By sheer numbers the USSR overtook Germany in number of aircraft in Europe. In early 1942 Germany had nearly a two to one ratio advantage. By 1943 that was totally reversed and the USSR had over a three to one advantage.
Table of Contents
The Soviet Union and Germany had different approaches to developing and using aircraft technology. The Soviet Union focused on developing simple, rugged planes that could be produced quickly and used in large numbers. The country also developed several ground-attack aircraft, such as the Il-2 Sturmovik. Germany, on the other hand, focused on developing technologically advanced aircraft, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190, which were faster and more maneuverable than most Soviet planes.
Manufacturing and Production Approach
While the Soviet Union and Germany had different development and manufacturing approaches for their air forces, both recognized the importance of providing ground support to their respective armies. Both air forces were heavily involved in supporting ground troops, particularly during the early years of the war. Both the Soviet Union and Germany used dive bombers during the war.
The Soviet Union developed the Il-2 Sturmovik, which was heavily armored and armed with cannons and rockets and was used for ground-attack missions. Germany, on the other hand, used the Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber, which was also used for ground-attack missions and was known for its distinctive siren. Neither nation believed in nor developed a strategic bombing capability such as the United Kingdom and the United States did.
Both the Soviet Union and Germany faced challenges with production during the war. Many Soviet factories stood in the path of the 1941 German invasion and aircraft manufacturers were not an exception. Many of these factories relocated equipment, machine tools and personnel east of the Ural Mountains. For example, the Moscow factory producing the Yak-1 fighter was bombed resulting in the decision to move 1,600 kilometers to western Siberia. Three months after the relocation the new facility was turning out a higher number than the previous one.
Germany faced challenges with production due to Allied strategic bombing raids and shortages of resources. Even with their factories being specifically targeted Germany turned out their highest number, almost 40,000, of planes in 1944.
The Battle of Kursk
Operation Citadel, also known as The Battle of Kursk, is renown as the largest tank battle ever. However, by some measures it was the largest German-Soviet air battle as well. Germany had 2,110 aircraft assigned to this operation and the Soviets had 2,792 defend the Kursk salient.
Prior to the Battle of Kursk, the Luftwaffe percentage of planes on the Eastern Front had fallen from approximately 60% of their total aircraft to approximately 40%. These planes were now assigned to North Africa or defending Germany from US and UK strategic bombing over their homeland. To compound this aerial disadvantage the Soviets succeeded in luring the Luftwaffe to attack dummy airfields while the Soviet aircraft destroyed 500 Luftwaffe aircraft on the ground.
1944 Production Numbers
Although Germany’s production number of 39,600 was almost identical to the Soviet’s 40,000 they could not dedicate all their aircraft to one front as the Soviets could. The rate at which Germany was losing aircraft to nonoperational causes was skyrocketing. In 1944 Germany lost 34,157 aircraft of which 9,872 were from nonoperational causes. Additionally, German pilot training dwindled, aviation fuel became scarce and of a lower quality, aircraft manufacturing was driven underground causing quality issues, and factories ran low on coal to power their production. The raw production numbers only tell part of the story as the Luftwaffe was being subjected to a death of a 1,000 cuts.
Soviet and German Aircraft Available In Europe Data
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Source: World-War-2.info, “World War 2 Death Count Per Country”, http://www.world-war-2.info/statistics/, Data accessed June 25, 2022
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