Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Discussions on the Winter War and Continuation War, the wars between Finland and the USSR.
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Swing » 13 Jun 2014 14:59

durb wrote:I think that checking claims vs. losses is nowadays possible - we do not need to believe anymore in wartime propaganda. After many decades we are free to dig the truth behind the wartime numbers and try to get as good picture as possible about "how it really was". ... What is needed is the co-operation of the military aviation historians of different nations. It would be great if we could see more co-operative efforts between Finnish and Russian historians and joint-effort books on Winter War. That kind of co-operation should be free of the burden of nationalism. This is probably utopistic...
GREAT! It is not utopistic. Now we have "early bird" - "Talvisodan Taisteluja" by Raunio\Kilin in Russian (brand new release) and it is a guideline for many others. I'll try to do next small small step and a lot of thanks for all Finnish guys from AHF!

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Art » 13 Jun 2014 15:09

Juha Tompuri wrote: Anything?
A slight exaggeration I would say.
The author of the Russian study of the Khalkhin-Gol "Air battles at Khalkhin-Gol with participation of 200-300 airplanes were unprecedented in the history of aviation until the famous Battle of Britain". I didn't made it up. There is a known story about Russian military journalist Konstantin Simonov who when meeting G.Zhukov in 1960s confessed that never after Khalkhin-Gol he saw as many planes in the air simultaneously engaged in combat. Zhukov then smiled and said that he never saw it either. For comparison the largest air battle in the SFW was over Rukolahti on 29.02.40 with 23 Soviet and some 15-20 Finnish fighters":
http://vif2ne.ru/nvk/forum/0/archive/1490/1490038.htm
At Khalkhin-Gol battles between several dozens fighters were a trivial occurrence. I'm not ready to quote precise numbers right now, but apparently considerably more fighters were lost in air combat by both sides at Khalkhin Gol as well.
I a bit doubt that the Finnish AF claims during Winter War can be claimed as "normally strongly exaggerated"
Well, British and German claims in the Battle of Britain in the same year can. Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day. The problem is that you'll never tell when exactly. Normally you can't consider claims as an accurate source of information. Even if there is a probability that they are accurate having no external information you can't find whether they are accurate or not. That doesn't pertain to the air war alone, naturally.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Art » 13 Jun 2014 15:14

durb wrote:It would be great if we could see more co-operative efforts between Finnish and Russian historians and joint-effort books on Winter War.
OT: there was actually a book on the political history of the Winter War written by joint Russian-Finnish collective back in 1990s, which I find quite good.
There were probably lots of Ukrainians, Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and others in Winter War?
Beginning from their commander-in-chief:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semyon_Timoshenko
Naturally the Soviet Army was multiethnic.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Juha Tompuri » 13 Jun 2014 16:46

Art wrote: Don't forget that as far as intensity of air combat is concerned the Khalkhin Gol conflict half a year earlier simply dwarfed anything in the Soviet-Finnish War
Art wrote:
Juha Tompuri wrote: Anything?
A slight exaggeration I would say.
The author of the Russian study of the Khalkhin-Gol "Air battles at Khalkhin-Gol with participation of 200-300 airplanes were unprecedented in the history of aviation until the famous Battle of Britain". I didn't made it up.
It didn't dwarf for instance the Soviet concentration and usage of men and material and the losses suffered.
Art wrote:
I a bit doubt that the Finnish AF claims during Winter War can be claimed as "normally strongly exaggerated"
Well, British and German claims in the Battle of Britain in the same year can. Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day. The problem is that you'll never tell when exactly. Normally you can't consider claims as an accurate source of information. Even if there is a probability that they are accurate having no external information you can't find whether they are accurate or not. That doesn't pertain to the air war alone, naturally.
I really don't understand the relevance of the reply, but what did the Soviet "normally strongly exaggerated" claims and the British and German claims have to do with Finnish Winter War era claims?
Except of course the credibility being at a different scale.

Regards, Juha
Last edited by Juha Tompuri on 13 Jun 2014 21:32, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Karelia » 13 Jun 2014 23:08

Art wrote:
Karelia wrote: Also the soviet plane losses were higher in the Winter War
In absolute numbers but not in proportion to the the numbers of airplanes or sorties. At Khalkhin-Gol from 22.05.39 to 15.09.39 the Soviet Air Forces performed 20 524 sorties, their combat losses were 207 airplanes, that is 100 sorties per one loss. In the Finnish War the Army and Navy air forces flew 101 000 sorties, the combat losses from memory were some 350 air planes, that is 290 sorties per one loss. The difference in losses in proportion to the number of airplanes employed is even more obvious. In addition most losses at KG (147 of 207) were fighters, of them most were lost in air combat. In the Finnish War AFAIU ground weapons accounted for about a half or slightly more of planes lost and fighters made up a minority of losses. The last but not least at Khalkhin-Gol there was and intensive and bitter over the superiority in air which the Soviet side won only by the end and with great strains, against Finland they had uncontested superiorityfrom he very start. In a nutshell Khalkhin-Gol was mostly a "fighter war" and the SFW - a "bomber war", hence the experience of the former was more relevant as far struggle with enemy air forces is concerned.
One has to keep in mind that the "air combat" is not only fighter against fighter, but fighter against bombers too.
The question was originally about fighters. Sure, Finns scored more against bombers than against fighters. Yet due to the same numerical inferiority Finns could inflict certain losses on bombers but couldn't prevent their operations. The Soviet impression was that "The opponents principal antiaircraft means were artillery and machineguns. Fighter aviation (due to its weakness) as well as barrage balloons and searchlights were auxiliary means". Certain conclusions as I said before were made regarding vulnerability of bombers to enemy fighters. Also the level of bomber losses decreased considerably to the end of the war, much due to more efficient fighter escort.
Very well, but still one can't say "dwarfed everything". Proportionally in some aspects yes, but e.g. absolute numbers are still very valid numbers too.

The soviet air superiority was contested every time, when the few Finnish fighters were able to meet the soviet planes. On many occasions those few Finnish fighters were indeed able to prevent the soviet bomber operations, at least partially (although naturally not nearly as often as would have needed). Hence "uncontested superiority" is not an accurate term.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by durb » 14 Jun 2014 14:31

Maybe we should consider Nomonhan conflict and Winter War the nature of airwar was different. In Nomonhan the combat missions were always (?) linked with ground operations. My guess is that in Nomonhan the range of fighters was enough for them to provide escort for bombers - hence more combats between fighters. In Nomonhan were not bombing of cities and bombing of strategic targets as there were in Winter War.

Soviets SB´s and DB´s did fly several missions in relatively small formations deep in the Finnish territory without fighter escort. This provided "happy hunting" for Finnish fighters, I think that Soviet strategic bombing largely failed and many aircrews were lost because SB and DB bombers were relatively easy targets for Finnish fighters. In retrospect fighter escort or at least larger formations with more return fire capacity would have been necessary.

However when it comes to the frontline of ground war, small Finnish Air Forces had difficulties to provide enough support for ground troops agains numerically much superior adversary. My granfathers have both told me, that from their perspective it were the AA units which made most of the resistance vs. VVS. I remember to have read of one infantry soldier, who mentioned that to him it seemed that there were no FAF planes in the sky. IIRC, when FAF appeared over the frontline, Finnish AA units often opened fire against them thinking that they were Soviets. This because they saw almost only Soviet planes. But there is no doubt that FAF did all that they could to support the ground troops. It was just difficult with few planes and few pilots.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Art » 14 Jun 2014 21:21

Juha Tompuri wrote:I really don't understand the relevance of the reply, but what did the Soviet "normally strongly exaggerated" claims and the British and German claims have to do with Finnish Winter War era claims?
All of them belong to the class called "claims". And I, if you noticed, talked about claims in general. You can find more cases when claims were exaggerated cases when they were accurate. Even worse without additional info you cannot know whether they are accurate or not. So claims as a general rule cannot be taken as a reliable source. That is my thesis on two sentences. So the custom in the year 2014 is to base information on losses mostly on sources of the side to which they belonged. The scale of overclaim varied naturally, yet the general rule described above still stands.
It didn't dwarf for instance the Soviet concentration and usage of men and material and the losses suffered
Good, but did I talk about concentration of men and material? That losses in air combat were larger in the SFW is not that obvious, it appears that they were roughly the same. And those losses were suffered in a 5-fold larger number of sorties by a far larger number of airplanes. Yes, of course, in some aspects Soviet air war against Finland was waged on a wider scale than at the Khalkhin-Gol, I'm not arguing about it.
The soviet air superiority was contested every time, when the few Finnish fighters were able to meet the soviet planes.
They contested only those particular airplanes, they didn't have resources to contest the superiority on the theater of operations in general. Which returns us to the original discussion: the SFW couldn't provide the experience of struggle for air superiority against air force comparable in strength. Certain experience of air combat was present, of course. Yet it wasn't the thing which would be an adequate preparation for the clash with Luftwaffe. Again in some other areas beginning from the very operation of such a huge mass of planes it was an extremely valuable experience.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Juha Tompuri » 14 Jun 2014 21:58

Art wrote:
Juha Tompuri wrote:I really don't understand the relevance of the reply, but what did the Soviet "normally strongly exaggerated" claims and the British and German claims have to do with Finnish Winter War era claims?
All of them belong to the class called "claims". And I, if you noticed, talked about claims in general. You can find more cases when claims were exaggerated cases when they were accurate. Even worse without additional info you cannot know whether they are accurate or not. So claims as a general rule cannot be taken as a reliable source. That is my thesis on two sentences. So the custom in the year 2014 is to base information on losses mostly on sources of the side to which they belonged. The scale of overclaim varied naturally, yet the general rule described above still stands.
But I think you understand that claims from some nations/AF are were more reliable than others?
And the era Finnish claims belonging to the other group than the Soviet/German/UK ones?
Art wrote:
It didn't dwarf for instance the Soviet concentration and usage of men and material and the losses suffered
Good, but did I talk about concentration of men and material?
Art earlier wrote:Don't forget that as far as intensity of air combat is concerned the Khalkhin Gol conflict half a year earlier simply dwarfed anything in the Soviet-Finnish War.
Anything in the Soviet-Finnish War?
Art wrote:That losses in air combat were larger in the SFW is not that obvious, it appears that they were roughly the same.
Hard to say, but seems that about a double number of Soviet planes was shot down during a shorter period of time.
Art wrote:And those losses were suffered in a 5-fold larger number of sorties by a far larger number of airplanes.
Yes, by far larger number of planes taking part to far larger number of combat sorties suffering by far number of losses/total losses.
During shorter period of time.
Art wrote:Yes, of course, in some aspects Soviet air war against Finland was waged on a wider scale than at the Khalkhin-Gol, I'm not arguing about it
Some might even think that in several aspects.

Regards, Juha
Last edited by Juha Tompuri on 15 Jun 2014 07:55, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Karelia » 14 Jun 2014 22:16

Art wrote: All of them belong to the class called "claims". And I, if you noticed, talked about claims in general. You can find more cases when claims were exaggerated cases when they were accurate. Even worse without additional info you cannot know whether they are accurate or not. So claims as a general rule cannot be taken as a reliable source. That is my thesis on two sentences. So the custom in the year 2014 is to base information on losses mostly on sources of the side to which they belonged. The scale of overclaim varied naturally, yet the general rule described above still stands.
One should also keep in mind, that even if totally accurate win/loss statistics could be achieved on both sides, the statistics still most likely would not match each other. That's because one's "kill" is not necessarily always a loss to the other side - and comparably one's "damaged" could be a write off to the other side.

One could down an enemy plane and score a fair "kill", but the result might be a crash-landing in such a way, that the plane might still be repairable and thus not a "loss" to the enemy. On the other hand one could shoot the enemy plane and only damage it without being able to shoot it down. However the enemy plane is seriosly damaged and crashes on landing, the pilot gets killed and the plane completely destroyed. Still not necessarily an official "combat loss" but a mere "write-off".

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Juha Tompuri » 15 Jun 2014 08:15

Karelia wrote:One should also keep in mind, that even if totally accurate win/loss statistics could be achieved on both sides, the statistics still most likely would not match each other. That's because one's "kill" is not necessarily always a loss to the other side - and comparably one's "damaged" could be a write off to the other side.

One could down an enemy plane and score a fair "kill", but the result might be a crash-landing in such a way, that the plane might still be repairable and thus not a "loss" to the enemy. On the other hand one could shoot the enemy plane and only damage it without being able to shoot it down. However the enemy plane is seriosly damaged and crashes on landing, the pilot gets killed and the plane completely destroyed. Still not necessarily an official "combat loss" but a mere "write-off".
I have thought about the issue this way:
Juha earlier wrote:IMHO a "kill" is a written off plane.
A repaired plane is a damaged one.
Juha earlier wrote:A "kill" is a loss, "crashlandings" could be categorized as "shot down"
Juha earlier wrote:Wrecked beyond repair = "kill" IMHO
Specially there is a high risk at the overclaim if one doesn't see the plane actually going down to the ground.
If one can see the enemy plane making a forced landing, but the plane staying more or less OK, then the real claim should be damaged, not a "kill".
At many cases, only after the war (from enemy archives)the "kill" claims can be verified.
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... &start=150

Regards, Juha

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by andrus » 15 Jun 2014 17:11

I'm not sure if this is correct place, but for verifying Finnish claims with data from soviet side following two blogs may be interesting (in russian):
http://eismeerjager.livejournal.com/
http://mop-78.livejournal.com/

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Art » 15 Jun 2014 20:14

durb wrote:Maybe we should consider Nomonhan conflict and Winter War the nature of airwar was different. In Nomonhan the combat missions were always (?) linked with ground operations. My guess is that in Nomonhan the range of fighters was enough for them to provide escort for bombers - hence more combats between fighters. In Nomonhan were not bombing of cities and bombing of strategic targets as there were in Winter War.
I would say that most missions at Khalkhin-Gol were directed at fighting the Japanese air forces. According to Kondratiev about 75% of sorties were made for this aim (e.g. interception, patrolling and escort of other airplanes). It should be said that situation on the ground was for a considerable time either a lull or static warfare. Hence air operation were to a large degree independent of the ground battle and looked like two air fleets punching each other. Also most Soviet aircraft at KG were fighters. For example on 20 August 1939 there were 376 fighters and 204 bombers in the area of operations. In the SFW the proportions were different. According the report posted by Oleg that I have already quoted the North-West Front in the Karelian Isthmus had some 22-35% of fighters to the total number of airplanes. The numbers of sorties during the war were 27 398 for bombers and 25 400 for fighters (including recon and ground-attack missions), that is roughly equal ratio. Most bomber sorties (19 297) were actually made against Finnish ground forces and fortification, as well as more than 70% of the tonnage of bombs dropped. As I said the KG was far more a fighter war.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Art » 15 Jun 2014 20:31

Juha Tompuri wrote:But I think you understand that claims from some nations/AF are were more reliable than others?
And the era Finnish claims belonging to the other group than the Soviet/German/UK ones?
By this era you mean 1939-40 or 1939-44? As for the last, I'm not sure. As I said the scale of overclaim could vary, hence you can say that some claims were more reliable than others. The problem is that without precise information on losses you can't say whether they are more reliable or less. And if you have this precise information, then what is the informational value of claims? Even in most ideal case when the claims are 100% reliable they just confirm what you already know. Moreover "reliability" is highly probabilistic, in one engagement they are absolutely accurate, in the other 2- or 3-fold inflated. Again without additional info from other sources you would never tell which case you deal with.
In general it appears that we talk about different things. My reply was about a value of claims as a source for making an accurate picture of historic events, and you talk about comparing claims with the picture which already exists, hence different positions.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by durb » 15 Jun 2014 21:02

When comparing loss data and claim data of both sides, there are couple of things to be remembered:

1) Using unit loss records whenever possible (not just official "total loss" claims). It was important to keep correct unit records in order to know how many airworthy planes and aircrews were available. The losses of planes and airmen were well known in the units in which they served. Also the families of the lost pilots and aircrews had to be reported. There was very little to be gained by falsifying unit records for any propaganda purpose and I believe that it was unlikely to happen. (but who knows?)

2) Plane lost for "unknown cause" or "missed" in action - if there was a enemy claim of same date, this makes pretty good case for the claimer.

There may be same mistakes in dating events and causes of losses, but in general loss records should be reliable, if there has not been someone falsifying during or after the war (and for what gain?).

After reading and studying the history of several airwars, I have come to an conclusion that 2:1 or 3:1 overclaims yet fit in the margin of "human error" and are made in good faith.

The ideal researcher of Winter War should be able to understand and read both Russian and Finnish, I think. This would enable him (or her) to study the records of both sides and compare the data of them.

I would be interested to know more how Soviet aircrews experienced the Winter War and did their commanders take in account their experiences? Whatever the propaganda said about "successfull missions", it was in practice very dangerous to send small formations of unescorted bombers in daylight deep in the Finnish territory. I do not know the structure of the claims of FAF during Winter War, but my guess is that pretty much of them were SB 2 and DB 3 flying "suicide missions".

AFAIK, Soviet air forces improved their efficiency considerably in Feb. 1940 concentrating more in direct tactical support of ground troops, equipping fighters with drop tanks and providing fighter escorts to bombers etc. In other words they changed strategy and improved tactics. In some extent this may have affected the FAF losses (?), my rough guess is that in Feb. 1940 there were more FAF losses than in Dec.1940 or Jan.1940. Soviet fighter forces were also more aggressive, of which the battle of Ruokolahti 29.2.1940 is one example.

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Re: Crosschecking: Winter War, Soviet Experience

Post by Karelia » 15 Jun 2014 23:06

Juha Tompuri wrote:I have thought about the issue this way:
Juha earlier wrote:IMHO a "kill" is a written off plane.
A repaired plane is a damaged one.
Juha earlier wrote:A "kill" is a loss, "crashlandings" could be categorized as "shot down"
Juha earlier wrote:Wrecked beyond repair = "kill" IMHO
Specially there is a high risk at the overclaim if one doesn't see the plane actually going down to the ground.
If one can see the enemy plane making a forced landing, but the plane staying more or less OK, then the real claim should be damaged, not a "kill".
At many cases, only after the war (from enemy archives)the "kill" claims can be verified.
http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic. ... &start=150

Regards, Juha
That's all very fine and well reasoned, but I only wanted to remind of the fact, that differencies in statistics are not always due to over-/underclaiming but due to limitations to observe what the real, final consequences to the enemy are.

E.g. in the Finnish Air Force they did not literally count "kills" but "downings", which are slightly different things.

Of course these differencies I'm talking about do not explain everything or even the majority of the disputes, as we surely can realise when reading the victory statistics of the soviet Air Force in the Winter War...

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