The bombing of Gorky by the German Luftwaffe was the most destructive attack on Soviet war production on the Eastern Front in World War II. It lasted intermittently from October 1941 - June 1943, with 43 raids carried out.
The main target was the Gorky Automobile Plant (GAZ), which was manufacturing T-60 light infantry tanks. Defences proved inadequate, though a full-size dummy model of the main factory, and a ‘false village’ of painted images on the ground, caused some confusion to enemy pilots. The whole plant was eventually destroyed, and an inquiry immediately demanded by Stalin. The plant was reconstructed in four months.
Gorky is now known as Nizhny Novgorod.
The destruction of Gorky's industry was in operation Barbarossa from the very beginning. It was one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of weapons for the Red Army. Germany planned to capture and occupy the city during the second half of September 1941. The city was the main center of the entire Volga region and in it was concentrated the main industry and state power over the regions. Occupation of Gorky meant for Germany complete control over the Volga region. First, the Germans were to destroy the defense industry of the city - Gorky Automobile Plant, Sokol, Krasnoe Sormovo and the Dvigatel Revolyutsii. After the occupation of the city, the General District of Gorky (German: Generalbezirk Gorki) or the General District of Nizhny Novgorod (German: Generalbezirk Nischni Nowgorod) was to be created, included in the Reichcommissariat Moskowien. Gorky Machine-Building Plant was planned to be converted to the production of German military equipment.
The leadership of the city knew that Gorky could be attacked at any moment by German aviation. It was necessary to strengthen the city's air defense and mask factories. But the necessary measures were not brought to an end.
Nikolay Markov, commander of the Gorky Brigade Air Defense District, was appointed in October 1941. Arriving in Gorky, he noticed that the defense of the city is too weak. In it there were only about 50 antiaircraft guns and very few searchlights. At the same time, Gorky was densely built up with the most important strategic objects.
Reconnaissance flights over Gorky began in the autumn of 1941. German planes flew at high altitude, braking over GAZ. The first plane scout Ju 88 appeared in the sky above the city on Thursday, October 9. At first the Luftwaffe bombed the suburbs. The main blow fell on elevators and warehouses near Dzerzhinsk. Then followed two large raids on Gorky. He 111 aircraft of the 100th bomber squadron Viking were involved.
The first raid of Tuesday, November 4 to Wednesday 5, UK Guy Fawkes Night, began at 4:30 pm.[L 1] According to air defense estimates, about 150 aircraft participated in it and 11 aircraft flew to the city. The planes approached individually and in groups of 3-16 at an interval of 15–20 minutes. The bombing lasted all night. In addition to bombs, leaflets were also dropped. GAZ, Nitel and the Dvigatel Revolyutsii factory were struck, 55 people died, 141 were wounded. According to German data, 15 planes participated in this raid.[L 2] The first aircraft appeared over the city in the light of day and dropped bombs. Then they began to shoot people from machine guns running along the streets. From the direct hit in the main building of the Nitel, director and part of leadership died. During the night bombing, the main impact occurred on secondary objects, residential urban areas and the field in the Stakhanovsky village. The incendiary and high-explosive bombs weighing from 70 to 250 kg and heavy bomb-mines BM-1000 weighing 871 kg were dropped.
The second raid on the night of November 5 to Thursday, 6. An air alert was announced. At 23:34 pm, the power lines from the Balakhna power plant to the city were damaged by a bomb strike. Some of the industrial regions were temporarily de-energized. At 01:47 am the raid on Gorky began, the main impacts were GAZ, Krasnoe Sormovo, Sokol and residential buildings. The antiaircraft batteries rendered counteraction, so bombing was less precise. According to air defense data, 14 aircraft flew into the city. In the GAZ area, 5 people died, 21 were wounded.
According to the results of two raids, the main office of GAZ, a garage, a smithy, a stamping building, a professional technical factory, an archive, experimental workshops, a repair and mechanical workshop, a mechanical workshop No. 2, a power plant No. 2, a wheel workshop, a motor workshop No. 2, a foundry workshop of gray cast iron, press workshop, residential area of the district were heavily damaged. The building of the administration of the Dvigatel Revolyutsii was destroyed. In several places there was a panic. This contributed to the large number of refugees who filled the city (the Wehrmacht was already near Moscow), part of the population began to leave the urban areas. The plants stopped production, but the production of T-60 tanks on GAZ was still growing rapidly.[L 3] The absence of antiaircraft guns allowed German aircraft to conduct sighting bombing from a low altitude. A total of 127 people died, 176 were injured severely, 195 were wounded (data vary in different sources). A large number of the deceased were refugees from Moscow, resettled in the Avtozavodsky City District. No German aircraft were shot down.
On Saturday, November 8, 1941, the Gorky Brigade Air Defense District was reinforced by the 58th and 281st separate anti-aircraft artillery divisions, the 142nd Fighter Aviation Division and the 45th anti-aircraft search belt.
On the same day, at 3:20 am, a reconnaissance aircraft Ju 88D flew over Gorky. And from Wednesday, November 12 to Tuesday, 18, 1941, the Germans launched a series of raids by single-seat aircraft with the main purpose of destroying the Kanavinsky Bridge, but missed.
On the night of February Tuesday, 3 to Wednesday, 4, a single aircraft, shutting down the engines and, flying from a great height, broke through the air defense shield and dropped 3 bombs on GAZ. Wheel and engine workshops were damaged. 17 workers died, 41 were wounded. In this raid, for the first time, German agents-spotters who penetrated into Gorky were seen. They carried out target designation, launching the signal flares of red and white from the ground.
On the nights of February 4 to Thursday, 5, Friday, 6 to Saturday, 7 and from 23 to 24, 3 attempts were made to attack Gorky. According to air defense, in the first raid of 12 aircraft in the city flew only 1, was dropped 5 bombs on GAZ and Stakhanovsky village, in the second and third raids there were no breakthroughs. According to German data, on February 5–6, a single airplane was raided.
In total, as a result of the bombing of February 1942, 20 people died and 48 people were injured. Damage inflicted to industrial facilities was insignificant.
At the end of May, 5 reconnaissance flights were carried out over the city.
On Saturday, May 30 and Wednesday, June 10, two unsuccessful bombing raids on Gorky, Bor and Dzerzhinsk were undertaken. According to air defense estimates, approximately 20 aircraft. For the defense of the most important objects, barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns of gunboats of the Volga Military Flotilla began to be used. According to German data, the raids were committed on the night of May 30.
30-31, from Sunday, May 31 to Monday, June 1 and June 10 (single aircraft). The bombing was carried out from a great height, about 50 bombs fell on the residential sector and repair base No. 97, where the tanks were assembled, which were done by Lend-Lease.
The single reconnaissance planes Ju 88 and Do 215 flew over the city from June 1 to 5 at different heights. June 23, Ju 88 from a great height bombed the Sokol plant, but the bombs fell into the Sormovskiy Park.
On the night of Wednesday, June 24 to Thursday, 25, a group of aircraft dropped bombs on the outskirts of Gorky, in the vicinity of Strigino village. Another plane dropped two 500 kg bombs at the Sokol plant, one of which did not explode.
On Monday, July 27, the deputy squadron commander of the 722nd Fighter Aviation Regiment, Pyotr Shavurin, on MiG-3 intercepted the reconnaissance aircraft Ju 88D and knocked him down with a ramming blow. The planes fell in the vicinity of the villages of Kozlovka-Sannica-Tumbotino. The ramming blow was explained by the fact that the weak armament of the MiG-3 did not allow to effectively combat bombers. However, at that time, it was the only model of a high-altitude fighter in the arsenal of air defense. The wreckage of the German aircraft was collected and exhibited for viewing on the Soviet Square.
On the night of Thursday, November 5 to Friday, 6, a group of German planes made an unsuccessful attempt to bomb the Neftegaz refinery. At GAZ, 9 high-explosive and several incendiary bombs were dropped. As a result of the raid, the boiler room was badly damaged, 4 workers died, the plant did not work at all for 3 days, and then it did not work at full capacity for 3 weeks. Most of the incendiary bombs fell on the Gorky Machine Building Plant, several bombs exploded not far from the Moskovsky Railway Station. In this raid, German aviation first used light bombs.
In June 1943, after a prolonged calm, Gorky underwent a series of massive night attacks by German aviation. The main goal was again GAZ. The raids were carried out in preparation for a major offensive Citadel operation (summer-autumn 1943), during which bomb attacks were struck on the industrial centers of the Volga region - Gorky, Yaroslavl and Saratov. It was one of the largest Luftwaffe attacks on the Soviet Union's rear during the entire war.[L 4]
Two-engine bombers of the squadrons KG 27 and KG 55 participated in the raids, which rose from the airfields near Orel and Bryansk and, bypassing the Moscow air defense zone, they flew up to Gorky from Dzerzhinsk, Bogorodsk and Arzamas. To use the darkest time of the day, bombardments were conducted from 12 am to 2 am. At first the target was designated as light missiles and air defense was blocked, then bombed from different heights and directions. Tactics changed every time. High-explosive, fragmentation and incendiary bombs of various calibers (up to 2000 kg) and incendiary liquids were dropped into the city. The results of each raid recorded by reconnaissance aircraft flying over the city at an altitude of 7 km, at 5 pm the next day.
In the first raid on the night of June 4–5, in order to cover up, the disinformation about the preparation of the Luftwaffe attack on Moscow was launched. According to air defense data, approximately 45 He 111, Ju 88 and Fw 200 took part in it. The planes flew from the directions Vladimir-Kovrov-Gorky and Kulebaki-Arzamas-Gorky. The bombing began at 12:45 am, about 20 planes broke through to the city. A total of 289 bombs were dropped, 260 of which were dropped on GAZ, the main conveyor, a spring workshop, and a smithy No. 3 were put out of operation. Several houses and a hospital were destroyed. In Avtozavodsky City District and at the plant, 70 people died and 210 were wounded. Attempts to break into the northern part of the city to the plants Krasnoe Sormovo, Sokol and Gorky machine-building plant failed.[L 5] 5 German aircraft were lost. According to German data, 168 He 111 and Ju 88 aircraft participated in the raid, of which 149 aircraft attacked Gorky.
In the second raid on the night of June 5–Tuesday, 6, according to air defense estimates, 80 He 111 aircraft participated. The bombing lasted from 12:31 am to 02:08 am. The raid was carried out by 6 groups from different altitudes and directions. Mainly, the western and northern sides of GAZ were attacked. The main power transmission line is disabled, the water supply network is badly damaged. Completely burnt assembly workshop, a department of adjacent industries, a rubber warehouse, a fleet of tow trucks, a locomotive depot, a chassis workshop, a dietetal. Finally, the main workshop burned down. About 100 bombs were dropped at the plant. The residential district and the tuberculosis hospital suffered. In the Monastyrka village 60-80 houses were burned and destroyed. According to German data, 128 planes were involved in the raid and 2 were lost. At the same time, some of the aircraft in the bombing of Gorky did not participate, but bombed Stalinogorsk.
The third raid on June 6–Wednesday, 7 was the most powerful, according to air defense. It involved 157 He 111 and Ju 88 aircraft (according to German data there were 154 aircraft, some of which bombed Stalinogorsk).
The main blow fell on the central and south-western parts of the city (GAZ, Sotsgorod, Myza). The wheel workshop of GAZ was completely destroyed by fire. Also, the tool-stamping body, the press-body and mechanical workshops, and the motive power depot were damaged. A total of 170 bombs were dropped at the plant. 38 people died, 83 were injured. The microdistricts of Sotsgorod, Americansky posyolok and Monastyrka were severely damaged. Also, the telephone exchange, the district executive committee, the polyclinic, the central club, the electrical substation, the police station and the garage of the district committee of the CPSU (b) were damaged. Several houses on the Molotov avenue (now avenue of October) were destroyed. In the Avtozavodsky district 73 people died, 149 were injured. Artillery shot down 4 aircraft, and fighter planes shot down 2 aircraft.
June 7 in Germany announced on the radio about the destruction of an automobile plant in Gorky.
In the fourth raid on June 7–Thursday, 8, 50-60 aircraft participated. At the plant broke 3 of them. 9 high-explosive and 7 incendiary bombs were dropped, the cast iron smelting foundry and the residential area suffered, according to air defense data. Six planes were shot down. According to German data, 39 tons of bombs were dropped on the city.
According to the results of 4 raids in the plant, 993 air bombs were dropped. According to the medical service, 698 people were injured: 233 people died, 24 people died from wounds in hospitals, and 465 were injured.
In the fifth raid, on June Saturday, 10–Sunday, 11, from 50 to 110 aircraft participated, according to different data. The fire from heavy anti-aircraft guns met the aircraft on approach to the city, bombs were dropped from altitudes of 4000–5500 meters and wore more chaotic character. GAZ, thermal power station, water intake, harbor, residential quarters in Leninsky and Voroshilovsky City Districts, as well as villages: Lyakhovo, Monastyrka, Shcherbinka and Myza airfield were attacked.
The sixth raid on June Tuesday, 13–Wednesday, 14. 50-80 aircraft. The eastern part of GAZ was attacked. According to German data, planes flew in small groups along the route Ryazan - Murom - Pavlovo - Gorky. As a result of the bombing, the water intake station of the Leninsky City District was damaged. 16 high-explosive and 20 heavy incendiary bombs were dropped on the Dvigatel Revolyutsii plant, several buildings and part of the roof of the main workshop of the machine-tool plant were destroyed. The shipyard was also attacked. The commander of the squadron Baron Hans-Henning von Böst personally supervised the actions of German pilots. His plane flew over the city at high altitude. Gorky Machine-Building, Sokol and Krasnoye Sormovo plants, as well as bridges across the Oka and the Volga, were not affected.
The seventh raid on June Wednesday, 21–Thursday, 22 was the last. Since this was the second anniversary of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union, both sides were preparing for the fight. According to air defense, 75 aircraft participated in the raid. 40 planes broke through to the city. On the territory of GAZ were dropped: 31 light flares, 15 explosive, 80 combined and about 300 small incendiary bombs. The foundry, the reinforcing-radiator building and the plant Novaya sosna were damaged. In the residential quarter there were four fires. According to German data, the entire Lower City, the Vorobyov machine-building plant, the plant of food concentrates, residential quarters were attacked. Several power lines were damaged. Attempts to destroy Oksky (now Kanavinsky) and Borsky bridges failed. The squadron commander Hans-Henning von Böst again participated in the raid. During the bombing 88 people died, 180 were injured.
According to the results of the operation, a total of 645 sorties were carried out by German aircraft, 1631 high-explosive and 3390 incendiary bombs were dropped on the city. 254 civilians and 28 air defense soldiers died, more than 500 and 27 people were injured. At the plant, 52 buildings were destroyed, a large number of equipment was put out of operation. Strong fires arose because of the hot weather. Also, the spread of fires contributed to the wooden materials to mask the GAZ. A significant part of the plant was destroyed or burnt. Although he continued to work, but the output basically stopped, all the workers' forces were thrown at its recovery. The Luftwaffe could not develop its success further, after the destruction of GAZ. In subsequent raids, secondary industrial objects and residential areas were attacked, which were less protected. Industrial enterprises in the northern part of the city almost did not suffer from bombing.
Enemy bombers had carried out 43 raids, 26 of which were at night.[L 6] 33,934 incendiary bombs and 1,631 high-explosive bombs were dropped on the city.
The bombing of the largest industrial center of the country caused an immediate reaction of the supreme power of the Soviet Union. On June 5, Stalin personally created a resolution of the State Defense Committee No. 3524 "On the Air Defense of Gorky". To investigate the reasons for the failure to fulfill the tasks, a commission was appointed, consisting of the head of the NKVD Lavrentiy Beria, the chief of the NKGB Vsevolod Merkulov, the secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) Alexander Shcherbakov, the chairman of the Moscow Soviet Vasily Pronin and the commander of the air defense of the country Mikhail Gromadin. After the commission's investigation, the commander of the air defense of the region, Major General Alexei Osipov was demoted and GAZ director Alexander Lifshits was removed from his post. On June 8, 100 anti-aircraft guns of small and medium caliber, 250 large-caliber machine guns, 100 searchlights and 75 barrage balloons were allocated for the intensification of air defense of the Gorky industrial region. The restoration of GAZ was started almost immediately, on the initiative of the chief designer Andrei Lipgart. Immediately after the first raid, the design archive of the plant was evacuated, gasoline was removed from the territory and dismantling of camouflage shields that caused fires began.
Semyon Ginzburg, people's Commissar for Construction, arrived in Gorky to deal promptly with the reconstruction.
In October 1941, Colonel Sidor Slyusarev arrived at the Seimas airfield to receive three new regiments equipped with LaGG-3 fighters. Here he stayed for a while, trying to calm the turbulent situation in the city.[L 7]
After the November attacks on Gorky, the colonel received an order from Stalin to immediately leave for the city to defend the Gorky district, as the commander-in-chief put it. Slyusarev set off on the same night, despite the snow and frost. Later he told:
First, Colonel Slyusarev ordered the creation of day and night patrols of Gorky. Immediately after this decision, he went back to the Seimas, where eight air regiments were stationed. He ordered them to be dispersed over the airfields of the division area.
In December, the organizing committee decided to create several large bomb shelters in the Upper City. By February 15, 1942 it was planned to build 5 facilities:
They were built by 2,300 people. Also, citizens throughout the city were digging trenches and erecting defensive fortifications, because of the German offensive near Moscow. However, later they were not needed, since on December 5, 1941 the Red Army launched an offensive.
Air defense in the city had 433 medium-caliber guns and 82 small caliber guns, 13 SUN-2 gun radar gunposts, two Pegmatit radar (RUS-2s), 231 antiaircraft searchlights, 107 barrage balloons and 47 fighter aircraft based at Strigino, Pravdinsk and Dzerzhinsk aerodromes.
Despite the considerable number and equipment of air defense forces, to prevent the aiming bombing, it was not possible. The prolonged absence of bombardments and the successful offensive of the Red Army contributed to a weakening of vigilance, there were many shortcomings in the organization of defense. Avtozavodsky City District defended the 784th anti-aircraft artillery regiment, which consisted mainly of girls who had recently joined the army. One of the Pegmatit radar had a large "dead zone" in the sector because of the high bank of the Oka River. Detachments of gun-pointing stations were also unprepared and antiaircraft artillery fired without precise target designation, interaction with searchlights was not worked out. Air defense command posts in the cellars of the buildings went out of order when they were destroyed, wire telephone communications were often interrupted by bomb explosions. Fighter planes had no experience of fighting at night and tried to ram bombers with full ammunition. Most of the air defense forces also defended the northern industrial area of the city, where the Sokol, Krasnoe Sormovo and Gorky machine-building plants, which were of great strategic importance, were located.
After the first bombings, urgent measures were taken to transfer additional anti-aircraft guns and ammunition to the Avtozavodsky City District. Improved communication and guidance system. Changed the scheme of the barrage. On the lines of action of German aviation two lines of veil were created. At a distance of 2-3 and 6-7 kilometers from GAZ, machine guns were mounted on the roofs of the workshops for shooting to low-flying aircraft. The next raids were more organized. A total of 14 aircraft were shot down.
In addition to the city's anti-aircraft defense, the government of the Soviet Union decided to build a number of "false objects" in Gorky. The archive of Nizhny Novgorod retained the resolution of the Gorky City Defense Committee "On the Construction of False Objects of Gorky Industrial Enterprises" of August 1, 1942.
1. To create on the approaches to Gorky a number of false objects imitating the real defense facilities of the city.
Provided by the Gorky Corps Air Defense District and the Gorky Main Military District headquarters, the dislocation of false objects is to be approved.
To propose to the directors of the plants: No. 21 "...", No. 92 "...", No. 112 "...", Molotov's plant "...", Lenin's plant "..." and glass plant of Maxim Gorky "..." immediately develop projects of false objects, coordinate them with the headquarters Ministry of Defense of the city and carry out construction until August 15 this year.
2. The directors of these enterprises shall provide facilities with communication and special commands for the protection and execution of special command instructions in air raids.
3. The procedure for prompt commissioning of false objects is to be developed by the commander of the Gorky Corps Air Defense District jointly with the Chief of the Ministry of Defense of the City of Gorky.
Chairman of the Gorky Defense Committee M. Rodionov
As a result of this decision, a huge model of GAZ was built in the village of Mordvintsevo, near Fedyakovo. It was built of glass and plywood. At night, the light was on its territory, which was turned off with a delay after the announcement of an air-raid. German bombers began to get confused and bombed a dummy instead of the plant itself.
Another important strategic object for disguise was the Dvigatel Revolyutsii plant. By that time it was already badly destroyed, but continued to operate. To camouflage the plant, the "Moscow" technology of coloring streets was applied. Images depicting homes and urban buildings were painted on the street and in the plant. Thus, the Molitovka village was "extended" to the territory of the plant. The Dvigatel Revolyutsii plant visually disappeared for the pilots. From high altitude all that could be seen was the false village.
On the Oka bridge, a different masking technique was used. For this, boats were launched onto the water, which were alongside the bridge all the time. When announcing the air alarm, they released a special dense smoke screen. Thus, the German pilots could not attack the bridge because of poor visibility.
Restoration work began during the bombing and continued at an increasing pace. Construction and assembly brigades from Moscow, from the Urals, Siberia, and Central Asia were involved. The total number of employees reached 35 thousand. For propaganda support, on June 7, the out-of-office newspaper Pravda began working at the plant. First of all, a wheeled workshop was started, the main restoration work was completed in 4 months. The official date for the restoration of the Gorky Automobile Plant was October 28, 1943. On this day, a report that was signed by 27 thousand builders was sent to Joseph Stalin.
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