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P-40 Fighters in Soviet Aviation

Valery Romanenko

The second in the Arctic "Kittyhawks" received the 19th GIAP. At the beginning of April 1942, he was taken to the rear for 100 km, to the Afrikanda airfield, where he handed over his LaGG-3s on April 25, starting the development of the Airacobra and P-40E. The assembly and study of new aircraft took place simultaneously, and only according to the documentation in English. By May 15, the entire flight crew (22 people) had mastered the piloting technique and, after being reorganized to the state 015/174, entered service without a single accident or breakdown.

The regiment began combat operations on May 17, 1942 from the Shongui airfield, with 10 Kittyhawks (2nd squadron, Nos. 16 Aircobras (1st and 3rd squadrons). The pilots of the regiment were distinguished by their activity and aggressiveness in battles, since a core of experienced aces of the P.S. Kutakhova (future twice GSS Chief Marshal of Aviation and Commander of the USSR Air Force), GSS I.V. Bochkova, I.D. Gaidaenko and others. True, they flew Aircobras, but their example forced the Kittyhawkop pilots to act actively. Usually, when repulsing raids on Murmansk (up to 60% of all sorties), the Air Cobras tried to tie up escort fighters in battle, and the less maneuverable Kittyhawks were engaged in bombers. However, they did not come to such tactics immediately, and therefore on May 28 they lost two P-40Es at once (Nos. 1019 and 1026). The battle with the Messerschmitts on June 1, accompanied by their own SB bombers, was more successful, in which 6 Germans were shot down, losing two kit-ti and one cobra. And on August 14, the commander of the 2nd squadron, Mr. A. Novozhilov, paired with Lt. Barsukov, shot down a floatplane and shot down two Bf 110s.

The 19th GIAP fought on the P-40 and P-39 until the autumn of 1943, then it was completely re-equipped with the P-39N and Q. Separate statistics on the Kittyhawks were not kept, and combat success can only be judged by general indicators. From June 22, 1941 to December 31, 1943, the regiment completed 7541 sorties (5410 hours), shot down 56 Bf 109E, 43 Bf 109F, 15 Bf 109G, 30 Bf 110, 7 Ju 88, 9 Ju87, 1 He 111, 2 Do 215, 5 Hs 126 and 1 Fi 156. Losses amounted to 46 pilots and 86 aircraft, including 16 Kittyhawks (13 shot down in air battles, 2 by anti-aircraft artillery, 1 crashed in a crash). The regiment suffered the greatest losses in the P-40 (11 vehicles) in 1942. In total, the 19th GIAP received 128 aircraft, 30 of which were Kittyhawks. The last P-40K (No. 1572), converted into a two-seater, flew as a training aircraft until September 2, 1944. It is interesting that this air unit had the lowest percentage of non-combat losses of the P-40 in the Soviet Air Force - 14 times lower than, for example , in the nearby 20th GIAP.

On the Karelian front, the 152nd and 760th IAP also fought on the P-40. The main task of these regiments was air cover for the Kirov railway, along which Lend-Lease cargo was transported from Murmansk to the central regions of the USSR. The Germans actively bombed the road until the summer of 1944. So, in January-February, 26 raids were noted (126 aircraft participated), in March-April - 95 raids (374 aircraft).

Both regiments received Kittyhawks in the summer of 1943. As of June 1, the 152nd IAP included Nos. 426, 429, 569, 609, 699, 640, 644, as well as double training Nos. The 760th IAP - Nos. 752,806, 1117, 1139 and 828, 831, respectively. Continuing the fighting on the Hurricanes and LaGG-3, the regiments gradually retrained on the P-40. By January 1, 1944, the Kitty Hawk became the main type: in the 152nd IAP there were 23 such vehicles, plus 5 Tomahawks "dropped" here by the guards regiments, and 13 Hurricanes, in the 760th IAP - 12 P-40E and 11 LaGG-3. These regiments were the last in the Soviet Air Force to receive the P-40, but they also fought on them for the longest time - until November 1, 1944, i.e. until the end of hostilities in the Arctic.

These regiments did not achieve high-profile successes: the pilots adhered to defensive tactics and were usually satisfied with the fact that they simply drove German aircraft away from protected objects. Losses were also minimal: until November 1944, in the 152nd IAP, they lost 3 P-40Es in battles and 3 in accidents, in the 760th IAP - 3 Kittyhawks in battles. Interestingly, the losses of the Hurricanes and LaGG-3 over the same period were twice as high.

Since 1944, the 760th IAP was switched to escort the Il-2, and the Kittyhawks performed well in this role: the long range made it possible to cover the attack aircraft along the entire route, and the maneuverability was enough to simply repel attacks. Skirmishes with FW 190A and Bf 109G ended, as a rule, with a score of 0:0.


ZAP - Zapasnoy avia polk - Reserve Aviation Regiment

PIAP - Peregonochnyy istrebitel'no aviatsionnyy polk - Ferry Fighter Aviation Regiment

GIAP - Gvardeyskiy istrebitel'nyy aviatsionnyy polk - Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment

VA - Vozdushnaya Armiya - Air Army

The training of pilots for a specific northern theater of operations was carried out by the 9th separate training mixed air regiment (OUTSAP). Among other types of aircraft, there were always 2-3 two-seat training Kittyhawks here (for example, Nos. 825 and 856). Each combat regiment also had two double P-40s: for example, on June 1, 1943, the 152nd IAP had Nos. 873 and 883, and the 760th IAP had Nos. 828 and 831.

According to the documents of the 7th VA of the Karelian Front, in its units the maximum number of P-40s was on July 1, 1943 and amounted to 87 Kittyhawks, as well as 9 Tomahawks. By March 1, 1944, there were 64 and 5 such machines left, respectively, and in the future the number of P-40s continued to decrease.

After the disbandment of the 27th ZAP, the training of pilots for the P-40 was assigned to the 6th reserve aviation brigade, which included the 14th and 22nd ZAP. It was formed in May 1942 as a retraining center for foreign types of fighters and was based in the city of Ivanovo, about 90 km from the Arkhangelsk-Moscow railway. Aircraft were delivered here in boxes from the ports of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk, here they were accepted (ie, checked for condition and equipment), then they were assembled, flown around and from here they were sent to the front.

In 1942, the brigade assembled and flew 190 P-40C and P-40E aircraft, of which 177 were sent to the front. During the same period, in the 14th ZAP, only the 46th IAP (32 pilots with a total flight time of 858 hours) was retrained on the P-40, and in the 22nd ZAP - three regiments: the 28th Guards, 10th and 436th th IAP (20, 32 and 32 pilots with a total flying time of 240, 437 and 920 hours, respectively). The brigade also prepared new units for Soviet aviation - ferry fighter regiments (PIAP). Five such regiments (from the 1st to the 5th) were intended to work on a secret route, named ALSIB (Alaska-Siberia) by US President Roosevelt, which ran from American Fairbanks in Alaska through the Bering Strait and half of Siberia to Soviet Krasnoyarsk. P-40, R-39 and R-63 fighters overtook this route with a length of 6306 km. In each PIAP, one squadron specialized in Kittyhawks, and 61 pilots were trained for them in the 14th ZAP.

It was the Kittyhawks who opened the traffic on this highway. The first group of seven P-40K-1s took off from Fairbanks on 7 October 1942 and landed at Krasnoyarsk on 16 November. During the flight, two aircraft were lost - Kittyhawk No. 42-4693 and Boston, the leader of the group. In Krasnoyarsk, American fighters (Nos. 42-46174, -46191, -46193, -46201, -46265, -46267) ended up in the 45th ZAP and then were overtaken near Stalingrad.

Unfortunately, the P-40K turned out to be unsuitable for flights in harsh Siberian conditions: the oil system froze and the radiators “swelled up”. Therefore, they had to abandon their distillation along ALSIB - the last five P-40K-10s arrived on the track in March 1943. In total, the Soviet acceptance committee in Fairbanks accepted 49 P-40Ks, of which only 38 cars got into combat regiments before the end of 1943 : 5 were broken in accidents and catastrophes (over 10%!), 15 were repaired for a long time in Kirensk and at other intermediate airfields (6 of them - until the end of 1944)

By the summer of 1943, training on the P-40 in the 6th ZAB was completed. By that time, another regiment had been trained in the 14th ZAP - the 191st IAP, 32 pilots of which flew 122 hours by February 28. In the 22nd ZAP, two more air units were retrained - the 238th and 191st IAP (again by 03/15/43), as well as 34 separate crews (obviously for the new PIAP). Another 94 P-40E and P-40K aircraft were assembled and flown, of which 80 were sent to the front in 1943, and 6 in 1944.

The 6th ZAB was one of the best and well-equipped training bases in the Soviet Air Force. There they taught to the conscience - not only takeoff and landing, but also shooting at air and ground targets, single and group aerobatics, and tactics. Therefore, most of the units trained in the brigade achieved success at the front and became guards. So, the 436th, 46th and 10th IAP for the battles on the North-Western Front (namely on the P-40!) were transformed in March 1943 into the 67th, 68th and 69th Guards IAP and re-equipped with Aircobras.

Due to the reduction by 1943 of the receipt of P-40s through the northern ports and the termination of their flights via ALSIB, the retraining center for the Kittyhawks moved to the south, where deliveries began through the territory of Iran. The southern Lend-Lease route began operating in June 1942, but Kittyhawks began to arrive on it only in November. Fighters in boxes were unloaded at the port of Abadan, transported to an aircraft assembly plant specially built by Douglas, assembled and flown. Then the specially formed 6th PIAP ferried them to the USSR with one stopover in Tehran. Despite the rather difficult route (distance 1450 km, flight through two mountain passes), there were no P-40 losses during flights in 1943. On the territory of the USSR, all aircraft entered the 25th ZAP, located in the Azerbaijani city of Aji-Kabul. They began to master the Kittyhawk here on November 19, 1942, when the first three P-40E-1s (Nos. 41-36426, -36440 and -36441) arrived in the regiment. On November 23, the training of the 45th IAP had already begun, which was being prepared for two types of fighters at once: the Airacobra and the Kittyhawk. Instructors and trainees mastered the technique almost simultaneously, but very thoroughly: in the 45th IAP, the total flight time of 32 pilots was 671 hours (1682 landings), 155 training air battles were conducted, 112 firing at ground and 98 at air targets, 134 route and 113 "blind" flights.

Bibliography

  • Aviation and Time /# 2,3 2006/