The Stalingrad Airlift


Source :



Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Second ed 2001. ISBN: 0-7006-1146-0.




When Stalin launched Operation Uranus on 19 November 1942,  Richthofen's Luftflotte 4 
possessed enough transport planes to keep its own airfields and air units operating adequately 
and to carry out limited air supply missions in support of the armies particularly Paulus's Sixth, 
in its vast combat zone. Richthofen's transport fleet comprised the 1st (Staff), 50th, 102nd, 
172nd, and 900th Special Purposes Bomber Wings, equipped with Ju 52s, and the Fifth 
Special Purposes Bomber Wing, equipped with He 111. These transport groups had 
performed well since Operation Blue, the German summer offensive of 1942, 
began back in June. Between August and October alone, for example, they had transported 
20,173 tons of aviation fuel, 9,492 tons of ammunition, 3,731 tons of equipment, and 2,764 
tons of supplies to Luftwaffe airfields at the front. They also provided the army with good 
support, carrying forward 27,044 troops, 4,614 tons of fuel, 1,787 tons of ammunition, 
and 73 tons of supplies, as well as evacuating 51,619 wounded soldiers. 

Richthofen was not able to deploy all these transport units in support of Sixth Army after the 
Soviet pincers closed around it, because most still had to carry out vital supply operations for 
the various Luftwaffe commands they served. The 1st (Staff), 5th, 50th, and 102nd wings 
all supplied Fiebig's Fliegerkorps VIII, while the 172nd served Luftgau Rostov 
(Air District Rostov, which organized the fleet's supply, maintenance, and ground service 
matters), and the 900th directly served the fleet command itself." By this time, Pflugbeil's 
Fliegerkorps IV, which had almost ceased to exist since its combat units were transferred 
to Fliegerkorps VIII, had no air transport units. 

Most of Richthofen's transport units had been in action without a break since Blue began, 
and the rehabilitation and refitting of combat units always took precedence over their own. 
As a result, their average operational rate, at around 40 percent, was 10 percent lower than 
that of the combat units." The operational rate of certain units, particularly those attempting 
to meet both the army's and the air force's needs, were as low as 30 percent. 
On 9 November, for instance, the 900th Special Purposes Bomber Wing possessed 
41 Ju 52s, but only 12 were airworthy, while the 50th had 35 Ju 52s, only 13 airworthy. 

The fact that these units still had vital supply tasks to perform for their respective commands 
(although the decrease in Fliegerkorps Vlll's combat missions after Uranus began freed up 
several dozen transport aircraft for other duties), and the fact that all these units were in poor 
shape, explains why Richthofen was able to commit only 30 of his 295 transport planes to 
supplying Sixth Army on 25 November. The OKL would clearly need to send the fleet 
chief many hundred more aircraft if they expected him to fulfil Goring's promises to Hitler. 

To supply Sixth Army with 300 tons a day, the absolute minimum amount demanded by 
the army (which really needed 500 tons) would necessitate an average of 150 fully laden 
Ju 52s landing in the pocket each day. Of course, because weather would prevent that 
tonnage being airlifted on many days, far more than 300 tons would have to be carried in 
during good weather. Loading and unloading supplies was time-consuming, so each 
plane could fly only one, or perhaps two missions a day. Therefore, because an operational 
rate of only 30 to 40 percent could be counted on, Richthofen needed at least 800 Ju 52's 
to fulfil Goring's promises an meet Sixth Army's barest needs.