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Why so few airborne successes?

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  • Why so few airborne successes?

    The Soviets were the pioneers of Airborne Infantry so why wasn't this expressed in the war? Obviously the early war rules this out because of German air superiority but I'm wondering about from after '43.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Swampwolf View Post
    The Soviets were the pioneers of Airborne Infantry so why wasn't this expressed in the war? Obviously the early war rules this out because of German air superiority but I'm wondering about from after '43.
    A Soldier's statue came to be a determinant for Airborne service... maybe during the Great Patriotic War all those of diminutive statue were already serving in the Armoured Forces??? (Yeah it is a lame answer but it helps get the discussion started!)
    Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference. - Karl von Clauswitz, Vom Kriege, 1832.
    "Quality posts have a Quantity of value all their own." PH

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    • #3
      Well, this is a gross generalization but airborne ops on the western front virtually relied on the initiative of small unit commanders, especially during the initial drop. Would you say this was a strength of the Red Army at the time? If not, then this could be a reason why their airborne ops weren't a great success.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by DingBat View Post
        Well, this is a gross generalization but airborne ops on the western front virtually relied on the initiative of small unit commanders, especially during the initial drop. Would you say this was a strength of the Red Army at the time? If not, then this could be a reason why their airborne ops weren't a great success.
        Airborne Ops were culturally inimical... Excellent insight!
        Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference. - Karl von Clauswitz, Vom Kriege, 1832.
        "Quality posts have a Quantity of value all their own." PH

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        • #5
          The main reason was weather and a constant lack of transport aircraft. However they did do MANY tactical level drops and collectively these were successful(in the sense that the weakened the German lines, gathered intelligence, and aided partisans).

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Cmde.Slavyanski View Post
            The main reason was weather and a constant lack of transport aircraft. However they did do MANY tactical level drops and collectively these were successful(in the sense that the weakened the German lines, gathered intelligence, and aided partisans).
            I should have realized it was for a much more mundane and pragmatic reason.

            Was there ever a series of operations that approximated something with the intent if not the scope of Operation Market Garden?
            Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference. - Karl von Clauswitz, Vom Kriege, 1832.
            "Quality posts have a Quantity of value all their own." PH

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Prussian Havoc View Post
              I should have realized it was for a much more mundane and pragmatic reason.

              Was there ever a series of operations that approximated something with the intent if not the scope of Operation Market Garden?
              Nothing even close- though Market Garden is a really extreme example. The major airborne drops were Vyazma in early 1942(that might have been December 1941 I can't remember now), Kerch peninsula(I think that was 42), and during the Dnieper campaign 1943. All accomplished something but none of them were as stellar as something like Operation Overlord.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Cmde.Slavyanski View Post
                Nothing even close- though Market Garden is a really extreme example. The major airborne drops were Vyazma in early 1942(that might have been December 1941 I can't remember now), Kerch peninsula(I think that was 42), and during the Dnieper campaign 1943. All accomplished something but none of them were as stellar as something like Operation Overlord.
                I am a paratrooper... currently serving in an Air Assault Division, so I have a very limited, non-erudite basis from which to make an assessment of the difficulty on an Airborne operation.

                I guess it is all in how you define "stellar." The Airborne component of Soviet Operations to prosecute the Lower Dnieper Strategic Offensive was a remarkable example of the difficulties inherent in WWII Airborne operations. Operation Market Garden may have involved more paratroopers but was only the Airborne component of the Western Allied Invasion of Germany. Market Garden failed from an Operational stand point. However the Soviet Airborne efforts to affect a crossing of the Dnieper succeeded. The Rhine : not breeched through the use of Airborne / the Dnieper : breeched through the use of Airborne. Though it must be mentioned that surviving paratroopers were in many instances matched by an equal number of partisans, who proved to be highly effective and highly lethal, given the influx of new arms and troops.

                So for what it is worth, IMHO Soviet Airborne operations, while not generally well expressed in the West, played a crucial role in some of the most pivotal battles of the Eastern Front. The difference may be that Allied ground efforts required that Airborne operations succeed in order to achieve tactical and operational success. Soviet Airborne efforts were just supporting/enable effects that may have advanced the inevitable ground operational culmination by only a matter of days.

                While both Eastern and Western Airborne operations had their share of successes and failures, public knowledge/academic recognition of these events have greatly differed. The Western Press seized and ran with stories of Airborne exploits and heroes, the Eastern Press... enjoyed a much more limited editorial entitlement.

                Dnieper airborne operation
                (The following is a synopsis of an account by Glantz[2] with support from an account by Staskov[3].)

                Following the July 1943 German failure at Kursk, Soviet offensives from Smolensk to the Black Sea engulfed the Eastern Front. In August, German Fourth Panzer Army and Operation Group Kempf suffered smashes near Belgorod and Kharkov, seriously depleting critical German mobile reserves, allowing Soviet Central Front breakthroughs in early September. This prompted a German decision to burn the wheat crop while attempting an orderly withdrawal to the Dnepr, where German Army Group South hoped to erect an impenetrable Panther Wotan “Eastern Wall.”

                STAVKA detached the Central Front 3rd Tank Army to Voronezh Front to race weakening Germans to the Dnepr, to save the crop and to achieve strategic or operational river bridgeheads before a German defense could stabilize there. 3rd Tank Army, plunging headlong, reached the river the night of 21-22 September and, on the 23rd, Soviet infantry forces crossed by swimming and makeshift rafts to secure small, fragile bridgeheads, opposed only by 120 German Cherkassy flak academy NCO candidates who, with the hard-pressed 19th Panzer Division Reconnaissance Battalion, were the only Germans within 60 km of the Dnepr loop (virtually nobody). Only heavy German air attack and a lack of bridging equipment kept Soviet heavy weaponry from crossing and expanding the bridgehead.

                STAVKA, sensing a critical juncture, ordered a hasty airborne corps assault to increase the size of the bridgehead before the Germans could counterattack. On the 21st, Voronezh Front 1st, 3rd and 5th Guards Airborne Brigades got the urgent call to secure, on the 23rd, a bridgehead perimeter 15 to 20 km wide and 30 km deep on the Dnepr loop between Kanev and Rzhishchev, while Front elements forced over the river.

                Assembly at airfields was slow, necessitating, on the 23rd, a one-day delay and omission of 1st Brigade from the plan. Consequent mission changes caused near chaos in command channels and barely allowed for propagation of change orders, which got to company commanders on the 24th just 15 minutes before their units, not yet provisioned with spades, anti-tank mines, or ponchos for the autumn night frosts, formed on airfields to load for an 1830 liftoff. Owing to weather, not all aircraft had arrived at airfields for loading, or on time, ruining loading plans; many radios and supplies got left behind. Best case, it would take three lifts to deliver the brigades. Units still arriving by (over-taxed) rail loaded piecemeal onto returned planes (which were slow to refuel owing to less-than-expected capacities of fuel trucks), while already-arrived troops changed planes, seeking earlier flights. Urgency and the fuel shortage prevented aerial assembly aloft; most aircraft, as soon as loaded and fueled, flew single file, instead of line abreast, to drop points. Assault waves became as intermingled as the units they carried.

                As corps elements made their 170 to 220 km flights from four of five fields (one field received no fuel), troops (half of whom had never jumped) got briefed on drop zones, assembly areas and objectives only poorly understood by platoon commanders still studying new orders. Meanwhile, Soviet aerial photography, suspended several days by weather, had missed the strong reinforcement of the area, early that afternoon. Non-combat cargo pilots ferrying 3rd Brigade through drizzle expected no resistance beyond river pickets but, instead, were met by anti-aircraft and starshell fires from 19th Panzer Division (only coincidentally transiting the drop zone, and just one of six divisions and other elements ordered, on the 21st, to fill the gap in front of 3rd Tank Army). Lead aircraft, disgorging paratroopers over Dubari at 1930, came under small arms, machine gun, and quad-20 anti-aircraft fire from the armored personnel carrier battalion of the 73rd Panzer Grenadier Regiment and elements of the division staff of 19th Panzer Division. Some paratroops began returning fire and throwing grenades even before landing; trailing aircraft sped up, climbed and evaded, dropping wide. Through the night, some pilots avoided starshell-lit drop points entirely, and 13 aircraft returned to airfields without having dropped at all. Intending a 10 by 14 km drop over largely undefended terrain, the Soviets instead achieved a 30 by 90 km drop over the fastest mobile elements of two German corps.

                On the ground, Germans used white parachutes as beacons to hunt down and kill disorganized groups and to gather and destroy airdropped supplies. Supply bonfires, glowing embers, and multi-color starshells illuminated the bizarre and macabre battlefield. Captured documents gave Germans enough knowledge of Soviet objectives to arrive at most of them before the disorganized paratroops.

                Back at Soviet airfields, fuel shortage allowed only 298 of 500 planned sorties, leaving corps 45mm anti-tank guns and 2,017 paratroops undelivered. Of 4,575 men dropped (seventy percent of the planned number, and just 1,525 from 5th Brigade), some 2,300 eventually assembled into 43 ad-hoc groups, missions abandoned as hopeless, and spent most of their time seeking supplies not yet destroyed by Germans. Others joined with the nine partisan groups operating in the area. About 230 made it over (or out of) the Dnepr to Front units (or were originally dropped there). Most of the rest were almost casually captured that first night or killed the next day (though, that first night, 3rd Co, 73rd Panzer Grenadier Regiment, suffered heavy losses while annihilating about 150 paratroopers near Grushevo, some 3 km west of Dubari).

                The Germans (under) estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 had dropped; they recorded 901 paratroops captured and killed in the first 24 hours. Thereafter, the Germans largely ignored the paratroopers, to counterattack and truncate Dnepr bridgeheads. Germans deemed their anti-paratrooper operations completed by 2100 on the 26th, though a modicum of opportunistic actions against garrisons, rail lines, and columns were conducted by remnants through early November. For lack of manpower to clear all areas, forests of the region would remain a minor threat.

                Germans called the operation a fundamentally sound idea ruined by the dilettantism of planners lacking an expert (but praised individual paratroops for tenacity, bayonet skills, and deft use of broken ground in the sparsely wooded northern region). STAVKA deemed this second (and, ultimately, last) corps drop a complete failure; lessons they knew they’d already learned from their winter offensive corps drop at Viazma hadn’t stuck. They would never trust themselves to try it again.

                Soviet 5th Guards Airborne Brigade commander Sidorchuk, withdrawing to the forests south, eventually amassed a brigade-size command, half paratroops, half partisans, obtained air supply, and assisted 2nd Ukrainian Front over the Dnepr near Cherkassy to finally link up with Front forces on 15 November. After 13 more days combat, the airborne were evacuated, ending a harrowing two months. More than sixty percent never returned.
                Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference. - Karl von Clauswitz, Vom Kriege, 1832.
                "Quality posts have a Quantity of value all their own." PH

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                • #9
                  Anything for

                  The Russian terrain? It seems pretty good for this type of operation, if the Russians at least thought about doing a large drop, mabe supplies......???

                  Cheers

                  Tom

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by TRDG View Post
                    The Russian terrain? It seems pretty good for this type of operation, if the Russians at least thought about doing a large drop, mabe supplies......???

                    Cheers

                    Tom
                    It looks like airframes was a major limiting factor... just like Tankborne Infantry learned from the welded grips on the T-34, you can fit only so many Airborne-enabling grips on an Il-2 Штурмовик
                    Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference. - Karl von Clauswitz, Vom Kriege, 1832.
                    "Quality posts have a Quantity of value all their own." PH

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Swampwolf View Post
                      The Soviets were the pioneers of Airborne Infantry so why wasn't this expressed in the war? Obviously the early war rules this out because of German air superiority but I'm wondering about from after '43.
                      In brief reasons were the next:
                      1. Lack of transport planes
                      2. Lack of towing planes (for heavy gliders)
                      3. Lack of trained paratroopers (they were used as land forces earlier)

                      I think it's enough...

                      Regards
                      Alex
                      If you fire a rifle at the past, the future will fire a cannon at you.....

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                      • #12
                        The major air drops of the western allies were the result of situational need, not because they were inherently better.

                        Russia never had a need for a massive naval invasion, so naturally they didn't have the need for a major airborne shield like as what happened with Overlord.

                        Market Garden was an idea that some might claim was a long shot that failed.

                        When the German hit Crete, the airborne made the difference. But they also suffered horrendous casualty levels to get it.

                        Just because Russia might have thought of paratroops early on, doesn't mean they would ever see the same level of need for them.
                        Life is change. Built models for decades.
                        Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
                        I didn't for a long time either.

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                        • #13
                          They haven't been mentioned yet, and there is a temptation to blame too much on them, but in this case I think the Purges, combined with the situation after Barbarossa, had a very real effect on the Soviet airborne capability.

                          Certainly, in the mid-late 1930s the Red Army pioneered airborne troops, much as they did massed armour attacks. However, such experimentation requires a spirit on innovation, experimentation, and willingness to explore new ideas at the highest levels of the military. The Purges did away with that spirit of openness to new ideas. Tukhachevskii and his protegés were eliminated, and there began a great movement to retrenchment, conservatism, to keeping one's head down lest one invite a knock at the door in the middle of the night. To be an advocate of anything was to tempt fate.

                          By the time the war with Germany had loosened that rigid perspective, the expertise was gone — the requirements of the Front would have swallowed the pre-war cadré that may have survived the Lubyanka. It is surprising that a dedicated airborne operation on any scale was even attempted at all. They must have been making it up as they went along . . .

                          Cheers
                          Scott Fraser
                          Ignorance is not the lack of knowledge. It is the refusal to learn.

                          A contentedly cantankerous old fart

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                          • #14
                            I can think of some examples when Airborne ops could have aided in a massive campaign, if they had been available.
                            As for the unit training I'm not in doubt that they were good enough: Soviet airborne divisions were used as elite 'leg' infantry.

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                            • #15
                              There is a lot of evidence that Market Garden was largely attempted- or at least not cancelled- because the Allied airborne forces wanted employment. Given the differences in infrastructure between Western and Eastern Europe (ie, you could much more easily build a military-suitable bridge in the east under prevailing circumstances, reducing the need to capture them).

                              Also large scale airborne operations required a huge level of control and communication... the Soviet generals were acquiring this skill in mechanised operation after 1943 and were probably not enthusiastic to complicate matters- especially as Bagration showed that if they could keep supply up to their spearheads, they could go an awfully long way into the German rear.

                              Finally, the Soviets maintained such a massive partisan network that this could almost be considered a standing airborne operation in itself. Partisan actions were planned into offensives and were on a massive scale compared to the desultory activities of, say, the French Resistance.

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