Meanwhile, Hitler was coming to the grim realization that by attacking Russia he had attacked the single largest exporter of oil to Germany, thereby making life increasingly unlubricated for his war machine. So when it came time for the summer offensive, he pointed his Panzers southwards toward the Caucasus and its rich oil fields, rather than making a renewed bid for Moscow. This caught the Red Army off balance, as they had not yet realized they were dealing with a crazy person, and the Wehrmacht enjoyed initial successes. The attack bogged down at Stalingrad, though, and it was here that Stalin's and Hitler's staggering egos would both meet in mortal combat. Both sides threw huge amounts of men and material at the city in an effort to secure it, despite its lack of any real strategic significance. The Russians had more of everything, and the German 6th Army was ultimately surrounded. Goering attempted to keep the army supplied by air until the besieged troops could be rescued, but the Russians had assumed control of the skies by virtue of new aircraft like the Yak and sheer numbers. The Germans were forced to take two giant steps backward and dig in for yet another unhappy winter on the Russian front.

In the West, the RAF was making an effort to give the Germans their own taste of the London Blitz, but the lack of a suitably long-ranged fighter escort meant they were forced to make their attacks at night in order to keep their bombers from being savaged by German fighter defenses. This worked for a while, but their bombers were lucky to hit the city they were looking for, let alone any particular target within it, and the steadily improving German night fighter force soon made even night attacks a bloody proposition. In 1943, the Americans began to make their own presence felt in the skies over Europe. Against the advice of their British allies, B-17's began to make unescorted daylight incursions into hostile German skies. They suffered much the same fate as the British bombers, but the USAAF stubbornly persisted in their assaults, adding more and more machine guns to their aptly named Flying Fortresses and eventually providing them with as much fighter escort as they could muster. Unfortunately, neither the sturdy Thunderbolt nor the long-legged but hand-numbing and hangar-loving Lightning could provide satisfactory long-range escort to keep the German fighters at bay. Life as a crewman in a B-17 was a gamble even the most hardened Vegas bookie would not want to take, and USAAF bomber formations suffered such severe maulings by German fighters that it appeared as if the Allied bomber offensive was likely to be bled white.

B-17
mosquito

About the only bomber that managed to attack German targets and escape unscathed was the British Mosquito. Known as the "Wooden Wonder", the DeHavilland Mosquito was a twin-engine multi-role aircraft that proved to be a thorn in Goering's side and quite possibly one of the most cost-effective aircraft ever built. Fast and difficult to detect on radar (owing to its largely wooden construction), the Mosquito ranged with seeming impunity over German skies conducting recon, special ops and nuisance raids. It flew too high and too fast for German fighters to intercept, and gave the Luftwaffe fits. There seems to be a place in every air force for an aircraft whose speciality is annoying the enemy. The Russians used the ancient Po-2 biplane for this, which were flown by women pilots over German positions at night and dropped a handful of small bombs every so often, apparently in an effort to deprive exhausted Wehrmacht soldiers of a good night's sleep. To the Germans, they were known as the "Night Witches" and they deeply resented them, despite the fact that they produced very little material damage. The North Koreans adopted the venerable Po-2 for this same purpose during the Korean War, where they were know as "Bedcheck Charlie" by UN forces. All efforts to shoot them down, even with modern radar-equipped night fighters, proved largely futile, owing to their primitive and radar-elusive wood and canvas construction. But despite their utility, and undeniable ability to aggravate the enemy, they were not war-winning aircraft. You can't win an air war by annoying the enemy to death. Sooner or later, you need to blow something up, preferably something important.