The Soviet Airforce Versus The Luftwaffe

A.D. Harvey assesses the role of the Soviet Air Force in the defeat of Nazism.

Soviet Russia, having invested lavishly in military aviation, had the most powerful air force in the world in the mid-1930s, in terms of both numbers and technical excellence. The Tupolev TB-3, first flown in 1930, was the world’s first monoplane four-engined bomber and the only one at the time in series production; the Polikarpov I-16 was the world’s first monoplane fighter to have retractable undercarriage.

The Soviet aero industry had its weaknesses, notably in engine development (which relied mainly on copying and improving German, French and American designs) and in production standards: in 1941 it was found that the shoddy finish on the LaGG-3 fighter, one of a new generation of fighters intended to replace the I-16, reduced speed by at least 10 per cent and rate of climb by 50 per cent. More important, however, were defective notions of operation and deployment. It was one thing to have a huge air force, another to know how to use it in a war. The Soviet air service (Voenno-Vozdushniye Sily or VVS), no less than the army, suffered from Stalin’s purge of his military high command from 1937 onwards. Jan Alknis, the VVS’s Chief of General Staff, an advocate of the use of long-range strategic bombers, was among the first to be executed.

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