Monday, March 2, 2015

Air Battle of Kursk, (1943)

Fw 190 A-4: Introduced in July 1942, the A-4 was equipped with the same engine and basic armament as the A-3. Updated radio gear, the FuG 16Z, was installed replacing the earlier FuG VIIa. A new, short "stub" vertical aerial mount was fitted to the top of the tailfin, a configuration which was kept through the rest of the production Fw 190s. In some instances, pilot-controllable engine cooling vents were fitted to the fuselage sides in place of the plain slots. Some A-4s were outfitted with a special Rüstsatz field conversion kit, comprising the fitting of a pair of underwing Werfer-Granate WGr 21 rocket mortars, and were designated Fw 190 A-4/R6. However, the A-4's main improvement was the number of Umrüst-Bausätze factory-refit package enhanced versions.

The U1 was outfitted with an ETC 501 rack under the fuselage. All armament except for the MG 151 cannon was removed. The U3 was very similar to the U1, and later served as the Fw 190 F-1 assault fighter. Some U3s used for night operations had a landing light mounted in the leading edge of the left wing-root. The U4 was a reconnaissance fighter, with two Rb 12.4 cameras in the rear fuselage and an EK 16 or Robot II gun camera. The U4 was equipped with fuselage-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17s and 20 mm MG 151 cannon. The U7 was a high-altitude fighter, easily identified by the compressor air intakes on either side of the cowling. Adolf Galland flew a U7 in the spring of 1943.

The A-4/U8 was the Jabo-Rei (Jagdbomber Reichweite, long-range fighter-bomber), adding a 300 L (80 US gal) drop tank under each wing, on VTr-Ju 87 racks with duralumin fairings produced by Weserflug, and a centreline bomb rack. The outer wing-mounted 20 mm MG FF/M cannon and the cowling-mounted 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 17 were removed to save weight. The A-4/U8 served as the model for the Fw 190 G-1.

A new series of easier-to-install Rüstsatz field kits began to be produced in 1943. The first of these, the A-4/R1, was fitted with a FuG 16ZY radio set with a Morane "whip" aerial fitted under the port wing. These aircraft, called Leitjäger or Fighter Formation Leaders, could be tracked and directed from the ground via special R/T equipment called Y-Verfahren. More frequent use of this equipment was made from the A-5 onwards.[34] The Fw 190A-4 could achieve 1,700 hp (2,100 with MW-50 boost). Its maximum speed was 416 mph (670 km/h) at 20,590 ft (6,250 m). Operational ceiling was 37,400 ft (11,400 m). Normal range was 497 miles (800 km). Normal takeoff weight was 8,378 lb (3,800 kg).[35] A total of 976 A-4s were built between June 1942 and March 1943.
Celebrated tank battle of World War II during which air operations played an important role. Both sides employed air divisions in support of the operation. As for the German Luftwaffe, 1st Division, consisting of two luftflottes (air forces) with a total of 2,050 aircraft, was made available. Because Operation CITADEL called for a two-prong attack against the Russian stronghold at Kursk, Army Group Center was supported by Luftflotte 6 commanded by General Ritter von Greim; Army Group South was supported by General Otto Desslach’s Luftflotte 4.

On the Russian side, three air armies were made available to defend the Russian salient. The Sixteenth Air Army under Marshal S. I. Rudenko supported the Central Front, the Steppe Front was supported by Fifth Air Army under Colonel General Goryunov, and the Voronezh Front was supported by Air Marshal S.A. Krasovski’s Second Air Army.

Air operations began the first day when long-range radar alerted the Germans to a preemptive attack by the Second Air Army on airfields around Kharkov. The Germans, preparing for preemptive strike of their own, were able to get all serviceable aircraft airborne. The Russian force of 450 airplanes, expecting to catch the Germans by surprise, took heavy losses when it ran into waiting German fighters, giving the Germans air superiority in that sector.

The Battle of Kursk saw Germans using aircraft to make up for losses suffered at Stalingrad and in Africa. Specialized Junkers Ju 87G Stukas and Henschel Hs 129Bs were used as flying artillery to compensate for weak ground artillery. Their formations were responsible for killing hundreds of Russian tanks. On the Russian side, Ilyushin Il-2M3 Shturmoviks armed with 37mm cannons were used with devastating effect against German armor.

In addition to the flying antitank weapons, the Germans armed their Focke-Wulf Fw 190As with SD-1 and SD-2 antipersonnel containers that rained down fragmentation bomblets on infantry and artillery positions. The Russians concentrated on antitank operations and getting as many aircraft as possible into the fighting. In the end, quantity overshadowed quality. The Luftwaffe, unlike the Russians, did not have a steady supply of replacements for men and materiel. In order to bring the 1st Division to its preinvasion strength, all other air units on the Eastern Front had to be stripped of every available aircraft.

By 9 July, with the German attack faltering on the northern prong of the offensive, 50 percent of Luftflotte 6’s forces were shifted southward to support a possible breakthrough. In the end, Operation CITADEL fell short of its goals, and the offensive was suspended with the U.S. invasion of Italy. The combat initiative passed into Soviet hands and was never relinquished.

Once the operational reserves had been eliminated-and after the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, the Germans were always pressed in scraping them together then little could stop the Soviet thrusts until they literally outran the ability of their supply columns to maintain the pace.

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