[US Army] Anti-Tank Company – Tactics & Organization – World War 2


Time to cover anti-tank tactics and principles, for this I took a look at the War Departments Field Manual 7-35 from March 1944 that covers the anti-tank company and other anti-tank units in an US Army Infantry Regiment. So let’s examine the company before we dive into the overall defensive setup, tactics and how to properly deploy a defensive position with anti-tank mines.
So let’s get started.


An US Army Anti-Tank company of an infantry regiment consisted of a Company headquarters, 3 anti-tank platoons and an anti-tank mine platoon.
The company headquarters had 35 men, each anti-tank platoon 33 men and the anti-tank mine platoon 31 men.
In terms of equipment, the headquarters company had 2 jeeps, 2 0.75 ton weapons carrier trucks and a 1.5 ton cargo truck. Each anti-tank platoon had 1 jeep, a .50 cal machine gun, 3 trucks, 3 anti-tank guns with 57mm and 3 bazookas. The anti-tank mine platoon had 1 jeep and 2 trucks.
So let’s take a look at the whole company, in total the anti-tank company had 165 men, 9 anti-tank guns, 9 bazookas and lots of other stuff.
American Infantry Division – Anti-Tank Company for Rifle Regiment – 26 February 1944 – Table of Organization 7-19

Relationship to Regiment and Battalions

Note that the anti-tank company was part of the infantry regiment, which also consisted of 3 infantry battalions, which themselves had their organic anti-tank units, namely an anti-tank platoon each.

Now, these battalions had all their own assigned areas to defend, which were themselves located in the regimental zone. Thus, regimental anti-tank company was used to support the anti-tank units of the battalions. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.92-93)

As stated in the field Manual:
“Frequently, one platoon of the regimental antitank company is employed to reinforce or add depth to the antimechanized defenses of each front-line battalion, and provide protection to its flanks (see fig. 12).” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.93)

Function & Mission

Hence, the main function of the anti-tank company was to provide protection against enemy tanks in coordination with the battalion’s anti-tank platoons. To achieve this, the primary missions were reinforcing the front-line battalions to deepen the anti-mechanized defense and to protect the flank or rear of the regiment. Secondary missions were attacking enemy observation posts, fortifications, gun emplacements or other enemy positions. Note that if during a secondary mission a primary mission appeared the anti-tank units should switch without order to the primary mission, meaning engaging enemy armored and mechanized troops. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.13-14)

Firing and Cover Positions

Now, something about how the defense was organized. There are three firing positions, the primary, supplementary and alternate position.
“The primary firing position is the position from which the gun can best execute its primary mission.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 14)
So let’s take a look at a specific situation. For instance this could be covering an approach. Now, since there are usually more approaches to cover, supplementary positions were necessary. A supplementary position is a firing position that can cover an area that can’t be covered by a primary position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

An alternate firing position is an additional position to a primary or supplementary position that covers the same area and thus can conduct the same fire mission. This alternate position allows to perform the mission even if the respective primary or supplementary position is under fire. It must be reachable with the gun drawn by hand, yet far enough to avoid being affected by fire directed at the primary position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

Additionally there should be cover positions near the firing positions, to provide protection for personnel and equipment not engaged with the enemy. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

The usual construction order is to first build the primary emplacements, then followed by the alternate positions for these and then the supplementary emplacements and their alternates. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 101) Additionally, dummy position should be constructed, these should be located at least 140 meters away from any true position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 154-155)


Now, if you should ever setup an anti-tank position on your property or somewhere else, the manual contained two interesting bits that grasped my attention. First off, during the excavation of the position you should employ a camouflage net to avoid detection from the air. But as always the devil is in the details, when you use a camo net, be sure that it touches the ground everywhere, because if it doesn’t, it will throw a large shadow that makes it quite visible from the air. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 243) And second, after firing your gun several times, you should consider removing the blast marks in front of your gun. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 247)

Area of Responsibility & Engagement Rules

Now, for better coordination and organization, usually each unit was assigned a sector of responsibility, the size was dependent on the terrain, visibility and proximity of additional units. Ideally, these sectors should overlap with the sectors of adjacent units. The unit leader was responsible for observing the assigned areas. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124)
In order to provide effective fire and prevent giving away the positions too early, there were several rules in place. First the unit leader defined the ranges at which enemy vehicles should be engaged. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124-125) Second, approaching hostile recon and decoy vehicles should not be fired upon, unless the superior commander ordered this explicitly, e.g., for an anti-tank platoon the company commander and if the platoon was attached to a battalion the battalion commander. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124-125) This prevented giving away the positions of the guns prematurely and furthermore, the enemy should be engaged when he had committed his main force.
In order to provide proper ranges, the squad leader for each gun was responsible creating a reference sheet, which he also copied for the platoon leader. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 160-161) Let’s take a short look at an adapted version of such a range card contained in the field manual.
Now, such a reference sheet was rather simple, it contained the position of the gun. An indicator for the magnetic north and various reference points with names and distance from the gun.

Defensive Combat

Let’s take a closer look at the defensive organization and tactics of the anti-tank units. The field manual has a quite interesting view on defensive combat stated under the point “defensive doctrines”:
“The general object of defensive combat is to gain time pending the development of more favorable conditions for undertaking the offensive, or to economize forces on one front for the purpose of concentrating superior forces for a decision elsewhere.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 91-92)

As you can clearly see, the defense is seen as a temporary situation until an offensive is possible or as a deliberate action in one area to provide the necessary forces for an attack in another area. Thus, on a strategic scale an offensive stance seems to be the determining factor.
“72. MISSION. The principal mission of the antitank company of a regiment defending a sector of the battle
position is to reinforce or add depth to the antimechanized defense provided by the organic antitank weapons
of front-line battalions, and to protect the flanks, and, if necessary, the rear, of the regimental sector.”
(FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 92)

Anti-Tank Mines

Now, one element in discussions about anti-tank operations that is often commonly neglected is the usage of mines. In defending an area against tanks mines can play a crucial part. Yet, mines are often misunderstood, the most important thing about mines is that they are first and foremost an area-denial weapon. This means, the enemy should be discouraged to use the mined areas and thus divert his approach into an area that is chosen by the defending side, which should allow an effective usage of the anti-tank guns and other weapons. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.93)
Now, minefields don’t stop a professional army. The manual stated that mine fields must be laid in small arms range (50 to 450 meters) of an organized position. Furthermore:
“A mine field must be defended by fire to be effective. Undefended mine fields delay the enemy only for the relatively short time it takes to bypass them or to remove enough mines to permit passage.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 176)

Additionally, there should be a certain safe distance between friendly position and mine fields, furthermore they should not be laid in areas that are assigned for defensive artillery fire. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.96)

Besides funneling an enemy attack into certain areas, mines could also be used to increase the resistance of outpost, by properly mining the approaches of an outpost the defending units could withdraw and lower the chances of being overrun.
Furthermore, in case of an enemy break through, a properly mined regimental sector would prevent the enemy tanks from moving freely and thus denying them to fully exploit their advantage. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.95)

Example of a position with road block and mines

Let’s take a look an example position from the manual that uses mines and roadblocks to defend an area.
The road block is covered by the gun and also small-arms fire from infantry. The gun is positioned that it can cover the road and other approaches suitable for tanks. The mines are in range of small arms fire to prevent their removal, furthermore the infantry also protects the gun from enemy infantry. Additionally, rocket teams nearby provide additional protection from attacks on the flanks and rear. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 180)
Furthermore, if during an attack a tank comes within or below a range of 270m, all personnel not serving the gun or already attacking enemy foot troops, should employ rockets or other weapons against the enemy tanks. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 27)
The manual states: “Doors and turrets, if open, offer particularly favorable targets to small-arms fire, as do also vision slits and periscopes. Should tanks succeed in approaching close enough to warrant such action, incendiary grenades, antitank bombs, and smoke grenades may be used. Fire is continued until defenders are forced to take cover to avoid the crushing action of tanks.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 27)


To summarize, each battalion defended its sectors with their organic anti-tank defenses, whereas the regimental anti-tank company provided additional protection on the flanks and/or in the depth.
The use of anti-tank mines, natural and artificial obstacles was central in setting up a proper defense. In case of an enemy attack, it was important to wait until the enemy committed its main force. Additionally, firing at lone recon vehicles was performed only in accordance with the commander the anti-tank unit was attached to. These measures ensured that the positions weren’t given away prematurely and that the maximum firepower could be used once the enemy reached an effective firing range.


FM 7-35 Antitank Company, Infantry Regiment and Antitank Platoon, Infantry Battalion

Niehorster – US Army Infantry Division Anti-Tank Company 1944

Nafziger Collection – US Army Infantry Division Anti-Tank Company 1944

Arado Ar 234 – The First Jet Bomber and some special Variants


The Arado 234 was the first operational jet-powered bomber in the world. Only a little more than 200 were built, even less saw actual combat. Nevertheless, it earned its place in aviation history and is worshipped by some members of the War Thunder community as a deity.

The initial studies for the Arado 234 were started as early as late Fall 1940. Yet, these designs were focused on creating a medium-range recon aircraft not a jet-bomber. It should use jet engines that at that time were still in development. The planned aircraft should be immune to interception due to its operational altitude and speed. In 1941 one air-frame (E370) was selected and the designation Ar 234 was chosen. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 49)

Basic Design

The design was a one seated air frame with a shoulder-mounted wing, it was a clean and simple design. The cockpit should be pressurized. The design provided an all-around view to the front, yet there was no view to the rear. Since a large part of the fuselage was used for fuel tanks and the thin wings didn’t provide sufficient storage space for a traditional undercarriage there were many different proposals to solve this issue. The system, which was selected was a take-off trolley that would be dropped shortly after take-off and in order to land a centrally-mounted skid with smaller skids was used.

This system was kinda odd, but what followed was probably even more odd. The air-frame was ready in Winter 1941, but the jet engines were still not ready for about 1 year. Thus, it was proposed to install piston engines, yet due to the low ground clearance this wasn’t possible. Yet, meanwhile nobody started to redesign the air frame in order to house a proper landing gear system or at least I couldn’t find any information about this. Because later on, it became obvious rather quickly that a landing gear was needed and the air frame was redesigned to create space for a landing gear mechanism. I am not sure if the landing skid oversight is hindsight bias, lack of sources, an engineering or political issue.

Series Overview

There were three different main series of the Arado. The A-Series which were the prototypes with the landing skid, the B-Series, which was an improved A-Series with landing gear and other improvements and finally the Ar 234 C Series, which had 4 jet-engines instead of 2, although of a different type.

Now the production numbers for these series vary widely, but take these values with a grain of salt, because prototypes and pre-production aircraft are sometimes counted and sometimes not, furthermore some C-Series planes were converted from the A-Series, thus there is probably some double-counting going on:

Around 7 A-Series prototypes were built, the B-Series saw 210 production aircraft and the C Series saw 10 prototypes and 14 pre-production and production types.(Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 56) Thus, in total less than 250 planes were produced. These numbers are very low, in comparison around 1400 Me 262 were built, 6500 He-111 and 15 000 Ju 88. (and 34 000 Bf 109s.) (numbers from Wikipedia)

Now of these few hundred planes even less were operational at any given point in time, this was due to several factors like the unreliable engines that needed be overhauled after a few flight hours and had a very limited service life:

the short operational lifespan of the jet engines – rarely more than ten hours between [a] major overhaul – dictated the availability of the jet for combat.

(Source: p. 2 Sterling Michael Pavelec: The German Jet Program 1939-1945)

The reasons for this were that jet engines were a new technology, but this situation got more complicated due to the lack of rare materials, thus leading to the use of lesser quality substitutes and finally since fuel was also very limited often low-quality fuel was utilized.

Now let’s take a closer look at the different types:

Ar 234A Series

As mentioned before the original air frame was ready in late 1941, but due to the lack of engines and inability to use piston engines, it couldn’t be properly tested. It took more than a year for the first pre-production jet-engines to arrive in February 1943 (pre-production Jumo 004A). Yet, these engines weren’t cleared for flying, thus they were only used for taxying around the plane on the runway. Finally, after new engines arrived the first flight was performed in Mid-June 1943 (15th).

The main problem with the skids became apparent early on. The aircraft couldn’t be maneuvered after landing and had to be towed, which was problematic with cluttered airfields and especially due the threat of strafing attacks. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 51) Furthermore, the parachute on the trolley usually didn’t work properly thus breaking it repeatedly. Hence, the plane was redesigned to add an undercarriage system into the fuselage. This lead to the Arado 234 B model.

Ar 234B Series Blitz

Which had its maiden flight as a prototype (the Ar 234 V9) in March 1944. In June 1944 the first pre-production flight of the Ar 234B-0 was performed. Another prototype was equipped with a periscope bomb sight and bomb shackles for bombing trials. Some planes were also equipped with a landing chutes and so called “Rauchgeräte” literally meaning “smoke devices”, which were rockets that assisted in take-offs. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 51-53)
Pre-Production planes were tested and in one flight Mach 0.86 was achieved, but it is not sure if this is correct, because compressibility effects normally began to manifest themselves in the vicinity of Mach 0.78. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 51)

The two main version of the B Series were the Ar234B-1 and the Ar234B-2. The Ar234B-1 was a simple recon version. Whereas the Ar 234B-2 was more versatile and suitable for bombing, pathfinding and photographic recon. There were many different modifications and systems that were fitted on some planes like special recon equipment, drop tanks and bomb sights. There was a bomb sight for level bombing, but also a bombing system that allowed for glide and shallow dive-bombing. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 53)

Operational History

The B-Series aircraft were the only once that were used on the front line, yet due their limited number and the fuel situation they had very little to no influence beyond the tactical level. Hence, the operational history will be rather short.

The very first units flew recon missions above British East Coast harbors in order to determine if an invasion of the Netherlands was being prepared. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 53) Some units of the Kampfgeschwader 76 flew bombing missions during the Ardennes Offensive in late 1944 and early 1945. Furthermore, in March 1945 several missions in combination with Me 262 were flown against the Rhine bridge at Remagen, which was captured intact by US forces earlier on. Yet, these attacks were without success. A few planes were also used for recon missions in Northern Italy. The last planes were basically grounded due to a lack of fuel.(Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich p. 54-55)

Ar 234C Series

Now, the intended follow up for the B-Series was the C-Series. The air-frame of the Ar 234 was strong enough to withstand considerably more power than two Jumo 004B engines could provide. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 55) Thus it was proposed to create a variant that used 4 BMW 003A turbojets that were smaller and lighter. The first trials began in February 1944 and used airframes from the Ar 234 A variant (Ar 234 V8; Ar234 V6 followed in April 1944). One version used four engines in two nacelles (Ar 234 V8), whereas another used 4 engines in 4 individual nacelles (Ar 234 V8), the first version proved be more suitable and was adapted for the Ar 234 C series. There were several modifications in the C Series that differed from the B Series, most notably a redesigned cockpit, cabin, skin re-contouring, aileron design and an enlarged nose wheel. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 56) Yet, only pre-production aircraft were produced. There were around 8 sub variants planned and developed, which delayed the overall process. The first five variants were the:

  • Ar 234C-1: a recon plane, with camera and 2 aft-firing MG151.
  • Ar 234C-2: a bomber variant, intended to use 1×1000 kg bomb and 2x 500kg bombs and probably the best known variant due to War Thunder the
  • Ar 234C-3: a multipurpose variant that could be used as a bomber, ground attack or night fighter, armed with 2 forward firing MG151 and 2 aft-firing MG151.
  • Ar 234C-4: BMW 003C powered recon
  • Ar 234C-5: two seat bomber, with bombardier and navigator

Size & Dimension

Time to take a look at the size and dimensions of the Arado 234. In overall the dimension of the different series were very similar or unchanged, for instance the wingspan and horizontal stabilizer didn’t change at all and length only increased by less than half a meter between the A and the C Series. Since, the B Series saw the most action, here are the dimensions for Arado 234 B-1 according to the drawings from the 6th of December 1944 by the “Entwurfsabteilung” which means design department in English. For scale there is a figure with a height of 1.8 m.
The Arado had a length of 12.62 m, a wingspan of 14.4m, the distance between the highest point of the rudder and the lowest of the undercarriage was 4.28 m and the horizontal stabilizer was 5 m wide. Now these absolute measures more or less intuitive.

Dimensions for all 3 Series

Arado 234-A (according to the drawing from 13th July 1943)

Length: 12.58 m (41.3 ft)
Wingspan: 14.2 m (46.6 ft)
Height (from top to the bottom of the extended skid): 3.75 m (12.3 ft)
Wingspan horizontal stabilizer: 5 m (16.4 ft)

Arado 234 B-1 (according to the drawing from 6th December 1944, Entwurfsabteilung; S. 21)

Length: 12.62 m (41.4 ft)
Wingspan: 14.4 m (47.2 ft)
Height (from top to the bottom of the undercarriage): 4.28 m (14.0 ft)
Wingspan horizontal stabilizer: 5 m (16.4 ft)

Arado 234 C- 3 mit 4xBMW 109003 A1 (according to the drawing from 9th September 1944, Entwurfsabteilung; S. 28)

Length: 12.84 m (42.1 ft)
Wingspan: 14.4 m (47.2 ft)
Height (from top to the bottom of the undercarriage): 4.15 m (13.6 ft)
Wingspan horizontal stabilizer: 5 m (16.4 ft)

Comparison to Bf109 and He111

So let’s take a look how they compare to other planes.
The Bf109 had a length of around 9m, the He 111 was almost 4 meters longer than the Arado with it’s 12.6 m, as you can see the Arado is even small for German medium bombers. In contrast a a B-17 G was about 22.7m (22.66m) in length although this should only give you an indication on the size difference, because both planes were designed with completely different concepts in mind.

Technical Specification

Now let’s take a look at the performance and weapon loadout, as noted before the Arado 234 was designed primarily as a recon plane, it was later fitted with bombs, but those were mounted outside and thus created drag. Yet, considering the small size of the plane the maximum bomb load was not too bad with 1500 kg, in comparison the He-111 could carry up to 2000 kg in its internal bomb bays.
(Values for the Ar 234B-2 according to Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55)

The maximum speed at an altitude of 6000 m (19500 ft) was 742 km/h – 461 mph
At an altitude of 10000m (32800 ft) it was 700 km/h – 435 mph
It’s Range without bombload was 1630 km and with bombs around 1550 km
Range: 1630 km – 1013 Miles
Range with bombs: 1556 km – 967 Miles

The overall flight performance of the Arado was very well perceived by its pilots. It was a highly maneuverable plane and handled well at speeds below 900 km/h (560 mph), thus the handling was only problematic during dives. At that speed the plane became nose-heavy and the elevators sloppy, thus maintaining a straight dive could be problematic. (Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55) The major problem was the reliability of the engines, which also could flameout during flight and under certain circumstances not be restarted again. (Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55)
The major problem was the reliability of the engines, which required frequent overhauls. Also if an engine flamed-out it could only restarted below 4000 m and a speed between 400 km/h (250 mph) and 500 km/h (310 mph). Above these values relighting was not possible. (Green Williams: Warplanes of the Third Reich, p. 55)

Interesting Variants

Now, I got my hands on a book full of Arado documents and there were many interesting variants in it, some, which never left the drawing board, but are nevertheless interesting so let’s have a look.

Early Fighter Variant

The first that caught my attention was a basic drawing dated to the 22nd of May 1943. (S. 14-15) It is a fighter Variant of the Arado. It has a different nose configuration, which should have included armor plates to protect the pilot from the front, since the regular version only had an armor plate in the back. Furthermore, it was proposed to equip it with 3x30mm Mk 108 machine cannons and 4x20mm MG151 machine cannons. Whereas 2 of them would be aimed backwards.
It seems that this early fighter variant served as a foundation for the propsed Night Fighter Variant the Ar 234P. (Green Williams, Warplanes of the Third Reich: p. 58)
Now, you might think that the Arado would be not a good fighter, but well, there is a report from from Mid-June 1944 about various flight demonstrations of German and captured Allied aircraft. Due to the agility of the Arado, the State Secretary of the Aviation Ministry (Erhard Milch) wanted to see a comparison between the turning performance of the Ar 264 and the Me 262. To quote from the report:

It showed the clear superiority of the Ar 234 in a turn fight; Ar 234 V10 had the 262 several times in front of its barrels. The Me 262 yet was able to run away during disengagements.

(Report about the Exhibition of the Ar 234 in Rechlin 12th & 13th June 1944 – Source: Arado Ar 234 – Eine Dokumentation, Band 1; Karl R. Pawlas, 1976, S. 157)

Dieser zeigte die eindeutige Überlegenheit der Ar 234 im Kurvenkampf; Ar 234 V10 hatte die 262 mehrfach vor den Rohren. Die Me 262 konnte jedoch bei Absetzbewegungen davonlaufen.

(Bericht über Vorführung Ar 234 in Rechlin am 12. u. 13.6.1944 – Source: Arado Ar 234 – Eine Dokumentation, Band 1; Karl R. Pawlas, 1976, S. 157)

I will probably do a short video and transcript on the full report, because it contains some interesting views of the Germans on their own and Allied planes. Furthermore, it would be an interesting idea for a War Thunder reenactment, because many planes are actually available in the game already.

Anti-Escort Variant

There was another proposed version that was title “Jagdeinsatz gegen Begleitschutzjäger – 16.12.1944 Entwurfsabteilung” which roughly means “Deployment against Escort-Fighters”. It included a sketch and also a chart with the altitude and speed for the P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang. It is dated for Mid-December 1944 and was one of the many subvariants for the Arado 234 C Series. It should have been equipped with 3 so called “Magirus Bombs”, which were gun pods with 2×20 mm MG151 machine gun cannons. One under the fuselage and one under each engine, similar to the bomb layout.(S. 37) The weight for such a gun pod with 2xMG151 with 200 shots per barrel is given with 230 kg (507 lbs). (Since there is a bomb loadout with 3×250 kg for the Arado 234 C3 in War Thunder you could try out the basic flight performance.) These gun pods would probably be a very interesting variant for War Thunder.
Now, there is also a protocol from a meeting held about 6 months earlier in June 1944, just a few days before D-Day. Which clearly states that the Ar 234 C could be equipped with 3 Magirus bombs and used a “Hilfsjäger” support-fighter, but there is no interest in such an arrangement. Although it is noted in the paragraph below that an Ar 234 C should be equipped with an armored and pressurized cabin to be used as a high-altitude fighter “Höhenjäger” with 2xMG151 (S. 141). Hence, the Anti-Escort variant was probably the high-altitude fighter variant with additional gun pods.


Although the Arado 234 was initially designed to be a recon plane it was successfully adopted as a jet bomber and probably would have been also successful as a night-fighter and maybe even as a day-fighter. In this regards it is similar to other German medium bombers like the Do 217 and Ju 88, which also served as night fighters. Considering that it was the first of its kind, it definitely performed very well besides the engine reliability, which was also heavily influenced by the desperate state of German resources that late in the war.
Today, there is only one surviving Arado 234 left, which is owned by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Right now, it seems to be located at the Steven F. Udvar-Havy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, but better check the link to be sure.


Books & Theses

William Green: The Warplanes of the Third Reich (amazon.com affiliate link)

Karl R. Pawlas: Arado Ar 234 – Eine Dokumentation, Band 1; 1976 (amazon.de affiliate link)

Sterling Michael Pavelec: The German Jet Program 1939-1945 (Master thesis, free to download)

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Online Resources

Airvectors Arado 234 Article

Aviation History Arado 234 Article

Arado 234 at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Soviet Air Force 1941/1942 – Defeat & Recovery

The Soviet Air Force in World War 2 got a very rude awakening, it endured one of the most devastating defeats in aviation history. At the time of the German attack the force consisted of about 400 000 personnel, and 10 000 to 15 000 aircraft, of which 7 500 were deployed in the Soviet’s Western theatre. Whereas the German Air Force had around 2800 aircraft deployed for Operation Barbarossa. The Germans achieved total surprised and launched an attack with about 1000 bombers against 66 airfields in the Russian border districts. (p. 272)

Aircraft Losses during Operation Barbarossa

The reported losses on these initial attacks vary, but the 1970s Soviet official history states the loss of 800 aircraft destroyed on the ground and a total loss of 1200 aircraft. This basically crippled the Soviet air force stationed near the front lines. These attacks also inflicted significant damage and chaos on the logistical side. Thus, by day three of operation Barbarossa the Luftwaffe was free to focus mainly on supporting the ground troops, who captured the Russian airfields.(p. 273)

In Mid July 1941 the Soviets admitted to the destruction of almost 4000 (3985) aircraft, whereas the German air force claimed around 6900 (6857) planes destroyed. The kill claims were probably a bit higher than the real ones, but the official war time number probably lower. Yet, most importantly both numbers are substantial.

These losses were during the initial phase of operation Barbarossa and are based on war time claims by both side. Now according to post-war Soviet and German records between the beginning of the operation and the end of the year 1941 ( 22nd of June 1941 and the 31st of December 1941), the losses were approximately as follows:
A total of 21 200 aircraft were lost on the Soviet side. With 17 900 combat aircraft and the loss of 3300 support aircraft. (Greenwood: p. 67/ p.88) Yet, only 50 % of these losses were combat losses. The German side lost a total of 2500 (2505) combat aircraft and 1900 (1895) damaged. (Greenwood: p. 67)

Note: That these numbers may be quite off and shouldn’t be compared 1:1, because both sides counted losses differently, the problem is I haven’t found a proper article on this topic yet. Although a knowledgeable user indicated that German losses were usually total losses, whereas Russian losses seemed to include damaged vehicles.

Reasons for the Disaster

The reasons for the disaster are many, some of them were the result of ongoing processes, some were structural shortcomings and others were definitive failures in leadership. In any way Stalin played a major role in most of these factors.

Although the Soviet Air Force was successful in the Far East in 1938 and 1939. During the Spanish Civil War the German Bf 109 outclassed the Russian planes like the I-15. The performance of the Red Air Force in the Winter War against Finland was a disaster, thus a major reorganization was started in February 1941 which would at least take until Mid-1942, thus it wasn’t finished when the Germans attacked and made the force even more vulnerable. (p. 274)

Additionally, the Soviet expansion into Eastern Poland and the Baltic States required many resources that would have been needed elsewhere, about two thirds of built or renovated air fields were located in these regions. (p. 275) Thus, many units were still located on unsuited air fields, which were too small or unfinished, which also made camouflage and dispersal more difficult. Unlike the British the Soviets lacked a proper early warning system, which resulted in a total surprise combined with Stalin’s reluctance to prepare properly to the upcoming German attack. (p. 275)


Another major structural problem was created by Stalin purges. In 1937 the Air Force had 13000 officers, of those 4700 (4724) were arrested. Followed by another 5600 (5616) in 1940. (75 % of the most senior and experienced commanders were among those.) Although some of the arrested officers were later released it were only around 15 % (about 900 (892) or 16 percent of those in 1940). This of course had a severe impact on morale and effectiveness, because the Air force consisted of to a large degree of purge survivors, promoted inexperienced young officers and fresh recruits. (p. 276)

The purges also affected the design bureaus for weapons and aircraft. Some were dismissed, some were arrested, which often lead to the execution and some were put in special prison bureaus like Andrei (Nikolayevich)Tupolev.(p. 277-278)

Furthermore the drastic measures and understandable fear surrounding the purges also inflicted the production of aircraft, because changing the production line from one aircraft to another can be quite complicated and usually includes a severe reduction in efficiency for adapting machinery and processes, this “loss” or better investment of time could be easily seen as sabotage. So most factories were reluctant in switching over to new models.(p. 278)

This meant that in 1940 7300 (7267 old fighters and bombers) old designs were produced whereas only around 200 of newer models.(186 new fighters and ground attack “machines” (p. 277))
The numbers especially for newer models increased in 1941, yet the training on the new aircraft was kept to a minimum due to fear of losses caused by accidents, which could also lead to “sabotage” or other charges. I guess Stalin would have been a huge Beastie Boys fan or maybe the other way round, that would at least explain all those moustaches… Oh, well I digress.

Recovery Summer 1941 to Winter 1942

Let’s take a look at the recovery of the Soviet Air force, although the German losses were way lower than the Soviet ones, the Luftwaffe also had far fewer aircraft available in the beginning. Furthermore, the logistical system of the Luftwaffe was unsuited for a long war in Russia, something I discussed already in one of my previous videos. Already in October and November the Russians ordered attacks against Luftwaffe airfields. Additionally, since the Japanese were no longer a threat, more than 1000 aircraft from the Far East arrived, all this helped to slowly tip the balance.
Whereas in end of September (30th) 1941, the Russians could oppose the 1000 Luftwaffe air planes with only 550 (545) of their own. In mid-November the situation was quite different with 670 Luftwaffe planes versus 1140 (1138) Russian planes. (p. 279) Yet, the numbers alone didn’t win the battle for the Red Air Force, but the balance was slowly changing and in fall 1942 the Luftwaffe got seriously challenged. (p. 279)

After Hitler denied the 6th Army to break out of Stalingrad it was supplied only by the Luftwaffe, the Soviet established a so called “aerial blockage” and after two months of intensive fighting the Luftwaffe’s air superiority was finally lost. (the Germans could only field 350 fighters vs. 510 (509) Russian fighters in November 1942 (19th))

Important Factors in the Recovery

Let’s take a look at the major factors that contributed to the resurrection of the Soviet Air Force. One aspect was the mostly successful evacuation of the air craft industry and the lack of German attacks on this industry. Furthermore, the successful creation of a talented command staff and successful reorganization, which was supported by Stalin. (p. 280) The restructuring efforts included the transformation into air divisions, whereas each division consisted of one type of aircraft, which improved the logistics and command efficiency.(p. 281)
Additionally, the use of on-board radios grew, which allowed better coordination with ground stations for warning and command-and-control. (p. 281) There were also tactical changes like the creation of special ace units and the use of free hunts with experienced pilots. The Soviet Air doctrine focused strongly on fighters in order to achieve air superiority, thus a considerable effort was spent to develop the fighter arm into an elite force. (p. 75 Greenwood)

All these changes and the continuous Luftwaffe losses, allowed the Soviet Air Force to break the air superiority of the Luftwaffe and subsequently force it into the defensive role. Thus, within a mere 18 months the Soviet Air Force was able to recover and deal a severe blow against its enemy.

Additionally, the Soviet Air Force was starting to receive more and more planes, due to the lend-lease program which supplied around 18000 (18303; p. 280) planes during the whole war.



Amazon.com (affiliate link): Jones, David R.: From Disaster to Recovery: Russia’s Air Forces in the Two World Wars. In: Higham & Harris: Why Air Forces Fail
Amazon.de (affiliate link): Jones, David R.: From Disaster to Recovery: Russia’s Air Forces in the Two World Wars. In: Higham & Harris: Why Air Forces Fail

Amazon.com (affiliate link): Greenwood, John T.: Soviet Frontal Aviation during the Great Patriotic War, 1941-45. In: Russian Aviation and Air Power in the Twentieth Century
Amazon.de (affiliate link): Greenwood, John T.: Soviet Frontal Aviation during the Great Patriotic War, 1941-45. In: Russian Aviation and Air Power in the Twentieth Century

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Online Resources


Axis and Soviet air operations during Operation Barbarossa

Pop-culture Beastie Boys Reference – Sabotage

Logistics of the Luftwaffe in World War 2

for a more thorough look check my video on why the Luftwaffe Failed in World War 2.


In order to understand the logistics of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) in World War 2, we must take a look at the rearmament process, the military control of the industry, the attitude towards logistics and the dominance of the operational-tactical approach.

The Type/Sub-type Madness

The German re-armament focused on a fast build-up of arms and equipment. To achieve this many different models were produced by a wide range of companies. Yet, such an approach increases the cost of maintenance and supply due to the wide range of different vehicles and weapons.

This problem becomes apparent, if you look at the numbers in 1943: the US Army Air Force has 18 types of aircraft, whereas Germany had 50. This problem was prevalent in other areas too, like the armament of planes.

Take the B-17, it had one type of defensive gun, the 0.50 cal machine gun, whereas the He-111-H6 had three different types [SHOW 7.92 mm, 13mm and 20mm]. Nearly every German plane usually had a combination of at least two different types of guns throughout the war, whereas the US Forces usually used only one type of gun at all.

Luftwaffe in charge of its own industry

This problem was to a certain degree due to the control of the arms industry by the Luftwaffe. Until 1944 as the only branch of the German Armed Forces, it controlled its own industry. Which was in contrast to the United States, where the industry delivered the units most suited for mass production to the military.

Now, these circumstances were already problematic, but although German engineering is usually highly regarded throughout the world. The relationship of the military and engineering was “complicated” at best.

Disdain for Engineering

Many officers had a lack of technical understanding and were fine with it, some were even blatantly ignorant. Technology for them and thus the engineers were basically “meager”/mere servants.

This is divide between military and engineering is well illustrated by the debate about special insignias for technical officers. It was assumed that a technical officer would be perceived as less valuable by normal officers.

The attitude of the military towards technological and logistical matters manifested itself in the overall doctrine and principles.

Primacy of the operational-tactical approach vs. logistics

For instance, the primacy of the operational-tactical thinking was codified in the directive for the quartermaster. It clearly states that the supply chain management acts as a servant to the operational and tactical command.

“Alle im Versorgungsdienst tätigen Offiziere und Fachbearbeiter müssen sich bewußt sein, daß die Versorgung stets Dienerin der operativen und taktischen Führung ist und niemals zu deren Hemmschuh werden darf.” (Horst Boog, S. 242-243; referring to Quartiermeister-Vorschrift, Berlin 1936)

“All officers and clerks working in the supply services must be aware that the supply chain management is always servant of operational and tactical leadership and must never become the stumbling block.”

This is again in contrast to the Allies, in the RAF War Manual on operations, it is stated that every operational commander had to be aware of the supply/logistical situation. Yet, there is nothing similar in the German directive.

The Result

To conclude, the German Air Force was well suited for small and short wars with its operational (and military) focus, but the fast buildup and military dominance in industrial matters lead to a logistical nightmare as the war prolonged and turned into a war of attrition. Whereas other air forces usually adapted their logistical approach, the German Air Force command was reluctant due to disregard for anything outside of the operational and tactical realm. Thus, to a certain degree the Luftwaffe resembled very well the so called “Knights of the Skies”, yet in a time when the outcome of a war was mostly determined by “mere servants”.



Boog, Horst: Luftwaffe und Logistik im Zweiten Weltkrieg; in: Vorträge zur Militärgeschichte 7: Die Bedeutung der Logistik für die militärische Führung von der Antike bis in die neueste Zeit.

Further Reading and Recommendation

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Online Resources

Heinkel He 177