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Section VIII. REFLECTIONS ON-THE ABSENCE OF RUSSIAN AIR LANDINGS
It is surprising that during World War II the USSR did not attempt any large-scale airborne operations. Although Soviet Russia was the first country in the world which during peacetime had experimented with landing troops by air and had organized special units for this purpose, its wartime operations were confined to the commitment of small units which were dropped back of the German front for the purpose of supporting partisan activities and which had no direct tactical or strategic effect. The reasons can only be surmised and might have been any or all of the following:
1.In 1941, when the Soviet Union entered the war, the Red Air Force was far inferior to the Luftwaffe. It is likely that the awareness of this inferiority persisted until the final stages of the war.
2.The Russians are primarily at home on the ground and are not in their element on the water or in the air.
3.In 1941 the parachute troops that had existed during peacetime may well have been expended in ground combat during the initial emergency. Later on, other parachute units were activated. Perhaps they lacked the necessary confidence or were considered too valuable to be risked in operations for which-success was not assured. It is also possible that during the last phase of the war such operations simply were no longer regarded as necessary.
4.Marshal Tukhachevski was the originator of the Soviet parachute forces and after his removal the driving force in this new and untried field may well have been lacking.
Be that as it may, the fact that during World War II the Soviet armed forces did not carry out any large-scale airborne operations, such as were carried out by the Germans in Crete and by the Allies in Holland, should not lead to the false conclusion that the Soviet Union is not concerned with this problem or would fail to make use of this new arm during future military operations.
After finishing this study the author received additional information about an airborne operation carried out by the Russians late in the summer of 1943. Under cover of darkness, the Russians parachuted approximately three regiments into the area northwest of Kremenchug, about 25 miles behind the German front on the Dnepr. The exact date and place could not be given from memory. Only infantry forces without heavy weapons were dropped and they showed no initiative after the jump. Landing in small groups scattered over an area about 25 miles across, each group dug in on the spot, making no effort to contact other groups. Apparently they had no contact with their take-off base, and there were no simultaneous attacks by Russian ground forces across the Dnepr.
Within a few days the individual groups were mopped up with little difficulty at their separate landing places by German security formations and reserves. It was assumed that the Russian airborne troops would make their positions known to Russian airplanes by fires at night. The Germans therefore lit fires all along the river banks from Kremenchug to Kiev during the night following the jump. The Russians parachuted no further troops nor did they drop any supplies after the night of the landing. It is unknown whether a follow-up was intended or if it did not take place because of the uncertainty of the location of the landed forces brought about by the German deceptive measures.
The whole enterprise left the impression of inadequate preparation. Inadequate reconnaissance, mistakes in navigation during the approach and jump, lack of contact among the individual groups and between them and their base, as well as the complete passivity of the parachuted troops were the main deficiencies. The enterprise must be considered a complete failure. This may be why it remained so obscure that all German officers interviewed in connection with the original study, including General Student, General Blumentritt, and General Meindl (all officers with a comprehensive knowledge in this field), unanimously and independently stated that no large-scale airborne operations had been carried out by the Russians during World War II. As a result of investigation it was confirmed by a second informant that this Russian airborne operation actually took place at Kremenchug, but no further particulars could be procured.
Although this Russian airborne operation disclosed no new important experience in opposing airborne attacks, it seems appropriate to mention it if only for its singularity. Its complete failure may be a further reason, in addition to those mentioned above, for the absence of other large-scale Russian airborne operations in the course of the war. The impression prevails that tactically and technically the Russians could not meet the requirements of such an enterprise. Further reasons may be that the Russian soldier as a rule is not a good individual fighter but prefers to fight in mass formations, and that the junior Russian commanders lacked initiative and aggressiveness, two qualities that are basic requirements in a parachute officer.
The main effort of the Russian paratroopers during the war was without doubt in partisan warfare, an old method of combat that has always been favored by the Russians. In this field parachuting was widely exploited. However, this is a special subject having nothing to do with tactical airborne operations, and is therefore outside the province of this study.