Charles Older

The focus of action then shifted to Burma, where the Hell’s Angels were operating in defence of Rangoon. On 23 December a force of some 70 JAAF aircraft, Ki 21 bombers escorted by Nakajima Ki 27 Nate and Nakajima Ki 43 Oscar fighters, raided Rangoon from their bases in Thailand. The AVG P-40s scrambled with the RAF’s Buffaloes to intercept but were too late to prevent the bombing. However, the AVG pilots claimed six bombers and four fighters destroyed (although only six of these could be confirmed), in return for the loss of three P-40s and two pilots. Charles Older, a former Marine Corps pilot, claimed two victories in this fight.

Like many soldiers from World War II, pilot Charles Older seemed to be born under a lucky star of prominence. You might not know his name, but I am sure you have seen his aircraft as it is one of the most recognized and reproduced aircraft markings of WWII.

Older was a veteran of the Chinese based American Volunteer Group during the opening days of World War II, which predated America’s official entry into WWII. AVG pilots were given America’s modern front line fighter, the Curtiss P-40B, to engage the occupying Imperial Japanese Army in China. The pointy nose of the early P-40 “B” model lent AVG pilots to paint shark mouths on their aircraft. Older’s P-40B is usually the aircraft mostly produced by tattoo artists, aircraft restorers and modelers alike as it also includes the Hells Angels motif of 3rd Pursuit Squadron and an original cartoon tiger artwork designed and drawn by a Walt Disney artist. With the Hell’s Angels logo, original Walt Disney art and leering shark mouth markings, Older’s aircraft has endeared, endured and embedded itself in our subconscious and pop culture for young and old alike. He is credited with 10 victories, making him a double ace.

American Volunteer Group (AVG).

During the early months of the war in the Pacific, American and Allied fighter pilots found themselves completely outclassed by the exceptionally maneuverable and well flown fighters of the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) and Japanese Navy Air Force (JNAF). As a consequence, they suffered serious defeats, and the myth of Japanese invincibility in the air was established. One of the first Allied fighter units to demonstrate that the Japanese fighters had weaknesses that could be exploited by skillful tactics were the pilots of the American Volunteer Group (AVG). nicknamed the ‘Flying Tigers’, who flew with the Chinese Nationalist Air Force (CNAF). During some 30 weeks of combat in 1941 and 1942, the AVG was credited with 297 confirmed victories for the loss of 80 fighters and 25 pilots killed or made prisoner of war. These considerable successes were largely due to the effective leadership and tactical skills of Colonel Claire L. Chennault, the AVG’s commander.

Shortly after leaving the United States Army Air Corps in 1937, Chennault was invited to China as air adviser to the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek. On arriving, he found the CNAF in a poor state, with fewer than 100 effective combat aircraft out of a nominal strength of 500, and an inadequate number of trained pilots. Therefore, when the Japanese engineered Marco Polo Bridge Incident precipitated a full-scale Sino Japanese War in July 1937, the CNAF was unable to put up anything more than a token defence against the invaders.

In the short term, China was able to negotiate a Non Aggression Pact with the Soviet Union in August 1937, which resulted m an infusion of Soviet combat aircraft and ‘volunteer’ airmen. For the following three years this was sufficient to stave off the complete collapse of Chinese air power, but by the end of 1940 Soviet aid had dried up and the Japanese air Forces were operating virtually at will over China. It was under these circumstances that Chennault accompanied a CNAF mission to the United States in order to acquire a force of modern fighters and recruit American pilots to fly them.

Operating under the cover of the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Co. (CAMCO), Chennault succeeded in obtaining 100 Curtiss Tomahawk Mk II fighters (generally referred to as P-40s by the AVG). These Tomahawks had been ordered by the RAF before the Battle of Britain, but, as the pressure on the British air defences had eased by early 1941, the fighters were released to China. Recruiting suitably qualified pilots was a more difficult matter and it was necessary to obtain President Roosevelt’s permission to seek volunteers from the US armed forces.

Eventually, a total of 109 pilots was signed up by CAMCO, about half of them coming from the US Navy and Marine Corps, a third from the Army Air Corps and the remainder from civilian flying organisations. Their one year contracts provided a monthly pay 600 US dollars for pilots, 675 dollars for flight leaders and 750 dollars for squadron commanders A further Incentive to recruitment was the Chinese government merit’s offer of a 500 dollar bonus for every Japanese aircraft confirmed as destroyed The ground-crews numbering about 150 men, were mostly recruited from the United States forces and were paid between 150 and 400 dollars a month. Pay was an important factor in attracting personnel to the AVG, but the spirit of adventure   a wish to see active military service and to escape from the constraints of a peacetime routine was an equally strong attraction.

The aircraft and their pilots were dispatched by sea to Rangoon in Burma, where they assembled in late July 1941. After the P-40s had been uncrated and assembled, training began at the airfield at Kyedaw, near Toungoo. This had been made available to the AVG by the RAF authorities, as the Flying Tigers’ main base at Kunming in western China was still under construction.

Chennault set to work training AVG pilots according to his tactical doctrines. A network of ground observers had already been established in China at his suggestion and so the chances of receiving sufficient early warning of an incoming raid were good. However, Chennault realised from his study of Japanese aircraft and tactics that special procedures would be needed to deal with the enemy’s fighters. The manoeuvrable Japanese aircraft would win a traditional turning dogfight every time and Chennault stressed that this type of combat had to be avoided at all costs, He proposed that the P-40’s high diving speed and comparatively heavy firepower should be exploited:

‘You must use your superior speed to climb above them before you commit yourselves. And you then can use your greater diving speed to make a pass at them. Get in short bursts and get away. Break off and climb back for the advantage of altitude after you have gotten away safely. In such combat, and only in that kind, you have the edge.’

Once the AVG fighters had achieved an advantageous firing position, accurate gunnery was sure to achieve good results. The Japanese aircraft were both lightly constructed and poorly armoured and tended to burn or break up easily.

By the time that the Flying Tigers had completed their training in December 1941, the United States was at war with Japan. Nonetheless, the AVG retained its volunteer status. The group was organised into three squadrons, each made up of three flights of six fighters. The 1st Pursuit Squadron adopted an ‘Adam and Eve’ insignia as a pun on then designation. The squadron was commanded by Robert J. Sandell until he was killed in a flying accident on 7 February 1942, and then Robert H. Neale took over. The 2nd Pursuit Squadron, the ‘Panda Bears’, was led by John V. Newkirk and the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, the ‘Hell’s Angels’, by Arvid Olsen. Apart from their individual squadron insignia, the AVG P-40s were painted with a distinctive shark mouth marking, copied from No. 112 Squadron RAF which flew similarly decorated Tomahawks in North Africa, and this embellishment became as much the group’s identifying marking as the Chinese national insignia on the wings. Some aircraft also carried the Flying Tiger emblem designed for the AVG by the Walt Disney studios.

Deploying for Combat

By the second week of December the Flying Tigers were deploying for combat. The 1st and 2nd Squadrons deployed to Kunming, while the Hell’s Angels moved to Mingaladon, joining the Brewster Buffaloes of No. 67 Squadron RAF in the air defence of Burma The Kunming squadrons were the first to see action. On 20 December an unescorted formation of 10 JAAF Mitsubishi Ki 21 Sally bombers was picked up by the raid reporting network en route from Hanoi to Kunming. Chennault scrambled four P-40s of the Panda Bear Squadron, led by Newkirk, to intercept. A further sir, of the squadron’s fighters were reserved to cover Kunming, while Sandell’s 1st Pursuit Squadron flew to an auxiliary airfield to the southeast, from where they later scrambled to cut off the bombers’ retreat.

Newkirk’s section met the Japanese bombers some 30 miles short of Kunming and in their initial attack Ed Rector gained his first victory. However, Newkirk’s P-40 then suffered a gun and radio failure and was forced to break off the combat. He was followed by the other three pilots, who in the absence of any instructions from their leader, were reluctant to contravene the AVG’s strict formation discipline. The Adam and Eve Squadron then intervened, forcing the Ki 21s to jettison their bombs and turn away from their target. The most successful pilot during this combat was former US Navy dive-bomber pilot Fritz Wolf, who reported.

I attacked the outside bomber in the Vee. Diving down below him, I came up underneath, guns ready for the minute I could get in range. At 500yds I let go with a quick burst from all my guns. I could see my bullets rip into the rear gunner. My plane bore in closer. At 100yds I let go with a long burst that tore into the bomber’s gas tanks and engine. A wing folded and the motor tore loose. Then the bomber exploded. I yanked back on the stick to get out of the way and went upstairs.

‘There, I went after the inside man of the Japanese bomber formation. I came out of a dive and pulled up level with the bomber, just behind his tail. I could see the rear gunner blazing away at me, but none of his bullets were hitting my plane At 50yds I let go with a long burst, concentrating on one motor The same thing happened and I got number two. The bomber burned and then blew up.’

In all, six bombers were confirmed as destroyed and the Flying Tigers lost only Ed Rector’s P-40, which force landed after running out of fuel.

Defence of Rangoon

The focus of action then shifted to Burma, where the Hell’s Angels were operating in defence of Rangoon. On 23 December a force of some 70 JAAF aircraft, Ki 21 bombers escorted by Nakajima Ki 27 Nate and Nakajima Ki 43 Oscar fighters, raided Rangoon from their bases in Thailand. The AVG P-40s scrambled with the RAF’s Buffaloes to intercept but were too late to prevent the bombing. However, the AVG pilots claimed six bombers and four fighters destroyed (although only six of these could be confirmed), in return for the loss of three P-40s and two pilots. Charles Older, a former Marine Corps pilot, claimed two victories in this fight.

Two days later the JAAF returned in even greater force, and 12 AVG P-40s and 18 RAF Buffaloes were scrambled to meet a force of over 100 enemy aircraft. The Allied fighters made their interception over the Gulf of Martaban and, with the advantage of superior altitude, tore into the Japanese formation. The outcome was a complete vindication of Chennault’s tactical theories. For the loss of two P-40s, the Flying Tigers had downed 28 enemy aircraft Japanese tactics were equal to the challenge. However, on 28 December the Hell’s Angels were decoyed into pursuing a small formation of JAAF aircraft and, when on the ground refuelling after this mission, were attacked by a second JAAF formation. Only four P-40s were scrambled to meet the attack and they were unable to prevent Mingaladon from being heavily bombed.

Relief for the hard pressed Hell’s Angels came on 30 December, when Newkirk’s Panda Bears flew in from Kunming to relieve them The new unit soon took the fight to the enemy’s camp On 3 January 1942 Newkirk led a strafing attack by three P-40s on the Japanese airfield at Meshed in Thailand, claiming five enemy aircraft destroyed or. the ground and a further three in air combat. Japanese retribution was swift on 4 January six P-40s on patrol were bounced by about 30 Ki 27s and became ensnared in just such a turning dogfight which Chennault had counselled his pilots to avoid. Three kills were claimed, but for the loss of three AVG P-40s and the combat led one pilot, Gregory Boyington, wryly to reflect that the peacetime training which the Marine Corps gave its fighter pilots was completely worthless as a preparation for fighting the Japanese

Heavy fighting in January took its toll of the AVG’s P-40s, and early in February the 1st Pursuit Squadron relieved the Panda Bears in Burma By the end of that month, the Japanese advance forced the evacuation of Mingaladon During 10 weeks of combat in defence of Rangoon, the AVG and RAF fighters had claimed a total of 291 enemy aircraft destroyed.

The fight was continued from Magwe, 200 miles to the north of Mingaladon. Before Japanese air attacks forced this base to be evacuated late in March, two AVG pilots carried out a highly successful strafing attack on a newly occupied Japanese airstrip near Moulmein Bill Reed and Ken Jernstedt were flying an armed reconnaissance mission in the area on 19 March, when they spotted a lineup of Japanese Ki 27 fighters on the ground and destroyed 15 of them in a series of firing passes.

The AVG then withdrew to Loiwing across the Chinese border but remained within range of Japanese forces. On 24 March Robert Neale led a six aircraft strafing mission against the JAAF airfield at Chieng mai in Thailand, leaving more than two score Ki 27 and Ki 43 fighters as blazing wrecks. Yet whatever successes were gained in the air, the advance of the Japanese armies was inexorable and on 1 May the AVG was forced to evacuate Loiwing, destroying 22 unserviceable P-40s.

Western China

With the approach of the monsoon season on the Burma front. Chennault’s attention shifted to the defence of the cities of western China from bombing attack. This necessitated the dispersal of his slender resources, the depleted Hell’s Angels providing cover for the AVG’s main base at Kunming, the Panda Bears defending Chunking and Hengyang, and the Adam and Eves protecting Kweilin. The latter squadron was first to see action, intercepting a force of 20 JAAF aircraft over Kweilm on 13 June, accounting for 11 of them for the loss of only two P-40s and no pilot casualties.

Poor weather then enforced a lull in operations, and during this period the AVG was transformed from a volunteer unit of the CNAF into the 23rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF). However, the transition was mishandled by regular USAAF officers responsible, with the result that only five pilots agreed to transfer to the new unit. Urgent entreaties from Chennault, who had been given command of the USAAF’s new China Air Task Force with the rank of Brigadier-General, persuaded a further 19 pilots to stay on for a further two weeks after the AVG’s official disbandment. This led to the curious anomaly that ex-Navy pilot Neale (the AVG’s top scoring pilot), who was then technically a civilian, often led the USAAF’s 23rd Fighter Group during its first two weeks of existence. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that the 23rd Fighter Group was but a poor shadow of its predecessor. Indeed, the new unit’s pilots were able to carry on the traditions of the Flying Tiger with distinction. Foremost among them was the group’s new CO, Colonel Robert L. Scott, who led his new command in the interception of JAAF raiders over Kweilin. With the advantage of superior altitude, the P-40s dived onto the enemy formation Scott recalled:

‘Their formation was so perfect and so close we couldn’t miss. Even the new kids remembered not to shoot at the whole formation but to concentrate on one ship at a time, with short bursts, then skid to another. Hang on, aim, then fire – always short bursts. They didn’t see us until it was too late. Twenty or more of them were already going down and those we didn’t burn on the first pass broke and ran m all directions. After the first dive, when we’d climbed back into the sun for altitude, we broke, too, and took out after the stragglers. I followed one with my wingman all the way to Canton, 200 miles southeastward, and shot it down when the pilot lowered his landing gear preparatory to landing,’

After the results of this combat had been properly assessed, the American pilots were credited with 13 enemy aircraft destroyed for no loss to themselves. It was an auspicious start for the new Flying Tigers of the 23rd Fighter Group.

A particularly noteworthy combat was fought later that month, when, early to the morning of 30 July, Major John R Alison and Major A. J. ‘Ajax’ Baumler intercepted six JAAF night bombers over Hengyana and destroyed four of them. Alison ended the war with 10 victories and Baumler, who had gamed eight kills flying with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, added a further five to his score in China. Another distinguished newcomer to the Flying Tigers was Scott’s successor as commanding officer, Colonel Bruce K Holloway, who finished the war with 13 victories and went on to become general commanding the USAF’s Strategic Air Command. Three of the original Flying Tigers later returned to the 23rd Fighter Group, Colonel David L. ‘Tex’ Hill and Colonel Edward F. Rector as commanding officers, and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Older as a squadron commander.

The 23rd Fighter Group remained in China until the end of the war against Japan, latterly replacing its P-40s with North American P 51 Mustangs. From its formation on 4 July 1942 until the end of the fighting, the group was credited with 621 enemy aircraft shot down plus a further 320 destroyed on the ground.


Luftwaffe Torpedo Bombers

Deployment of Convoy PQ18

Despite howls of Soviet protest, British strength was required elsewhere for Operation Pedestal within the Mediterranean. Following the catastrophe of PQ17, the Royal Navy was determined that PQ18 would not sail until much greater escort strength could be provided. It would be September before the convoy finally departed for Russia.

On 2 September PQ18 departed Loch Ewe, Scotland. Comprised of forty merchant ships (twenty American, eleven British, six Soviet and three Panamanian) a heavy escort was laid on which included an aircraft carrier for the first time: HMS Avenger carrying ten Hurricane fighters and three Swordfish torpedo bombers. A combined Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force task force of Hampden torpedo bombers, Catalina and Spitfire reconnaissance aircraft had also transferred to Vaenga airbase near Murmansk for potential operations against Tirpitz should she put to sea.

U-boat missions against PQ18 were planned, code-named Operation Eispalast. The outgoing QP14 was included, but deemed of secondary importance. Once again, large surface ships were readied for potential use against the convoy, although, as always, Hitler’s strict criteria would be used to determine their activation. They moved north to Altafjord on 10 September – Admiral Scheer narrowly missed by four torpedoes from HMS Tigris while in transit – and remained ready for sailing orders that never came. Hitler’s paranoia of losing his large ships rendered them once again useless.

Meanwhile PQ18 was detected briefly by Luftwaffe reconnaissance on 8 September. Oesten brought together a new U-boat group: Trägertod (Carrier killer). By 10 September U88, U403 and U405 were en route from the Spitsbergen and Bear Island area to a patrol line further west; U589, U377, U408 and U592 raced to join them. Additionally, U435 and U457 were scheduled operational by 12 September at Narvik, and U378 at Trondheim: and all would sail. U703 was refuelling at Harstadt, bringing the group number to eleven. Four others were earmarked for operations against QP14 following refuelling at Kirkenes: U255, U601, U456 and U251. At 1.20 p.m. on 12 September, Luftwaffe aircraft sighted PQ18 again, U405 making contact soon after and staying on station as beacon boat. The U-boats gathered, one of the next boats to begin shadowing was Kaptlt Bohmann’s U88; Bohmann was himself detected ahead of the convoy by HMS Faulknor of the ‘fighting escort’ – U88 accurately depth charged and sunk with all forty-six crewmen aboard.

The escorts and Avenger’s aircraft were kept busy attempting to force shadowing boats away from PQ18. However, at 9.52 a.m. on 13 September, Kaptlt Reinhard von Hymmen made the first torpedo hit on PQ18 when 3,559-ton Soviet steamer Stalingrad was sunk with one of three torpedoes, the ship going under in less than four minutes laden with ammunition, aircraft and tanks. Twenty-one of the eighty-seven crew were killed and the master, A. Sakharov, was last to leave the sinking ship, spending forty minutes in the water before being rescued and going on to act as pilot for the convoy. Von Hymmen had missed Stalingrad with two of his three torpedoes, but one had passed by the Soviet ship and hit 7,191-ton American Liberty Ship Oliver Ellsworth, the steamer executing a hard left turn to avoid the crippled Russian. The American ship was abandoned even before it had ceased moving, three of four lifeboats swamping and throwing their occupants into the water, though all except one US Navy armed guard were rescued. The wreck was finally sunk by shells from escorting ASW trawler HMT St Kenan.

At almost the same time as Von Hymmen, Kaptlt Hans-Joachim Horrer fired two torpedoes toward HMS Avenger from U589 claiming to have scored at least one hit, although his shots missed. It may have been the detonations from U408’s attack that were heard through the freezing water aboard the submerged boat. That same day Horrer pulled four Luftwaffe airmen from their escape dinghy after their aircraft had been shot down during He111 torpedo bomber attacks that destroyed eight ships for the loss of the same number of aircraft. The airmen did not have long to enjoy their good fortune as the following day U589 was sighted by one of Avenger’s Swordfish. Though the biplane was chased away by a Luftwaffe Bv138 flying boat, the sighting brought destroyer HMS Onslow to the scene, catching U589 on the surface. Crash-diving, U589 was depth charged relentlessly by the destroyer until fuel oil, green vegetables and pieces of U-boat casing floated to the surface marking the grave of all forty-four crew and their four Luftwaffe passengers.

That same day there remained only one other confirmed sinking from PQ18. At 4 a.m., Brandenburg’s U457 hit 8,939-ton motor tanker Atheltemplar whose cargo of 9,400 tons of Admiralty fuel oil immediately began to burn. The crew abandoned ship south-west of Bear Island while minesweeper HMS Harrier attempted to scuttle the burning ship with gunfire, the attempt failing and the ship was left burning fiercely, later found by U408 after she had capsized – the hulk sent to the bottom with gunfire. Brandenburg claimed another 4,000-ton steamer sunk and two hits on a Javelin-class destroyer, but in this he was mistaken. Korvettenkapitän Rolf-Heinrich Hopman later claimed another destroyer hit on 16 September after a torpedo from U405 was heard to detonate after a run of over seven minutes. This too remains unsubstantiated, although the Allies definitely found Brandenburg’s U457 at 3 a.m. on that day. The U-boat was diving through the port bow escort screen when spotted: depth charges from HMS Impulsive destroying the boat along with all forty-five hands as oil, wreckage, paper and a black leather glove floated to the surface to mark the spot. The British illuminated the scene with a calcium flare before one further depth charge set to explode at 500ft was dropped to ensure the boat was sunk.

Elsewhere QP14 came under successful U-boat attack. Seventeen merchant ships, under heavy escort, were attacked by a total of seven U-boats that sank six ships. Strelow’s U435 sank minesweeper HMS Leda and three merchant ships: 5,345-ton American freighter Bellingham; 7,174-ton British steamer Ocean Voice; and 3,313-ton British freighter Grey Ranger during a single devastating assault on 22 September. Reche’s U255 sank 4,937-ton American PQ17 survivor Silver Sword while the destroyer HMS Somali was badly damaged by Kaptlt Bielfeld’s U703 and later sank in gale force winds while under tow.

PQ18 was judged a relative success by the Allies. Although thirteen ships in total had been lost, twenty-eight had arrived safely in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, three U-boats and forty Luftwaffe aircraft – including many skilled veterans of maritime operations – had been destroyed; the Luftwaffe were never again able to mount such strong attacks on the Russian convoys, as aircraft were gradually transferred south to the Mediterranean. The severe losses accrued by both PQ17 and PQ18 combined, coupled with demands elsewhere for Allied naval craft such as supporting Operation Torch, led to the suspension of the Arctic convoys until December 1942. Instead, independently sailing merchantmen would be despatched in what was known as Operation FB.

Between 29 October and 2 November, thirteen ships sailed at approximately twelve-hour intervals from Scotland to Murmansk. Although unescorted, there were ASW trawlers stationed at intervals along the route and local escorts available from Murmansk. From the ships that sailed, three were forced to abort their voyages and five were sunk, the remaining five reaching the Soviet Union. On 2 November ObltzS Dietrich von der Esch in U586 had already been at sea for three weeks, sailing in bad weather and suffering mechanical problems with the boat’s exhaust valves. An initial order to reconnoitre Jan Mayen was carried out before the U-boat sighted Operation FB ship Empire Gilbert and began a two-hour chase. The 6,640-ton steamer was missed by an initial double torpedo shot but hit on the port side by a second pair of torpedoes at 1.18 a.m.. The ship sank rapidly and when U586 reached the scene she was gone. The Germans pulled deck boy Ralph Urwin and gunner Arthur Hopkins aboard U586 from a floating beam, the pair barely able to move after submersion in the freezing water, and next attempted to question six survivors found aboard a raft but received no answer. Taking one more man, gunner Douglas Meadows, prisoner aboard the U-boat, U586 left the scene and later landed the three survivors at Skjomenfjord. The other sixty-four men were never seen again.

Two days later unescorted Liberty Ship William Clark was hit by a torpedo in the engine room from Kaptlt Karl-Heinz Herbschleb’s U354. A coup-de-grâce torpedo broke the ship in two and sent her to the bottom, 31 of the 71 crew either killed in the sinking or lost at sea as their lifeboats drifted away.

The final ‘FB’ ships sunk by U-boat were both destroyed by ObltzS Hans Benker’s U625 engaged upon its maiden war patrol. The 5,445-ton British steamer Chulmleigh had been bombed by Ju88 aircraft and beached on Spitsbergen’s South Cape when Benker torpedoed the stranded wreck and finished it off with gunfire on 6 November. That night he sighted 7,455-ton British Empire Sky and hit her with two torpedoes. As the steamer settled into the water a coup de grâce ignited its ammunition cargo and she exploded, flinging debris over a wide area, one piece weighing a kilogram clattering down the conning tower hatch into the U-boat’s control room. All sixty men aboard the shattered freighter were lost.

Artwork by Simon Parry.

PQ18 – The First Air Support for the Convoys

PQ17’s fate could not be ignored. It was necessary to maintain the link between the Western Allies and the beleaguered Soviet Union. Four British destroyers were despatched to Archangel loaded with ammunition and replacement anti-aircraft gun barrels, as well as interpreters in an attempt to improve liaison with the Russians. The ships arrived on 24 July 1942. On 13 August the American cruiser USS Tuscaloosa sailed for Russia, escorted by a British destroyer and two American destroyers, carrying RAF ground crew and equipment as well as aircraft spares for two squadrons of Handley Page Hampden bombers destined to be based in northern Russia, as would be photo-reconnaissance Supermarine Spitfires and a squadron of RAF Coastal Command Consolidated Catalina flying boats. Also included in the cargo carried by these warships was a demountable medical centre with medical supplies, but while the Soviets took the medical supplies, they rejected the hospital that would have done so much to improve the lot of Allied seamen in need of medical attention on reaching a Russian port.

Survivors from PQ17 were brought home to the UK aboard the three American ships plus three British destroyers. Ultra intelligence led the three British destroyers to Bear Island where they discovered the German minelayer Ulm, and while two of the destroyers shelled the ship, the third, Onslaught, fired three torpedoes with the third penetrating the magazine, which exploded. Despite the massive explosion, the commanding officer and fifty-nine of the ship’s company survived to be taken prisoner.

Less successful were the Hampden bombers. Already obsolescent, several were shot down on their way to Russia by the Germans and, perhaps due to mistaken identity, by the Russians, who may have confused the aircraft with the Dornier Do 17. Unfortunately, one of those shot down by the Germans crashed in Norway and contained details of the defence of the next pair of convoys, PQ18 and the returning QP14. QP14 was to be the target for the Admiral Scheer, together with the cruisers Admiral Hipper and Köln and a supporting screen of destroyers. This surface force moved to the Altenfjord on 1 September.

PQ18 was the first Arctic convoy to have an escort carrier, the American-built Avenger. The ship had three radar-equipped Swordfish from No. 825 NAS for anti-submarine duties, as well as six Hawker Sea Hurricanes, with another six dismantled and stowed beneath the hangar deck in a hold, for fighter defence. These aircraft were drawn from 802 and 883 Squadrons. Another Sea Hurricane was aboard the CAM ship Empire Morn. Other ships in the convoy escort included the cruiser Scylla, 2 destroyers, 2 anti-aircraft ships converted from merchant vessels, 4 corvettes, 4 anti-submarine trawlers, 3 minesweepers and 2 submarines. There was a rescue ship so that the warships did not have to risk stopping to pick up survivors, and three minesweepers being delivered to the Soviet Union also took on this role.

The convoy had gained an escort carrier but the Home Fleet, which usually provided the distant escort – a much heavier force than that providing the close escort – had lost its fast armoured fleet carrier, Victorious , damaged while escorting the convoy Operation PEDESTAL to Malta and being refitted as a result. Also missing were the American ships, transferred to the Pacific. The C-in-C, Home Fleet, Admiral Sir John Tovey, also made other changes. This time he would remain aboard his flagship, the battleship King George V , at Scapa Flow where he would have constant telephone communication with the Admiralty, while his deputy, Vice Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, went to sea in the battleship Anson . Both PQ18 and QP14 had a strong destroyer escort with the freedom of action to leave the close escort to the corvettes, armed trawlers, AA ships and minesweepers if the situation warranted it. To save fuel, the officer in command of the destroyers, Rear Admiral Robert Burnett aboard the light cruiser Scylla, ordered that no U-boat hunt was to exceed ninety minutes.

In addition, the convoy would have the support of Force Q and Force P, both comprising two fleet oilers, or tankers, and escorting destroyers, which were deployed ahead of the convoy to Spitzbergen, Norwegian territory not taken by the Germans but that had Russians ashore working on a mining concession dating from Tsarist times. A re-supply operation for the garrison in Spitzbergen was linked with Force P and Force Q.

Iceland was the main rendezvous, but getting there was difficult despite it being summer. Seas were so rough that a Sea Hurricane was swept off Avenger ’s deck, and the steel ropes securing aircraft in the hangars failed to stop them breaking loose and crashing into one another or the sides of the hangar. Fused 500lb bombs stored in the hangar lift-well broke loose and had to be captured by laying down duffel coats with rope ties, which were secured as soon as a bomb rolled onto one of the coats. Fuel contamination with sea water meant that the carrier suffered engine problems. It also seems that remote Iceland was not remote enough, or safe enough, for the carrier was discovered and bombed by a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long-range maritime-reconnaissance aircraft that dropped a stick of bombs close to Avenger but without causing any damage.

The engine problems meant that the convoy, already spotted by a U-boat while en passage to Iceland from Scotland, had to sail without the carrier and, on 8 September, the convoy was discovered by another Condor. Low cloud then protected the convoy from German aircraft until 12 September when a Blohm und Voss BV 138 flying boat dropped through the clouds. By this time, Avenger had caught up with the convoy and was able to launch a flight of four Sea Hurricanes, but not in time to catch the German aircraft before it disappeared.

Swordfish were extremely vulnerable on the Arctic convoys which, unlike those across the Atlantic, also had to face German fighters. As a result, the fighters from Avenger not only had to protect the ships in the convoy from aerial attack, they had to protect the Swordfish as well. At 0400 on 9 September, the Sea Hurricanes were scrambled after Swordfish on anti-submarine patrols were discovered by a BV 138 flying boat and a Junkers Ju 88 reconnaissance aircraft, but both disappeared into the clouds before the Hurricanes could catch them. Another Swordfish patrol discovered that the BV 138s were laying mines ahead of the convoy.

PQ18 was repeatedly attacked from the air, which meant that the ships had to make mass turns and put up heavy anti-aircraft fire, all of which made life for the returning Swordfish crews very interesting as aircraft recognition was not as good as it could be and the single-engined biplane Swordfish were often mistaken for twin-engined monoplane Ju 88s. Ditching in the sea was never something to be considered lightly but in Arctic waters, even in summer, survival time could be very short indeed.

The Sea Hurricanes attempted to keep a constant air patrol over the convoy with each aircraft spending twenty-five minutes in the air before landing to refuel, but with just six operational aircraft, keeping a constant watch over the Swordfish as well as the convoy was impossible.

On 14 September, the first Swordfish of the day found U-589 on the surface, but she dived leaving the Swordfish to mark the spot with a smoke flare. Once the aircraft had gone, the submarine surfaced and continued charging her batteries, but alerted by the Swordfish the destroyer Onslow raced to the scene. Once again U-589 dived, but the destroyer attacked with depth-charges and destroyed her. As a result the Germans, so far not accustomed to a convoy having its own air cover and aerial reconnaissance, were forced to change their tactics. Reconnaissance BV 138s and Ju 88s were sent to intimidate the Swordfish, forcing them back over the convoy until the Germans were so close to the ships that they were driven off by AA fire. The Swordfish would then venture out, only to be driven back again.

Later that day, another attack by Ju 88s was detected by the duty Swordfish. This time, Avenger herself was the target. Her maximum speed was just 17 knots, much slower than an ordinary aircraft carrier, but fortunately the Sea Hurricanes broke up the attack and no ships from the convoy were lost, while most of the eleven Ju 88s shot down had succumbed to anti-aircraft fire. Further attacks followed that day, again without any losses to the convoy, although another German aircraft was shot down. In a final attack, three of the four patrolling Hurricanes were shot down by friendly fire from the convoy’s ships but all three pilots were saved. In this last attack of the day, Avenger ’s commanding officer Commander Colthurst successfully combed torpedoes dropped by the Germans. A bomb dropped by a Ju 88 pilot, who flew exceptionally low to make sure he did not miss the target, hit the ammunition ship Mary Luckenbach, which blew up, taking her attacker with her. The sole survivor from the ship was a steward who had been taking the master a cup of coffee, was blown off the upper deck by the explosion and found himself in the sea half a mile down the convoy.

Not all rescues were left to the rescue ships. At the height of the battle for PQ18, the destroyer Offa saw a cargo ship, the Macbeth, hit by two torpedoes and beginning to sink with her cargo of tanks and other war matériel. Offa ’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Alastair Ewing, took his ship alongside Macbeth and, at the cost of some guard rails and stanchions, took off all her ship’s company before she sank. One Sea Hurricane pilot had been very lucky to be snatched out of the sea within minutes of baling out by the destroyer Wheatland which was acting as close escort for Avenger , her role also being what became known as a ‘plane guard’, fishing unfortunate naval aviators out of the sea.

The next day, the remaining Sea Hurricanes and the Swordfish were again in the air, with the former breaking up further attacks. It was not until 16 September that the Swordfish were relieved of their patrolling by shore-based RAF Consolidated Catalina flying boats of No. 210 Squadron operating from Russia. However, the break was short-lived. Later that day the convoy passed the homeward convoy QP14 with the survivors of the ill-fated PQ17 and Avenger, with her aircraft and some of the other escorts transferred to this convoy. The interval had been used by the ship’s air engineering team to assemble five Sea Hurricanes, more than replacing the four lost on the outward voyage. In all, the Sea Hurricanes had accounted for a total of 5 enemy aircraft and damaged 17 others out of a total of 44 shot down. It was fortunate that the three Fairey Swordfish remained serviceable as no replacement aircraft were carried.

During the convoy, Avenger ’s commanding officer had changed the operational pattern for the Sea Hurricanes in order to get the maximum benefit from his small force, having a single aircraft in the air most of the time rather than having all of his aircraft, or none of them, airborne at once.

Once the Sea Hurricane flight had been so depleted, it fell to the CAM ship Empire Morn to launch her Hurricane, flown by Flying Officer Burr of the RAF. The launch was accompanied by friendly fire from other ships in the convoy until he was finally out of range. Despite problems with the barrage balloons flown by some of the merchantmen, he managed to break up a German attack, setting one aircraft on fire. Once out of ammunition, he saved his precious aircraft by flying it to Keg Ostrov airfield near Archangel. As previously mentioned, this ‘one-off’ use of aircraft from the CAM ships was a major drawback as convoy commanders were reluctant to use them in case a more desperate situation emerged later in the convoy’s passage. Cases of CAM ship fighters being saved were very rare.

Clearly, even an escort carrier with a mix of fighters and anti-submarine aircraft was hard-pressed to provide adequate air cover. It is hard to escape the conclusion that two escort carriers would have been needed, or a larger ship such as Nairana or Vindex with up to fourteen Swordfish and six Wildcat fighters, a much better aircraft than the Sea Hurricane. Again, even with these two ships one might suggest that the balance between fighters and anti-submarine aircraft was wrong for an Arctic convoy.

Inevitably, as the convoy approached its destination there was no sign of the promised Red Air Force air cover. This was typical of the experiences of those on the convoys to Russia, with neither Russia’s air forces nor her navy providing any support. Indeed, apart from some coastal bombardment as the Red armies swept westwards, the main achievement of the Russian navy was for its submarines to sink the merchantmen carrying German refugees away from the Russians and one of these attacks resulted in the greatest recorded loss of life at sea as the Germans struggled to evacuate more than 1.5 million civilians.

There were many more convoys to Russia still to come at this stage, but PQ17 and PQ18 were two of the most famous. The convoys were a demanding operation for both the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, one that Stalin never recognized and there was no Soviet contribution to the escorts. The convoys continued, despite German attacks and the weather, until the war’s end, with the exception of the period immediately before, during and after the Normandy landings when a massive effort was required that demanded the escorts and especially the larger ships. That finally gave Stalin the only battlefront that he would recognize as being a ‘second front’.

Hungarian Airforce WWII

On September 1, 1938, the Magyar Kirdlyi Honved Legiero, or Magyar Legiero, the Royal Hungarian Air Force, unfurled its red-white-green chevron insignia for the first time. Its crews did not have to wait very long for their baptism of fire, however. The following March, they flew cover for Hungarian troops occupying Ruthenia, formerly part of eastern Czechoslovakia, where clashes with elements of the Slovenske vzdusne zbrane, the Slovak Air Force, took place. Although the Slovaks’ Avia B.534 biplane was equal to Fiat CR.32s operated by the Magyar Legiero, Hungarian pilots benefited from superior training, shooting down 10 SVZ aircraft at no loss to themselves in what they referred to as the eight-day-long Kis haboru, or “Little War:”

By then, a much larger European conflagration seemed imminent, and Horthy ordered a radical strengthening of his entire armed forces. Impressed by close cooperation exhibited between the German Army and Luftwaffe in their Blitzkrieg conquests of Poland and France, he subordinated the formerly independent Royal Hungarian Air Force to the army high command. Most of the Magyar Legierd’s new aircraft were purchased from Italy. These included 69 Fiat CR.32s, 68 Fiat CR.42s (more antiquated biplanes), and 34 specimens of the Reggiane Re.2000, which Hungarian pilots referred to as the Heja, or “Hawk:” It was a poor copy of the American P-35 produced by the Seversky Aircraft Corporation, structurally deficient and plagued by a temperamental 870-hp Piaggio P.XI RC.40 radial engine.

The Magyar Legiero possessed just 3 examples of the German Heinkel He.112, its only relatively modern fighter, although 34 Junkers Ju86s rejected by the Luftwaffe made up a bomber wing, together with 36 Caproni Bergamaschi Ca.135s more yet substandard Italian aircraft. Hungary’s only indigenous warplanes were the Weiss WM 21 S6lyom and Repiilogepgyar Levente II.

A thoroughly obsolete, open-cockpit biplane design based on that of a 1928 Dutch Fokker, 48 Weiss Falcons equipped Magyar Legiero reconnaissance units, where they were joined by 38 no less doddering, if still rugged German Heinkel He.46 parasol monoplanes and 37 Italian Meridionali Ro.37 Lynxes, which had been already retired from production. These were supplemented by another 13 Luftwaffe castoffs, Heinkel He.111B medium-bombers.

The fragile Repiildgepgyar Levente II was never intended for anything more than the primary training duties for which it had been designed. But the growing exigencies of war on the Eastern Front pressed the spindly little biplane-with its 105-hp Hirth HM 504A-two four cylinder inverted inline piston engine and top speed of 112 mph-into service as a much-needed liaison and communications aircraft. The rest of the Hungarian Air Force was fleshed out by four Savoia-Marchetti SM.75 trimotors used as paratroop transports, plus a variety of German and Italian trainers, which brought Magyar Legiero strength up to 536 aircraft when Horthy permitted German forces to assemble on Hungarian territory for their invasion of Yugoslavia in March 1941.

He belatedly joined the fight on April 11 to recover the Banat and Batschka areas separated from Hungary more than 20 years earlier for the loss of six Fiat fighters and one S6lyom. Two months later, Operation Barbarossa exploded. Hitler had not invited the Hungarians to take part in his crusade against the Soviet Union, because their animosity for his oil-rich Romanian ally jeopardized the campaign. Hungarians themselves went wild for war with the USSR. They regarded the invasion as a historically unique opportunity to simultaneously destroy the Communist colossus towering over their eastern frontier and reclaim all those territories lost after World War I.

Horthy nonetheless hung back, as he had in Yugoslavia, until his hand was forced on June 26, when Red Air Force Tupolev SB-2 bombers struck Kaschau, Muncas, and Raho, towns in northern Hungary, where several dozen civilians were killed and injured. Magyar Legiero retribution was swift and far ahead of the Hungarian army, as a mixed formation of 51 Junkers and Caproni bombers protected by 9 Fiat CR.32s raided Stanislav, Strij, and other targets east of the Carpathian Mountains over the next three days. Seven Tupolevs returned on the 29th to strike the Csap railroad station, but three were shot down by Fiat CR.32s in this first aerial confrontation over Hungary.

By mid-summer, the German Xlth Army laid siege to Nikolayev, a strategic Black Sea port that received supplies across a mile-and-a-quarter-long bridge spanning the Bug River. The vital structure, heavily defended by massed anti-aircraft guns and a squadron of Polykarpov I-16s, was targeted on August 10 by six Hungarian Capronis escorted by as many Fiat CR.32s, plus five Hejas. One of the bombers scored repeated hits on the bridge, which collapsed along its entire length, and additionally claimed an attacking Rata. Although the formation commander’s Ca.135 lost its port engine to ground fire, Senior Lieutenant Istvan Szakonyi’s skilled gunners succeeded in shooting down three enemy interceptors. Another five were destroyed by the Fiats, for the loss of a single Reggiane.

Six days later, Nikolayev fell with the capture of 60,000 Soviet troops, and Luftwaffe Colonel-General Alexander Lohr presented the Hungarian flight crews with their decorations at Sutyska airfield. By the following month, however, after having flown 1,454 sorties, the Magyar Legier6 on the Eastern Front was exhausted and needed to be withdrawn. Most of its equipment was older and patently inferior to enemy aircraft, suffering disproportionate attrition. Thirty Soviet warplanes had been shot down, but the Hungarians lost 56 of their own. The aircrews would not return until July 13, 1942, after extensive training and re-equipping, with the arrival of the 1/1 Fighter Squadron at Ilovskoje airfield outside the Don River. An obvious change was replacement of the old tricolor chevron insignia on wings and fuselage with a white cross in a black square, while vertical stabilizers were covered in red, white, and green bands.

Although their Fiat biplanes had been left at home to more properly serve as trainers, MKHL pilots were still saddled with the disappointing Re.2000. Only a superior maneuverability enabled the Heja to overcome its deficiencies in speed and fire power against better Migs and Lavochkins. The Hungarians got off to a prestigious start on August 4, however, when their first success was achieved by the heir to the throne, now First Lieutenant Istvan Horthy. His Reggiane hit a LaGG-3 that caught fire and disappeared into a cloud. It was not a confirmed “kill;’ but seemed to foreshadow greater things to come. Indeed, that same day, two Polikarpov Ratas were downed by a single Heja pilot.

Over the next several days, misfortune dogged the 1/1 Fighter Squadron. Major Kalman Csukas mistook a German Heinkel bomber for a Russian Petlyakov and shot it down, injuring two crew members, to whom he later made a personal apology. Ongoing mechanical difficulties grounded all but three Reggianes, and one of these was forced to abort its mission shortly after take-off with engine trouble. The other two survived an unsuccessful attack against Soviet bombers. More Re.2000s arrived with 2/1 Fighter Squadron, but their machineguns jammed during another fruitless encounter, and the humiliated commander of the First Air Division admitted he was unable to protect Hungarian ground forces by asking the Germans for help. Mechanics, referred to by their pilots as “the black men” for their dirty job, worked furiously night and day to get six Hejas airborne on August 9.

The two lead pilots breezed passed a formation of Shturmoviks and LaGG-3s, assuming they were Luftwaffe fighters, and the remaining 4 Reggianes were left to confront more than 30 enemy warplanes. Outnumbered, the Hungarians destroyed four of the superior LaGG-3s for a single wounded Heja pilot, who survived by crash-landing behind his own lines.

Thanks to the untiring ministrations of the “black men;’ their Re.2000s were kept flying, mostly on patrols over the Don River, where Red armored vehicles were observed and reported to Wehrmacht headquarters. Luftwaffe dive-bombers obliterated the tanks, while the Hungarians provided cover.

On August 11, 1st Lieutenant Pal Iranyi shot his way out of an ambush by five LaGG-3s, downing one of them and escaping to Ilovskoje. Then, just when Magyar Legiero luck appeared to be changing for the better, Istvan Horthy died at the controls of his aircraft when it stalled and crashed shortly after takeoff on August 18, as he set out with a pair of fellow Hejas assigned to escort a reconnaissance mission. All Hungary went into mourning, and an elaborate state funeral for the royal heir attracted international attention.

Shortly thereafter, pilots of the Magyar Legierd on the Eastern Front began to make a name for themselves as effective hunters of the Red Air Force’s formidable ground-attack plane, the Ilyushin 11-2, by aiming for its vulnerable radiator mounted above the engine. While such an approach promised the best prospects for success, it was the most dangerous, exposing the attacker to concentrated fire from every rear gunner in a formation. An alternative tactic called for closing in on the target from beneath, as the Shturmovik’s oversized radiator was also vulnerable from this angle. Other Hungarian pilots followed the German preference for aiming directly at the enemy pilot during a steep dive.

The skilled Iranyi and his wingman, Sergeant Zoltan Raposa, each brought down a Shturmovik on September 2, when a 20-mm round tore off two fingers on the right hand of Cadet Lajos Molnar, who was flying cover for the attack. But the 11-2 “expert” was 1st Lieutenant Imre Panczel, who knocked out three “Flying Tanks” in the last three days of October. He and Ensign Kovas-Nagy shot down a pair of Ilyushins out of a flight of 22 on the 31st.

Earlier that same month, Panczel revealed himself as one the most aggressive airmen on the Eastern Front, when he and three other Heja pilots intercepted three times as many enemy bombers and fighters targeting the railway line between Podgarnoje and Kemenka. He promptly destroyed three warplanes, plus two more shot down by his comrades, all within 22 minutes, at no loss to themselves. The surviving Soviet pilots aborted their attack and fled back into the East.

In early fall 1942, the overworked, outdated Italian-made machines finally made way for the Magyar Legierd’s first modern aircraft. Goering had been impressed by the Hungarians’ achievements with substandard equipment, and believed they could do better with German aircraft. Accordingly, he replaced the Capronis with a squadron each of 51 Junkers Ju-88 medium-bombers and Junkers Ju-87 dive-bombers. He then ordered the formation of 1 Ungarishe Jabostaffel, the “1st Hungarian Fighter-Bomber Squadron;’ composed entirely of Messerschmitt Me109 F-4/13s, fitted with 550-pound bombs. These Friedrichs initially operated out of Urasovo, blasting Red Army tanks, supply convoys, and trains in the fighting against the Italian 8th Army. In fact, the Hungarians flew a joint mission with Italian and German fighter units hunting enemy armor concealed in forested regions between Buturlinovka and Koslovka on October 29, the 20th anniversary of the March on Rome that brought Benito Mussolini to power in 1922.

Adverse weather grounded most flights throughout the following month and into the first half of next, until the Shturmovik “expert;’ Lieutenant Panczel-now the 1 Ungarishe Jabostafel’s commanding officer single-handedly knocked out a Red Army flak battery, destroyed 17 trucks, and blew up 3 locomotives with cannon shells and bombs during just 4 days in early December. On the morning of the 16th, he shot down two IL-2s and another pair that afternoon to become World War II’s first Hungarian ace. Panczel was prevented from committing further mayhem only by the return of white-out conditions that rendered flying impossible for the rest of 1942.

The year concluded with 140 sorties undertaken by the 1st Hungarian Fighter-Bomber Squadron, mostly against ground targets. So far, remarkably, none of its crews had been lost to the enemy. All that was to change after the New Year, however. As the debacle at Stalingrad reached its climax, air combat intensified, and Imra Panczel, the Hungarians’ own Achilles, fell on January 11, 1943. Three days later, the Squadron’s base at Urasovo stood in the way of a Red Army offensive sweeping all before it. After every airplane that could fly was evacuated to Novy-Oskol, the airfield’s defense consisted only of several 40-mm flak guns, together with various small arms carried by 750 pilots and ground personnel. Lieutenant-Colonel Kalman Csukas ordered all cannons and machineguns stripped from the remaining aircraft and remounted on flatbed trucks or artillery stands to confront whatever was to come.

Not the enemy, but some 3,000 routed German, Italian, and Hungarian troops showed up with more than 800 wounded and frostbitten men on January 17. Their arrival had been preceded by the incessant thunder of heavy artillery growing ever louder in the East. Before nightfall, overcrowded Urasovo was completely surrounded by Soviet forces, and Csukas was ordered by radio to hold them off until outside relief could be dispatched. It appeared during the 19th in the form of the German 26th Westfalen Infantry Division, the rear guard of which broke through to Urasovo and rescued its haggard defenders, who trudged into Novy-Oskol four days later.

The 1 Ungarishe jabostafel, re-equipped with the latest Messerschmitt Me-109Gs, was now based in Kiev, with airfields at Ilovskoje and Poltava. After a brief period of recuperation, the Hungarians were patrolling over the battlefield again, carrying out numerous, low-level strafing runs against transport convoys and troop concentrations in support of Wehrmacht counter-attacks aimed at recapturing Kharkov. It was here that the unit was based in late February, when German forces took the city once more.

With spring 1943 came the first appearance in large numbers of American-made aircraft wearing Red Star insignia. Sergeant Tarnay made the first kill of a Douglas A-20 light-bomber on the morning of April 29, when six of the rugged, agile Bostons escorted by a much larger force of fighters attacked Kharkov-Osnava airfield. U.S. aid was also evident on the ground, as more Ford trucks and Grant tanks joined a growing inventory of enemy equipment destroyed by the 1st Hungarian Fighter-Bomber Squadron.

The greatest air armadas in military history clashed from early to late July over the pivotal struggle for Kursk, during which the “Pumas;’ as the Magyar Legier6 fighter pilots were now known, flew up to five missions each day. They shot down only 33 enemy aircraft, because the Hungarians were assigned mostly ground-attack duties, as one may gather from the 153 vehicles of all types they destroyed, unknown thousands of Red Army troops strafed, and eight pieces of field artillery knocked out. All to no avail. In early August, soon after the Soviets’ victory at Kursk, they over-ran all opposition, taking Belgorod and threatening Kharkov. Aerial encounters reached unparalleled levels of ferocity, as the Pumas flew in excess of 20 missions per day.

They were joined by 13 Hungarian-flown Stukas of the 102/2 Dive bomber Squadron, also known as the “Coconut Squadron:” More Ju.87 Doras, led by Captain Gyozo Levay, soon after arrived. Although both fighters and bombers excelled at their tasks, they were re-stationed at Poltava when Kharkov could no longer be held. They had by then established a particular reputation among their opponents, as Lieutenant Kalman Szeverenyi learned, when he was tailing a Lavochkin on October 7. Before Szeverenyi could open fire, the Russian pilot bailed out, parachuting near the wreckage of his own fighter.

The next day was an occasion for celebration at the 102/2nd, whose airmen had just completed their 1,000th mission. Before relocating back to Kolozsvar two weeks later, they would execute another 200 sorties, having dropped more than 800 tons of bombs on the enemy since their debut on the Eastern Front three months earlier. The Hungarian Stuka crews additionally accounted for a P-39 Aircobra.

“We form up and I set a homebound course;’ recalled Lieutenant Tibor Tobak. “Suddenly, a lone Cobra appears and heads toward the point of our formation. According to Russian custom, he tries to attack the leader. I am not excited a bit. As soon as he enters our field of fire, he is a dead man. When he comes into range, eight twin-barreled MGs open up on him. Sixteen tubes pour deadly eight-mm slugs at him. As I glance back, I can see that the tracers end up exactly in the Cobra’s fuselage. Sarkady pumps it right behind the cockpit, where the engine is. `Well done, Lali!’ I shout `I think you got him!”‘

“Ivan miscalculated his move. He came in too steep to get under our formation, but he had to pass through our field of fire … The Cobra is now ahead of me by some one hundred meters, and I can see its engine smoking. I can see the pilot bailing out. The abandoned aircraft topples and begins its final spiral descent towards the ground. The parachute blossoms into a big, white flower. We did it, we got the guy! I feel satisfied; we can finally paint our first Red Star on the tail of our airplane:’

According to Tobak, “The 37-mm gun of the Cobra is a killer. A single hit can disable the venerable Stuka. Our 151/twenty-mm is just a popgun compared to that, but my boys have practiced formation flying a bit in Kolozsvar. If jumped, German staffels usually break formation and disperse, but we keep a close formation to concentrate our firepower instead”‘

Two Lavochkin La-5 fighters were also shot down by Tobak’s men, remarkable achievements for the sluggish, under-defended dive-bomber they flew. In fact, no Coconut Squadron Stukas were lost to enemy interceptors. The Squadron had not gone unscathed, however, and its surviving machines-either four or six not claimed by flak-were transferred to the Luftwaffe after the Hungarians returned to their homeland for training new crews and rebuilding the unit.

Meanwhile, German counter-attacks failed to retake Kiev but did push the Soviets out of Zhitomir, where the 1 Ungarishe Jabostafel found a new base and celebrated its 100th kill in December 1943. Through long months of intense combat, it had suffered the loss of just 6 pilots (plus 2 missing) from an original 37 airmen, as proof of their great skill and good luck. After New Year’s 1944, they relocated yet again, this time to Khalinovka. During the transfer, Lieutenant Lasl6 Molnar and his wingman, Corporal Erno Kiss, encountered 30 Shturmoviks covered by 10 Lavochkins. Laughing at the 20-to-1 odds against them, the Hungarians dove amid the enemy bombers, shooting down four of them, plus two Red fighters, before completing their flight to Khalinovka.

While battles such as these showcased the Hungarians’ superb combat performance, they nonetheless demonstrated the awful numerical edge overshadowing the Eastern Front in lengthening shades of doom. The sheer mass of man power and materiel now at Stalin’s disposal was sufficient to usually drown any technological superiority the Axis might have possessed, as evidenced by the 2,600 warplanes he assembled for his conquest of Vinnitsa, the Wehrmacht’s own headquarters in Russia, defended by 1,460 Luftwaffe aircraft. The Soviets were nevertheless stymied for more than three months, during which the entire Eastern Front was stabilized, and the Pumas were in the thick of the fighting, scoring more than 50 “kills” in January and February alone.

On March 17,1944, the USAAF for the first time attacked Budapest with 70 B-24s. The Liberators were undeterred by just four Hungarian flown Messerschmitts, all of which were damaged and two shot down by the unescorted heavy-bombers’ defensive fire. The encounter illustrated not only the pitifully inadequate numbers of aircraft available for home defense but lack of proper pilot training. The Americans returned on April 3 to bomb a hospital and other civilian targets as punishment, it was generally believed, for the recent establishment of a new government closer aligned with Germany. In any case, the attack left 1,073 dead and 526 wounded.

During the 13-day interval between these raids, the 1/1 and 2/1 Fighter Squadrons had been reassigned to the capital, and its crews provided a crash course in interception tactics. Even so, 170 P-38 Lightnings and P-51 Mustangs prevented most of the two dozen Pumas from approaching their targets. A few that penetrated the escorts’ protective ring destroyed 11 heavy-bombers at the cost of 1 Hungarian flyer. Six more Liberators were brought down by Budapest flak. In another USAAF raid 10 days later, the Mustangs were replaced by Republic P-47s, which failed to score against the Messerschmitts. Instead, two Thunderbolts fell to ground fire, along with four B-17 Flying Fortresses.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian pilots were getting the hang of interception, suffering no casualties for downing eight B-24s and six Lightnings. These losses combined with the mistaken American belief that aircraft manufacturing throughout Hungary had been brought to a halt. In fact, just a small Experimental Institute lost its hangars and workshops, and a Messerschmitt factory was damaged, although soon after restored to full production capacity. USAAF warplanes continued to appear in Hungarian skies over the next two months, but only on their way to targets in Austria or ferrying supplies to the Soviet Union. The Magyar Legierd took full advantage of this lull in enemy raids to upgrade and re-train three, full-strength fighter squadrons, while Budapest’s already formidable anti-aircraft defenses were bolstered.

When the 101. Honi Legvedelmi Vadkszrepiild Osztkly, or 101st “Puma” Fighter Group, was formed on May 1, 1944, Cadet Dezsd Szentgyorgyi transferred to the 101/2 Retek, “Radish” Fighter Squadron, where he would soon become Flight Leader, then, on November 16, Ensign. These rapid promotions were generated by his rapidly rising number of enemy heavy-bombers shot down during the “American Season;’ as the period was referred to by his fellow pilots. Placed in charge of the Home Defense Fighter Wing was Major Aladar Heppes. At 40 years of age, he was the Magyar Legierd’s eldest pilot, known as “the Old Puma;’ a seasoned Eastern Front veteran. For practice, his airmen confronted several hundred USAAF heavy bombers and their escorts droning toward Vienna on May 24. Although four Liberators, a Flying Fortress and one Mustang were destroyed, Major Heppes lost one man killed, and six Messerschmitts were damaged. But the Home Defense Fighter Wing crews learned from their experience, and vowed to do better when the Yanks returned in earnest.

Meanwhile, in preparation for imminent Soviet invasion of their country, the “Coconut” Stuka crews were recalled from Eastern Front duty to serve on Hungarian soil. Their 102/2nd dive-bomber squadron was redesignated the 102/1st fighter-bomber squadron, indicating the transition training they undertook to Focke-Wulf FW-190F-8s at Borgond airfield.

On the morning of June 14, 600 USAAF heavy-bombers and 200 escorts went after nitrogen plants and oil refineries outside Budapest, while P-38 Lightnings made low-level strafing runs on a Luftwaffe squadron of Messerschmitt Me.323 Gigant transports at Kecskemet airfield. The defenders were joined by a quartet of German fighters, which made two “kills:’ Eight more were claimed by the 32 Hungarian pilots, who lost one of their own. The city’s anti-aircraft defenses once again proved their worth, shooting down 11 enemy intruders.

Only 28 Home Defense interceptors were serviceable 48 hours later to oppose 650 heavy-bombers ringed by 290 Lightnings and Mustangs that filled the skies over Lake Balaton. Despite the excessive odds confronting them, the Pumas broke through the thick ranks of protective American fighters, claiming a dozen of them to destroy four Liberators. A remarkable set of “kills” was accomplished by Corporal Matyas Lorincz during this, his first operational flight. Hot in pursuit of four P-38s, he was unable to prevent them from shooting down Lieutenant Kohalmy. A moment later, Lorincz was in firing range, and the two Lightnings he set afire collided with and brought down a third. Lieutenant Lajos Toth, Hungary’s third highest-ranking ace with 26 “kills, was forced to take to his parachute, landing not far from the U.S. pilot he had himself shot down a few minutes before. Aviation engineer Gyorgy Punka, recorded how “they chatted until the American was picked up by a Hungarian Army patrol”‘

Relations between opponents were not invariably cordial, however, “with the American pilots deliberately firing on Hungarian airmen who had saved themselves by parachute, or strafing crash-landed aircraft;’ according to Neulen. “One of the victims was Senior Lieutenant Jozef Bognar, who was killed by an American pilot while hanging helplessly beneath his parachute”‘

The June 16 air battle had cost the Home Defense Fighter Wing the lives of five pilots, including two more wounded. Six Gustav Messerschmitts were destroyed, and seven damaged. These losses were immediately made good by fresh recruits and replacement planes, as the struggle against the bombers began to reach a crescendo on the 30th. This time, the Pumas were aided by 12 Messerschmitt Me-110 Destroyers and Me-410 Hornets, plus 5 Gustavs from the Luftwaffe’s 8th Jagddivision. The Germans and Hungarians claimed 11 “kills” between them, while the ferocity of their interception forced a formation of 27 bombers to turn back short of the capital; the remaining 412 diverted into the northwest.

The next USAAF attempt to strike Budapest’s area oil refineries on July 2 was similarly spoiled by just 18 Pumas, together with a like number of Luftwaffe Messerschmitts. As their colleagues in Germany had already learned, it was not necessary to destroy an entire flight of enemy bombers to make them miss their target. Among the most successful interceptions undertaken by the Magyar Legier6 fighters was carried out against 800 U.S. warplanes on July 7. A mere 10 Messerschmitts led by Major Heppes, the Old Puma himself, accounted for as many Liberators falling in flames from the sky, together with another 15 brought down by flak. One Gustav was lost, its pilot parachuting safely to earth.

The American aerial offensive pressed on throughout the summer and into fall of 1944 on an almost daily basis and in growing numbers. The Home Defense Fighter Wing continued to score “kills” and deflect bomber missions, until its men and machines were withdrawn from around Budapest in mid-October on more immediately pressing business: the invasion of their country. The previous six months of stiff Axis resistance had slowed, but could not halt the Red Army juggernaut, which now reached the foot of the Carpathian Mountains at the Hungarian frontier.

In the midst of this crisis, Admiral Horthy lost his nerve and attempted to capitulate to the Soviets. But the Germans learned of it in time, and placed him in protective custody for the rest of the war. News of his dethronement was met with a mix of indifference and acclaim, because the Hungarian people, who remembered all too well the Communist tyranny and terror they experienced during the 1920s, preferred resistance to submission. The Red Army was stopped at the Eastern Carpathian Mountains by German-Hungarian forces, but they could not simultaneously contain a veritable deluge of Red Army troops that overran Transylvania.

Their attack on Budapest began in early December, although the capital was not easily taken. Russian losses over the previous three-and-a-half years were becoming apparent in the declining quality of personnel on the ground and in the air. When, for example, a formation of Heinkel He.111 medium-bombers escorted by Hungarian pilots of the 101/2 Fighter Squadron was about to sortie against Soviet troops crossing the Danube on December 21, an out-numbering group of Lavochkins scattered and fled without a fight. Clearly, Stalin was relying on the dead weight of numbers more than ever before to achieve his objectives.

On January 2,1945, a joint German-Hungarian effort known as Operation Konrad I was launched to break the siege of Budapest. Although significant gains were made early and the Pumas wracked up more “kills;’ high winds kept flying to a frustrating minimum and destroyed more of their aircraft than Soviet pilots. After three days, the attempt to liberate the capital bogged down. Undaunted, reserves pushed onward with Operation Konrad II. During a rare stretch of clear weather on the 8th, Hungarian crews of the 102 Fast Bomber Group celebrated their 2,000th sortie by pummeling Red Army positions. The return of dense fog grounded further flights, however, and Operation Konrad II was abandoned the next day, mostly for lack of air support.

A third and final Operation Konrad appeared to succeed where its predecessors had failed. The Vlth German Army kicked it off on January 18, and 35 miles of territory were recaptured in the first 48 hours of the attack. The mighty Soviet 17th Air Army stumbled backward across the Danube, which advancing Axis troops reached on the 20th. Two days later, the Russians evacuated Szakesfehervar. These successes on the ground were importantly aided by airmen such as Ensign Dezso Szentgyorgyi, the Magyar Legier’s leading ace, who scored 14 victories alone in the fighting for Budapest. His and the rest of the Pumas’s chief targets were Shturmovik ground-attack planes, together with enemy armored vehicles and troops.

A few survivors of the 102/2 Dive-bomber “Coconut” Squadron most of its Ju-87Ds had been destroyed on the ground at Bdrgond the previous October 12 by low-flying P-51s of the American 15th Air Force-pounded Red Army positions and knocked out T-34 tanks. Their vital sorties were abruptly curtailed from January 23 by heavy snowfall, just when Soviet reserves began entering the battle area, and more than 300 German tanks were destroyed. Three days later, Operation Konrad III had to be canceled. During these repeated, all-out efforts to liberate Budapest, the three participating Magyar Legiero squadrons had flown some 150 combined missions to win 69 aerial victories for the loss of 6 pilots during 20 days of flight allowed by the weather. The “Coconut” Squadron was finished, having flown 1,500 sorties, dropped 750 tons of bombs, for the loss of half of their commissioned officer pilots and 40 percent of noncommissioned pilots.

An even-more ambitious attempt than Operation Konrad to regain the initiative got underway on March 6 with Operation Fruhlingserwachsen (“Spring Awakening”) in the Lake Balaton area of Transdanubia. Forces included the German 6th SS Panzer Army, the 1.SS Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, German 2nd Panzer Army, Army Group Balck, elements of German Army Group E, and the Hungarian Third Army. Objectives included saving the last oil reserves still available to the Axis and routing the Red Army long enough to recapture Budapest. Combined Luftwaffe and Magyar Legiero forces amounted to 850 aircraft opposed by 965 Soviet warplanes.

Odds against the Axis on the ground were far more loaded in their opponents’ favor, with seven infantry armies and a tank army. The combined 101/1 and 101/3 Fighter Squadrons strove to stave off massed flights of Bostons and Shturmoviks savaging Axis armored units and troop concentrations. High numbers of either type were shot down, together with several Yak-9s, on March 9, when the Pumas completed 56 sorties, to gain temporary air superiority above the German 6th SS Panzer Army, enabling it to advance. Despite early, impressive gains such as these, Germany’s last offensive could not prevail against the enemy’s overwhelming numerical advantage, and Axis troops were compelled to fall back to their prepared positions in Hungary, where they were soon overrun.

Douglas AD (BT2D, A-1) Skyraider 1945–1972/5 Part I

Too late for World War II, the Douglas AD series went on to achieve a stunning combat record in both Korea and Vietnam during a career that stretched over two decades. Its story began in September 1943, when BUAER circulated the new requirement for a single-seat bomber-torpedo (BT) aircraft intended to replace SBDs, SB2Cs, and TBMs. Douglas originally submitted a proposal for the XBTD-1, which was basically a rehash of its less than successful XSB2D design; then in June 1944, the company surprised BUAER by asking for cancellation of the BTD program in favor of a totally new concept. Its proposed XBT2D-1 was much closer to BUAER’s bomber-torpedo criteria: a simple design with a tailwheel layout in which weapons were carried on external racks beneath a bottom-mounted wing. For dive-bombing, Douglas introduced a new type of dive brake system consisting of flat panels that extended from the sides and belly of the fuselage. BUAER was sufficiently interested in the new concept to award Douglas a contract for 25 pre-production BT2D-1s, and after the first prototype flew on 15 March 1945, increased the order to 548 production aircraft.

The huge government cutbacks imposed after V-J Day resulted in the BT2D contract being reduced to 277 aircraft, and when the BT designation was changed to A for attack in early 1946, the plane became the AD-1. Service trials were completed in late 1946 and by early 1947, production AD-1s began replacing SB2Cs and TBMs in fleet units. The final 25 aircraft were delivered as AD-1Qs, a specialized ECM sub-variant that featured a separate compartment aft of the pilot for a radar operator. When the AD-1 had been in service less than a year, BUAER selected it as the Fleet’s standard single-seat attack type and made plans to acquire improved versions. Deliveries of 152 AD-2s having the more powerful R-3350-26W engine, stronger wings, a new canopy design, and fully enclosed wheel covers began in mid-1948 and were joined by an additional 21 AD-2Qs and one AD-2QU target tug. During 1948-1949 the Navy took delivery of 127 AD-3s possessing even more airframe strengthening, longer stroke landing gear, and a redesigned tailwheel, plus 15 three-seat night attack AD-3Ns, 31 three-seat early-warning AD-3Ws fitted with belly radomes, and 21 two-seat AD-3Qs.

The AD-4, introduced in 1949 with increased takeoff weight, a stronger tailhook, and a P-1 autopilot, also came in night attack, early-warning, and ECM sub-variants.

BUAER originally anticipated AD production would end in 1950 when the last of 180 AD- 4 variants were delivered, but naval involvement in the Korean War, which began in June 1950, had the unexpected effect of continuing AD production nonstop and led to demand for development of new versions. By the end of 1952, 1,051 AD-4s (all variants) had been delivered, and they were followed by 165 AD-4Bs armed with four 20-mm cannons and also configured to carry a tactical nuclear weapon, the first single-seat naval aircraft to have such capability.

Originally envisaged as a four-seat ASW platform, the AD-5 emerged with a fuselage lengthened by two feet and widened to permit side-by-side seating for a pilot and three crewmembers under an elongated canopy. Fin area was increased and the dive-brakes on the sides of the fuselage were deleted. But even before the first AD-5 flew in August 1951, BUAER changed its mind and earmarked it for production as an attack aircraft. The 212 standard attack versions subsequently built came with conversion kits, which, in addition to its basic attack function, allowed the type to be used either as a transport (12 seats), cargo carrier, ambulance, or target tug. Production AD-5s began entering service in late 1953 and were followed by 218 AD-5W early-warning and 239 AD-5N night/all-weather attack sub-variants, 54 of which were later modified as AD-5Q ECM aircraft.

The refinements of the AD-4B, plus LABS (low-altitude bombing system), new bomb racks, a jettisonable canopy, and a hydraulic tailhook were standardized in the single-seat AD- 6, which flew in 1953 and replaced AD-4s during 1954-1956. After delivery of 713 AD-6s, the final model was the single-seat AD-7, which differed in having a more powerful R-3350-26WB engine, stronger landing gear, and stronger outer wing panels. AD production finally ended in February 1957 when the last of 72 AD-7s rolled off El Segundo’s assembly line.

ADs were destined to remain in active naval service for 22 years-considerably longer than BUAER expected. In late 1946-early 1947, VA-19A, VA-3B, and VA-4B were the first squadrons to receive ADs, and by the eve of the Korean war, the type was equipping sixteen Navy and two Marine attack squadrons. In Korea, ADs operating from both carriers and land bases earned a reputation as the best all-around attack aircraft in the combat zone. Besides flying day attack, night attack, countermeasures, and early-warning missions, it was the only aircraft in the theater capable of delivering 2,000-lb. bombs against hardened targets (like bridges and dams) with dive-bomber precision. After Korea, AD’s carried on as naval aviation’s standard single-seat attack type and reached their peak in the mid-1950s when they equipped 29 Navy and 13 Marine squadrons. Even though a gradual phase-out of the type began in 1956 with the arrival of A4Ds, BUAER still planned to keep its ADs in service until the early 1960s. Moving somewhat faster, the Marine Corps retired its last AD-6 at the end of 1959.

When the tri-service system was adopted in September 1962, those ADs remaining in service were re-designated as follows: AD-5=A-1E; AD-5W= EA-1E; AD-5Q=EA-1E; AD- 5N=A-1G; AD-6=A-1H; and AD-7=A-1J. In 1964, plans to retire the type were postponed by military developments in Southeast Asia, where A-1s subsequently flew hundreds of combat sorties as part of the ongoing carrier task force stationed off the coast of Vietnam. Owing to their slower speed and excellent loiter range, A-1s were considered the best tactical aircraft available for escorting troop-laden helicopters and ground-fire suppression in rescue combat air patrol (RESCAP) operations. Though never intended for air-to-air confrontations, Navy A- 1Hs were in fact credited with the downing of North Vietnamese MiG-17s on two occasions. The type’s active naval career ended in 1968 when the last single-seat combat sortie was flown by an A-1H of VA-25 in February and the final ECM mission by an EA-1E of VAQ-33 in December.

In the early 1960s, as U. S. military involvement in Southeast Asia increased, the USAF found itself without any type of attack aircraft that could be adapted to slow, close-in operations like counter-insurgency (i. e., COIN: suppression and interdiction of guerilla troops and supplies) or RESCAP. Several different types of aircraft, all prop-driven, were evaluated at the Special Warfare Center located at Eglin AFB in Florida, including several ex-Navy A-1 Skyraiders. Once the tests were concluded, USAF officials immediately made plans to acquire 150 surplus wide-body A-1Es from Navy stocks to be overhauled for expected service in Vietnam. Modifications included addition of dual controls and weapons racks not normally carried on Navy E models. Actual combat operations commenced in early 1964 with the 34th Tactical Group based at Ben Hoa AB in South Vietnam. A-1E sorties were initially flown with a Vietnamese observer in the right seat for the purpose of target identification, but for most of its service the type was flown as a single-pilot attack aircraft. As they became available from Navy stocks in the mid and late 1960s, the USAF also began to operate single-seat A-1Hs and Js which became especially well-known for their “Sandy” operations-RESCAPs escorting the “Jolly Greens” (i. e., Sikorsky HH-53 helicopters) deep into North Vietnamese or Laotian airspace to rescue downed American pilots and aircrew. The USAF operated A-1s on Sandy missions up until November 7, 1972, when American involvement in Vietnam was almost at an end.

Skyraiders were probably the most numerically important aircraft to operate with the Air Force of the Republic of Vietnam (VNAF). In fact, the American government began the transfer of surplus Navy AD-6s (A-1Hs) to the VNAF in 1960, and as they became available, more followed. VNAF Skyraider pilots were initially trained by the Navy at NAS Corpus Christi and later by the Air Force at Hurlburt AFB. During the so-called “Vietnamization” of the war between 1969-1972, many Air Force A-1s were simply turned over to the VNAF when U. S. forces left the country. During this time the VNAF reached a peak strength of eight Skyraider squadrons, and they were operated in combat all the way up to the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Although a number of VNAF A-1s are known to have fallen into North Vietnamese hands, no apparent effort was made to put them back into service. Beginning in 1951, the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) began taking delivery of AD-4Ws for use aboard its carriers in the airborne early-warning role. The first 20 aircraft were new, but the remaining 30 of 50 delivered were supplied from U. S. Navy stocks. Known as the Skyraider AEW. 1, the type remained in frontline service with the FAA until replaced by Fairey Gannets in 1962. A number of these aircraft were thereafter converted to target tugs and operated by the Swedish Air Force until the early 1970s. Forty surplus AD-4s were sold to the French Air Force in 1959 and thereafter flew combat in support of French forces in Algeria and Chad (1960) and in French Somaliland and Madagascar (1963). French Skyraiders remained in service in small numbers until the early 1970s, and some of these were turned over to the Cambodian Air Force, where they were briefly used against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops.

Korean War Skyraiders

By 1950, the TBM Avenger torpedo-bomber, SB2C Helldiver dive-bomber and the post-war AM Mauler had been replaced on fleet carriers by a new type in the form of the single-seat Douglas AD (formerly BT2D) Skyraider attack aircraft. A rugged, powerful aeroplane capable of carrying a 10,000-lb ordnance load of bombs, rockets and torpedoes, as well as 20 mm cannon, the AD, or `Able Dog’, as it was often called, prevailed over several competing designs and sidelined the similar AM Mauler to become the standard attack aircraft in the fleet.

More than 865 ADs had been built in four basic versions by the time hostilities broke out in Korea, including a wide range of specialised variants. The AD-1, a production version of the XBT2D-1 prototype, had been superseded by later versions by the time the conflict commenced in June 1950, and none of the 242 built saw combat. The AD-2, of which 156 were built, featuring greater structural strength, greater internal fuel capacity and a revised cockpit, saw extensive combat, however. The 125 AD-3 versions, which featured still more strengthening, a redesigned canopy, improved cooling of the engine and improved landing gear, also helped to equip US Navy attack (VA) squadrons during war deployments to Korea.

The AD-4 version and its sub-variants – the production standard in 1950 – were the most numerous to serve in the Korean War, equipping attack squadrons in 17 of the 25 combat deployments undertaken by Skyraider units. The AD-4 featured an uprated engine, an improved cockpit windscreen, a modified tailhook and a P-1 autopilot. Production totalled 372 examples, of which 63 were modified specifically for service in the harsh Korean winters. Designated AD-4Ls, they boasted anti-icing equipment and de-icer boots on the leading edges of the wings. The AD-4Ls were also fitted with an additional two cannon. When the `Able Dog’ was assigned the role of nuclear strike, 28 AD-4s were structurally strengthened for loft-bombing and designated AD-4Bs. An additional 165 AD-4Bs were built as such at the factory. One attack squadron and one composite (VC) squadron deployed to the Korean war zone with the AD-4B.

The versatility of the TBM was carried over into the AD, as the Skyraider was modified to perform a variety of specialised missions. The aft fuselage of an XBT2D-1 was converted to accommodate an electronic countermeasures (ECM) operator crew station and an access door to produce an XBT2D-1Q prototype. This change was made operational with the creation of 35 AD-1Qs. The modification followed with the production of 21 AD-2Qs, 23 AD-3Qs and 39 AD-4Qs. The AD-2Q, AD-3Q and AD-4Q saw combat over Korea with several attack and fighter AD units, plus VCs -33 and -35. Early Q-models had only an electronic surveillance measures capability, with ECM – jamming – coming later.

Similar in configuration to the Q versions were the night-attack variants, the AD-3N and AD-4N. Unlike the Q, the N featured two crew stations – one for a radar operator – in the aft fuselage, along with two access doors, but left no room for dive brakes. The AD-3N carried the APS-19A radar pod, while AD-4Ns were equipped with wing-mounted APS-31 radar and a searchlight. They also boasted an electronic surveillance measures (ESM) capability similar to the Q. Production of the AD-3N totalled only 15 aircraft, and the type saw combat on just two Korea deployments with VC-3 and VC-35. The AD-4N was much more abundant, with 307 built, of which 37 were modified with the AD-4L’s cold-weather upgrades and extra 20 mm cannon. These became AD-4NLs. Because of the increased demand for straight attack aircraft in Korea, 100 AD-4Ns were stripped of their two aft crew stations, fitted with the extra cannon and given the designation AD-4NA.

Succeeding the TBM-3W in the airborne early warning role were the unarmed AD-3W and AD-4W Skyraiders, modified with a similar belly radome housing an APS-20 search radar. The radar was operated by two crewmen housed in the aft fuselage under a turtleback extension of the cockpit. The W variants were primarily used to warn carrier battle groups of approaching aircraft, although they also performed the anti-submarine search role. The US Navy procured 31 AD-3Ws and 118 AD-4Ws.

The US Navy’s carrier force in June 1950 included only nine carrier air groups (CVGs), just three of which were based in the Pacific. This was principally because the Cold War was in full swing and support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation facing the Soviet Union in Europe was the top priority for US naval forces in early 1950. The US Navy had nine AD attack squadrons in service at the outbreak of the Korean War, one per carrier air wing.

By the end of the Korean War, the US Navy fielded 16 attack and two frontline fighter squadrons equipped with Ads.

Attack squadrons would initially deploy with a single attack version of the AD, but as the war progressed and attrition occurred other models were sent as replacement aircraft. Some VA squadrons flew AD-2/3/4/4Q versions during a single deployment, and AD-4L/NL/NAs entered the mix later in the war. When a carrier departed station for home, it would transfer some aeroplanes to other carriers or to the aircraft replacement pool at Atsugi, Japan. Some AD attack squadrons (typically equipped with 18 aircraft of all types) also included a few Q-models in their line-up. In addition, special mission composite squadrons (VC) for night attack, ESM/ECM and early warning included VC-3, VC-11 and VC-35 in the Pacific Fleet and VC-4, VC-12 and VC-33 in the Atlantic Fleet.

During this period, CVG staffs were also occasionally equipped with one or two ADs, usually including the Q versions. For administrative efficiency, the CVG staff and VC dets were organised into temporary squadrons, with the senior officer of the various VC detachments as the `commanding officer’. Although discontinued in June 1949, the practice of giving these temporary units a designation continued unofficially in some cases. `VC-110′ was such a unit in CVG-11, for example. For the purposes of this book, the dets will be discussed in terms of their parent units.

The numerous Naval Air Reserve Training Units had yet to receive any Skyraiders by June 1950, being equipped instead with AM-1s and TBMs.

Also of note, at the beginning of the Korean War the US Marine Corps did not field any attack squadrons (VMA), nor was it equipped with any Skyraiders. It relied instead on F4U-4/5/5N variants of the Corsair and on nightfighter versions of the F7F Tigercat. Although the Marine Corps was slated to begin receiving W- and Q-models of the AD in 1950, its Skyraiders did not reach Korea until mid-1951.


The units that flew Skyraiders in both the USAF and the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF) during the Vietnam War. The 12 squadrons of these two air forces that were equipped with the Douglas aircraft saw extensive combat from 1960 to 1975. And this 15-year period is but five years short of spanning the entire existence of the VNAF. History will show that with the introduction of the AD-6 Skyraider in 1960, the VNAF truly had a capable, albeit demanding, aircraft – demanding in that it required a pilot’s full attention all of the time, whether in the air or on the ground. That it lasted 15 years as the VNAF’s frontline attack aircraft speaks volumes for its capabilities, and those of the men who flew it.

These capabilities, however, did not come without a price. Of the approximately 350 Skyraiders operated by the VNAF, only 70 remained by the end of 1973. And by the time the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) invaded South Vietnam in April 1975, just 40 Skyraiders were left at various VNAF bases for the enemy to use as they saw fit. It was the end of not only the VNAF, but also of the country the Skyraider units had fought so hard to defend.

Nestled inside this 15-year timeframe was the eight-year period that the USAF operated various models of the A-1 Skyraider in Southeast Asia. Commencing operations in-theatre in mid-1964, Skyraiders were the premier close air support (CAS) aircraft for the USAF until the end of 1972. The A-1 also became synonymous with the search and rescue (SAR) mission, and many a downed airman gave thanks when he heard the voice of a `Sandy’ on his survival radio, followed shortly after by the din of the Wright R-3350 radial engine as the Skyraider roared overhead. But make no mistake, the A-1 served well in all of its roles, from Special Forces fort defence to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) support.

All Skyraider pilots gave some, but far too many gave their all. Of the approximately 330 A-1s operated by the USAF in Southeast Asia, nearly 200 were lost. More than 100 USAF Skyraider pilots were either killed in action or listed as missing in action.

Douglas AD (BT2D, A-1) Skyraider 1945–1972/5 Part II

USAF Skyraiders

If you thought that USAF Skyraiders were the same as US Navy Skyraiders except for their exterior colour schemes, you would be wrong. Two A-1Es on loan from the US Navy (BuNos 132417 and 132439) were evaluated by Tactical Air Command’s Special Air Warfare Center (SAWC) at Eglin AFB, Florida, from August 1962 to January 1963. The stated purpose of the test was to `evaluate the A-1E Skyraider for possible use in counterinsurgency warfare, and gauge its maintenance supportability and requirements’.

The conclusions reached were that the A-1E was an aircraft in the operational inventory that could perform many roles peculiar to counterinsurgency warfare, and after completion of minor modifications it would be capable of carrying all conventional ordnance of the 2000-lb or smaller class either then in the inventory or programmed for production.

The following items required modification or new installation:

1. Newest version R-3350 engine (R-3350-26WD)

2. Landing and taxi lights

3. Parking brake

4. Speed-brake well doors (never implemented)

5. N-9 gun camera to replace installed N-6 camera

6. Dual controls to include rudder/wheel brakes and control column with trim controls. Engine controls were listed as not required (a requirement for a throttle was added at a later time)

7. The right-hand side of the glare shield required modification to prevent the blocking of important warning lights from view

8. A pneumatic tailwheel to replace the existing hard solid rubber wheel to allow operations on a variety of runway and parking ramp surfaces.

9. Exterior paint and markings consistent with applicable USAF regulations

10. Aircraft technical order revisions to reflect modifications made

Although these modifications were based solely on the testing of the A-1E aircraft in 1962-63, many of them applied to the other models of Skyraider that would be procured in the future.

The first aircraft delivered to the USAF were A-1Es in mid-1964. After numerous programme changes regarding the distribution of these first machines, 25 went to Tactical Air Command (TAC) to be used for Skyraider upgrade training at Hurlburt Field, Florida. A further 48 USAF A-1Es were at Bien Hoa AB by the end of 1964, by which point eight Skyraiders had been lost with the death of six American pilots and two Vietnamese observers.

In mid-1967 the USAF was able to acquire single-seat A-1H/Js from the US Navy, and these aircraft underwent a similar modification programme to that undertaken with the A-1E, except of course for the changes relating to the second set of flight controls – H- and J-models were single-seat Skyraiders. Once completed, the aircraft were transported by ship to Southeast Asia, arriving at their respective units about a month after the modifications had been completed. These deliveries began in late 1967, and were largely complete by the end of 1968.

The A-1E was a multipurpose version of the Skyraider developed to permit greater versatility either as an attack aircraft or in the utility role. It departed from previous variants in that it had side-by-side seating for two crewmembers. The A-1E was powered by the R-3350-26WA engine and fully equipped to carry bombs, rockets, torpedoes, mines and other stores on external racks. Four M3 20 mm cannons were installed in the wings. The aircraft could also be equipped with auxiliary tanks both internally and externally for long-range operations. For utility purposes, the aircraft could quickly be equipped with seating for passengers, as well as facilities for the carriage of litter patients or provisions.

USAF A-1Es were produced from four different US Navy variants, namely the AD-5, AD-5N, AD-5Q and AD-5W. These A-1Es subsequently proved to be the mainstay of the first group of Skyraiders used by the USAF and, later, by the VNAF. Gone were the bulbous radomes and electronics pods carried on the inner stations of the AD-5Q/W, as well as the opaque rear canopies with a single viewing port on each side. The latter were eventually replaced with the blue plastic enclosures that gave rise to the nickname `blue room’ for the space behind the two front side-by-side seats of the USAF’s A-1Es.

A close variant of the A-1E was the A-1E-5, which differed from the USAF’s standard E-model through its lack of right-seat controls. In order to expedite the delivery of additional A-1Es to Southeast Asia in the 1965-66 timeframe, the installation of right seat controls for these aircraft was not accomplished. By mid-1966 the training of VNAF pilots by USAF units in Southeast Asia had ended, thus removing the need for dual-control A-1Es. However, no E-5s were sent to the `Skyraider school’ at Hurlburt AFB, in Florida, for obvious reasons. Other than by looking at the tail number, there was no easy way an observer could tell the difference between an A-1E and an A-1E-5 from the outside. It would be a gross understatement to say that no self-respecting Skyraider pilot wanted to be in the right seat of an A-1E-5 in combat!

There were three A-1E-5s assigned to the 1st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) when I arrived at Nakhon Phanom (NKP) Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAFB) in October 1971. There was a check-out programme in the 1st SOS at this time that required all new pilots to first ride in the right seat of the E or E-5, then get in the left seat for a few more flights with an IP (instructor pilot), before going solo in either the E-, H- or J-model Skyraider. The IPs hated to be in the right seat of the E-5, but there they were.

The USAF’s A-1G closely resembled the E-model, being formerly designated the AD-5N in US Navy service. This aircraft was designed as the three-seat night-attack variant of the AD-5, and for all intents and purposes the A-1G was different from the E-model only in ways we pilots could not detect. Without looking up the serial number or searching through the aircraft’s maintenance paperwork, there really was no way of telling a USAF A-1E from an A-1G.

Because of what became termed the `USAF A-1E standard’, many US Navy-designated A-1Gs became Air Force A-1Es. A `standard A-1E’ was produced when all the USAF-stipulated modifications had been made prior to an aircraft seeing frontline service. Some A-1Gs were only partially modified due their urgent requirement as attrition replacements in Southeast Asia, which in turn meant that they kept their US Navy designations.

In August 1965, Headquarters Pacific Air Forces made the decision to camouflage all USAF aircraft in Southeast Asia. This of course affected all Skyraiders then in-theatre, plus those undergoing modification for shipment to Southeast Asia. A goal was set to complete the camouflage of all Skyraiders in South Vietnam by the end of 1966. The result was a profound change in the appearance of all aircraft in-theatre. This camouflage scheme would become standard for all tactical combat aircraft in the USAF well into the 1980s.

As with most piston-engined aircraft designed and built prior to 1960, the Skyraider had no means for the pilot to escape should the need arise when operating at low altitudes – essentially below 2000 ft. With the A-1 typically operating well below the recommended safe bailout altitude of 2000 ft while performing its mission, the only choice available for most pilots was to crash-land the aircraft if they could. Many could not, however, and the loss rate for aircraft and pilots proved to be unacceptably high as a result.

In an effort to improve a pilot’s chances of survival, the USAF contracted Stanley Aviation Corporation in 1965 to develop an automated escape system for the Skyraider. The company’s answer was the extraction seat. The seat would remain in the aircraft, and the pilot would be pulled out in a standing position, attached to a rocket-propelled tether. By 20 April 1967, the task of installing the Yankee Extraction System in all USAF A-1Es in Southeast Asia had been completed.

It did not take long for the newly installed system to prove its worth, for on 21 May 1967 Maj James Holler’s Skyraider (133855) of the 1st Air Commando Squadron (ACS) was hit by ground fire shortly after departing Pleiku AB. Holler was about 1000 ft above the ground when he activated the extraction system, and although he subsequently landed on rocky ground and broke both ankles, this was the first successful use of the Yankee Extraction System. Shortly thereafter, on 11 June, Majs James Rauch and Robert Russell became the second and third satisfied customers of the Stanley Aviation product when their Skyraider (132408) experienced a loss of power during their air strike in northern Laos (possibly due to battle damage). Forced to extract about 1500 ft above the ground, both men landed safely and were rescued by a USAF Jolly Green HH-3 helicopter.

However, it should be noted that there were subsequently some problems with the Yankee system, which had many safety features that required `man-in-the-loop’ inspection and preparation. Some easy-to-miss items in the checklist were predictably overlooked, with disastrous results. Following each failure, there were modifications made to either procedures or equipment, or perhaps both. There is no way of knowing how many lives could have been saved if the Yankee Extraction System had been fitted in the A-1 from the very beginning, but certainly it would have been a significant number.

VNAF Skyraiders

The VNAF was provided with 25 AD-6 Skyraiders in 1960 to replace its ageing F8F Bearcats through the Military Assistance Program. The first of these aircraft arrived in Saigon on 24 September 1960, and after processing and flight testing they were flown from Tan Son Nhut AB to Bien Hoa AB to enter service with the VNAF. Over the next six years, further deliveries added a sufficient number of A-1s to allow the equipment of four additional squadrons. By January 1966 the VNAF had 146 Skyraiders assigned to it.

As far as is known, the only modifications made to Skyraiders transferred to the VNAF from the US Navy were the removal of all equipment associated with the delivery of nuclear weapons and the tailhook. The earliest A-1H Skyraiders even kept the US Navy paint scheme, but with US markings replaced by those of the VNAF. In one of the many ironies of the Vietnam War, the first USAF A-1Es based at Bien Hoa bore VNAF markings from June 1964 until February 1965 in an effort to mask the presence of American combat aircraft in South Vietnam. Many photographs exist of these early USAF Skyraiders incorrectly identified as belonging to the VNAF in various books, magazines and journals.

A significant change to the appearance of VNAF Skyraiders (and all their aircraft for that matter) occurred with the introduction of camouflage paint in 1966. From the very start, VNAF Skyraider markings had been flamboyant and eye-catching, and the addition of camouflage did not change this. During this period A-1s exhibited a mixture of flamboyance and stealth – a seeming contradictory combination for a combat aircraft. However, during the later stages of the war, VNAF Skyraiders were much more subdued in their overall appearance.

In 1967, Stanley Aviation Corporation’s Yankee Extraction System was installed in all VNAF Skyraiders. This system functioned by means of an extraction rocket similar in principle to the drogue gun system on a normal ejection seat. Once the catapult charge fired, the spin-stabilised rocket was fired when the pendant lines reached full stretch. Actuation of the system was effected after the canopy had been jettisoned. The rocket was then erected by means of a pyrotechnic piston and lever under the erector/launcher. The rocket launched from the rear wall of the cockpit, and by means of a pair of Perlon pendants (rope-like straps), the pilot was pulled up and out of the cockpit. His parachute was rigged with an automatic opening system which activated after the rocket pendants separated from the parachute risers. The system included a set of rails to allow the seat back to rise up, while the seat pan was articulated to assist in the positioning of the pilot to the vertical as the rocket extracted him from the cockpit.

By the late 1960s losses and ongoing conversion of some VNAF A-1 units to the A-37 Dragonfly meant that there were just 69 operational Skyraiders available to oppose the surprise communist Tet Offensive of January 1968. USAF Skyraiders began to be transferred to the VNAF through MAP at around this time too, these aircraft being configured slightly differently to the Skyraiders procured directly from the US Navy – the USAF A-1s were still fitted with tailhooks, for example.

In total, the VNAF operated 329 Skyraiders, of which 240 came from the US Navy and the remaining 89 from the USAF as MAP transfers (most of the latter were supplied between 1970 and 1972). According to one account, the VNAF lost a total of 242 Skyraiders either in combat or to non-combat related accidents. However, it could be said that in the end all the Skyraiders supplied to the VNAF were lost since the air force ceased to exist following the fall of Saigon at the end of April 1975.

One of nine pre-production A2D-1s over southern California in 1953, the only turboprop-powered attack type ever seriously considered by the Navy. Only five of the pre-production aircraft were actually flown.

Douglas A2D Skyshark 1950–1954

Power plant: One 5,035-shp Allison XT40-A-2 double turboprop engine driving a six-bladed Aeroproducts contra-rotating, constant-speed propeller. Armament: Four fixed forward-firing 20-millimeter cannons and up to 5,500-lbs. of mixed ordnance carried externally. Performance: Max. speed 501-mph at 25,000 ft.; cruise 276-mph; ceiling 48,100 ft.; range 637 mi. loaded. Weights: 12,944-lbs. empty, 18,720-lbs. loaded. Dimensions: Span 50 ft., length 41 ft. 3 in., wing area 400 sq. ft.

The A2D was the only type of turboprop-powered attack aircraft to receive serious consideration for production by the Navy. The project was originally begun by BUAER in 1947 as an effort to adapt Douglas’s proven AD design to turboprop power, and two prototypes were ordered under the designation XA2D-1. But as development progressed, the design bore little similarity to the AD other than a superficial resemblance. A completely new fuselage was created around the complex XT40 powerplant and drive system, which comprised two T38 engines connected via drive shafts to a common transmission. In the case of a shutdown, each engine could operate independently and drive one or both propellers. The wing was also new, having a thinner-section airfoil and large wing root extensions. On paper, the XA2D-1’s projected performance was so promising that BUAER ordered 10 pre-production models, and soon followed with an order for 339 production A2D-1s on three separate contracts.

The first flight of the XA2D-1 was made on May 26, 1950 from Edwards Air Base. Early testing immediately revealed severe problems with the double engine and drive system. And to make matters worse, the prototype crashed in mid-December 1950 due to engine failure, killing the Navy test pilot. When testing resumed after the second XA2D-1 flew in April 1952, problems with the T40 engines and drive system continued, and shortly thereafter, BUAER cancelled the contract on all but 10 pre-production examples. The first pre-production A2D-1 flew in June 1953 and nine more were completed, but the last four were never flown. A Douglas test pilot safely ejected from the second pre-production A2D-1 in August 1954 following a gearbox failure. No further development was undertaken after 1954.

Technical Specification

Aircraft: Douglas A-1H


Type: attack

Manufacturer: Douglas Aircraft Co.

Engine: Wright R-3350-26WA, radial, 18 cyl., air cooled

Power: 2738hp

Wingspan: 50ft (15.24m)

Length: 39ft 2in (11.83m)

Height: 15ft 8in (4.77m)

Wing area: 400.33sq ft (37.19m²)

Max take-off weight: 25,000 lb (11,340 kg)

Empty weight: 11,968 lb (5,429 kg)

Max speed: 322mph at 18,000ft (518km/h at 5,846m)

Service ceiling: 28,510ft (8,690m)

Range: 1,142mi (1,840km)

Crew: 1

Load-armament: 4x20mm cannon; 7,960 lb (3,630 kg)

The S-500 Prometheus

The S-500 Prometheus is touted as being capable of intercepting stealth warplanes.

Air defence missile battery: Image for illustration.

S-400 air defence system in Syria

Russian S-500 air defence system (ADS) the future development of the popular S-400 will enter serial production next year following its recent successful test in the “hot and dusty” conditions of Syria.

Dubbed “Prometheus” the S-500 is considered a major advancement of not only the S-400 but also other ADS in the World such as the US Patriot. Its stand-out feature is that it integrates the radar feeds of low and high level defence systems through a single command and control system; tracks, prioritizes and defeats simultaneous threats such as ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and drones.

Russian daily, Izvestia reported yesterday quoting MoD sources that the most important elements of the Russian S-500 have been tested in Syria in which certain problems were identified and quickly eliminated.

Citing the reasons for selecting Syria as a location for qualification trials of the S-500, an unnamed source told the Russian daily, “Syria is well suited for such trials – it is always hot there, a lot of dust. In addition, the radar has to work around the clock – the situation in the republic is turbulent and anti-aircraft gunners must constantly maintain a radar field.”

A possible reason for the Syrian test could be the availability of multiple “targets.” Aircraft and drones operated by Syrian, Israeli, US, Turkish and Iranian air forces not to mention drones by terrorist groups operate over the Syrian skies giving the Russians an opportunity to test the S-500 against multiple threats and varying scenarios.

The key differentiator of the S-500 “Prometheus” system over the S-400 is a combat control point (PBU) with an automatic control system (ACS). All information from the radars of not only the S-500, but also third-party radars, anti-aircraft systems and higher air defense command posts are assimilated into the PBU which then operates automatically to select and defeat the threat.

The S-500 includes a radar detection system (RLC), which is responsible for the long-distance search and identification of ballistic and aerodynamic targets.  In addition, a multi-functional “backlight” radar guides anti-aircraft missiles to low flying targets.

A long-range high-altitude radar detector has been developed which allows the command center to most accurately set the coordinates and flight path of ballistic and aerodynamic targets. This radar is capable of finding missiles, aircraft, helicopters and small drones at any altitude. This radar works both for the S-400 and S-500.

“The high-altitude radar and the PBU allow building reliable air defense without external sources of information,” an expert told Izvestia. “A high-altitude detector helps track targets in real-time. The PBU then distributes them between the air defense systems of a particular area.

Serial production of the S-500 will begin in the second half of 2020. Training of specialist officers for Prometheus began in 2017 at the Military Academy of the Military Space Defense in Tver. They are preparing combat crews for new anti-aircraft systems and systems.


As the chief designer of the Almaz-Antey Concern, Pavel Sozinov, noted, the air defense system is designed to intercept targets at unimaginable distances – several hundred kilometers from the Earth.

“Interception in the upper atmosphere is real. It is hundreds of kilometers from the Earth. It is a system that solves a whole range of tasks of both air defense and missile defense. Today we are testing the elements of the system with the maximum cost savings for testing,” Sozinov said in an interview.

Ahead of the planet

The promising complex was studied by the commercial director of the Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine, military expert Alexei Leonkov. On the radio of Sputnik, he noted that the S-500 is unique and universal.

“There are no analogues. Even the closest competitors – the Americans – have two separate complexes. This is the Patriot complex, which works to certain heights, and the THAAD missile defense complex, which works only for ballistic purposes. And we get a universal complex that can work and on-air targets at long ranges, and on high-altitude targets – at high altitudes, “said Alexei Leonkov.

Recall, recently in the USA they lamented that they do not have complexes capable of intercepting targets in the upper atmosphere.

Earlier, Pravda.Ru wrote about the timing of receipt of the S-500 in the arsenal of the Russian army.

The day is not far off when the first samples of the new brainchild of the Almaz-Antey concern, the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system, will enter the arsenal of the Russian army. At the same time, tests are ongoing of another modern S-350 Vityaz complex, which will replace the S-300PS air defense system.

This is described in a material published by the American publication The National Interest, observer Dave Majumdar, quoting the commander of the air defense forces of the Russian Air Force, Lieutenant General Viktor Gumenny: “We expect that the first samples of the S-500 anti-aircraft missile system will be delivered to the troops soon”.

The new complex, which will occupy the upper tier of the echeloned unified air defense system of Russia, will be able to fight targets at altitudes of about 200 kilometers. This means that the S-500 will be able to hit the approaching supersonic aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles of the enemy at a distance of 640 kilometers. The first regiment of new anti-aircraft missile systems will defend Moscow and the central part of Russia.

It is expected that the S-500 will be able to detect and simultaneously hit up to 10 warheads of ballistic missiles flying at speeds up to seven kilometers per second. In addition, this system is equipped with interceptor missiles with an active homing radar, which resembles the THAAD system (a missile defense system for mobile ground-based for high-altitude atmospheric interception of medium-range missiles), Lockheed Martin.

Like all modern Russian air defense systems, the S-500 must be highly mobile and have a whole network of radars providing interception and guidance at a target over long distances. It will use the 91N6A (M) combat control radar, a modified 96L6-CPU target radar and target radar, as well as new multi-mode 76T6 and 77T6 anti-missile radars, as reported by the Missile Threat publication of the George Marshall and Clermont Institutes.

Sukhoi Su-25 Grach

Su-25 Frogfoot [NATO reporting name]

By the early 1980s the single-seater close support Su-25 Frogfoot was supporting Soviet forces in Afghanistan, where it proved to be a difficult target for Afghan antiaircraft guns. Series production of the army’s Su-25 started at the Tbilisi aircraft plant in 1976, with test flights being conducted up to 1980. Smaller than the American Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt, the Su-25 had lower thrust and was assessed to carry less ordnance than its American counterpart.

Nonetheless, this aircraft was armed with a 30mm multi-barrel cannon beneath the centre fuselage and had ten hardpoints for ordnance. Flexible 23mm cannon could also be carried in SPPU-22 pods under the wings. There were five stations for suspending weapons under each wing. Eight of the stations are interchangeable pylon carriers, which provide for the attachment of various bomb and rocket armament. R-60 air-to-air missiles are mounted on two additional external points under each wing. Maximum speed was believed to be about 880km/h, with a range of 550km.

The Su 25 is successor to the famous Il 2 Shturmovik of World War II. Fast and heavily armed, it is reputedly the most difficult plane in the world to shoot down.

The air war in Vietnam highlighted the need for simple close-support aircraft able to operate from unpaved strips close to the front. Such warplanes would also have to deliver heavy ordnance against targets with great accuracy and be able to survive intense ground fire. The United States parlayed its experience into the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II, a heavily armored twin-engine bomber. The Soviets also watched these developments closely before deciding that they, too, needed similar aircraft and capabilities. During World War II Russia had deployed the redoubtable Il 2 Shturmovik aircraft for identical reasons, so in 1968 the Sukhoi design bureau became tasked with developing an equivalent machine for the jet age. The bureau settled upon a design reminiscent of the Northrop YA-9, which had lost out to the A-10 in competition. The new Su 25 was an all-metal, shoulder-wing monoplane constructed around a heavily armored titanium “tub” that housed both pilot and avionics. Engines were placed in long, reinforced nacelles on either side of the fuselage, and the fuel tanks were filled with reticulated foam for protection against explosions. To assist slow-speed maneuvering, the wingtip pods split open at the ends to form air brakes. Its profile is rather pointed, but a blunt noseplate covers a laser range finder/target designator. The Su 25 is somewhat faster than the A- 10, trusting more in speed to ensure survival than a dependency on agility and heavy armor. It is nonetheless an effective tank destroyer.

Technical description

The Su-25K’s service life was given as 1,500 flying hours before a major overhaul, and the service interval as 700 hours. They obviously did not expect high utilisation, since the 700-hour interval was also given as a seven-to eight-year gap. The first production Su-25 hardly differed from the later prototypes, and a technical description of one would apply just as well to the other. In fact, all Su-25s up until the Su-25T/TM were structurally similar, with much the same systems. Only a handful of changes were made as a result of later combat experience in Afghanistan, and they were limited in scope, despite their impact and significance.

The Su-25 was of conventional configuration and construction, apart from the extensive use of armour plate. The aircraft was an all-metal monoplane with a high-set, high aspect-ratio wing which was modestly tapered and slightly swept on the leading edge, but not on the trailing edge. The wing incorporated 2°30′ of anhedral. Engines were mounted to the fuselage sides in semi-conformal nacelles. Sixty per cent of the aircraft’s structure was of conventional Duralumin construction, with 13.5 per cent titanium alloys, 19 per cent steel, 2 per cent magnesium alloys and 5.5 per cent fibre-glass and other materials. Virtually no use was made of carbon-fibre composites or advanced aluminium lithium alloys.

Electrical power was supplied by a single 28.5-volt DC circuit, and by three 36-volt/400-Hz and one 115-volt/ 400-Hz AC circuits. The DC circuit consisted of a transformer, voltage regulator, and circuit breakers. Power was generated by a pair of engine-driven GSR-ST-12/400 generators, with two 25 Aph NiCad batteries available as an emergency power source.

A series of preproduction aircraft was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan, where the planes performed useful service against guerilla forces. Western intelligence had previously identified a Soviet parallel to the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt and dubbed it `Ram-J’ until it became better known as the Sukhoi Su-25 `Frogfoot’. A trial deployment is said to have been made as far back as 1980, but the type was most certainly used in the spring offensive. Working in conjunction with the Mi-24, this jet attack aircraft experimented with methods of co-ordinating the two disparate types, and the results will doubtless be noted for potential use in the Western theatre. They flew some 60,000 sorties, losing 23 machines in the process, but the decision was made to enter production in 1980. Since then 330 Su 25s have been built; they have received the NATO designation FROGFOOT.

The effect of the Stinger

The advantage of having two engines was fully exploited in the Su-25, in which the powerplants are mounted so close together that damage to one engine could cause collateral damage to the other. This became abundantly clear following the 1984 introduction of the Redeye SAM by the Mujahideen, and by the October 1986 delivery of General Dynamics FIM-82A Stinger SAMs. The introduction of Redeye was followed by the loss of two Su-25s in very quick succession, these aircraft having proved unable to decoy the SAMs away using flares. Flare capacity was increased from 128 to 256, by the addition of four 32-round dispensers scabbed onto the top of the engine nacelles. When the Mujahideen started using Stinger, the effect was even more dramatic. Four Su-25s were destroyed in three days, with two pilots lost. The Stingers tended to detonate close to the engine exhaust nozzles, piercing the rear fuel tanks with shrapnel and causing fires which could burn through control runs, or causing damage to the far engine. In order to prevent damage to one engine from taking out the other, a 5-mm armour plate was added between the two engines (acting as a giant shield and firewall), about 1.5 m (5 ft) long.

A new inert gas (Freon) SSP-2I/UBSh-4-2 fire extinguisher system was provided. This consisted of six UTBG sensors in the engine nacelles, which were connected to cockpit displays. The pilot had four push-buttons to actuate the extinguisher’s first and second stages for each section of the engine. The Freon was stored in spherical 4-litre (0.87-Imp gal) bottles, each containing 5.64 kg (12 lb) of gas pressurised at 6.9 to 14.2 MPa.

These modifications proved a great success, dramatically reducing the Su-25’s loss rate. No Su-25 equipped with the inter-engine armour was lost to a Stinger, although many were hit. The modifications were quickly incorporated on the production line, and were retrofitted to existing Su-25s.

Additional improvements were added during the period in which Su-25s were fighting in Afghanistan. On aircraft from the 10th production series, for example, the aileron control rod was fully faired in and the aileron trim tab was deleted. Elevator pivots were more effectively faired. Tenth series Su-25s also gained a second external APU/GPU socket. Other features appeared gradually, and cannot yet be pinpointed to a particular production series. The nosewheel was changed, from one which accepted a tubeless KN-21-1 tyre to one which took a tubed K-2106 tyre. The single long fuel tank access panel on the top surface of each wing was replaced by three shorter access panels, side by side. Small fins were added to the inboard faces of the bottom of each wingtip fairing, acting as glare shields when the PRF-4M pop-down landing lights were deployed. At the trailing edge of these pods, the airbrakes themselves were modified. Previously simply splitting 50° up and 50° down to give a > shape with the point forwards, they gained auxiliary segments which hinged upwards through another 90° at their trailing edges to give a shape reminiscent of a W turned on its side, with the central point pointing forwards. During production of the ninth production series the cannon muzzle was redesigned, with the ends of the twin barrels covered by a single muzzle shield. Many late production Su-25s had their distinctive SRZ and SRO ‘Odd Rod’ antennas replaced by simple blade antennas, similar to the SRO antennas fitted to later MiG-29s (which retained the traditional tripole SRZ antennas above their noses). The revised antennas may have combined interrogator and responder functions.

The small and robust Frogfoot can now justifiably claim to occupy a prominent position in the generation of combat aircraft that was fielded en masse in the former Soviet Union during the 1980s, and the type still forms the backbone of the Russian Air Force’s attack capabilities, albeit in considerably reduced numbers. The somewhat ugly and often underrated attack aircraft gradually but indisputably emerged in the early 1990s as Russia’s most useful and cost-effective combat jet, as its armed forces rapidly switched from their traditional cold war posture to one of internal policing, faced with growing unrest around the fringes of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s.


The faithful Frogfoot is slated to remain in service with most of the operators at least until 2020 and near-terms sales of both new and second-hand aircraft to new operators worldwide cannot be ruled out. There are also a good many little-used Su-25s still available for sale in the former Soviet states and East Europe.

The type’s success has been proved by the developments since the early 2000s and especially by the upgrade and life-extension packages on offer, as well as the series of export sales; this eventually refuted the conclusion of some Western aerospace analysts, who maintained in the late 1990s that the first-generation Su-25 is effectively dead in its single-seat form. There is plenty of life remaining for the upgraded and refurbished Su-25SMs, while the greatly improved new-build two-seat derivative – expected to appear by 2015 at the earliest – is slated to continue into the next three decades as RuAF’s principal attack and close air support workhorse.



The basic version of the aircraft was produced at Factory 31, at Tbilisi, in the Soviet Republic of Georgia. Between 1978 and 1989, 582 single-seat Su-25s were produced in Georgia, not including aircraft produced under the Su-25K export program. This variant of the aircraft represents the backbone of the Russian Air Force’s Su-25 fleet, currently the largest in the world. The aircraft experienced a number of accidents in operational service caused by system failures attributed to salvo firing of weapons. In the wake of these incidents, use of its main armament, the 240 mm S-24 rocket, was prohibited. In its place, the FAB-500 500 kg (1,100 lb) general-purpose high-explosive bomb became the primary armament.


The basic Su-25 model was used as the basis for a commercial export variant, known as the Su-25K (Komercheskiy). This model was also built at Factory 31 in Tbilisi, Georgia. The aircraft differed from the Soviet Air Force version in certain minor details concerning internal equipment. A total of 180 Su-25K aircraft were built between 1984 and 1989.


The Su-25UB trainer (Uchebno-Boyevoy) was drawn up in 1977. The first prototype, called “T-8UB-1”, was rolled out in July 1985 and its maiden flight was carried out at the Ulan-Ude factory airfield on 12 August of that year. By the end of 1986, 25 Su-25UBs had been produced at Ulan-Ude before the twin-seater completed its State trials and officially cleared for service with the Soviet Air Force.

It was intended for training and evaluation flights of active-duty pilots, and for training pilot cadets at Soviet Air Force flying schools. The performance did not differ substantially from that of the single-seater. The navigation, attack, sighting devices and weapons-control systems of the two-seater enabled it to be used for both routine training and weapons-training missions.


From 1986 to 1989, in parallel with the construction of the main Su-25UB combat training variant, the Ulan-Ude plant produced the so-called “commercial” Su-25UBK, intended for export to countries that bought the Su-25K, and with similar modifications to that aircraft.


The Su-25UBM is a twin seat variant that can be used as an operational trainer, but also has attack capabilities, and can be used for reconnaissance, target designation and airborne control. Its first flight was on 6 December 2008 and it was certified in December 2010. It will enter operational use with the Russian Air Force later. The variant has a Phazotron NIIR Kopyo radar and Bars-2 equipment on board. Su-25UBM’s range is believed to be 1,300 km (810 mi) and it may have protection against infra-red guided missiles (IRGM), a minimal requirement on today’s battle fields where IRGMs proliferate.


The Su-25UTG (Uchebno-Trenirovochnyy s Gakom) is a variant of the Su-25UB designed to train pilots in takeoff and landing on a land-based simulated carrier deck, with a sloping ski-jump section and arrester wires. The first one flew in September 1988, and approximately 10 were produced. About half remained in Russian service after 1991; they were used on Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov. This small number of aircraft were insufficient to meet the training needs of Russia’s carrier air group, so a number of Su-25UBs were converted into Su-25UTGs. These aircraft being distinguished by the alternative designation Su-25UBP (Uchebno-Boyevoy Palubny)—the adjective palubnyy meaning “deck”, indicating that these aircraft have a naval function. Approximately 10 of these aircraft are currently operational in the Russian Navy as part of the 279th Naval Aviation Regiment.


The Su-25BM (Buksirovshchik Misheney) is a target-towing variant of the Su-25 whose development began in 1986. The prototype, designated T-8BM1, successfully flew for the first time on 22 March 1990, at Tbilisi. After completion of the test phase, the aircraft was put into production.

The Su-25BM target-tower was designed to provide towed target facilities for training ground forces and naval personnel in ground-to-air or naval surface-to-air missile systems. It is powered by an R-195 engine and equipped with an RSDN-10 long-range navigation system, an analogue of the Western LORAN system.


The Su-25T (Tankovy) is a dedicated antitank version, which has been combat-tested with notable success in Chechnya. The design of the aircraft is similar to the Su-25UB. The variant was converted to one-seater, with the rear seat replaced by additional avionics. It has all-weather and night attack capability. In addition to the full arsenal of weapons of the standard Su-25, the Su-25T can employ the KAB-500Kr TV-guided bomb and the semi-active laser-guided Kh-25ML. Its enlarged nosecone houses the Shkval optical TV and aiming system with the Prichal laser rangefinder and target designator. It can also carry Vikhr laser-guided, tube-launched missiles, which is its main antitank armament. For night operations, the low-light TV Merkuriy pod system can be carried under the fuselage. Three Su-25Ts prototypes were built in 1983–86 and 8 production aircraft were built in 1990. With the introduction of a definitive Russian Air Force Su-25 upgrade programme, in the form of Stroyevoy Modernizirovannyi, the Su-25T programme was officially canceled in 2000.

Su-25TM (Su-39)

A second-generation Su-25T, the Su-25TM (also designated Su-39), has been developed with improved navigation and attack systems, and better survivability. While retaining the built-in Shkval of Su-25T, it may carry Kopyo (rus. “Spear”) radar in the container under fuselage, which is used for engaging air targets (with RVV-AE/R-77 missiles) as well as ships (with Kh-31 and Kh-35 antiship missiles). The Russian Air Force has received 8 aircraft as of 2008. Some of the improved avionics systems designed for T and TM variants have been included in the Su-25SM, an interim upgrade of the operational Russian Air Force Su-25, for improved survivability and combat capability. The Su-25TM, as an all-inclusive upgrade programme has been replaced with the “affordable” Su-25SM programme.


The Su-25SM (Stroyevoy Modernizirovannyi) is an “affordable” upgrade programme for the Su-25, conceived by the Russian Air Force in 2000. The programme stems from the attempted Su-25T and Su-25TM upgrades, which were evaluated and labeled as over-sophisticated and expensive. The SM upgrade incorporates avionics enhancements and airframe refurbishment to extend the Frogfoot’s service life by up to 500 flight hours or 5 years.

The Su-25SM’s all-new PRnK-25SM “Bars” navigation/attack suite is built around the BTsVM-90 digital computer system, originally planned for the Su-25TM upgrade programme. Navigation and attack precision provided by the new suite is three times better of the baseline Su-25 and is reported to be within 15 m (49 ft) using satellite correction and 200 m (660 ft) without it.

A new KA1-1-01 Head-Up Display (HUD) was added providing, among other things, double the field of view of the original ASP-17BTs-8 electro-optical sight. Other systems and components incorporated during the upgrade include a Multi-Function Display (MFD), RSBN-85 Short Range Aid to Navigation (SHORAN), ARK-35-1 Automatic Direction Finder (ADF), A-737-01 GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Karat-B-25 Flight Data Recorder (FDR), Berkut-1 Video Recording System (VRS), Banker-2 UHF/VHF communication radio, SO-96 Transponder and a L150 “Pastel” Radar Warning Receiver (RWR).

The R-95Sh engines have been overhauled and modified with an anti-surge system installed. The system is designed to improve the resistance of the engine to ingested powders and gases during gun and rocket salvo firing.

The combination of reconditioned and new equipment, with increased automation and self-test capability has allowed for a reduction of pre- and post-flight maintenance by some 25 to 30%. Overall weight savings are around 300 kg (660 lb).

Su-25SM weapon suite has been expanded with the addition of the Vympel R-73 highly agile air-to-air missile (albeit without helmet mounted cueing and only the traditional longitudinal seeker mode) and the S-13T 130 mm rockets (carried in five-round B-13 pods) with blast-fragmentation and armour-piercing warheads. Further, the Kh-25ML and Kh-29L Weapon Employment Profiles have been significantly improved, permitting some complex missile launch scenarios to be executed, such as: firing two consecutive missiles on two different targets in a single attack pass. The GSh-30-2 autocannon (250-round magazine) has received three new reduced rate-of-fire modes: 750, 375 and 188 rounds per minute. The Su-25SM was also given new BD3-25 under-wing pylons.

The eventual procurement programme is expected to include between 100 and 130 kits, covering 60 to 70 percent of the Russian Air Force active single-seat fleet, as operated in the early 2000s. On 21 February 2012, Air Force spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik said that Russia will continue to upgrade its Su-25 attack aircraft to Su-25SM version, which has a significantly better survivability and combat effectiveness. The Russian Air Force then had over 30 Su-25SMs in service and plans to modernize about 80 Su-25s by 2020, Drik said. By March 2013, over 60 aircraft are to be upgraded. In February 2013, ten new Su-25SMs were delivered to the Air Force southern base, where operational training is being conducted. During the period 2005–2015, more than 80 aircraft were upgraded.

Since early 2014, the Guards Aviation Division Attack Aviation Regiment of the Southern Military District in the Krasnodar region received 16 advanced Su-25SMs. Nine more were delivered in 2018, eight more in early 2019 and three more in early 2020.

Since 2018, the Aerospace Forces [VKS] have been receiving Su-25SM3s, and a total of 25 aircraft have already been delivered as of June 2019. Unlike the baseline Su-25 and its incrementally upgraded variant, the Su-25SM, both of which have a rather outdated Klen-PS laser target designator in the nose, the Su-25SM3 has been upgraded with the new SOLT-25 electro-optics nose module. The SOLT-25 provides 16× zoom and features a laser range finder and target designator, thermal imager, TV channels, and the ability to track moving targets in all weather up to 8 km away. In addition, the Su-25SM3 comes with the Vitebsk-25 protection suite, which integrates a set of Zakhvat forward and rearward facing missile approach warning ultraviolet sensors, the L-150-16M Pastel radar homing and warning system, two UV-26M 50 mm chaff dispensers, and a pair of wing-mounted L-370-3S radar jamming pods. Furthermore, the Su-25SM3 has been upgraded with the new PrNK-25SM-1 Bars targeting-and-navigation system and the KSS-25 communication system with Banker-8-TM-1 antenna.


The Su-25KM (Kommercheskiy Modernizirovannyy), nicknamed “Scorpion”, is an Su-25 upgrade programme announced in early 2001 by the original manufacturer, Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing in Georgia, in partnership with Elbit Systems of Israel. The prototype aircraft made its maiden flight on 18 April 2001 at Tbilisi in full Georgian Air Force markings.

The aircraft uses a standard Su-25 airframe, enhanced with advanced avionics including a glass cockpit, digital map generator, helmet-mounted display, computerised weapons system, complete mission pre-plan capability, and fully redundant backup modes. Performance enhancements include a highly accurate navigation system, pinpoint weapon delivery systems, all-weather and day/night performance, NATO compatibility, state-of-the art safety and survivability features, and advanced onboard debriefing capabilities complying with international requirements. It has the ability to use Mark 82 and Mark 83 laser-guided bombs and air-to-air missiles, the short-range Vympel R-73.


The Sukhoi Su-28 (also designated Su-25UT – Uchebno-Trenirovochnyy) is an advanced basic jet trainer, built on the basis of the Su-25UB as a private initiative by the Sukhoi Design Bureau. The Su-28 is a light aircraft designed to replace the Czechoslovak Aero L-39 Albatros. Unlike the basic Su-25UB, it lacks a weapons-control system, built-in cannon, weapons hardpoints, and engine armour.


    Su-25R (Razvedchik) – a tactical reconnaissance variant designed in 1978, but never built.

    Su-25U3 (Uchebnyy 3-myestny) – also known as the “Russian Troika”, was a three-seat basic trainer aircraft. The project was suspended in 1991 due to lack of funding.

    Su-25U (Uchebnyy) – a trainer variant of Su-25s produced in Georgia between 1996 and 1998. Three aircraft were built in total, all for the Georgian Air Force.

    Su-25M1/Su-25UBM1 – Su-25 and Su-25UB exemplars slightly modernized by Ukrainian Air Force, at least nine modernized (eight single-seat and one two-seat). Upgrades include a new navigation system, enhanced survivability, more accurate weapon delivery and other minor changes.

    Ge-31 is an ongoing Georgian program of Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing aiming at producing a renewed version of Su-25 without Russian components and parts.

Sukhoi Su-25SM Today

American Medium Bombers of WWII Part I

Douglas A-20 Havoc

Douglas Aircraft developed the Model 7B twin-engine light attack bomber in the spring of 1936. The prototype flew for the first time in October 1938. However, due to budget constraints U. S. Army Air Corps officials decided not to purchase the aircraft.

French officials had no such hesitation. In 1939, they ordered 270 of what was now designated the DB-7. Belgium also ordered an unspecified number. When France fell to Germany in 1940, the DB-7s as well as remodeled DB-7As and Bs were shipped instead to Great Britain and redesignated the Boston I, II, and III.

Ironically, Air Corps leaders had already changed their minds by late 1939 following the passage of the bountiful Military Appropriations Act of April 1939. They ordered 63 DB-7s as high-altitude attack bombers with turbosupercharged Wright Cyclone radial engines. The Air Corps redesignated this aircraft the A-20.

After initial flights of the aircraft, the Air Corps decided it did not need a high-altitude light attack bomber but rather a low-altitude medium attack aircraft. To this end, only one A-20 was built and delivered. The final 62 contracted aircraft were built as P-70 night-fighters, A-20A medium attack aircraft, or F-3 reconnaissance aircraft. The lone A-20 was used later as a prototype XP-70 for the development of the P-70 night-fighter version of the Havoc.

Construction of the A-20A, the first production model, began in early 1940. By April 1941, 143 had been built and delivered to the 3d Bomb Group (Light; 3BG). The aircraft was 47 feet, 7 inches long with a wingspan of 61 feet, 4 inches. It had a gross takeoff weight of 20,711 pounds. Powered by two Wright R-2600-3 or -11 Cyclone radial engines producing 1,600 hp, it had a maximum speed of 347 mph, a cruising speed of 295 mph, and a maximum ferry range of 1,000 miles. It had nine .30-caliber machine guns: four forwardfiring in a fuselage blister, two in a flexible dorsal position, one in a ventral position, and two rear-firing guns in the engine nacelles. It had a maximum bombload of 1,600 pounds.

In October 1940, Douglas and Air Corps officials concluded a contract for 999 B models. Although it used the same Wright 2600-11 engines as the last 20 -A models, it was lighter and armed like the DB-7A. The A-20B had two .50- caliber machine guns in the nose and only one .50-caliber gun in the dorsal mount. Its fuselage was 5 inches longer; it had a 2,400-pound maximum bombload, a maximum speed of 350 mph, a cruising speed of 278 mph, and a 2,300-mile ferry range. Eight were sent to the Navy as DB-2 targettowing aircraft, and 665 were delivered to the Soviet Union as Lend-Lease aircraft.

Douglas built 948 C models, 808 at the Douglas plant in Santa Monica, California, and 140 under contract at the Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington. The C was patterned after the A model. Its Wright R-2600-23 Cyclone radial engines provided this heavier aircraft a maximum speed of 342 mph. Like all Havoc models, it had four crew members-a pilot, navigator, bombardier, and gunner. Originally built to be Royal Air Force and Soviet Lend-Lease aircraft, the Cs were diverted to the U. S. Army Air Forces once the United States entered World War II.

More G models were produced than any other A-20 version. Douglas built 2,850 in 45 block runs. The major differences were new and varying armaments, most notably the addition of four forward firing 20mm cannons in the nose. After block run number five, these were again replaced with six .50-caliber machine guns.

Douglas built 412 H models, 450 J models, and 413 K models. They were heavier at 2,700 pounds and had Wright R-2600-29 Cyclone supercharged radial engines producing 1,700 hp and flying at 339 mph. They carried 2,000 pounds of bombs internally and 2,000 externally.

A-20 production ended in September 1944. Douglas and other plants built 7,230 A-20s. They served in every theater of war and with the USAAF, the RAF, as well as the Australian, Soviet, and several other Allied air forces. More A-20s were built than any other attack-designated aircraft to serve in World War II.

Douglas A/B-26 Invader

In June 1941, Douglas Aircraft contracted with the U. S. Army Air Corps to produce two prototype twin-engine medium attack aircraft to replace the Douglas A-20 Havoc-the XA-26 attack version, and the XA-26A night-fighter, which was later canceled in favor of the Northrop P-61.

The XA-26 first flew on 10 July 1942 and was accepted by the U. S. Army Air Forces on 21 February 1944. It had twin Pratt and Whitney R-2800-27 radial engines producing 2,000 hp each. It was 51 feet, 2 inches long with a wingspan of 70 feet. Its gross weight was 31,000 pounds and had a maximum bombload of 5,000 pounds. Its maximum speed was 370 mph, its cruising speed 212 mph, and it had a range of 2,500 miles. It had a crew of three, a clear nose structure, two forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns, and two aft barbettes (dorsal and ventral).

As testing continued, the USAAF ordered a third prototype designated the XA-26B that featured a solid nose. After numerous experiments with various nose armaments, the early production A-26Bs had six .50-caliber machine guns, and later Bs had eight guns mounted in the nose.

The first production model was the A-26B. Douglas built them at Long Beach, California, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, delivering 1,355 from 1943 to 1945. The production model was similar to the prototypes, except it carried 6,000 pounds of bombs, could reach a maximum speed of 355 mph, cruise at 284 mph, and had a range of 3,200 miles. Deliveries began in August 1943. The first B models saw combat on 19 November 1944. In 1945, Douglas made minor armament and engine changes to the A-26, and later production models were designated A-26C. Once in combat, all 2,502 A-26B/Cs produced by the time contract ended in the mid-1945 used the nickname Invader.

The B models remained in service after the war, and in 1948 the U. S. Air Force dropped the attack designation and redesignated them the B-26. During the Korean War (July 1950-July 1953), between 90 and 111 B-26s stationed in Japan flew nearly 70,000 sorties, dropping nearly 100,000 tons of bombs on enemy targets.

The B models were also converted into CB-26B cargo transports, TB-26B trainers, VB-26B staff transports, DB-26Bs (which towed the Ryan Q-2A Firebee drone), the EB-26B Wingless Wonder drag parachute test aircraft, and the RB-26B reconnaissance aircraft. Some flew until the 1970s.

In the early 1960s, the Air Force, realizing the advantages of the B-26 design in reconnaissance and counterinsurgency roles, employed B models in Vietnam. Crashes due to structural failure forced the Bs to be retired. To fill the void, a B-26C (S/N 44-35684) was modified with Pratt and Whitney R2800-103W engines, larger propellers, and a 8,000-pound bombload. It was designated the YB-26K Counter Invader.

The test program was so successful that the Air Force ordered 40 modified B-26Ks. On Mark Engineering Company produced the K models in 1963 and 1964. They first saw combat in 1966. Based in Thailand, they proved highly effective flying interdiction and counterinsurgency missions over the Laotian Panhandle in support of Operation STEEL TIGER. Since the Thai government restricted the number of bombers using Thailand’s bases, the Air Force redesignated the Ks A-26As.

Throughout three major wars, the Douglas A/B-26 models performed their various roles effectively. Whether as an attack aircraft, medium bomber, or light bomber, they were one of the longest-serving and best aircraft in U. S. Air Force history.

The North American B 25 Mitchell

North American’s response to the US Army Air Corps’ Circular Proposal 38-385 for a twin-engined attack bomber was the NA-40, a shoulder-wing design with a tricycle landing gear and capable of carrying a 1,200 lbs (544 kg) bomb load. Armament consisted of 7.62 mm (0.30 in) machine-guns in nose, dorsal and ventral positions. The prototype, built at the Inglewood factory, was first flown by Paul Balfour in January 1939, powered by two 1,100 hp (820 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S6C3-G engines which were soon replaced by Wright CR-2600-A71 Cyclones each rated at 1,300 hp (969 kW). In this form the aircraft became the NA-40-2 and in March it was delivered to Wright Field for USAAC evaluation, crashing two weeks later as the result of pilot error.

The USAAC was impressed by the promise of the NA-40, however, and North American was asked to continue development of the aircraft for the medium bomber role under the company designation NA-62. September 1939 saw the completion of the basic design of the NA-62 and in that month the type was ordered into immediate production under a USAAC contract for 184 aircraft designated B-25. Several improvements were incorporated, including the widening of the fuselage to allow the pilot and co-pilot/navigator to be seated side-by-side in a cockpit faired into the fuselage, rather than in the tandem glasshouse of the NA-40; the relocation of the wing to a mid-position; and an increase operating weights and bomb load. New engines were also specified, these being 1,700 hp (1268 kW) Wright R-2600-9 Cyclone radials, and a tail gun position was added.

The B-25 was named after the controversial proponent of US air power, William ‘Billy’ Mitchell, and the first production machine was flown on 19 August 1940. Nine B-25s were completed with the original root-to-tip dihedral before flight tests revealed a degree of directional instability, which was remedied by a reduction in the dihedral angle on the outer wing panels.

The introduction of self-sealing fuel tanks and crew protection armour plating, from aircraft number 25, resulted in redesignation to B-25A. Forty B-25As were built, and this variant was the first to see operational service, with 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) at MeChord Field, scoring the type’s first kill on 24 December 1941 when a Japanese submarine was sunk off the US west coast.

Some 120 B-25Bs were manufactured, this model having power-operated dorsal and ventral turrets, each with two 12.7 mm (0.50 in) machine guns. B-25Bs were among the US reinforcements sent to Australia in 1942, serving with the 3rd Bombardment Group’s 13th and 19th Squadrons, and were also used for the Tokyo raid, led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, on 18 April 1942. For this attack 16 modified aircraft, with an autopilot, fuel tankage increased by more than 60 per cent to 1,141 US gallons (4319 litres) and the ventral gun turret and Norden bombsight removed, took off from the carrier USS Hornet for an 800 mile (1287 km) flight to their targets at Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama and Nagoya, flying on to China where most force-landed.

Two USAAF contracts, for 63 and 300 aircraft, were placed for the B-25C which had an autopilot, R-2600-13 engines and additional bomb-racks under the wings and fuselage which could carry, respectively, eight 250 lbs (113 kg) bombs and a 2,000 lbs (907 kg) torpedo for anti-shipping strikes; total offensive load was 5,200 lbs (2359 kg).

Other B-25C contracts included a Dutch order for 162, intended for service in the Netherlands East Indies, although these were never delivered there (and probably diverted to the Royal Air Force), and two Defence Aid-financed contracts, each for 150 and intended for delivery to China and the UK. The basically-similar B-25D was built in a US government- owned but North American-operated factory at Kansas City, where the company manufactured two batches of 1,200 and 1,090 aircraft.

Two machines from the B-25C line were modified for experiments into wing de-icing, these being the XB- 25E with a hot-air system and the XB-25F which used electrically heated elements.

Developed for attacks on Japanese shipping, the B-25G carried a 75 mm M4 US Army cannon mounted in the nose, the cannon being provided with twenty-one 15 lbs (6.8 kg) shells. The armament was supplemented by a pair of 12.7 mm (0.50 in) guns which were used also to aim the heavier weapon. in addition, the dorsal and fully- retractable ventral turrets each contained two machine guns. Five B-25Cs were, in fact, completed as B-25Gs, and 400 were subsequently built at Inglewood. This version was initially assigned to the US Far East Air Forces, entering service with the 498th Squadron in February 1944.

The Mitchell with the greatest firepower was the B-25H, of which 1,000 were built at Inglewood. The 75 mm cannon was of the lighter T13E1 model and the four 12.7 mm (0.50 in) guns, also mounted in the nose, were augmented by two similar guns in blisters on each side of the fuselage below the cockpit. The twin-gun dorsal turret was relocated to a position just aft of the cockpit, and armament was completed by a 12.7 mm (0.50 in) gun in each of the waist positions and two in the tail. Additionally, the B-25H could carry a 3,000 lbs (1361-kg) bomb load and a torpedo, as could the B-25J in which the glazed nose with its bomb aiming station was reintroduced, reducing the nose armament to one hand-operated and four fixed 12.7 mm (0.50 in) guns. Some later aircraft had a solid nose with eight 0.50-in (12.7-mm) guns, bringing the total of these weapons to 18. Underwing racks could carry eight 5 in (127 mm) rockets. The USAAF contract was for 4,805 B-25Js, but as the war ended 415 were cancelled and 72 were completed but not delivered; all were manufactured at Kansas City.

For reconnaissance duties the F-10 version was introduced in 1943, 10 being converted from B-25Ds. Armament was removed, additional fuel tanks fitted in the bomb bay, and cameras installed in the rear fuselage and in the nose.

Sixty B-25Ds, B-25Gs, B-25Cs and B-25Js were converted during 1943-4 for use as advanced trainers under the designations AT-25A, AT-25B, AT-25C and AT-25D. They were later redesignated TB-25D, TB-25G, TB-25C and TB-25J; more than 600 of the last model were converted after the war and between 1951 and 1954 117 and 40 Mitchells were respectively converted to TB-25K and TB-25M standard, as flying classrooms for instruction in the use of Hughes E-1 and E-5 fire-control radar. The final training versions were the TB-25L and TB-25N multi-engine conversion trainers, of which Hayes Aircraft Corporation produced 90 and 47 examples respectively.

US Navy Mitchells, of which delivery began in January 1943 with an initial assignment to VMB-413, comprised 50 PBJ-ICs, 152 PBJ-IDs, one PBJ-IG, 248 PBJ-IHs and 255 PBJ-IJs, the letter suffix identifying the equivalent B-25 variant.

The advent of the Mitchell allowed the Royal Air Force to replace the Douglas Bostons and Lockheed Venturas flown by No. 2 Group on daylight operations. The first 23 aircraft, delivered in May and June 1942, were B-25B Mitchell Is, three of which were subjected to evaluation and acceptance trials at the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment; of this batch one was retained in Canada and another crashed before delivery. The rest were flown to Nassau in the Bahamas where No. 111 Operational Training Unit had been established on 20 August, based at Windsor and Oakes Fields. Between May 1943 and June 1945, No. 13 OTU also flew Mitchells from Bicester, Finmere and Harwell in Britain.

As deliveries of B-25C Mitchell lis built up through the second hall of 1942, Bahamas-trained crews returned to the United Kingdom to form the first squadrons, originally to have been Nos. 21 and 114. In fact, the first two operational units were Nos. 98 and 180 Squadrons, formed at West Raynharn on 12 and 13 September, respectively. The Dutch-manned No. 320 Squadron gave up its Lockheed Hudsons for Mitchells at Methwold in March 1943, and No. 226 replaced its Bostons at Swanton Morley in May. All four squadrons flew Mitchells until after the cessation of hostilities.

After initial problems with the Mitchell’s armament had been solved, RAF operations began on 22 January 1943 when six aircraft from No. 98 Squadron and six from No. 180 attacked oil installations at Ghent. The four squadrons of No. 2 Group continued their formation attacks throughout 1943 and 1944, operating increasingly in a tactical role following the Allied invasion of France in June 1944. Nos. 98, 180 and 320 Squadrons moved up to Melsbroek, Brussels in October, while No. 226 took up residence at Vitry-en-Artois. The last No. 2 Group Mitchell operation of the war was flown on 2 May 1945 when 47 aircraft attacked marshalling yards at Itzehoe. RAF Mitchell operations outside of Europe included those of Nos. 681 and 684 Squadrons, flying in a photographic reconnaissance role in India from 1943 to 1945.

RAF serial batches covered 886 Mitchells, comprising 23 B-25B Mitchell Is; 432 B-25Cs and 113 B-25Ds, both of which were known as Mitchell lls; and 316 B-25J Mitchell Ills. The remaining two were B-25Gs, with the 75 mm gun, and one of them, with armament removed, was probably the last in service in the United Kingdom, flying with the Meteorological Research Flight at Farnborough as late as 1950.

In addition to the Dutch-manned No. 320 Squadron, RAF Mitchell units manned by foreign nationals included No. 305, whose Polish crews converted from Vickers Wellingtons at Swanton Morley in September 1943, and No. 342 (Lorraine) Squadron which exchanged its Bostons for Mitchells at Vitry-en-Artois in March 1945. After disbandment as RAF units both the French and Dutch took their aircraft home.

No. 320 Squadron was reformed at Valkenburg as a Dutch navy patrol/search and rescue unit on 29 March 1949, its initial equipment including Mitchells which, replaced by Lockheed Harpoons when the squadron changed role to maritime patrol, were passed on first to No. 5 Squadron, formed on 7 May 1951, and then to No. 8 Squadron on 10 March 1952.

During the war the Dutch had flown Mitchells at the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School at Jackson, Missouri and with No. 18 (Netherlands East Indies) Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, formed with Dutch personnel at Canberra on 4 April 1942, and operating throughout the campaigns to recapture the Pacific islands. Control passed to the Netherlands on 15 January 1946 and, based at Bandoeng in Java, the squadron was soon in action again, in the conflict with the Indonesians. After the ceasefire, which resulted in the disbandment of the Netherlands East Indies air force on 21 June 1950, Mitchells were handed over to the new Indonesian government to form the equipment of the bomber flight of No. 1 Squadron. The RAAF acquired 50 Mitchells, including B-25Ds and B-25Js, which were flown by Nos. 2 and 119 Squadrons.

The Mitchells supplied to the Chinese air force remained in service throughout the postwar struggle which led to the communist overthrow of the Chiang Kai-shek government, some captured aircraft being used by the Sino-Communist forces while others escaped to Taiwan. A total of 807 Mitchells was supplied under Lend-Lease to the USSR, although eight were lost in transit.

In Central and South America, Mitchells were supplied to Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay. Signature of the Rio Pact of Mutual Defense in 1947 resulted in the United States supplying B-25Js to Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Peru and Venezuela.

Among Commonwealth air forces, the Royal Canadian Air Force received a small number of Mitchell lls from the Royal Air Force in May 1944 and these, modified to the standard of the USAAF F-10 version with cameras installed in the nose, equipped the Photographic Flight at Rockcliffe, Ottawa. The unit was unofficially designated No. 13 (Photographic) Squadron, as part of No. 7 (Photographic) Wing, although this title was not formally promulgated until 15 November 1946. The squadron was renumbered as No. 413 (Photographic) Squadron on 1 April 1947 and the Mitchells served alongside Avro Lancaster Xs until withdrawn in October 1948.

Auxiliary squadrons formed after the war includes Nos. 406 and 418 Squadrons, based at Saskatoon and Edmonton respectively. Both were light bomber units, flying Mk 11 and Mk 111 Mitchells until they were retired in 1958. VIP-configured Mitchells were used by No. 412 Squadron between 1956 and 1960.