Smoke fumes forth from across the airfield while the distant roar of German fighters dissipates as they return to their bases to refuel and rearm for another strafing attack. Our fighter fleet was destroyed on the ground, not having been allowed to take off.
Why can’t we get up there and fight them!
So far the Germans have not destroyed all of our bombers, probably figuring that they’ll get those next. Since our fighters cannot intercept their planes they can now destroy our air and ground forces at their leisure.
Running toward me from the radio shed, Listova shouts “Orders from Moscow, we’ve got a mission!” as he hands me a slip of paper.
Bomb German positions in Osovets, Visna, Belsk and Kleshchelye.
YES! Finally we can get off our butts and take this fight to the Germans!
“Let’s get going!” I yell out as I see crews starting to gather.
We’ve still got eleven working bombers. We can do some damage, even without fighter escorts.
“We’re fighting back now!” I shout above the pitched discussions among the bomber and fighter crews.
“Sir, what about fighter crews, we’ve got no planes.” One of the fighter pilots asks.
Our bombers are lumbering beasts, practically undefended without fighter escorts.
“If you want to fight, find a bomber gun to man. Otherwise, sit here and wait to die.” I retort.
Four targets, we’ll either have to split up, or carry out multiple missions.
“We are soldiers of The Red Air Force. We will not shy away from the Germans, letting them take our country. Attack them. Destroy them. We’re attacking Osovets. I don’t want that town to exist when we’re done with it!”
Ura, Ura, Ura! The crowd of men shouts in unison.
This will be their chance to feel like they can do something, as useless as that something is.
I wait for the cheers to die down before shouting, “We leave in 20 minutes. I expect every crew to be ready. Let’s go!”
Men scurry across the base, preparing themselves for the mission. Ground crews begin prepping the four Ilyushin DB-3Fs and seven Tupolev SB-2s.
I gather my gear before heading to my DB-3F. My crew is fervently preparing the bomber, loading ammunition, topping off the fuel, and checking the engines.
What a great crew I have.
“We’ll be ready to go in seven minutes, Sir.” Patriolov shouts in my direction while leading a team of ground crew to load the ten FAB-100 bombs into the bomb bay.
Acknowledging him with a nod, I look across the field to see the other bombers prepping as fast as they can as well.
We might just make it into the air before the next German attack wave arrives.
Walking around my plane, I look over its fine lines, precise welds, and x-ray inspected rivets.
This is a beautiful aircraft.
My crews are beginning to man their planes. I turn to look back at mine one more time, not realizing that someone has approached me from behind.
“Sir, I’d like to join you on this mission.” A youthful, almost childlike, member of the ground crew asks.
I don’t even know his name.
“Of course, you can man the machine gun in the ventral hatch.”
“Thank you, Sir!” he smiles from a mouth missing several teeth.
We head toward the plane together.
I look over at his smiling face. My arm wraps around his shoulders.
I cannot say goodbye to my son. Thank you for offering me this one.
Early in the morning of June 22, 1941 the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) began Operation Barbarossa, a massive invasion of the Soviet Union. The initial phase of the attack included the almost complete destruction of the Soviet Air Force (VVS) on the ground. Stalin would not approve Soviet planes to fly against the German attack for four hours, by which time most of the Soviet fighters, and many of its bombers, had been destroyed. Ordered that afternoon to bomb the enemy, Air Force Lieutenant General I.I. Kopets followed these orders, knowing full-well that he no longer had any fighters to escort his bombers. The crews of the slow Russian Ilyushin and Tupolev bombers stoically and honorably flew from their bases without the expectation of returning alive. Luftwaffe Field marshal Albert Kesselring was quoted later as saying that shooting down the Soviet planes was as easy as “infanticide.” Within twenty-four hours, the Soviets had lost all of their front-line bombers. Kopets, at this point without an air force to command, committed suicide rather than face Stalin.