The 728th Fighter Regiment on 16 July 1943

Well after the original Kursk Data Base project was done, I contracted a researcher to pull up some Soviet air regiment records from the battle. We had originally built our database on the Second, Fifth and Seventeenth Air Army records, but always wondered what the individual air records held. So as an experiment, I pulled up the records for the 5th Guards, 27th, 240th, 270th and 728th Fighter Regiments for 4-18 July 1943. They were a sampling from all three air armies and all rather famous air regiments. At the time, I was busy with other projects (our urban warfare studies) so set them aside. I finally got around to going through them and translating them over a decade later.

The regiment records mostly just record how many sorties they flew that day and too where, what their strength was, how many planes they claimed to have shot down and how many planes they lost. It is their claims of planes shot down that got my attention.

As I pointed out in page 839 of my original Kursk book (and page 285 of my Prokhorovka book), the Soviet air force at Kursk (in the south) appeared to claim more than eight times as many planes shot down as the Germans actually lost. The graph above is from those pages. Was not sure whether this was optimism or deliberate overstatement at the highest levels of command or something that trickled up from the lower levels. It appears to be something that trickled up from the lower levels. An air regiment reports to an air division which often reports to an air corps which then reports to the air army. So, looking through the regiment air records, what stood out was that some of these regiments had wildly optimistic kill claims.

Let me just give you one example, this is from the 728th Fighter Regiment on 16 July 1943. They claimed on that day to have shot down 13 planes, 7 Me-109s, 5 Ju-87s (Stukas) and one He-123. Their listing by name of who killed what and where is provided below. The actual reported German losses for their VIII Air Corps this day by the Luftwaffe air liaison officer was three planes: 1 Fw-189 and 2 Me-109s. The quartermaster reports for 16 July indicate only one plane lost, an Hs-129. So, it appears that not only is the Soviet regiment claims optimistic, but in fact, they may not have made a single kill that day!

This is just one of around 26 fighter regiments in the Second Air Army in July 1943. Also other air units and anti-aircraft artillery were involved in the fighting. There were a total of 64 Soviet claimed air combat kills on 16 July (see chart). Now this is the worse case for the five fighter regiments I looked at, but there are many other similar cases. Quite simply, the habit of over-claiming was common among Soviet air units at all levels.

The actual claims by the 728th Fighter Regiment for 16 July 1943:

Date        Pilot                                    Plane                   Notes

16 July    Captain Vorozheikin           1 Me-109

16 July    Lt. Sachkov                         1 Me-109

16 July    Jr. Lt. Vyibornov                 1 Me-109

16 July    Jr. Lt. Morye                       1 Me-109

16 July    Major Petrushin                  2 Ju-87s                Fell in the area of Shakhovo

16 July    Jr. Lt. Shiryayev                 1 Ju-87                  Fell in the area of Shakhovo

16 July    Lt. Kozlovskii                      1 Ju-87                  Fell in the area of Shakhovo

16 July    Jr. Lt. Pakhomov                1 Ju-87                  Fell in the area of Shakhovo

16 July    by the group                       1 He-123               Fell in the area of Dalnii Dolzhik

16 July    Jr. Lt. Milashenko               1 Me-109              Fell in the area of Pravorot

16 July    Jr. Lt. Karnaukhov              1 Me-109              Fell in the area of Pravorot

16 July    Lt Khudyakov                     1 Me-109              Fell in the area of Pravorot

 

Captain Vorozheikin is Arsenii Vasilyevich Vorozheikin, the sixth highest scoring allied ace of the war with 52 claimed kills and 13 shared kills.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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6 Comments

  1. “The graph above is from those pages. Was not sure whether this was optimism or deliberate overstatement at the highest levels of command or something that trickled up from the lower levels.”

    I have never seen a claim that these numbers were “generated” at higher levels in the documents, however, that may have happened in official histories after the war, but that is a different issue.

    For a plausibility check you could compare Soviet overclaiming with UK and US overclaiming in the west, one finds that even over Great Britain the RAF claims were (much) higher than the German losses, and over France we see for 1942 a at least four times overclaiming.

    And the highest overclaiming is documented for US bomber crews: 102 claims during one battle, actual German losses 1 fighter destroyed, 1 damaged.

    For me the interesting question is how people could do OR with such faulty imput?

  2. “1 Fw-189 and 2 Me-109s. The quartermaster reports for 16 July indicate only one plane lost, an Hs-129. So, it appears that not only is the Soviet regiment claims optimistic, but in fact, they may not have made a single kill that day!”

    Here I am more optimistic, one of the reports or official data compilations may simply have a wrong date for losses/claims, i.e. a honest error happend.

    This issue is well documented for at least one of the days of the BoB when German units from Norway claimed 12 planes shot down but no loss was found in RAF compilations, however, individual unit war diaries showed losses (less than the claims, but not 0).

    My feeling is, one has to average over a longer period of time to get a good impression of the extend of overclaiming.

    • Not only that, but they might have misidentified the target. Reports have delays, but loss figures still have to be cleaned by type.

      • “but loss figures still have to be cleaned by type.”

        Yes, correct types are a bonus. However, the most important numbers are losses of all types provided by enemy war diaries.

        It does not make sense to question some numbers only because some planes were misidentified.

        • You need to look at what some units “thought they might have engaged and shot down”, but an accident or damage by AA fire do not count as a potential kill for a S/E fighter, unless they shared their target. Things will get more difficult from there on. It allows us to say something about overall losses, but individual stories remain problematic (unless you would find photo and videomaterial).

          • “but individual stories remain problematic”

            Yes, but there are in some case the requirement to have witnesses….

            I. A serious scientific discussion requires:

            1) You have first to explain, why the claiming systems of different countries have obviously such different quality.

            2) Then you have to provide a method to incorporate this different quality in a system that allows to compare pilots of different countries.

            We have in many ToW the situation that the overclaiming is higher than the losses documented by the enemy. How do you handle this?

            3) For the east front a validation of a model may be impossible. Can we use other ToWs (Africa?), where the quality of data is better because of the limited number of units, as proxy?

            4) Plausibility: Are some high claims plausible in respect to kills/mission or kills/mission with enemy contact?

            II. Then we have the issue of good historiogrphy, i..e. how to use sources.

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