Facts of the Stalingrad airlift


Supply flown into the Stalingrad "pocket"

between November, 25th 1942 and

February, 3nd 1943



Source :



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



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 52s
to fulfil Goring's promises an meet Sixth Army's barest needs.

Few of the new pilots were accustomed to flying in temperatures so cold that their planes iced 
up as they entered low-lying cloud formations. For the first weeks of the airlift, however, 
poor visibility caused by snowstorms, fog, and low cloud hampered Luftwaffe operations
more than the cold. Taking off was dangerous and difficult, but even experienced pilots 
hated having to land their fully laden planes inside the "fortress" during the frequent periods 
of poor visibility. Thick fog shrouding Pitornnik and Basargino (the main airfields within the
pocket) often forced even the most courageous pilots to turn back without attempting to land, 
despite the presence of radio beacons at each field.

Of the seven airfields inside the pockets, only Pitomnik was properly equipped to handle
large-scale operations. It even had lights, flare paths, and signals equipment for night 
operations. The others, with the exception of Basargino, which Generalmajor Pickert
(Commander of the 9th Flak Division) hastily equipped with the minimum requirements were 
no more than bare grass landing strips, lacking all necessary communications and air traffic 
control equipment. Several of those fields had been used in previous months to supply Sixth 
Army as it advanced into Stalingrad, but the quantities of supplies carried were never large
and the weather had been satisfactory. Now, those soggy, snow-covered fields were virtually 
worthless to the Luftwaffe.

Pickert worked tirelessly to ensure that his two main airfields functioned as efficiently as
possible and that the off-loading and transfer of supplies was always handled smoothly 
and quickly. He took his job seriously, realizing that the lives of an entire army depended
on the Luftwaffe's ability to keep it supplied and fed. "The Pitomnik airfield has become my
main sphere of activity," he wrote in his journal on 26 November. "All momentum here is
focused on the air supply operation, evacuation of the wounded, and their accommodation 
until they can be flown out." The plight of the wounded moved him deeply. When he had 
first arrived at Pitomnik two days earlier, he saw "tragic scenes of freezing wounded, waiting 
with their nurses for evacuation." For the next two months, he would frequently refer to the 
hundreds of wounded soldiers waiting each day to be placed in transport planes and carried 
out of the pocket for medical attention. Many died beside the runways, especially on days
when weather conditions curtailed air operations.

Pickert stationed a heavy flak battery at the main airfield and ordered all the light batteries
that Sixth Army had not already positioned along the pocket's outer perimeter to dig 
themselves in around the main airfields. "This is no easy task in the steppe," he noted, "
because there is almost no wood and the ground is frozen solid."" The flak teams must
protect transport aircraft from enemy attack at all costs, he insisted, especially when they
were most culnerable during takeoff and landing. By the end of  November, Soviet fighters,
ground-attack planes and bombers were sigling out Pitomnik for heavy attacks, clearly aware 
of its importance tot the airlift operation.