Russian strategic bombing during WWII

greybeard

Airman 1st Class
250
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Oct 25, 2011
For some reason it occurred to me this morning that I have no historical evidence of strategic bombing by the Soviets during the Second World War. I tried to search the internet and found this. It intrigues me, and I try to give myself an explanation: hadn't Julius Douhet's doctrines arrived in Russia? Or hadn't they caught on? Why didn't Stalin do what the British and Americans did in Dresden? Was he more "humane" than Churchill and Roosevelt?
 

Shortround6

Major General
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Jun 29, 2009
Central Florida Highlands
For some reason it occurred to me this morning that I have no historical evidence of strategic bombing by the Soviets during the Second World War. I tried to search the internet and found this. It intrigues me, and I try to give myself an explanation: hadn't Julius Douhet's doctrines arrived in Russia? Or hadn't they caught on? Why didn't Stalin do what the British and Americans did in Dresden? Was he more "humane" than Churchill and Roosevelt?
He didn't have the resources.
There are arguments as to how much fuel and explosives lean lease provided, but with out a substantial increase in both the effectiveness of a soviet campaign was going to be minimal.
They also didn't have suitable aircraft. They only built 93 (?) of the 4 engined PE-8s and they used 4 or more engine setups on them. Leaving out the diesels you had a choice of using AM-35/38s and not using the engines for IL-2 s or using the M-82 engines from the LA-5s.
Most produced Russian bomber was the IL-4. range figure from Wiki.
2,600 km (1,404 nmi; 1,616 mi) with 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bombs.
Used a pair of 1100hp engines. This would have been like the British trying to use the Wellington IC for the duration of the war.

They got the TU-2 late in the war but again, you would be diverting aircraft from the tactical (or grand tactical) because you don't have enough resources to do both.
 

cammerjeff

Senior Airman
383
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Dec 26, 2006
They also had the Ye-2 also powered by the diesel engines. I had found this link years ago on the subject. It explains the many issues they faced, but the main issues have been covered, equipment, training, and the loss of the air bases in range of potential targets.

Plus IMO when you are fighting for you life on the ground, it could seem like a waste of resources, as you can not exploit (Hype) any success to your people.

 

EwenS

Staff Sergeant
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1,968
Oct 19, 2021
I have a great deal of trouble getting my head around the organisation of the Soviet Air Force in WW2. What is clear is that they didn't think of "strategic", and so needing 4 engined heavies, in the same way as Britain & the US.

In June 1941 the "strategic" bomber was the DB-3 / IL-4 although there were still some TB-3 In service.

Yefim Gordon in "Soviet Air Power in World War 2" notes that the B-25 Mitchell by the end of the war "made up a substantial portion of the Soviet strategic bomber force". Approximately 866 (861 arrived) were supplied in WW2 of which 753 had been delivered by 1 May 1945 with 201 being lost by then. (Even within the book the numbers delivered vary in places by a few, just in case anyone has different figures). Of those deliveries 483 went to the ADD (Long Range Air Command).

In the period Aug 1942 to April 1943 for example the 222nd BAD with B-25 saw action on the Western, Kalinin, Stalingrad and Bryansk Fronts. In April / May 1943 they were attacking major administrative centres in Germany and Poland on Konigsberg, Danzig, Tiksit & Warsaw. You will need to figure out where the front line was as he gives no details of bases. The B-25s operated at night. Later targets included Budapest and Breslau. They also supplied arms and provided support to partisan groups across eastern Europe and into Yugoslavia.

Gordon notes "The Mitchell was often used for supporting the main strike group (that is, target location and illumination, air defence suppression and keeping German night fighters on the ground)" due to its greater speed compared to the IL-4.

The Tu-2 seems to have been considered a tactical bomber.
 

FLYBOYJ

"THE GREAT GAZOO"
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Why didn't Stalin do what the British and Americans did in Dresden? Was he more "humane" than Churchill and Roosevelt?
Stalin wanted B-29s supplied under lend-lease. What do you think he would have done with these if he had them? Drop food and candy? Do you think his airforces would have been as "humane" as his army????

 

special ed

Senior Master Sergeant
3,411
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May 13, 2018
I suspect the twin engine doctrine followed Germany's. Remember, the Germans set up factories in the USSR to rebuild their air force away from the west. Information/idea transfer may have had an effect on Soviet designers. The DB-3 and Il-4 were very similar in layout and capacity to the German bombers of the 30s.
 

MikeMeech

Senior Airman
431
1,063
Nov 20, 2019
For some reason it occurred to me this morning that I have no historical evidence of strategic bombing by the Soviets during the Second World War. I tried to search the internet and found this. It intrigues me, and I try to give myself an explanation: hadn't Julius Douhet's doctrines arrived in Russia? Or hadn't they caught on? Why didn't Stalin do what the British and Americans did in Dresden? Was he more "humane" than Churchill and Roosevelt?
Hi
Yes, Douhet's theories had arrived in the USSR, see 'Soviet Air Force Theory, 1918-1945' by James Sterrett:
Image_20221116_0002.jpg

He also mentions their early bombing of Berlin:
Image_20221116_0001.jpg


The book 'Long-Range Missile Equipped' by Major General of Aviation B A Vasil'yev (Moscow 1972), translated publication from the Soviet Military Thought series (USGPO) for the USAF, mentions the Soviet pre-war development:
Image_20221116_0003.jpg

Also their Berlin raids:
Image_20221116_0004.jpg

So the USSR had done some theory and development on this type of aviation, interrupted by the German invasion, however, as the RAF and later the USAAF increasingly were doing rather a lot of bombing of Germany (which would also aid the USSR) any Soviet Air Force use would have seemed rather small scale comparatively and not as important as other tasks that needed to be done.

Mike
 

GrauGeist

Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
The Pe-8 (ocassionally accompanied by Yer-2s) did conduct long range bombing missions into Germany, bombing Berlin, Danzig and other cities. Later, they were used to strike German targets in rear areas aling the Eastern Front.

For the most part, the Pe-2's losses were largely operational until the Luftwaffe's night fighters came up to strength, then, without escort or countermeasures, the Pe-2's losses increased substantially.

So there was a form of strategic bombing, but the Soviets did not have a clear plan or the aircraft numbers to achieve any substantial results.
 

Just Schmidt

Airman 1st Class
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Jul 19, 2010
Tromsø
As others have remarked, it's not that they didn't want to, as the existence of strategic bombers proves. In fact, I think the first attack on Berlin was shortly after the opening of Barbarossa, and the Rumanian oil fields were targeted too early on. But one problem is that the worthwhile strategic targets quickly came to be very far from the front lines indeed, and bombers suited to the task thus had become fewer. And when you are fighting for survival, and have a long front line, investing a lot in a strategic air arm dosn't make a lot of sense. That's one thing to explain the symmetry in Germany and Soviet focus on the areas near the front line.

I think I've said it before somewhere, but strategic bombing dosn't refer to four engined bombers, or even neccessarily to a specialized bomber, it depends on the kind of target you are hittiing. Some strategic bombing may be possible with medium bombers if you have enough close enough. But of course there are bombers better suited to the task than other, and usually these are worse suited to tactical bombing.

Time to stop repeating myself (provided saying it, in the first place, isn't one of my fake memories), I have som remarks on advantages to tactical bombing, or strike, that are so iconoclast that I'm sure I haven't dared to air them before.

It sets off from the admittedly simplistic notion that strategic bombing often aim at bottlenecks however those are percieved to be, ball bearings, fuel production or public morale, to name a few. Ideally you want to throttle your enemy as quickly and cheaply as possible, but rightly identifying the targets and assessing the damage needed and done are complicated. It can be argued that the allies could have conquered Germany from the air only, had they proceeded with this or that plan. It may be true, but the point seem to be that even with overwhelming force and the ability to read much of the enemys communications and photograph the targets after the raids, they didn't quite succeed.

When you start out hitting bottlenecks, hitting the neck can be difficult. Lets say the enemy produce 100% of what is needed to build and operate of wheels, armour plate, ball bearings, radios, fuel, cannons, mashine guns, ammunition and crew 100 tanks.

Now you hit the ball bearing production for 50% of its capasity, well and good, the enemy fields 50 tanks. Then, to keep targets varied and because of whether and contingencies and the rest of the ball bearing factories are more difficult targets, you hit the fuel production for 40%. Ouch, but the nemy still fields 50 tanks. Hit it for 50 fuel, the same goes. Hit all of the parameters for 50 simultaneously, it is still 50 tanks. And bear in mind that bottlenecks pop up independent of bombing, maybe lost territory redused one or the other, or bad planning. You simply cannot predict your target with 100% chance of success.

Then take a tankbuster, even though I agree with those who suggest they were not that effective. Anyway, if they kill a tank, they take out a whole package. One tank entirely lost is sure to hit whatever of the parameters is the bottleneck. And the effect is immediate. Kill another kind of system, and you are sure to hit the bottleneck in that one.

A war time economy is complex, and ball bearings aren't only used for tanks. Hit the capacity 100% percent, and all kinds of stuff stops moving. Once the stocks are used up, that is. Did you assess those correctly? But factories hit does hurt, also future planning, though it is difficult to attain maximum efficiensy. So hitting stuff while it is on the battlefield, also because it mattters whether a battle is lost or won, can be very useful indeed.

But if one looks at it in a cynical way, one reason that Germany and the Soviet union focussed so much on the front lines is that it suited, to some extent, the weapons they had at hand. Normal medium bombers aren't really ideal for battlefield support, and note that I entirely left out interdiction, an important category as well. But boy did they had a lot of common front line.

Churchill, on the other hand, found that he (or Britain) had committed to an stupendous program of making heavy bombers, and so chose a strategy that fitted the weapons at hand. As also the lack of an endless front line suggested he should do. And if you can't hit ball bearing factories with kirurgical presission at night, you convince yourself there is another bottleneck. it has nothing to do with a wish to win the war in a nice or a nasty way, but simply what you can do with what you have now. Pre war choices influenced the strategy chosen, but geopolitical realities also, to some extent, dictated these pre war choices. some of them undoubtedly were questionable, but we're all human.

On the global basis I think one factor behind the allied success was that they had the resources, and the theaters, to make use of all kinds of bombing, and between them the capacity to design and build all categories of bombers, from Il-2's to B-29's. The axis were simply too spread thin to match or counter that. add to that the need to mass produce fighters that are good at sea level, excels at ten kilometers and beats everybody else at medium attitude, fly to New york and back and have a useful second role as ground attack and recconaisance and night fighters, spew a lot of light bullets for dogfights and heavy cannon shells for downing bombers. I think any of the 3 great, had they had to go it alone, would have faced the same kind of problem. Instead of speculating what kind of bombing could have won the war by itself had 'we' built more divebombers in 39, or more 4 engined bombers in 42, is futile. It's rather how the different categories complimented each other, and stretched the enemy, that was significant. Stalin could afford not to lay the German cities to waste, somebody else was already doing that.
 
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33k in the air

Staff Sergeant
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Jan 31, 2021
Why didn't Stalin do what the British and Americans did in Dresden?

Dresden was a fluke caused by a firestorm. Remove the firestorm, and Dresden would be no more noted than the attack against Chemnitz which occurred the very next night with similar numbers of bombers.

Firestorms could not be created on command. If they could, Bomber Command would have done so in mid-1943 and quite possibly have knocked Germany out of the war.
 

vikingBerserker

Lieutenant General
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Apr 10, 2009
South Carolina
I think with the US hammering Germany during the day and Britain at night, why waste the resources building a strategic bomber force when you could use the materials to build a tactical force to push the German army back to Germany. At this point I don't see a large return for the Soviets.
 

Shortround6

Major General
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Jun 29, 2009
Central Florida Highlands
A large bomber force needs a lot of logistics.
If a large part of your logistics is coming from outside of the Soviet Union it is hard to justify a long range bombing campaign.

If you had a HE bomb that held 200kg of explosives that would be enough explosives to fill 54 122mm howitzer shells (granted you need about 52 more fuses)
You also have to remember that Russian aircraft engines were really petty lousy. Short overhaul life. The AM-35s used in the early PE-8s (and a few later ones) were looked on fondly by their crews because they were usually good for around 50 hours of life compared to the diesels. Merlins in Bombers were good for around 400 hours. Later PE-2s (and TU-2s) got M-82s but they weren't good for more than 100 hours (?).

One PE-8 could do about 6-7 eight hour missions on one set of engines. The same set of engines would power four IL-2s for 25 two hour missions (assuming they don't get shot down).
Even if the y got shot down in under 20 missions they were going to put a lot more bombs into German territory than the single PE-8 was going to.
Adjust flight times as you see fit but long range missions for the Soviets didn't make a lot of sense. Just enough to keep the Germans from moving all the eastern front AA guns to the actual front ;)
 

swampyankee

Chief Master Sergeant
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Jun 25, 2013
For some reason it occurred to me this morning that I have no historical evidence of strategic bombing by the Soviets during the Second World War. I tried to search the internet and found this. It intrigues me, and I try to give myself an explanation: hadn't Julius Douhet's doctrines arrived in Russia? Or hadn't they caught on? Why didn't Stalin do what the British and Americans did in Dresden? Was he more "humane" than Churchill and Roosevelt?
It's hard to argue Stalin was more humane than any other Allied leader. If I remember, the Soviet Union didn't have the aircraft to perform strategic bombing.
 

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