From the very beginning of the war with Germany Major-General Novikov skillfully used the forces available to him.  As early as 25 June 1941 Novikov launched offensive raids against German and Finish airfields.[9]  Although Novikov’s airmen flew 16,567 sorties in 22 days[10], nothing seemed to slow the Axis advance.  As German and Finnish forces closed in on Leningrad our air commander found himself with fewer and fewer operational aircraft.  Zhukov arrived on 10 September, and by the time he left in early October the city was surrounded.  But the city was held; though hundreds of thousands would die during the siege.  Novikov’s own young son was flown out over the ‘air bridge’.[11]

On 3 February 1942 Novikov met with Stalin and was given the job of Air Force First Deputy Commander.  He was immediately sent to Western Front to plan and coordinate air operations for Zhukov.[12]  Further assignments to key operations quickly followed.  In these operations Novikov stressed the importance of one central authority over air assets, so that they could be massed and coordinated.  Previously, Soviet aircraft had often been dispersed and lacked meaningful coordination.

Alexander Novikov was named Commander of the Soviet Army Air Force on 11 April 1942 and concurrently promoted to Lieutenant-General. With the new commander came a new senior staff.[13]  The structure and tactics of the air force were also changed by what were known as the “Novikov Reforms”.  Certain ideas were copied from the Germans while others were of Soviet origin.  A new long-range aviation organization (ADD) was created.  The Air Army replaced frontal aviation.  Except for some liaison and reconnaissance aircraft, army level commanders lost their aviation assets.  Reserve formations were organized into Air Corps of two or more Air Divisions, with a strength of 120-270 aircraft.  Several Air Corps would be given to an Air Army for critical operations, then moved to another sector on an as needed basis.[14]  Further reform measures covered rear services, lower level organizational structures, training, and other areas.

The new Air Armies and reserve Air Corps gave the Soviet Air Force (VVS) a strategic mobility, which it had lacked. This new ability was demonstrated in the Stalingrad campaign.  During the Axis advance to Stalingrad and stubborn defense the VVS didn’t seriously challenge the Luftwaffe. This allowed the Soviets to conserve strength, adapt to the new organizational structure, and gain experience with the large numbers of new aircraft coming into inventory.[15]  Once the Soviets decided to go over to the offensive this quickly changed.

General Novikov continued to be a key player in the Soviet command team, and he was sent as a Stavka (Headquarters, Supreme High Command) representative to various parts of the front.  General Novikov arrived at Stalingrad in November 1942, once again at the request of Zhukov, who said, “We work well together.”[16]  Novikov concentrated 1,414 aircraft in three Air Armies to support operation ‘Uranus’.[17]  The expansible nature of the new Air Armies is demonstrated by the inclusion of four Air Corps from Stavka Reserve.[18]  When the attack began poor weather limited the Luftwaffe to 150 sorties over four days. In contrast the VVS flew 1,000 sorties, mostly ground support.[19]

Much of the massed Soviet air power was sent against 6th Army and the German ‘air bridge’.  Several hundred obsolete Soviet planes were used as night harassment bombers.  Novikov concentrated his own efforts on organizing a blockade based on hitting the German airfields within and without the pocket, strong antiaircraft defenses along likely routes, and interceptors directed by ground stations.[20]  The combination of poor weather and a more effective Red Air Force did not stop the Luftwaffe, but they inflicted heavy losses and kept the rate of supply well below the required level.  During the period 19 November 1942 through 2 February 1943 the Soviets flew 35,920 sorties.[21]  For his exploits General Novikov was named the Soviet Union’s first ever Air Marshal on 17 March 1943.[22]


[9] Kozhevnikov, 41; Erickson, 161.

[10] Kozhevnikov, 44

[11] Erickson, 162.

[12] Erickson, 162; Kozhevnikov, 68.

[13] Kozhevnikov, 234; Alexander Boyd, The Soviet Air Force since 1918, (New York: Stein and Day, 1977), 140; Erickson, 163; Von Hardesty, Red Phoenix, the Rise of Soviet Air Power, 1941-1945, (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982), 83-85.

[14] Boyd, 141; Hardesty, 87; Kozhevnikov, 72-74.

[15] Hardesty, 91-2; Boyd, 159; Russell Miller, The Soviet Air Force at War, The Epic of Flight, (Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1983), 117.

[16] Erickson, 165.

[17] Erickson, 165; Kozhevnikov, 95; Hardesty, 105.

[18] Kozhevnikov, 95.

[19] Miller, 123.

[20] Hardesty, 124; Kozhevnikov, 97-98.

[21] Kozhevnikov, 100.

[22] Kozhevnikov, 234; Erickson, 166.