Jump to content

Eastern Front Altitudes


Halon
 Share

Recommended Posts

I've seen it mentioned quite a few times now that the typical operating altitudes on the Eastern Front were generally lower than in Western Europe and the Pacific (PTO presumably includes Burma etc) allowing aircraft like the P-39 to shine. I'd really like to know why this was the case on the Eastern Front as its a really interesting quirk and for the life of me I can't think of a reason that couldn't also be applied somewhere else, apart from maybe Russian aircraft altitude preferences?

 

Thanks in advance.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Isn't it simply that the VVS and the Luftwaffe were generally deployed to support their respective ground forces on the front, rather than in attacking strategic objectives? 

  • Upvote 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

VBF-12_Stick-95

I'm sure many have better incite than I but I believe there was less strategic high altitude bombing on the Eastern Front, except in certain areas.  The majority of bombing was lower level tactical.  This meant escorts, and thus interceptors, would be flying lower too.  I read a book on the MiG and it said they designed it for high altitude performance (3,000+m) but most air battles occurred below that, mostly at 2,000 or below.  Maybe others can correct me or expand on it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Y29.Layin_Scunion

I'm sure many have better incite than I but I believe there was less strategic high altitude bombing on the Eastern Front, except in certain areas.  The majority of bombing was lower level tactical.  This meant escorts, and thus interceptors, would be flying lower too.  I read a book on the MiG and it said they designed it for high altitude performance (3,000+m) but most air battles occurred below that, mostly at 2,000 or below.  Maybe others can correct me or expand on it.

Exactly this. A vast majority of bombers on the Eastern front stayed at lower altitudes on both sides (<4km). This lead to low flying escorts as well.

 

Along with that, there was extensive air support operations for ground forces as you said.

 

It was just how the fighting went.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm sure many have better incite than I but I believe there was less strategic high altitude bombing on the Eastern Front, except in certain areas.  The majority of bombing was lower level tactical.  This meant escorts, and thus interceptors, would be flying lower too.  I read a book on the MiG and it said they designed it for high altitude performance (3,000+m) but most air battles occurred below that, mostly at 2,000 or below.  Maybe others can correct me or expand on it.

 

The MiG was designed for maximum operational effectiveness at 5-6K (the point at which it's engine is at maximum performance/can outperform a 109). The MiG was cancelled due to the fact that Russia did not need a high altitude interceptor, it's engine was wasting factory space that could have went to the IL2 which was a stronger price/performance and it's range was lower than advertised when the project was pitched. Furthermore the poor quality control lead to pilot deaths and state executions. The plane has an interesting history.

 

In either case, the western front has MUCH higher altitudes than the east. B17's used to level bomb around 10K and turn times for planes used to be 30-40sec+

Edited by GridiroN
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the state executions are actually related to the Taubin MP-3/6 autocannons fitted to the I-200 (Mig-3 prototype) which proved to be a failure, some of the designers and staff of OKB-16 design office were arrested and executed

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakov_Taubin

 

The Mig -3 does have a very interesting history, but there is quite a bit of 'generalized misconception' relating to it

 

A lot of accidents and some of it's reputation came from pilot's transitioning from less sophisticated types of aircraft with much less performance

 

although far from perfection, and with some serious edge of envelope handling issues, it's comparatively very short production run ending in 41 and a general lack of info has perhaps led it to be more maligned than it should be 

 

http://www.airvectors.net/avmig3.html

 

As relating to the OP, most of Russian manufacturing industry was moved far out of range of strategic bombing mostly behind the Ural mountains at the beginning of the War (including production of Mig-3) a huge undertaking, resulting in many of the quality issues while factories with new workers came on line.

 

Soviet Aviation doctrine was overall more about tactical support of ground forces than strategic use, with fighters supporting/protecting rather than being used generally in an air superiority role

 

(generalising a bit there)

 

Cheers Dakpilot

Edited by Dakpilot
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

 

As relating to the OP, most of Russian manufacturing industry was moved far out of range of strategic bombing mostly behind the Ural mountains at the beginning of the War (including production of Mig-3) a huge undertaking, resulting in many of the quality issues while factories with new workers came on line.

 

Thats particularly interesting and seems to explain the overall lack of stategic bombing. Thanks everyone for the input its been very helpful!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just as a novelty, The medium Bombers in Western front (B 26 , A 20 , B 25) suffered less to fighters at medium altitudes, but a great deal more to flak than the heavies. 

And Luftwaffe for this reason continued to priority the heavies at high altitudes. 

One of many reasons the P 39 never was a real option on Western Front, What is interesting is why did the P 39 be such a success in Eastern Front while not in the Pacific . And why was the P 40 such a success in Pasific and not in Eastern front. P 40 was liked by the Aussies and US pilots in China, Guinea

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

 

What is interesting is why did the P 39 be such a success in Eastern Front while not in the Pacific

It's my understanding that the P39 performed well (or at least didn't suffer a performance drop) at the altitudes that characterised the Eastern Front.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What is interesting is why did the P 39 be such a success in Eastern Front while not in the Pacific . And why was the P 40 such a success in Pasific and not in Eastern front. P 40 was liked by the Aussies and US pilots in China, Guinea

One major difference is carbon monoxide poisoning, which was bad with the early P-39, to the point where they were considered unfit for service (RAF evaluation, iIrc). They were then shipped to the Soviet Union, where they were held in high regard, because on the paper, it performed better than the P-40.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The contrast between the success of the P-39 on the EF as apposed to the very different experience in the MTO is stark. The Luftwaffe claimed some 1600+ P-39's shotdown, the majority of those would be on the EF. I haven't seen any numbers from the Soviet side as to actual losses of P-39's or victories against the Axis. Has anyone got any data on that? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

VO101Kurfurst

I've seen it mentioned quite a few times now that the typical operating altitudes on the Eastern Front were generally lower than in Western Europe and the Pacific (PTO presumably includes Burma etc) allowing aircraft like the P-39 to shine. I'd really like to know why this was the case on the Eastern Front as its a really interesting quirk and for the life of me I can't think of a reason that couldn't also be applied somewhere else, apart from maybe Russian aircraft altitude preferences?

 

Thanks in advance.

 

Il-2 tactics. Their tactic was to stick as close to the ground as possible and deliver sudden low level attacks, as their armement of cannons and rockets, and a few smaller bombs was best suited for that. They were also harder to spot this way. This correspondingly this tactic put practical limits to how far (higher) away their escorts could stay as well as intercepting German fighters's altitude. If they went too high, they would not be able to spot Sturmoviks.

 

Flying higher is dictated also by flak. At 3-4000 meter, its too high for light flak, and heavy flak was far less prominent unless it was a strategic tarrget, simply because of the sheer size of the Eastern Front. So there was generally less incentive to fly higher. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One major difference is carbon monoxide poisoning, which was bad with the early P-39, to the point where they were considered unfit for service (RAF evaluation, iIrc). They were then shipped to the Soviet Union, where they were held in high regard, because on the paper, it performed better than the P-40.

 

How can carbon monoxide get into the cockpit with the engine behind the cockpit?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

unreasonable

Any reference on how high the Ju52's operated on average?

Ingress and egress I mean

 

If you are carrying paratroops , passengers, reinforcements or especially wounded you have to take the temperature into account. Rule of thumb is 6.5 degrees C per 1,000 metres.  

 

Passengers may have standard combat uniforms: you do not want them to freeze in the unheated cabin. So I would think the answer is certainly no higher than 3,000 metres and probably a lot lower. 

 

Maybe someone can find what altitude the D-Day airborne flotilla reached.  If you are delivering cargo, post etc over a long distance then I suppose cruising height could be higher - but not much for 3m ;).

Edited by unreasonable
Link to comment
Share on other sites

How can carbon monoxide get into the cockpit with the engine behind the cockpit?

 

The carbon monoxide was originated from firing the front machine guns, not from the engine...

If you are carrying paratroops , passengers, reinforcements or especially wounded you have to take the temperature into account. Rule of thumb is 6.5 degrees C per 1,000 metres.  

 

Passengers may have standard combat uniforms: you do not want them to freeze in the unheated cabin. So I would think the answer is certainly no higher than 3,000 metres and probably a lot lower.

 

Maybe someone can find what altitude the D-Day airborne flotilla reached.  If you are delivering cargo, post etc over a long distance then I suppose cruising height could be higher.

 

And in addition the operational altitude determines the air pressure and therewith the oxygen content of the air in the cabin (as it wasn't pressurized) - if you do not intend to kill your "living cargo" you should not go higher than 4.000 - 5.000 meters as absolute maximum... ;)

 

From what I could read so far the typical "drop altitude" for German paratroopers in 2nd WW operations was between 150 and 100 meters...

Edited by Geleitzug
Link to comment
Share on other sites

unreasonable

 

From what I could read so far the typical "drop altitude" for German paratroopers in 2nd WW operations was between 150 and 100 meters...

 

Right, but they would not have flown that low in and out of the Stalingrad pocket, for instance, since they would have been far too easy to hit with infantry small arms ground fire. 1000m would be pretty safe from that except from dedicated AAMG. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Right, but they would not have flown that low in and out of the Stalingrad pocket, for instance, since they would have been far too easy to hit with infantry small arms ground fire. 1000m would be pretty safe from that except from dedicated AAMG. 

 

Indeed, supplying cargo or dropping paratroopers is a different thing in terms of altitude... I've read in a chronicle of a Ju-52 pilot who flew eight air lift sorties to Stalingrad, that they flew at an altitude of 3.000 respectivelly 3.500m until they approached the "Kessel", then subsequently descent to a few hundred meters when they were close to the airstrip (Pitomnik or Gumrak); his last sortie was a supply drop mission where the "drop altitude" was mentioned with 150m for drop-containers and 50m for boxes/crates and bags. 

Edited by Geleitzug
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you are carrying paratroops , passengers, reinforcements or especially wounded you have to take the temperature into account. Rule of thumb is 6.5 degrees C per 1,000 metres.

 

Passengers may have standard combat uniforms: you do not want them to freeze in the unheated cabin. So I would think the answer is certainly no higher than 3,000 metres and probably a lot lower.

 

Maybe someone can find what altitude the D-Day airborne flotilla reached. If you are delivering cargo, post etc over a long distance then I suppose cruising height could be higher - but not much for 3m ;).

Good stuff - thank you

Geleitzug as well.

Edited by Gambit21
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Right, but they would not have flown that low in and out of the Stalingrad pocket, for instance, since they would have been far too easy to hit with infantry small arms ground fire. 1000m would be pretty safe from that except from dedicated AAMG. 

 

If You google the JU 52 you will find youtube films from a AA perspective . The JU 52/HE-111 supply bridge to stalingrad was flown at medium altitude it seems like to me. High but under 10 000 feet. My guess is the oxygen supplies was not adequate for the med-evac missions. Still they seems to fly even lower

Edited by 216th_LuseKofte
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If You google the JU 52 you will find youtube films from a AA perspective . The JU 52/HE-111 supply bridge to stalingrad was flown at medium altitude it seems like to me. High but under 10 000 feet. My guess is the oxygen supplies was not adequate for the med-evac missions. Still they seems to fly even lower

The Red Army in general used anything available, from MP to tank-canon, to shoot at enemy planes - it was ordered that way. At least one can find it that way in most of the German sources. It was a wise procedure for the German transport planes to stay above 1000 m over enemy territory.

The routes from Stalingrad to the German lines were full of red AAA-gun sites, a nightmare for an air-bridge based on the Ju-52. The Ju-52 had no oxygen-replenishment for the passengers and the usually badly overloaded planes had difficulties to climb up over 3000 m anyhow. The different types of BMW-132-engines build in the Ju-52 were low-level-versions of that engine, not much power left above 3000 m.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

unreasonable

If You google the JU 52 you will find youtube films from a AA perspective . The JU 52/HE-111 supply bridge to stalingrad was flown at medium altitude it seems like to me. High but under 10 000 feet. My guess is the oxygen supplies was not adequate for the med-evac missions. Still they seems to fly even lower

 

Makes sense. There is no way a Ju52 can get above heavy/medium AA guns (75mm + ) anyway, so no point trying, if a loaded Ju52 can even do it. Automatic AA of 25mm-37mm can get above 3,000m but the velocity at that height is very low, it gets very hard to hit anything.

 

So the AA danger bands are roughly:

 

3000m+ vulnerable to heavy/medium only

1000-3000m vulnerable to heavy/medium and light

-1000m vulnerable to AAMGs

-500m vulnerable to small arms

 

Trade off, especially leaving the pocket, is that the more time spent climbing, the slower your horizontal travel. So going in it sounds like 3000m followed by a steep descent, going out I would guess climb as as fast as possible while still over friendly territory and then level off - with luck you are at or above 1000m by that stage, but no way can you get above the 25-37mm AA guns.

 

Someone who has mastered the Ju52 (which is not me) should give it a go on the Stalingrad winter map: work out where the edge of the pocket might have been, climb out from Pitomnik with a load, see how high you can get at best climb speed by the time you reach the edge of the German held area.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Red Army in general used anything available, from MP to tank-canon, to shoot at enemy planes - it was ordered that way. At least one can find it that way in most of the German sources.

Honestly, that sounds like one of those tall tales pulled from one obscure combat report or daily briefing, and which then is allowed to do the rounds through popular historical litterature, without anyone stopping to think if that even makes sense.

 

Sure, infantry units might be advised to use their automatic weapons against low flying aircraft, if the opportunity presented itself, but tank guns? That's just bonkers.

 

For one thing, Soviet tank guns generally couldn't be elevated very high, the exception being the SU-76 which was also used for indirect fire, and they certainly weren't sighted to fire at those angles. If they were to fire at an aircraft, they would essentially be firing blind, and by the time the plane was close enough to the horizon to actually be in the sights, the distance would be so great, that there's be absolutely no chance of hitting it. The result would be a miss every single time, and you'd just have a stray round going God knows where.

 

No commander with any knowledge about how a tank gun works would give such an order.

  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Honestly, that sounds like one of those tall tales pulled from one obscure combat report or daily briefing ...

No commander with any knowledge about how a tank gun works would give such an order.

Hm, I'd be cautious to transfer our modern conceptions to the Eastern front - often it was a desperate situation on both sides and that's a perfect breeding ground for strange orders. There are several other factors like "don't let fear overwhelm the crews, give them something to do, fire - even if they waste some ammo".

  Anyhow, it would be interesting to hear some first hand Russian sources on this. The air defence of the Red Army by German sources mostly is described as furious, former aircrews use phrases like "nothing in the west was comparable to that, the Russian shot with anything they had". That's a central theme, I think there's some truth in it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

VO101Kurfurst

Well, if you consider that in air to air combat only about 5% of the 'properly' aimed shots land on the aircraft, in ideal conditions... you could say that hitting the aircraft is actually 95% a matter of chance. Hence why you have machineguns, with hundreds and hundreds of rounds. 

 

So why not hand out such Mosin-shaped lottery tickets to all those millions of Red Army soldiers? Maybe one of them is a winner, you know!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, if you consider that in air to air combat only about 5% of the 'properly' aimed shots land on the aircraft, in ideal conditions... you could say that hitting the aircraft is actually 95% a matter of chance. Hence why you have machineguns, with hundreds and hundreds of rounds.

 

So why not hand out such Mosin-shaped lottery tickets to all those millions of Red Army soldiers? Maybe one of them is a winner, you know!

I'm not talking about hand weapons. I'm talking about the idea of firing a tanks main gun at an aircraft. There are 3 reasons why no sane commander would order such a shot to be taken:

 

1. It's a guaranteed miss. Odds much lower than 1%.

 

2. Shells are too expensive and logistically demanding to waste like that.

 

3. You don't want 75mm shells (or larger) flying around in random directions with no idea where they'll land.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have read at least two 'anecdotal' accounts from Soviet tank crews firing main gun at aircraft..

 

don't ask me to find them again now  :) fairly sure one was from the site with multiple Russian pilot and war memoirs and one in another book

 

I am not advocating it's efficiency or how sensible it would be ;) but I have definitely read about it from more than one person's/crew's perspective

 

Cheers Dakpilot

Link to comment
Share on other sites

unreasonable

I'm not talking about hand weapons. I'm talking about the idea of firing a tanks main gun at an aircraft. There are 3 reasons why no sane commander would order such a shot to be taken:

 

1. It's a guaranteed miss. Odds much lower than 1%.

 

2. Shells are too expensive and logistically demanding to waste like that.

 

3. You don't want 75mm shells (or larger) flying around in random directions with no idea where they'll land.

 

This is all very rational but ignores the morale aspect. Ground troops hate air attack because it makes them feel helpless, like rodents waiting for the hawk to pounce. This occasionally has had devastating results - witness the French reservists fleeing their positions at Sedan despite the hundreds of Stuka attacks only actually destroying a mobile brothel, a donkey and a field kitchen. Encouraging them to fire back is a large part of overcoming this morale effect, even if they hardly hit anything.

 

Aircrew also hate ground fire and are much less likely to attack accurately or make multiple passes when facing it.

 

Tank main gun shells? Why not, if you have plenty at the time, it will give the tank crew something to do rather than worry about death. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But the chance of hitting the aircraft with the maingun is near to zero, so to me it is much more plausible to use the coaxial machinegun, instead.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I did consider it total nonsense as well a few years back, but by now I've read a lot of accounts where this allegedly happened.

 

Otto Carius claims to have shot down an aircraft in a Tiger, while Dieter Orth was lost in his Hs 129 after being hit by a T-34 main gun.

Related, slightly different - in Vietnam, 1967, a 155mm artillery piece shot off the tail of a C-7 Caribou in an accidental friendly fire incident.

 

The chance to hit is there, and I guess at least occasionally, someone would take that chance.

Edited by JtD
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Your last point remembered me, that I am always waiting for getting hit by an artillery round, when flying ground support with the 110.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But the chance of hitting the aircraft with the maingun is near to zero, so to me it is much more plausible to use the coaxial machinegun, instead.

 

Almost all shots fired by all weapons in WW2 - for that matter in every war before or since up until the invention of guided weapons - had a chance of hitting of close to zero. If you can keep your troops in the fight long enough they may get better chances eventually if they can close with the enemy - but if they are discouraged you have already lost.  As I said, it is not really about actually hitting, it is about the morale benefits of fighting back, and firing the main gun makes a bigger statement!

 

Perhaps the thread should be re-named "Eastern front Attitudes". ;)

 

Of course elevation and traverse limitations would have made this possible only very occasionally.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Have a look at this example of Combat incidents for Pilot Otto Kittel (fairly random choice) on Eastern Front

 

http://luftwaffe.cz/kittel.html 

 

It includes altitudes

 

Full list

 

http://luftwaffe.cz/eastern.html

 

It is interesting to note that the vast majority are pretty low although it does seem to vary depending on year and Front, Kuban in 43 appears to have a slight increase 

 

This is just what stuck out, have not done any serious analysis (prob not enough data to get any "Facts" just trends

 

Cheers Dakpilot

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The issued shell types to tank crews depended on the role each AFV was expected to take.

 

An anti-armor SP gun like a Stug III might have a smaller complement of shells with a weight towards armor piercing type.

 

A general purpose (mostly infantry support) tank like a T-34 would have a larger component of shells. Often these would include shotshells or "cannister" rounds for anti-infantry duties. Imagine then a 76mm high velocity shotgun.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canister_shot

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The reason high altitude was not pursued is simply because altitude is only useful when avoiding anti-aircraft assets. Whether these are anti-aircraft guns, or fighters. 

 

Huge distances meant that not only was the density of such anti-air assets low over the front in general, but also that the huge possible numbers of angle of approach towards a target meant that bombers could almost always bypass any intervening anti-air assets and early warning posts.

 

This means that high altitude is fairly pointless for fighters.

 

A, bombers you can't see their target from up there - since most targets are not huge buildings or entire regions of a city, but rather tactical troop positions

B, fighters become mostly point-defense against the bombers (since they cannot vector into place between target and bombers) - and the bombers will be low

C, fighters on fighter-sweeps will be looking for the fighters, who are most likely at the optimum altitude to spot low flying bombers...

 

You see why this all means lower average altitude than densly-packed Europe with its large targets and limited angles of approach (England to Continental Europe, Sicily to mainland Italy, etc).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The issued shell types to tank crews depended on the role each AFV was expected to take.

 

An anti-armor SP gun like a Stug III might have a smaller complement of shells with a weight towards armor piercing type.

 

A general purpose (mostly infantry support) tank like a T-34 would have a larger component of shells. Often these would include shotshells or "cannister" rounds for anti-infantry duties. Imagine then a 76mm high velocity shotgun.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canister_shot

 

I doubt that any tank on the Eastern front ever carried cannister rounds - as far as I know neither the Germans nor the Soviets used them.

 

Tanks typically had two MGs specifically for anti personnel purposes,  no tank commander would waste one of a limited number of shell slots on a "cannister" round, even if such were available, except in exceptional circumstances, since main gun HE or MG fire would almost always be a better choice against infantry.

 

The only references I have seen about this kind of round in WW2 relate to US tanks.  Your wiki reference gives one case of US AT guns using them, the other cases are post WW2. Elsewhere I have read that US tanks used them in the Normandy Bocage, that is about it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...