October 1943. Eastern front, Northern sector near Smolensk. Horst Petzschler's FW190 of JG51 covers Hans Rudel's Stuka attack against a Russian tank/truck convoy as it crosses a clearing in the forest. German tanks and anti-tank guns have also ambushed the convoy.
The StoryBy the autumn of 1943 the eastern front was in a desperate predicament for Germany. Crippled with a Fuhrer who insisted upon making battle plans with a disregard for his generals' warnings, the German army endured unbelievable hardships. In addition to facing another brutal Russian winter, battling on two fronts was draining her ability to combat her foe to the east. Russia, supported by bustling war factories safe in the Ural Mountains, had allies who were sending war materials to her growing army and air forces. The tide of battle had taken a bad turn for the Wehrmacht. But despite the mounting pressure and defeats, the Germans put up a stiff resistance as they retreated further west toward their homeland. The superior training, from Field Marshall on down to the regular foot soldier, allowed the Germans to withdraw in an orderly fashion across natural obstacles that otherwise could have proved disastrous. Supported by an overtaxed Lufwaffe, the German army put up a valiant fight. Air cover and ground attack units of the German air force had spent many years working out their mutually supportive roles that had their origins in the Spanish Civil War. In Robert Bailey's painting, BEAR TRAP, German field artillery has surprised an advancing Russian armored column near the town of Smolensk during October 1943. Panzers clash with Russian T34's. In the foreground, a T34 is still racing forward, a blazing wreck. Around the perimeter of the forest clearing are dug-in German positions, firing upon the Russians. Low left, three Russian soldiers sneak up behind German tanks. In right mid-ground, another T34 is abandoned by its crew. The shadow of the giant explosions in the background partly conceals the stalled Russian column, as troops mill around. Above the ground battle, Stukas from Schlachtgeschwader 2 (Oberst Hans Ulrich Rudel*), escorted by Focke Wulf 190's of JG51 (Horst Petzschier), pound the Russian armor with cannon and bombs, effectively halting the advance of their foe. Near the horizon, Yak-9s swarm into th frav, and a Sturmovik spots a Ju52 which is dropping supplies to a German unit in a nearby battle. As the Russians reel in the shock of the ambush, the Germans have resisted the charge of the Russian Bear, if only in a momentary victory.
Oscar Boesch *
* Oberst Hans Ulrich Rudel was the sole recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.