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P-40 Fighters in Soviet Aviation
During the Second World War, P-40 fighters fought almost the entire length of the Soviet-German front. A little-known fact - "Tomahawks" and "Kittyhawks"* with red stars took part in all decisive battles: the battle of Moscow, near Stalingrad, the defense of Leningrad, in the Kuban, on the Kursk Bulge and further until the liberation of East Prussia. True, everywhere (except the North) their number was relatively small (as a rule, no more than 1-2 regiments per air army), and therefore they did not have a decisive influence on the course of battles.
The P-40 was in service with the three main types of aviation in the USSR: the Red Army Air Force, the Navy Air Force and Air Defense Aviation. The Soviet Union became in fact the second (after the UK) importer of P-40 fighters. In total in 1941-44. 247 Tomahawks and 2178 Kittyhawks (P-40E, K, M and N) were received, which puts the aircraft in fourth place after the P-39, Hurricane and P-63. The dynamics of entering the Air Force and Air Defense by years is as follows: 1941 - 230 Tomahawks and 15 P-40E; 1942 - 17 Tomahawks and 487 P-40E, E-1, K; 1943 - 939 P-40E-1, K, M, N; 1944 - 446, mostly P-40M and N. Another 291 Kittyhawks entered the Air Force of the Navy.
In the Soviet Air Force, the Kittyhawk was considered an "average" machine: better than the I-15, I-16 and Hurricane, but worse than the P-39, Yaks or Lavochkins. Therefore, the history of a typical regiment on the P-40 looked like this. He started the war on the I-15, I-16 or MiG-3; having lost them in battles by the beginning or middle of 1942, he received the P-40S; P-40E, K were gradually replenished, which replaced previously received vehicles that were out of order. Then two options followed: if the regiment did not especially prove itself in battles, then it was transferred to the air defense and received P-40M and N; if he achieved noticeable success, he became a guard and rearmed on the P-39, Yak-7, -9 or La-5. This continued until the end of 1943, when the Kittyhawks practically disappeared from the Red Army Air Force, almost completely moving into the air defense and aviation of the Navy. In May 1945, only one regiment (24 Kittyhawks) was listed in the 1st VA III of the Belorussian Front, but there were 409 Kittyhawks and Tomahawks in the air defense, 96 units in the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet and about fifty in the Air Force Northern.
The first batch of Tomahawks, which included 20 P-40 early series, was sent from the USA to the USSR in September 1941. It was bought for gold, and not through Lend-Lease, which was extended to the USSR only from November 7. By that time, English Tomahawks had already arrived in Arkhangelsk. On August 31, with the "trial" convoy PQ-0 "Dervish", 7 "Tomahawks" NA (RAF's numbers from AN965 to AN971) and 17 IV models (AK196-198, 242-247, 250, 253, 255-258, 300, 311). These options differed only in radio equipment and wing armament: English HF transceivers and Browning machine guns of 7.69 mm caliber were installed on the NA, American VHF transceivers and 7.62 mm Colt Brownings were installed on the IV.
At a special airfield with wooden pavement, urgently built by GULag prisoners and called the "10th kilometer", under the supervision of British aircraft technicians, fighters assembled and flew around. With the help of two American instructor pilots, Lt. John Alison and Hubert Zemke, a number of Soviet pilots were trained from September 10 to 29, who flew the aircraft to the 27th Reserve Aviation Regiment (ZAP) by air.
Reserve aviation regiments in the Soviet Air Force performed a dual function: they were centers for retraining combatant air units and individual crews for new types of aircraft, as well as depots that distributed the same equipment to front-line air units to compensate for losses. So reasonable caution was shown with the Tomahawks - despite the acute shortage of fighters, they decided to first study them in the rear.
The 27th ZAP was based at the Kadnikov airfield, which is 140 km from Vologda along the Vologda-Arkhangelsk railway. It was formed in August 1941 specifically for retraining for Tomahawks and Hurricanes. In 1941-42. it became the main "gateway" through which "Tomahawks" entered the air regiments of the Red Army Air Force. The 126th, 154th, 159th, 964th IAP and dozens of individual crews were trained here. On November 2, the regiment was reorganized into a 2-squadron (staff 015/177), and on December 27 it had 15 HB Tomahawks (AN974, 978, AK172, 197, 243, 247, 250, 258, 321, 327, 342 , 345, 363, 388, AN493), 4 Yak-7V double training fighters and 2 UTI-4. Despite the difficulties that arose during winter operation (failures of motors, electric generators, and other units caused a number of accidents), the instructors of the 27th ZAP considered the Tomahawk to be quite simple to fly and quite accessible to medium-skilled pilots. Due to its high strength, it withstood the inevitable rough landings in the training process and even emergency landings on the fuselage, so that only 5 aircraft were decommissioned in 14 months of intensive operation (AN974, AK316, 196, 243, 321)
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ZAP - Zapasnoy avia polk - Reserve Aviation Regiment
UTI-4 - Uchebno trenirovochnyy istrebitel' - Fighter Trainer
VA - Vozdushnaya Armiya - Air Army
IAP - Istrebitel'no aviatsionnyy polk - Fighter Aviation Regiment
GULag - Glavnoye Upravleniye Lagerey - General Directorate of Prisons
On September 15, 1941, the 126th IAP was the first to arrive at the 27th ZAP for retraining. . This regiment fought from June 22 on the I-16 and MiG-3, having gained good combat experience. Two pilots of the unit, art. l-you S.G. Ridny and V.G. Kamenshchikov, by Decree of August 9, 1941, were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (hereinafter GSS).
The development of American aircraft was hampered by the lack of technical descriptions and instructions in Russian. Pilots and technicians had to translate them with a dictionary in the evenings, after work at the airfield. The Tomahawk turned out to be easy to master, and on October 1, the regiment began training flights, but two days later it had to urgently leave for the front. The 126th IAP, consisting of two squadrons (20 aircraft), flew to the Chkalovskaya airfield and began combat work to defend Moscow. From October 25, 1941 to April 25, 1942, as part of the 6th Air Defense Air Corps, the regiment carried out 666 sorties to cover the troops of the Kalinin and Western Fronts, as well as 319 to defend Moscow. 29 enemy aircraft were recorded on the combat account of the unit. Their losses amounted to 4 cars and 2 pilots. The regiment fought with the greatest intensity during the first month of its stay near Moscow, making 685 sorties and achieving 17 victories. Then came continuous accidents: the Tomahawks turned out to be completely unadapted to the Russian winter. Frosts down to -38°C cracked tire tires, discharged batteries, froze oil, slurry and antifreeze, which caused radiator honeycombs to burst (38 cases), for the soldering of which all the silver spoons in neighboring villages had to be confiscated. Often there were destruction of electric generators and jamming of motors.
The engineering and technical staff of the regiment had to eliminate this flurry of defects with the help of specialists from the Air Force Research Institute. Generators and wheels were replaced with Soviet ones; hydro, oil and cooling systems were equipped with special taps, with the help of which liquids were completely drained overnight, and other improvements were made. But when they learned to deal with defects, most of the Tomahawks had already lost their combat capability: not only were spare parts and new motors missing, which were not sent at all (!), But even ... cartridges for English and American machine guns! By mid-January 1942, only 9 aircraft could take to the air. Interestingly, one of the Tomahawks, thanks to the skillful technician A.I. Lunev, completed 90 sorties by that time without any accidents! In January, the regiment was able to complete 198 sorties (334 flight hours), conducted 11 air battles, in which 5 Bf 109s, 1 Ju 88 and 1 He 111 ** were shot down. Here the statistics reveal an unexpected fact - it turns out that the Tomahawks quite successfully fought the Messerschmitts! This was confirmed by the pilots' reports on the circumstances of the battles. For example, on January 18, a couple of l-you S.V. Levin and I.P. Lefty fought seven Bf 109s, shooting down two of them, and returned safely to her base. The flight (3 aircraft) of Lieutenant E.E. also avoided losses. Lozovy, which on January 22 shot down 2 Bf 109E in a battle with 13 enemy aircraft. In total, 2 Tomahawks were lost in January, and only one of them was shot down by Messerschmitts, the second - on the account of German anti-aircraft gunners.
However, "Tomahawks" often got it from their own - an unfamiliar aircraft was recklessly fired upon by both fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Usually everything was done with a dozen holes and apologies, but on New Year's Eve, Soviet air defense surpassed itself: "Tomahawk" AN507 ml. Dr. P.G. Maz was first attacked by five I-16s, and then the anti-aircraft gunners fired at them. As a result, the pilot barely made an emergency landing, during which the engine was broken. But even after that, it turned out that the plane was repairable.
And yet, most of the losses were due to hardware failures. The engines failed especially often. As a rule, the pilots managed to land the plane with an idle engine, but sometimes luck turned away from them. So, on February 17, 1942, as a result of an engine failure on takeoff, one of the best pilots of the regiment st. Lt S.G. Ridny ("Tomahawk" AK325).
Despite the abundance of accidents, the overall impression of the pilots of the 126th IAP from the aircraft was good. The Tomahawk had exactly what the domestic fighters lacked. If the creators of Soviet technology sought, first of all, high speed and maneuverability of their machines, and considered other qualities as if of secondary importance, then the developers of the P-40 paid special attention to such “little things” as powerful weapons (a second salvo of 2 large-caliber and 4 -x machine guns of rifle caliber was 1.5 times more than even the MiG-3), protection (38 mm windshield), stable radio communications, good visibility from the pilot's workplace, a canopy with very transparent glasses *** and reliable emergency release, comfort in a spacious cabin, long (up to 1100 km) flight range. In addition, the P-40 glider, which was distinguished by its high strength, most often allowed pilots to remain unharmed during emergency landings. In the hands of experienced air fighters, the aircraft turned out to be a formidable weapon, although it had insufficient speed and maneuverability, yielding in this to the Bf 109E, Yaks, and LaGGs. The shortcomings of the machine were compensated by the good flight of links and group tactics, which included separation in height. Therefore, most of the victories in the 126th IAP were group victories: S.G. Ridny (AN965) there were 9 personally shot down plus 17 in the group, V.G. Kamenshchikov — 7+10, V.M. Naydenko — 5+11.**** Asses who won 5 and more victories became 12 pilots. 31 pilots were awarded orders and medals for their distinction in the Battle of Moscow.
* The names are given in accordance with those used in the USSR. - Ed.
** Hereinafter, the data are taken from the archival materials of the regiments without comparison with the loss reports from the German side.
*** At one of the meetings in 1942, Stalin personally ordered to make plexiglass for Soviet aircraft of the Tomahawk type.
**** Accounts are general, from June 22, 1941, since there are no data on those shot down on the P-40.