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P-40 Fighters in Soviet Aviation

Valery Romanenko

On February 16, the regiment began combat work from the Krasnodar airfield, with ten P-39D-2s, eleven P-39K-1s and nine P-40E-1s (Nos. 41-36941 to -36944, 41-36947 to - 36950 and #41-36666). He showed himself excellently in the famous battle over the Kuban. For two months, 118 German aircraft were recorded on the combat account of the air unit with relatively small losses (7 Airacobras were shot down in battles, 8 were damaged; 1 P-40E was shot down and 1 was destroyed in an accident). It was the best result in this theater of operations! Already on May 10, the regiment was re-equipped with new Airacobra models - P-39L, M and N, and on June 18 it was transformed into the 100th GIAP. It should be noted that the small losses of the Kittyhawks were due to their very limited use, and as battle experience showed, they were no longer able to fight the Bf 109G, which was also piloted by aces JG 3 and JG 52. All reviews about the P-40E sounded pessimistic: insufficient speed and maneuverability, high flight weight, weak engine. The conclusion was unequivocal - the aircraft is suitable only for air defense aviation. At first, the pilots were still trying to squeeze everything possible out of the aircraft and used the afterburner mode for a long time during the battle. It turned out almost intuitively - if the Soviet engines at maximum gas roared like animals, then the Allison only slightly changed the tone, and everything seemed normal. Retribution followed immediately - the motors began to wear out quickly, and their power fell. A month later, the regimental engineer reported that the maximum speed of the Kittyhawks did not exceed 350-400 km / h. They got rid of them at the first opportunity - on April 27, 4 serviceable aircraft, together with the pilots, were transferred to the 16th GIAP. This regiment fought on Aircobras, so the P-40E pilots were gradually retrained for them. "Kittyhawks" were actively used only in April and May, and in August they were transferred to the air defense, and more fighters of this type were not used in the Air Force in the southern sector of the front.

In 1943, the 25th ZAP trained the 268th IAP (32 pilots), 10 pilots for the 45th IAP and 6 more pilots for other units on the Kittyhawks. After the 268th regiment left on November 15, the 25th ZAP stopped training pilots on the P-40, but for another two months it was engaged in the preparation and distribution of the aircraft themselves. At the same time, the following was carried out: a detailed technical inspection and flight of machines; if necessary, their repair (some aircraft were not new); dismantling of a part of radio equipment, the frequencies of which did not coincide with those adopted in the USSR; sighting of weapons, and sometimes drawing red stars over white American ones (usually this was done in Abadan). The most typical defect found was the corrosion of weapons, which usually appeared on the machine guns of fighters that had already fought after they were transported by sea. In total, in 1943, in the 25th ZAP, 225 aircraft of the P-40E, K, L and M type were prepared and sent to combat regiments (mainly air defense and air forces of the Navy).

In the fall of 1943, the 11th ZAP located in Kirovabad began to deal with Kittyhawks. The P-40M-10 began to arrive here in August, the P-40N-1 in November, and the P-40N-30 in October 1944, the most advanced Kittyhawk model supplied to the USSR.

The receipt of P-40 aircraft in the USSR ceased in December 1944. By that time, 2425 aircraft had been delivered. Combat losses (excluding air defense and naval aviation) amounted to 224 Kittyhawks.

As an official opinion about the "Kittyhawk" in the Soviet Air Force, one can quote from the "Report on the combat work of the 4th Air Army for April 1943"; “... The Kittyhawk fighter is inferior to the Airacobra and Me-109F, G in flight and tactical data. It conducts a successful battle with the Me-109 in a horizontal maneuver, but is inferior to it in a vertical one. It can successfully fulfill the role of an interceptor for bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. The pilots had the opinion that the Kittyhawk could be a good aircraft when performing tasks: covering their troops, escorting bombers and conducting reconnaissance.


ZAP - Zapasnoy avia polk - Reserve Aviation Regiment

VA - Vozdushnaya Armiya - Air Army

IAP - Istrebitel'no aviatsionnyy polk - Fighter Aviation Regiment

Kirovabad - now Ganja - Azerbaijan

IAD PVO - Istrebitel'no avia diviziya protivovozdushnoy oborony - Air Defense Fighter Division

SAB-100 - svetyashchayasya (osvetitel'naya) aviabomba - Illuminating Bomb

In addition to the direct purpose as a fighter, individual P-40s were used in the Soviet Air Force and in other roles. For example, 3 aircraft (No. 835, 1115 and 1121) were used as artillery spotters in the 6th separate corrective air squadron and 4 in the 12th. And at the 1st aircraft repair base of the Leningrad Front, a small batch of P-40K was converted into two-seat photo reconnaissance. At the same time, all weapons were removed, and additional gas tanks were installed in their place. There are also known attempts to strengthen the armament of the Kittyhawks when using them as attack aircraft - in 1942 they were often equipped with rockets (two RS-82s under each wing). As the P-40 declined from the Air Force, their use in air defense expanded. Air defense aviation by orders of November 24, 1941 and January 22, 1942 was withdrawn from the subordination of the Air Force and became independent. As the aircraft fleet increased, individual squadrons were united into regiments, regiments into fighter air divisions and air defense air corps, and at the beginning of 1943 even the 1st air defense fighter army was formed. If on December 5, 1941, there were 1059 aircraft in the air defense, then by June 1, 1943 - 3043!

The first 20 Tomahawks appeared in the 6th Air Defense Command (near Moscow) back in October 1941. Then in the spring of 1942 they were received by the 104th Air Defense Aviation Division, covering Arkhangelsk, and the 148th Air Defense Aviation Command (Vologda) - 22 and 20 aircraft, respectively, and the first P-40E appeared in the 6th Air Defense Aircraft Company and the 7th Air Defense Aircraft Company (Leningrad) - 12 and 21 aircraft, respectively.

The use of "Tomahawks" and "Kittyhawks" in air defense was constantly expanding. In April 1942, the 768th IAP (122nd IAD PVO) began patrolling over Murmansk, in November the 481st IAP - over Baku, the 102nd IAD PVO - over Stalingrad, and the total number of P-40Es was 70 aircraft , "Tomahawks" - 33.

By July 1, 1943, there were 70 Tomahawks and 181 Kittyhawks in the air defense. And six months later, the Kittyhawks were already present in all air defense corps without exception. Their number doubled and reached 357 aircraft, their maximum number was recorded on June 1, 1944 - 745 aircraft. Then, for a number of reasons (mainly due to disappointment in this type), the number of P-40s began to decrease, and by the end of the war, 409 units remained in the air defense.

Air defense pilots also rated the P-40 ambiguously. At first, they liked the comfort of overseas fighters, reliable radio communications, powerful weapons, and a long range, which made it possible to patrol over protected objects for a long time. But in the process of operation, annoying shortcomings were also revealed. First of all - a small ceiling and rate of climb. Then - the complete absence of equipment for night interceptions: no special devices for targeting according to ground-based radar data, or even lighting devices, because. the landing light was retractable and could only be deployed at minimum speeds.

Among the examples of the most successful use of the P-40 in air defense, it is necessary to note the use of Kittyhawks from the 9th AK as illuminators near Kyiv in 1944. Under the wing of the aircraft, 6 SAB-100 lighting bombs were hung, which were dropped with an excess of 2000-3000 m above the formation of attacking bombers, highlighting them for interceptors. This tactic made it possible to somewhat reduce the activity of He 1 11 and He 177. There were other successes as well. So, it was the Kittyhawk pilots who discovered and shot down a German four-engine FW 200 over the Volga steppes, on which a special commission flew to Japan to investigate the activities of the legendary intelligence officer Richard Sorge. The crew of the damaged car managed to make an emergency landing, and several high-ranking Gestapo and Foreign Ministry officials on board the Condor were captured. In total, during the war years, air defense pilots shot down 255 German aircraft on Kittyhawks, which is 6.5% of the total number of their victories.

However, a number of major failures of the Soviet air defense were also associated with fighters of this type. So, in 1943, they were unable to intercept German high-altitude reconnaissance Ju 88R over Moscow, and in the spring and autumn of 1944, He 111 from Fliegerkorps IV bombed Soviet railway junctions in Ukraine and Belarus with virtually impunity at night. But the biggest defeat, which had a loud international resonance and hit hard on the prestige of the USSR, occurred on June 22, 1944, when 180 He 111 from KG 53 and KG 55 made a night raid on the US strategic aviation base in the Poltava region, destroying 44 "Flying fortresses ”and damaging another 25. The 6 Kittyhawks and 6 Yak-9s that flew out from the 310th Air Defense IAD covering this air base did not find a single bomber on a dark moonless night, and they flew away with impunity. After this incident, the decline of the career of "Kittyhawks" in the Soviet air defense began. They began to be supplanted by more suitable types of fighters: Spitfire IX, P-39Q, P-47D-25, as well as Yak-9 and La-7, although the last models P-40M-10 and P-40N-30 served until 1947-49 gg.

Bibliography

  • Aviation and Time /# 2,3 2006/