the efforts to create hitler’s Promised sky bridge fell short
Supplying the men and machines in the Stalingrad pocket by air began on 23 November. JU-52 transport planes flew into Pitomnik airfield (roughly 20 kilometres or 12 miles from central Stalingrad) mainly from Tatsinskaya 260 kilometres (160 miles) to the west. For a JU-52 the flight time was 75 minutes one way, but over three hours was required for unloading, refuelling and waiting time.
Despite the objections of local Luftwaffe commanders Goering would not explain to Hitler that the air bridge was unable to deliver the necessary tonnage of supplies. It was estimated that 300 tons per day would keep the garrison functioning, whereas 750 tons would enable it to perform at an operational capacity. This latter figure was revised down to 500 tons in light of experience. The reality was somewhat different. Even when HE-III and FW-200 bombers were pressed into service to supplement the JU52S the delivery of 300 tons was achieved only once.
Tatsinskaya was overrun by Soviet armour on 24 December. It was recaptured four days later. Flights were switched to airfields further west, extending the flight time. Up to 45,000 wounded were evacuated by air. Pitomnik fell on 17 January, and Gumrak became the main airstrip for six days, until it too was captured. The remaining airfield couldn’t deal with transport planes. Supplies were parachuted in but most were lost in snow as the Luftwaffe refused to dye the white parachutes.
ABOVE: The Soviets placed battery after battery of antiaircraft guns on the flight paths to Stalingrad. These took a heavy toll of the lumbering, fully laden aircraft both arriving and departing
ABOVE: A wrecked JU-52 at Tatsinskaya. Surprised by the attack, many aircraft took off but 72 (Luftwaffe figures) were destroyed on the ground. The Soviets claimed 300 destroyed including “a trainload of disassembled aircraft”.whichever figure is correct, it was a heavy blow to the airlift