Spitfires over the Kuban

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Spitfires over the Kuban

Igor Zlobin ©
Tranlsation by James F. Gebhardt ©

Along with British Hurricanes, the Soviet Air Force (voyenno-vozdushnyye sily—VVS) also managed to fly another aircraft of the Royal Air Force as a front-line fighter—the Spitfire Mk. Vb. In the West this airplane is feted as the winner of the Battle of Britain, and is also a national symbol of World War II. In the skies of Russia these fighters became participants in 1943 of the bloodiest battles over the Kuban. Two front-line fighter aviation regiments of the Soviet VVS—57th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment (GIAP) and 821st Fighter Aviation Regiment (IAP)—were re-equipped with the Spitfire Mk. Vb.

It was the 57th GIAP that first entered combat with the enemy in these fighters, in May 1943. Earlier the regiment was known as the 36th IAP, and was formed in Baku in 1938. Pilots flew the regiment’s first combat sortie under the command of Major Aleksandr Alekseevich Osipov on 27 November 1941 as part of the 72d Fighter Aviation Division (IAD) (later the regiment was subordinated to the 237th IAD). The regiment fought in the Southern, Crimean, and North Caucasus fronts until 15 November 1942.

At the end of November, having given up its I-16s, the regiment was rebased to Baku and already in early December the personnel were sent to 25th Reserve Aviation Regiment (ZAP) at an airfield near Kara-Chala. Here the airmen began training on new equipment—British Spitfire Mk. Vb airplanes.

Transition training to the Spitfires lasted over three months—from 10 December 1942 to 22 March 1943. Regarding this period, the regiment summary says that the delay in transition training of the regiment’s personnel occurred as a result of poor weather conditions and lack of equipment. Anatoliy Leonidovich Ivanov, at that time a senior lieutenant and pilot in the 36th IAP, recalls:

We studied the new equipment diligently, but were unable to acquire any practical mastery of the Spitfire in the air because we did not have any instructions on techniques of piloting this airplane. Neither the technical staff nor the regiment instructors knew its most basic flight and tactical data.

Ivanov further notes that initially the regiment had only a single aircraft, first flown by regiment commander Major Osipov. The shortage of aircraft was associated with delays in delivery of Spitfires to the Soviet Union. The first 35 aircraft, which arrived at Basra port aboard the vessel City of Derby on 10 January 1943, were not handed over to the Soviet side until early February. The remaining aircraft arrived at the end of March.

Supermarin Spitfire Vb being prepared for delivery to the Soviet Union at Abadan, Iran in 1943.
Photo submitted by C-F. Geust

A portion of the aircraft was turned over to the Allies in Iran and several were destroyed en route. From Basra the aircraft were ferried to Abadan, Iran, where they were prepared for handover to Soviet engineers and technicians. Here their British identification markings were painted over with red stars with black outline.

A group of the regiment’s most experienced pilots, led by the commander, Lieutenant Colonel Osipov, made six aerial flights to Teheran and ferried the Spitfires to Kara-Chala airfield. Here the aircraft were divided between two regiments—the 36th IAP and most likely the 821st IAP, the personnel of which had also begun transition to the British aircraft. Altogether the Soviet side received 143 of the 149 aircraft that were shipped from England.

On 8 February 1943, when the pilots were still undergoing transition training, by Order of the People’s Commissariat of Defense No. 63 of 8 February 1943, the 36th IAP was re-designated to the 57th Guards IAP. The deputy commander of VVS of the Trans-Caucasus Military District, Colonel Yakovenko, arrived to offer his congratulations to the regiment’s personnel. At the meeting that was arranged for this purpose, the colonel read the order of the People’s Commissariat of Defense and handed out to the entire personnel component the “Guards” badge that was worn on the breast pocket. The order stated the following:

For courage displayed in battles with the German-fascist invaders, for determination and discipline and excellent organization, for the heroism of its personnel, the 36th Fighter Aviation Regiment is re-designated to the 57th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment.

It was in this time frame that the regiment’s distinguishing symbol, a depiction of the Guards badge, began to appear on the horizontal stabilizers of the Russified Spitfires. The other distinguishing mark of the regiment was a yellow lightning bolt down the entire side of the fuselage, which began to appear when the regiment was still fighting in I-16s. The lightning bolt also appeared on the regiment’s aircraft later when it began to fight in the American P-39, and survived on several airframes of one version when later they were handed over to a PVO (protivo-vozdushnaya oborona—air defense) regiment.

The program of instruction took its course. The pilots studied the peculiarities of controlling the aircraft and also the exploitation of its on-board equipment. Here is an excerpt from the regiment’s summary of combat actions.

In accordance with the program of instruction, 56 training hours were devoted to study of the flight condition of the Spitfire Vb aircraft, 63 hours to its technical aspects, and 17 hours to its armaments. Study of the Merlin-46 engine in flight operations consumed 48 training hours, with an additional 65 hours given over to its technical aspects. The regiment’s pilots participated in 132 hours of training battles in the Spitfires during practical exercises.

Changes occurred in the leadership of the regiment and squadrons in the course of training. Experienced pilots such as Captains Terpugov and Platonov were assigned to command positions in other regiments and squadron commissar Chernetsov was appointed to the position of regiment navigator. Lieutenant Radkevich was named commander of 1st Squadron and Captain Sapozhnikov assumed command of the 2nd Squadron. Senior Lieutenant Soldatov headed up the Third Squadron. Of the entire complement of pilots of this regiment at this time, 21 pilots had combat experience and 12 pilots came into the regiment from 25th ZAP, lacking any encounters with the enemy.

At the end of March, the leadership of the Tbilisi Aviation Plant decided to conduct demonstration aerial battles of the lend-lease Spitfire and Airacobra against the new series LaGG-3, which had just been released to production. The mock dogfights were to be attended by the director of the aviation plant and the commanders of aviation of the front and the VVS of Black Sea Fleet. However the results of the demonstration were not quite what the plant leadership had intended.

Captain Sapozhnikov, a pilot of 57th GIAP, flew the Spitfire, and Captain Aleksandr Pokryshkin, commander of 1st Squadron, 16th GIAP, flew the Airacobra. A factory test pilot flew the LaGG. Here is how Pokryshkin describes this aerial combat in his memoirs:

The conditions for the battle were complicated: our “enemies” were to fly toward Sapozhnikov and me on unknown azimuths. Thus, even before the start of the fight in high-speed turns, they had favorable positions. But the bosses had decided, and we did not argue with them. We had to find a way out in the course of the fight.
The leadership arrived. I flew in the first pair. I gained the established altitude and by rocking my wings gave the command to initiate the fight in horizontal maneuvers. I energetically put my aircraft into a turning climb and, allowing the LaGG to approach to a dangerous distance, executed a sudden roll with decrease in altitude. The LaGG-3 passed by above me and I immediately set up on his tail and got him in my sight. No matter what way the LaGG turned, I kept him in my sight. Several minutes went by and the result was obvious.
Then we examined how the LaGG would handle itself in vertical maneuvers. I threw my aircraft into a steep dive and, having gained velocity, departed into a zoom. At the apex I placed my airplane on its wing. The LaGG was making a combat turn below me. It was relatively easy for me to catch him in the tail and fix him in my sight, parrying all attempts of this ‘enemy’ to avoid my attack.
Sapozhnikov also won his fight in turning and climbing, but fought to a draw in vertical maneuvers. After coming out of a dive, the LaGG-3 stayed close to me in a high-speed pass over the airfield, but the Spitfire, which had weaker diving capabilities, fell significantly behind us.

One way or another, having completed the program of instruction on 20 April 1943, the regiment received the order to be re-based in the Kuban and to enter combat actions as part of the 216th Mixed Aviation Division (smeshannaya aviatsionnaya divisiya – SAD) of the 4th Air Army (vozdushnaya armiya – VA). [This division was redesignated the 9th Guards IAD on 17 July 1943, and commanded by Colonel Aleksandr Pokryshkin from April 1944 to May 1945 – J.G.]

Early on the morning of 23 April, 32 aircraft of 57th GIAP prepared to launch from Kara-Chala airfield. The regiment’s technical personnel were to be sent out to the new base location by rail transportation on the following day. However, not everything went smoothly. During takeoff a pilot in the 3d Squadron, Guards Sergeant Kulagin, struck the parked aircraft of Senior Lieutenant Faustov, resulting in serious damage to both aircraft. Guards Junior Lieutenant Syachin was unable to take off from the intermediate airfield at Kutaisi because his engine would not start. Despite these incidents, 29 aircraft of the 57th GIAP landed on Krasnodar airfield in the afternoon. On the morning of 24 April, these aircraft repositioned to the place from which they were to accomplish their combat work—an airfield located near Popovicheskaya stanitsa.


By April 1943, the 216th SAD comprised five regiments: 16th Guards IAP, 45th IAP, 42nd IAP, 57th Guards IAP, and 765th Ground-Attack Aviation Regiment (shturmovoy aviatsionnyy polk – ShAP). The division had been executing combat missions while based on Popovicheskaya airfield, not far from Krasnodar, since early April. Altogether the division had 114 aircraft, by type: 14 Yak-1, 48 P-39 Airacobra, 8 P-40 Kittyhawk, and 29 Spitfire. The division complement also included a ground-attack regiment, which had on hand 15 Il-2 Shturmoviks.

Having displaced to its new location on 24 April 1943, the regiment began to gain control over the combat situation. On 25 and 26 April, the pilots executed 29 and 17 aircraft sorties respectively to gain familiarity with the area of combat actions, while at the same time providing cover to their own airfield.

On 27 April, a pair of Spitfires under the command of Guards Senior Lieutenant Soldatov sortied twice to accompany a Pe-2 reconnaissance aircraft in the Krymskaya area. To show the pilots of other units their new equipment, one aircraft sortied to Krasnodar and Yelizabetinskaya airfields. However, the first sortie on this day ended tragically. Despite the poor weather conditions, with the overcast below 30 meters, a pair from 2d Squadron, Guards Captain Viktor Chernetsov and Guards Sergeant Ryabov, were sent up at 0510 to cover the airfield. After takeoff Chernetsov, having evaluated the weather situation over the patrol zone, determined that the assigned mission could not be executed. He gave the order to return to the field, and landed first. Unlike his leader, Ryabov was unable to find the landing field lights on the first attempt and went around. On his second pass, at an altitude of four meters, the Spitfire lost its landing speed. The aircraft dropped on its left wing and tore into the ground at an angle. By this time having flown the Spitfire a total of 16 hours and 53 minutes, Pavel Sergeevich Ryabov died in the hospital from injuries received. The aircraft was written off.

The first encounter between pilots of the regiment and the enemy occurred on the following day, 28 April. Guards Senior Lieutenant Viktor Radkevich led a group of four Spitfires in coordination with four Airacobras of the neighboring regiment to the area of Krasnyy, a neighboring settlement, to cover Soviet troops. Here it must be noted that pilots of 16th GIAP were leading the novices of 57th GIAP in their first battles; therefore the groups were often mixed.

Arriving in the area at 1310, the pilots spotted 12 Ju-87s that were bombing Soviet positions. The four-ship flight of Spitfires raced downward into the attack. Radkevich stayed close with his wingman, Guards Lieutenant Nikolay Skvortsov. While they were pulling out from the attack, Skvortsov became separated from his lead and lost sight of him. At that moment, Hauptmann Gunther Rall, the commander of 8 Staffel JG 52, who was positioned slightly higher, taking advantage of the blunder of the group commander’s wingman, shot up Radkevich. As a result the regiment lost an outstanding squadron commander who had combat experience. At the time of his death he had five personal and four shared victories to his credit. The attack on the Spitfires was so swift that the pilots of the second pair, Makarov and Mironenko, had not even seen Radkevich’s aircraft when they broke off from their own attack.

At this same time, six Yak-1s from a neighboring division appeared in the patrol area; one fighter that separated from the group executed an attack on the aircraft of Lieutenant Mironenko, who had not anticipated such actions from the Yaks. Although his Spitfire was not damaged, the incident with the attack of the Yak-1 was immediately made an issue in the 216th SAD. A pair of Spitfires made a second circuit to the nearest airfields to familiarize the pilots with this new type of fighter that had appeared on their sector of the front.

Here it should be noted that an encounter with the British aircraft was unexpected not only for the pilots of the neighboring regiment but also for the Luftwaffe pilots. They were quite familiar with this aircraft type, but none of them had expected to see it on the Eastern front. Here is how Gunther Rall recalls this episode.

I wrote a summary of the battle, in which I noted the appearance of the Spitfires on the Eastern front. My group commander asked me for the time being not to discuss what had happened. ‘Perhaps you were mistaken, Rall? All this will only alarm your comrades.’ I responded that it was more likely that tomorrow we would encounter a large number of Spitfires in our sector of the front.

On the night of 28 April, forces of the 56th Army, having completed regrouping and concentration of forces, occupied jumping off positions for the offensive against Krymskaya stanitsa. The battle for Krymskaya began on the following morning, 29 April, at 0740, after an artillery preparation that lasted more than an hour. Soviet aviation had conducted raids during the previous night on enemy combat formations and firing positions in the zone of the offensive. The air strikes were repeated in the morning, with 144 bombers, 84 shturmoviks, and 265 fighters participating, including the pilots of 57th GIAP in escort.

The group of Guards Senior Lieutenant Anatoliy Ivanov took off first, at 0645, to escort seven Pe-2s that were bombing Moldavanskoye. Ten minutes later the group of Guards Senior Lieutenant Soldatov took off to escort Pe-2s to the southern outskirts of Krymskaya. The German fighters did not have to wait long. Separate skirmishes erupted in the sky in which Guards Colonel Osipov’s pilots encountered Fw190 aircraft for the first time. At 0720, during the pause for the nine Petlyakovs to bomb German positions near Blagodarnyy, the Spitfire pilots fended off an attack of a solitary Focke-Wulf that by all appearances was engaged in free hunt.

During the following sortie at 0854 over Abinskaya, a Focke-Wulf again attacked the bombers and had to be driven off. During the pause over the target, a pair of Yaks shot up the aircraft of Guards Lieutenant Aleksandr Serebryakov. During the second pass six “skinnies” (in the period described, German units were equipped with the G-2 and G-4 versions of the Bf-109, which the Soviet airmen referred to as “skinnies,” “Messers,” and “Messerschmitts”) pounced on the Petlyakovs. In the engagement that ensued, Guards Sergeant Shcherban became separated from and lost sight of his lead, Guards Lieutenant Semenov. In addition, the fighter pilots lost sight of two Pe-2s. Semenov and the bombers were probably shot down as a result of a high-speed attack by German hunters. The enemy aircraft in this battle were known to the Soviet pilots from the previous day’s encounter with JG 52. And like on the previous day, Gunther Rall took advantage of the separation of the commander and his wingman and increased his score by a single Spitfire.

At 1523, an eight-ship formation of Guards Major Vasiliy Sidorov, patrolling above Krymskaya, spotted to the east and below a Fw189 artillery-spotter aircraft covered by two Bf109s and two Fw190s. Majors Dmitriy Ilyin and Vasiliy Sidorov conducted a single attack from above from a range of 500 meters, after which the “frame” (this is how Soviet pilots called Fw189 due to it’s window frame-like shape) went into a vertical dive. But the pilots did not observe the fall of the aircraft because they were driven off by the fighter cover. The pilots conducted frontal attacks twice in the six-minute engagement with the escort fighters. In one of these passes, the aircraft of Senior Lieutenant Ivanov was disabled by the fire of an Fw190, and as noted in the journal of combat actions, “required repair over the course of a week.”

At approximately the same time, an eight-ship formation of Guards Captain Chernetsov, flying over Krymskaya in coverage of Soviet positions, began an engagement with fighters from 7./ JG 52 that were escorting Ju87s. Alfred Grislawski, whose fighter’s white rudder bore 100 black “marks,” participated in this combat. These markings indicated the number of victories achieved by this pilot on the Eastern front by this time. Although this most intense engagement concluded without result, while pulling out after one frontal attack on the Bf109, Guards Lieutenant Nikolay Skvortsov endured the breaking of his seat from excessive G-forces. The pilot struck his head on the cowling of the cockpit.

On the evening of this same day, at 1756, four Bf109s in a group flying out of the sun jumped an eight-ship formation of Guards Captain Sapozhnikov patrolling over Nizhne-Bakanskaya. One pair of Messers remained above in cover and the second immediately attacked the leader of the group of Spitfires. The wingman, Guards Lieutenant Serebryakov, having spotted the Messerschmitt attacking his leader, opened fire on the enemy aircraft from behind at a range of 150 meters. The Bf109 went into a vertical dive, having succeeded only in firing at Sapozhnikov’s aircraft. The wingman of the attacking German pair in turn opened fire on Serebryakov’s aircraft from above and behind, puncturing his oil tank. Serebryakov had to belly-land his burning aircraft 10 kilometers east of Abinskaya. No one witnessed the fall of the Messer, however it was recorded in the journal of combat actions “Confirmation for the aircraft was received from ground troops.”

By the area of the fight and its description, the attack was very similar to the claim of two German pilots of 8./JG 52. Thus, Uffz. Wilhelm Hauswirth fired a salvo at a Spitfire at 1530; his wingman, Uffz. Karl Schumacher, opened fire on a second aircraft at 1531. This was probably Guards Lieutenant Aleksandr Serebryakov. However doubt arises on account of the disparity in the time. (The difference between German and Soviet time recordings at this moment should be one hour. In addition, the entry in the journal of combat actions in 57th GIAP does not give the precise number of all sorties for the day being discussed.)

On the ground, the situation also was not developing in the best manner—the attack of Soviet forces was broken. Over the course of the day, the forces of 56th Army were unable to break through the enemy defenses on any axis. The northern group of attacking forces had penetrated 1–2 kilometers into the enemy defense by the close of 29 April, and the southern group had almost no forward movement. The fiery and bloody battles on land were accompanied by fierce engagements in the sky. Though Soviet pilots managed to seize superiority in the air, the German command trumpeted the unprecedented success of its pilots on this day—63 downed Soviet aircraft. Soviet data claims approximately 74 destroyed [German] aircraft, including 32 by 4th Air Army. Pilots of the 216th SAD claimed five of these.

On the following day, the Germans undertook an attempt to counterattack the Soviet units. On this day the protagonists switched roles; now Soviet pilots had to cover their own forces against enemy air strikes. Aerial battles raged with new force. Circling in a violent carousel of air-to-air combat, German and Soviet pilots attempted to catch enemy aircraft in their crosshairs. A participant in this battle, A. Ivanov, recalls:

“It required an enormous intensity of effort to hold up in the swirling maelstrom of air battles and not to give in physically.”

An eight-ship flight under the command of Guards Major Vasiliy Sidorov encountered four Bf109s from 4./JG 52 over Ukrainskaya at 0840 and engaged them in aerial combat. Guards Senior Lieutenant Anatoliy Makarov came out on the tail of a “skinny” at a range of 200 meters and opened fire. The Bf109 showed black smoke from the right side of its fuselage and the aircraft went down with a half turn. The aircraft was counted as a victory because the pilots observed a canopy opening under the protection of another Messer. (Perhaps this was Uffz. E. Kerkhoff, Bf109G-2 with factory number 14787, shown in German records as “shot down.”)

However the pilots of 57th GIAP also suffered losses. The aircraft of Guards Sergeant Marchenko did not return from its sortie that day. Although the pilot himself later returned to his unit, his Spitfire was recorded as the 125th victory of Oblt. Gerhard Barkhorn, commander of 4./JG 52. The aircraft of Guards Lieutenant Kukushkin received damage from the fire of a four-ship formation of Fw190s, but the pilot managed to land at an airfield at Krasnoarmeysk. The aircraft of Guards Senior Lieutenant Ordinartsev was damaged by Uffz. Karl-Heinz Meltzer. The pilot managed to land his damaged airplane on its belly south of Fedorovskaya. The eight-ship formation of Guards Senior Lieutenant Soldatov fought the next intense engagement over the course of eight minutes. The fight with four Bf109s ended without results for either side.

A more protracted battle flared up in the evening at 1712, when Guards Captain Chernetsov with eight fighters engaged four Bf109s in the area of Shibik-2. In the combat that followed, the group downed a single Bf109, which fell southwest of Armyanskaya. Our group did not have losses, however the German pilots from 4./JG 52, Lt. Helmut Haberda and Feldwebel Viktor Petermann, each claimed one downed Spitfire.

Our colleagues flying red-starred Yaks also took their shots. At 1712, in the area of Mingrelskaya, an eight-ship flight of Yaks conducted two attacks on the Spitfires. At 1740 in the area of Abinskaya, another group of 12 Yaks, having attacked the pilots of 57th GIAP, just the same achieved a victory and one Spitfire pilot had to belly-land his aircraft. It should be noted that the Airacobras of 45th IAP and 16th GIAP were also subject to attacks by the Yaks. On this same day, at 0950, a pair of Yaks attempted for eight minutes to drive to ground the aircraft of Guards Major Kryukov from 16th GIAP.

Altogether from 24 through 30 April, the regiment flew 108 aircraft sorties with a total of 115.10 aircraft hours. The guardsmen shot down four enemy aircraft, three of which were Bf109 fighters. The regiment lost three aircraft and two pilots. By 1 May, of 29 aircraft assigned, 25 Spitfires remained in formation. In addition, the efforts of technical personnel in the aviation regiment and the mobile aviation repair shop (podvizhnaya aviaremontnaya masterskaya—PARM) repaired seven damaged aircraft (including aircraft with the factory numbers EP 210, EP 414, EP 565, EP 241, and EP 237).

The Month of May

Merlin 46-engined Spitfire Vb of the 3rd Squadron of 57th GIAP during Kuban battle.
Photo submitted by C-F. Geust

Despite the fact that, associated with worsening weather conditions, the first days of May turned out to be somewhat quiet in the air, this month became the most difficult for the regiment. A more detailed examination of the regiment’s work in this month will be laid out in a book in preparation for publication. Here we will simply note the most interesting moments for the month.

On 3 May the Spitfire pilots added the first downed bomber to their score. At 1135 at an altitude of 4,500 meters, in the Neberdzhaevsk area, a four-ship formation of Guards Senior Lieutenant Soldatov encountered a single He-111 flying at an altitude of 6,000 meters toward Gastogaevsk. After the fifth attack, Viktor Savchenko sed one bomber on fire, which fell 2 km northwest of Shapsugskaya. (The Germans lost He-111-11, werke no. 8070, code G1+ER from 7./KG 55.)

On 5 May, the pilots of 57th GIAP, who were covering troops in the area of Grecheskiy and Nizhnyaya Bakanskaya, successfully fended off dive-bomber raids in the morning. For the pilots of these Ju-87s, the encounters with British aircraft were unexpected. These words were recorded in a summary about the division’s combat mission:

Ju-87 bombers, flying above the overcast, several times permitted Spitfire fighters to approach them, obviously taking them for Bf-109s. Then, when they recognized their error, immediately the entire group dove into the clouds, without even attempting to seek out their target.

The first engagement occurred at 1040 over Modavanskaya, when a four-ship formation of Guards Captain Sapozhnikov encountered two groups of Ju-87s, 12 aircraft in each, escorted by Messerschmitts. Having given the order to a second pair to attack the enemy fighters, the strike group of Sapozhnikov-Serebryakov raced toward the dive bombers. Aleksey Sapozhnikov personally shot down two Junkers in the first pass; the remaining bombers began to drop their bombs in disarray.

At the same time, over Verkhniy Adegumoy, another group of Guards Senior Lieutenant Azarov encountered two groups of 10 Ju-87s each. The group leader managed to “light up” one dive bomber. The second pair of Ordinartsev-Kudryashov attacked the enemy fighter pair flying cover. Yevgeniy Ordinartsev shot down a Bf-109 in the first pass from behind and below at a range of 100 meters.

After dinner, the pilots clashed with a pair of Yak-1 fighters that was acting strangely. This and subsequent engagements of trophy Yaks, used by the Germans, were reflected in detail in division intelligence summaries.

At 1510, north of Nizhenebakanskaya, a pair of Spitfires was attacked by an unidentified pair of Yak-1s that were painted in a dark color. During the attack the running lights of the Yak-1s were illuminated. At this same time, abbreviated commands in a loud German voice were heard over the radio in the air.

The Yaks attacked not only the division’s Spitfires but also its Airacobras. According to data collected from all the regiments, the decision was made to paint a recognition stripe on all Yak-1s, which later was constantly modified until the “imposters” were shot down.

On 6 May, with continuous patrols, the division covered the attacking forces of 56th Army against enemy bombers in the Nizhne Grecheskaya and Alevra areas, Hill 204.3, and Hill 141.7. The regiment’s pilots conducted a number of outstanding engagements, noted by the division command in a telegram to the regiment’s personnel. In this telegram he noted that “pilots of the 57th GIAP demonstrated how to fight in the new equipment they have received. They shot down two Ju-87s, six Bf-109s, and one Fw-189, and damaged four Ju-87s.” Only one aircraft—of Guards Sergeant Rogozin, was damaged by the fire of a Bf-109. He belly-landed 1 km east of Gladkovskaya. However, the division summary claimed only two downed aircraft. The remainder fell under the description “downed according to pilot claims, but unsupported by ground forces and Lisitsa-1 radio-vectoring stations.”

8 May became the most tragic day of this month. In the first combat sortie at 0840, while en route to their coverage area, a four-ship under the command of Guards Senior Lieutenant Soldatov was attacked out of the sun by three pairs of Messers from 6./JG3 west of Abinskaya at an altitude of 3,000 meters. What exactly happened in those minutes, according to notes made in the journal of combat actions, is difficult to establish. The first attack of the Messers involved the lead pair of Soldatov-Azarov. Simultaneously the second pair of Bf-109s damaged the aircraft of Guards Senior Lieutenant Martynov. The pilot managed to fly his aircraft to Abinskaya airfield and land it with gear up. However in his memoirs, Anatoliy Ivanov talks about a developing engagement, which confirms the time of the German attacks, conducted with an interval of five minutes. Frantz Cech (0750), Gustav Frielinghaus (0755), and Gerhard Thyben (0800) pilots of 6./JG3 reported these attacks. After the attack the aircraft of Vasiliy Soldatov was emitting smoke and went over into an uncontrolled fall. The pilot, having bailed out, was attacked by one of the German fighters. According to the award documents for recommending a posthumous Hero of the Soviet Union award, Senior Lieutenant Azarov covered the falling Soldatov with his aircraft. According to the recollections of Ivanov, Sergey Semenovich Azarov placed his aircraft in the tracer stream intended for the aircraft of this commander. Nonetheless, the Germans also shot at Azarov’s aircraft. Having received third-degree burns, the pilot had to abandon his burning aircraft in the Abinskaya area, and unfortunately on 10 May 1943 he died from his wounds and burns in hospital. Of the four, only Guards Lieutenant Beznosenko was able to safely return to the airfield without damage to his aircraft.

The regiment moved to a new airfield on 15 May 1943, its first echelon of 11 aircraft flying from Popovicheskaya to Slavyanskaya airfield. On the following day, the remaining group of five Spitfires with Major Osipov made the flight. In addition to providing airfield cover, at the new base the regiment conducted free-hunt sorties for single enemy trucks on the roads from Varenikovskaya to Gastagaevskaya and from Kurganskaya to Krasniy.

On 26 May at 0500, Soviet forces began an offensive along both sides of the road from Kievskaya to Varenikovskaya. After a powerful artillery barrage, and with aviation support, the infantry of 37th and 56th Armies began their attacks at 0500. They managed to penetrate a German group from 101st Jaeger Division that was defending between Hill 121 and Gorchichniy. By 0600 Hill 121.4 and Gorchichniy were already in the hands of Soviet forces. On this day the regiment flew the greatest number of aircraft sorties—42. The headquarters of 4th VA recorded 1415 aircraft sorties on this day, in which 87 enemy aircraft were destroyed and damaged.

On 27 May the German command attempted to re-establish its previous line of defense. At dawn three combat groupings of ground forces, supported by large air formations of 50–100 aircraft, were sent into a counterattack in the direction of Gorchichniy. Considering the situation of the previous day, the Germans strengthened their fighter groups for clearing out the airspace and for escort. At approximately 0600, flying in the Kievskaya area to cover their own forces, Soviet pilots immediately were confronted by a new enemy tactic.

Approximately ten Bf-109s were waiting for Osipov’s eight-ship formation at an altitude of 3,500 meters. Having divided into pairs, the enemy embarked on a 30-minute engagement. Guards Lieutenant Osipov with his wingman, Serebryakov, influenced the outcome of this fight. They tightly attached themselves to the tail of the leading pair of the German group, and chased it from an altitude of 3,500 meters down to 50 meters. Osipov was continuously attacking the German wingman, but broke off the attack because of low altitude and did not observe the fall of the enemy. At the same time, Aleksandr Serebryakov saw how the German lead managed to pull out his aircraft at low altitude, but his wingman made an inverted turn at an altitude of 50 meters and presumably flew into the ground. Senior Lieutenant Martynov, flying above, damaged another Bf-109. The German fighter made a belly landing 500 meters southwest of Trudovaya. Guards Lieutenant Beznosenko confirmed the forced landing of the Messer. According to German data, the Bf-109G-2 (werke no. 14234) of Unter Officer A. Gaide from 1./JG52 was damaged and made a forced landing, but in the Gostagaevskaya area.

The battle had hardly concluded, when at 0630 enemy bombers were approaching Krymskaya. The pilots counted approximately six groups with 6 to 12 aircraft (He-111 and Ju-88) in each. All the Spitfires attacked the bombers. The lead pair was outstanding here also, having damaged one Ju-88 with two passes. However, having ignored the escort fighters, the group was immediately attacked by the Messers from the 7th Shtaffel JG 52. Feldwebel Gunther Toll riddled the aircraft of flight commander Guards Senior Lieutenant Makarov. Although the pilot was not injured, his aircraft had to be sent to the PARM.

In the afternoon, the weather deteriorated. Low overcast moved in over the patrol area. The bombers now began to penetrate toward the target area in small groups, taking cover in the overcast. At 1230, in the Kievskaya–Moldovanskaya area, the group of Guards Major Sidorov attacked these groups of bombers several times, but the enemy departed into the clouds. At 1915 Chernetsov’s group again took off on alert from the vectoring station, but unable to find the enemy bombers, encountered two Bf-109s, which did not accept combat and also departed into the overcast. Upon completion of their patrol the pilots were attacked by their own aircraft—one LaGG-3 made a pass at Shikalov’s aircraft, and a Yak-1 on Ivanov. Just the same, neither the aircraft nor their pilots were harmed.

Last Flights

On 1 June, six British fighters could be counted in 57th GIAP on Slavyanskaya airfield, of which four were serviceable. Despite this fact, the command of 216th SAD continued to send out the aircraft to cover ground forces.

Shot down on 8 June in air combat with hunters, Guards Junior Lieutenant Kolbasin became the last casualty of the 57th GIAP in battles while flying British aircraft. For Rudolf Mitig, who had achieved this victory of the Soviet pilot, this was his 99th victory. Later in the day he achieved his 101st victory, and the last victory of his life, by a means uncharacteristic for German pilots—by ramming the La-5 fighter of Guards Captain V. A. Doroshenko from 3d GIAP. Both pilots were killed as a result of this collision.

In view of the halting of offensive operations of the forces of the North Caucasus Front and the preparation of both sides for the battle in the Kursk bulge, the intensity of combat work in 216th SAD was sharply reduced by the end of the month. Altogether by the end of June 1943, the pilots of 57th GIAP flew a total of 69 combat sorties. For comparison, the 16th and 100th GIAP had executed 112 and 113 sorties respectively, which is explained by the presence in these units of a large number of serviceable aircraft. The 42d GIAP, which over the course of June had from 22 to 16 serviceable Yak-1s, took the basic load upon itself, having flown 228 combat sorties.

Altogether the four regiments of 216th SAD had conducted 36 aerial engagements, in which, as noted in the division summary, were “shot down by type: 14 Bf-109, 3 Ju-87, and 4 Bf-109 damaged, of which 8 Bf-109 and 2 Ju-87 were confirmed by ground observers. The remaining aircraft were not credited to pilots on the basis of the People’s Commissariat of Defense Order No. 0685 ...” A note to this summary reports that the 57th GIAP conducted three inconclusive aerial battles.

There was nothing with which to replace the damaged and unserviceable aircraft. Taking into consideration the growing volume of American deliveries, at the end of June the decision was made to transition the flight crews of 57th GIAP to the P-39 Airacobra. The last combat sortie of a Spitfire occurred at approximately 2000 on 26 July, in a reconnaissance mission. And on the 27th of July the remaining aircraft were flown to Tikhoretskaya airfield for handing over to the pilots of the 821st IAP.

The 821st IAP, having undergone training in the Spitfire Mk. Vb in the spring of 1943 at the 25th ZAP, and having been reconstituted with personnel, departed for the front as part of the 216th SAD. It arrived in the division in July. By all accounts, the arrival of this unit was connected with the fact that it already had experience in the exploitation of British aircraft. The regiment did not participate in combat work, and this commentary about its arrival is preserved in the division summary:

“The 821st IAP, which has been assigned to the division, has not flown combat sorties due to a lack of combat experience and the unpreparedness of its flight crews.”

Here it must be noted still another important detail, which influenced subsequent combat work. The aircraft, which were assigned to the regiment had been received by the Soviet side simultaneously with those that the 57th GIAP had been using since April. And during this entire time, in the conduct of training flights, they had flown a sufficient number of hours.

On 17 July the 216th SAD underwent reorganization. Now it became the 9th Guards Fighter Aviation Division; the 45th IAP also received guards designation and became the 100th GIAP. Before the end of July, the 42d and 57th GIAP were to leave the division and the 104th GIAP was to arrive as a replacement. In this manner, a division was created that consisted of three guards regiments, equipped with one aircraft type—the P-39 Airacobra. In connection with these reorganizations, it was decided to transfer the 821st IAP, which by this time was commanded by Major Vladimir Makarovich Chalov and equipped with 29 aircraft, to the 236th IAD.

This division immediately turned its attention to the wear on the regiment’s equipment—first of all of the engines. Here is how the navigator of the 236th IAD, Major Nikolay Isaenko, describes this period:

They ordered S. S. Shchirov, division engineer R. Kh. Tolstoy, and me to receive the 821st IAP. We quickly flew to its basing location. Major Chalov, a robust, smart, exceptionally attentive and polite man, made a strong impression on us. The regiment’s pilots also were turned out well. As was to be expected, the British fighter concerned both the commander and the regiment’s pilots. Literally on the eve of our arrival, one of the pilots had suffered an accident in the Spitfire that had ended tragically. This negatively influenced the regiment’s personnel. Without concealing the aircraft’s shortcomings, we had to show them also its strengths, to emphasize that with skillful piloting, it was possible to avoid accidents even in the event of breakage of a connecting rod in the engine... Believing that the Spitfire was unreliable for reconnaissance, hunt, and escorting shturmoviks, they decided to use it exclusively for coverage of ground forces, so that if a connecting rod broke, the pilot could glide to the positions of our own forces.

Unfortunately, because of the absence of a large number of documents on this regiment, it is difficult to evaluate its combat work. Relying on an article by Vladimir Kotelnikov and Mikhail Nikolskiy published in the journal Aviatsiya i Kosmonavtika, based on incomplete data, it can be said that during six weeks of combat the pilots of 821st IAP shot down 32 enemy aircraft in 93 aerial engagements. Their own losses consisted of 16 Spitfire Mk. Vb aircraft lost in the air and an additional four destroyed in forced landings. The technical personnel of this regiment were confronted with other obstacles in the process of servicing these aircraft. The mechanics equipped one of the aircraft with a wheel from a LaGG-3, and on another replaced the radio with a Soviet RSI-4. There was a problem with emergency lowering of the landing gear, which required compressed carbon dioxide. In connection with the shortage of this commodity, the system had to be pressurized with compressed air.

On the whole, concerning the entire combat work of the 821st IAP while flying in the Spitfire, Isaenko expressed the following:

This regiment had awful luck! The entire combat path, which it traveled from Shakhty to the primitive airfield at Chapaevka, which incidentally was the best and we managed to reach it in September, this entire path was littered with British fighters, which had executed forced landings with broken connecting rods. At Chapaevka, during the first takeoff, another three were broken.

As a result, by the end of August inspection flights by division officers in two fighters decided this acutely arising problem of the subsequent employment of Spitfires in the 821st IAP. The flights confirmed that the Spitfire engines were totally used up. And on 26 August the decision was made to move the 821st IAP out of combat in September for subsequent re-equipping in the long flow of Airacobras that were arriving in the Soviet Union.

Exploitation and Combat Employment of Spitfires
Igor Zlobin and Aleksandr Rodionov

The presence in the table of organization and equipment of the 216th SAD regiments of Spitfires, Airacobras, and Yaks for the accomplishment of one and the same tactical missions begs comparison of the employment of these aircraft in practically identical conditions. However, the raw numbers of the division summary must be taken as approximate indicators because of the differences in combat sorties and the nature of the aerial engagements.

The 57th GIAP, for the entire period of its combat activity, claimed the destruction of 48 enemy aircraft (5 Fw-189 reconnaissance aircraft, 18 bombers of various types, and 25 Bf-109 fighters). The overwhelming majority of aircraft shoot downs occurred in May. During this period the regiment’s pilots destroyed 41 enemy aircraft in 44 combats. The pilots of the division’s neighboring regiments were equally productive. The first half of the month was the period of greatest intensity of combat, as shown in Table 1.

Having fought since the end of February, the 45th IAP received new equipment and replenishment of personnel in May. Therefore this unit is not included in the analysis, because of 30 available flying days the regiment actually had only 15 days of combat work, and flew less than the remaining regiments. The 42d GIAP, having received its new aircraft in the second half of the month, began to catch up with the neighboring regiments in numbers of downed aircraft. The total outcome for May is presented in Appendix 1. Thus, the 16th GIAP flying P-39 Airacobras destroyed 40 aircraft in 41 engagements. For the 42d GIAP in Yaks, 49 aircraft are counted in 56 engagements. Even at a glance, it is obvious that in practically every aerial engagement, the pilots in various types of aircraft achieved one victory.

Other numbers are indicated in the summaries concerning downed enemy aircraft, TsAMO RF, 9th GIAD archive, collection 1, folder 18, pages 60-1. For example, the 57th GIAP is credited with 21 victories as confirmed by ground forces and the vectoring station; 16th GIAP is credited with 13 downed aircraft; 42d GIAP—27 enemy aircraft. (By regiment documents, all aircraft were credited to pilots.) But even in this list of victories, cut almost in half, can be seen the practically equal level of training of the flight crews of the guards units. Here one can draw a conclusion concerning the actual equal effectiveness of the types of fighters—Airacobras and Spitfires, which were accomplishing identical missions.

The price that had to be paid for these victories, in the authors’ opinion, is measured in the weak coordination and the tactics of the conduct and command and control of aerial combat. An analysis of combat losses that was done in this same division speaks “about the insufficient tactical competence and weak training in the techniques of aerial combat of individual pilots. The inability of pairs to preserve their mutual coordination in combat, mutual support, weak command and control of combat on the part of the group leader.” (TsAMO, RF, Archive 9 GIAD, Collection 1, folder 18, page 83]

There were unrecoverable losses in this period: in 57th GIAP—13 aircraft and 8 dead pilots; in 16th GIAP—9 aircraft and 6 pilots; and in 42d GIAP—8 aircraft were destroyed and 5 pilots did not return. Regarding accidents, over the course of May 1943 four Airacobras, one Yak-1, and one Spitfire were lost in the 216th SAD. All this attests to the full value of the combat work of 57th GIAD, which was equipped with Spitfires. This regiment was established in unique conditions along with the other regiments of the division, and in a completely normal fashion handled it combat missions, not lagging behind either the Airacobras or the Yaks. Moreover, if the number of Spitfires had been adequate in June and July, and if another modification of the fighter—the Spitfire Mk. IX (as occurred with other regiments, which received new Airacobras and Yaks) had been delivered, then it is possible that in the lists of those awarded the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union there would be new names—the pilots of 57th GIAP.

Here is a list of the best pilots of the Kuban campaign for May 1943, presented in the division documents: “... outstanding pilots Rechkalov, Iskrin, Pokryshkin, Azarov, Martynov, Sidorov, Sapozhnikov.” Note that when the combat contributions of airmen in the skies of the Kuban were recorded in books after the war, pilots of the 57th GIAP are on the same line with the pilots of the 16th GIAP.

The following can be said regarding the tactical employment of imported equipment. If experience in the piloting of the aircraft was adequate (some had less and others had more), then the old tactics in the conduct of battle did not permit the full exploitation of the aircraft’s capabilities. In particular, the following deficiencies were noted for April:

To date we have failed to give complete initiative to the action of a pair capitalizing on the speed of modern equipment. To date we have not eliminated the tactical forms of action based on the older I-16 and I-153 type equipment. Regiment commanders are not assimilating the experience of the aerial battles that have been conducted, by which the war teaches us ...

Radio communications are the basis of command and control of combat, but to date the flight crews of 16th and 57th GIAP have not acknowledged that fact. Many extraneous conversations and chatter occur during flight, which interfere with the group leader’s ability to supervise the combat and listen to the vectoring station. [TsAMO, RF, 9 GIAD Archive, collection 1, folder 18, page 3]

At the same time, it must be said that a whole series of measures were undertaken in the division to analyze mistakes, and develop and implement new methods of fighting. To expect the instantaneous employment of new tactical decisions would have been thoughtless. Just the same, at the end of May the tone in the analyses of battles was changing; notations were appearing regarding sensible tactical intervals of pairs before the attack, regarding immediate initiative of group commanders at the decisive moments of the engagement. But by this time half of the regiment’s aircraft were at the PARM, and the remaining were going down in fierce battles.

One of the most important sources by which one can judge the combat employment of the Spitfires is the testimonials of the pilots themselves about this aircraft. There is hardly a better person to characterize this equipment than a pilot who had to fight in it. Although during Soviet times it was customary to remain silent or curse aviation equipment delivered by Lend-lease, the memoirs of Anatoliy Ivanov, a pilot of 57th GIAP, contain the following description of this aircraft:

The Spitfire was a simple aircraft that permitted significant mistakes in the techniques of piloting. The I-16 was much more demanding. The Spitfire had a radio, not a great radio, but a radio nonetheless. The singular superiority of the Spitfire was the fact that it was very light and, because of its thrust-to-weight ratio, was a good climber. This supported reliable vertical maneuver. However the greatest deficiency was the fact that the weapons were spread out along the wings. The distance between the cannons was approximately four meters. During an attack on the enemy from close range, their lethality was greatly diminished.

Over the short period of time the regiment’s pilots fought in the British aircraft, they managed to overcome the fact that the Spitfire lagged behind the German Bf-109 and especially the Fw-190 fighters in such an important characteristic for a fighter as diving capabilities. The principal explanation for this was the lightness of its construction—the aircraft simply was unable to amass sufficient energy. Therefore “to exit an engagement in a Spitfire by diving was a fatal error, because this aircraft was light and a poor diver. A Messerschmitt could rapidly catch and shoot it down.

The regiment’s pilots considered the conduct of battles in the horizontal plane to be the optimum method of contesting with German fighters. Despite the fact that, as already noted above, because of its lightness the Spitfire was a quick climber, the pilots of 57th GIAP recommended engaging the Messers and Fokkers in turning battles. Ivanov emphasizes that it was necessary to draw the enemy into a right turn, “because the Messerschmitt’s propeller rotated to the left, and the airplane executed right turns with greater difficulty than left turns.” For this reason, the regiment’s pilots mastered the execution of deep right turns in the Spitfire. In Ivanov’s opinion, this training was no accident, and many enemy fighters were destroyed using this particular method.

Most of all the pilots liked the all-metal construction of the Spitfire. Unlike the built-of-wood Soviet-manufactured fighters, the “Englishman” withstood the strikes of German cannons and machine guns much better. The skin, of course, was penetrated, but it did not catch fire, and this was important. This aircraft had other “pluses:” high maneuverability, which was achieved through great lifting surface of the wings; the aircraft was light in the controls. One of the undoubted advantages of the Spitfire over Soviet-produced aircraft was the possibility to adjust its controls to the individual physical parameters of the pilot.

It has the capability to adjust the pedals in flight, which gives the pilot the possibility to freely execute pedal control in flight. As a rule, the pilot is able to adjust the aircraft so that if he momentarily loses consciousness, the aircraft will independently re-establish a normal attitude.

It was extremely important that an uncontrolled aircraft did not go into a vertical dive—that is, a pilot who was wounded or had lost consciousness due to the force of gravity had time to recover consciousness and bring the aircraft to horizontal flight.

Unfortunately, the Spitfire was endowed with not only positive qualities, but also shortcomings. Some of the British fighter’s shortcomings were revealed in the process of using the aircraft. It cannot be said that all of them were directly attributable to the aircraft itself; a portion of them were an unavoidable consequence of its use by the air forces of another nation.

In the first place, air war on the Eastern front by its nature differed significantly from the war in the Western theater of military operations, and many factors influenced its role in the East. Because aerial engagements in the East were conducted at low and medium altitudes, the engines of the “Russian” Spitfires did not develop the same horsepower as they provided on the Western front at higher, working altitudes, for which the aircraft and its engine were designed. As a consequence, the speed of the fighter was lower. In addition, in Russian conditions, the Spitfire had to function largely from primitive airfields. Its low chassis frequently did not withstand the unevenness of the airfields—the aircraft got stuck, went nose-over, and broke their wooden propellers, and therefore the pilots had to be extremely careful during taxi on the ground.

After flying our Soviet-manufactured aircraft [most of which had center-line weapons], our pilots were uncomfortable with the wing mounting of all the weapons—two cannons and four machine guns—of the Spitfire Mk. Vb. “The aircraft’s weapons are spread along the entire width of the aircraft, resulting in insufficient centralized fire” says one evaluation. Despite the fact that there was experience in the Soviet VVS of the employment of the I-16 with the ShVAK wing cannons, Soviet fighter pilots were more used to armaments located in the nose portion of the aircraft. In conditions of high-maneuver engagements, which were in the character of our fighters, such weapons gave superiority. The weight of a salvo was concentrated and directed to a specific portion of the enemy aircraft. In the case of the wing-mounted weapons of the Spitfire, it was necessary in the first place to become accustomed to the great dispersion of the weapons; and in the second place, to diligently shoot them, so that the tracers go to a single point. If gunnery skill is not developed, the shells and rounds may not hit the target.

However, most of all the technical personnel of the regiments were dissatisfied with the power plant of the British fighter—the Merlin 45 and 46 engines. In particular, the summaries say that the “engines function fully satisfactorily. The strong side of the Merlin engine is the fact that a PRD has been mounted on it, a regulator for the quality of the [fuel] mixture.” The engine had another quality as important to technical personnel as simplicity of service—assembly and disassembly of the engine was simple; there were no particularly difficult approaches to it. The engine started easily, its RZ-5 spark plugs worked for up to 50–60 hours which, as the mechanics noted, was also a good indicator. However, these same spark plugs had a “very weak electrode.

Adjustment of the engine itself, according to the testimony of specialists, was simple. The qualities that the pilots liked, and which were very important in aerial combat—transition to various regimes of power of the Merlin were smooth. The engine had good acceleration—it is obvious that this quality substantially assisted Spitfire pilots in combat with Messerschmitts, which thanks to the power of the Daimler-Benz engine had good speed dynamics.

A negative quality of the Merlin was the absence of a two-speed supercharger, which reduced the ceiling [altitude range] of the engine. The engine broke down after 50–60 hours of use, after which it was necessary to change out the piston rings, along with other assemblies: hydraulic systems, fuel pumps, and air compressor. The water pump was very complex in its design and, as a rule, broke during use. “There were cases in the process of use of breakage of piston rings, broken connecting rods, the consequences of the leak of coolant in places where the cylinder sleeves were press-fitted. There is no method for starting the engine from a wheeled vehicle”, says a summary of technicians of the 57th GIAP.

Over the course of May 1943, three engines were removed from use. One Merlin-45, because of piston-ring breakage, suffered a failure of pistons and cylinders. The second failed because of high temperature—the oil temperature reached 100–110° C, and the coolant 120–125° C. The same high oil and coolant temperatures also occasioned the removal of a Merlin-46 engine. The observation was made: “shaking [vibration], engine smoking, poor power, result of worn piston rings.” At the moment of failure, all three engines had approximately 40–60 hours of use. These engine failures became one of the primary causes of subsequent misfortune in the utilization of aircraft in 57th GIAP and 821st IAP. Appendix 6 presents the average intensity of aircraft sorties—36.1 for one serviceable aircraft, of which there were on average not more than 12. (In the same table, 16th GIAP had 18 aircraft and 42d GIAP had 26 aircraft.) The flight time for one serviceable aircraft was 43.4 hours. According to the account of Nikolay Isaenko, having begun to fight in August 1943 in equipment that had been worn in the process of training and ferrying, the 821st IAP entered combat work with already “problem” engines.

Taking into account that the fighter was an imported item, which began to experience shortages of spare parts for various assemblies from the beginning of use and especially of combat work, it was unavoidable that these shortages would have an impact on the material condition of the aircraft. Spare parts were in short supply for the Merlin, for the Rotol propellers, for coolant and oil radiators, wheels, and instruments. For this reason, a portion of the aircraft had to be rebuilt using parts from others. According to summaries, the greatest deficit was in wooden propellers. Over the course of May, the regiment did not receive a single spare propeller, despite the fact that they failed the most often. “Wooden propeller blades fail at airfields that have gravel [surfaces]... A large number of dents prevent proper use of the propellers”, it says in the summary.

Another deficiency was poor rubber, which frequently resulted in blowouts on the tread and also on the sidewalls of tires. The quality of Soviet front-line airfields played a large role in this issue.

It is worth noting that the mastery by the flight crews and technical personnel of the exploitation of the Spitfire and Merlin 45 and 46 engines was accomplished directly in the regiment. The senior squadron technicians and regiment engineers by specialty were the basic supervisors in technical training, despite a lack of special literature on the equipment. A review of mistakes in use of the equipment was conducted regularly with both the flight crews and mechanics of the regiment. These reviews were important, because no one in the division or the regiment had any experience in the repair and use of the aircraft and engine. Thus, every new revelation, after careful discussion and consultation, was quickly implemented on the equipment. In any event, the following conclusion was reached concerning these monthly reviews of the use of the Spitfire: “The regiment’s technical personnel coped well with both exploitation and repair, and in the future, if they had had occasion to service this same type of aircraft, could have completely fulfilled their obligations.

Click to enlarge


Table 1. Combat work of the 216th SAD from 1–10 May 1943

Regiment Number of aerial engagements Downed enemy aircraft
(bombers + fighters)
Damaged enemy aircraft Soviet losses
Destroyed aircraft Aircraft did not return Pilots
16 GIAP (P-39)


24 (8 + 16)

9 1 2 3
57 GIAP (Spitfire) 23 30 (15 + 15) 10 4 3 3
42 GIAP (Yak-1) 2 1     1 1

Table 2. Movement of Spitfire aircraft in 216th SAD

Month Number of aircraft at beginning of month Arrived from other units Departed to other units* Combat losses Non-combat losses
Number of aircraft at end of month
Downed in aerial combat Downed by antiaircraft fires Did not return from aerial combat Total
April 29 - - 3 - - 3 1 25
May 25 8 12 11 1 2 14 1 6
June** 6 2 (?) - 1 - - 1 - 7

* Evidently at PARM
** Compiled from several documents


Separate notes on the condition of Spitfire Vb fighters

On 1 May 1943, 57th GIAP had 27 serviceable aircraft, 5 unserviceable, and received 8 replacement aircraft (TsAMO RF, 9 GIAD Archive, collection 2, folder 18, page 71)

From 15 April through 15 May, 8 aircraft were shot down, 3 aircraft did not return from missions. On 18 May 1943, the regiment had 25 pilots assigned and 14 aircraft.

From 20 through 30 April 1943, 57th GIAP rebuilt 7 aircraft with the efforts of regiment maintenance personnel and PARM assets. (TsAMO RF, 9 GIAD Archive, collection 1, folder 18, page 2)

In May, aircraft nos. NEP 210, NEP 414, NEP 565, NEP 241, and NEP 237 were in repair. Altogether, 16 aircraft were rebuilt in the PARM in May.

On 1 June 1943, 4 serviceable and 2 unserviceable Spitfires were on Slavyanskaya airfield.

On 1 July 1943, 5 serviceable and 2 unserviceable Spitfires were on Slavyanskaya airfield. Three P-39s were available. (TsAMO RF, 9 GIAD Archive, collection 1, folder 18, page 70)

For all of August 1943, 4 serviceable aircraft were indicated in the “Table of intensity of combat work.”

List of sources utilized

TsAMO RF, Archive 9 GIAD, collection 1, folders 18, 18A

TsAMO RF, Archive 9 GIAD, collection 1, folder 15

TsAMO RF, Archive 9 GIAD, collection 2, folder 18

TsAMO RF, Archive 9 GIAD, collection 218919, folder3 Journal of Combat Actions for 1942–45

Tony Wood. OKL Fighter Claims: Chef fur Ausz. und Dizsiplin Luftwaffen-Personalamt L.P. (A) V Films & Supplementary Claims from Lists. Eastern Front 1943.

Supermarine Spitfire. Series “Aircraft of the World” [in Russian]. Issue 7, 1966

Khazanov, D. German Aces on the Eastern Front [in Russian]. Part 1. (Moscow: Tekhnika molodezhi, 2004)

Tike, V. March to the Caucasus. The Battle for Oil, 1942/1943 [in Russian] (Moscow: Eksmo, 2004)

In the Kuban Bridgehead [in Russian]. Voyennaya letopis, Issue 4, 2004.

Pokryshkin, A. Know Oneself in Battle [in Russian]. (Moscow: Tsentrpoligraf, 2006)

Gunter Rall I “As aux 275 victories,” Le Fana de I Aviation, Hors serie N25, Mai 2004.

Christer Bergstorn, Vlad Antipov, Claes Sundin, Graf & Grislawski: A Pair of Aces. 2003 Eagle Edition Ltd.

V. Kotelnikov, M. Nikolskiy. “Supermarine Spitfire” [in Russian], Aviatsiya i kosmonavtika, 5.2005.

Photographs: author’s archive; Carl-Fredrik Guest, Red Stars 4: Lend Lease Aircraft in Russia; and sources indicated above.

The authors acknowledge the assistance of the following in the preparation of this material: Vlad Antipov, Mikhail Bykov, Dmitiry Volodin, Oleg Levchenko, and Aleksey Pekarsh.

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