Red Air Force and Navy 1941-1942

Soviet Red Air Force and Red Navy in the first years of the war 1941 to 1942.
Organization, aircraft and warships.

MiG-3 fighters over Leningrad
MiG-3 fighters over Leningrad. Introduced shortly before the war they were no match for Luftwaffe fighters and after 1942 used only for armed reconnaissance and close support.

Russian Air Force 1942

The enforced lull in air operations during the winter period allowed the Red Air Force to recover from the first shocks. Training was improved and the quality of the aircrews rose generally through direct combat experience.
The re-siting of industry east of the Urals began to bear fruit with military aircraft production rising rapidly: 2,000 a month by mid-1942 (total of 9,924 fighters, 8,219 ground attack and 3,537 bombers in 1942), 2,500 by November 1943 (total 14,590 fighters, 11,177 ground attack and 4,074 bombers in 1943) and 3,355 by the summer of 1944 (total 17,913 fighters, 11,110 ground attack and 4,186 Bomber in 1944). Not only did the quantity of planes rise, but so too did the quality. 1942 saw the widespread introduction of improved models including the Il-2 Stormovik ground-attack plane and Yak-9 and Lavochkin fighters.

In May 1942 there were 3,164 aircraft, of which were 2,115 modern planes, at the Russian Western Front. Although the Red Air Force found itself overwhelmed by the German Luftwaffe during the summer offensive of 1942, the numbers and quality of Soviet aircraft were progressively increasing. Thus, when the counter-offensive around Stalingrad was launched, the Red Air Force was able to assume the tactical initiative. From 19 November 1942 to 2 February 1943, the Red Air Force on the southern sector flew nearly 36,000 sorties as against 18,500 of the Luftwaffe.

The organizational changes of the first few months of the war expanded in the reforms of spring 1942, the emphasis being on centralized control of Red Air Force formations.
The first step was the formation of the Air Army, which would be assigned to a particular front under the control of an Air Force general who would act as aerial adviser to the ground forces commander.
The first Air Armies consisted of two fighter and two mixed-type air divisions, a night-fighter and a training regiment, with a squadron each of reconnaissance and communication planes. By the end of 1942 some 13 air armies had been brought into existence.

The recovery of the Soviet aircraft industry and arrival of lend-lease planes in 1942 made possible to increase the size of the Air Force units: fighter and ground-attack regiments were given a third squadron, giving them a total strength of 32 aircraft and 160-180 men. By 1943 most regiments had about 40 aircraft divided into three 12-plane squadrons each of three four-plane flights, plus four command and reserve aircraft.

In 1942-43 a typical strength of an air army was just under 1,000 aircraft.

In addition to the reorganized ‘Front’ Air Force, there was the growing importance of reserve air groups under Stavka control. By November 1942 the Stavka reserve consisted of ten air corps which each normally comprised three air divisions of three regiments (each fighter regiment possessing 32 aircraft, and each bomber regiment 20).

Russian Navy 1941

battleship Sevastopol is firing on German positions
Battleship ‘Sevastopol’ is firing on German positions during the siege of the city of Sevastopol. She had twelve 30.5 cm guns and a maximum speed of 23 kn.

The Russian Navy was organized in four geographical fleets: Baltic, Black Sea, Pacific and Arctic.

Black Sea Fleet

Based at Nicolaiev, Sevastopol, Novorossiysk, Poti and Batum the Black Sea Fleet consisted in 1941 of:

  • 1 battleship
  • 6 cruisers
  • 18 destroyers
  • 44 submarines
  • 84 motor torpedo-boats
  • 18 minesweepers
  • 56 escort, patrol and river craft
  • Baltic Fleet

    The Baltic Fleet assisted in the defense of Leningrad. It operated 1941 from bases and dockyards at Kronstadt, Tallinn and Libau and comprised:

  • 2 battleships
  • 4 cruisers
  • 30 destroyers and torpedo-boats
  • 69 submarines< (li>
  • 48 motor torpedo-boats
  • 113 minesweepers
  • 86 escort, patrol and river craft
  • 50 armored motor gunboats
  • Arctic Fleet

    The Arctic Fleet’s operations included the reception of Allied convoys and interception of German coastal traffic from Norway. Based at Polyarnyy and Archangel, in 1941 the Arctic Fleet composed:

  • 11 destroyers and torpedo-boats
  • 15 submarines
  • 2 motor torpedo-boats
  • 3 minesweepers
  • 120 escort, patrol and river craft
  • Pacific Fleet

    Lastly, the Pacific Fleet, based at Vladivostok and Nicolaiev-Komsomolsk, consisted in 1941 of:

  • 22 destroyers and torpedo-boats
  • 85 submarines
  • 135 motor torpedo-boats
  • 68 minesweepers
  • 3 escort and patrol craft
  • Early warship losses through air and mine warfare, fuel shortages, icebound seas and other operational and maintenance limitations meant that large numbers of sailors (33,000 in the Crimea and Arctic alone) were soon being landed to steam the German advance.

    References and literature

    Luftkrieg (Piekalkiewicz)
    The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
    World War II – A Statistical Survey (John Ellis)
    Das große Buch der Luftkämpfe (Ian Parsons)
    World Aircraft World War II (Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi)
    Flotten des 2. Weltkrieges (Antony Preston)

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