Aviation of World War II
La-7. Combat Use, Part 3-4
At the end of 1944, the 2nd Orsha GIAP of the 322nd Fighter Aviation Division of the 2nd Fighter Aviation Corps, after heavy losses suffered in the battles over East Prussia, was withdrawn to the rear for rest and replenishment. The regiment was relocated to the Oleshchytsia airfield, located 70 km northwest of Lvov. Here the regiment was replenished with new aircraft, including La-7, and young pilots. Twelve brand new La-7s received by the regiment had the inscriptions “Mongolian arat” on the fuselages, the pilots of the 2nd GIAP had already received La-5FN with similar inscriptions on the sides as a gift from the workers of Mongolia. The aircraft were transferred to the 2nd squadron, commanded by Captain I.T. Koshelev. Koshelev's deputy was Senior Lieutenant N.G. Marina, the units were commanded by senior lieutenants M.E. Ryabtsev and G.I. Bessolitsin. "Mongolian arats" were also received by lieutenants Utkin and Baranov, junior lieutenants Pilipovich, Likhovidov, Lilyak, Khmarsky, Kharitonov, Podvoisky. The regiment commander, Major A.P. Sobolev was presented with a gift from fellow gold miners - a La-7 fighter with the inscription "Shilkin's Prospector". All recruits who arrived in the regiment underwent a retraining course on the La-7, among the newcomers there were also pilots who managed to fight on the La-5. The retraining of the veterans of the regiment on the La-7 was accompanied by a number of breakdowns of the landing gear during heavy braking while taxiing. In addition to retraining for new fighters, the personnel worked out the tactics of delivering strikes against ground targets. The regiment reached a state of combat readiness at the end of December 1944.
La-7 squadron 'Mongolian arat' from the 2nd GIAP.
At the beginning of 1945, the pilots of the regiment covered the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front, entrenched in the Sandomierz bridgehead. Before relocating to the Smerdynia front-line airfield (30 km from Sandomierz), the regiment's technicians painted the noses of the fighters with red paint, and painted guards emblems on the fuselages. Such painting was intended in order not to confuse the Lavochkins with the Fw-190s similar in silhouette.
The relocation to the Smerdynia airfield was completed in secrecy on January 11, 1945. The mechanics were transported in the fuselages of fighters, two people in each. One can imagine the risks that both technicians and pilots were exposed to in fighters practically deprived of the ability to maneuver in the event of an attack by enemy aircraft. Fortunately, the flight ended safely. Troubles awaited the regiment on the ground: the airfield was within the range of enemy artillery fire. Several aircraft received minor damage from shrapnel.
On the morning of January 12, all 26 fighters of the 2nd GIAP were prepared for a sortie, but the flight had to be canceled due to weather conditions. Visibility improved only in the evening, allowing the regiment's pilots to make their first sortie on the La-7. The sky was buzzing with the red-star Lavochkins, Yakovs and Aerocobras, who were tasked with blocking Luftwaffe airfields in the Sandomierz area. Low cloudiness (height of the lower edge of the clouds - 100-200 m) limited the possibilities of aviation operations; the Germans were able to quickly transfer aircraft to other bases, thus removing their aircraft from under attack.
The pilot of the "Mongolian Arat" squadron, junior lieutenant Ryabtsev, on January 16, discovered about 60-70 enemy aircraft at the Zagnansk airfield located north of Kielce. The entire "Mongolian Arat" squadron immediately flew out to attack, La-7 with suspended bombs was covered by fighters of the 1st squadron of Captain P.Ya. Marchenko. In the target area, the pilots of the 2nd GIAP noticed nine Ju-87 dive bombers in the air. The fighters of the 2nd squadron dived and dropped bombs on the aircraft stands from a height of 500-600 meters, and then stormed the airfield from a strafing flight; The 1st Squadron, meanwhile, took nine Junkers into circulation. P.Ya. Marchenko was shot down by one dive bomber. I.S. Skrypnik and V.I. Kardopoltsev. Fw-190s arrived in time to help the Junkers, three of which were shot down by pilots of the 1st squadron of the 2nd GIAP. All guards returned safely to base.
On January 18, the regiment flew to the Gorzkovice airfield, which had just been captured by Soviet tankers. The airfield was still under attack by Wehrmacht units. To repel the onslaught of the enemy, the fighters had to act in the unusual role of stationary ground emplacements. The mechanics raised the tails of the aircraft so that the gun barrels took a horizontal position and could fire at the enemy. The German attacks were repulsed by the joint efforts of pilots, tank crews and infantry. The next day, the pilots of the regiment won a victory in the air, Skrypnik and Ozhgin shot down one Ju-87 each, Captain Koshelev - one Fw-190.
On April 20, the 2nd GIAP moved to Germany, to the Trashenberg airfield (after the war, this territory was ceded to Poland). The pilots flew mainly to intercept the Ju-87 and Ju-88 bombers. Usually 8-12 aircraft went on a sortie, the battle formation was echeloned in height and in depth. On the eve of air combat, fighters accelerated to a speed of 80-90% of the maximum. Tactical techniques were built taking into account the decisive superiority of the La-7 in rate of climb over any German fighter.
In early February, five La-7s led by Captain N.Ya. Zenkovich intercepted eight Fw-190s over Guben. With the first attack, the guards shot down four Focke-Wulfs. On February 10, it was planned to relocate the regiment to a new airfield following the advancing ground forces. Because of the rain, the flight did not take place, meanwhile more than 100 aircraft accumulated in Traschenberg. The command of the 322nd Fighter Aviation Division, which included the regiment, decided to build a temporary runway, since the entire airfield of the airfield turned into one giant puddle. It took two days to build the strip, after which the fighters were able to relocate to Lubin.
On February 13, the regiment was visited by the commander of the air army, General S.A. Krasovsky. Just at the time of the commander's visit, the four Fw-190s attacked the Lyubin airfield. Immediately after the attack, a La-7, controlled by G.V., took off to catch up with the departing Germans. Duck. Utin managed to catch up with the enemy and shoot down one fokker. The raid turned out to be sensitive for the 2nd GIAP: one killed and nine wounded among the number of engineering and technical personnel, six damaged aircraft. Krasovsky limited himself to a lengthy verbal censure, sustained in extremely harsh terms. A few days after the memorable Focke-Wulf raid, Koshelev (58 sorties, three enemy aircraft shot down) and Ryabtsev (23 sorties, four shot down) were awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
Aviation barely kept up with the ground troops: at the end of February, the 2nd GIAP was already based in Zarau. From here, the pilots flew to attack the Glogau fortress and to cover ground troops in the Guben area. A typical sortie for this period of operations of the 2nd GIAP can be considered the assault on the railway station carried out on March 20 by the four La-7s of Captain Marchenko. During March, the pilots of the 2nd GIAP destroyed eight steam locomotives, 44 carriages, 22 cars, two barracks and four aircraft in parking lots. Own losses amounted to four La-7, all the pilots of the downed aircraft escaped.
On March 11, Ryabtsev, paired with Khmarsky, shot down one Bf 109 over the Spremberg airfield. On March 18, Nepryakhin and Chapcheilishvili shot down another Bf 109 over Cottbus; on the same day, junior lieutenant Belyaev was killed in a battle with enemy fighters, and the La-7 pilot D.Ya. was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Podvoisky.
In early April, the regiment was withdrawn from the fighting for a short time - a Mongolian delegation arrived at the front, whose members wanted to meet with the pilots of the Mongolian Arat squadron. On the eve of the visit, all the fighters of the regiment were thoroughly washed from dirt and repainted, but the delegation never appeared. On April 14, 1945, the regiment flew to Benau, two days later, on April 16, the Red Army delivered a powerful blow in the direction of Berlin. The 2nd GIAP was given the task of blocking the German airfield of Velzof. As a result of the assault strike of 18 La-7, two enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground, several were damaged, hangars were destroyed and the runway was put out of action. Intelligence established that the enemy continues to use the airfield after the attack. A second blow was dealt to Velzof by the forces of seven La-7s from the Mongolian Arat squadron. On the approach to the target, five Fw-190s met Captain Koshelev's five. In the ensuing air battle, Bessolitsyn, Utkin and Khmarsky each scored one victory. The next day, the eight La-7, which was again commanded by Captain Koshelev, intercepted 12 Fw-190s during patrols over a given area. Using the advantage in speed and height, the pilots of the 2nd GIAP swiftly attacked the enemy. Utkin and Bessolitsyn shot down one Focke-Wulf each. In the April battles, the regiment lost two aircraft and one pilot. In the battle with the Fw-190, A.I. was shot down. Khmarsky, the pilot managed to escape, but he received severe burns to his face. Pilot I.A. Pilipovich was shot down in an air battle and died. At the same time, the first meetings of the pilots of the regiment with German jet aircraft Me-262 and Me-163 were noted, the Germans did not enter into battle with Soviet fighters.
On April 21, the 322nd Air Division and the 2nd GIAP in its composition flew to the Joksdorf airfield, a few days later to Schlabendorf located just 50 km from Berlin. The intensity of the combat work of the pilots of the regiment in the last days of the Great Patriotic War is evidenced by the fact that each pilot made 5-6 sorties daily.
On April 23, Captain Skrypnik's flight intercepted two Fw-190s over the southern outskirts of Berlin, one of which Skrypnik shot down in the first attack. A few minutes later, the guards discovered nine Focke-Wulfs, who intended to strike at a crossroads clogged with vehicles. Arefiev and Shubin struck at the closing line of Luftwaffe fighter-bombers. Both the leader and the wingman shot down one fokker each. The rest of the Fw-190s dropped their bombs in disarray and headed back. Skrypnik's link continued to attack and succeeded. In just one sortie, Skrypnik's four shot down five enemy aircraft. On the same day, a group of captain Koshelev fought with nine Fw-190s, the Germans were missing one aircraft; The 2nd GIAP had no losses that day.
On April 24, while attacking an enemy stronghold, Likhovdov's plane was hit by anti-aircraft artillery shells, the pilot sent a burning La-7 to the enemy's battery.
On April 26, a direct hit by an anti-aircraft projectile on the engine while attacking a target on a Berlin street received A.I.Mayorov's La-7. The pilot managed to land the plane on a limited area in such a way that the fighter received minimal damage. Mayorov himself escaped with a back injury, but did not show himself to doctors and continued to fly on combat missions until the end of the war.
On April 28, five La-7s were already damaged by anti-aircraft fire. The intensity of the fighting in the last days of the war was exceptionally high. At the final stage of the Berlin operation (from April 16 to April 30), the pilots of the 2nd GIAP made 401 sorties to attack ground targets, destroyed four tanks, 333 vehicles, five locomotives, destroyed 22 buildings and hit 358 enemy soldiers. During this time, the pilots also completed 528 purely "fighter" sorties, conducted 14 air battles and shot down 17 enemy aircraft. Koshelev, Bessolitsyn, Utkin and Shubin chalked up two victories each, Marchenko, Skripnik, Ryabtsev, Zakharov, Arefiev, Galich, Khmarsky and Shevarev shot down one plane each. For the pilots of the 2nd GIAP, the Berlin operation ended on May 2, 1945.
On May 4, the regiment, operating from the Grossenheim airfield, took part in the Prague operation. The pilots covered from the air the regrouping of ground troops between Berlin and Dresden. Soviet aviation completely dominated the air, only occasional flights of single Fw-190s and Bf 109s were noted.
On May 7, Soviet tanks reached the northern spurs of the Ore Mountains. Aircraft of the 322nd Air Division provided air cover for tank columns and carried out reconnaissance of passes and roads from the air. On May 8, 1945, Lieutenant Galich from the 2nd GIAP shot down a German aircraft - perhaps the last victory of the Red Army Air Force in the Great Patriotic War.
A large group of pilots of the 2nd GIAP arrived in Prague on May 12, 1945, and on May 17, the regiment's planes took off from the Grossenheim airfield and headed east, home.
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IAP - Istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy polk - Fighter Aviation Regiment
GIAP - Gvardeyskiy istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy polk - Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment
IAD - Itsrebitel'naya aviatsionnaya diviziya - Fighter Aviation Division
IAK - Istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy korpus - Fighter Aviation Corps
The 111th GIAP of the 10th Guards Fighter Aviation Division of the 10th Fighter Aviation Corps was re-equipped with La-7 fighters in the winter of 1944-45. La-7, under the command of Senior Lieutenant Leonid Kozyrev, intercepted 16 Fw-190s that were attacking Soviet troops. L.E. was shot down by one Focke-Wulf. Kozyrev, E.V. Afanasiev, K.M. Sedov, N.G. Peskov and V.G. Sazonov. Eight Lavochkin suffered no losses.
On March 25, 1945, four La-7s from the 111th GIAP, escorting nine bombers, entered into battle with eight German attack aircraft. The result - four enemy aircraft shot down and one damaged. The next day, the La-7 trio, led by Major Gnido, shot down two enemy aircraft in an air battle with ten enemy fighters.
Four days later, on March 29, 1945, eighteen La-7s under the command of Major A.N. Masneva was escorting two nines of bombers northwest of Ostrava and encountered a group of forty Fw-190s. Soviet pilots were the first to attack, Major Masnev shot down the leading ten Focke-Wulfs from the first approach. K.V. shot down two planes each. Vadeev and G.E. Kardopoltsev, R.A. Sataev chalked up one victory. Other pilots of the group shot down four more Focke-Wulfs. On the same day, a group of eight La-7s, led by Major A.A. Gubanov, also covering the bombers, met in an air battle with twenty Bf 109s. The Messerschmitt link in a suicidal attack shot down two bombers closing the formation, after a few seconds all four Bf 109s were destroyed. Grigory Razdobudko, Nikolai Avramchikov, Ivan Kostin and Mikhail Sharonov chalked up victories. Six La-7 captain M.V. took part in the last sortie of the day. Kadnikova, who was faced with the task of covering ground troops from air strikes. Over Loslau, La-7 pilots intercepted a group of 20 Fw-190s and eight Bf 109s. Two more La-7 units urgently flew to the battlefield. In air combat, through the efforts of M.V. Kadnikova, K.G. Shcherbina, D.V. Ilyina, P.V. Vasilyeva, K.G. Kozlov and A.I. Krylov, the enemy lost seven aircraft.
On April 2, 1945, six La-7s under the command of Major Gnido conducted an air battle with 20 Fw-190s over Krzhanovitsy (a settlement on the Polish-Czechoslovak border). The Guardsmen shot down eight Fokkers without loss; distinguished pilots G.A. Pobednov, V.I. Gubanov, I.V. Kostin, F.M. Mukhin, G.P. Semenenko, Major Gnido personally shot down three planes.
The last downed aircraft was recorded on the combat account of the 111th GIAP on May 5, 1945 by Vasily Ivanovich Gubanov. The regiments of the 10th Fighter Aviation Division ended the war in Czechoslovakia, based on the airfields of Hlachin, Hrabuvka and Benesov.
The 171st GIAP of the 315th Fighter Aviation Division of the 14th Fighter Aviation Corps operating in East Prussia received La-7 fighters in February 1945. Il-2 attack aircraft in a raid on the Vainoda airfield. On approach to the target, Soviet aircraft attacked several Fw-190s covering the airfield. When the Ilys made their fourth run, another Fw-190 link approached the battlefield. Before the Fokkers had time to take their starting position for the attack of the attack aircraft, the six Lavochkins fell on them from above. Group commander Ivan Vishnyakov shot down the leader of the schwarm. In total, in the air battle, the pilots of the 171st GIAP shot down three Focke-Wulfs.
Due to bad weather in March and April, air battles in the area of operations of the 171st GIAP were rare. At the end of April, a mixed group of 16 La-7s and 12 Yak-9Us under the command of Veshnyakov was supposed to strike at the Karkles airfield. Already in flight, the weather began to deteriorate and visibility dropped sharply. Vishnyakov gave the order to return. The Yaks immediately turned back on their course, while the La-7s, with bombs suspended, began to look for suitable targets to strike. In the meantime, Vishnyakov revised his decision and ordered the task to be carried out - to bomb the airfield, but now it was necessary to strike not from a dive, but from a level flight and not to carry out an attack. The results of the impact could not be assessed due to the disgusting visibility, but it is unlikely that several 50-kg bombs could cause serious damage, especially since they were thrown from level flight. Surprisingly, all La and Yaks (two Yaks landed on a forced landing on the territory occupied by Soviet troops) returned safely to their airfields, despite the bad weather. For an unsuccessful raid on Karkles, Veshnyakov was demoted, removed from the squadron and appointed flight commander. Such things often happened in wartime.
The regiment ended the war on May 8 with attacks on the Courland airfields of Windau, Sirau and Karkles. During these strikes, several enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground, the enemy offered no resistance, and even anti-aircraft fire was not observed.
The pilot of the 31st Fighter Aviation Regiment Nikolai Skomorokhov made his first flight on the La-7 at the end of December 1944. He was released on a training flight by the navigator of the 295th Fighter Aviation Division, Major Nikolai Romanov Skomorokhov, accompanied by his wingman Filippov on the La-5FN. The first training flight was also the first combat one. In the air, Soviet pilots collided with a group of ten Fw-190s loaded with bombs. The reaction to the appearance of the enemy was immediate - an attack. Skomorokhov shot down one fokker, but then eight more Fw-190s appeared on the scene, Skomorokhov also shot down a fokker from this newly appeared eight. In the sight of La-7 Skomorokhov, the third wave of fighter-bombers appeared - six Fw-190s. Once again, one plane crashed. In the fourth wave (eight Fw-190s) after Skomorokhov's attack, the Germans also missed one aircraft. Thus, in a training flight, Skomorokhov shot down four Focke-Wulfs, another Fokker chalked up Filippov.
In March 1945, all the pilots of the 31st IAP (the regiment was part of the 295th Fighter Aviation Division of the 9th Fighter Aviation Corps) received the La-7. The regiment then operated in Hungary. The first official sortie of the pilots took place on 4 April. Skomorokhov paired with Kozlov conducted an air battle in the vicinity of Vienna. In a battle on Skomorokhov's fighter, the armament failed, and he only simulated attacks, but managed to help his wingman shoot down one Bf 109.
The next day, Skomorokhov, paired with Gorkov, accompanied the Il-2 attack aircraft. On the way back, they met another group of Ils under the cover of a trio of La-7s from their 31st regiment. Skomorokhov decided to join them, since the IL-2 group escorted by him was no longer in danger. It was the right decision - Gorkov soon spotted five groups of Fw-190s. Skomorokhov attacked first and shot down one fokker. With the second attack, he shot down the second enemy aircraft. The third attack on the third group of Focke-Wulfs brought success to Gorkovy. At this time, several Bf 109s fell on a couple of Skomorokhov. He had no choice but to shoot down the Messerschmitt. At this time, a message came on the radio that the Focke-Wulfs were attacking attack aircraft. Skomorokhov and Gorkova abandoned the Messers and rushed to the Il-2 group, but the enemy had already been driven off by the La-7 troika of direct cover. In an air battle, five pilots of the 31st IAP shot down eight enemy aircraft; all La-7s returned safely to the Bad Voslau base airfield. At the end of April, luck almost turned away from the Skomorokhov-Gorkova pair. On the way back, with a minimum remaining fuel, they were attacked by a group of Bf 109s, but the La-7 pilots managed to get out of a difficult situation. The very next day, Skomorokhov, at the head of six La-7s, together with a group of fighters from another squadron of the 31st IAP, fought with 25 Fw-190s and shot down one enemy aircraft. As it turned out, the pilot of the downed Fw-190 was qualified as an instructor pilot. In the last days of April, Skomorokhov, paired with the new wingman Dmitry Sokha, accompanied the Il-2 over South Moravia. On the approach to Brno, the group was attacked by Bf 109 fighters, thanks to the quick reaction of the Soviet pilots, the strike was thwarted. In turn, Skomorokhov and Sokha attacked a group of Fw-190s. The Fokkers were at low level, Skomorokhov attached himself to one of them and literally drove him into the ground: fleeing from the fire of the ace, the pilot lost sight of the ground and the Fw-190 crashed into a hill. Then Skomorokhov gave a chance to distinguish himself to a newcomer - Dmitry Sokha. Sokha, however, approached the target slowly, and began to shoot from a long distance. Skomorokhov encouraged the young pilot by radio and pointed out the mistakes. Dmitry still managed to shoot down his first plane in the almost ended war. For Skomorokhov, the victory won that day was the last - in total he shot down 46 enemy aircraft.