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Pilot training of Luftwaffe - interested facts.

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“Mister Steinhoff, you might be a hero but your instrument flying is lousy!”

 (US instructor to Oberst Johannes Steinhoff -176 aerial victories - after a jet training sortie post-war)

The Germans have a reputation for being orderly and efficient in everything they do. In reality they were/are probably very far from this idealised image. (2015's VW scandal and Merkel's recent decision making in the current European migrant crisis are good and very recent examples of this 'indiscipline' !) This is especially true of flight training and attitudes to flying in the war-time Luftwaffe. Although the Germans started the war with a cadre of well-trained, even experienced pilots, training was to become " the Luftwaffe's greatest failure.." (James S. Corum in 'Why Air Forces fail' p219) In general terms it is probably true to say that the majority of Luftwaffe pilots were technically rather poorer than their counterparts in other air forces, certainly in comparison with USAF, RAF and even Soviet pilots the longer the war continued. As the war progressed the large disparity in training time between Allied and German schools grew - Corum goes so far to state that by 1944 ..." replacement pilots in the Luftwaffe were so poorly trained they did not need Allied fighters to bring them down in large numbers.. " ('Why Air Forces Fail' p221).  Inexperienced or poorly trained pilots could not cope with engine failures, rough field takeoffs or landings, bad weather or heavy cloud cover..

The problem with pilot training in the Luftwaffe from the outset was linked to that of culture and discipline. Two studies look at aspects of indiscipline in flight training and pilot culture in the wartime Luftwaffe. Ernst Stilla's PhD doctoral thesis on the "Luftwaffe in the battle for air supremacy over Europe" looks at the factors in the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the defensive battles in the West and over Germany, with particular consideration given to research and production, technical development and " human factors", such as pilot training. Elsewhere US academic Roger Bohn's study 'Not flying by the book' looks at the adoption of better flying methods and procedures, especially check-lists during WWII and post-war up to the adoption of the Standard Flying Procedure system and is a very useful read for non-linguists as it exploits parts of Stilla's dissertation. The 'human factor' in flying is of course an important cause in accidents - the wartime Luftwaffe lost literally thousands of aircraft through non-combat causes. In February 1944 alone over one thousand Luftwaffe aircraft were lost in accidents, a good proportion of which were " considered due to inadequate training.." (Boog quoted in Isby 'The decisive duel'  p361)..

Faced with the development of increasingly more complex aircraft during WW II and the training of huge numbers of new pilots to fly them, some air forces recognised that standardised procedures and check-lists had to be drawn-up to maintain and increase military effectiveness. Few air forces though did this. The Luftwaffe certainly did not, and the 'culture' of this organisation simply would not have allowed it - quite the opposite. Accidents and surviving them were almost a badge of honour for the pilots. This had little to do with the intensity of the war in the air - Werner Mölders noted as early as 1935 in his diary that there were very many accidents due to lack of discipline, and Galland's biographers noted that accidents among the 'macho' German fighter jocks were a daily occurrence in 1938.

Pre-war, in Spain, and during the early years of WW II, the Luftwaffe was heavily dominated by individualistic fighter pilots. While experienced pilots valued their 'autonomy', free of the constraints of 'rigid discipline' and had developed their own 'flight craft' and decision-making skills to fall back on, newer pilots did not have this luxury.  Accidents " were common and accepted .. there were few procedures, no checklists and little written documentation.." (Roger Bohn -see below) Gunther Rall's account of converting onto the Luftwaffe's standard fighter - the Messerschmitt Bf 109-  is revealing - while he had almost 200 hours of flight time,  he was operating without any checklist, not even a simple memorised checklist as used in the RAF. The Bf 109 may have been one of the best fighter aircraft in the world in 1940, but it was a pretty unforgiving machine;

" ...its spindly narrow-track undercarriage is actually much too weak to cope with the enormous torque, rate of yaw, and turbulence of the airscrew. Take-off accidents are therefore commonplace, not just in the training schools, but also among front-line units... And once in the air the pilot still has his hands more than full: the undercarriage must be retracted...before a certain airspeed is reached, engine and propeller have to be set manually to cruise, the flaps cranked up by a large hand-wheel....and the now tail-heavy bird....trimmed for level flight..... [A few moments later].... frantically carrying out in reverse order everything that they had somehow successfully managed to do at take-off. It is advisable under such circumstances not to mix up, let alone forget, any of the actions described above, for the Messerschmitt is no docile carthorse, but a highly-strung thoroughbred. If the propeller pitch is not reduced in time, any attempt to go round again will end in a crash beyond the airfield perimeter. If the undercarriage has not been lowered, because the pilot has never before needed to lower an undercarriage in his life, he'll at least get down on the field, but in a resounding belly-landing .... But even then the Messerschmitt still has a few more tricks up its sleeve. If the stick is not held firmly back after touchdown, or if the pilot tramps a little too heavily on the brakes, a somersault is almost inevitable...."

It is striking to note that high accident rates in the Luftwaffe were mostly not the result of combat. In his study Ernst Stilla (see below) quotes Milch who - in early 1943 - complained to the leadership about 'declining aviation discipline' and highlighted loss rates during transfer (long-distance change of base) flights, which had risen to some 20% damaged or destroyed (during the period May-September 1942). In comparison overall American losses during transport flights from the US across the Atlantic Ocean in September 1944 - a journey of several thousand kilometres - were just six aircraft out some 1,200!

In retrospect, the situation cried out for checklists and standardised procedures but Luftwaffe commanders saw little or no use for such developments - one Luftwaffe General, Walther Wever, had famously died in 1936 piloting his own aircraft, having forgotten to remove the external gust locks. The Wever crash was the putative spur to the USAF’s invention of aviation checklists. But this crucial aspect in the management of technological change in aviation was entirely neglected by the Luftwaffe. The 'technology' was not even "classified" and could have been copied easily. In the US, 'Life' Magazine ran an article on the B-17 checklist in 1942, and by the mid-war years American aircraft shot down over Germany carried checklists in various formats.

One important area where the Luftwaffe also and critically failed to adopt 'best practise' was in the area of instrument training. The Luftwaffe was primarily a "fair-weather" air force in 1940, and it remained such throughout the war. Only the desperate expedient of putting bomber pilots trained on instruments into fighters from spring 1943 - the so-called wilde Sau fighters - enabled the Luftwaffe to deploy fighter aircraft to intercept bombers in bad weather. The day fighter arm was troubled by bad weather through the war. As General der Jagdflieger this was one of Adolf  Galland's biggest mistakes according to Caldwell;

 " ..he did not realise the need for instrument training for single-engine day fighter pilots until it was too late. His attitude was typical of the macho prewar  fighter jock. Fight over the Reich? Against planes that fly in clouds? What nonsense! " 

This was an area where Luftwaffe pilots were at a severe disadvantage as the air war intensified as Steinhoff pointed out;

  “..very frequently fighting took place over long distances above cloud cover, and the completely disoriented fighters had to go below the deck and attempt to land wherever they could. Together with insufficient navigational aids, this resulted in many additional losses and a wide scattering of our aircraft. "

By late 1943 the Luftwaffe had lost most of its original complement of pilots. In the first six months of 1943, Germany lost 1,100 fighter pilots, which was about 60% of the number at the start of the year. It lost another 15 percent in each of July and August. It is interesting to note that of the 100+ Luftwaffe 'aces' credited with over 100 victories during WW II only eight of them started their flying career after 1942. The high pilot losses had two disastrous effects. First, even if they had been well trained, newer pilots were inexperienced and inevitably sustained more accidents and combat casualties than the pilots they replaced. Aside from the fact that the Luftwaffe's leadership expected every campaign to be a short one and for many of them stripped training schools of experienced instructors, pilot training programmes in the Luftwaffe were heavily curtailed. Already in early 1944, the Luftwaffe fighter pilot training was shortened to an average of 160 flight hours. A few weeks later, it was further shortened to only 112 hours. Finally, in the spring of 1944, the B flight schools were disbanded, and the pilots were sent into first-line service directly after A schools. The condition for the A2 flight certificate included a basic training of sixty training flights with a total of 15 flight hours. Meanwhile, the average USAAF or RAF fighter pilot's training consisted of 225 flight hours. German survival rates correspondingly reached a nadir. During the first five months of 1944 Luftwaffe fighter units underwent a complete turnover of pilots so that the German achievements in production during 1944 were entirely hollow.

As Bob Goebel pointed out in his memoir 'Mustang Ace', all fighter pilots - certainly all US P-51 pilots - could probably fly well. But while only relatively few could shoot well, in the Luftwaffe, Nachwuchs or new growth pilots-at the controls of their high-powered and heavily armed Bf 109s-could do neither. In his two volume history of the leading Luftwaffe Defence of the Reich fighter Geschwader JG 300, Jean-Yves Lorant noted that " ..the average life expectancy of a JG 300 pilot for the last year of the war amounted to just 11 hours of flying - barely four sorties..including check and ferry flights.." So while there was almost no fuel for training, there were plenty of aircraft, so the Luftwaffe kept sending pilots up to be slaughtered. Bohn argues that better training procedures could have prevented many deaths and at the very least would have facilitated the rapid training of large numbers of new pilots. In the end, improvisation and then desperation dominated. The ideological image of the fanatical fighter - which led to the creation of 'specialist' ramming units - had increasingly overtaken professional capabilities and skills. Little thought was given to the pilots' lives.

 

With the post-war establishment of the Bundesluftwaffe ,German vets were sceptical and ambivalent towards American training procedures, once again highlighting the war-time Luftwaffe's indifference to training and accidents; despite good language training, the German pilots had difficulty adapting to American  training procedures -  learning by rote, repetition, and precise implementation of standard check lists. This was in stark contrast to the experiences of the German veterans. The longer the war had lasted,the shorter and less professional the German pilot training had become. Shortages of fuel due to bombing and Soviet recapture of oil fields also forced reductions in flight training hours with dramatic consequences. 
Günther Rall gives a balanced evaluation, writing many years after his retraining.Here is his colourful comparison of checklists with Catholic religious rituals.

" ...Then, on 19 Sept 1956, I am at last once again strapped into a proper aircraft: a North American T-6.... And on my knees, for the first time in my flying career, I have a check-list. On this the Americans have set down, step by step, every action that has to be taken to get the T-6 into the air and then back down again. The list is arranged in handy sections and anyone who doesn't carry out all the moves and checks in exactly the right sequence is automatically flunked, despite the fact that he might be a hundred times more efficient by doing things in his own individual way. Procedures and checks do for US pilot training what the rosary and litany do  for the devout Catholic -- more in fact: if employed with sufficient ardor, both will get you into heaven, but only the former will return you to earth afterwards. It takes some little while before I learn to appreciate the benefits of this system that at first sight seems so rigid and stupid. Anyone who knows his procedures and has the acronyms in his head to call them up, can hardly go wrong even in the most difficult situations..."

..and that last sentence is -in a nutshell- why there is a Standard Flying Procedure today....

Sources for this blog post;

James S. Corum in " Why Air Forces Fail - The defeat of the Luftwaffe 1935-45 "

Ernst Still's PhD doctoral thesis on the "Luftwaffe in the battle for air supremacy over Europe" is entitled Die Luftwaffe im Kampf um die Luftherrschaft. Entscheidende Einflussgrößen bei der Niederlage der Luftwaffe im Abwehrkampf im Westen und über Deutschland im Zweiten Weltkrieg unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Faktoren „Luftrüstung“, „Forschung und Entwicklung“ und „Human Ressourcen“ and is available as a PDF download from the University of Bonn's website here
http://hss.ulb.uni-bonn.de/2005/0581/0581.htm

 

US academic Roger Bohn's study 'Not flying by the book' on the implementation of check lists and procedures in the world's air forces

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Good article. On a related note, Axel Urbanke's book on III./JG 54's last year of the war is a very good look at how far the Luftwaffe's pilot training program had fallen. In particular, Hans Dortenmann's comment on the state of Luftwaffe pilot training in early September 1944, when he was tasked with choosing new pilots for the unit, says it all: "My God, what are they teaching these guys?"

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Good read, thanks.

 

Thinking about checklists reminds me a bit of how much easier it was to do anatomy, biology etc when using mnemonics rather than trying to remember everything from scratch or even an organized list without mnemonic help. Fortunately mnemonics for Gear, Flaps, Trim etc not too hard to remember.

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Fantastic read, Panzerbar - very well-detailed and informative, I enjoy it from beginning to end.

 

Good link too Pierre, I bookmarked it here.

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 as Pierre64 kindly pointed out, this article was written by me and appeared on my blog.  I'm not sure why it is reproduced in its entirety here. Nor is there even the basic courtesy of a link back to my site as there should have been. If you are wilfully going to just take stuff from my blog then please post a link, thanks

 

FalkeEins - The Luftwaffe blog

http://falkeeins.blogspot.co.uk

Edited by FalkeEins
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 as Pierre64 kindly pointed out, this article was written by me and appeared on my blog.  I'm not sure why it is reproduced in its entirety here. Nor is there even the basic courtesy of a link back to my site as there should have been. If you are wilfully going to just take stuff from my blog then please post a link, thanks

 

FalkeEins - The Luftwaffe blog

http://falkeeins.blogspot.co.uk

 

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Great review of these books and thesis', FalkeEins! And thank you for your blog while we are at it, I've spent numerous hours in it over the past months, finding so many interesting reviews and details.

 

Regarding the thoughts in your blog post...

 

I've always been curious about the imbalance in fighter tactics between the Luftwaffe and VVS fighter forces. It has been often repeated that the repressive system and the culture stemming from the purges made the Soviet fighter units reluctant to propose changes to their fighter tactics. However, I was thinking, weren't both nations dictatorships at the time? Why were VVS leaders afraid of being punished by their political leaders, but Luftwaffe leaders were not? Reading through your blog post it would seem that the early Luftwaffe fighter aces enjoyed some kind of celebrity status, and their political leaders would let them do their magic keeping them on a loose leash, as long as they produced results (ie. aces). But as war progressed and the numbers of fresh pilots rose this model could obviously not be sustained. Also, as per vol II of Jochen Prien's history of JG53 where he talks about the Luftwaffe leadership's reaction to their failure to halt the invasion of Sicily, they would readily adopt a more repressive stance to their fighter pilots as soon as the results did not materialize anymore.

Edited by andyw248

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Great review of these books and thesis', FalkeEins! And thank you for your blog while we are at it, I've spent numerous hours in it over the past months, finding so many interesting reviews and details.

 

Regarding the thoughts in your blog post...

 

I've always been curious about the imbalance in fighter tactics between the Luftwaffe and VVS fighter forces. It has been often repeated that the repressive system and the culture stemming from the purges made the Soviet fighter units reluctant to propose changes to their fighter tactics. However, I was thinking, weren't both nations dictatorships at the time? Why were VVS leaders afraid of being punished by their political leaders, but Luftwaffe leaders were not? Reading through your blog post it would seem that the early Luftwaffe fighter aces enjoyed some kind of celebrity status, and their political leaders would let them do their magic keeping them on a loose leash, as long as they produced results (ie. aces). But as war progressed and the numbers of fresh pilots rose this model could obviously not be sustained. Also, as per vol II of Jochen Prien's history of JG53 where he talks about the Luftwaffe leadership's reaction to their failure to halt the invasion of Sicily, they would readily adopt a more repressive stance to their fighter pilots as soon as the results did not materialize anymore.

 

I'll try not to extend myself much into this: associating the rigid structure of military doctrine in both Germany and the Soviet Union solely to the leadership at the very top is simplifying a little much.

 

To elaborate a little, if you, Captain Andy (Squadron Commander for 3rd AE of 799 IAP, VVS-RKKA) discovered a great way to deal with high-speed enemy attacks on bomber formations, you would probably try it out within 3 AE and should everything go fine in practice you or one of your pilots would obviously report this change to your immediate superior, usually Lieutenant Colonel or Major Jimmy J. Jameson, Regiment Commander for 799 IAP.

 

Here is the make-or-break that caused problems: very often (though not always) Lt. Col. Jameson was an old-fashioned sod who believed on his way or highway, and was sure all these new tactics were nonsense created by youthful hotshots with no experience. Depending on the morality of Lt. Col. Jameson, his reaction would be to heavily reprimand you and should you insist or should he remain displeased it was quick and easy for him to denounce you for insubordination/treason/any made-up accusation to get rid of you. Herein comes the regiment's political officer, the so-called commissar, who your fate depended upon. Once more, this man's morals would decide your faith. Some were nasty bastards who would get rid of you even before the commander, others on the opposite would put their neck on the line and curb abuse of power from regiment commanders. The likely outcomes were varied: sometimes you would walk away unscathed, sometimes you would be demoted, if you were really unlucky you could be sent to a penal battalion and of course you could be shot. Altogether statistics suggest about 100,000 Soviet troops were killed by commissars, firing squads, for retreating without orders, treason and other reasons.

 

Higher up the command chain, however, the important people were actually yearning for innovation and initiative so whenever they got wind of someone with good ideas and a flair for commanding, they acted on it. Examples of initiatives like this include 401 and 402 IAP, when the best test and aerobatics pilots in the Soviet Air Force and industrial complex were gathered to act as they willed and inflict heavy casualties in the Luftwaffe (which they did very quickly), the composition and finger-picking of pilots for 434 IAP by Lt. Col. Vassiliy Stalin, centred around former squadron commander for 521 IAP Major Ivan Kleschev and his deputy Captain Vassily Babkov who had been using vertical and pair tactics since 1941 within their squadron, and the saga of then-Captain Aleksandr Pokryshkin himself who was actively persecuted by his second Regiment Commander and Battalion Commissar Nikolai Isayev, saved from demotion, expulsion from the regiment and worse by the new 16 GIAP commissar Gubarevim and once word of his activities travelled up, he was awarded a second medal for Hero of The Soviet Union three days later.

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Great review of these books and thesis', FalkeEins! And thank you for your blog while we are at it, I've spent numerous hours in it over the past months, finding so many interesting reviews and details.

 

Regarding the thoughts in your blog post...

 

I've always been curious about the imbalance in fighter tactics between the Luftwaffe and VVS fighter forces. It has been often repeated that the repressive system and the culture stemming from the purges made the Soviet fighter units reluctant to propose changes to their fighter tactics. However, I was thinking, weren't both nations dictatorships at the time? Why were VVS leaders afraid of being punished by their political leaders, but Luftwaffe leaders were not? Reading through your blog post it would seem that the early Luftwaffe fighter aces enjoyed some kind of celebrity status, and their political leaders would let them do their magic keeping them on a loose leash, as long as they produced results (ie. aces). But as war progressed and the numbers of fresh pilots rose this model could obviously not be sustained. Also, as per vol II of Jochen Prien's history of JG53 where he talks about the Luftwaffe leadership's reaction to their failure to halt the invasion of Sicily, they would readily adopt a more repressive stance to their fighter pilots as soon as the results did not materialize anymore.

 

Is this premise even true? My reading suggests that the Soviets did change tactics fairly quickly for instance stacking defending CAPs in layers to defeat German vertical manoeuvres -  but until you manage to stop the bleeding and get more trained men into the system to raise the overall skill level this can only have so much effect.

 

Given how atrociously badly trained in basic flying skills the vast majority of Soviet pilots were at the start of Barbarossa (according to Soviet sources quoted in English - I cannot read/speak Russian)  I wonder how much difference tactical doctrine actually made. An advanced doctrine is no use if you cannot execute it. For instance, if the Soviets had flown in finger 4 formation and the Germans in Kette(n?), would the results have been significantly different?

Edited by unreasonable

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If you throw enough men and materials into the equation..the best fighter tactics and training in the world will not offset the results.  Soviet success was a sure thing with seemingly unlimited men and supplies thrown into the breech.  I mean....it was just so overwhelming... and the German fantasy that this was going to take months to win...was a pipe dream. German pilots training and expertise  in the face of  this attrition was a downward spiral.... with the losses and the inability to replace pilots with comparable fighter pilots in experience and training let alone enough aircraft and fuel.  

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I can go along with that  - certainly the Soviets wore down the Germans in the air and on the ground until they achieved not only quantitative but also qualitative superiority, but then again so did the Western Allies. I am more questioning this premise about "best tactics" .... I wonder what the "best tactics" are supposed to be when flying an il-16 against 109s for instance, it surely would not be to copy just what the 109s were doing.

 

Certainly Soviet doctrine put more constraints on pilots' freedom of action: but is that a bad thing given the circumstances?

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What I've read in English and Russian suggests the opposite actually - Soviet pilots were excellent in the handling of their machines, and that was the main focus of their basic pilot training and a good part of their military training.

 

However, the old quote applies here: good flying never killed anyone, and beautifully coordinated turns and such were simply not enough to shoot down an enemy pilot who is bringing his very best to the table.

 

A problem here is that due to the mess everything was in 1941 it was hard to get tactics from zveno level to squadron level, and from squadron level to regiment level, and from regiment level to army level, and from army level to front level, and from front level to Air Force level, and then from Air Force level to another Air Force (i.e. from the Red Army Air Forces to the Navy Air Forces and vice-versa). As a result, you had on the same airbase a regiment with 5 aces per Squadron, half with experience in Spain and Khalkhin-Gol, and another full of greenhorns trained in take-offs and landings, soon to be obliterated and ultimately have whomever is left alive sent to a regiment made of the leftovers of regiments that suffered the same fate. If said experienced regiment had the time between the four flights a day and constant re-basing due to retreats to actually coach a neighbouring regiment and even tour other airbases in the immediate area to spread the tactics with the blessing of the major unit's commander, it is still unlikely they were able to pass the knowledge onto other units since they had their own tactical conceptions and commanders and battles to fight, often preventing the spread of the information. 434 IAP pilots for example did tour around the Stalingrad area in June-July to brief everyone in pair flights, vertically stacked flights (one pair down, another pair 1000m above - if you attack the lower pair, the top one gets you; if you head for the higher pair, it drags you down into the guns of the lower one), slashing attacks and so on, but this unit itself didn't get to go around farther because it was busy in combat.

 

As time went, the crack pilots on every front slowly figured out either by experimenting, observation of the enemy and word of mouth from other units, a reasonably similar set of tactics - pairs (sometimes in flights of four, sometimes in flights of six depending on the unit), vertical stacking, prioritising altitude, etc. so by the end of 1941 tactics were vastly improved, by 1942 they were widespread and finally in 1943 they became fully standard.

 

The stacked CAP (Kubanskaya Etazhërka, under spoiler) became standard doctrine in 1943 I believe.

 

 

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Given how atrociously badly trained in basic flying skills the vast majority of Soviet pilots were at the start of Barbarossa (according to Soviet sources quoted in English - I cannot read/speak Russian) 

 

I think this is a myth/perception issue, at the start of Barbarossa basic pilot skills were very high, pilot training was 4 years, only cut to 2 years (from many Pilot accounts) when Pilot shortage and situation became critical in 42

 

What was lacking was experience and combat training on newer fighter types that were being introduced at that time, and use of out of date tactics/doctrine even when trained fully, this was a major issue

 

maybe I sound pedantic but everything I have read, and sometimes heard first hand, does not point to a lacking in basic flying skills. Russian standards were comparatively quite high at that time even if sometimes outdated  ;)

 

Cheers Dakpilot

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Small remark to VVS

From 1940,according to order of Commisar of Defense Timoshenko,new pilots in VVS graduated from flight schools in rank of sergeant = previous officer rank of lieutenant has been cancelled.As a result,career of military pilot suddenly became highly unattractive (officers career in Red Army was the best job you could apply for in those days with high salary and lots of social wellfare advantages) A shortage of new aspirants was such,that VVS was no longer in position to select them,they started to draft them from common conscripts. 

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I think this is a myth/perception issue, at the start of Barbarossa basic pilot skills were very high, pilot training was 4 years, only cut to 2 years (from many Pilot accounts) when Pilot shortage and situation became critical in 42

 

What was lacking was experience and combat training on newer fighter types that were being introduced at that time, and use of out of date tactics/doctrine even when trained fully, this was a major issue

 

maybe I sound pedantic but everything I have read, and sometimes heard first hand, does not point to a lacking in basic flying skills. Russian standards were comparatively quite high at that time even if sometimes outdated  ;)

 

Cheers Dakpilot

 

I can only go on the sources I have seen: which are not only the usual Luftwaffe-centric accounts.  

 

So, from Yefim Gordon's book "Soviet Air Power in WW2" pp42-43

 

" A commission went to inspect the Air Force in March and April 1941. It found out that pilots not only had low flying skills but were unable to handle basic flying tasks such as strafing ground targets. Combat readiness was extremely low and aircraft maintenance was appallingly substandard...." more along these lines.

 

"Maj-Gen Pogrebov, chief of the airforce reserve, wrote in a report in on 29th July 1941:

 

Based on my brief wartime experience, I believe the air Force has suffered heavy losses in personnel and materials and failed to perform to capacity for the following reasons:

 

1) Poorly trained flying and ground crew unfamiliar with advanced aircraft.....[details]

2) Poor navigation training... [details]"

 

Typing this out is a pain - need two different sets of glasses - so if you need more details you will have to get access to the book.

 

I am aware that this is only one account and that other accounts may differ, also that the Soviets did eventually get better. But if the idea that Soviet pilots were poorly trained in 1941 is a "myth" I would like to know why it is one shared not only by - at least some - historians, but also, according to this source, Soviet officers who were actually there.

Edited by unreasonable

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If you need to train pilots for your gargantuan 20000 pieces airfleet in very short time,smtg has to be sacrificed = quality.Same time you can't have all of them 20000+ pilots as lieutenants ;)

Together with reduced training time these fast-food conscript pilots were tought basics of flight = take-off and landing but tactics,shooting and bombing was supposed to be executed by each individual combat unit to which these pilots were assigned.

There were of course we'll trained pilots of prewar era,some of them with combat experience from Spain and Mongolia,but they were minority.Scattered amongst all combat units.

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I think without too much effort you can find contradictory sources to what you have read regarding Russian pilot quality in the 30's and early 40's

 

It is also often repeated in many sources even by some 'respected' modern historians that RAF pilots had 2 weeks training during the BoB, this was also a myth, to take a few quotes is usually not a clear idea of a bigger picture

 

The VVS was well documented to be unprepared for a war, and the 1940 directive had a bad effect, but to generalize this into the whole air-force to be "atrociously badly trained in basic flying at the start of Barbarossa"  seems a leap against common sense, knowing what Russian pilot training was, and the experience gained from two recent major air wars, notwithstanding the 'Stailin purges'

 

Cheers Dakpilot

Edited by Dakpilot

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What Brano said. To elaborate, a lot of Soviet reports in Russian get lost in translation, and the Gordon series being a generic encyclopedia is bound to do just that - generalise at times.

 

Judging by the statement it does feel like the officer means combat training, which indeed was lacking and when stuff got rough people started being thrown into the fray with even less tactical training including for complex stuff like staring which requires a good approach, aiming with bombs, rockets, guns, avoiding the AAA and also not smashing into the ground in the process.

 

EDIT: Dakpilot beat me to it.

Edited by Lucas_From_Hell

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Simply put,general status of pilots quality was not result of reorganization or purges.It was natural consequence of mass mobilisation(enlargement) of Red army in 1940-early 41.Not only in VVS,in every branch of RKKA.Too many machines requiring too many service personnel. Can't cook them out of water in 5min.

Original pre 1940 RKKA,so called "cadre" army was well trained (in some areas even better) comparing to other powers.This quality simply diluted during mobilisation,which is quite natural consequence.

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I think without too much effort you can find contradictory sources to what you have read regarding Russian pilot quality in the 30's and early 40's

 

It is also often repeated in many sources even by some 'respected' modern historians that RAF pilots had 2 weeks training during the BoB, this was also a myth, to take a few quotes is usually not a clear idea of a bigger picture

 

The VVS was well documented to be unprepared for a war, and the 1940 directive had a bad effect, but to generalize this into the whole air-force to be "atrociously badly trained in basic flying at the start of Barbarossa"  seems a leap against common sense, knowing what Russian pilot training was, and the experience gained from two recent major air wars, notwithstanding the 'Stailin purges'

 

Cheers Dakpilot

 

I disagree with the bold part: given the enormous rapid expansion the Soviets were trying to accomplish simultaneously with the introduction of radically more complex new aircraft types, a dramatic drop in standards is exactly what you would expect - and is documented in Gordon's book.  [ I agree with Brano's post above]. Which also addresses the impact of the recent air wars, and concludes that the Air Force had . "The utter unwillingness to use the foreign and Soviet combat experience gained in Spain and Mongolia..." Gordon p 37

 

I understand that opinions and sources vary - but here is a reputable source, drawing on contemporary primary sources, that completely backs my view that "atrociously badly trained in basic flying skills" is a perfectly reasonable generalization. What, IMHO, is not reasonable, is to try to portray that point of view as a "myth".

 

If you can show me where Gordon is in error, or another credible source that contradicts him, please do so, I am always willing to learn and consider alternate views. You might want to read the book first. 

 

The source is out there gentlemen, you can all make your own minds up. 

What Brano said. To elaborate, a lot of Soviet reports in Russian get lost in translation, and the Gordon series being a generic encyclopedia is bound to do just that - generalise at times.

 

Judging by the statement it does feel like the officer means combat training, which indeed was lacking and when stuff got rough people started being thrown into the fray with even less tactical training including for complex stuff like staring which requires a good approach, aiming with bombs, rockets, guns, avoiding the AAA and also not smashing into the ground in the process.

 

EDIT: Dakpilot beat me to it.

 

No, he also gives a litany of crashes on take-off and landing. [ie he does not just mean combat training]. The meaning is clear.

 

Of course he (Gordon) is generalising, he is talking about a huge organization and making an overall judgement. Are you not generalizing if you claim that the standard of basic flying was good? So what?

Edited by unreasonable

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Problem of Spanish civil war experience was,that every major power evaluated it wrong.Germans being the one who did less mistakes in their conclusions than the others ;)

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However, the old quote applies here: good flying never killed anyone, and beautifully coordinated turns and such were simply not enough to shoot down an enemy pilot who is bringing his very best to the table.

 

Sounds somewhat similar to a quote in one of the Black Cross / Red Star books, where new pilots were nicknamed "Takeoff-Landing" by veteran Soviet pilots, seeing as they couldn't really do a lot more than that.   

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The problem about Gordon and co. is that these are gross simplifications of a very complex scenario.

 

I don't see how they failed to capitalise on the combat experience they had though. For example General Major Georgiy Nefedovich Zakharov, back in 1936 a Senior Lieutenant, fought in Spain and then went on to serve in Mongolia and China. After he returned from the front, by 1941 he had already been promoted to General and was the head of the 43 IAD in Minsk. (source) Yakushin was given an important position commanding part of the Moscow air defence in 1941, then deputy of 6 IAP and later went to command 215 IAD over Kursk. Stepanov, together with other aces, was "transported to the Kiev and Byelorussia Military Districts to take command or act as advisers in Soviet regiments/command staff preparing the invasion of Poland on 17 September 1939" and later became a member of the Air Force staff in charge of the Moscow Air Defence as well in 1941.

 

Pavel Rychagov in fact had his experienced so valued he was appointed general commander of the Soviet Army Air Forces in the beginning of the war. This would be his demise, and for the lack of general organisation and lacklustre performance in the first month of the war, Rychagov and his wife, a Major and regiment commander, were executed.

 

Fighting in Spain, in China, in the Winter War and in Mongolia was all fine and dandy but it was still mostly massive engagements with very manoeuvrable biplanes and tiny nimble monoplanes, at a time where 300km/h was considered sexy stuff. Change Chaikas and CR.32s for MiG-3s,Yak-1s and LaGG-3s fighting against 109s and you see how that experience adds up in practice.

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C'mon Lucas_From_Hell, is not "Soviet pilots were excellent in the handling of their machines" a "gross simplification of a very complex scenario"?

 

Or is it only critical accounts that are "gross simplifications"?  (or "myths" - Dakpilot's expression).

 

In any complex historical phenomenon you can pile specific examples up but if you want to make any useful synthesis you have to judge the evidence and make an overall assessment. What else can a historian do if he is to avoid being a mere chronicler writing lists of things that happened? And of course he does give much more evidence - but you cannot expect me to type out whole paragraphs from a book.

 

I do not know if Gordon is completely right: personally I would guess that the Soviets were more incapable of  than unwilling to take into account their combat experiences,  given what I know about how hard organizations find it to change, even if the leadership wants to do it. But that is a little bit aside from the issue of basic flying skills.

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It is amazing that these  "atrociously badly trained in basic flying skills" Pilots were able to cause an average loss of 740 planes a month to the Luftwaffe between June 22 and 1 November 41, during the initial phase of Barbarossa

 

(obviously that figure is total Luftwaffe losses and not only 'fighter kills')

 

As has been said the whole scenario is a very complex one, there are many books on the subject a lot of which have differing theories

 

again the only thing I have issue with is that statement of Unreasonable, while it may be absolutely true to say there were some badly trained pilots at the time, it cannot be true to say that the vast majority were barely able to fly (basic flying skills)

 

which is basically what your generalization is suggesting

 

​If the Soviet pilots were so bad, and as is not disputed their aircraft were inferior, surely it should have been more of a 'turkey shoot' ..which it certainly wasn't, with a 300+% yearly loss rate suffered by the Luftwaffe even in the early stages, before re-organization of tactics, better training and modernization of equipment started to have an effect,

 

the figures just do not support it, and also came as a surprise to the OKL especially so, now with having to deal with losses on effectively 3 fronts

 

Cheers Dakpilot

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Dakpilot - it is not so much "my generalization" as Yefim Gordon's generalization: based on the reports of the soviet commanders! 

 

Yes of course it was a generalization, and some soviet pilots did well, but if you want to base an argument for average pilot skill on overall casualty numbers you would have to go into much more detail to be convincing. 

 
As I am sure you know some 50% of the total LW losses were in accidents, I expect most of the rest were due to ground fire, or if in air-air combat, bombers (which suffered much worse casualties than the fighters, partly due to incompetent LW escorting). Even I can fly a soviet plane in BoS well enough to get close to an He111 and hose it down if I am determined enough and not intercepted. Too late tonight to look at figures, but I am not sure they are that relevant.
 
I get the impression that you may be tired of people hero-worshipping the LW and thinking everything German is good, Soviet is bad, perhaps almost thinking that saying that they were very poorly trained is somehow disrespectful. I understand that, that way of thinking (the LW uber alles way) is annoying and ill-informed. I have studied military history long enough to know that Soviet methods and equipment were in many respects the equal or better than their German counterparts, even at the start of the war.

 

That is definitely not where I am coming from. But on this particular issue I am simply stating what appears to me - based on the evidence - to be the objective truth - and frankly it pisses me off somewhat to have this view casually dismissed as a "myth" as though it is obviously incorrect and ill-informed.  

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Fair enough but your generalization based on (1 book) Yefim Gordon's generalization: based on the reports of (how many?)  soviet commanders  ;) 

 

For a much more in depth look at the Russian training/readiness in 40/41, Russian Aviation and Air Power in the 20th century/Chapter 2  'From Chaos to the Great Patriotic War' edited by Robin Higham, John T greenwood and Von Hardesty gives a very good picture of the bleak situation

 

50% of Luftwaffe losses 1941 were from accidents? not sure I know that source

 

I am sure you will have no trouble looking up German fighter losses for 1941 on Eastern front, however isolating 'air combat' losses may not be so easy, Luftwaffe records (total  loss) 1941 758 bombers , 648 fighters (Bergstrom/Mikailov) 

 

I just feel that the 'objective truth' that the vast majority of Russian pilots in June 1941 were  "atrociously lacking in basic flying skills" to be implausible, lacking in preparedness most definitely

 

and will likely be impossible to prove with certainty either way

 

Cheers Dakpilot

Edited by Dakpilot

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 frankly it pisses me off somewhat to have this view casually dismissed as a "myth" 

 

 

You mean someone is being unreasonable??

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Great scenarios, Lucas, thanks for laying them out! It seems they got rid of the commissars in '43 though...

 

I'm still trying to figure out how the Luftwaffe was able to develop modern concepts before others. Luftwaffe fighter pilots enjoying some kind of celebrity status is just an hypothesis. Also, even the Luftwaffe seems to have applied all sorts of different fighter tactics, some working out better than others. I recently read Norbert Hannig's memoirs, "Luftwaffe Fighter Ace" (recommended elsewhere on this forum); he describes bomber attacks on a bridge east of Leningrad where he flew in a unit that was assigned close cover duties for the bombers, and how he had to fly through the curtain of AAA. I was surprised to read this since I had thought that the Luftwaffe generally did free hunt missions, or at least high cover, but it seems they applied those concepts partially while still sticking to older concepts. Maybe they just did more free hunt missions, and earlier in the war, than the Russians?

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While the term commissar was formally abolished, the position continued to exist as the Regiment Political Officer. It is true that they no longer had such influence in the decision-making process as before, and their power to veto unit-level decisions ceased.

 

About the Luftwaffe and free-hunting, this is one of those misconceptions about it really that stems from a little bit of a pedestal it was put on. While they did fly free-hunt missions into enemy territory, other air forces did so regularly. It was no alien concept to most generals that intercepting an enemy bomber formation while they're taking off or forming up is easier, that aircraft taking-off and landing are easier to shoot down, that you can surprise enemy fighters by attacking them where they think they are safe and that you can demoralise the enemy by establishing your fighter arm's presence deep within their lines.

 

Conversely, the Luftwaffe was also aware that in the face of enemy fighter opposition (and in Leningrad this meant both the Army Air Force and the Baltic Fleet Air Force) one needs fighter escort in order to accomplish a mission with acceptable loss rates. As much as fighter pilots loved dashing into battle hunting for enemy fighters to tangle with or easy bomber/transport/etc. victims, there is only so much freedom one can enjoy before the high command tells you what you need to be doing rather than what you want to be doing.

 

History has shown that most times an air force decided to send bombers without fighter escort (either because they couldn't muster the aircraft, couldn't coordinate it or didn't want to) the results eventually turned grim, and the impromptu response to Operation Barbarossa by the Soviet bomber arm is an example of that. It has to be said here that despite the carnage, the incessant attacks did slow down the German advance and these delays were instrumental in saving Leningrad and Moscow from falling, but in hindsight (which as we all know is 20/20) coordinated fighter escorts would have made losses to fighters at least less severe.

 

EDIT: Soviet fighter pilots and units were mostly doing attack, recce and intercept missions in 1941. These often put them deep into enemy territory and made the way home a short-lived free hunt, but the reason they didn't engage in old-fashioned free-hunting as often is because resources were precious and times were desperate, and I can imagine the reaction a unit commander would have if a pilot walked up to them and suggested 'hey boss, I know y'all busy with all this bombing and bombers and stuff but I want to take six of the remaining nine aircraft we have left for a hike into enemy territory' :biggrin:

Edited by Lucas_From_Hell

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Fair enough but your generalization based on (1 book) Yefim Gordon's generalization: based on the reports of (how many?)  soviet commanders  ;) 

 

For a much more in depth look at the Russian training/readiness in 40/41, Russian Aviation and Air Power in the 20th century/Chapter 2  'From Chaos to the Great Patriotic War' edited by Robin Higham, John T greenwood and Von Hardesty gives a very good picture of the bleak situation

 

50% of Luftwaffe losses 1941 were from accidents? not sure I know that source

 

I am sure you will have no trouble looking up German fighter losses for 1941 on Eastern front, however isolating 'air combat' losses may not be so easy, Luftwaffe records (total  loss) 1941 758 bombers , 648 fighters (Bergstrom/Mikailov) 

 

I just feel that the 'objective truth' that the vast majority of Russian pilots in June 1941 were  "atrociously lacking in basic flying skills" to be implausible, lacking in preparedness most definitely

 

and will likely be impossible to prove with certainty either way

 

Cheers Dakpilot

 

I suppose we are at the agree to disagree stage then, but just a few final comments:

 

1) No idea "how many" Commanders in a Soviet investigatory committee. Enough to make sure that they kept one another under close scrutiny for signs of defeatism, I expect ;)

 

2) The losses topic: this is a minefield as anyone who has looked at it knows. Bergstrom's "Barbarossa -The Air Battle" has pages of eye-wateringly small text trying to address this, and sorting out combat vs non combat, air-air vs ground fire and even claims vs actual losses is a nightmare - for another time I think.

 

The 50% number for accidents that I typed from memory - I have seen that in other contexts, but there is a table in "The German Fighter since 1915" by Rudiger Kosin that shows that throughout the war, out of total LW losses, over 50% were classified as "Without enemy influence". Figure for 1941 is 3,551 "without enemy influence" out of 7,033. There is no footnote to the exact primary source, but I expect these were from one of the contemporary sources listed in the book. 

 

The other way to get at this is bottom up  - Prien's book on Stab and I/JG3 has a detailed list of losses with comments on the cause of each loss from the start of Barbarossa. I had tabulated that before somewhere (cannot find it now and too lazy to do it again), but a startling high proportion of these were in accidents. No reason to think this was exceptional.

 

I do not know exactly what your number represents - but, frankly even if I did, I am not sure how this really helps the argument either way. We all accept, that the LW took losses, including from fighter units. But what stands out for me is not that the Soviet pilots were skilled but that they were determined. Obviously the survivors learned rapidly on the job and got better - or were the better flyers to begin with.

 

3) "Atrocious". If you find this over-dramatic, how about "very poor"? It is still clearly as different as night and day to your position, which is also a sweeping qualitative generalization.

 

I agree that this sort of thing is difficult to prove one way or another and I am quite happy for popular preconceived opinions to be challenged, but there is substantial evidence to back my claim - or actually Gordon's claim.  

 

Nothing for me to add here - I recommend Gordon's book. Even if you disagree with some of his historical conclusions it has a huge amount of detail on Soviet organization and individual aircraft types. 1CGS should do a deal with him to bundle a copy with new sales of BoM.....

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 During fights in front of Moscow Stalin raised from ashes old tzars army traditions and started to award exeptional units with Guards title.This way soviets not only boosted low morale of their combatants but also approached a bit the german philosophy of "professional elite fighters". Guard units were first to receive new weapons,best combatants and commanders.This way soviets created elite within conscript army and this tradition prevails till present times.

 Lots of casualities in VVS during 41 Barbarossa onslaught were unescorted SB bombers (also DB-3 to some extent),deployed in small groups attacking from low altitudes trying to slow down panzergruppen advance (simmilar to Fairey Battle deployment in may 40 in France).Those were real "turkey shooting" times for Jagdwaffe.

 To add last line in my post - training program remained Achilees heel for VVS (and not only) till the end of the war in may 1945.They did not put emphasis on master training of individuals.They drafted large amount of manpower,tought them basics and let the "win their spurs" in combat.Crude?Primitive?Ineffective?Wastefull? Difficult to say.But they eventually raised Red Banner above Reichstag.

 

 

Free hunt is not "modern tactics",its a secondary activity for fighter,when there is nothing else more important to do.German Jagdwaffe was relatively small professional force comparing to conscript character of VVS.German doctrine was that of concentrated force in small areas of breakthrough.Local superiority, at which they were very good.VVS was more about spreading airforce kind of equaly to everyone.



Local superiority doctrine works well for quick (blitzkrieg) operation which eventually failed on eastern front.Soviet stubborn defence and ability to replenish destroyed units with fresh meat (this was in fact 3rd mobilisation wave that started before 22.6.1941) allowed them to execute 41-42 winter counteroffensive,not only localy (Battle of Moscow) but on large whole-front scale.Something germans never achieved after Barbarossa.With this wholescale strategy they kept german forces occupied everywhere,not able to use their superior organisation skills when reinforcing critical parts of the frontline.



Operation Uranus in south together with parallel execution of operation Mars in central area was an example of soviet doctrine.Even operation Mars failed to achive its main goals,it allowed Uranus to develop into full-scale offensive by occupying large amount of german forces around Rzhev.Those,that could be used to boost defence and assist Manstein in operation Wintergewitter (relief of encircled 6th and part of 4th Tank army at Stalingrad).



 

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"Black Cross Red Star" vol. 1 goes into a lot of detail on German and Russian pilot training pre war. As I recall, the average pilot on both sides going into front line service for the 1st time had all the basic flying skills. The difference is that the German pilots would have had about 50-100 hours more of flying time and would have taken more advanced training, for example in navigation.

Edited by Sgt_Joch

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What I have read and seen in Documentaries about Russian training is little to none before the invasion in 41. What I have read about that is the obsolete tactics and lack of radio. It really does not matter how many hours you got in a plane if you need to have two wingmen glued to both your wings and only looking at you and the signs you give them.

Meet that with battle hardened pilots with modern tactics and can communicate .

However after Barbarossa new Russian pilots had very varied training, most of them on planes they was not to fly, because of the fact training units had a separate budget than fighting units , they simply did not get priority in fuel supply. Also they where not allowed to perform acrobatics or challenging maneuvers. 

When they was deployed they went into units witch was divided in 3 different branches, Getting an escort for bombers was to say it lightly difficult. 

Of course after hard earned expirience things get better, tactics was developed and copied. After monumental losses the Russians slowly got better and so did the equipment. 

By Kuban campaign the table was turned, Russians had sufficient quality pilots and planes that could match the Germans.

In all aspects of Russian warfare, the waste of men and resources make no sense at all, there is no doubt IL 2 Sturmovik pilots was sendt on missions with new weapon without testing them first, in some cases the pilot asked the armourer what to do. 

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4.06 times as many aircraft were lost in combat in the West than were lost in the East, a ratio reasonably close to Groehler's 3.41 for all "losses". The most chilling statistic for the JG 26 pilots appears in the sortie data. An airplane flying a combat mission in the West was 7.66 times more likely to be destroyed than one on a similar mission in the East. It is clear that the burden of sacrifice was borne by the Luftwaffe aircrew on the Western Front and over the Reich, not on the Eastern Front.

 

http://don-caldwell.we.bs/jg26/thtrlosses.htm

 

 

50% of Luftwaffe losses 1941 were from accidents? not sure I know that source
 

 

I do know about 1941....

 

 

 

By the first half of 1943, they had reached the point where the fighter force suffered as many losses due to noncombat causes as it did to the efforts of its opponents. Thereafter, the percentage of noncombat losses began to drop.  The probable cause of this was due less to an awakening on the part of the Luftwaffe to the need for better flying safety than to the probability that Allied flyers, in their overwhelming numbers, were shooting down German pilots before they could crash their aircraft.

 

http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/AAF/AAF-Luftwaffe/AAF-Luftwaffe-8.html

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While interesting neither of those article mention anything about 1941, which was my only point, in fact by saying 

 

 

 

By the first half of 1943, they had reached the point where the fighter force suffered as many losses due to noncombat causes as it did to the efforts of its opponents.

 

only reinforces a lower rate in 1941

 

 

 

3) "Atrocious". If you find this over-dramatic, how about "very poor"? It is still clearly as different as night and day to your position, which is also a sweeping qualitative generalization.

 

My position is about basic flying skills in 1941 which is a specific thing, if you had said Atrocious combat tactics, Atrocious training on newer types of aircraft, Atrocious experience of combat flying, Atrocious leadership,Atrocious instrument flying skills, etc I would have agreed with you

 

but on basic flying skills we will have to continue to disagree, to say that the vast majority of Russian pilots at the start of the war were even "very poor" in the basic skills of flight is rather stretching the imagination, they had all completed peacetime basic training which was of a high order  pre 1941

 

it may be a fine point of use of words, but is an important one

 

Cheers Dakpilot

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