Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

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Galahad
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Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Galahad » 28 Jun 2008 06:25

I've just finished reading Over the Hump, the memoirs of General William Tunner, the man who commanded the "Hump" airlift in World War II and the Berlin Airlift after the war. He makes an interesting comment concerning why the Luftwaffe failed at Stalingrad, a new reason to me. Coming from an expert in airlift operations, it seems to have merit.

He bases his comments on talks he had with the former Luftwaffe officer he retained to organize a program for using German air mechanics for maintenance of the planes flying the Berlin Airlift.....Major General Hans Detlev von Rohden.

General Tunner says the airlift failed, not because of enemy action or too few planes, but because there were too many planes involved for the scope and size of the operation, no proper maintenance for them, no proper support for the flight and the ground crews, and no real organization or scheduling for the operations. "They crowded the fields and confused the meager maintenance facilities." "But the combination of lack of organizational knowhow, lack of maintenance facilities, and inadequate winterization of too many planes was too much."

According to General Tunner, the Luftwaffe had the planes and the men needed to deliver the tonnage 6th Army required, but the organization itself, at both ends, wasn't there.

If he's correct, then it's ironic that this pivotal defeat was caused, at least in part, by a lack of that quality which Germans are renowned for--organizational ability.

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Michael Emrys
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Michael Emrys » 28 Jun 2008 06:40

Galahad wrote:According to General Tunner, the Luftwaffe had the planes and the men needed to deliver the tonnage 6th Army required...
He's the expert and I would give his opinion considerable weight, but I have to wonder how "tonnage...required" is defined in this case. Of course, any increase would have been welcome, but I have to suspect that any sustainable airlift, even under the best organizational conditions, would have only delivered pretty meager rations. Once the Soviets had surrounded Stalingrad, the only hope that the 6th. Army had would be to break out with outside help soonest.

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Galahad
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Galahad » 28 Jun 2008 07:03

Re "tonnage....required", General Tunner was working with the 300 tons per day minimum needed for survival, and the 500 tons per day needed to retain operational capability.

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Benoit Douville
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Benoit Douville » 18 Jul 2008 02:34

That sure is an interesting point of view. That's true that the Germans are renowned for there organizational ability and they were not able to make the Stalingrad Airlift a successfull operation, it's just show that it was total chaos at Stalingrad.

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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by tonyh » 18 Jul 2008 11:51

Galahad wrote:...but because there were too many planes involved for the scope and size of the operation, no proper maintenance for them, no proper support for the flight and the ground crews, and no real organization or scheduling for the operations.
Well, that's a new take on it. As far as I'm aware, there were not enough transport aircraft available for the task. So much so that the Luftwaffe were forced to take Heinkels from Kampfgeschwaders to make up the numbers.

But Like Michael, I'll bow to his experience on the matter, even though I am not quite sure he's correct on that point.

Also, a bigger problem for maintanence was not the lack of support for flight and ground crews, but the fact that Richthofen's transport units had been in constant circulation since the beginning of Operation Blue. Their actual operational status was down to less than 40% of their paper operational status. There was just far too much for the ground crews to handle.

The Transport units of the Luftwaffe, like all the Luftwaffe units in the East, were always operating well below their paper status. So much so, that Richthofen was only able to supply 30 or 40 JU52's to support the 6th Army in the latter half of November. The 6th Army needed 100(s) of aircraft and the aformentioned 500 tons a day for successful ops support.

Also, loading and unloading in the circumstances (both operationally and meteorologically) in and surroundling Stalingrad meant that at most, two sorties were being carried out on a good day. Most of the time, a single sortie for each aircraft was what was managed.

Tony

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LWD
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by LWD » 23 Jul 2008 19:03

Galahad wrote:...If he's correct, then it's ironic that this pivotal defeat was caused, at least in part, by a lack of that quality which Germans are renowned for--organizational ability.
Some would say it was a lack of planning and organization of their logistics network that lead to the German defeat in general in the East. Certainly it was an important component.

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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by phylo_roadking » 23 Jul 2008 22:51

General Tunner says the airlift failed, not because of enemy action or too few planes, but because there were too many planes involved for the scope and size of the operation, no proper maintenance for them, no proper support for the flight and the ground crews, and no real organization or scheduling for the operations. "They crowded the fields and confused the meager maintenance facilities." "But the combination of lack of organizational knowhow, lack of maintenance facilities, and inadequate winterization of too many planes was too much."

According to General Tunner, the Luftwaffe had the planes and the men needed to deliver the tonnage 6th Army required, but the organization itself, at both ends, wasn't there.
One of the things I've always noticed on the few cine clips still extant of the airlift, or still pics...is the LACK of facilities on the Stalingrad airstrip. Also - there are never, NEVER in the background any signs of any groundcrew at work - and aircraft of the period working at max load required a LOT of remedial maintenance as well as their periodic maintenance. As an example - in the BoB, establishment for an RAF squadron was 16 aircraft to be ideally able to muster TWELVE for flying off. That's a whopping 33.3% margin to ensure that rotating out aircraft for periodic maintenance, repairs etc. allowed a squadron to fly off its official strength. Take a look also at even the BEST of aircraft's rate of "returns to base" for mechanical issues - it's SUPRISINGLY high for all air forces.

At Stalingrad, if you look closely at the pics - there is little or NO maintenance being done at the Stalingrad end. All I can ever see are stripped or cannibalised wrecks - but no tarps over engines as they're being repaired, no ladders, nothing like that. To THIS mechanical vulnerability on the RETURN leg out of the siege - you HAVE to add that an average of even ONE sortie EVERY day for ALL aircraft means their regular maintenance intervals are being ignored. Coupled to THAT you have the fact that aircraft flying INTO the salient will be fully loaded, as fully as possible, so aircraft are flying at full engine output. Then add landing on ice-hardened ground, pocked with shell and bomb craters, and you'll have an already-high rate of undercarriage failures due to loading added to by the condition of the airstrips.

To all THIS...add also the fact that ALL aircraft spares had to come from Germany or Czechoslovakia or Austria at their closest by 1943. Original spares kits would have been LONG exhausted. So like all those redeployed French trucks with weak suspensions that were U/S after only a season's use in 1941 on the Eastern Front, keeping aircraft in the air on a daily sortie basis will require a HUGE amount of consumable spares to be brought forward, as well as POL. To all these p[roblems in servicing aircraft - add the fact that it's not JUST a case if "inadequate winterisation" - many aircraft types simply weren't designed for such harsh conditions, and even winter grades of oil, grease etc., will not protect something like the performance engines of He111s from accelerated wear and breakdown. Aircooled radials like the BMWs on the Ju-52 are perfect - but indeed, attrition of the slow tansport in the East, and in other theatres, meant that there was a spiralling number to be deployed for the airlift. With liquid-cooled engines you're working right down on the BOTTOM edge of their performance envelope, despite winter grades of oil, glycol, anti-freeze etc.

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phylo_roadking
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by phylo_roadking » 23 Jul 2008 22:58

NEXT issue - what LENGTH in time AND distance were the supply flights INTO Stalingrad on average, and what lengths were the return flights evacuating wounded etc.? An interesting fact to establish would be how QUICKLY the aircraft involved were running up their intervals between regular servicing. If they're only getting maintenance once a week or so when their flying hours mean they should be getting major attention every three days - for example - unreliability and mechanical attrition is going to be fearsome!

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Simon K
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Simon K » 23 Jul 2008 23:37

"After the soviet attack on Tatsinkaya, the transport fleet was greatly reduced, leaving a much smaller pool from which servicable aircraft could be used. Also, the new JU52 airfield at Salsk, just over 200 miles from Pitomnik, was close to the maximum operational range, so any aircraft whose engines burned up could not be used"" Beever Stalingrad p334

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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Simon K » 23 Jul 2008 23:44

sorry the last line should read "burned oil.." typo. After 26th December, probably one sortie a day per plane would have been good going.

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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Simon K » 23 Jul 2008 23:50

Average cruising speed of a JU52, approx 120 MPH, average sortie time perhaps 5 hours, including 1 hour on the ground unloading , reloading. Average length of the day Dec - Jan perhaps 6 hours. Not good.

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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by phylo_roadking » 23 Jul 2008 23:54

so any aircraft whose engines burned up could not be used
...OR burned oil - a significant percentage are going to expire on their way INTO Stalingrad...with no spares stock, servicing under fire etc at THAT end. I'm willing to bet that of aircraft written off for mechanical reasons...there's a FAR greater percentage at Stalingrad than at the OTHER end of the route :wink:
Average cruising speed of a JU52, approx 120 MPH, average sortie time perhaps 5 hours, including 1 hour on the ground unloading , reloading. Average length of the day Dec - Jan perhaps 6 hours
Landing at the "other" end of whatever flight therefore is going to be in conditions of marginal visibility on wintered grass (snow and ice) strips. Or darkness depending on how long turnaround in Stalingrad takes. Doubly ungood.

Does anyone know the interval time in flying hours between various maintenance tasks for the Ju-52 and He111?

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Simon K
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Simon K » 24 Jul 2008 00:29

I dont have any servicability data to hand, but the HE111 was a rugged, but incredibly slow machine.

there was an BF 109 staffel based at Gumrak, but no blind landing equipment, (like Lorenz) or any sophisticated luftwaffe infrastructure. It could have been theoritically been positioned there.

I think a big problem was what SHOULD have been flown in, instead of condoms. pepper etc (various sources- Beever, Clark) Perhaps large amounts of light flak, luftwaffe personell, some basic repair equipment, and then just food, medical,and small arms and morter ammunition.

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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by phylo_roadking » 24 Jul 2008 00:36

The He111 was very rugged - but as a performance option, its engines will require more maintenance - AND it doesn't carry anything like as much as the Ju-52. I asked about this some time ago - even with bombracks stripped out, the 111 would carry about 8 fully-armed and equiped FJ compared to 12 in the Ju-52. So reckon on its carrying capacity being about 65% of the Ju-52.

With the He111 you ALSO however have the problem of it NOT having the bigger side doors of the Ju-52, so it's not going to be able to carry palletted goods or larger crates. It's going to be slower loading and unloading, and big loads are going to have to be broken down for stowage.

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Simon K
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Re: Why the Stalingrad Airlift Failed

Post by Simon K » 24 Jul 2008 00:50

What was supplied to the kessell in any case? I assume that supplies were loaded any old how,in terms of what could be sent, as opposed to what should be? Dehydrated foods, with a huge weight saving gain, do not seem to have been sent, and I dont think Germany was short of that? I have never seen a detailed account of precisely what was sent, also unmanned loaded gliders could have been used, to increase the tonnage capability of the transport fleet. They could have been cast off at a distance, After all the pocket was big enough... All in all, surprisingly inefficient, unimaginative..?

Simon K

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