite conservatively put the time needed to repair the damage in the occupied ukrainian territories at more than 3 years from 1942. I am very sceptical that anything other than minor token efforts were ever undertaken from these forward positions, but I will dig out the necessary proof later on tonite, if I can. But by all means if you have figures on numbers and capabilities, please post them.
     
  17. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    According to Deutsche Reichsbahn - The German State Railway in WWII by Arvo L. Vecamer , the Germans in 1943 required approximately 220 trains per day to meet all the Reich requirements both military and civilian for the area under control of Heersgruppe Sud, and its rear area commands. I assume this also included the vast areas of Transnistria, that had been ceded to the Rumanians in 1941. However the best year for the Deutches Reichbahn was 1943 was 1943, when the average daily train arrivals to the command was just 125 trains per day. Clearly there were insufficient trains arriving to meet all requirements.

    However, according to the abovementioned article a priority list for train arrivals to the TO. Relevantly it states

    "One of the biggest problems one can encounter in the railroading business is that of developing an optimal time schedule and being able to adhere to it in a reasonable fashion. From the German perspective, the following types trains (and in order of scheduling priority) had to be considered in German rear and front areas:


    Troop transportation trains; their movement and special troop transfer requirements.

    Supply trains

    Empty trains which had just unloaded and were returning for a new run.

    Military Post/military mail trains

    Medical evacuation trains; hospital trains.

    Rest and Relaxation trains.

    POW trains

    Construction and repair/workshop trains

    Consideration also had to be made for "Special Purpose" or "Special Mission" trains, such as, but not limited to military intelligence mission, covert infiltration, quick re-deployment of front-line troops, etc
    ."

    Clearly the establishment of repair facilities in the foward areas was not a logistic priority. This suggests the importance of forward deployment for the repair workshops that you mention was not a significant element of the equation.
     
  18. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    The OBs for the forces involved

    Soviet Frontal Aviation units

    16 Air Army 455 Fighters; 241 Gd Attack; 260 Day Bombers; 74 Night Bombers


    Guards Fighter Air Division Ol'khavatka
    2 Guards Assault Air Division Ryshkovo
    271 Night Bomber Air Division Kazanka
    283 Fighter Air Division Mokva/Kursk
    286 Fighter Air Division Zybino
    299 Assault Air Division Kr. Zaria St.
    3 Bomber Aviation Corps Elets
    6 Fighter Aviation Corps Iarische
    273 Fighter Air Division Kolpny
    279 Fighter Air Division Mokhozoe
    6 Mixed Aviation Corps Khmel'nets
    221 Bomber Air Division Pelets
    241 Bomber Air Division Chernovo-Piatnitskaia
    282 Fighter Air Division Kunach
    301 Bomber Air Division Voronets


    17 Air Army 389 Fighters; 276 Gd Attack; 172 Day Bombers; 76 Night Bombers

    208 Night Bomber Air Division Kalinovka
    291 Air Assault Air Division Shumakovo
    1 Assault Aviation Corps Berovki
    203 Fighter Air Division Ostapovka
    268 Assault Air Division 266 ? Dubki
    292 Assault Air Division Kul'ma/Novo Oskol
    1 Bomber Aviation Corps Illovskoe
    1 Guards Bomber Air Division Il'inka
    893 Bomber Air Division Trostanka
    4 Fighter Aviation Corps Vasil'ev Dol
    294 Fighter Air Division Pestunovo
    302 Fighter Air Division Shirokii Gul
    5 Fighter Aviation Corps B. Psinka
    205 Fighter Air Division Sukho-Solotino
    8 Guards Fighter Air Division Trubezh/Oboian

    17 Air Army 163 Fighters; 239 Gd Attack; 76 Day Bombers; 60 Night Bombers @ Roven'ki
    244 Bomber Air Division Belolutsk
    262 Night Bomber Air Division Zapadnoe
    1 Mixed Aviation Corps Rybintsevo
    2 Fighter Air Division Starobel'sk
    5 Assault Air Division Novo-Pskov
    3 Mixed Aviation Corps Novsosinovka
    207 Fighter Air Division Aleksandrovka
    208 Assault Air Division Kurilovka
    9 Mixed Aviation Corps Pokrovskoe
    305 Fighter Air Division Nizh Dubanka
    295 Assault Air Division Ol'shana
    306 Assault Air Division Budennovka

    There were also an estimated 300 ADD and PVO units attached to the battle. I believe there were also about a further 1000 or so aircraft in the reserve army.

    The air assets committed to Kursk represented about 26% of total air strength in European USSR. The Soviets had approximately 6000 aircraft reserves they could call upon immediately.

    I do not know the serviceability rates or the additional aircrew reserves available to the VVS at this time
     
  19. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    Not directly mentioned in that list, the Germans gave a high priority to movement of people to concentration camps, often interfering with troop and material movements.
     
  20. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    #20 Juha, Jul 26, 2011
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2011
    Hello Parsifal
    Of the 14, sorry for the typo in my earlier message, second batch 109G-2s to the FAF, all second hand totally overhauled, 3 had been badly damaged in the East,
    MT-218, appr 50% dam in T/O accident at Krasnovardeisk, S of St Petersburg
    MT-222, 35% dam because of tyreburst at Kertš (the eastern tip of Krim)
    MT-226, never got to Finland Finland, 70% bomb dam at Krasnovardeisk, S of St Petersburg on 29 Sept 42 and 30% dam in Soviet AA fire 2 Nov 42, so probably repaired somewhere in the East.
    MT-228, 60% dam in Tunisia
    MT-230, 40% on Pantelleria

    2 two which were dam in the forced landings in Kuban 30% and ?%

    and one of the later replacement G-2, MT-237, 35% T/O dam at Anapa in Kuban durin Kuban air battles, some others had damaged in lesser degree in Kuban and near Rostov.
    MT-238, 70%, pilot error, Kharkov

    So clearly badly damaged 109Gs were repaired and some very badly damaged were transported somewhere in the rear or into Germany at least from the area of LfF 1 and from Kharkov.

    On those that returned but were never repaired, I have to read the relevant parts of Zetterling and co Kursk book when I have time but in fact 60-80% dam a/c were written off but certain parts could be used as spare parts for other a/c.

    Juha
     
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