Russian pilots and ground crew stand in front of a Petlyakov Pe-2 light bomber at Poltava, Russia, during the first shuttle raid -- Italy to Russia and return -- in June 1944. GI is TSgt. Bernard J. McGuire, Tonawanda, N.Y., of the 348th Bomb Squadron, 99th Bomb Group. (U.S. Air Force photo)
In the ruins of a hangar at Poltava, Gen. Porminov and Gen. Walsh listen to a pilot's report after the mission to Galati. The officer in the center is Capt. Henry Ware, interpreter from Gen. Deane’s staff. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The Soviets turned out to be expert volleyball players, and every night in the courtyard of Eastern Command HQ at Poltava, there were fast mixed games. Player fifth from the right at bottom is Gen. Ira Eaker. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Early in 1944, the U.S. persuaded Stalin to permit AAF heavy bombers to fly shuttle missions to Russia to bomb enemy targets in eastern Germany and the Balkans without having to fly back to England and Italy. The Soviets made three airfields available near Kiev and the U.S. devoted months preparing them to receive its planes.
The first mission flew from Italy on June 2. Four days later, the AAF flew from their Russian bases, bombed a target in Rumania and returned to Russia. On June 11, the planes returned to Italy, bombing another Rumanian target on the way.
B-17s and P-51s from England made their first shuttle mission on June 21. For the next several months, additional shuttle raids were flown from England and Italy, including one on Aug. 4-6 when P-38s from Italy flew strafing missions from Russia against airfields in Rumania. The shuttle mission of Sept. 13 was the last -- the Eastern Front had advanced so far westward that Russian bases were no longer needed.