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Р-39 Airacobra in the USSR

Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin on the wing of his Airacobra after 30 victories

To Battle

The distinguished career of the American fighter in the Soviet Air Force began just two weeks after the Airacobra's combat debut in the Pacific. At first, "Aircobras" appeared in the secondary sectors of the Soviet-German front: in the far north and the far south. In the most "hot" places on the Eastern Front, the R-39 fighters began to appear only after they proved their effectiveness in battle. If in the West they did not get tired of criticizing the Airacobra, then in the Soviet Union the best aces of the Red Army Air Force ended the war on the R-39.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill quickly reacted to the crushing defeat of the Soviet Air Force in the first weeks of the war, offering Moscow military assistance, including combat aircraft. At the end of July 1941, the first Hurricanes arrived in Murmansk.

After a short time, the RAF command decided to send Tomogawk, Kittyhawk and Airacobra fighters to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program. Britain received these planes, in turn, under Lend-Lease from the United States, but American fighters were out of place in the RAF. The good Churchill acted according to the old Russian proverb: “On you, God, what is wrong with us!” The first R-39 fighters were unloaded in Murmansk at the end of December 1941, in 1942 deliveries continued. Great Britain sent 212 Bell P-39 fighters to the Soviet Union on the northern route through Murmansk, 54 of them did not reach their destination, disappearing in the icy sea along with transport ships.

The first 20 Aircobra I aircraft entered service with the 22nd Reserve Aviation Regiment, formed in October 1941 in Ivanovo. The regiment was intended for the retraining of pilots for foreign aircraft arriving under Lend-Lease. One Aerocobra was sent for evaluation flight tests at the Air Force Research Institute.

The 22nd ZAP had three squadrons, one was intended for retraining for the Hurricanes, the other for the Kittyhawks and the third for the Aircobras. A little later, the 14th ZAP was formed. Two spare regiments were reduced to the 6th reserve aviation brigade.

In November 1942, the 25th ZAP was formed in Transcaucasia, which received fighters that arrived in the USSR under Lend-Lease via the southern route through the Persian Gulf. The 25th reserve regiment was equipped with P-39D / K fighters, the 26th ZAP, formed a year later, received P-39M / N / Q.

In contrast to the reserve regiments, which were armed with aircraft of domestic design, "foreign" ZAPs were responsible not only for the retraining of pilots, but also for the assembly and flight of aircraft. The assembly of the Airacobra presented significant difficulties due to an incomplete set of technical documentation, which, moreover, was all in English. Engineers and mechanics assembled aircraft using the scientific method, that is, trial and error.

Air Cobra I fighters were the first to receive units based in the far north, P-39D / K aircraft were transferred to units stationed in the Caucasus. Not a single regiment was completely re-equipped with Bell aircraft. In 1942 it was common practice to arm two squadrons of the regiment with Aircobras and a third with Kittyhawks. Such a "mixture" did not give any tactical advantages, but it seriously complicated the supply of equipment with ammunition, spare parts, etc.

By 1943, the Red Army Air Force had a sufficient number of Kittyhawks and Airacobras to re-equip entire regiments. R-39 fighters were considered more prestigious, they were armed with regiments that enjoyed special attention from the command. The training of pilots and the re-equipment of fighter aviation regiments with R-39 aircraft began in April 1942. At the end of June 1942, pilots of the 153rd and 185th IAP switched to the Cobras, and a little later, the 19th Guards IAP received the Cobras.

The 19th GIAP was formed in 1940 in Karelia as the 145th IAP. The regiment took part in the war with Finland, the pilots of the 145th IAP shot down five enemy aircraft and lost five. The beginning of the Great Patriotic War found the regiment at the polar airfield of Vaenga. The regiment was then armed with I-16 fighters.

In the initial period of the war, the pilots of the regiment had a chance to fly on fighters of various types: I-16, MiG-3, LaGG-3, "Hurricane". March 7, 1942 the regiment was transformed into the 19th Guards. In April, a part was withdrawn from the fighting and transferred to the Afrikanda airfield to receive new equipment. In this case, the planes packed in boxes arrived directly at the combat regiment, bypassing the ZAP. The engineering and technical staff assembled the fighters on their own, again relying more on common sense and ingenuity than on technical documentation. The first flight in the regiment on the "Aircobra I" was performed on April 19, 1942 by the commander of the 1st squadron, Captain Pavel Kutakhov.

At first, Soviet pilots were distrustful of the nose-wheel landing gear, which was unusual for that time, but very quickly they appreciated the advantages of such a chassis layout over the traditional tail-wheel design: much better visibility and more stable control of the aircraft while taxiing. The pilots also liked the behavior of the fighter in the air. In terms of maximum speed and rate of climb, the Airacobra surpassed any of the fighters that were in service with the regiment earlier. The glazing of the canopy provided an almost all-round view from the cockpit, and the cockpit itself was spacious and comfortable even by Western standards, and had heating. The considerable interior volume of the cockpit is not the last thing in the harsh conditions of the Arctic, where pilots were forced to fly in warm winter clothes. Most Soviet fighters of that period did not have radios at all, and their cockpits were too cramped. Even on the latest MiGs, LaGGs and Yaks, transceiver radio stations were installed, at best, only on the planes of the flight commanders.

The organization of two-way radio exchange in the air has significantly improved the tactical use of the R-39 fighters. Now any pilot, and not just the commander, could either warn his comrade of the danger himself, or he could be warned in time.

The emotions of the Soviet pilots regarding the armament of the "Aircobra" looked more contradictory. Pilots preferred 20 mm automatic guns, considering the 7.7 mm Browning machine guns to be insufficiently effective, suitable only for inflicting damage on German aircraft, but not for destroying them. Often, wing machine guns were dismantled. Reducing the weight of the aircraft increased its maneuverability, and the Russians did not consider the removal of two rifle-caliber machine guns a big sacrifice.

The Russians really liked the late modifications of the Airacobra, armed with a 37mm cannon and heavy machine guns. By Soviet standards, the fighter had to be armed with one cannon and two heavy machine guns, the Airacobra even exceeded this requirement. At the same time, in the Red Army Air Force, underwing machine-gun containers with P-39Qs were most often removed to lighten the aircraft. It was believed that the firepower remaining after the dismantling of the machine guns was quite enough.

Soviet pilots considered the Airacobra to be a maneuverable fighter that was not inferior to the enemy either on the verticals or on the horizon. The assessment is strikingly different from the assessment of American pilots. The fact is that the Americans did not like the behavior of the Airacobra, primarily at high altitudes, while on the Soviet-German front, most air battles were fought near the ground or at medium altitudes. At the same time, the Russians found a number of shortcomings in the American fighter.

Almost all the comments concerned the Allison V-1710 engine, which often overheated, refused to land and even in combat. The oil was not designed for Russian frosts, so the grease thickened in the cold. There were cases of breakdowns in the cold of the drive shaft connecting the engine and the propeller. Often a broken shaft pierced the oil tank and interrupted the wiring of the control system. Some of the problems with the engine were solved by upgrading the engine, carried out by Allison on the recommendations of Soviet engineers.

The tendency of the Airacobra to fall into a flat tailspin was quickly discovered by the Russians. Since there was no technical solution to the problem (Bell was unable to get rid of the flat spin and the more advanced Kingcobra fighter), the pilots were taught to avoid dangerous flight modes, however, several Soviet test pilots and front-line pilots crashed into those caught in a spin "Cobra".

Another significant design flaw of the fighter was the almost one hundred percent injury to the pilot, who left the plane with a parachute. American pilots, after a few weeks of flights on the Cobras, said that the “exit” in the air from the cockpit through the car-type door was “risky business”. Many Soviet pilots were injured while parachuting from the Aerocobra cockpits - the plane's stabilizer hit the body of the jumping pilot. The “charms” of the jump were experienced even by such aces as Nikolai Iskrin and Boris Glinka. Glinka's stabilizer broke both legs, and he was no longer able to return to flight work. The parachute for the Airacobra pilot literally remained the last chance - the plane was left in the most extreme case. On the other hand, other design features of the fighter - a wing strongly displaced back and a three-wheeled landing gear with a nose support - completely ruled out nosedive during takeoff or landing. On the other hand, the wing shifted behind the cockpit almost guaranteed serious injuries or the death of the pilot when landing with the landing gear retracted.

On May 15, 1942, the 19th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment returned to the front, the regiment was commanded by Major G.A. Reifschneider. The personnel of the regiment consisted of 22 pilots, 16 Airacobra I fighters and ten P-40Es were in service. Already in the evening of May 15, the pilots of the regiment made a sortie, in which the four "Aerocobras" intercepted a group of 12 Bf fighters over Lake Tulp-Jarv. 109 and eight twin-engine Bf.110s. In an air battle, Captain Kutakhov and Senior Lieutenant Bochkov shot down one enemy aircraft each - these are the first victories won on the Air Cobras of the Soviet Air Force.

The next day, Ivan Bochkov achieved another victory, on May 16, the regiment suffered its first loss after rearmament - Senior Lieutenant Ivan Gaidenko crashed a fighter, trying to land a knocked-out Cobra (Aircobra I aircraft with registration code AN660) on the forest ). The pilot himself was almost not injured, but the aircraft could not be restored.

The first victory, what is called “on a grand scale”, was won by the Airacobra pilots on June 15, 1942, when six P-39 fighters repelled a raid on Murmansk by six Ju-88 bombers, flying escorted by 16 Bf.HO fighters. The pilots of the 19th GIAP shot down nine Luftwaffe aircraft without loss. Ivan Bochkov distinguished himself again, destroying Junkers and Messerschmitt.

Until December 10, Bochkov no longer shot down enemy aircraft. On December 10, six Aerocobras, led by Bochkov, left to intercept a group of 18 Ju-87 dive bombers and 12 Bf.109 fighters. Soviet pilots always tried to shoot down the leading bomber first in order to disperse the formation and try to catch up with panic. Bochkov simply ignored the cover fighters, attacking the leading "lappet". In the first attack, two Ju-87s were shot down, including the plane of the commander of the German strike group. As the Russians expected, the dive-bomber formation broke up immediately. In a short skirmish, three more German aircraft were shot down. Bochkov increased his personal score by one victory. All six Airacobras returned safely to base.

In February 1943, Ivan Bochkov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, by this time he had made 308 sorties, and on his account there were 7 personal and 32 group victories.

On April 4, 1943, on their 350th sortie, barrels with a wingman were intercepted by six Bf.109s. The wingman's plane was quickly damaged, but Bochkov was able to cover the retreat of his comrade. Ace scored his eighth personal victory before being shot down by the Messerschmitts. Ivan Bochkov died.

Seven months earlier, on September 9, 1942, an example of heroism was demonstrated by the pilot of the 19th GIAP, Senior Lieutenant Efim Krivosheev, for the first time ramming a German aircraft on the Aerocobra. Ramming is a last resort, Soviet pilots went for ramming, as a rule, after they had completely spent their ammunition. The pilots tried to inflict maximum damage to the enemy with minimal damage to their aircraft - they cut the keel or wing with the tips of the propeller or tried to strike the control surfaces of the enemy aircraft with the tip of the wing plane of their car. It happened that both planes fell apart in the air to pieces. Ramming is a method of combat, more stochastic than rational.

By September 9, Krivosheev managed to shoot down 5 aircraft personally and 15 as part of a group. In that memorable battle, Krivosheev shot down a Bf. 109, after which he saw how another Messer was attached to the tail of his Kamaska ​​Pavel Kutakhov. Krivosheev's Aerocobra ran out of ammunition and shells. Following the old soldier's rule "Die yourself, but help out a comrade," the pilot directed his plane to a German fighter. Krivosheee died, but saved the life of the squadron commander. February 22, 1943 Efim Krivosheev was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

Pavel Kutakhov ended the war as a colonel in the position of commander of the 19th GIAP. He completed 379 sorties, conducted 79 air battles, shot down 13 enemy aircraft personally and 28 in the group (recent studies were able to confirm only five personal victories of Kutakhov). In 1969, Kutakhov took over as commander of the Air Force of the Soviet Union, he remained in this high post for 15 years.

Another future ace who served in the 19th GIAP, Grigory Dmitruk, made his first sorties on the Kittyhawk, but then switched to the Airacobra I. By November 1944, Dmitruk became a captain and took command of one of the regiment's squadrons. Until the end of the war, he made 206 sorties, conducted 37 air battles, in which he shot down 18 enemy aircraft. Dmitruk was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Grigory Dmitruk became "twice ace" - in 1952-1953. in Korea, on a MiG-15, he shot down five American aircraft.

Other units from among those who fought in the north and received Airacobra fighters after mid-1943 were the 20th GIAP, all five fighter regiments of the Air Force of the Northern Fleet, the 102nd and 103rd GIAP of the Leningrad Air Defense Zone and 191- th IAP, who fought over Finland.

All these regiments fought on a relatively quiet section of the Soviet-German front, far from the central events of the Great Patriotic War. Often in the Russian North, as well as in the Aleutian Islands, bad weather, and not enemy fighters, became the main enemy of the pilots.

P-39D Fighters in the Caucasus

The Spitfires made their mark in the Battle of Britain. The Wildcat fighter for the Americans is forever associated with the battle of Midway, but the culmination of the Airacobra's combat career was undoubtedly the Kuban - the famous air battle that erupted over southern Russia in the spring of 1943. The battle for the Blue Line became the eve of the battle on Kursk, after which the Wehrmacht rolled non-stop to the West under the blows of the Red Army.

One of the best fighter formations of the Red Army Air Force, the 216th IAD, received R-39 fighters shortly before the start of the battle for the Blue Line. The division will soon become the 9th Guards Fighter Division, one of the most stellar in the Air Force. As part of the 9th IAD, a lot of aces fought.

The P-39D-2 fighters, which entered service with the division, arrived in the Soviet Union via the southern route through Iran. From Iran, fighters were ferried to the North Caucasus. The route through Iran was longer than the northern one, but safer. Polar convoys on their way to Murmansk if heavy losses from German submarines and aircraft.

The first "Lend-Lease" Hurricanes, Kittyhawks and Bostons arrived in Iran in June 1942, and Aircobras soon appeared here. The planes were assembled and flown in Abadan, after which they were transferred to Azerbaijan, to the 25th reserve aviation regiment.

Pilots from the 9th Guards Division were the first pilots retrained in the 25th ZAP to fly the Airacobra. By the end of the war, the pilots of the 9th GIAD won 1147 victories in air battles, 31 pilots became the Hero of the Soviet Union, three were awarded this title twice, and Alexander Pokryshkin became a Hero three times. The 298th PAP was the first to receive the Aircobras, followed by two other regiments of the division - the 45th and 16th.

The 298th regiment fought on the Southern Front from the first days of the war, first the I-153 and I-16 fighters were in service with the regiment, then the Yak-1. In January 1943, the regiment was assigned to the rear for reorganization and replenishment with people and equipment, at the same time it was transferred from a two-squadron to a three-squadron. The regiment received 21 R-39D-2 fighters (these modifications of the Airacobra were armed with 20-mm cannons) and 11 R-39K-1 aircraft with 37-mm cannons. "Cobras" with heavy weapons were intended for the regiment commander, regiment navigator, head of the airborne rifle service, three squadron commanders, political officers of the regiment and squadrons. Flight commanders and ordinary pilots flew the P-39D-2.

The regiment was commanded by lieutenant colonel Ivan Taranenko, the 298th IAP was relocated to the Korenevskoye airfield on March 17, 1943. The regiment was tasked with covering Pe-2 dive bombers from the 219th bomber air division in combat sorties. The pilots of the regiment made their first sortie from Korenevsky immediately after relocating. The regiment suffered its first loss on March 19, when a P-39D-1 aircraft, serial number 41-38444, was shot down, pilot Sergeant Belyakov died.

From March 17 to August 20, 1943, the regiment took part in probably the most brutal air battles of the Great Patriotic War. Pilots of the 8th Air Corps of the Luftwaffe acted as opponents of the pilots of the regiment. For five months, the personnel of the regiment made 1625 sorties, conducted 111 air battles, in which 167 enemy aircraft were shot down and 29 were damaged. Own losses amounted to 30 aircraft and 11 pilots, in fact, the entire regiment was knocked out.

On August 25, 1943, for success in battle, the 298th IAP was reorganized into the 104th GIAP. The regiment again became part of the 9th GIAD, which became elite. The core of the division was the 16th GIAP. The regiment commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Taranenko, shot down four aircraft personally and four in the group during this period. In mid-July, Taranenko became a colonel, he was appointed commander of the 294th IAP flying Yaks. By a decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of September 2, 1943, Ivan Taranenko was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Until the end of the war, Captain Taranenko brought his personal score to 16 personal victories, in the group he shot down four aircraft.

Taranenko's successor as regiment commander was Major Vladimir Semenishin, who made his first sortie in the winter of 1939-1940. From June 1941 to May 11, 1942, Semenishin flew the I-16. On May 11, Semenishin was seriously wounded while performing another sortie over the Kuban. The wounded pilot barely brought the damaged aircraft to his airfield. Semenishin spent several months in hospitals. After being cured, he was sent to the 25th ZAP, then he received the post of navigator of the 298th IAP, at the same time he was given the military rank of major.

By May 1943, Semenishin completed 136 sorties and conducted 29 air battles; on his account there were eight personal and seven group victories. May 24, Major Semenishin was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. The ace worthily noted the highest award a day later, having shot down four German aircraft in two sorties. On July 18, he was appointed regiment commander instead of Lieutenant Colonel I.A. Taranenko, a few days later Semenishin received a lieutenant colonel. The ace was very popular with his subordinates, Semenishin was a good tactician and had a good pedagogical gift.

Vladimir Semenishin commanded the 104th GIAP (former 298th IAP) until September 29, 1943. On that September day, he led nine R-39 fighters in a sortie. Due to bad weather, visibility was limited. Soviet pilots did not notice enemy aircraft. The first attack of nine Bf. 109 was sudden. One "Cobra" was shot down immediately. And then the carousel of the “dog fight” began to spin. The Airacobra pilots shot down three Messerschmitts, but the last word was left to the Germans, who ended the life of the commander of the 104th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment. Vladimir Semenishin made more than 300 sorties, shooting down 23 enemy aircraft personally and 13 in the group.

Another outstanding pilot who served in the 298th IAP was Mikhail Komelkov, who fought the enemy from the first day of the war. And in October 1941 Komelkov was wounded. After the hospitals, he was sent to the 25th ZVAP, from there to the front. As an instructor, Komelkov trained 171 fighter pilots, first on the iG-3 and LaGG-3, then on the R-39.

Komelkov hardly managed to be released from the reserve regiment to the front. In March 1943 he arrived in the 298th IAP. On April 16, an experienced instructor shot down three enemy aircraft in three sorties. In total, Mikhail Komelkov won 15 victories in air battles over the Kuban. Quite quickly, the pilot received the rank of captain and the post of squadron commander. The ace ended the war as a major in the position of deputy regiment commander. He completed 321 sorties, conducted 75 air battles, scoring 32 victories personally and seven in the group. June 27, 1945 Mikhail Komelkov became a Hero of the Soviet Union.

In June 1942, Vasily Drygin was transferred from the 4th IAP to the 298th IAP. Drygin was lucky to survive in the most difficult battles of the autumn of 1942, among the few veterans of the 298th IAP, he underwent a retraining course for the Airacobra. He returned to the front again in 1943. Over the Blue Line, he shot down ten enemy aircraft personally and five in a group.

Vasily Drygin won two victories on May 2. The Aerocobra group, led by Major Semenishin, intercepted Ju-87 dive bombers and escort Messerschmitts. Drygin and his wingman were attacked by bombers, they shot down two "lappeters" reliably, one - probably. Having broken up the formation of bombers, a pair of "Aircobras" joined Major Semenishin, who fought with Messers. In a battle with fighters, Drygin's luck turned away - his Cobra was set on fire. Fortunately, it did not turn away completely: the pilot managed to leave the plane, avoiding contact with the stabilizer. Vasily Drygin conducted another air battle the very next day, and less than a day later Drygin, Semenishin and another pilot forced a perfectly serviceable Bf.109 fighter to land at their airfield.

May 24, 1943 Vasily Drygin was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. By this date, he had flown 261 sorties and conducted 40 air battles, shooting down 12 enemy aircraft personally and five in the group, but this account was not final. On one day, June 7, Drygin inflicted damage on the Luftwaffe in the amount of three destroyed Bf.109 fighters. By the end of the war, the ace's personal combat score had grown to 20 victories.

Veteran of the regiment Konstantin Vyshnevetsky began his service in it back in 1939. Vyshnevetsky took part in the liberation campaign in Western Ukraine. Polish aviation offered no resistance, so the pilots did not win victories in air battles. June 1941 Senior Lieutenant Vishnevetsky met in the position of squadron commander. He was lucky - he went through the crucible of battles in 1941-1942. and stayed alive. By September 1943, Konstantin Vishnevetsky completed 123 sorties, shot down ten enemy aircraft personally and 13 in the group.

In the battles over the Blue Line, Vishnevetsky was seriously wounded. Despite the large loss of blood, the pilot managed to reach the airfield. On August 24, he became a Hero of the Soviet Union, a few days later he was awarded the rank of major. In September, Konstantin Vishnevetsky shot down two planes in a battle over Molochnaya, but he himself received a severe wound in his right hand. He again managed to hold the Aerocobra to the airfield. The wound was so serious that the ace was forbidden to fly. Vishnevetsky made 200 sorties, shooting down 20 aircraft personally and 15 in the group. Vishnevetsky died tragically in a car accident on July 30, 1944.

The 45th IAP was the second in the division to receive P-39D fighters. The pilots of the regiment fought with the enemy over the Crimea and the North Caucasus. From the beginning of 1942, the regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ibragim Magometovich Dzusov, one of the best Soviet aviation commanders during the Great Patriotic War. Ossetian by nationality, he was born in 1905, at the age of 15 he volunteered for the Red Army. As a simple soldier, Ibragim Dzusov fought with bands of Basmachi in Central Asia.

In 1929, Dzusov graduated from the flying school - his service in the Air Force began. In January 1942, when Dzusov was appointed commander of the 45th IAP, he turned 37 years old - an old man wise by war standards. The subordinates looked like boys compared to him. Dzusov did not become an ace with a large number of victories, however, his commanding qualities outweighed the personal battle accounts of many aces. On June 16, 1943, Dzusov left the 45th Regiment to take command of the 9th Guards Fighter Aviation Division. Dzusov commanded the division until May 1944, when he was appointed commander of the 6th Fighter Aviation Corps. Despite his venerable age and high positions, the formidable Ossetian flew on combat missions - his track record includes 89 sorties and six enemy aircraft shot down in 11 air battles. It is not known how many sorties Ibragim Dzusov made on the Aerocobra.

The personnel of the 45th IAP arrived for retraining for American fighters in the 25th ZAP two and a half months earlier than the personnel of the 298th IAP, but Dzusov's regiment returned to the front a few days later than the "neighbors". The 45th regiment was first trained for P-40 fighters, in addition, many "green" graduates of flight schools came to the regiment, who had completely inadequate training.

The regiment was already preparing to leave for the front when the first Cobras appeared in the 25th ZAP. At this time, it was decided to transfer the 45th IAP to a three-squadron staff (31 pilots), two squadrons were to be armed with R-39 fighters, the third - R-40. The organizational process took quite a long time: only at the beginning of March 1943, the 45th and AD as part of the 216th mixed air division was ready for combat operations. The 1st squadron was armed with 10 P-39D fighters, the 3rd squadron was armed with 11 P-39K aircraft, the 2nd squadron received 10 P-40E.

On March 22, eight Aircobras from the 45th IAP fought a difficult battle with a group of 30 Bf.109s. Dzusov's pilots shot down 13 Messerschmitts, but three Cobras did not return to the airfield either.

Two pilots, Sergeant N. Kudryashov and Senior Lieutenant Ivan Shmatko, died while ramming on burning Aircobras. Shmatko in the summer of 1942 shot down eight German planes on Yaks. March 23 air gunner Ju-87 wounded the famous ace Boris Glinka. The wound, however, turned out to be not dangerous - Glinka flew on a combat mission again on the same day.

Boris Borisovich Glinka and his brother Dmitry Borisovich Glinka fought in the 45th IAP, later transformed into the 100th GIAP. The brothers became the leading aces of the Red Army Air Force. The elder brother, Boris, graduated from an aviation school in 1940. As a young lieutenant, he joined the 45th IAP even before the start of the war. Despite numerous sorties, Boris could not open his personal combat account for a long time. The situation changed after Boris Glinka "saddled" the American Cobra. On May 24, 1943, the pilot was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for ten victories in air battles won in March-April. In total, the ace shot down 30 enemy aircraft. In the summer of 1944, Boris Glinka was appointed commander of the legendary 16th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment.

Dmitry was three years younger than Boris, but he graduated from the aviation school before his brother. Senior Lieutenant Dmitry Glinka served in the 45th IAP as deputy regiment commander for air-rifle training. In the spring of 1942, Dmitry on the Yak-1 won six victories in air battles, but he himself was shot down, the pilot spent two months in hospitals, healing his wound.

By mid-April 1943, Dmitry Glinka completed 146 sorties and shot down 15 enemy aircraft. April 15 was a real black day for the 45th IAP - four Cobras did not return from combat missions. Including the plane of Dmitry Glinka. Dmitry shot down two Ju-88 bombers, but he himself was wounded. Asu had to jump and then rest for a week in the hospital until his hand healed. A consolation for Dmitry Glinka was the assignment to him on that very day of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. A few hours after Glinka, the planes of Senior Lieutenant Petrov and Sergeant Bezbabnov were shot down, one of them became the seventh victim of Erich Hartman.

On April 30, Dmitry shot down three Ju-87 dive bombers in one sortie. On May 4, during the attack on the German airfield in Sarabuz, he destroyed a Bf.109 on the ground, and then intercepted and shot down a Ju-52 / 3m transport directly above the airfield. At the beginning of summer, the ace was awarded the military rank of captain. On August 24, Captain Dmitry Glinka became twice a Hero of the Soviet Union, by this time he had made 186 sorties and won 29 victories in air battles.

In September, Glinka received another wound, this time extremely ridiculous. He decided to try out a German hand grenade. The grenade exploded almost in his hand. The result is crippled legs. Fortunately, the wounds were not the most severe, and a few days later the ace was already flying the Cobra. Until December, Glinka chalked up eight more victories. In early December, the 9th GIAD was withdrawn from the front to rest. Dmitry returned to the front in May 1944 and took part in the Yassy-Kishenev operation. During the first week of the battle, he shot down six enemy aircraft, including three Ju-87s in one sortie. And again Dmitry miraculously escaped death.

Glinka flew as a passenger on a transport Li-2. The plane crashed into a mountain in poor visibility. The seriously wounded pilot spent two days at the crash site before being discovered. This time Dmitry Glinka was out of order for two months. Upon his return to the regiment, he received the rank of Major. The freshly minted major took part in the Lvov-Sandomierz offensive operation of the Red Army. His modest contribution to the common cause - nine downed Luftwaffe aircraft. During the Berlin operation, Glinka shot down three aircraft during the day. His last victim was an Fw-190 shot down on April 18, 1945. Dmitry Glinka made 300 sorties and shot down 50 enemy aircraft in 90 air battles.

In the battles over the Kuban, Ivan Babak, a former school teacher of chemistry and mathematics, distinguished himself. Babak was drafted to the Red Aria in 1940, at the time of the outbreak of the war he had not yet graduated from the aviation school. In April 1942, Ivan Babak was assigned to the 45th IAP armed with Yak-1 fighters. At first, the former teacher did not make much of an impression on the regiment commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dzusov, who wanted to send Babak back to the rear. As Dmitry Calaras stood up for the young pilot, promising to make a real air fighter out of the guy. Babak's full rehabilitation as a fighter pilot came after Dmitry Glinka took him as his wingman.

Ivan Babak won his first victory in air combat over Mozdok in September 1942. After the return of the 45th IAP in March 1943 from the rear to the front, Babak continued to increase his combat score, shooting down Bf.109 and Ju-87 . In April 1943, he already had 14 enemy aircraft shot down over the Kuban. Babak firmly entered the cohort of aces flying the Air Cobras, standing on a par with such pilots as Pokryshkin, Fadeev and Dmitry Glinka. Glinka Babak considered his teacher. At the peak of his success, Babak was mowed down by malaria - he lay in hospitals until September 1943.

Upon returning to the 100th GIAP, Babak received a brand new P-39N fighter, on which he shot down a Bf. 109. November 1, 1943 he was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. A second attack of malaria again brought the ace to the hospital bed. Babak returned to the regiment on the eve of the Yassy-Kishinev operation.

The ace brilliantly demonstrated his skills on July 16, 1944, shooting down four Fw-190s in one sortie. In March 1945, Ivan Babak became the commander of the 16th GIAP, he transferred his Airacobra to another ace - Grigory Dolnikov.

Another veteran of the 45th IAP was Nikolai Lavitsky, who began serving in the regiment in 1941. Lavitsky won his first victory (Bf.109) on the I-153 biplane. By the time the 45th IAP was re-equipped with R-39 fighters, the pilot made 186 sorties, shot down 11 enemy aircraft personally and one in the group. In the summer of 1943, Lavitsky won four victories in the Aerocobra and on August 24 became a Hero of the Soviet Union. A little later, he was given the military rank of captain and appointed commander of the 3rd squadron.

Lavitsky achieved success and recognition as a fighter pilot, but his personal life did not work out. While the ace fought at the front, his wife left him in the rear. Lavitsky was very worried, he seemed to be looking for death in battle, often putting at unjustified risk not only his life, but also the lives of his comrades. Courage gave way to recklessness. The division commander, Dzusov, decided, under a plausible pretext, to remove Lavitsky from combat sorties, transferring him to the post of deputy division commander for air-rifle training. Death nevertheless found an ace - Lavitsky crashed in a training flight on March 10, 1944. In total, he made more than 250 sorties, shot down 24 enemy aircraft personally and two in a group.

In the spring of 1943, the practice of replenishing front-line regiments of the Red Army Air Force changed. Now the regiments were no longer withdrawn from the front to the rear - replenishment came from ZAPs directly to the front. Two such newcomers appeared in the 100th GIAP - Petr Guchek and Grigory Dolnikov. Guchek arrived in the regiment in August 1943, he soon became Ivan Babak's wingman. Guchek remained at the front until his death from anti-aircraft fire on April 18, 1945. He made 209 sorties, shot down 18 aircraft personally and 3 in the group.

Grigory Dolnikov became Dmitry Glinka's follower. In the first battle, Dolnikov shot down two Ju-87 dive bombers, but was shot down himself. The young pilot was taken prisoner after a parachute jump. On December 2, he fled, with the help of partisans, he crossed the front line, but only to get from one camp to another - into the clutches of SMERSH. Dolnikov shone at best with a penal battalion, but the future ace was extremely lucky. Numerous reports had an effect - Dolnikov May 1944. returned to the 100th GIAP. Until the end of the war, he completed 160 sorties, shot down 15 enemy aircraft personally and one in a group.

The third regiment in the division was the 16th GIAP - the most famous aviation unit in the world, armed with Airacobra aircraft and perhaps the most famous aviation regiment of the Soviet Air Force. From the point of view of fame, only the 176th Guards Proskurov Order of Kutuzov and Alexander Nevsky Fighter Aviation Regiment, the regiment of Ivan Kozhedub, can compete with the 16th Guards Regiment. In terms of the number of victories, the 16th GIAP was second in the Red Army Air Force (697 officially confirmed victories), but in terms of the number of Heroes of the Soviet Union, it was the first. 15 Heroes served in the regiment, two of them were awarded the high rank twice, one three times. It is worth recalling that only Pokryshkin, Kozhedub and Zhukov wore three Gold Stars (Zhukov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for the fourth time in 1956). Marshal of the Soviet Union, dear Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, was also a multiple holder of the Golden Star, but this case is closer to medicine than to military history.

The war found the 55th Fighter Aviation Regiment at an airfield located near the border with Romania in the Moldavian city of Balti. The regiment was commanded by Major V.P. Ivanov. The personnel were just being retrained from the I-153 and I-16 fighters to the latest MiG-3s. One of the ordinary pilots of the regiment was the flight commander senior lieutenant Alexander Pokryshkin. The first sortie of Pokryshkin is associated with embarrassment - the future Hero three times sent the Su-2 short-range bomber to the ground in an accurate burst. Fortunately, the crew of the plane escaped, the plane was piloted not by anyone, but by the future Air Marshal Ivan Pstygo. Due to unjustified secrecy, the pilots were not introduced to the silhouettes of the latest Soviet aircraft. Pokryshkin simply did not suspect the existence of the Su-2. I saw an unfamiliar plane and attacked. There is an aviation anecdote on how to distinguish a fighter pilot from a bomber pilot from the back. You just need to pat the pilot on the shoulder. The bomber will turn sedately and ask: "What?" The fighter will turn quickly, punch him in the face, and then ask: “What?” Pokryshkin was a real fighter. Pokryshkin won his first official victory the day after the Su-2 attack. The pilots of the 55th IAP often flew reconnaissance. In one of these flights, Pokryshkin's MiG was shot down by anti-aircraft guns. The pilot landed the plane on the territory occupied by the enemy, but managed to avoid capture.

On March 7, 1942, the 55th IAP was reorganized into the 16th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment. Until the end of 1942, Pokryshkin completed 316 sorties and shot down about two dozen German aircraft, the exact number of victories won by the ace during this period will never be established. It can only be stated with certainty that the official data (rare case) is clearly underestimated. Winter 1942-1943 - not the best part of the life of the famous pilot. The “dark” side of life was in no way connected with the front, on the contrary, the regiment at that time was in the rear, retraining for Cobras. Pokryshkin devoted a lot of time to analyzing the successes and failures of both his own and his fighting friends. He laid the foundations for future victories. The ingenious tactical constructions acquired a precise formulation of a fighter's victory in air combat: "Altitude - speed - maneuver - fire."

Like many experienced Soviet pilots, Pokryshkin came to the conclusion that the Red Army Air Force was inferior to the enemy both in tactical terms and in terms of technology. Criticism by the pilot of domestic aircraft led him to an open conflict with the navigator of the regiment.

In the spring of 1942, the 16th GIAP handed over the last surviving I-153 and I-16 fighters, receiving new Yak-1s in return. At the same time, the MiG-3 remained in the regiment. On the Yak, Pokryshkin thoroughly replenished his combat account. According to official data, at the end of 1942, the ace shot down 12 enemy aircraft, including eight Bf.109s.

In early January 1943, the personnel of the 16th GIAP arrived at the 25th ZAP for retraining on R-39 fighters and replenishment in people. The regiment was transferred to a three-squadron staff. The 16th GIAP received 14 P-39L-1s, seven P-39K-1s and 11 P-39D-2s. The regiment returned to the front in Krasnodar on April 8, where it became part of the 216th mixed air division. The pilots of the 16th Regiment completed their first sorties on the Air Cobras on April 9th.

In April, the pilots of the 16th GIAP made 289 sorties on R-39 fighters and 13 sorties on R-40E, shot down 79 German aircraft - 14 Bf.l09E, 12 Bf.l09F, 45 Bf.l09G, 2 Fw-190.4 Ju-88A, 1 Do-217 and 1 Ju-87D. The type of downed aircraft was accurately determined from the debris at the crash sites.

On the other hand, the 16th GIAP lost 19 Aerocobras in combat and two P-39s in flight accidents. 11 pilots were killed. To make up for losses, the regiment received 19 P-39s and four P-40Es. By June 1, the number of aircraft again dropped to 19 Airacobras. In total, the regiment lost 36 fighters in fierce air battles.

In April, Alexander Pokryshkin shot down ten Bf. 109, his friend and eternal rival Grigory Rechkalov - seven Bf.109 and one Ju-88A, they were outdone by Vadim Fadeev, who shot down 12 enemy aircraft in a month.

In the first sortie on the Cobra, Pokryshkin, together with Rechkalov, failed Bf. 109. Three days later, Pokryshkin made a double, and Rechkalov reported on seven shot down, but only two victories were counted as “reliable”. Grigory Rechkalov scored one victory each on April 15, 16 and 20, on April 29 the ace shot down four Bf.109s in one sortie. On April 24, Pokryshkin was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, and soon changed his Cobra P-39D-2 with tail number "13" to the new P-39N fighter. On board the aircraft, at the request of the pilot, the technicians wrote the "round" number "100". In July, the ace became a major, in fact, from the beginning of 1943, Pokryshkin commanded the 16th regiment.

The career of a remarkable pilot and commander was almost interrupted by his old ill-wisher - the former navigator of the regiment Zaev, who became the "official" commander. Relations between the two officers deteriorated in mid-1942, and in 1943 it was already an open enmity. Despite the merits and respect for Pokryshkin subordinates, in mid-1943, Zaev referred the case against Pokryshkin to a military tribunal. The Commissar of the Pogrebnoy Regiment saved the Hero from the very big troubles of the future three times. At the request of Pogrebny, a submission was made to award Pokryshkin with a second Golden Star. Twice Pokryshkin became a Hero on August 24, 1943, on his account at that time there were 455 sorties and 30 enemy aircraft personally shot down.

Without attaching great importance to the fraud around his name, Pokryshkin in the spring and summer of 1943 continued to study and analyze the tactics of his own and enemy fighter aircraft. The ace finally abandoned flights in triplets, moving on to pairs. The battle formation was echeloned in range and height. A shock link flew in front below, a covering one above and behind. The links were also echeloned in height and range. This is how the famous “Kuban whatnot” appeared. As a rule, the covering link appeared on the scene suddenly and at the most inopportune moment for the enemy. Pokryshkin preferred the vertical to the battles on the turns - something close to the Luftwaffe fighter tactics "hit and run", a swift dive attack. Due to the acceleration on a dive, when exiting the attack, the pilot performed the slide more energetically - it became more difficult to “catch” him at the exit from the attack to air gunners of bombers or enemy fighters.

The tactics developed by Pokryshkin were officially approved by the command of the Red Army Air Force. Pokryshkin's tactics turned out to be so successful that even in the 60s, North Vietnamese pilots successfully used it in air battles with American pilots. Pokryshkin began to practice free hunting flights in the 16th GIAP, while the Red Army fighters, with rare exceptions, performed only two types of combat missions: covering ground forces in a specific place and escorting bombers. Flights for free hunting made it possible for pilots to take the initiative, to impose on the enemy the place and time of air combat, and also to take full advantage of new tactics. By the end of 1943, the tactics of free hunting began to be widely practiced in the units of the 8th Air Army, and at the end of the war, elite fighter regiments appeared, for which free hunting became the main way to participate in hostilities.

Pokryshkin's tactics, however, had a drawback - with high-speed attacks on verticals over enemy-controlled territory, it was impossible to obtain confirmation of those shot down according to the requirements of the Red Army Air Force. So, Pokryshkin shot down at least 13 aircraft in free hunting flights, none of which was officially credited to him.

After the liberation of the Kuban, the division in which Pokryshkin served took part in the battles for southern Ukraine. In September, the pilots of the division distinguished themselves in the battle for Donbass and during the liberation of Mariupol. At the end of 1943, the 16th GIAP, like the other two regiments of the 9th GIAD, was withdrawn from the front to the rear for rest and replenishment.

The eternal rival of the pilot named "Sasha Pokryshkin" was the pilot named "Grisha Rechkalov". Rechkalov went down in history as the most successful Air Cobra fighter pilot and the third most successful ace of the Allies. At one time, doctors categorically forbade Gregory to fly. “Not fit for flight work,” read the verdict of the medical commission. Rechkalov suffered from color blindness, he could not distinguish colors well. As a pilot he was saved by the war. In wartime, the requirements for vision among military doctors decreased. In June 1941, Rechkalov was again able to take a seat in the cockpit of a fighter. He fought the enemy in I-16 and I-153 fighters on the southern flank of the Soviet-German front. Rechkalov scored two victories in air battles, but then he was shot down himself. During a forced landing, the pilot was seriously injured and was out of action for several months. The treatment ended with a flight ban.

The lack of experienced pilots greatly facilitated Rechkalov's struggle with medicine. The pilot returned to the front in the summer of 1942, having been assigned to the 16th GIAP. Flying a Yak-1 fighter, Rechkalov shot down several German planes, but his real air war began in April 1943 after the regiment was re-equipped with Air Cobras. On April 9, in the first sortie on an American fighter, Rechkalov, together with Pokryshkin, shot down a Bf.109. Until the end of April, Grigory shot down eight enemy aircraft and received the military rank of senior lieutenant.

May 24, 1943 Grigory Rechkalov was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, he made 194 sorties, shot down 12 enemy aircraft personally and two in the group. In June, he was appointed commander of the 1st squadron of the 16th GIAP. In the autumn of 1943, in long-range interceptions over the Black Sea, Rechkalov shot down two Ju-52 / 3m transport aircraft and a Romanian Savoy Z.501 seaplane.

In the shadow of the glory of Rechkalov and Pokryshkin, the name of Vadim Fadeev was lost. Meanwhile, in the spring of 1943, he was known at the front no less than his comrades-in-arms. For unshaven facial hair, Vadim received the nickname "Beard". The pilot began the war as a senior sergeant, he fought with the enemy on the I-16 in the southern sector of the front. Fame brought the pilot desperate attack of the advancing German and Romanian troops. Fadeev attacked the enemy from much lower heights than his colleagues.

In one of these attacks in November 1941 near Rostov-on-Don, Fadeev's plane was hit by a shell fired by a German anti-aircraft gun. The engine jammed, in addition, the ammunition for the machine guns detonated. Vadim landed the damaged car in a no man's lane. Ignoring the whistling bullets around him, Vadim jumped out of the cockpit and ran to the nearest Soviet infantry trenches. The infantry was just preparing to attack. The pilot pulled out a pistol and joined the fighters.

In December 1941, Fadeev was transferred to the 630th IAP, which was armed with the Kittyhawks. In January 1942, Vadim won his first victory in an air battle, in just 1942 he shot down five enemy aircraft. At the end of the year, Fadeev ended up in the 16th GIAP.

Vadim Fadeev very quickly won universal love for his flying skills, courage and excellent sociable character. At the end of April 1943, Fadeev became a captain, commander of the 3rd squadron of the 16th GIAP. By this time, he had completed 394 sorties, conducted 43 air battles, shot down 17 aircraft personally and three in a group.

Vadim Fadeev was killed in an air battle between six Cobras and eight Bf. 109 May 5, 1943 Fadeev's plane was attacked by four enemy fighters at once. The Messerschmitts took the "Cobra" in the "box". The lines literally slashed Fadeev's fighter. However, the wounded pilot, who lost a lot of blood, was able to land the heavily damaged Cobra in the steppe. Vadim Fadeev died right in the cockpit, before Soviet soldiers ran up to the plane. On May 24, the ace was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

Just a few weeks before Vadim Fadeev, Alexander Klubov appeared in the 16th GIAP, who left the bearded ace far behind in his performance. Klubov graduated from the aviation school of pilots back in 1940, but he got to the front only in August 1942, armed with obsolete I-153 biplanes in the regiment. On November 2, 1942, near Mozdok, Klubov's aircraft was shot down; by this time, the pilot had destroyed four enemy aircraft in air battles and four on the ground with assault strikes. Klubov jumped out with a parachute, but received severe burns. Doctors in hospitals were able to put the pilot on his feet, but burn marks on Klubov's face remained.

Having been discharged from the hospital, Captain Klubov was appointed deputy squadron commander in the 16th GIAP. The new pilot very quickly made a strong impression on both his subordinates and the command. On August 15, 1943, Klubov, at the head of the six Cobras, intercepted two Fw-189 reconnaissance aircraft (Rama was considered the most difficult prey by Soviet fighter pilots), which were accompanied by four Bf.109 fighters. Klubov and his team managed to shoot down both scouts without loss on their part. By the beginning of September, Alexander Klubov made 310 sorties, personally shot down 14 enemy aircraft and 19 in the group. On April 13, 1944, the ace was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

In the spring of 1944, Klubov became commander of the 3rd squadron, at the end of the year - deputy commander of the 16th GIAP for air-gunnery training. He spent one of his most successful battles on May 29, 1944 at the head of the Air Cobra eight against a group of Ju-88 bombers. In the first attack, Soviet pilots shot down two Junkers. The Cobras then engaged the escort's Messerschmitts. Klubov was shot down by one Bf.109. The next day, the pilots of the 3rd squadron attacked nine Ju-87 dive bombers, marching under the cover of ten Bf. 109. Klubov shot down the leader of the bombers, disrupting the targeted bombing of a group of “lappeters”. Klubov's Cobra was damaged by Messerschmitt fire, so the commander had to return to his airfield ahead of schedule. During the Iasi-Kishenev operation, Klubov shot down 13 enemy aircraft in a week, including two Ju-87s on the same day on July 16.

Klubov crashed in a plane crash on a La-7 fighter on November 1, 1944. During his combat career, Ace completed 457 sorties, shot down 31 aircraft personally and 19 in a group. On June 27, 1945 Alexander Klubov was posthumously awarded the second Gold Star.

Another Hero of the Soviet Union in the 16th GIAP was Nikolai Iskrin, who served in the 131st IAP from June 1941. In February 1942 he was transferred to the 55th IAP. Iskrin was promoted to the rank of senior lieutenant at the end of May 1943, at the same time he became deputy commander of the 2nd squadron. On August 24, Nikolai Iskrin was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, by which time he had completed 218 sorties, conducted 58 air battles and shot down 10 enemy aircraft personally and one in a group.

A few days after the issuance of the Cobra Decree, Iskra was shot down. Nicholas jumped out of the cab. The stabilizer of the burning fighter broke the legs of the ace. The injuries to the legs were so serious that the surgeons began to prepare an amputation. Despite the protests of doctors, the pilot returned to his native 16th GIAP on prostheses. Iskrin flew 79 more sorties and personally shot down six enemy planes.

Not all pilots from the replenishment that came to the 16th IAP turned out to be fighter pilots. For example, Pavel Eremin performed many sorties on SB and B-25 Mitchell bombers. Under the skillful guidance of Pokryshkin, Eremin mastered the Cobra to perfection and became a real ace: he ended the war in Berlin, shooting down 22 German aircraft.

Pokryshkin paid special attention to the pilot Georgy Golubev. At the beginning of the war, Golubev served as an instructor at an aviation school, but for a long time he did not manage to get to the front: there were no planes, then he was seized by an attack of malaria. Only in the middle of 1942 did Golubev get into a combat regiment, which was armed with I-153 aircraft. By this time, the aircraft was already hopelessly outdated, so it is not surprising that Golubev did not win victories in air battles. Then the pilot was transferred to the 84th IAP (later the 101st GIAP). Here the pilot mastered the Aerocobra, but in May 1943 he was once again transferred - this time to the 16th GIAP.

The start of service in a new regiment did not promise anything good for a superstitious person. The pilot was introduced to the mechanic of his aircraft:

- Golubev? the mechanic asked.

- Golubev, Georgy, - the pilot answered.

- Previously, my commander was also Golubev, only a lieutenant. He was shot down. He was an experienced pilot, but did not return ...

Fortunately for Golubev, Pokryshkin, unlike many other commanders, was never in a hurry to throw newcomers into battle. The ace forced the young to study theory, conduct air battles with experienced aces, and often flew with beginners himself. Only after making sure that the replenishment was ready, he set combat missions. And anyway, young pilots made their first sorties only under the supervision of aces. Pokryshkin personally selected Golubev and another newcomer for the flight to escort the Il-2 attack aircraft. Ace taught an object lesson: the attack aircraft returned home without loss, and the Cobra group shot down two Messerschmitts. A successful first sortie meant a lot in the later career of a fighter pilot.

The first was followed by many other sorties. In one of the sorties, Golubev shot down an Hs-129 attack aircraft in front of Pokryshkin. After the flight, the commander approached the pilot: You are a Siberian and I am a Siberian, let's fly in pairs. Golubev was simply stunned by such a proposal from the best fighter pilot of the Red Army Air Force. The pilot, of course, was pleased with the high appreciation of his skills, but at the same time he understood what responsibility would fall on his shoulders if he agreed. Pokryshkin dispelled all doubts.

Soon Pokryshkin and Golubev intercepted Rama. Pokryshkin attacked. "Rama" maneuvered, but the ace chose a position so that it would be easier for the wingman to fire at the enemy reconnaissance. Golubev did not miss. In the headset of the slave, the voice of the commander was heard: “Fine, Zhora. You read my mind!" Many times, Pokryshkin deliberately brought his wingman to a strike position, allowing Golubev to increase his combat score. In turn, Golubev saved the commander's life more than once.

In August 1943, in one of the battles, Golubev had no choice but to substitute his "Cobra" under the line of an enemy fighter. The plane caught fire, Golubev was about to jump, when the Cobra fell into a flat tailspin. The pilot knew very well that very few people managed to leave the spinning American fighter alive. George first brought the burning plane into a normal flight and only then used a parachute. The parachute opened at the very ground, Golubev landed at the location of the Soviet troops. The commander covered the leader to the very ground - "Cobra" with tail number "100" described wide circles around the parachute, preventing the Messerschmitts from approaching it.

After Pokryshkin was appointed commander of the 9th IAD, Golubev became the leader of the pair, but when Pokryshkin flew on combat missions, he always took Georgy Golubev with him as a follower. Golubev shot down 12 enemy planes, the last, Do-217, on May 9, 1945 over Prague.



Victory in the Air War

Aerocobra fighters could be found on all sectors of the Soviet-German front, and not just in the North or South. Pilots of the 153rd and 185th Fighter Aviation Regiments were among the first to retrain for R-39 fighters in the 22nd ZAP. On June 29, 1942, the 153rd IAP under the command of Major Sergei Mironov, consisting of two squadrons (20 Airacobra aircraft), arrived at the Voronezh airfield. The regiment's pilots completed their first sortie on the same day. Soon the regiment was transferred to Lipetsk.

Major Mironov received a baptism of fire during the war with Finland, in the winter of 1939-1940. During the Finnish war, he stormed ground targets 37 times on the "Seagull" and shot down one enemy aircraft, was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. For 59 days, pilots of the 153rd IAP under Major Mironov on the Voronezh Front completed 1070 sorties and shot down 61 enemy aircraft (39 Bf.109, I Bf.110, I Me-210, 1 S-200, 15 Ju-88, I Do -217, I He-Ill, 1 Fw-189, 1 Hs-126). The regiment's losses amounted to eight aircraft and three pilots in combat, two aircraft crashed and one pilot died as a result of flight accidents. In August, eight aircraft under the command of Major Rodionov operated on the Western Front separately from the regiment. The pilots of this group completed 167 sorties, shooting down four Bf.109s and nine Ju-88s at the cost of losing two fighters and two pilots (both wounded), one aircraft was destroyed (the pilot died) as a result of a flight accident.

On October 1, the regiment was withdrawn from the front to the rear, to the Ivanovo airfield, where the 22nd ZAP was based. The regiment made up for losses and was transferred to a three-squadron staff. Major Mironov received a lieutenant colonel, he was transferred for further service to the Air Force headquarters. Major Rodionov became the new commander of the 153rd IAP. At the end of the war, Colonel Mironov commanded the 193rd IAD. In total, he made more than 400 sorties, shooting down 17 aircraft during the Great Patriotic War and one in Finnish.

At the end of 1942, the situation in the northwestern sector of the front deteriorated sharply. The 153rd regiment was thrown into battle, although it had not yet completed its reorganization. Nevertheless, in just nine days of November, the regiment's pilots flew 94 sorties, shooting down four Bf.109 fighters and two Ju-87 dive bombers. The regiment lost two P-39 fighters.

On November 21, 1942, the 153rd IAP was transformed into the 28th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment. In the next nine months, the pilots confirmed by their deeds that the regiment received the Guards rank for a reason. From December 1, 1942 to August 1, 1943, the pilots made 1176 sorties on Airacobra I aircraft, shooting down 63 enemy aircraft (23 Bf.109, 23 Fw-190, 6 Ju-88, 7 Ju-189.4 Hs-126), four balloons, seven enemy planes were shot down. The regiment lost 14 aircraft in air battles, four on the ground from enemy air raids and four in air raids. Ten pilots were killed. In August, the 28th GIAP was re-equipped with P-39N / Q fighters.

An amazing fact: the pilots of the 28th GIAP shot down 140 enemy aircraft on the Air Cobras, losing only 24 P-39s (13 pilots died), while nothing is known about the aces of the regiment.

The 185th Fighter Aviation Regiment of Lieutenant Colonel Vasin also received Airacobras among the first units of the Red Army Air Force. Prior to rearmament in the 22nd ZAP, the regiment operated on the Leningrad and Volkhov fronts. The regiment left for the front just a day later than the 153rd IAP. Almost nothing is known about the combat operations of the regiment on the cobra before disbanding in August 1942. The pilot of the regiment was subsequently driven by the Aerocobras from Alaska to the European part of the Soviet Union by the Trans-Siberian route. Probably, the regiment suffered very heavy losses at the front, without distinguishing itself in battles.

In March 1943, in the 25th ZAP, the 494th IAP received Cobras (P-39D), which had previously taken part in the battles on the Southern Front. In August, the regiment was withdrawn from the front and transferred to the reserve of the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command. The 494th IAP did not remain in reserve for long - it was again sent to the front, to the 303rd Fighter Aviation Division. As part of the division, the regiment operated side by side with the famous French Normandy regiment.

Pilots, for unknown reasons, rarely managed to take part in the battles - in two months, the pilots completed only 62 sorties. On average, one pilot made one sortie per month! However, three victories in air battles were brought to the combat score of the regiment, and one Airacobra was shot down. In December 1943, the personnel of the regiment was returned to the 25th ZAP, the 494th IAP was disbanded.

The 180th IAP was the third to receive "Aircobras", the retraining of pilots was carried out on the basis of the 22nd ZAP. In the summer of 1942, the regiment received the Hurricanes, but they only fought for five weeks. Retraining for Cobras began on August 3, and ended on March 13, 1943. The regiment was left in reserve.

For success in the battles of the first half of the war, the 180th IAP in the process of retraining, on November 21, 1942, was transformed into the 30th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment. The regiment remained in reserve for a very short time - it appeared at the front already in March 1943. The regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Khasan Ibarullin, who shot down several enemy aircraft flying I-153 and I-16. In July 1942, Ibarullin was shot down and wounded. Hasan Ibarullin commanded the 30th Guards Regiment until the very Victory. He won his last victories on April 18, 1945. In total, he accounted for 15 shot down in 456 sorties.

Pilots Mikhail Petrovich Renz and Alexander Petrovich Filatov became the stars of the regiment. Renz graduated from the Odessa Aviation School in 1939, then served as an instructor in the Far East until October 1942, before being appointed as a flight commander in the 30th GIAP. Renz had no combat experience, but his huge flight time gave him a significant advantage over other newcomers.

In March 1943, the 30th GIAP became part of the 1st Guards Fighter Aviation Division of the 16th Air Army. The division was stationed in the Kursk region. Renz won the first victory in air combat on May 22, when, at the head of the four "Aerocobras", he grappled with a large group of "lappeters" flying under the cover of Fw-190 fighters. In the first attack, the flight commander shot down an enemy fighter, while the leader of the second pair filled up the Ju-87. In the ensuing battle, the Cobra pilots sent three more Stukas to the ground. Five days later, Renz was attacked by three Fw-190s, the pilot had to leave the Cobra with a parachute. In 1943, he no longer won victories in air battles; in early 1944, he chalked up three personally shot down German aircraft.

At the end of 1943, the 30th GIAP was taken to the rear for rest and replenishment. After returning to the front, the regiment became part of the 273rd IAD. The fact that the guards regiment was introduced into the regular, non-guards, air division may mean that the guards demonstrated insufficient effectiveness in battles. However, there were no complaints against Mikhail Renz personally. Renz continued to shoot down enemy aircraft, although rarely enough, he was appointed commander of the 3rd squadron.

Success came to Renz in the summer of 1944, when the regiment took part in Operation Bagration. So, on August 12, the Cobra group led by him, covering the ground troops, shot down six of the 30 Ju-87 dive bombers. Two of them were shot down by Renz himself. At the end of 1944, Renz's squadron enjoyed a reputation as the best of the best, not only in the regiment, but in the entire division. The pilots of the squadron completed 1183 sorties, shooting down 58 enemy aircraft. Renz became a major.

During the first days of the Berlin operation, the pilots of the Renz squadron completed 112 sorties and won 15 victories in air battles. At the end of April, Major Renz's track record included 246 sorties, 56 air battles, 18 personal victories (2 Bf. 109.12 Fw-190.1 Ju-88, 3 Ju-87) and five group victories. The ace won nine of them in April 1945, including: he shot down three Fw-190s on the same day on April 17, two victories on April 18 and two on the 20th. In early May, Renz had several more dogfights. He completed the war by completing 261 sorties, in 63 air battles he shot down 20 aircraft personally and 5 in the group. May 15, Mikhail Petrovich Renz was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

After the war, Mikhail Renz continued to serve in the Air Force. For two years he served as flight inspector of the 6th Fighter Air Corps, which fought in Korea. Renz flew several sorties on a MiG-15 jet fighter, but he did not have a chance to shoot down an American plane.

Another leading pilot of the 30th GIAP was Alexander Petrovich Filatov. In March 1943, Sergeant Filatov arrived in the 3rd squadron, Renz served in the same squadron. Filatov won his first victory in a battle with a group of Fw-190s on May 9, 1943; on June 2, he shot down a Bf.HO over Kursk. Quiet by nature, a lover of literature, especially poetry, became a real air fighter. As a fighter pilot, Filatov even surpassed his commander and teacher Renz.

In three months, Alexander Filatov shot down eight planes personally and four in the group. He shot down three German aircraft in one sortie on July 5, on the first day of the German offensive near Kursk. True, in the same battle he himself was shot down, but when jumping with a parachute, Filatov managed to avoid contact with the Cobra stabilizer. The wind blew the parachute right on the positions of the Soviet infantry. On the morning of July 6, Filatov returned to his regiment. Six days later, the young pilot was again shot down by an Fw-190, but now Filatov landed behind German lines and was taken prisoner. On August 15, together with the captured tankers, he managed to escape during the attack of the column by Soviet aircraft. For a month, the tankers and the pilot made their way to their own.

Having passed the SMERSH sieve in the shortest possible time (lucky again!) Filatov appeared before the commander of the 30th GIAP, Colonel Ibarullin.

In the summer of 1944, Filatov was promoted to the rank of senior lieutenant, he became deputy commander of the 3rd squadron, the commander was Mikhail Renz. The last months of 1943 and the beginning of 1945 became a period of calm for the 30th GIAP. In March 1945, Filatov was appointed commander of the 2nd squadron. The appointment coincided with the beginning of the Berlin operation of the Red Army. In the last weeks of the war, Alexander Filatov shot down eight enemy aircraft, including two victories on April 19.

On the evening of the next day, Filatov's fighter was shot down. The pilot landed the damaged car at the location of the German troops. On landing, the pilot was wounded in the legs by machine-gun fire. Placed in a hospital, Filatov fled from there at the first opportunity. The pilot was able to cross the front line and return to the regiment. The regiment commander did everything possible to protect the ace from the harassment of counterintelligence officers. Filatov received the rank of captain, but the Golden Star did not shine under any circumstances for the twice-captured ace. In 1946, Filatov was demobilized from the army. He completed 175 sorties, conducted 35 air battles, shot down 21 enemy aircraft personally and four in the group.

In 1943, a large number of the latest "Cobra" modifications "N" and "Q" went along the AlSib highway (Alaska - Siberia). A significant number of fighter aviation regiments received new equipment. The 27th IAP and the 9th GIAP achieved the highest results. The 27th IAP received Cobras in May, and the 9th GIAP in August 1943. The 9th GIAP became known as the "regiment of aces". In terms of the number of victories won, he became the third in the Red Army Air Force (558 shot down).

The regiment started the war as the 69th IAP. The pilots of the regiment, flying the I-16, distinguished themselves in battles in the defense of Odessa and over southern Ukraine. The regiment was awarded the Guards rank on March 7, 1942, on the same day as the 16th GIAP. In 1942, the regiment was armed with Yak-1 and LaGG-3 fighters. In October 1942, an elite unit was created on the basis of the 9th GIAP. The best fighter pilots of the 8th Air Army were selected for the regiment. The pilots were transferred to the regiment on probation. If the pilot could not shoot down the enemy aircraft in the first sorties, or for some reason did not suit the regiment commander, then he was sent back to his former unit.

In August 1943, the regiment was re-equipped with P-39L fighters, the regiment fought on Cobras for only ten months - in July 1944, the 9th GIAP was among the first to receive the best Soviet fighters of the Second World War La-7, becoming one of the very few regiments that changed the Cobras to another type of fighter during the war.

Perhaps the best pilot in the regiment was the Crimean Tatar Amet-Khan Sultan. By the end of the war, he became twice a Hero, shot down 30 enemy aircraft personally and 19 in a group. When Amet-Khan was transferred from the 4th IAP to the 9th GIAP, his comrade said: "A regiment without Amet is like a song without music." Amet-Khan started the war on the I-153, then flew in the 4th IAP on the Hurricane. For almost a year, the Tatar could not win. Only on May 31, 1942, he shot down a Ju-88 bomber with a ramming blow.

He decided on such a last resort after a conversation with the regimental commissar, who promised the pilot a silver cigarette case if Amet shot down the plane before the end of the month. The pilot really wanted a cigarette case! Ramming Junkers jumped out with a parachute. The Soviet pilot landed near the outskirts of the village along with the crew of the downed bomber. The peasants did not begin to understand who is Russian, who is Tatar, and who is German - they corrected everyone's faces and handed them over to the military. Those figured out quickly who is the enemy and who is the hero. In less than a month, Amet-Khan Sultan shot down six more planes, no longer resorting to ramming.

In October 1942, Amet was among the best selected for transfer to the 9th GIAP, where he became commander of the 3rd squadron.

By the time of the re-equipment with Airacobras in August 1943, Amet-Khan Sultan shot down 19 aircraft personally and 11 in a group, on August 24 he was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union for the first time. The pilot quickly mastered the Cobra - on August 20, he shot down two bombers over Kalinovka. The next day, his group intercepted a group of Ju-88s. Amet shot down one bomber. The Soviet pilots successfully dispersed the Junkers group, but then 15 Hell 1 bombers approached the battlefield, the commander managed to get here too - he shot down one Heinkel.

In March 1944, Amet-Khan's squadron operated from a jump airfield located in the rear of the German troops. The pilots were engaged in the interception of Luftwaffe transport aircraft over the Black Sea. In air battles over the Crimea, Amet shot down an Fw-190 fighter over his homeland, the city of Alupka.

In July 1944, the regiment was taken to the rear for retraining on the La-7. It is not known exactly how many victories Amet-Khan won on the Aerocobra, probably six personal and eight in the group. In June 1945, Amet-Khan Sultan became twice a Hero. After the war, the ace became a test pilot. At the LII, he enjoyed respect and popularity no less than at the front. His track record includes extremely risky flights to develop the control system for unmanned KS-1 projectiles. Amet died in the 70s on the Tu-16LL flying laboratory while testing a new engine.

Another outstanding ace of the 9th GIAP was Alexei Alelyukhin, who met the war as an ordinary pilot in the 69th IAP. He ended the war as deputy commander of the 9th IAP. He was the first to suggest putting red “caps” on the keels of the fighters of his 1st squadron. Soon, colored stripes appeared on the planes of the other two squadrons, each with its own color. In January 1943, Alelyukhin was appointed commander of the 1st squadron. On August 24, 1943, he became a Hero of the Soviet Union, in November - twice a Hero, having 26 victories in air battles to his credit.

On May 5, 1944, in an air battle over the Crimea, Alelyuhin shot down an Fw-190, but his Cobra was also damaged - he had to jump. The pilot landed in no man's land between the positions of the Soviet and German troops. A real battle unfolded for the pilot. Fortunately for Alelyukhin, ours won.

In July 1944, the regiment was withdrawn from the front to receive La-7 fighters. Alelyuhin at that time was already the deputy commander of the regiment. In October, the 9th GIAP again arrived at the front, in East Prussia. During the war years, Aleksey Alelyuhin completed 601 sorties, personally shot down 40 enemy aircraft and 17 in the group, of which 26 personally and 17 in the group on the R-39 fighter. Ace not only shot down himself, but also taught others. Many pilots who shot down more than five enemy aircraft owe their skill to Alexei Alelyuhin.

One of the most productive pilots of the Armed Forces of the Red Army was another pilot of the 9th GIAP - Vladimir Lavrinenkov. Before the start of the war, Lavrinenkov served as an instructor. Until the spring of 1942, when his regiment was re-equipped with Yak-1 fighters, Lavrinenkov fought on antiques - I-15 fighters. On his Yak, Vladimir asked to draw tail number "17" in honor of his birthday - December 17, 1909. From that moment until the Victory itself, he flew only on planes with tail number "17".

Having received an adequate aircraft, Vladimir Lavrinenkov began to win the first victories in air battles. In October 1942, he, along with other best fighter pilots, was transferred to the 9-1 GIAP. In one of the battles in June 1943, the ace earned the gratitude of the commander of the 8th Air Army, General Khryukin. In front of Khryukin and Front Commander General Tolbukhin, who were watching the battle from the ground, Vladimir Lavrinenkov shot down a German plane.

By the time of re-equipment with the Airacobra in August 1943, Lavrinenkov had the rank of senior lieutenant and served as deputy squadron commander; on May 1, 1943, he became a Hero of the Soviet Union. On his account there were 22 personal victories and 11 group victories. Returning to the front in the Aerocobra, Lavrinenkov increased his winning score by three aircraft in the first few sorties.

It is not known whether the ace was superstitious, but he definitely made a big mistake by going on a combat mission on a foreign plane. His "Cobra" with tail number "17" remained at the airfield, the plane was out of order. The pilot received an order from the regimental commander to shoot down the Fw-189 reconnaissance aircraft at all costs. Lavrinenkov took off on the plane of the regiment commander with tail number "01". "Rama" seemed invulnerable - the ace completely used up ammunition without visible results.

General Khryukin watched the battle in the ground command post. He radioed: "Seventeenth - I don't recognize you!" Lavrinenkov replied: “I am Falcon-17. Now find out! The ace cut down the Rama's tail unit with the screw of his fighter, after which he jumped out with a parachute. The wind carried the parachute to the west. Lavrinenkov landed at the location of the German troops. He was captured without even having time to unfasten his parachute. The pilot escaped from the train with prisoners of war. Then he wandered through the forests for a long time, met partisans. He fought in a partisan detachment until Soviet tanks broke through to the partisans.

With the help of tankers, Lavrinenkov got directly from the partisans to the front headquarters, to Tolbukhin and Khryukin. The generals warmly congratulated the ace on his return. Lavrinekov wanted to return to the regiment, but Tolbukhin said that without shoulder straps - not the same. The front commander personally handed the captain's shoulder straps to the pilot. A few days later, the pilot was warmly greeted by fighting friends, but representatives of SMERSH spoiled the good mood. The two generals were powerless in the face of the all-powerful counterintelligence - Lavrinenkov had to go through the mandatory interrogation procedure for those who had been captured. Only on October 24, the ace completed the first sortie after a forced break. As it turned out, Lavrinenkov did not lose his flying skills: a German bomber became his victim. In the spring of 1944, Vladimir operated from a secret jump airfield located behind enemy lines. On May 5, he won his last, 11th, victory on the Aerocobra - he shot down an Fw-190 over Sevastopol. Vladimir Lavrinenkov met the victory, having 36 shot down on his personal account.

Another regiment that received the Airacobra was the 27th IAP. The first year of the war, the 27th IAP was part of the Moscow air defense. In the summer of 1942, he was transferred to Stalingrad. In the spring of 1943, after being re-equipped with R-39 fighters, the regiment became part of the 205th IAD. On October 8, 1943, the regiment received a guards rank and was reorganized into the 129th GIAP. Since April 1943, the regiment was commanded by one of the best Soviet pilots, the now completely forgotten Vladimir Bobrov. During the war years, he completed 451 sorties, scored 30 personal victories in air battles and shot down 20 aircraft as part of a group. The ace destroyed two more Me-262 jet fighters on the ground. Bobrov participated in the Spanish Civil War, where he made 126 sorties, shooting down 13 aircraft personally and 4 in a group.

He won his first victory during the Great Patriotic War on June 22, 1941. The last - on May 9, 1945. Of the pilots trained by Bobrov in 1941 (1945, 31 became a Hero of the Soviet Union. Beaver himself in a number of It is difficult to establish today the reason why one of the best aces of the Allies did not become a Hero during the war years. Perhaps it is in politics, perhaps in the very nature of the pilot. Bobrov could well have made high-ranking enemies with a good memory "There are many unknowns in the fate of Bobrov. For example, it is not clear why he was transferred from the front to headquarters work in 1942. Veteran-ace was appointed commander of the 27th IAP on April 4, 1943.

Under the command of Bobrov, the regiment distinguished itself in the battles near Kursk and, especially, during the Belgorod-Kharkov offensive operation. The pilots of the regiment shot down 55 enemy planes. On July 6, Bobrov, at the head of dozens of Aerocobras, attacked a group of 27 Ju-87 dive bombers and 12 Bf.109 fighters. In the ensuing battle, each Soviet pilot shot down one enemy aircraft. Bobrov's group suffered no losses. In early 1944, for unknown reasons, Bobrov was removed from command of the regiment.

Veterans of the 27th IAP recalled Bobrov as a good commander, an excellent pilot, and just a sincere person. Most likely, someone at the headquarters greatly prevented the ace from making a career. As a rule, in those days in the Red Army Air Force, if someone was removed from a command post, then the person did not receive such a high appointment. Pokryshkin personally intervened in the fate of Bobrov. Thanks to his great authority, Alexander Ivanovich managed to achieve in May 1944 the appointment of Bobrov as commander of the 104th IAP.

The regiment was part of the division commanded by Pokryshkin. Bobrov quickly proved that he was in his place.

Possibly, Vladimir Bobrov fought his best fight in September 1944. Ace, together with a wingman, attacked a group of He-111 bombers. Both Soviet pilots shot down three Heinkels. Until the end of the war, the veteran flew the Aero Cobra, his last victory in the skies of Czechoslovakia on May 9, 1945. Vladimir Bobrov was repeatedly presented for the Golden Star award, but at first the submission was rejected by Air Chief Marshal Novikov, and then Air Chief Marshal Vershinin. It is not known WHAT exactly Bobrov did, but someone kept soldering about this act for a very long time. As died in 1971 in complete obscurity. Ironically, Bobrov, albeit posthumously, became one of the last Heroes of the Soviet Union - Boris Yeltsin signed the decree conferring this title on March 20, 1991.

Another ace, Fedor Archipenko, had a similar career in the Soviet Air Force. In June 1941, Arkhipenko was assigned to the 17th IAP. In October, while attacking ground targets, Arkhipenko made a desperate attempt to save a comrade who had been shot down behind the front line. The pilot wanted to land his fighter next to a friend's plane and take him out to his own. Unfortunately, when landing on the field, the landing gear of Arkhipenko's plane broke. Now both comrades were in the rear of the Germans. The pilots exchanged their uniforms for civilian clothes and set off on wanderings, in the hope of eventually crossing the front line. The Odyssey took ten days. Having passed the SMERSH crucible, the pilots arrived in their regiment.

Arkhipenko shot down enemy planes during this period, however, due to tense relations with the regiment commander, these shot downs were most often counted as group victories. So, during the Battle of Kursk, Arkhipenko won 12 victories in air battles, but "personally" he was credited with only two shot down. Ace filled up a couple of Fritz right above their airfield in full view of the entire regiment. The commander did not dare to count them as a group.

Near Kursk, Arkhipenko was wounded several times in the leg and arm, there was even a question of amputation, but the pilot spent only two weeks in the hospital. Arkhipenko was sent as a squadron commander to the 508th IAP armed with Aircobras. The new commander in the shortest possible time managed to quarrel with the commander of this regiment. On the squadron, Arkhipenko was replaced by another "difficult" ace Pavel Chepinoga. Senior Lieutenant Arkhipenko was transferred as commander of the 1st squadron of the 27th IAP.

The pilot took root in this regiment, perhaps the appointment of Vladimir Bobrov as regiment commander, who could very well understand the persecuted senior lieutenant, played a role. Archipenko proved to be a talented commander - his squadron suffered minimal losses in the regiment. The ace fought his best fight on March 23, 1944, when, at the head of the Air Cobra four, he attacked a whole group of Ju-87 dive bombers. The Cobra commander personally shot down eight Stukas before landing on the banks of the Dniester with almost dry fuel tanks. During the Yassy-Kishenev operation, 11 planes shot down by him were finally brought to Arkhipenko's personal account. The pilot ended the war as deputy regiment commander with the rank of major. Fedor Archipenko completed 467 sorties, officially shot down 30 aircraft personally and 14 in the group. During the entire war, he was never shot down. June 27, 1945 Fedor Archipenko became a Hero of the Soviet Union.

Arkhipenko's closest friend Nikolai Gulaev also became one of the most productive pilots who fought on the Air Cobras. At the beginning of the war, Gulaev served in air defense units, far from the front, until April 1942, the future ace did not take part in hostilities. One night, without orders, he took off to intercept and shot down He-111 in the light of the moon. In February 1943, Gulaev graduated from the commander's courses, after which he was assigned to the 27th IAP.

By June 1943, the deputy squadron commander, Senior Lieutenant Gulaev, made 95 sorties, shot down 16 aircraft personally and two in the group. He rammed one enemy plane on May 14, 1943. On this day, Gulaev attacked a group of Ju-87 dive bombers, he shot down the plane of the group commander. In the second attack, "Cobra" Gulaeva received damage from the fire of the air gunner "Stuka". The senior lieutenant ran out of ammunition, so he went to ram. Nikolai snatched half a wing from the “lappet”, but his “Cobra” went like a stone to the ground. I had to jump.

Nikolai Gulaev distinguished himself in the Battle of Kursk. On the first day of the German offensive, July 5, he carried out six sorties in which he shot down four enemy aircraft. On the 6th, the ace shot down the Fw-190, on the 7th - Ju-87 personally, Fw-189 and Hs-126 in the group, on the 8th - Bf.109, on the 9th - two bombers over Belgorod, one of the Gulaev bombers rammed. Three days later, Gulaev was appointed commander of the 2nd squadron.

The regiment returned to the front again after being re-equipped with Airacobras in August. On August 9, Gulaev shot down a Ju-87, two days later - a Ju-88, and on August 12 - a pair of Bf.109s. September 28, Nikolai Gulaev was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. In January-February 1944, Gulaev fought over Kirovograd, then took part in the Korsun-Shevchenko operation. In March, the ace received a short vacation, went home from the front, and in April he increased his score by ten victories in two weeks.

Gulaev won his first victories during this period on April 18, shooting down two Ju-87s and one Bf.109. Less than a week later, over Dubossary, Gulaev shot down four Fw-190s in one sortie, his wingman scored two victories in the same battle. Four more pilots of the Gulaev group shot down five Focke-Wulfs without loss on their part.

May 30 Gulaev again shot down four enemy aircraft - Hs-126, Ju-87 and two Bf.109. In the last sortie of the day, the ace was wounded in the leg. He alone returned to his airfield, five of his comrades were shot down by German fighters, one of them died, one went missing. After a short treatment in the hospital, Nikolai returned to his regiment. On July 1, the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was issued to award Nikolai Gulaev with the second Gold Star medal.

In August 1944, he was awarded the military rank of major. On the 10th, 11th and 12th of August, the ace shot down one Fw-190 each, and two days later he won his last victory in an air battle. Gulaev "took out" a young pilot as a follower. A couple of Cobras were attacked by several enemy fighters. The ace was wounded for the umpteenth time, but still managed to shoot down two enemy planes, and put the rest to flight. On landing, the wounded pilot "spread out" his fighter. Gulaev ended up in the hospital for a long time, and after being discharged, doctors forbade him to fly. In total, during his career, Nikolai Gulaev shot down 57 enemy aircraft personally and three in a group. Gulaev made rams four times.

The 9th GIAD under Colonel Pokryshkin returned to the front on May 2, 1944 on the eve of the Iasi-Kishinev operation. As a result of this operation, Romania suffered a military defeat. Then Pokryshkin's division took part in the Lvov-Sandomierz operation, and ended the war in Berlin.

Pokryshkin was now loaded with command and administrative work, but still found time to personally fly into battle. On July 18, 194, he shot down two enemy planes, and a few days later he intercepted a German reconnaissance aircraft at high altitude. In August, Pokryshkin was the first in the armed forces of the Soviet Union to become a Hero three times. By this time, he had completed 550 sorties, officially shot down 53 aircraft personally and six in a group, and was recognized as an outstanding commander and military leader.

Pokryshkin fully corresponded to his new position, which could not be said about his rival Grigory Rechkalov. After Pokryshkin left for the division, Rechkalov took over the 16th GIAP. Almost immediately, a series of emergency situations began in the regiment. The mechanic killed the pilot in a fight. On May 31, over Iasi, the pilots have so far suffered a terrible fiasco. The Messerschmitts were able to cut off the Rechkalov strike group from the Klubov covering group, five Airacobras were shot down. Pokryshkin removed Rechkalov from the post of regiment commander "for loss of control, indiscipline and loss of initiative." Boris Glinka, transferred from the 100th GIAP, became the regiment commander.

Pokryshkin removed Rechkalov from command, but did not apply other measures to him. Alexander Ivanovich understood perfectly well that not every good pilot can be a good commander, just like not every good commander is a good pilot. Rechkalov was an outstanding fighter pilot, so he continued to fly on combat missions. By June, Gregory completed 415 sorties, conducted 112 air battles, he accounted for 48 personal and 6 group victories. He became twice Hero of the Soviet Union on July 1, 1944.

On July 14, Boris Glinka was seriously wounded while jumping from a burning Cobra. Until the end of the war, the ace did not return to duty. Rechkalov again took command of the 16th GIAP. The discipline in the regiment again decreased. Rechkalov paid more attention to his individual achievements in the air war than to the state of affairs in the regiment. In February, Pokryshkin removed him from command of the 16th GIAP for the second time. Wanting to have Gregory in sight, he transferred him to the headquarters of the division. Until the end of the war, Grigory Rechkalov completed 450 sorties, conducted 122 air battles, in which he shot down 56 enemy aircraft personally and six in a group.

In February 1945, the 9th GIAD received an order to relocate to Germany. Due to the mudslides, it was not possible to find suitable sites for basing regiments of the division. Pokryshkin found a way out - he fenced off a straight section of the autobahn, having received a hard-surfaced runway. For a long time, the Germans could not find where the Aerocobras were based.

Numerous flights of reconnaissance aircraft still eventually allowed the enemy to open the location of Soviet fighters. The autobahn was attacked by enemy aircraft. Aircraft of the Luftwaffe immediately attacked the "airfield". As a result of the raid, several Cobras were damaged, and the commander of the squadron of the 16th GIAP, Captain Tsvetkov, was killed.

After the appointment of Grigory Rechkalov as a flight training inspector of the 9th Guards Fighter Aviation Division, Ivan Babak took over the regiment. After the departure of Pokryshkin, some kind of rock pursued the 16th GIAP - the commanders changed too often. So Babak commanded until April 22, 1945. His Cobra was shot down by anti-aircraft guns, the pilot managed to leave the plane, but after landing on a parachute he was immediately captured. Babak spent two weeks in captivity - he and other prisoners were liberated by Soviet troops. Captivity on Lenin's birthday cost Ivan Babak a second Gold Star medal .. Moreover, if Pokryshkin had not accidentally met Babak under the protection of SMERSH, probably, in a different scenario, the latter would have disappeared somewhere in the vastness of the Gulag. Ivan Babak made 330 sorties, shot down 33 enemy aircraft personally and four in the group.

In the last days of the war, Captain Mikhail Petrov from the 100th GIAP, who had 15 victories on his account, shot down the Mistel. Petrov was pointed at the target from the ground. The pilot reported on the radio: “I see a two-story miracle” - a Bf.109 fighter flew on the back of a Ju-88 bomber. The head of the division's reconnaissance advised Petrov on the radio to act extremely carefully - to fire only at the fighter. The pilot did just that. The strongest explosion sounded when the Mistel collided with the ground.

Pokryshkin continued to fly until the very day of the Victory. During the war, he completed 650 sorties, conducted 156 air battles. The official victory list of the famous ace includes 59 individual and 6 group victories. It is unlikely that it will be possible to establish the exact number of planes shot down by Pokryshkin, someone talks about 72, someone cites data that Hero shot down more than a hundred three times. Probably, in this case it is not so important. Pokryshkin favorably differed from all Hartmans in his versatility: ace, teacher, military leader, military theorist. 30 of his students were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, two of which received Gold Stars twice. In the West, Alexander Pokryshkin is often called "Soviet Richthofen and Bulke rolled into one."

Bibliography

  • "Combat use of the P-39 AIRACOBRA" /War in the Air #45/
  • Americans in Russia / V.R. Kotelnikov, G.F. Petrov /
  • Know yourself in battle / A.I. Pokryshkin /