Soviet Naval Air in the Baltic 1945.

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Soviet Naval Air in the Baltic 1945.

Berichtdoor Tandorini » 20 jul 2008, 18:22


The llyushin Il-4 also came to be used widely by the mine/torpedo bomber regiments attached to the Baltic, Black Sea and Northern Fleets, when deployed in a torpedo- carrying role the Il-4 was armed with a 940-kg (2,072 Ib) 45-36-AN (low-level) or 45-36-AV (high-level) torpedo There was also provision for an auxiliary external fuel tank mounted under the rear fuselage The Il-4 was a robust and successful aircraft, a number surviving into the postwar period for use in a variety of support roles.

The Soviet Naval Air Arm was the most active branch of the Red Navy in the Baltic. In the course of the war it made great progress in material and training. However, there were wide differences in the performance of the various squadrons. Over-all, their record remained distinctly below the accomplishments of the Anglo-Americans. The minesweeping and patrol squadrons transferred from the West were impartial judges.

The most outstanding trait of the Soviet pilots was their tenacity. They were best at ceaselessly attacking smaller warships, which, of course, were not too well armed. In their operations, they obviously followed strict orders to the letter. Repeatedly it could be observed that quickly adapting to a changed situation was not one of their strengths.

Of thousands of attacks in 1944-1945 only a few typical examples can be given here. During the Russian break-out from the Oranienbaum beachhead and from the Leningrad front, three German destroyers were sent in to shell the flank of the advancing Soviet Army. With their excellent antiaircraft armament they easily beat off the few air attacks made on them. They used Baltic Port Paldiski as base. There, they were never disturbed, although the port of Reval, only 35 miles to the east, was frequently attacked.

Similarly, the minesweepers and patrol boats guarding the mine and net barriers were persistently attacked when near the barriers, but hardly molested when they retired under the coast. The attacks in the vicinity of the barriers were usually carried out by groups of three to ten planes following each other at short intervals. This forced the patrols to expend their ammunition, but the Russian planes did not follow the German ships when they retreated a few miles.

Shields of armor steel for the antiaircraft guns, developed by the German minesweepers in France, proved valuable here, too. Nevertheless, in the course of time the great number of the air attacks caused considerable losses of personnel. Many boats were damaged by fragments, and some were even sunk. Direct bomb hits were rare.

An exception was the attack by two Soviet fighters on three German torpedo boats on 19 September 1944. These had stopped to search cutters with fugitives bound for Reval. The torpedo boats were caught napping: before they could get up speed, the fighters fired rockets at them. One hit 1?-18 (850/1,100 tons) amidships; she broke in two and sank.

The almost endless stream of ships of all kinds evacuating Reval was the target of numerous air attacks. But though many ships had little or no armament and escorts were few, only one steamer was sunk. Two more were damaged but were brought into port.

The frequent but not very successful attacks on the small warships on guard east of Sõrve Peninsula have already been mentioned. The following report by a minesweeper gives details:

At first a big plane (Boston-type) used to appear in the distance. Then groups of other planes attacked every 40 minutes, almost exactly to the minute. When we remained on our position, the number of planes was increased from 10 to 20, then to 40. They attacked with bombs, torpedoes, machine guns, and gliding bombs which sailed for about 50 meters. To drop them the planes came so near that it sometimes looked as if they wanted to ram us. Off and on, one of these bombs jumped over our boat. Other bombs were dropped from 3-4,000 meters. They had delayed-action fuzes and were ugly because their detonations made our boilers leak, and we had to retire for repairs. If we left our position they sent a fighter after us to take a look, but we were left in peace. On the day after the evacuation of Sõrve Peninsula not a single plane came into view.

Sometimes they dropped bundles of very small fragmentation bombs around the boat, which detonated on hitting the water. They damaged the outer plating and the bulwark railing very badly. Later on every convoy going east was shadowed by a Soviet plane from the island of Bornholm on. Our escort forces had specialists on board who monitored the Russian radio traffic. They could say exactly when the planes had started, and these general1y arrived when expected.

From the wealth of experience gained in these encounters, the following rules, given here in abbreviated form, were developed by the German Supreme Command and distributed to all ships operating in the Baltic in the winter of 1944-1945:

a) Russian planes approach to minimum distance. They drop objects similar to torpedoes, length 3 meters, diameter 40 cm., at a distance of about 50 meters from their targets. During the attack the planes fire with machine guns.

Defense: open fire with all antiaircraft weapons early, maneuver for a good arc of fire.

b) Procedure when attacking convoys (confirmed by statements of prisoners of war and by own battle reports) :

By day Soviet naval aviation will attack after reconnaissance run by Air Force. German ships are reported by radio. Attack in several waves, following each other closely. Composition of a typical wave: 4-6 Boston planes, among them 2-3 with torpedoes, protected by 4-6 fighters.

They attack flying low. Course is set first for the position reported by the reconnaissance plane, then following the course of the German ships, at an altitude of 50-60 meters, sometimes rising to 100 meters for a better view, approaching objective at 20-30 meters. Target is the biggest ship of the convoy. Attacking smaller escorts prohibited.

The planes carry one torpedo or two bombs.

At night free hunting only, at about 500 meters. Torpedo attack not in pincer movement because of danger of collisions (according to reports of prisoners of war) during simultaneous approach upwind and downwind.

Distance for launching torpedoes, 500-700 meters.

Torpedo may jump out of the water when dropped from too great a height. Torpedo attack almost never without bomb attack at the same time. Often only one or two torpedo planes. Watch out for them!

c) Description of the 23 November 1944 attack on the Admiral Scheer, a typical example:

1 group of planes with torpedoes flying Iow,

1 group of planes with bombs at medium altitude,

1 group with bombs very high,

each group 4-6 planes, accompanied by 4 fighters.

The Iow-flying planes fired their machine guns. The bombs of the group at medium altitude had delay fuzes which gave them the effect of mines. The ship received strong shocks, but no lasting damage. The high flying planes dropped heavy bombs (at least 250 kilogram) with short delay fuzes. The torpedo planes came very close to the ship without regard for the antiaircraft fire.

Although German fighters intervened very rarely because the German Air Force was completely overtaxed, it was very noticeable that the Russian planes stayed back whenever there was danger of meeting them. For instance, when a small tanker carrying airplane fuel bound for Libau was attacked and stopped by a hit, German fighters were sent to protect the ship with the much-needed fuel. She was taken in tow and slowly brought into the port of Libau. Russian planes watched from a distance but did not try to attack this easy target.

Of attacks during the last evacuations a minesweeper reported: On Hela roadstead (Bay of Danzig) they came every two hours. They fired at us with their machine guns from a great altitude. We did not take it seriously, but from a height of 3,000 m. they injured some of our men. During this evacuation and that of Swinemünde (mouth of the Oder River) they always attacked with three planes, which dropped bombs and fired their guns. After an interval of 3-4 minutes another three planes attacked.

During this evacuation 6 planes in two groups attacked a torpedo boat (T-36, 1,300/1,750 tons), which was escorted by four motor minesweepers because after the detonation of a magnetic mine only one engine was still working. The planes arrived in very good order and circled around the ships, evidently to study the situation. Then they formed line ahead on a parallel course, turned together and attacked with guns and small bombs. Some hit and caused leaks and heavy casualties. The torpedo boat sank slowly.

The destroyer Z-34 (Commander Karl Hetz, later Commander-in-Chief Fleet, Federal German Navy) found herself in a similar situation but sound reasoning and correct observation saved her. In the spring of 1945 she took part in coastal bombardments. On the night of 15/16 April she returned to Danzig Bay to assist a ship in difficulties and was torpedoed herself by Soviet MTBs. After some hours, one engine was got going again. She crept to Hela North roadstead, but then had to be towed to Swinemünde. Her captain reported:

The Russian planes did not attack the bigger warships. A particular target for them was the last accumulation of ships in a port before the evacuation when there was already panic ashore. Their tactics were to attack in close formation, a kind of steam-roller at sea. In Danzig, they attacked for 10 days, but mostly town and inner port. There they dropped torpedoes twice, aimed at the submarine tender Saar (2,700/3,250 tons), but missed. The ship then shifted her berth to the outer port and there was left unmolested.

3-4 hours after the torpedo hit, our starboard engine was working again, and Z-34 crept to Hela North roadstead. At 0600 hrs attack by 16 planes with bombs dropped in a kind of moderate dive. They fell all around the ship but there was no hit. Z-34 was to be towed away at 0830 hrs, but the tug, a minesweeper, was already on the spot. We started at once, on an easterly course, Le., towards the direction from which the Russian planes came every 1% hours. Shortly after 0730 hrs as expected, the Russian squadron came in sight flying still rather high. They did not pay any attention to the tow but continued to Hela North. When they did not find anything there they dropped their bombs on ships in Hela South roadstead …

According to several reports, from the end of March on, the air attacks were directed more and more against the ships on the firing positions. Of course, with the shrinking of the Danzig-Hela beachhead, everything became more concentrated. The number of planes and the length of the attacks increased. The crews of the planes seemed to have greater experience and greater self-confidence. There were more and more bomb carpets dropped on land, and later possibly under Anglo-American influence-more mass attacks on the ships off the last beachhead on Hela. There 40 or more planes attacked the concentration of ships in the anchorage daily towards evening. When the larger warships left to bombard the Russian positions, the only protection of the transport ships was their own very light antiaircraft armament and the heavier guns from Hela. Finally, Russian shore batteries (180-mm. guns) tried to reach the ships on Hela roadstead. However, they were mostly outgunned by the German destroyers.

Early in April, the battle group had to be withdrawn, mainly for lack of fuel. There were no German fighters, but enough smaller warships were on hand to protect the transports arriving with supplies and leaving crammed full of fugitives, so that heavy losses did not occur. On 15 April, the hospital ship Pretoria was attacked by 20-30 planes although she was clearly marked as a hospital ship. She was damaged, but under the protection of Z-34 succeeded in taking wounded on board and leaving with a convoy. Z-34 then was torpedoed and towed to Swinemünde as mentioned above. Commander Hetz later wrote:

In the last 3 months of the war we did not see a single German fighter.

One should not underestimate the Russian Naval Air Arm, however. On Swinemünde roadstead they flew stubbornly into the immense fire power of the warships there. However, they utilized the panic already mentioned, and the ships were crammed with fugitives.

On 5 May, Z-34 left Swinemünde behind minesweepers at 5 knots. 5 to 6 planes were about to attack. Order: No fire at a distance over 2,000 m, then open fire all at once. (Z-34 had 5 127-mm guns, 4 37-mm, and 16 20-mm, all antiaircraft guns). The result was that the Russian planes flew round the group for 20 minutes in an undecided manner. When they approached again they got the same burst of fire at 2,000 m. Finally they flew back east in formation and dropped all bombs and torpedoes in the water. Evidently, they were fed up.

The almost complete absence of German fighters, the great number of convoys and single ships, often not well protected or armed, the great difficulties in bringing away crowds of fugitives: all this made it easy for the attacker. The Soviet Naval Air Arm was active all the time but it overestimated its successes. For 1945 Piterski gives them as more than 150 freighters with an aggregate tonnage of about 420,000 GRT, 49 warships down to motor minesweeper, and 100 merchant and warships of smaller tonnage. The most probable figures for ships lost to air attack at sea are 41 transports with an aggregate 134,000 GRT and 27 warships.
NEC JACTANTIA NEC METU ("zonder woorden, zonder vrees")

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Re: Soviet Naval Air in the Baltic 1945.

Berichtdoor Carlotta » 13 jan 2009, 20:49


Ilyushin DB-3T: specialised torpedo-bomber version which carried the Type 45- 12-AN aerial torpedo. Under the military designation Ilyushin DB-3 it served widely with the ADD (Long-Range Aviation) and the V-MF (Naval Aviation), remaining operational well into the war with Germany, DB-3s being credited with some of the earliest attacks on Berlin.
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