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Old 19th February 2005, 19:55
Franek Grabowski Franek Grabowski is offline
Alter Hase
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Posts: 2,141
Franek Grabowski

Indeed. One has to take all personal accounts with a grain of salt, but to completely dismiss personal accounts without very strong reasons would be to go too far.
Simply, evere account must be verified.

Both personal accounts and official reports from the Eastern Front seem to be more (unconsciously) tainted by prejudices than what is the case in most other combat zones in World War II. The intense political brainwashing regarding their Soviet opponents ("Untermenschen incapable of anything good") which the German soldiers were subjected to, naturally coloured their appraisal of the enemy.
This not only reflected to Soviets but also eg. Poles - see claims of Rolf Pingel for example. Anyway, this does not mean reports from other fronts are less flawed.

After the war, this was to some extent inherited by the Cold War propaganda language - not least due to the influence by the reports by old Wehrmacht officers which the West studied carefully in order to "learn what the Germans had learned about the Soviets".
The West had more sources of knowledge but Germans. Nonetheless a racial approach was clear as evidenced by comments about Polish pilots in 1940.

In our little society (English speaking WW II aviation nuts in the West), Toliver's and Constable's book "Horridoh" has had a huge impact on many people's basic concept on the air war in the East.

In this book, we are taught that "the gunsight in the Soviet fighters often was nothing else than a hand painted circle on the windscreen". (Which is absolutely false; the Soviets had quite modern reflector gunsights.)
Cannot comment on fighter gunsight at the moment but I welcome anyone to visit an aviation museum in Cracow. There the one may see genuine Soviet painted bombsight on Tu-2 bomber and cross wire bombsight on U-2/Po-2 LNB bomber. Supposedly just effective enough and much simplier, nonetheless limited by available technology and tools as well.

Although the authors try to balance a generally negative view of the Soviet Air Force and its accomplishments, they miss such important things as the fact that the Soviets brought into use the most rapidly firing aircraft machine gun of the war and that they pioneered the use of rocket projectiles.
Soviets indeed had quite an experience and successes with firing weapons, this including hand guns and artillery. It must be remembered here that their designs were a mix of copied designs like Mosin, Nagan or TT and of genuine ones like PPSh, the latter unsubstantially claimed to be a copy of Suomi but actually much superior original design.
Claim of pioneering use of rocet projectiles is false, however. Rocket projectiles were first used during WWI - see Le Prieur!
It must be remembered that weapon by itself do not constitute a good aircraft simply because the former must be delivered to the best firing position first.

Discussing this topic still creates ridiculously infected discussions, particularly when these discussions involve people from Eastern countries with personal aversion against the former Soviet oppressors. I know that people in the East are esxtremely divided in their view on the USSR.
People in the East are not that divided but perhaps some people involved some way with the ancient regime. Actually most people are surprised and indignant with the Western approach to communism. Is not it surprising the communism responsible for about 100 million deaths (including whole nations) is still considered something better that German Nasism which killed some 25 million people? Is not surprising the active role of Soviet Union in starting WWII is not recognised in the West?
There is a lot of ignorance and lack of knowledge but not in our part of the Europe.

It is my impression that most of them are happy to be rid of the Soviets, but they neutrally admit the technical accomplishments of the USSR at the same time as they neutrally are aware of the flaws in the technical field.
Yes, it is really an accomplishment what they did with the technology they had.

Then there are two extreme groups - one which paints everything which has to do with the USSR in black and is unable to admit any accomplishment by "those dumb Soviet people" (quite similar to the Nazi Untermenschen propaganda), and one which attempts to glorify everything which has to do with the USSR (consciously adopting old Soviet propaganda).
It is more a Western perspective rather than the one here.

My personal conclusion, after studying the air war on the Eastern Front from both sides and listening to veterans from both sides for many years, is that the Soviets produced some of the lowest quality on the Allied side in WW II, and at the same time they also produced some of the highest quality on the Allied side in WW II.
I am looking forward for examples of the latter. Soviets build several simple and effective designs but such an approach does not work in every field and does not constitute quality. The latter was always associated with Lend Lease stuff or a captured one.

Even "in the middle" - outisde these extremist camps - there is confusion. One attempt to an analyse stated unhesitatingly that the Germans were "psychologically superior" to the Soviets. (Toliver/Constable, "Das waren die deutschen Jagdfliegerasse", p. 266.)
If this means the Germans were superior genetically, it is a pure nonsense. If this means the Germans were less exhausted psychically, it could be true.

Instead, Prien et al attempt to present the large number of Soviet aircraft encountered in the air as a major explanation to the huge amount of success attained by German fighter pilots on the Eastern Front. This assumption, that numerical inferiority in itself is an advantage, of course meets little support from those who actually took part in the air war. It is a fact - supported by facts which can't be dismissed and acknowledged by those who flew on the Eastern Front on both sides in 1941 - that the qualitative gap between the Luftwaffe and the Soviet Air Force was larger than that between the Luftwaffe and the RAF or the French Air Force in 1940 � 1941. It is a matter of examining the reasons to this, not trying to deny it.
Quality and dislocation were key factors. Quantity only caused the Campaign to last so long.

Speaking of personal statements by Germans who flew on the Eastern Front, they range from a few accounts clearly coloured by the effect of intense propaganda (like "the Russians flew like the first men on earth") to what seems to be denial of any flaws on the Soviet side (possibly as a reaction to the wartime tendency to dismiss air victories on the Eastern Fronts as "easy").
The former view often can be documented by an extremally low flying time of Soviets. Also, the one must have in mind comments of Franciszek Jarecki (the first pilot to escape with MiG-15) and Pepelayev (Soviet Korean war ace) which are interesting as reffering to condition of Soviet Air Force some 5 years after the war!

My conclusion is that throughout the war, the Soviets had a larger number of top class pilots than the RAF or the USAAF had by the same time, and that some of the Soviet war material was of absolute top class.
Samples please! Proofs please!

It also is my conclusion that the Soviet Air Force eventually gained on the German qualitative lead, and by the end of the war there probably was no better air force than the Soviet Air Force.
I would say Germans significantly dropped and the last sentence I consider a good joke. Certainly they perfected use of tactical air force and obviously drawn correct conclusions but it is still far to the best air force. Air force is not only aircraft, not only pilots but also radar network, radio communications, logistics, ground support, reserves, industry.

I am absolutely convinced that at any given period would no other air force than precisely the Luftwaffe have been able to stand up with such effect against the Soviet Air Force. If Hitler had been equipped with the RAF or the US Air Force (and its men, doctrines and machines) in 1941 (instead of the Luftwaffe and its men, doctrines and machines), he would not have been able to achieve such accomplishments against the Soviet Air Force. Exchange 1941 for any other year between 1941 and 1945, and the result will be the same.
While I can agree to some degree on 1941 - Germans had several years of experience's advantage at the time, your comment concerning later years, especially 1944 or 1945 is pure rubbish.
By the time both RAF and USAAF(!) had a very well trained personnel, and the latter gradually increased number of experienced airmen. Both Great Britain and USA massively produced most advanced designs of the time, their mature jet aircraft entering service in 1945 for example. What Soviet Union had in turn? Yak-3s? Their PVO force consisting mostly of British and American aircraft?

This may surprise some, but it is a fact that from 1941 onward, the cream of the Luftwaffe was in action against the Soviets. The Allies never encountered the level of oppositions in the air which the Soviets had to endure from the very first day.
Exactly the same may be said about Poland, Denmark, Norway, Low Countries, France, Britain, Yugoslavia and Greece. And I am frankly surprised to hear that eg. Galland, Priller and Schoepfel to name the few, were not the cream of Luftwaffe.

Returning to statements by individual pilots, it is interesting to listen to those Germans who fought both in the West and in the East, i.e. who were in a position to compare the Soviets with the Western Allies. What almost all of them say when I have made interviews with them, is that the Soviets improved quickly, and soon even surpassed the quality of the Western Allies.
Frankly, it would be really surprising if Soviets did not improve. But I would like to see more wartime documents substantiating any thesis or at least more exhaustive letters. This thread was intended to show that Soviet aircraft were not that superior as some still believe. This is based on their performance and their design. We can use pilots' comments here but please use something in kind of Golodnikov, who clearly explains his opinions. Simple claim that something was better without any further explanation is worthless here.


They also had more combat experience on 22.6.41 than Western Allies had on10.5.40 because of campaigns against Japanese, Winter War and the participation of Soviet pilots in Spanish Civil War.
Add here Poland and actions against Baltic States and Rumania, which did not resulted in substantial air combats but added to overall experience. IIRC Polish Campaign was found to be dissapointing for Soviets and resulted with significant changes.

(The purges had not taken away the flight hours from average front line fighter sqn pilotsī logbooks).
Yes, but during Barbarossa the effect was somewhat spoiled by an increase of Red Air Force. Freshers had some 15 hrs on the combat type IIRC!

Can you split the topic?
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