THE AIR BATTLE OF MOSCOW AND THE FIRST SOVIET BOMBING OF BERLIN IN WWII

The Air Battle of Moscow was Nazi Germany’s first defeat in terms of Luftwaffe’s failure to accomplish the mission assigned.

80 years ago, Moscow had to brace for the first air battle to beat off the first enemy bombing raid

On 14 July 1941, Hitler ordered the bombing of Moscow, “To launch strikes against the center of the Bolshevik resistance and prevent the organized evacuation of the Russian government apparatus.”

On 19 July 1941, the directive “On the Further Conduct of the War in the East” was approved and the mission was assigned “to begin as soon as possible by committing the forces of the 2nd Air Fleet, temporarily reinforced by bomber aircraft formations from the West, so to conduct the bombing air raids on Moscow; this would be “retaliation for the Russian air raids on Bucharest and Helsinki.”

Before July 20, 1941, pilots were selected for air raids on the city of Moscow; the 2nd Air Fleet commander Field Marshal Kesselring issued his guidelines, accordingly. L. Havighorst was one of the bombing raiders; he recalled addressing his comrades-in-arms: ‘My airmen! You bombed Great Britain, where you had to overcome heavy anti-aircraft fire, rows of barrage balloons, and beat off fighter attacks. And successfully accomplished your missions. Now your target is Moscow. It will be much easier. If the Russians do have anti-aircraft guns, they have few and that won’t give you any trouble, as well as there are very few searchlights. They have no aerostats and absolutely no night fighter aircraft. You must approach Moscow at a low altitude and drop accurately the bombs on the targets. I hope that you will have a pleasant flight. In four weeks, the troops of the victorious Wehrmacht will be in Moscow; and that means the end of the war.”

The commander of the 2nd Air Corps General Bruno Lörzer was responsible for running the bombing raids. Under his operational command, he had all the air groups of the Reserve General Command: their mission was to go first. In addition, a KG-53 Wing of the 2nd Air Corps of the 2nd Air Fleet (He-111s operated from Dubitskaya Sloboda airfields south of Minsk and Borisov) were also committed to taking part in the bombing of Moscow, in conjunction with the Groups I and II/KG-55 of the 5th Air Corps of the 4th Air Fleet (also He-111s from Boyary airfield, between Minsk and Daugavpils, near Krivichesi), groups I and II/KG-3 of the 2nd Act of the 2nd Army (Ju-88s from Orsha and Boyary airfields) and group III/KG-3 of the 8th Act of the 2nd Army (Do-17 from Vilnius airfield). Thus, out of five Air Corpses operating on the Eastern Front, only one (the fourth) was not be involved in the operations to bomb Moscow.

80 years to date, on the night of 22 July 1941, German bombers attacked Moscow for the first time. The enemy had t overcome the counteraction of Moscow’s strong air defense system. “The strength of Soviet capital city’s 1st Air Defense Corps accounted for 796 anti-aircraft guns of various calibers, 336 anti-aircraft machine guns, 618 searchlights, and 124 balloon barriers. The 6th Fighter Aviation Corps, which also was committed to defending the skies of the capital, had nearly 500 fighter aircraft including 127 MiG-3 high-altitude interceptor fighter aircraft.

The Soviet front-line poet Alexei Surkov recalled the first night raid in so many words, “German aircraft flew over; they were coming formation after formation with a terrifying roar heading eastwards, towards Moscow. And the intermittent muffled howl of their engines was particularly ominous. A feeling of general acute anxiety burned our hearts, and we wished that the enemy planes would drop their deadly cargo here, in the forest, on our heads, just so they would not reach Moscow.”

The enemy bomber aircraft were flying over the city at an altitude of 2,000–4,000 meters, and aircrews never expected much opposition. As a result, many were caught by searchlights, fired upon by anti-aircraft guns, and attacked by fighters. The aerostats were also an unpleasant surprise for the Nazis. Moscow reported 1166 fires resulting from the first German bombardment. One 500-kg bomb hit the Grand Kremlin Palace, punched through the ceiling in the St George’s Hall, and penetrated the floor, but fortunately did not come off.

A total of 104 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped during the first raid on Moscow, including several 2,5 te bombs. Later, a great deal of work had to be undertaken in Moscow so to camouflage the most important industrial, cultural and governmental sites from enemy air raids. All city’s ancient buildings were styled as if they were ordinary houses, green roofs were painted over, dark paint was applied to the gilded domes of churches and temples, crosses were removed, and stars on the towers of the Kremlin were shrouded. Windows and doors were painted on the Kremlin walls, and the battlements were covered with plywood, simulating the roofs of houses. The Mausoleum, the Manege, the Bolshoi Theatre, and many other objects were camouflaged.

On the night of 22 July 1941, the strength of the first air bombing raid totaled 220 bomber aircraft arranged to fly by four formations at 2,000 to 3,000 meters altitudes during 5 hours of the air attack.

German planes were located by one of the RUS-2 radars while still on approach, one hundred kilometers from the radar station site. During counteraction to disrupt the bombing raid, Soviet fighters performed 173 sorties, and they shot down 12 German planes and damaged many more in 25-night fights; according to the updated information 22 German aircraft were shot down. The Luftwaffe Bomber Command lost another 15 aircraft over the next bombing night when they committed 200 bombers to attack the city. The Kremlin, Moscow State Power Station №1, the building of the Central Committee of All-Union Communist Party, Belorussky railway station, Clara Zetkin Smokeless Gun Powder Plant, bridges in western and northern locations of the city, which were all marked as the main targets. In July, 104 tons of high explosive bombs, 46 thousand incendiary bombs were dropped. 792 people were wounded including 130 victims.

On the evening and night of 23 July, the Moscow Metro was severely damaged. One large bomb breached the tunnel cover of the Smolenskaya-Arbat interchange station, another bomb hit the metro bridge overpass nearby, and a third one exploded at the entrance to the concourse on Arbatskaya Square. More than 100 people were injured, of whom 60 died. The biggest loss of life was caused by panic on the escalator stairs. It took two days to rebuild the Metro.

The anti-aircraft guns and air force fighter pilots battled the bombers. Oberleutnant G. Betcher, reputed to have been one of the best bomber pilots, said, “The night raids on Moscow proved to have been the most difficult of all the sorties I had to fly flew in the East. The anti-aircraft fire was very intense and frighteningly intense.” The Moscow air defense system reported up to 30 enemy aircraft shot down a day or close to a 10% losses rate of the total bomber strength. In June — August 1942, the enemy aircraft made new attempts to break through to Moscow air defenses that were all beaten off. During the Air Battle of Moscow, the Air Defense Forces destroyed close to 1300 enemy planes.

The last major bombing raid involving 100 bombers was carried out on the night from the 10th to 11th of August 1941. Although the damage was minor, a bomb hit the location close to the Nikitsky Gate resulting in the breach of the wall; the crater measured 12 meters deep and 32 meters wide. Another bomb hit the location close to the Nikolskaya Tower of the Kremlin, another near Government House (The House on the Embankment). Alexander Werth, a British journalist, later recalled, “The shrapnel of the anti-aircraft shells drummed on the streets like hail. Dozens of searchlights illuminated the sky. I had never seen or heard anything like it in London.”

As a result, from July 22, 1941, to August 22, 1941, 736 citizens of the city were listed as killed and 3,513 were listed as wounded.

Moscow survived the peak of bombing raids in November 1941 accounting for 45 air raids in one month.

As of 24 November 1941, 1,521 high-explosive and 5,620 incendiary bombs were dropped on Moscow targets killing 1,327 people and severely wounding 1,931; 402 residential buildings 22 industrial facilities were destroyed or damaged.

During July 1941 — January 1942 periods, only 229 enemy aircraft broke through the air defense system out of 7146 bomber aircraft that were ordered to bomb the Russian capital city.

By the summer of 1942, all intensive bombing of Moscow ended, and the last bombing occurred in June 1943. From the summer of 1943 until the summer of 1944, only single German spy planes continued to appear over Moscow at high altitudes.

The Air Battle of Moscow was Nazi Germany’s first defeat in terms of Luftwaffe’s failure to accomplish the mission assigned.

The Baltic Fleet bomber aircraft continued bombing Berlin until 5 September 1941. They dropped about 40 tons of bombs and 34 containers with Soviet leaflets and newspapers.

On the night of 7/8 August 1941, a group of Baltic Fleet aircraft made a reconnaissance flight into Germany and bombed the city of Berlin. Five aircraft dropped bombs on the center of Berlin and the other aircraft bombed the outskirts of the city.

The air bombing attack took the German air defense system by surprise as they initially mistook the Soviet aircraft for their own ones that had gone astray. They did not open fire and offered to land at one of the nearest airfields, and it was only when bombs began to burst out in the streets of Berlin that the German anti-aircraft gunners came to their senses, but it was too late. The next day the German newspapers reported, “British aircraft bombed Berlin. There are dead and wounded people. Six British planes have been shot down”.

On the night of 7/8 August 1941, a group of Baltic Fleet aircraft made a reconnaissance flight into Germany and bombed the city of Berlin. Five aircraft dropped bombs on the center of Berlin and the other aircraft bombed the outskirts of the city. The air bombing attack took the German air defense system by surprise as they initially mistook the Soviet aircraft for their own ones that had gone astray. They did not open fire and offered to land at one of the nearest airfields, and it was only when bombs began to burst out in the streets of Berlin that the German anti-aircraft gunners came to their senses, but it was too late. The next day the German newspapers reported, “British aircraft bombed Berlin. There are dead and wounded people. Six British planes have been shot down”.

The British were even more surprised than the Germans, “The German message about the bombing of Berlin is interesting and mysterious because on August 7–8 no British aircraft flew over Berlin”. The successful bombing of Berlin was a real blow to the promised “Blitzkrieg.”

History Writer, WWII