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LaGG-3. Combat Use.
Vasily Alekseenko, Mikhail Nikolsky
State tests of the LaGG-3 fighter ended just a few days before the start of the war, in the combat units of this type of aircraft, according to various estimates, from 29 to 75. In battles, fighters of this type began to be used only from late July - early August 1941.
One of the first LaGGs received the 164th IAP, based in the Caucasus. Air Marshal N.M. Skomorokhov began his career as a military pilot in this regiment, he ended the war as a major, shot down 46 aircraft personally, eight in a group. Three links of the LaGGs of the 160th regiment provided a flight to the besieged Leningrad of G.K. Zhukov. On the other flank of the huge front, the LaGG-3 of the 1st series were in service with the 44th IAP of the Leningrad Front, which on March 7, 1942 was transformed into the 11th Guards.
In August 1941, the pilots of the 17th IAP covered the Dnieper crossings in the Kremenchug region on LaGG-3. The regiment changed "donkeys" to LaGGs at the end of July in Rostov-on-Don. In July, the LaGGs also received the 170th IAP. In the autumn of 1941, the 69th IAP was re-equipped with the I-16 on the LaGG-3, in which one of the most productive fighter pilots of the Great Patriotic War served - A.V. Alelyuhin (40 victories won personally and 17 in a group).
LaGG-3 did not become a symbol of the battle for the Moscow sky, but the regiments that fought on LaGGs made a significant contribution to the common cause. On the Kalinin Front, fighters of this type even occupied a dominant position, another thing is that there were few of them. Regiments armed with LaGGs operated as part of the Bryansk, Western and Kalinin fronts. As part of the 6th Air Defense Fighter Corps, which was entrusted with the protection of the capital from fascist bombers, as of July 31, 1941, there were two regiments that were armed with LaGGs - the 24th IAP (27 fighters) and the 233rd IAP (in it LaGGs were armed with one squadron - 10 aircraft).
Starting from October 5, 1941, three LaGG-3 armed with 37mm cannons underwent military tests in the 43rd air division; according to the report, these aircraft were able to destroy five German tanks. Powerful weapons literally provoked the use of these machines as attack aircraft. However, Shpitalny's new guns were still crude and did not work reliably. These three fighters did not fight for long - in mid-October they were shot down in the Vyazma region.
The aviation grouping in the Moscow direction on the eve of the "decisive" offensive of the Germans on the capital was intensified - in early October, the Headquarters deployed seven fighter regiments here, including two (524th and 415th), armed with LaGG-3. In the third decade of October, two regiments armed with LaGGs arrived at the Kalinin Front - the 193rd (19 fighters) and the 129th. The entire fighter aviation of the front consisted of 39 LaGG-3 and 17 MiG-3. By December 1, the number of combat-ready LaGGs decreased to 35.
As part of the 10th mixed aviation division, the 168th IAP operated on LaGG-3 aircraft. Initially, the division was part of the Air Force of the Western Front, then - in the aviation group of General I.F. Petrov. From November 26, the regiment's fighters accompanied the Pe-2 and Pe-3 dive-bombers during strikes against the advancing German troops in the Volokolamsk, Klinsk and Yukhnov directions. LaGGs also stormed enemy columns themselves, powerful weapons made it possible to use them in this capacity much more effectively than their "classmates" - the MiG-3 and Yak-1. Aircraft equipped with PC launchers showed themselves especially well, and missiles were also fired at air targets - Lieutenant F.D. Mezhuev shot down a Bf 109F by two RS-82s.
As of January 1, as part of the fighter aviation of the Air Force of the Kalinin Front, there were 23 LaGG-3, 7 MiG-3, 14 Yak-1, 22 I-16, eight more LaGGs and seven MiGs were in the group of General Petrov operating in this direction .
On the Western Front, LaGGs were widely used as scouts. In January 1942, LaGG-3s, along with twin-engine Pe-2s, were in service with the 3rd Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment.
During the offensive of the Soviet troops near Moscow, the numerical and qualitative composition of the air forces of the fronts increased due to the arrival of new types of fighters. So, as of February 22, 1942, the Air Force of the Kalinin Front included 13 fighter aviation regiments, four of which were armed with the Yak-1 and five with the LaGG-3 (5th Guards, 21st, 180th, 193 th, 348th). In the 5th Guards Regiment, armed with LaGG-3 10-series, Captain G. D. Onufrienko fought as a guard squadron commander, by the end of the war he personally shot down 21 aircraft and 29 in a group, and he won 15 victories as part of 5 th GIAP. One Ju-88 shot down right above the command post of the Kalinin Front in front of the commander, Colonel General I.S. Konev. In January 1942, the regiment's pilots shot down 18 enemy planes, losing one pilot. In the spring of 1942, with a young recruit, Sergeant Vitaly Popkov, one of the most famous Soviet aces, came to the 5th GIAP, whose military fate, like the fate of his fellow soldiers, formed the basis of the best movie about the pilots of the Great Patriotic War - "Only Old Men Go to Battle" . Reminding the plot of this film is superfluous. The regiment was awarded the Guards rank among the first - on December 6, 1941, before the regiment was called the 129th IAP.
On February 22, 1942, there were eight fighter aviation regiments in the Air Force of the Western Front. In contrast to the Kalinin Front, the main force here was the Yaks, which were in service with four IAPs; pilots of the 168th and 172nd IAPs flew the LaGG-3.
Near Moscow, the 521st IAP also fought on LaGGs, which moved during the battle for the capital to the Yak-1.
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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
"Donkey" - in the Soviet Air Force, the nickname of the I-16 fighter
MAI - Moskovskiy aviatsionnyy institut - Moscow Aviation Institute
LaGGs have received notoriety in many recent publications. What is the decoding attributed to wartime pilots worth: "Lacquered Certified Coffin". Perhaps some wit and said this. However, the fighter did not deserve such an assessment at all. Yes, he was heavy, sluggish in maneuver, but in capable hands he could well compete with any enemy: on February 3, 1942, A.A. Gubanov shot down three Bf 109s on LaGG-3 in one battle. Another example - according to domestic data On March 21, 1942, in the Rzhev area, five LaGGs took on 30 Luftwaffe aircraft, our fighters shot down five German vehicles without loss on their part. Ace No. 2 of the Luftwaffe Gerhard Barkhorn recalled that in 1942 on the Stalingrad front he "spun the carousel" with a single LaGG for 40 minutes, the opponents turned out to be worthy of each other - not a single plane was shot down. Apparently, Barkhorn fought Alelyuhin. Aleksey Vasilyevich also fought another extremely difficult battle on the Stalingrad front: one against four Bf.109s. He emerged victorious from it, having shot down one fascist fighter. So, with all the shortcomings, the LaGG was not at all a hopeless aircraft and far from the easiest enemy for the Luftwaffe pilots.
The root of evil lies not so much in the far from brilliant flight characteristics of the LaGG, but in the poor training of pilots. What can we talk about if the flight time of the young "Stalin's falcon" rarely exceeded 30 hours, and the "green" pilot of the Jagdgeschwader had a flight time of about 450 hours on the "Messerschmitt"? In the mid-80s, one of the test pilots of the Sukhoi company, answering the annoying questions of MAI students, which aircraft is better than the Su-27 or F-15, answered:
"The best fighter is the one piloted by the best pilot." However, the "technical factor" matters no less than the "human factor". In the case of LaGG, it was the human factor that came out on top. It is no coincidence that in almost all the "textbook" cases of the successful use of Lavochkin, Gorbunov and Gudkov aircraft, aces sat in the cockpits of fighters: among the pilots who took part in the "six against thirty" battle was a young sergeant Vitaly Popkov (42 victories during the war); the same Gubanov, finished the war as a Hero of the Soviet Union, having 28 personal and 9 group victories to his credit; he won all the victories on LaGG-3, La-5, La-7. Gubanov was not the only pilot who managed to shoot down three fighters in one battle on LaGG - the pilot of the 246th IAP P.M. Kamozin in November 1942 filled up two Bf109 and one Bf.110 over Tuapse. In total, Kamozin shot down 17 enemy aircraft on the LaGG-3, ended the war on the Cobra, having 36 personal and 13 group victories to his credit. The pilot of the 249th IAP (later the 163rd Guards Regiment) A.M. won the most victories on the LaGG-3. Kulagin, who shot down 26 fascist aircraft on the "Lacquered Guaranteed Coffin" (a total of 39 victories to his credit), it is interesting to note that the 249th IAP received LaGGs already in February 1943, earlier the regiment's pilots flew the Yak-1. The regiment fought on LaGGs for more than a year - until the end of 1944, when it was re-equipped with La-5FN. The record for the number of victories won in one battle probably belongs to D.P. Nazarenko from the 131st IAP, who shot down four Bf.109s at once on the North Caucasian Front in the fall of 1942 (in total, Nazarenko won 32 victories).
Several outstanding German aces from the famous squadron "Green Heart" were shot down on LaGGs. Over Lake Ilmen on August 9, 1942, Senior Lieutenant Arkady Sukov from the 41st IAP shot down Oberleutnant Max-Helmut Ostermann's Bf 109 (102 victories), Ostermann died; On September 18, 1942, north of Tosno, the LaGGs of the 41st IAP overwhelmed Hauptmann Herbert Findeisen, holder of the Knight's Cross (67 victories), the pilot jumped out with a parachute and was captured; On January 19, 1943, Senior Lieutenant Kaberov from the 3rd GIAP of the Baltic Fleet put an end to the combat career of Oberleutnant Walter Meyer (58 victories).
Along with the "human" and "technical" (more precisely, "design") factors, the behavior of an aircraft in combat is also influenced by the "operational" factor. A powerful Russian word and a jewelry tool in the form of a sledgehammer do not always contribute to the competent exploitation of the material part. Alas, the low culture of maintenance of equipment is the same national feature as "vodka, accordion and salmon." Even in the famous 5th Guards IAP, fighters lacked speed due to the illiteracy of the technical and flight personnel. In the spring of 1942, the regiment commander wrote a report in which he indicated that the maximum speed of the LaGG was less than the declared one by as much as 50 km / h. Test pilot of the Air Force Research Institute Proshakov and chief engineer Rabkin urgently flew to the regiment. Experienced specialists quickly figured out the reasons: flights with the sliding part of the cockpit canopy removed, installation of a shield in front of the frontal part of the canopy to reduce oil splashing, metal meshes were installed on the suction pipes of the air intakes of the motor supercharger to prevent dust from entering, the pilots in flight set the water radiator damper in only two positions - completely open or completely closed, the pilots had little idea in what mode of engine operation the aircraft develops maximum speed. Of all the reasons, one was more or less valid - the removed cockpit canopy: there was no emergency release device on the LaGG, and the pilots were afraid that, if something happened, the movable part would stick and would have to come into contact with the earth's surface while sitting in the cockpit, and not hanging on the parachute lines . All other shortcomings are a direct consequence of the sloppiness, if not of the personnel of the regiment, then of the services responsible for timely bringing changes to the aircraft operating instructions to the combat units. For example, to deal with splashing of the canopy canopy, it was necessary not by installing a shield that "eats" several kilometers of speed, but by replacing the gaskets in the propeller hub; instructions for such a refinement, "in principle", were sent to the units operating LaGGs.
In 1942, the number of LaGGs in the Red Army Air Force reached its maximum, their number equaled, and in some months even exceeded the number of Yaks. On the Southwestern, Western and Kalinin fronts, the 3rd and 5th guards, 4th, 68th, 162nd, 172nd, 193rd, 240th and 413th fought on LaGG-3 fighter aviation regiments, in Karelian and Volkhov - 2nd Guards, 145th, 160th and 513th IAP, in the Caucasus - 7th, 131st, 182nd, 234th, 790th IAP; as part of the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet, the 9th IAP, armed with LaGGs, operated; in the Baltic - 5th IAP.
The battle between the Volga and Don rivers in the summer and autumn of 1942 attracted the best forces of fighter aviation from both sides. Among the air regiments of the KA Air Force sent to Stalingrad was the 3rd Guards, in which such aces as M.I. Mudrov served (30 shot down personally and 7 in the group, died in January 1944) and A.A. Murashov (22 wins).
Another famous regiment took part in the turning point of World War II - the 69th IAP, which received LaGG-3 in the early summer of 1942, and in July the regiment's pilots arrived at the Stalingrad front. He commanded the regiment L.L. Shestakov. It was Shestakov who in August 1943 became the commander of the most famous fighter aviation regiment of the Soviet, and now the Russian army - the 176th Guards Proskurov Order of the Red Banner, Alexander Nevsky and Kutuzov. In the summer of 1943, the regiment was called more modestly - the 19th Red Banner. Pilots of the 69th IAP fought on LaGGs until September 1942, before being re-equipped with Yaks.
Near Stalingrad, the 434th IAP fought on LaGGs, which in September 1942 was re-equipped with the Yak-7B. As part of the 270th IAP, S.D. Lugansky, a well-known ace, whose name is most often associated with Yaks, fought at LaGG. On September 14, 1942, in the battle over Stalingrad, the LaGG of Lugansky cut down the Messerschmitt stabilizer with a plane - it was not a ram, rather, a "flight accident". History is silent about what happened to the German aircraft, but after the collision, Lugansky was able to continue the battle - the “overweight” of the LaGG, or rather, its high strength, affected. Lugansky fought on LaGGs for a year and a half. Pilots of the 9th GIAP, 156th, 297th, 440th and 862nd IAP also fought at LaGGs near Stalingrad.
Several regiments armed with LaGGs, including the 88th IAP, took part in the Kuban air battle. One of the fighters of this unit with the inscription "Soviet Georgia" (in Georgian) on board landed by mistake at the airfield where the JG-52 staffs were based.
In naval aviation, LaGGs were used in the Baltic and the Black Sea. In the Baltic, they were in service with the 3rd Guards Regiment, the first naval aviation regiment, awarded the guards rank on January 18, 1942 (formerly the 5th IAP). The pilot of this regiment, I. Kaberov, shot down a SB on LaGG, captured by the Finns as a trophy. In the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet, the 9th IAP was armed with LaGGs. The image of the plane of the pilot of this regiment, Yuri Shilov, with eight victory stars and a lion's muzzle on board the fuselage is widely known. On LaGGs, the 9th regiment flew off almost the entire war. In general, the fairly widespread opinion about the LaGG as a fighter of the initial period of the war is fundamentally wrong. So in 1944, the Red Army Air Force included 594 LaGG-3s. Of course, LaGGs were no longer used "in the direction of the main strike", giving way to more advanced La-5 and La-7, Yak-9 and Yak-3. At the end of the war, LaGGs fought mainly in the Baltic and the Karelian Isthmus, where the main the enemy was the Finns, who had fighters far from the latest models. The fighters of the Air Force of the Baltic Fleet advanced farthest to the West: the LaGGs of the 3rd GIAP ended the war in Courland. By May 1945, there were practically no LaGGs left in the combat units. Even in the Far East, part of the regiments that were armed with LaGGs received new equipment, in particular, the 300th IAP, in which the future jet ace of the Korean War Yevgeny Pepelyaev served, was re-equipped from LaGG-3 to Yak-9.