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P-40 Fighters in Soviet Aviation
Aviation of the Navy was the third "consumer" of the P-40. Only Kittyhawks were sent there, although the first P-40Es were erroneously called Tomahawks. Their career in the IMF Air Force can be divided into three periods: "euphoria" - April-May 1942, "cooling" - June 1942 - July 1943. and "Renaissance" - from the autumn of 1943.
At first, the increased interest in the P-40 was associated with new tasks for naval aviation - air cover for allied convoys. Here, the main thing was the range - the farther into the sea the fighters met the convoys, the less they got from the German bombers and torpedo bombers - as a rule, sea transports did not suffer losses in the operational zone of the fighters. And the range of 1100 km was precisely the trump card of the P-40.
The 2nd Guards Mixed Aviation Regiment (SAP) was considered the best in the aviation of the Northern Fleet (SF). Its commander is the famous Soviet naval ace Lieutenant Colonel B.F. Safonov * - was not only the first Hero of the Soviet Union in the Northern Fleet, but also one of four pilots awarded for military success (including the Hurricane) with the high English award - Distinguished Flying Cross. Naturally, the Kittyhawks were sent to this particular regiment.
The first two P-40Es arrived in April 1942 (No. 775, the number of the second is unknown), in May - 12 more (Nos. 956, 958, 984, 990, 1000-1007 **), and the last 10 ( 1093, 1098, 1102, 1 110-1 116) - in June, 24 aircraft in total. Combat use began almost immediately, although at first, as usual, there were problems with the motor. Safonov was the first in the Northern Fleet to score an aerial victory on the Kittyhawk - on May 17 he shot down a Ju 88, which is confirmed by the materials of the Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv Koblenz. But already on May 30, B.F. Safonov did not return from a sortie*** to cover the PQ-16 convoy. The circumstances of his death in the heat of battle were not noticed, and the engine failure was considered the most likely cause ... Together with the low flying qualities revealed during operation, this undermined the pilots' confidence in the Kittyhawks, and by autumn they were transferred to secondary tasks, and in August the regiment re-equipped with Aerocobras Mk.l. P-40Es more or less actively fought here until the end of 1942, and then they were simply listed in the regiment, idle on the ground without engines. So, on May 1, 1943, in the 2nd GIAP **** there were 9 more P-40Es, of which only one was with a motor ...
Combat losses of the P-40 were small: 2 in May 1942, 3 more before the end of the year and 4 before July 1943, a total of 9 aircraft, non-combat - 3 vehicles. The successes of the Kipihauk pilots turned out to be incomparable with the achievements of their colleagues flying the Air Cobras, but still not bad: from June 29 to December 15, 1942, they were credited with 15 shot down (9 Bf 109 and 6 Ju 88). The best results were achieved by foreman Bokiy, who from June 1, 1942 to January 1, 1943 won 5 victories.
Then, almost until the spring of 1943, Kittyhawks did not enter the Soviet naval aviation, despite previous grandiose plans - in September 1941, the command of the Navy Air Force prepared an application for 500 P-40 and 100 ! New deliveries of Kittyhawks to the Northern Fleet began in mid-September 1943. At first, eleven P-40Es were “thrown” into the 255th IAP in addition to the existing 20 Aircobras. But then they decided to send them only to units armed with very outdated equipment. So, by mid-October, all P-40Es from the 2nd GIAP and the 255th IAP were in the 78th IAP, which had been fighting on the Hurricanes since 1941. To raise morale on November 3, 13 brand new P-40M-10s and 1 P-40K-15 were sent here, and from the end of the year the regiment began combat work. Until the end of hostilities in the Arctic (November 1, 1944), the pilots of the regiment showed good results not only in air battles, but also as masters of bombing and assault strikes. Acting on the P-40M-10 (the old P-40E, apparently, were immediately written off due to wear and tear), they shot down 44 German aircraft: 1 Ju 88, 1 BV 138, 1 Bf 110, 4 FW 190 and 37 Bf 109. During attacks on the port of Kirkenes in October 1944, they took a bomb load more than the IL-2: they hung a FAB-500 under the fuselage (or a combination - FAB-250 under the fuselage plus 2 FAB-100 under the wing). They were the first in the Northern Fleet to use top-mast bombing, and in just one day, October 11, 1944, the group of Dr. V.P. Strelnikova sank 2 barges and 6 boats!
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SAP - Smeshannyy avia polk - Mixed Aviation Regiment
VA - Vozdushnaya Armiya - Air Army
IAP - Istrebitel'no aviatsionnyy polk - Fighter Aviation Regiment
ORAP - Otdel'nyy razvedyvatel'nyy aviapolk - Separate reconnaissance regiment
SF - Severnyy Flot - Northern Fleet
From December 1943, the 27th IAP began to receive the P-40, which had previously flown the Hurricanes and I-153, and from October 1944, the 53rd and 54th air regiments of the White Sea Flotilla, which continued along with the Kittyhawks to operate the Hurricanes, I-15, I-153, MBR-2 and Catalinas. For reconnaissance since September 1943, three P-40M-10s (Nos. 43-5974, -5968 and -5952) were used in the 1 18th ORAP. And in June 1944, the naval aircraft workshops converted one Kittyhawk into a two-seat light bomber.
In the Black Sea Fleet (BSF), Kittyhawks began to appear in April 1943. Since the Black Sea Fleet Air Force was considered secondary, the replenishment of the air regiments was carried out here last, and the aircraft fleet was diverse, outdated and worn out. For example, by the spring of 1943, in two regiments - the 7th and 62nd IAP - there were from 3 to 11 fighters of 7 types: MiG-3, Yak-1, Yak-7, LaGG-3, I-16, I -153, I-15. It was in these units, as well as in the 30th RAP, that from April 1943 they began to distribute the latest models of Kittyhawks arriving along the southern route - P-40K-10 and P-40M-10. The 65th IAP, whose re-equipment began in September 1943, was already replenished with P-40N-1s in November, and from December with P-40N-5s. The Black Sea Kittyhawks performed well in combat, but mainly as attack aircraft and air defense fighters. The most famous operations in which they took part are the raids on the Romanian port of Constanta, the disruption of the evacuation of the Germans from the Crimea in 1944, the protection of the Yalta Conference of the Heads of the Allied Powers in February 1945.
The number of "Kigtyhawks" in the Black Sea Fleet was constantly increasing - from 19 in May 1943 to 42 on December 1. Combat losses in 1943 were minimal - 3 aircraft. The maximum number of P-40s in the Black Sea Fleet turned out to be 103 pieces on January 1, 1945, and by May 10, 1945 it decreased to 89.
In the battles against Japan, the P-40 did not take part - the Pacific Fleet Air Force received only 2 training Kittyhawks, transferred from the Northern Fleet in June 1945.
In general, the Air Force of the Navy of the USSR received in 1941-45. 360 P-40 aircraft of all models, and lost in battles 66 (18%) - the minimum percentage of losses among fighters of all types!
In conclusion, one fact can be noted: in the USSR, 3 twice Heroes of the Soviet Union out of 27 fought on Kittihawks: B.F. Safonov, P.A. Pokryshev (22 personally shot down plus 7 in the group) and M.V. Kuznetsov (22 + 6), and the last two - more than a year. Many pilots became aces and Heroes of the Soviet Union on them, and a number of regiments won the guard rank on the P-40. In general, the car fought well, although it had characteristic flaws, which significantly narrowed the area of its effective application.
* Over the course of a year, B.F. Safonov rose in rank from senior lieutenant to lieutenant colonel, and in position - from squadron commander to regiment commander (since March 20, 1942)
** One of them was given to B.F. by the American delegation, which arrived with convoy PQ-15. Safonov, and another one - to the commander of the Air Force of the Northern Fleet, Major General A. A. Kuznetsov
*** At the time of his death, he had 20 shot down personally and 6 - in the group (according to the flight book), for which on June 14, 1942 he was posthumously awarded the title twice of the GSS. Modern archival research (Yu. Rybin) confirmed only 8 downed aircraft.
**** The 2nd Guards SAP was reorganized into the 2nd GIAP on 14 October 1942.