<img src=”http://img.narodna.pravda.com.ua/images/doc/6/8/684a3-operation0frantic0map.gif” /> <b>Apologies for the poor quality</b>
Poltava is a city in central Ukraine, about the size of Stockport but with perhaps a little more charm (Or Stockton, California, for Americans).
During the Great Patriotic War the Nazis occupied it from October 1941 until it was retaken by the Red Army in September 1943. Little happened there that didn’t happen to countless cities towns and villages and no great battles were fought for it (though a equally little-known battle of enormous importance was to be fought at Cherkassy 150 miles to the west in early ’44).
More than 8,000 Jews were murdered in the district.
On the 2 June 1944 the first mission of Operation Frantic was flown by the United States 8th Army Air Force. This was a series of shuttle bombing attacks whereby B17s flying either from Britain or Italy could use the Soviet air base at Poltava in order to extend their range and to overfly areas previously outside the limits of their targets.
The operation lasted for four months and had two aims. One was to be ‘a veritable model of air warfare in order to impress the Russians with admiration and confidence.’ and the other was to ‘distract the Germans on the eve of the Normandy landings.’*
The first Frantic, flown from Foggia, Italy, dropped a thousand bombs on the marshalling yards at Debrecen, Hungary’s second city and continued on to Poltava where, due to bad weather the US bombers waited a week before returning to Italy attacking the airport at Foscani in Rumania on the way.
The Germans had left Poltava in ruins when they retreated the previous September. All of the necessary facilities, including hangars and control towers, had to be built. Most of the permanent party and all of the shuttle crews would be housed in tents.
One runway was 3,300 feet, the other 1,900 feet. B-17s needed runways at least a mile long. There was no time to construct hard-top runways so mats of pierced-steel planking were laid down instead. The Americans provided the planking and the Soviets contributed the labour, much of which was performed, to the amazement of the Americans, by women.
Everything, including high-octane gasoline, vehicles, most rations, and 12,393 tons of pierced-steel planking, had to be shipped in, either by air through Tehran or by ship from Liverpool to Murmansk and south from there by rail.** The Soviets supplied meat and fresh vegetables. In a stipulation that would prove to be critical, the Russians would not allow US fighters to perform air base defence. <img src=”http://i45.tinypic.com/2lcobxs.gif” />The airfield would be defended by Soviet anti-aircraft batteries and Yak-9 fighters.
The second Frantic mission took place, this time with the task force, which consisted of 114 B-17s, and 70 P-51 Mustangs, flying from Lincoln, across Germany, bombing the synthetic oil plant at Ruhland, south of Berlin, and continuing to Poltava. Beyond Warsaw,<img src=”http://www.doyle.com.au/Awen/awen3_files/ME_109.JPG” /> a lone Me-109 German fighter kept pace with them and ducked into clouds when the P-51s went after it. It had reported the position of the bombers to the Luftwaffe. <img src=”http://www.portalestoria.net/IMAGES%20270/he177%5B1%5D.jpg” />An He-177 reconnaissance aircraft followed the B-17s into Poltava and took pictures. The Russians would not allow the US fighters at Piryatin, a Soviet airbase 50 miles closer to the front, to intercept it.
But on arrival at Poltava, the whole Frantic project came to grief when the Luftwaffe attacked the airport and destroyed 43 B17s and damaged 26: they also destroyed fifteen of the Mustang escorts, assorted Russian aircraft and ignited 450,000 gallons of aviation fuel. Most of the munitions in the bomb dump were also destroyed. One American and 26 Russians were killed in the attack. The Russians would not clear US fighters to take off and attack the Germans. There were no German casualties.
<img src=”http://torlin.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/poltava03.jpg” /><b>caught on the ground; the Germans were good at this but the Russians never learned.</b>
The shuttle’s return was delayed until June 26 and all flights were abandoned for the whole of July until their petrol dump had been replenished by fuel trucked through Persia and the Caucasus.** The same day, the 26th, permission was requested for a<img src=”http://www.ww2warbirds.net/ww2pics/ww2northrp61-1.jpg” /> P-61 Black Widow night fighter squadron to deploy to Ukraine to defend the bases. The proposal was strung out and sidetracked until the Americans finally dropped it.
Stalin also refused to co-operate over supply drops from Poltava to the beleaguered Polish insurgents in Warsaw during the uprising, forcing British and Polish volunteers to fly return trips from Foggia at the cost of 200 pilots’ lives.
** The sound track of a US film of Operation Frantic made during the autumn of 1944 states that among the supplies taken to Poltava were fuel oil, 3,000 miles via Persia, radio equipment and operators via Egypt and Palestine, food and other supplies essential for the mission, 2,000 miles from Liverpool to Murmansk, then a further 2,000 miles from Murmansk to Poltava.
<em>‘The Poltava Affair,’</em> Glen B Infield
*<em>‘The Army Air Forces in World War II’</em>, Craven and Cate (editors) volume 3.
<em>‘Auschwitz and the Allies’</em>, Martin Gilbert
‘United States’ Strategic Bombing Surveys,’</em> Air University Press