American airbase in Soviet Union, 1943-44

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Dan W.
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American airbase in Soviet Union, 1943-44

Post by Dan W. » 04 Apr 2004 03:48

Shortly before Operation Bagration (I believe) I had read about an American airbase that was set up in the Soviet Union with the intent of using Allied airpower in a joint effort with the Red Air Force.

Apparently the entire effort was a fiasco, the Russians were uncooperative, the American base was even strafed by Soviet aircraft after high level protests were made (apparently by mistake) , it was even reported that Americans watched Russian soldiers clear minefields by walking through them shoulder to shoulder. It was eventually disbanded, but not before a major German air campaign struck the base unaware without any effort on the part of the Red Air Force to prevent it.

Does anyone have any more information on this episode?


Thank You,
Dan

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Ogorek
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Post by Ogorek » 04 Apr 2004 16:38

The 1973 book, THE POLTAVA AFFAIR by Glenn B. Infield is still an excellent read...

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Dan W.
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Post by Dan W. » 04 Apr 2004 17:48

Ogorek wrote:The 1973 book, THE POLTAVA AFFAIR by Glenn B. Infield is still an excellent read...
Excellent! Thanks much Ogorek.

Regards,
Dan

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Takao
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Post by Takao » 04 Apr 2004 21:41

There were at least 3 Soviet air bases used for shuttle bombing missions. They were Mirgorod, Piryatin, and Poltava, and were used by both the 8th and 15th Air Forces. The US codename for these shuttle missions to the Soviet Union was “Frantic”. From the spring of 1944 until Ocober, 1944, some 1,000 US servicemen worked at these bases. After October, only some 100 remained to serve until the end of the war. The first such misson was flown by the 15th Air Force, based at Foggia, Italy, took place on June 2, 1944, and was led by General Ira Eaker. The formation of B-17s bombed a marshalling yard at Debrecen, Hungary, and proceeded on to land at Poltava. Among the difficulties encountered in planning these missions was the assigning of targets for bombing and long negotiations with the Soviets about which air bases could be used.

As for Soviet uncooperativeness, that was with the those in the Soviet military and political high command. The local civilians seem to have gotten along rather well with the US airmen. General Eaker reported that the local Soviet citizens of Poltava and Mirgorad were kindly and cordial towards the US bomber crews. This would change a few days later. In the words of General Eaker:
“About the third day some people from Moscow arrived and things changed. The girls objected, for some of them beat the newcomers on the head with clubs. But we were told to keep our crews inside the compound; no American magazines were permitted to be given to Russians.”
The relations with the Soviet troops varied. One story I read had a Soviet soldier happily taking cigarettes offered to him by an American airman, and the later on, the same soldier, just for amusement, shot the airman’s dog.

The German air raid you spoke of is probably the one that hit Poltava on the night of June 21 – 22, 1944. The 8th Air Force had just conducted its first mission to the Soviet Union. The target was Ruhland, Germany, and involved 114 Flying Fortresses and an escort of 70 P-51 Mustangs. These aircraft landed at Mirgorod, Piryatin, and Poltava. Unknown to the US fliers, a German HE-177 trailed the formation and reported where the US aircraft had landed. That night German bombers attacked Poltava, destroying 43 Fortresses and 14 Mustangs. 25 Soviets and 1 American died in the bombing raid. The Germans attempted to repeat their success at Poltava by attacking the other airbases the following night. But, these attacks did not achieve the same results as the Poltava attack.

By late August, 1944, the Soviets lost interest in these shuttle missions and refused permission for Allied planes to land at Soviet airfields. The tragedy of this decision is that it coincides with the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. While the Soviet armed forces sat outside Warsaw and did nothing, US and British bombers were flying supply missions from Italy (1,400 mile round trip). The Soviets refused permission for these supply runs to use the already established airbases. The Western Allies were so incensed with the Soviet failure to support the Polish forces in Warsaw, that they considered ending Lend-Lease with the Soviets. Finally, on September 10, 1944, the Soviet Union relented and allowed the Western Allies permission to use the Soviet airfields again. This change in Soviet policy is most likely attributed to the imminent collapse of the Uprising. Still, on September 18, 1944, 110 bombers left Britain and dropped supplies in Warsaw. However, by this time the Poles controlled little in the way of territory, only 30% of the supplies dropped were recovered by Polish forces.

@Dan W.

Your information on the use of a line of troops to clear mines is incomplete. The mines were air-dropped by the Germans. To clear the mines, the Soviet commander would have his troops form a line and start walking the length of the field. When the line came across a mine, the troops would shoot at the mine until it exploded. If any of the soldiers were wounded by shrapnel, they were ignored and the line of soldiers would move on until the next mine was encountered. Then the process would be repeated all over again.

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Dan W.
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Post by Dan W. » 05 Apr 2004 05:29

Thanks much for that information Takao.

I just ordered The Poltava Affair off of Amazon.com

Best,
Dan

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Re:

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 30 Jul 2021 22:19

Takao wrote:
04 Apr 2004 21:41
...
Your information on the use of a line of troops to clear mines is incomplete. The mines were air-dropped by the Germans. To clear the mines, the Soviet commander would have his troops form a line and start walking the length of the field. When the line came across a mine, the troops would shoot at the mine until it exploded. If any of the soldiers were wounded by shrapnel, they were ignored and the line of soldiers would move on until the next mine was encountered. Then the process would be repeated all over again.
Some differences between that & the Range Sweeps we would do back in the 1980s. Periodically the artillery impact areas would be swept for dud ammunition. We would gather fifty or so Marines from a artillery battery, form a line, and walk across the designated area. If a intact projectile was spotted it would be flagged & the Exploisive Ordnance team following us, usually two Marines, would use a small explosive charge to to detonate the projectile after we moved on to what they judged a safe distance :D

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Re: American airbase in Soviet Union, 1943-44

Post by rcocean » 17 Aug 2021 01:28

Yep, the THE POLTAVA AFFAIR. The poltical naiveté shown by the 8 AF commanders and their ignorance of the conditions on the Eastern front is astounding. But then the AF showed equal stupidity in thinking they could set up a B-29 bomber base in China without any Japanese reaction.

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