Russian strategic bombing during WWII

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Tech Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
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 ;)

I was just reading a detailed history of the Pe-8 yesterday and it seems like the AM-35s were the big stumbling block early on. Four engines also means four times the chance of an engine failure and on a long missions with a heavy bomb load, an engine going out means turning back, usually. Later they got Shvestov 82s which were much better, but the priority of these had (wisely, I think) gone to fighters.


Tech Sergeant
Mar 18, 2022
This discussion brings up the very contentious issue of the value of Strategic bombing during WW2.

But I think several points already raised, and one that hasn't, explain why the Soviets didn't have much of a Strategic bombing force.

They knew the British, and then later the Americans as well were hitting the German Strategic targets already, better than the Soviets likely could have done even if they had put a lot of resources into it. They had major technical issues, such as with the AM-35 engines and shortages of things like aluminum, limiting their ability to meet the technical challenges. The Pe-8 was a good start for 1941, IMO, but there were major teething issues that didn't get resolved for years, and we know that Strategic bombing over Germany was no simple matter of sending heavy bombers over. The Germans made it very lethal for the British and Americans in spite of their advanced industry and resources. And planes like the Mosquito and the Mustang. And also as was pointed out upthread, the German Strategic targets were put out of range pretty quickly by the rapid advance of the German front line.


Which brings up what I think is the biggest issue is that the Soviets focused on Tactical and what I call "Operational" bombing instead of Strategic, for the very simple reason that they were facing an immediate, pressing, and ongoing threat from German ground forces which made the rapid destruction, curtailment and even just slowing down of the German land army the urgent priority over all other matters.

The US was really under no threat of a land invasion in their mainland during the war, even if battles overseas had all been catastrophic failures. The British were at somewhat more of a threat but everyone knew the Germans would have to get through the Royal Navy to land on British shores and that was a tough nut to crack. Commonwealth nations were in a similar, relatively safe situation. The Soviets however were looking down the barrels of panzers from day one and the threat was all too real. Real enough that they had to move most of their key strategic industries across the Urals and several promising weapon systems were badly delayed or just finished off by early German Strategic bombing conducted with basically light bombers.

By "Operational bombing" I mean targets which are in between tactical and strategic: concentrations of supplies put into position before major offensive or defensive operations; the destruction of bridges, railyards, docks, and other transportation infrastructure (such as we have recently seen the Ukranians do so masterfully in the current war) and so on. The Russians did hit targets like that, as best they could, using Pe-2s, Il-4s and later US made B-25s.

But they increasingly had to conduct these raids at night, which as the British learned, meant low accuracy, and over time, vulnerability to night fighters. The Soviets didn't have large numbers of long range escorts (the rather flawed Yak-9DD came later in the war and not in very large numbers) and I don't think (?) they really had any night fighters to speak of except maybe a few Pe-3s. So as the difficulty of the longer-ranged night bombing campaign ramped up, the payoff in terms of resources expended to damage done decreased.

Besides, after Stalingrad, they were mostly winning, so if "it" (their emphasis on Tactical bombing) ain't broke, why fix it? We can debate the effectiveness of Il-2, Pe-2, and fighter bombers in the Tactical role, but the Soviet system was clearly working by 1943, and was becoming dominant by 1944, albeit at great cost in casualties and resources.

33k in the air

Staff Sergeant
Jan 31, 2021
The Soviets did do strategic bombing during WWII. For example:

To force Finland out of the coalition with Germany by bombing it and, through pressure from the opposition in the Finnish parliament, make the Mannerheim government ready to sue for peace, the Soviet long-range bomber force in early 1944 flew three heavy night raids on Helsinki, in which 1,980 aircraft dropped 2,386 t of bombs on 'administrative and armaments targets'. The first of these pure terror raids was on 6/7 February by 733 bombers, the second on 15/16 February by 367, and the heaviest by 850 bombers took place on the 25/6th. A similar fate, with the same objective, befell the Hungarian capital Budapest: over four nights between 13 and 20 September 1944, 1,129 bombers dropped 8,000 bombs on the city. In all, the long-range bomber force in the year 1944 flew 4,466 sorties deep into enemy territory.

Germany and the Second World War, Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia 1943–1944/5, p.157

The Soviet strategic bombing effort against Germany was a fraction of that conducted by the Western Allies:

Taken all together, the bombing raids inside Germany carried out during the war, involving 7,158 bombers and 6,700 tonnes of bombs, were relatively insignificant at only 3.1 per cent of all the bomber sorties made by the Soviet forces, and amounted to only around 0.5 per cent of the Anglo-American strategic sorties against German-occupied Europe and 0.21 per cent of the bombs they delivered. [462] The use of Soviet long-range bombers against Reich territory had no effect worthy of note on the course of the war.

Germany and the Second World War, Volume VII: The Strategic Air War in Europe and the War in the West and East Asia 1943–1944/5, p.158

The reference cited above has a couple of interesting maps, one showing the escort range of American fighters (p.87) and the other the theoretical maximum range with bomb load of British and American bombers (p.109).

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