but thereafter, the Russian juggernaut only
Building greater numbers of relatively few
aircraft types allowed the VVS to concentrate
on mission-specific combat organizations. One
example was the twin-engine, twin-tailed Pet-
lyakov Pe-2 attack aircraft. That May, Col. L. A.
Dubrovin commanded the elite 204th Air Divi-
sion, eventually with six Pe-2 regiments west of
Moscow. As recorded by historian Dmitriy Kha-
zanov, Dubrovin recalled, “Up until that point I
had served in mixed formations handling differ-
ent aircraft types close to the front line, where the
artillery could just be heard. Upon my transfer to
204th BADF, I became a bomber pilot, and with
my fellow aviators I found myself a few dozen
kilometers away from the front. My comrades
and I all felt that we were perhaps too far into
the rear, as we could no longer hear the artillery.
This, however, turned out to be a false impres-
sion, for the war quickly reached us. Toward the
end of my first week with the division our airfield
was subjected to a raid by 14 Junkers, as a result
of which the division lost a Pe-2.”
Meanwhile, in May, a Luftwaffe success belonged
to the hard-pressed transport arm. Despite lim-
ited production of Junkers 52s, the German and
Axis forces within the Demyansk pocket south of
Leningrad continued receiving life-sustaining sup-
port that had begun in February. Eventually, the
Demyansk airlift cost 125 transports, including
more than Junkers 52s, and a total 387 aircrew.
The Germans forced a narrow corridor to the west
late that month, thanks to sustained airlift.
Throughout the crisis, the Luftwaffe delivered an
average 276 tons of the required 300 per day while
flying in 15,500 replacements and evacuating
The Far East Was Suffering
Things could hardly have been worse for the British in the Far East. The British had evacuated Rangoon in early March, then withdrew in the face
of the Japanese onslaught. On April 6, Imperial
Navy carriers launched 120 aircraft against British bases on Ceylon, sinking the cruisers Cornwall
and Dorsetshire plus a destroyer. Three days later,
in a 10-minute attack, 32 of Vice Adm. Nagumo’s
practiced dive-bombers sank HMS Hermes, Britain’s only carrier in the Pacific, and her escorting
Australian destroyer. It was an execution rather
than a battle—Hermes’ planes were not aboard,
though some arrived too late to intervene.
“Doolittle Do’oed It!”
On April 18—nine days after the fall of Bataan—
America’s greatest aviator handed the nation a
cherished gift: payback for Pearl Harbor.
The First Special Aviation Project was perhaps
the most successful joint U.S. military effort of the
war. The concept was innovative: Launch 16 Army
bombers from an aircraft carrier, hit Tokyo, and
recover at airfields inland from the China coast.
The B-25s came from the 17th Bomb Group; the
carrier was the new USS Hornet.
The plan called for launch three hours before
dusk, led by a fire-bombing pathfinder, but Japanese picket vessels spotted the task force, requiring launch 10 hours early. The Mitchells were
already fueled and armed, carrying demolition
bombs and incendiaries intended for Tokyo,
Yokohama, and four other cities.
First flown in 1930, the
Junkers Ju 52 was designed
as an airliner but became
the logistical backbone of
the Reich and did its best to
keep German troops on the
Eastern Front fed and armed.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia