Aviation of World War II
War in the Air Through the Eyes of an Eyewitness
In the summer of 1943, our 40th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment was based at the Trubezh airfield near the town of Oboyan. Together with other regiments of the 8th Guards Fighter Aviation Division, we covered the southern flank of the Kursk salient. Even before the start of active operations on the ground, German aviation was trying to secure air superiority. But it was no longer the 41st year. Our pilots on the new high-speed La-5FN fighters armed with cannons successfully suppressed all such attempts.
I remember how early in the morning on June 2 the duty eight of our 2nd squadron flew out to intercept the enemy. A group of 18 Ju-87 dive bombers were met on the way to the airfield. Hero of the Soviet Union Captain N.T. Kitaev and his deputy Hero of the Soviet Union Senior Lieutenant I.I. Semenyuk shot down one enemy plane each, which fell on our territory, and the rest, together with the downed ones, hastily fled behind the front line, dropping bombs anywhere.
When Kitaev reported to the division commander, Major General Galunov, about the downed planes, Galunov replied that the downed planes would be counted only after the confirmation of the Earth. Kitaev flared up and said that now he would shoot down the Germans exclusively above the division headquarters in order to receive confirmation from the headquarters.
It's been about 2 hours. My commander Semenyuk was at the squadron command post, and I was preparing the plane for the next flight. Suddenly, the commander of the regiment, Hero of the Soviet Union, Guards Major M.S. Tokarev, drove up to the caponier and ordered me to get into the car. We rushed to the outskirts of Oboyan to the headquarters of the division. On the way, Tokarev said that the Germans shot down in the morning had been brought there, and they needed to be interrogated urgently, but there was no one. It was then that he remembered that in peacetime I studied German, and therefore he hopes very much for me.
During the interrogation, the German pilot testified that at 10 o'clock there would be a "star" raid on Kursk. About 200 planes will go through Oboyan. The interrogation was immediately terminated, the commander gave the order to put all parts of the air corps on alert, and a message was sent to the front headquarters. And there was so little time left.
We were still at divisional headquarters when a host of enemy bombers showed up. A black four-engine Focke-Wulf Condor flew at the head of the column, followed by nine He-111s and Ju-88s in strict order. Fighter escorts hovered around.
From the windows of the division headquarters, we saw how the planes of our regiment took off and gained altitude. When the head of the column approached Oboyan, anti-aircraft guns opened fire, and after the first salvo, black debris fell from the sky. Focke-Wulf and several Heinkels were immediately shot down.
Our fighters, having gained altitude, went on the attack, and the anti-aircraft guns ceased fire. The planes of other regiments of the division arrived in time. The formation of German planes crumbled, many burned, the survivors fled. The fast-paced dogfight was over.
At this time, two La-5s appeared almost above the headquarters, which were fighting with a pair of Messers. Our pilots clearly had the initiative, but for some reason did not shoot down enemy aircraft, as if driving them to the division headquarters. One "Messer" tried to escape, but he was immediately shot down, and the second continued to be driven to the headquarters.
Seeing this, General Galunov was indignant and asked: "What kind of circus? Who is in the air?" And having learned that the battle was being fought by Captain Kitaev, he threatened to bring him to justice, adding, however, that if he missed the enemy. But the fears were in vain. Kitaev was the complete master of the situation. He drove the "Messer" to the headquarters of the division and shot down in front of everyone. And then he laid a deep turn over the crash site of the enemy aircraft, turned around and went to land. A few minutes later, a telephone call rang out at the headquarters: "The commander of the 2nd squadron of the 40th Guards Regiment, Captain Kitaev, is speaking. Please confirm the fact of downing an enemy plane."
In this battle, the pilots of our regiment thwarted the enemy's plan, destroying 11 and knocking out 5 enemy aircraft. Our losses amounted to two pilots and three aircraft.
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IAP - Istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy polk - Fighter Aviation Regiment
GIAP - Gvardeyskiy istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy polk - Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment
After repeated unsuccessful attempts to attack our airfield, in the morning the enemy decided to change tactics. On the evening of June 5, our 2nd Squadron handed over duty and began to prepare for departure from the airfield. Suddenly, a green rocket took off from the command post of the regiment - a command to take off the duty pair.
Immediately, the duty pair of the 1st squadron started the engines and went to take off. She had not yet had time to take off, when a series of green rockets took off over the command post: everyone who can take off. At this time, a group of 3 He-111 bombers and 6 Me-109 fighters approached from the rear of the airfield. A couple that took off as part of the Hero of the Soviet Union Captain K.A. Novikov and Guard Lieutenant V.A. Listarov climbed, not seeing the enemy, who was behind them behind a large cumulus cloud. The regiment commander Tokarev gave the command to break through the cloud by radio.
Our planes disappeared into the cloud, and immediately there was a cannon burst. And then one bomber fell out of the cloud, followed by the second.
Here is how Novikov himself spoke about it: "I first attacked the bombers in the forehead, then from the coup I landed on the latter from above from behind. I hit him from a short distance and immediately transferred the fire to the second one. I shot down both of them with one run . They collapsed ten kilometers from Oboyan". The approaching fighters also destroyed the third bomber. All six escort fighters were shot down by Kitaev's group taking off. Unfortunately, our senior lieutenant V.D. Bagirov died at the same time, who pursued the "Messer" and crashed into it.
All eyewitnesses of this battle were captured by stormy enthusiasm. With special enthusiasm, the heroes of this battle were greeted by Muscovite pilots of the guard captain K.A. Novikov and Guard Lieutenant V.A. Listarov. The spiritual uplift among the local residents was so great that the priest of the church in Trubezh served a prayer service in honor of Russian weapons and signed a defense loan. Then he wrote down the names of all the pilots who participated in this battle in the holy calendar in order to pray for their health.
In the following days of June, the enemy did not try to attack our airfield and our pilots fought only a few air battles, in which they shot down 7 enemy aircraft. And on July 5, at dawn, the regiment was alerted: the battle on the Kursk Bulge began. On the first day of the German offensive, the pilots of our regiment shot down 21 enemy planes, four were shot down by the commander of the 2nd squadron, Hero of the Soviet Union, Captain Kitaev. On the evening of July 6, we received a message about the unprecedented feat of the pilot of the 88th Guards Aviation Regiment of our division, Lieutenant A.K. Gorovets. In difficult conditions, left alone, he attacked a group of 9 Ju-87 dive bombers aiming at our tanks. Skillfully maneuvering, Gorovets destroyed the entire group of bombers, but on the way back he was intercepted by a group of 6 "Messers" and he died in an unequal battle. Posthumously A.K. Gorovets was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Inflicting significant losses on the enemy, our regiment itself lost planes and people. By the evening of July 7, only 8 aircraft remained in the regiment, and the task was given based on a full-fledged composition of 30 crews. Therefore, despite the experience of our pilots and the excellent combat qualities of La-5 aircraft, individual enemy aircraft from attacking groups of 50-60 aircraft managed to break through to the positions of our ground forces. The new division commander, Colonel Laryushkin, who arrived in the evening of the same day, gave the regiment commander Tokarev a dressing down, and on the morning of July 8, the remnants of the regiment were again thrown into battle.
The first group was personally led by Tokarev. It was not possible to create a reliable barrier of 8 fighters for a group of German bombers in 60-70 aircraft with a cover of 12-16 fighters. Again, individual enemy aircraft broke through to our ground units, which suffered losses.
Arriving Laryushkin again blasted Tokarev and even threatened to deprive him of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. And when the next task arrived, Tokarev flew again, although it was not his turn. Our commander did not return from this mission.
The next day, a tank colonel arrived at the regiment's location and, in the presence of everyone, read out the report of the tankers. It reported that Major M.S. Tokarev, paired with another pilot of the 40th Guards Regiment, attacked a large group (about 70) of dive bombers, which were covered by 12 fighters. The bombers aimed at our tanks, which were ready for a counterattack. The tankers had no air cover, since all of our fighters were in combat with the Messers that had arrived in advance. Tokarev did not let the German group near the tankers and personally shot down 6 enemy planes in an air battle. Being mortally wounded, he landed the plane on the "belly" in the location of the tankers and died on the wing of his plane. His identity was established by documents.
After reading the report, the colonel paused and added: "Tokarev helped us at the decisive moment of the battle. The brigade was the command's last reserve."
Tokarev was buried in the center of Stary Oskol in a small park. Many citizens took part in the funeral.
The next day, fresh air regiments began to arrive and our participation in the battle on the Kursk Bulge ended. During the period from June 2 to July 10, 1943, while based at the Trubezh airfield, the pilots of the 40th Guards Aviation Regiment shot down 81 enemy planes in the area of the city of Oboyan, 14 of them were shot down by Guard Captain N.T. Kitaev. Our losses during this period amounted to 29 aircraft and 12 pilots.