No. 217 Squadron RAF 1942-45

A Beaufort I in a dispersal pen at Luqa airfield in Malta, photographed in 1942. It has two Vickers K guns in the nose, operated by the navigator, an ASV radar aerial beneath the fuselage, and a large air filter above the engine cowling.

Beaufighter TFXs of 217 Squadron from RAF Vavuniya in Ceylon, practising formation flying in 1945 in preparation for Operation ‘Jinx’, the torpedo attack against the Japanese fleet in the Lingga Roads near Singapore

In mid-April 1942, 217 Squadron received orders to prepare flying to Ceylon, equipped in the torpedo-bomber role. The purpose was to help protect the island against a possible invasion by the Japanese forces which had conquered Malaya and occupied Singapore. But the squadron was unable to comply immediately, for it was not completely equipped with torpedo-carrying Beaufort IIs or with trained crews.

Moreover, on the first day of that month, Wing Commander ‘Mac’ Boal had failed to return from a torpedo attack against a German convoy near Stavanger Fjord in Norway. This convoy had consisted of ten vessels carrying supplies to the German forces occupying Kristiansand, escorted by three trawlers converted into flak ships. Boal had led two other Beauforts into the attack but had been shot down. He and the wireless operator Sergeant Stan Clarke had been killed. The navigator Sergeant John Sinclair and the air gunner Sergeant Maurice Mayne had been wounded but both had been picked up to become PoWs for the rest of the war. The other two Beauforts had dropped their torpedoes; these had missed but the aircraft had returned safely.

The preparation for the flight to Ceylon proved very protracted. Wing Commander W.A.L. Davies arrived to command the squadron. New crews joined from the Torpedo Training Unit, some after a rather skimpy course. New Beaufort IIs fitted with torpedo racks were slow to arrive. After several weeks, the crews began to fly down to Portreath in south-west Cornwall, where long-range tanks were fitted for the long flight ahead. The first leg of this was to be over neutral Portugal to Gibraltar. The next would be to the besieged island of Malta, and then a longer flight to Cairo in Egypt. It was not until 10 June that a first section of nine Beauforts arrived at RAF Luqa in Malta, with six more on the next day. Seven others eventually trickled in but another made a forced landing in Portugal, and the crew were interned. The arrival of these Beauforts was a bonanza for the Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Pughe Lloyd, for he was able to employ them temporarily on operations which were far more urgent than a possible Japanese invasion of Ceylon. While heavily bombarded from the air, Malta was vital for the protection of Allied convoys carrying supplies to the British Eighth Army in North Africa. Some Beauforts of 22 Squadron had already arrived but the newcomers were also required to torpedo warships of the Italian Navy as well as to sink Axis vessels taking supplies to the Afrika Korps.

When the first Beauforts of 217 Squadron arrived in Malta, the island was so short of supplies that it could barely hold out any longer. Fuel and food were the most critical. However, two Allied convoys were approaching. One, code-named ‘Harpoon’, had left the Clyde and passed Gibraltar. The other, code-named ‘Vigorous’, had left Alexandria in Egypt and was also nearing the island. Both were under constant attack, mainly from the Luftwaffe, and had already suffered severe losses.

On 14 June the crew of a Baltimore reported spotting an Italian naval force converging on ‘Vigorous’. Nine Beauforts of 217 Squadron were ordered to attack at dawn the following day, led by Wing Commander Davies. Eight took off at about 04.00 hours but the other, flown by Flying Officer Arthur Aldridge, was delayed by another aircraft blocking the exit from his sheltering blast pen. Aldridge decided it was too late to link up with the other Beauforts and set course directly for the enemy fleet which, unknown to him, consisted of four cruisers and four destroyers. It arrived a few minutes before sunrise and the Italian gunners did not open fire, believing that a solitary aircraft flying out of the twilight must be friendly.

Aldridge circled and picked out a large vessel leading the formation. He flew at an angle of 45° ahead of it and released his torpedo from about 800 yards. The torpedo ran true while he turned away. It struck the 10,500-ton heavy cruiser Trento in the bows and exploded. At this point five of the other Beauforts arrived and attacked, while the remaining three headed north to hunt for two Italian battleships which had also been reported. Both formations flew into intense fire. All dropped their torpedoes but the Italians were able to ‘comb their tracks’. The action against the cruisers had been witnessed by the commander of the submarine HMS Umbra, which closed with the stricken vessel and put another torpedo into her. The Trento heeled over and sank, with heavy loss of life. The submarine then moved north to the Italian battleships and fired four more torpedoes, but all of these missed.

All the Beauforts returned to Malta but the crews were told to take off again, after replacing two damaged aircraft and one wounded gunner. They did so but found no targets, for the Italian warships had headed back to Taranto. Nevertheless, the ‘Vigorous’ convoy turned back to Alexandria, since its gunners had expended almost all their ammunition. Only two merchant ships from the ‘Harpoon’ convoy arrived at Malta, on the following day. The two convoys lost one cruiser, five destroyers, two minesweepers and six merchant ships, but they had brought some relief to Malta.

The next operation took place on 20 June when twelve Beauforts set off for an Axis convoy near the toe of Italy. Two aircraft which were last to take off were attacked by two Junkers Ju 88s. One flown by Sergeant Hutcheson managed to evade but the other, flown by Flying Officer Frank Minster, was shot down and there were no survivors. The other Beauforts did not find the convoy and returned without loss.

On the following day, nine Beauforts in three vics led by Squadron Leader Robert Lynn set off to attack a heavily-defended convoy bound for Tripoli in Libya. They were escorted by six Beaufighters of 235 Squadron. All three Beauforts in the first vic were shot down during the attack. Lynn and his crew lost their lives. The pilots of the other two managed to ditch; the crews were picked up by the convoy, some of them wounded. Two more Beauforts were hit, but they and the other five managed to return to Malta, albeit with some wounded. The formation had torpedoed and sunk the German merchant vessel Reichenfels of 7,744 tons.

On 23 June, Wing Commander Davies led seven Beauforts of his squadron, together with five of 39 Squadron, to another convoy off the toe of Italy. They hit and damaged the 6,835-ton Italian merchant vessel Mario Roselli but two Beauforts of 39 Squadron were shot down. One of the pilots in a Beaufort of 217 Squadron was wounded in the leg and crash-landed in Malta. A respite followed until 3 July, when Squadron Leader Patrick Gibbs led a mixed force from 39 and 217 Squadrons to attack a convoy off the south-west coast of Greece. Torpedo hits were claimed but two Beauforts of 217 Squadron were shot down; these were flown by Sergeant Russell Mercer and Sergeant James Hutcheson, and there were no survivors.

After this attack, 217 Squadron was released for over a fortnight. Its losses had been severe and there was a problem with sickness among the surviving aircrews in all three Beaufort squadrons, some of whom were suffering from tick fever, dysentery or scabies. Rations were down to near-starvation level, which exacerbated these problems.

The first attack after this recovery period took place on 21 July when Squadron Leader Gibbs led three Beauforts of 217 Squadron with four of 86 Squadron and two of 39 Squadron to a convoy near the Greek island of Cephalonia. They claimed some success and all returned safely.

On 22 July, Wing Commander Davies returned to the UK. Patrick Gibbs was promoted to Wing Commander and took over the remainder of 39, 86 and 217 Squadrons in Malta. These began to function as a single unit, sometimes with men from different squadrons flying in the same aircraft.

An attack with this composite unit took place on 24 July, with three Beauforts of 217 Squadron and three of 86 Squadron, escorted by nine Beaufighters of 235 Squadron. Their target was a large merchant ship which had been spotted near Cephalonia, escorted by two destroyers and two flak-ships. The Beaufighters and the three Beauforts from 86 Squadron attacked first, but all the Beauforts were shot down by an intense barrage. However, the three from 217 Squadron attacked from the opposite direction, taking the enemy gunners by surprise, and scored two torpedo hits on the Italian Vettor Pisani of 6,339 tons, which caught fire and burnt out. Four of the men from 86 Squadron were killed but eight were picked up to become PoWs.

An attack which took place on 28 July resulted in one of the most extraordinary events of the Second World War. Nine Beauforts were racked up with torpedoes and took off under the leadership of Gibbs to attack a merchant ship escorted by two destroyers south-west of Greece. Two Beauforts of 217 Squadron were shot down. Three crew members of the aircraft flown by Pilot Officer R.I.C. Head were picked up by one of the destroyers. The four men in the other Beaufort, flown by Lieutenant Ted Strever of the SAAF were picked up by an Italian Cant floatplane and taken north to the Greek port of Prevesa. On the following day, they were taken in another Cant towards Taranto in Italy, but managed to overpower the armed guard and the Italian crew. They flew the Cant to Malta and landed in a bay, despite being attacked by Spitfires.13

Another convoy for Malta, code-named Operation ‘Pedestal’, entered the Mediterranean via Gibraltar on 10 August. Five merchant ships reached Grand Harbour, the last being a crippled tanker on 15 August. The convoy had suffered the loss of an aircraft carrier, two cruisers, a destroyer and nine merchant ships, but it had brought enough fuel and supplies to keep Malta viable for two months. At last, 217 Squadron was released to continue its flight to Ceylon, but it could muster only eight crews and Beauforts from the original twenty-one which had landed at Luqa. The aircraft were fitted with long-range tanks for the flight ahead.

The last crew left Malta on 28 August. The flights to Ceylon took place in a series of hops to RAF landing grounds or stations. From Cairo the usual route was south to the northern tip of the Red Sea and then east across Iraq to Habbaniya, near Baghdad. The next stage was south-east down the Persian Gulf to Bahrein. Then they turned east once more, to Karachi in India. The final stages were south-east via Bombay and Bangalore to RAF Mimmeriya in central Ceylon. The squadron’s ground party had already arrived by sea and then overland.

After a few weeks, the crews converted from Beauforts to Lockheed Hudsons. New crews arrived and Wing Commander A.D.W. Miller assumed command in November. The squadron became employed in anti-submarine patrols over the Indian Ocean. Detachments were sent to Ratmalana, close to Colombo in the south-west of the island.

These patrols in Hudsons proved uneventful and in February 1943 the squadron moved about fifty miles north to RAF Vavuniya, where living conditions were slightly more comfortable. Wing Commander R.J. Walker took over the squadron in March and the crews converted to Beauforts again during April. Together with 22 Squadron on the same station, they formed a torpedo-carrying strike force against Japanese warships, but the latter were engaged on more urgent matters in the Pacific and failed to appear. One crew from 217 Squadron was lost during torpedo practice on 26 August 1943, having probably hit the sea while flying at very low level.

This inactivity with Beauforts lasted for over a year and became so irksome to the aircrews that they called themselves ‘The Ceylon Home Guard’. However, torpedo-carrying Beaufighter TFXs (‘Torbeaus’) arrived in June 1944 and the aircrews began to convert on to them. Wing Commander John G. Lingard DFC took over 217 Squadron in the following August. The aircrews began to train with deadly rocket projectiles (RPs) and by the end of the year their squadron became a very effective fighting force. At this time, 22 Squadron was similarly equipped and began moving to the Burma theatre.

In early 1945 a new operation was devised for 217 Squadron by the RAF’s No 222 Group in Colombo. This consisted of an attack against the Japanese fleet in Singapore and was code-named Operation ‘Jinx’. However, the Beaufighters could not reach Singapore from Ceylon, a distance of about 2,300 miles, and it was decided that they would operate from the tiny group of the Cocos Islands, about 1,040 miles from Singapore provided they crossed the mountainous range of Sumatra. The operation was sanctioned by Vice-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Commander of South-East Asia Command.

Huge efforts were made to prepare a staging post on the Cocos Islands for the operation. There was already a small party of Royal Engineers in a cable station on one of them, named Direction Island, and an advance party of airmen from 217 Squadron was landed there by cruiser in early March. These were followed by three large transports bringing over 200 airmen with building materials and supplies which included eighty-one torpedoes. ‘Station Brown’, with buildings and a runway of pressed steel planking on crushed coral, had been cut from the jungle at the end of April, under the command of Air Commodore A.W. Hunt.

Meanwhile the aircrews of 217 Squadron were practising long-distance flights of about eight hours in twelve Beaufighters fitted with extra fuel tanks. They knew they had to fly to the Cocos Islands and were told that their targets in Singapore included three battleships, an aircraft carrier and several destroyers, protected by fighters from three airfields. It was obviously an extremely dangerous operation, and possibly suicidal.

On 3 May, the men of 217 Squadron learnt that the operation had been cancelled. They were not told of the reason and were furious at their wasted effort. In retrospect it seems that the directive came from Mountbatten, for he had become intent on Operation ‘Zipper’, an invasion of the Malayan mainland near Phuket Island planned to begin in late August. All secondary operations were cancelled to conserve resources.

No 217 Squadron was ordered to move to RAF Gannavarum, south of Madras on the east coast of India, and to practice rocket and cannon firing in preparation for this new operation. The ground and air parties completed this move on 22 June, but Operation ‘Zipper’ never took place. As the world knows, the atom bombs were dropped on Japan and the country surrendered unconditionally on 14 August. On 30 September of that year, 217 Squadron was disbanded.

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Handley Page H.P.50 Heyford

The last of the RAF biplane heavy bombers

The Air Ministry had tried all it knew to persuade the aircraft industry to tender designs of all-metal aircraft – both bombers and fighters – for half a decade, yet it was the industry itself that had been unwilling or unable to comply fully with this dictate, companies producing composite wood-and-metal prototypes accompanied by undertakings to change to all-metal construction if the tender was accepted for production. It was now no longer a matter of the industry calling the Air Ministry’s bluff; the RAF was already disestablishing the woodworking trades. Vickers, for one, was hard at work rebuilding in metal almost every Virginia extant.

And it is worth mentioning here that one very large all-metal aeroplane, ordered by the Air Ministry as long ago as 1923, had flown in 1928 but, contrary to public reports issued at the time, it was not a bomber (and therefore not conventionally eligible for this work). This was the Beardmore Inflexible, a massive aeroplane powered by three 600hp engines. It handled remarkably well in the air but, to be realistic, only confirmed that a large all-metal aeroplane – and a monoplane at that – could be built and that it could fly, but it made no provision for a bomb load. Had there been the slightest suggestion that a bomber version was envisaged, every bomber airfield in Britain would have had to undergo considerable enlargement, not to mention revised hangarage. However, the Inflexible had already made its last flight before Sir John Salmond came to the helm.

The first of the two bomber Requirements referred to previously, B. 19/27, attracted design tenders from Vickers, Fairey, Handley Page, Hawker, Avro and Bristol, prototypes being ordered from the first three of these manufacturers. The second Specification, B. 22/27, brought forth design tenders from Boulton and Paul and de Havilland for even larger bombers, and prototypes of these had been ordered.

Until these heavy bomber prototypes could be evaluated by the Service establishments and squadrons there appeared to be no immediate need to issue further bomber requirements and, owing to the adaptability of the Hart, other categories, such as army co-operation and general purpose aircraft (the latter satisfactorily filled by the Wapiti) could be ignored.

Ironically, neither B. 19/27 nor B. 22/27 succeeded in producing a significant advance in bomber design. B. 22/27 was abandoned when neither of the two three-engine prototypes impressed the Air Ministry or the A&AEE. B. 19/27, however, produced two `winners’, the Handley Page Heyford and the Fairey Hendon. The former was a twin-engine biplane of singular appearance but possessed a mediocre performance; it was also found to display a number of aggravating design blemishes whose rectification delayed entry into service. The latter, a large twin-engine monoplane with a very thick wing, paltry bomb load and pedestrian performance, was ready for service so late that it had long been overtaken by more imaginative aeroplanes, and joined only one squadron – in November 1936!

By 1932, with neither heavy bomber Specification on the table about to produce any significant advance (heavy bomber performance having increased by about 10% in eight years), the Air Ministry decided to issue a new Specification for what, at the time, were referred to as night heavy bombers but which, by the time they reached the Service, were realistically no more than medium bombers. This Specification, B. 9/32, proved to be the long awaited catalyst of bomber advance, producing in due course the Handley Page Hampden and the Vickers Wellington. Neither of these monoplanes flew until 1936, well into the period of RAF expansion.

The performance demanded by B. 9/32 demonstrated the Air Ministry’s determination to introduce monoplanes into the RAF, even though the process was likely to occupy at least five or six years. The Hendon monoplane to Specification B. 19/27 had first flown in November 1930, but had crashed soon after, and although it was to gain the distinction of becoming the RAF’s first monoplane bomber, it was evident that the path being followed by the Fairey Aviation Company into the monoplane era was a cul-de-sac.

In retrospect, the Handley Page H. P. 50 Heyford had the appearance of something that only a mother (or perhaps designer) could love, its heavy-looking biplane structure and spatted main landing gear units suggesting low speed or inefficiency. This impression was heightened by the fact that the fuselage was mounted to the upper wing, strut bracing filling a large gap between the fuselage and lower wing. This layout had a purpose, of course, the lower wing centre-section being of almost double the normal aerofoil thickness to allow bombs to be stowed internally, and brought close to the ground to speed the business of re-arming after a bombing sortie. Other features of the configuration included wings of basic metal structure with fabric covering, a fuselage which was half metaland half fabric-covered, accommodation for a crew of four, robust tailwheel landing gear, and a braced tailplane carrying twin fins and rudders. Power was provided by two Rolls-Royce Kestrel engines, mounted in nacelles beneath the upper wing, outboard of the fuselage and directly above the main landing gear units. The armament had one more unusual feature to add to the appearance of the Heyford, one of its three defensive machine-guns being mounted in a ventral `dustbin’ turret that could be lowered beneath the fuselage, aft of the wing.

The prototype H. P. 38 was flown for the first time during June 1930, and successful service testing resulted in the type being ordered, initially as the Heyford Mk I. A total of 124 had been supplied to the RAF by the time that production ended in July 1936, these comprising 15 Heyford Mk I, 23 Heyford Mk IA, 16 Heyford Mk II and 70 Heyford Mk III aircraft; they differed primarily in installed powerplant. Entering service first with 99 Squadron at Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, they eventually equipped also 7, 9, 10, 38, 78, 97, 102, 148, 149 and 166 Squadrons until the last of them were displaced by Vickers Wellingtons in 1939. However, they continued in use for some time, especially in training units, until finally declared obsolete in July 1941 as the last biplane bomber to serve with the RAF.

Specifications (Heyford IA)

General characteristics

  • Crew: four (pilot, co-pilot/navigator, bomb aimer/air gunner, wireless operator/air gunner
  • Length: 58 ft (17.68 m)
  • Wingspan: 75 ft (22.87 m)
  • Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.34 m)
  • Wing area: 1,470 ft² (136.6 m²)
  • Empty weight: 9,200 lb (4,180 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 16,900 lb (7,680 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Kestrel II-S liquid-cooled V12 engine, 525 hp (392 kW) each

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 142 mph (123 knots, 229 km/h) at 13,000 ft (3,960 m)
  • Range: 920 mi (800 nmi, 1481 km)
  • Service ceiling: 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
  • Climb to 10,000 ft (3,050 m): 15.3 minutes

Armament

  • Guns: 3 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns (nose, dorsal and ventral ‘dustbin’ positions)
  • Bombs: 2,500 lb (1,134 kg) total

Cookies

57 Squadron Avro Lancaster with the “Usual” area bombing load of a 4,000lb bomb and 12 Small Bomb Containers, each filled with 4lb incendiary bombs.

4,000 lb bomb being loaded onto de Havilland Mosquito.

A blockbuster bomb or cookie was any of several of the largest conventional bombs used in World War II by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The term blockbuster was originally a name coined by the press and referred to a bomb which had enough explosive power to destroy an entire street or large building through the effects of blast in conjunction with incendiary bombs.

An important feature of the Lancaster was its large 33 ft (10.05 m) long bomb bay. Initially, the heaviest bomb carried was the 4000 lb (1814 kg) high capacity (HC) ‘Cookie’. Bulged doors were added to 30% of the Lancaster force to allow the aircraft to carry 8000 lb (3628 kg) and later 12,000 lb (5443 kg) ‘Cookies’.

The first type of aircraft to carry bombs operationally was the Wellington, but they later became part of the standard bomb load of the RAF’s heavy night bombers, as well as that of the Mosquitoes of the Light Night Strike Force, whose aircraft would sometimes visit Berlin twice in one night carrying bombs, flown by two different crews. The 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) could be carried only by the Avro Lancaster which needed to be slightly modified with bulged bomb-bay doors.

The first use of the 8,000 lb was by 15 Squadron Lancasters against Berlin on 2 December 1943. Bad weather and other factors meant their effectiveness was not noted.

The 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) “cookie” was regarded as a particularly dangerous load to carry. Due to the airflow over the detonating pistols fitted in the nose, it would often explode even if dropped, i.e., jettisoned, in a supposedly “safe” unarmed state. The Safety height above ground for dropping the 4,000 lb “cookie” was 6,000 feet (1,800 m); any lower and the dropping aircraft risked being damaged by the explosion’s atmospheric shock wave:

    We were flying at 6,000 feet which was the minimum height to drop the 4,000 pounder. We dropped it in the middle of town [Koblenz], which gave the aircraft a hell of a belt, lifted it up and blew an escape hatch from out of the top.

    — Jack Murray, pilot of “G for George”, reporting on G for George’s mission on 17th April 1943.

In August 692 Squadron [Mosquitos] at Graveley had a run of bad luck. On the 25th Squadron Leader W.D.W. Bird and Sergeant F.W. Hudson were killed when they crashed at Park Farm, Old Warden near Bedford. It was believed that the pilot misread his altimeter. On 27 August 1944 on a trip to Mannheim Flight Lieutenant T.H. Galloway DFM and Sergeant J. Murrell swung on take-off, caught fire and blew up. The ‘Cookie’ went off, but was not detonated, so it did not cause too much damage. Galloway and Murray got out when the Mosquito caught fire and ran to safety. Over the target Flying Officer S.G.A. Warner and Flying Officer W.K. McGregor RCAF were shot down and killed and the searchlights and flak followed them all the way down. On 10/11 September it was the old Milk Run again to Berlin. Terry Goodwin DFC DFM a 692 Squadron pilot at Graveley flew this operation, his last on the Mosquito and he had a rather anxious time, as he recounts:

After Hugh Hay had finished his tour I had several good navigators with nothing to worry about. However, when my last trip was coming up there was a new navigator posted in. He was a Warrant Officer with no trips in at all. I just could not figure that out when all crews at that time had a tour under their belts and knew what the score was. I took him for a cross-country, which was not satisfactory as he had trouble with the Gee. I did not know whether it was a ‘short’ or a ‘long’ trip: either the Ruhr or Berlin. It turned out to be the ‘big city’.

The night was clear. The take-off with the 4,000lb ‘Cookie’ was good. The aircraft was singing right along with all gauges OK. The track was out over the North Sea towards Denmark then a sharp turn right south-east to a point just west of Berlin then straight east for the bombing run. When we were approaching this turning point it was clear with no moon. I could see the coast outline right from Denmark south. The tram trolleys of Hamburg were still making their blue sparks and then shut down fully. Then the sprog navigator said to me, “I don’t know where we are!” I told him to get the course from the turning point and I would tell him when to start all over again. He did and got us just west of Berlin on time or at least I thought we were on time. I told him to log the time, then go and dump the Window down the chute. There was no action outside as we ran up looking for the ‘TIs’. Jerry was playing it very careful giving nothing away. Where was that PFF type? The TIs should be going down! Then all hell broke loose. Every searchlight in the city came on right on us and the flak was too damn close. I turned sharp right and dived 2,000ft, straightened out back on course, held it, turned left and climbed and got more flak but further away. And this kept on and on. Finally the lights were bending east so I thought we should be through the city. I turned back west and still no PFF. I told the navigator to drop the ‘Cookie’ (I don’t think we got a proper picture) because the flak was hard at us again. Then the TIs went down right ahead of us so we were pretty close. But the flak kept on and I twisted and dived and climbed and kept that up. I knew we were down to about 17,000ft when I suddenly saw the light flak opening up. You knew it was pretty if it was not so damn serious. I turned and climbed out on the west side of Berlin. I told the navigator to log the time. We had been in it for 11 minutes with Jerry’s undivided attention. Were there any fighters? Not that I saw, maybe I was just too busy. It would not have been a safe place for them with all that flak around. We did get home and logged 4 hours and 30 minutes. The next morning the Flight Sergeant found me and then showed me the aircraft. It was full of flak; the main spar of the tail plane was getting an 18-inch splice. He dug a piece of flak out for me. One piece had just nicked the intercooler rad, then the fairing for the main rad. but not the tubes, but was spent as it bounced around the engine.

Berlin at this time was the ‘favourite’ destination for the Mosquitoes. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights at 8 (PFF) Group stations were routed to the Big City over towns and cities whose air raid sirens would announce their arrival overhead, although they were not the targets for the Mosquitoes’ bombs. Depriving the Germans of much needed sleep and comfort was a very effective nuisance weapon, while a 4,000pounder nestling in the bomb bay was a more tangible ‘calling card’. The ‘night postmen’ had two rounds: After take-off crews immediately climbed to height, departed Cromer and flew the dog-leg route Heligoland-Bremen-Hamburg. The second route saw departure over Woodbridge and went to The Ruhr-Hannover-Munich. Two Mosquito bombers, which failed to return from the attack on Berlin on 13/14 September, were claimed shot down south-east of the capital by Oberfeldwebel Egbert Jaacks of I./NJG10 and at Braunschweig by Leutnant Karl Mitterdorfer of 10./JG300.

The ever-increasing Mosquito strength was put to good effect on 1/2 February, 1945 when 176 Mosquito sorties were flown on eight separate targets. Ludwigshafen, Mainz, Siegen, Bruckhausen, Hannover, Nuremburg and Berlin were all hit; the latter involving 122 Mosquitoes. Berlin would suffer mercilessly at the hands of the LNSF during the final months of the war and, from 20/21 February, the capital was attacked on 36 consecutive nights. Averaging 60 Mosquitoes per raid, 2,538 sorties were flown to Berlin, of which 2,409 were successful. Some 855 cookies were dropped on the city during this period alone and the LNSF continued to bomb Berlin right up to the arrival of the Russian forces in late April 1945.

Types

4000 lb HC bomb

    Mark I: first production design

    Mark II: three nose pistols

    Mark III: no side pistol pockets

    Mark IV: no stiffening beam

    Mark V: U.S. production

    Mark VI: U.S. production

Filling was Amatol, RDX/TNT, Minol, or Torpex. In 1943, 25,000 of these were used; this rose to 38,000 in 1944. In 1945 up to the end of the war a further 25,000 were used.

8,000 lb HC

    Mk I

    Mk II

Filling was Amatex or Torpex. Bombs were produced from 1942 to 1945.

12,000 lb HC

    Mk I

    Mk II

Filling was Amatex or Torpex. 170 were used in the last two years of the war.

The VVS/Allied Bell Airacobras

Conceived by Lawrence Dale Bell and made practicable by his gifted chief engineer, Robert J. Woods, the P-39 emerged from two ideas for fighters that sought to improve maneuverability by locating the engine near the center of gravity, using a ten-foot shaft to connect it to the propeller. The Bell Model 3, with the cockpit placed far aft behind the engine, afforded poor visibility for the pilot, so the Model 4, with the pilot sitting just ahead of the engine, was selected for development, using an Allison V-1710-E4 engine with a B5 turbosupercharger. Never a man to stop at one novel approach when a second or third would be even better, Bell also proposed installing a 25mm cannon, which would fire through the propeller shaft, and a tricycle landing gear arrangement. His proposal was approved on October 7, 1939, and the first XP-39 was completed in March 1939, with the cannon’s bore increased to 37mm at the Army Air Corps’ request, along with two synchronized .50-caliber machine guns placed in the nose.

The prototype was flown under a veil of secrecy on April 6, with James Taylor at the controls, and achieved a speed of 390 miles per hour at twenty thousand feet. Severe cooling problems were encountered, so the oil-cooler scoops on the fuselage sides were enlarged. As the promising design made the transition from testing to acceptance, the Army abandoned the supercharger, a measure that facilitated production and maintenance, but which sacrificed a critical amount of performance. The oil-cooler intakes were relocated from the fuselage sides to the wing roots, a carburetor intake was installed behind the canopy, and covers were added over the main wheels. Two additional .30-caliber machine guns were also installed in the fuselage.

While the turbosupercharger had been removed, the extensive modifications that the Army Air Corps had had done to the P-39 raised its empty weight from about 4,000 pounds to over 5,600 pounds. Its maximum speed was reduced to 375 miles per hour at 15,000 feet, but the Army Air Corps was satisfied and ordered 80 P-45s, as the revised fighters were initially called, although that designation was later changed back to P-39C. After 20 P-39Cs were built, a small dorsal fillet was added to the vertical stabilizer, and the gun arrangement was changed to one 37mm cannon and two .50-caliber machine guns in the nose, and four .30-caliber machine guns in the wings. In that form, the remaining 60 planes—followed by 369 in a follow-up order—were designated P-39D. In addition to the American order, on May 8, 1940, the British Purchasing Commission ordered 675 of the fighters under the name of Caribou, later changed to Airacobra Mark I. Export Airacobras were to use a 20mm cannon in place of the 37mm, and 175 of them were repossessed by the US Army Air Forces in December 1941 and given the designation P-400.

The only operational British unit equipped with Airacobras was No. 601 “County of London” Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force, which received its new planes in August 1941. The squadron flew its first desultory low-level strafing mission, or “Rhubarb,” on October 9, when two planes left Marston airfield, crossed the Channel and attacked a German trawler, although its ultimate fate went unrecorded. Two more Airacobras flew over the same area the next day, but found nothing and returned without firing a shot. On October 11, two Airacobras attacked German barges near Gravelines and Calais, while three planes scouted the area around Ostende.

Those four missions in three days constituted the entirety of the Airacobra’s fighting career in the RAF. Problems with the plane’s compass was the official reason for grounding 601 Squadron’s fighters. But in spite of the superior maneuverability displayed by the Airacobra when pitted against a captured Messerschmitt Me 109E, its rate of climb was inferior to those of both the Me 109E and the Supermarine Spitfire Mark VB, and it was clearly no match for the new Me 109Fs and Focke-Wulf Fw 190As that it would be more likely to encounter. “Iron Dog” became the third British term for the P-400, courtesy of its disgusted pilots, as 601 Squadron stood down until it was reequipped with Spitfire VBs in March 1942.

While the Channel Front had stabilized enough for Britain to afford to hold off using its Airacobras in earnest, the situation in the South Pacific in early 1942 offered no such luxury. In March, the American 8th Pursuit Group was shipped to Australia. From there, in early April it moved to Port Moresby, New Guinea, which had been under increasing pressure from units of the Japanese Navy Air Force, operating from bases at Lae and Salamaua, since February 3.

Petty Officer First Class Saburo Sakai’s memoirs refer to victories over P-39s as early as April 11, 1942, but these have since turned out to be Curtiss Kittyhawks of the Royal Australian Air Force. The 35th and 36th Pursuit Squadrons of the 8th Pursuit Group settled in at Port Moresby much later, on April 26, and the first encounter between the group’s Airacobras and the vaunted Zeros actually occurred on April 30, when Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner, commander of V Fighter Command, led eleven drop-tank-equipped P-39Ds of the 35th and 36th Squadrons on their first major sweep. Crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains at twenty thousand feet and then descending to a hundred feet above Huon Gulf, they surprised the Japanese at Lae, with four Airacobras leading the pack to draw off any patrolling Japanese fighters they encountered; the rest of “Buzz” Wagner’s force achieved complete surprise, heavily damaging nine bombers and three fighters on Lae airfield.

As Wagner led his pilots to carry out a similar strafe of Salamaua, the Tainan Kokutai scrambled up after the departing Airacobras, catching up with and attacking the last four in the formation as it was departing Salamaua. Seven other P-39 pilots turned to assist their comrades, and the resulting dogfight ranged thirty miles up the coast and back. Although a number of Americans claimed to have scored hits on their opponents, only Wagner’s somewhat ambiguous claims were officially confirmed, adding three victories to the five already credited to him over the Philippines. The Tainan Kokutai’s only recorded loss in the action was Petty Officer 2nd Class Hideo Izumi, killed in action.

The Americans lost four planes, but only one pilot, 2nd Lt. Edwin D. Durand of the 35th Squadron, was killed; last seen going down twenty miles south of Salamaua, he was later reported to have been captured and executed by the Japanese. First Lieutenant Arthur E. Andres, his 35th Squadron P-39 hit by antiaircraft fire, force landed eighteen miles south of Buna, but with the help of local natives he made his way back to Port Moresby on May 27. In the 36th Squadron, 1st Lt. James J. Bevlock ran out of fuel and crash-landed on a beach, but natives helped him get back on May 2, while 1st Lt. Paul G. Brown went down due to coolant loss. He, too, returned after running into Australian soldiers, who sent him home with the added charge of a Japanese pilot they had captured.

All things considered, the P-39 had acquitted itself reasonably well in its first action, but the shoe was on the other foot on May 1, when Port Moresby’s Seven-Mile Drome came under a strafing attack by seven Tainan Kokutai Zeros. Five P-39s of the 36th Pursuit Squadron intercepted them, and in the low-level melee that followed, 2nd Lt. Donald McGee chased a Zero that was on another Airacobra’s tail, and after scoring hits in its fuselage, saw it veer off to the left and explode in the jungle. He, in turn, was attacked by Zeros that shattered his canopy and damaged his plane before they departed, probably short of fuel. First Lieutenant David Campbell of the 36th also claimed a Zero, and the Americans claimed three others damaged. The only Japanese loss, however, was McGee’s victim, Petty Officer 1st Class Yoshisuke Arita, whose body was later found about a mile from Seven-Mile Drome.

The Tainan Kokutai, including its most skilled ace, Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, made the more extravagant claim of eight victories. The principal American losses were the P-39 of 1st Lt. John Mainwaring, who crash-landed, and McGee’s, which was badly shot up but was restored to flyability using parts cannibalized from Mainwaring’s wreck.

In the month that followed, the 8th Pursuit Group claimed forty Japanese planes destroyed, but at a cost of twenty-five of its own planes in combat, eight in forced landings, and three destroyed on the ground. The group was relieved by the 35th Pursuit Group shortly thereafter, but that outfit was to fare no better with its P-39Ds and P-400s, the latter of which was derisively referred to by its crews as “a P-39 with a Zero on its tail.”

By July 1942, the USAAF had issued orders that P-39 pilots were not to engage enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat over any front, unless circumstances compelled them to do so. In spite of the appalling losses they suffered, the Airacobra pilots did their best to hold the line in the Pacific until the arrival of better fighters made it possible for them to relegate their planes to the fighter-bomber and reconnaissance roles. The RAF had already abandoned the Airacobra, but Free French pilots flew P-39s over North Africa and the Mediterranean when there was nothing else available, and so did members of the Regia Aeronautica after Italy changed over to the Allied side in September 1943. There is only one American P-39 ace, William Fiedler at Guadalcanal, killed in an accident on June 30, 1943, hit by a P-38 while waiting for take-off. Francis Dubisher had 4 victories on the P-39. Don McGee had three victories, one of which was on the P-400.

The Bell Airacobra was despised by both the Americans and the RAF, the RAF so much so that they refused to accept it, even during a period of great need in the summer of 1941. Yet, it proved the most appreciated of all lend-lease aircraft provided to the Russians, and one of the most successful fighters in VVS service. The Russians actually preferred it to the P-47. Consequently, the Russians received over half of all Airacobras produced (212 Airacobra I, 108 P-39D, 40 P-39K, 347 P-39L, 157 P-39M, 1113 P-39N and 3291 P-39Q), and about three quarters of the later Kingcobra. Unfortunately, histories of these Bell fighters give only passing, and generally erroneous mention of the Eastern Front. Interesting though the South Pacific campaign is, the Cobra’s record really was written in Russia.

First let’s correct the popular myth that the Russians were so successful with the P-39 because they used it as a ground attack aircraft taking advantage of the tank-killing qualities of its heavy cannon. Please! First, the P-39’s cannon was not effective against anything but lightly armored vehicles. Remember the Hurricane IID’s 40mm proved ineffective against serious armor, as did the 30mm guns of the HS-129A. The Ju-87G used a special tungsten-core ammunition, and even then could breach the armor on Soviet tanks only at the thinnest points. Dr. Alfred Price recently published statistics calling into question the myth of the WW II aerial tank-buster. Even the Il-2 Shturmovik found its guns, with anti-armor ammunition, generally ineffective. For anti-tank work it used the RS-82 and RS-132 rockets, and more importantly the PTAB-100 anti-tank cluster bomb, with shaped-charge bomblets. As “tank-busters” all of these aircraft were “busts”. Thin-skin vehicles and other soft ground targets were a different matter entirely. But for those targets even light caliber machine guns would also be effective. An I-153 could be as effective a truck-buster as a shturmovik or P-39. Also, there is no instance of the VVS equipping any ground attack unit with the Cobra. In 1945 one such regiment was re-equipped with the P-63, but was redesignated as a fighter regiment. Since the Soviets produced over 36,000 Il-2 shturmoviks, they did not need to assign any P-39s. Part of the confusion is due to the fact that the Soviets used the term “ground support” to include not only ground attack in the western sense, but also air coverage of their own troops, interception of German recon and spotting missions, and any other air combat mission in immediate support of their ground forces, including escort of Il-2s. Of course, it is true that during the course of the war Soviet Cobra units did conduct many ground attack missions, but so did every other fighter used at the front. The same can be said for the American P-51s and P-47s of the 8th Fighter Command, which have never been considered “ground attackers”. The truth is simpler. During the war, capable fighters were what the Russians needed most, and they used and loved the P-39 as a fighter.

Three of the Russians’ top four aces, Aleksandr Pokryshkin (59 individual and 6 shared), Nikolai Gulaev (57 & 4), and Grigorii Rechkalov (56 & 5) used the Airacobra for the majority of their kills. Of the 14 Soviet aces who scored more than 40 individual victories, thus ranking as the “all-allied” leading aces, 6 were P-39 pilots, (Dmitrii Glinka with 50; Pavel Golovachev with 43; and Aleksei Aleliukhin with 40 & 17 victories). Of their top 43 aces scoring 25 or more kills, 16, better than a third were “Cobrsty”. It was flown during the war by at least 44 fighter regiments (IAP) of 441 that have been identified, and 8 of 36 naval fighter air regiments. There might have been even more, since I have been unable to identify the type of aircraft flown by 43 of the PVO interceptor fighter regiments located in quiet regions. Some of these may have had Airacobras as well.

The first Airacobras received were 212 of the British Airacobra Mk I rejects which were shipped to Arkhangel in December 1941. They wore the standard RAF camouflage and kept their RAF serials which were in the AH, AP, BW & BX blocks.. Some even kept the “Sky Type S” fuselage band. Stars were placed on both wing surfaces and the fuselage. Confusingly, on some machines, the standard RAF camouflage was the older dark green and dark earth, while others sported the newer dark green and ocean gray. They were soon joined by 108 ex-USAAC, P-39D-1 and P-39D-2 Airacobras wearing standard American olive drab camouflage. On the P-39Ds, the red star was painted in all six positions. Where there had been US insignia it was painted directly over the white star, appearing within the dark blue circle. On the P-39Ds, the white “bort number” was painted on the fuselage behind the star, but in the case of the ex-British aircraft, the number was painted on the tail fin where the RAF fin flash had been previously. Even though these aircraft arrived in winter, they were not given the winter whitewash since they were in a rear area, and when they finally entered combat, it was May 1942, but the next winter white camouflage was already going out of style. While there have been documented instances of Airacobras in winter camouflage, they seem to have been the exception.

One peculiarity was that the Soviets initially did not equip their regiments completely with Airacobras. Each regiment receiving Airacobras had to take a squadron of Kittyhawks as well, so that a regiment would have only its first two squadrons with Cobras. This was intended to stretch the supply of the preferred Cobra and to find a home for the less desired Kittyhawk. When the later models of the P-39 became available in large quantity, IAPs converted to a pure Cobra organization.

The 19 Guards IAP (145 IAP till 3/7/42) was the first Soviet unit to take the Airacobra into action, entering combat near Murmansk on May 15, 1942. The regiment had 16 Airacobras (AH618, 619, 660, 664, 679, 692, 697, 703, 707-709, 713, 724) and 10 Kittyhawks. On their second day in action the regiment lost AH660, flown by I. D. Gaidaenko, who was shot down by BF-109s and made a forced landing. Among the most famous pilots of the 19th Guards was Pavel Kutakhov who finished the war as a Major with 14 individual and 28 shared victories, and later in the 1970s was promoted to Marshal and C-in-C of the Russian Air Forces. By the end of 1943 the regiment had flown 7451 sorties and claimed 171 kills, for the loss of 46 pilots (35 in combat), and lost 86 aircraft (59 shot down). Of their losses, 20 were Airacobras (3 non-combat).

Even more famous were the units which received the P-39Ds and operated in the south, over the Caucasus, and the Kuban. The most famous units here were the16 GIAP,100 GIAP, and 104 GIAP which were formed into the 9 Guards Fighter Air Division (9 GIAD), the Soviet counterpart of the 56 Fighter Group or JG-52. During the war the 9 GIAD flew 33,654 sorties, claimed 1147 kills, and included 46 pilots with the HSU, 3 twice-HSU, and one three times HSU – Aleksandr Pokryshkin. The 16 GIAP, Pokryskhin’s regiment, alone accounted for 697 of the kills and had 15 of the HSUs, 2 of the 2xHSUs, and 1 3xHSU pilot. All three units had distinguished themselves from the first day of the war flying other aircraft. The first of its regiments to convert to the Cobra was the 45 IAP (100 G IAP from 7/43) which was withdrawn from combat in late October 1942 and returned in February 1943 with 10 P-39D-2, 11 P-39K-1, and 9 P-40E. Next was the 298 IAP (104 G IAP from 8/21/43) which re-equipped with the P-39D-2 and P-39K-1 and returned to the southern front in March 1943. The Regimental officers and squadron commanders and political officers received the K model, while the flight leaders and line pilots got the Ds. In April the famous 16 Guards IAP followed, receiving 14 P-39L-1, 7 P-39K-1, and 11 P-39D-2. They returned to the combat over the Kuban and Crimea which the Russians consider to have been the battles which broke the back of the Luftwaffe in Russia, and much of the credit is given to the 9 GIAD. Another equally famous regiment flying over the Kuban and Crimea was the 9 Guards Fighter Regiment, which began the war flying the I-16 over the Crimea and converted to the P-39 from the Yak-1. During the war the 9 GIAP scored 558 Kills and had 26 pilots with HSU, including Aleliukhin (40 & 17 kills), Lavrinenkov (35 & 11 kills), and Amet-Khan (30 & 19 kills) who each received the award twice.

One reason the P-39 prospered in Russia was that combat seldom took place above 10,000 feet, and usually lower. When strafing, flying FLAK suppression, or escorting Il-2s, they often flew at virtual ground level, called “shaving”. The Russians liked the P-39’s heavy armament, and considered it to be quite maneuverable, particularly in the vertical plane. When the later versions arrived with the underwing gondola machine guns, these were removed by the Russians. Also very notable to the Soviets were the P-39’s radio, far superior to native product and superior instrumentation and accommodations. Even though the cockpit may have been cramped by American standards, the physically smaller Russians considered it comfortable, and in winter warm, and throughout the war Western cockpit glass was better quality and more transparent than on Russian aircraft. Initially, they had some difficulty adjusting to its spinning characteristics and to the nosewheel gear, but soon mastered these. Another Russian insight was that you did not want to bail out of an Airacobra, since exiting the side door made hitting the tail much more likely. However, they considered it’s shape perfect for belly-landing .

A summary list of the Soviet units flying the P-39 is 1 GIAD (54, 55 GIAP & 53, 56 GIAPS with Yak-9), 5 GIAD (28, 67, 68, 72 GIAP), 9 GIAD (16, 100, 104, and later 159 GIAP), 22 GIAD (129, 212, 213 GIAP & 116 GIAP with Yak-3), 23 GIAD (21, 69 GIAP), 329 IAD (57G, 101G, 66 IAP), 190 IAD (17 IAP & 2 unidentified), 9 GIAP (303 IAD), 19 GIAP, 20 GIAP, 30 GIAP, 102 G IAP, 103 G IAP, 9, 159, 185 (disbanded), 191, 196, 246, 255 (transferred to naval aviation), 295, 352, 416, 484, 494, 821 IAPs of Frontal Aviation, 28, 403, 631, 738, & 908 IAPs of PVO, and 2 G IAP (NF), 11 GIAP (BSF), 7 (NF), 20 (NF), 31 (POF), 43 (BSF), 78 (NF), and 255 (NF) IAPs of Naval aviation.

Since the Airacobra was such a success in Russia, naturally the Soviets would be a major recipient of its bigger brother, the P-63. They were sent 2456 Kingcobras, flown across the Al-Sib ferry route, of which 2421 actually arrived, including both major variants, the P-63A and P-63C. However, contrary to Dorr and other western authors, it did not prove to be a potent tank-buster. It never got a chance. Only in September 1944 did the first P-63 begin it’s long journey across two continents, from Buffalo, New York to Russia. By May 1945 there were only 51 P-63As in service, assigned to PVO air defense regiments, which by that stage of the war had little real chance of combat. Consequently, the P-63 never got to show its stuff against either a panzer or a “messer”. However, the P-63 did see brief combat in Russian service. Soviet units continued reequipping after the German surrender. Many P-63s went to Soviet units assigned to the Far East and Transbaikal Fronts preparing for war against Japan. The 12th Air Army of the Trasnbaikal Front equipped its 245 IAD, consisting of the 940 and 781 IAPS. This Air Army was reinforced after the German surrender by the transfer from the west of the 190 IAD which included the 17 IAP and 21 IAP, both of which replaced their P-39Q and La-5 fighters with the Kingcobra. One of the pilots of the 17 IAP was Captain Viacheslav Sirotin, HSU, a 21 victory ace. On August 15, he and his wingman, Junior Lieutenant Miroshnichenko caught 2 Japanese fighters (either Ki-27 or Ki-43, the records are unclear), and shot down one of them. This was the Kingcobra’s only aerial victory – ever.

In July 1945 the 128 SAD (mixed air division), with the 888 IAP and 410 ShAP (assault air regiment) based on Kamchatka converted to the P-63. The Shturmovik Regiment at this time was redesignated as Fighter. Interestingly, the 888 IAP was the very last regiment flying the old I-16; transition to the 410 mph, tricycle gear P-63A must have made an impression! Also, during the summer of 1945 the 7 IAD of the Pacific Ocean Fleet received several dozen aircraft in time to fly them during the brief hostilities.

After the war re-equipment with the Kingcobra continued at an accelerated pace, including several former P-39 air divisions, and other units as well. Notable were the 5 GIAD based in the Baltic district, the 269 IAD in Armenia, the 6 GIAD in the Ukraine, and the 1 GIAD based at Neuhausen, Germany. Other units based in Austria and China also flew the P-63. During this time 25 P-63s were converted to P-63U two seat conversion trainers. By the early 1950s the P-63 was replaced by the MiG-9 and MiG-15, but a few regiments continued to use them fairly late. The 307 and 308 IAPs continued flying the P-63 in the Kurile Islands through the end of 1951. There has been no report of the P-63 being passed along to the Koreans, Chinese or European satellite air arms.

One of the last incidents of the Kingcobra’s career happened in 1952 when two USAF jets mistakenly (?!) shot up Sukhaya Rechka airfield outside of Vladivostok. The Soviet losses consisted of 8 P-63s, which they maintain had already been decommssioned. A sad and ignominious end for a warbird’s career.

Bell P-63 Kingcobra in the Soviet Union

Airacobra Advantage: The Flying Cannon, The Complete Story of Bell Aircraft Corporation’s P-39 Pursuit Fighter Plane by Rick Mitchell

Sources: Wings of Fame 10 with its article on the P-39 by Robert Doerr; Roman, V., Aerokobry vstupaiut v boi: Bell P-400, P-39D-1, P-39D-2, Seriia istrebiteli 1, Aerokhobbi, Kiev 1993; Bakurskaia, Evgeniia, Chief Editor. Kryl’ia – daidzhezt vypusk 3, Seriia Samolety mira Istrebitel’ P-63, AviaKosm, Moscow 1997, and notes from a number of Soviet aces’ memoirs. FIGHTER AIRCRAFT COMBAT DEBUTS, 1915–1945. Innovation in Air Warfare Before the Jet Age, JON GUTTMAN.

Lavochkin La-7

The La-7 was flown by the top Soviet ace of the war, Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub. The Ukrainian-born Kozhedub, nicknamed “Ivan the Terrible”, a three-time Hero of Soviet Union, scored his last 17 air victories in 1945 in the La-7 numbered 27, which is now preserved in the Central Air Force Museum at Monino on the outskirts of Moscow. The last German aircraft that he shot down was the Messerschmitt Me-262, of Sergeant (German: Unteroffizier) Kurt Lange from 1./KG(J)54, over Frankfurt an der Oder on 15 February 1945.

While the Yak-1’s fundamentally sound airframe lent itself to progressive improvements that culminated in the superb Yak-9 and Yak-3, it took a more radical step to turn the LaGG-3 into something more than a deathtrap: the replacement of its inline engine with Arkady Shvetsov’s M-82 radial. Ironically, other Soviet designers had experimented with the radial on their existing airframes, such as Mikhail Gudkov’s Gu-82, Mikoyan’s MiG-9, and Yakovlev’s Yak-7 M-82, while Lavochkin hesitated. By early 1942, only the Sukhoi Su-2 short-range bomber was using the M-82 when Lavochkin and Shvetsov were called in to a conference of the People’s Commissariat of the Aircraft Industry in Moscow. In essence, Lavochkin was told that reports on his LaGG-3 were so unsatisfactory that if something significant were not done soon, production of the fighter would have to be canceled. And since hundreds of unwanted M-82s were piling up at Shvetsov’s Plant No. 19 in Perm, Lavochkin was strongly urged to try fitting the radial in his plane.

Lavochkin protested. Modifying the LaGG-3 airframe to take an air-cooled radial that was eighteen inches greater in cross section and 551 pounds heavier than the inline M-105P would be complicated by a shift in the center of gravity. The M-82’s propeller shaft could not accommodate a 20mm cannon. He also feared that production would cease before he and his design team would effect such complex alterations. There was already a precedent for such a fighter, however. As early as March 1941, Gudkov had lifted an M-82 directly from an Su-2 and had worked out a way of mounting it on a LaGG-3 airframe, and on October 12 the Commissariat announced a willingness to put his Gu-82 into production at the Gorky plant instead of the LaGG-3. Gudkov’s attention was then diverted by a project to mount a 37mm cannon to fire through the LaGG-3’s propeller hub, and the more resolute Aleksandr Yakovlev secured a contract to produce his new Yak-7B fighter at Gorky.

News that LaGG-3 production at Plant No. 31 in Tbilisi was to be halted in April gave Lavochkin some added incentive to intensify his efforts. The LaGG-3’s fuselage midsection was widened and the engine mount reworked. Two variable cooling flaps on the fuselage sides and altered cooling-air baffles provided uniform cooling. Two 20mm ShVAK cannon were mounted above the engine. The machine was completed in February 1942, and Lavochkin anxiously awaited the results of its first evaluation. “The aircraft is good, pleasant to control and responsive, but the cylinder heads became hot,” reported test pilot G. A. Mishchenko. “Measures should be taken to correct this.” He also reported that level speed was 10 percent greater than that of the LaGG-3. Encouraged, Lavochkin and his team did further work on the prototype, which got its first official evaluation from May 9 to 14, 1942. Cooling and controllability problems were encountered, but with a speed of 372.8 miles per hour at its service ceiling of 21,000 feet, a climb rate of 16,400 feet in six minutes, and maneuverability that was superior to foreign as well as indigenous designs, the M-82-powered LaGG was good enough to completely reverse Lavochkin’s shaky fortunes. Since Gorbunov had left the design team by then, the new fighter was designated the LaG-5 and ordered into production, the first example rolling out of Gorky’s Plant No. 21 on June 20. Gudkov also parted company with Lavochkin soon afterward, and from September 1942 the radial engine fighters were officially referred to simply as La-5s.

In August 1942 the first operational LaG-5s replaced the I-16s and LaGG-3s of the all but decimated 49th IAP on the Northwestern Front. In the course of flying their first 180 sorties, LaG-5 pilots of the 49th claimed sixteen German aircraft in the course of seventeen combats. The regiment lost ten planes, however, and five of its pilots were killed in action.

Soon after the 49th IAP, fifty-seven LaG-5s were assigned to four regiments of Col. Stefan P. Danilov’s 287th Istrebitelnaya Aviatsionnaya Diviziya (IAD), attached to the First Air Army near the embattled city of Stalingrad. The Lavochkins flew their first combat missions on August 20, but they displayed the unmistakable signs of hasty production, only two-thirds of them being combat capable. One plane crashed during takeoff, while two others collided while taxiing, due to two aspects of the Shvetsov radial engine: a greater degree of propeller torque that took getting used to, combined with poor visibility from the cockpit. Again, impaired visibility compelled the pilots to fly with their canopies open, and cooling problems and lack of confidence in the retractable tail wheel resulted in flying with the cowling side flaps fully opened and the tail wheel down, all contributing to an 18.6 to 24.8 miles per hour reduction in speed. In the first three days of fighting, the LaG-5 pilots claimed eight German fighters and three bombers but lost seven of their own planes—including three to Soviet antiaircraft gunners who mistook them for German Fw 190As.

Among the first standout pilots was twenty-three-year-old Lt. Evgenny P. Dranishchenko, who joined the 287th IAD’s 437th IAP on August 20 and scored his first victory, over a Ju 88, just three days later. He was credited with two Ju 88s of II./KG 76 on September 8, and by the thirteenth he scored his fifth victory in the course of ten combats. Dranishchenko’s total stood at twenty-one individual and seven shared victories in 120 missions and fifty combats when he was killed in action on August 20, 1943, exactly one year since his arrival at the front.

The LaG-5’s debut yielded mixed results at best. Pilots of the 287th IAD’s 27th IAP concluded that their planes were inferior to the Me 109F-4—and, even more so, to the newer Me 109G-2 in speed and vertical maneuverability. “We have to engage only in defensive combat actions,” they reported. “The enemy is superior in altitude and, therefore, has a more favorable position from which to attack.” Concentrating on German bombers for a time, the LaG-5 pilots claimed fifty-seven of them within a month, but continued to suffer heavy losses whenever they encountered enemy fighters.

Again, Semyon Lavochkin was eager to read and respond to the criticisms leveled at his fighters. For a start, he removed two of the five fuel tanks that had been intended to extend the plane’s range, but whose added weight adversely affected performance. Aerodynamic improvements, lightening of the airframe, and the introduction of the new supercharged M-82F engine resulted in a better fighter, which entered production in January 1943 as the La-5F (for forsirovanny, or “boosted”). In addition, the ninth production La-5 batch, produced in November 1942, had control surfaces of reduced area, redesigned trim tabs, and larger flaps, which improved both controllability and maneuverability. The after part of the dorsal fuselage was also lowered, and a new teardrop-shaped canopy of armored glass was installed, greatly improving visibility from the cockpit. With the subsequent introduction of the fuel-injected M-82FN engine, which boosted takeoff power from 1,700 to 1,850 horsepower in the La-5FN during the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, the curious transition of Lavochkin’s wooden “grand pianos” from “mortician’s mates” to instruments of ultimate Soviet victory was nearly complete. As the tide of war turned in favor of the Red Army, production standards would improve. Lavochkin continued to refine his now-proven design, culminating in late 1943 with the La-7, one of the cleanest radial-engine fighters of its time.

Amid the heady successes that attended Operation Barbarossa, it may have been difficult for Luftwaffe pilots to imagine the V-VS recovering at all from the initial blow dealt it, let alone do so sufficiently to replace the obsolescent or flawed new fighters that they had first encountered. It would have been harder for even the Soviet airmen to imagine that the unpromising LaGG-3, or even the less than world-beating LaG-5, were steps on the way to one of the great fighters of World War II. Nevertheless, the La-5FN and La-7, which were at their best at low altitudes, did much to clear the skies over the battlefield for the Red Army’s resurgent ground forces. It might be added that the leading Allied ace of the war, Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub, scored all sixty-two of his victories—including one Messer schmitt Me 262 jet—exclusively in Lavochkin fighters, from the LaG-5 to the La-7. His last wartime La-7, displaying his three HSUs, can still be seen at the Air Force Museum at Monino.

The ultimate wooden Lavochkin, the La-7, was another interim design, put into production late in 1943 pending development of the all-metal La-9. Its M-82 FNV engine generated 1,850 hp and, with the air intake moved under the fuselage, the cowling was one of the most streamlined ever to enclose a radial engine. Armament was increased to three 20mm ShVak or 23mm NS cannon, which could be supplemented by six RS-82 rockets or 331 pounds of bombs on underwing racks. The La-7 had a wingspan of 32 feet, 5 3/4 inches, and was 27 feet, 4 inches long. Maximum speed was 423 mph at 20,997 feet. Takeoff weight was 7,496 pounds. Reaching the front late in 1944, the La-7 was arguably the best Soviet low- and medium-altitude fighter of World War II.

Lavochkin’s final wartime variant was the La 7. This was basically an La 5FN fitted with a more powerful engine and additional aeronautical refinements. These included metal wing spars (earlier craft being made entirely of wood) for greater strength and lighter weight. The armament was also increased to three 20mm cannons that spat out seven pounds of lead per second. In an attempt to shed even more weight, the fuel capacity was cut in half, reducing the fighter’s operational radius to about an hour. However, because Soviet fighters were usually deployed right on the front lines, this was not viewed as detrimental. Lavochkin fighter craft were major contributors to the ultimate Soviet victory, and their designer received the prestigious Stalin Prize.

Tactical significance

The La-7 ended the superiority in vertical maneuverability that the Messerschmitt Bf 109G had previously enjoyed over other Soviet fighters. Furthermore, it was fast enough at low altitudes to catch, albeit with some difficulties, Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighter-bombers that attacked Soviet units on the frontlines and immediately headed for German-controlled airspace at full speed. The Yakovlev Yak-3 and the Yakovlev Yak-9U with the Klimov VK-107 engine lacked a large enough margin of speed to overtake the German raiders. Only 115 La-7s were lost in air combat, only half the number of Yak-3s.

Mikoyan MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ (1977)

A MiG-29 (9.12) ‘Fulcrum-A’ of the 237th Composite Aviation Regiment, stationed at Kubinka in the Moscow Military District in the early 1990s. This historic unit still serves as the Air Force’s Aviation Equipment Demonstration Centre.

Three views of the prototype of the original, abortive MiG-29M armed with advanced weapons including Kh-31 (AS-17 ‘Krypton’) anti-radar missiles and R-77 (AA-12 ‘Adder’) air-to-air missiles.

The original MiG-29M launched efforts to create a genuine second-generation ‘Fulcrum’, including flyby-wire flight controls, advanced structure, improved powerplant, avionics and weapons systems. The 9.15 yielded five prototypes.

Developed by the USSR in response to increasingly sophisticated Western warplanes, the MiG-29 soon established a formidable reputation as an agile dogfighter. Despite its shortcomings, it has continued to undergo development with efforts to extend its range and the addition of a multi-role capability.

Although it entered Soviet Air Force service as a lightweight counterpart to the heavyweight Su-27 fighter, the MiG-29 traces its roots back to a design for a heavy fighter. This was later scaled down to meet a requirement for a ‘frontal’ fighter that would primarily serve in a short-range air defence role, but would also offer a secondary ground-attack capability. Detailed design work began in 1974. In order to keep pace with Western fighter development, the MiG-29 was to make use of a look-down/shoot-down capability and be able to operate in an electronic countermeasures environment. Other important elements of the design were undercarriage and engine intakes optimized for operations on rough and semi-prepared forward airstrips.

Employing a blended high-lift, low-drag wing and forward fuselage, the MiG-29 was tailored for high angle-of-attack performance, providing superb low-speed and high-Alpha agility. The first of 11 prototypes completed a maiden flight in October 1977. After eight pre-production machines, the initial production version began to be delivered to the Soviet Air Force’s Frontal Aviation elements in 1983, and was known to Mikoyan as the 9.12 and to NATO as the ‘Fulcrum-A’. In this original form, the primary mission sensors comprised an N019 pulse-Doppler radar and an infra-red search and track system. The pilot was provided with a helmet-mounted cueing system. The similar 9.12A version was delivered to Warsaw Pact countries and other close allies, while the further downgraded 9.12B was produced for export to non-Warsaw Pact operators.

A two-seat combat trainer was developed and fielded as the 9.51 MiG-29UB ‘Fulcrum-B’, with radar deleted and a second seat under an elongated canopy. In 1984 Mikoyan flew a first example of the improved 9.13 ‘Fulcrum-C’ that retained the basic MiG-29 nomenclature, but which carried additional fuel and avionics in an enlarged spine. A further improved ‘Fulcrum-C’ was the 9.13S model, the key features of which were a more advanced flight-control system and an improved N019M radar with multi-target tracking/two-target engagement capability and compatibility with advanced R-77 (AA-12 ‘Adder’) air-to-air missiles. Underwing fuel tanks were also now offered as standard.

After the Cold War, the 9.13 formed the basis of a family of increasingly advanced MiG-29s aimed at the export market, and with enhanced capabilities that included expanded multi-role flexibility and Western communications systems. The first of these upgrade configurations was the baseline MiG-29SE, with the improvements developed for the Soviet MiG-29S, together with the option of Western-style displays and instruments and Western navigation, identification friend or foe (IFF) and radio equipment. The MiG-29SD includes NATO-compatible IFF and navigation/communications equipment, improved radar, R-77 compatibility and provision for a bolt-on retractable in-flight refuelling probe. The MiG-29SM focuses on enhanced air-to-ground capabilities, and includes a new cockpit display, radar modifications and weapons system improvements allowing the use of TV- and radar-guided bombs and missiles. Most advanced of these upgrades is the MiG-29SMT featuring a ‘glass’ cockpit, enhanced air-to-ground capabilities and a new, even larger dorsal spine to accommodate extra fuel.

During the 1980s Mikoyan had ambitious plans for a second-generation MiG-29 that would employ an all-new airframe design. This took the form of the land-based 9.15 MiG-29M and the carrier-based 9.31 MiG-29K. However, post-Cold War funding cuts saw these programmes abandoned in the early 1990s.

As the manufacturer’s fortunes improved in the twenty-first century, MiG returned to advanced MiG-29 variants, and brought to market a new, unified family of MiG-29 multi-role fighters derived from the 9.15 and 9.31.

The latest variants are based on the navalized MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB (9.41 and 9.47) developed for the Indian Navy. The land-based equivalents are the MiG-29M/M2 variants, and all feature open architecture avionics, Zhuk-ME radar with a slotted planar array, and new RD-33MK engines with full-authority digital engine control (FADEC).

Further enhancements are incorporated in the MiG-35 and two-seat MiG-35D, which boast a multi-mode phased-array radar, a new electro-optical targeting and reconnaissance system, an improved IRST sensor and a new defensive aids system. All of the new versions are also offered with thrust-vectoring engines.

During the 1980s Mikoyan had ambitious plans for a second-generation MiG-29 that would employ an all-new airframe design. This took the form of the land-based 9.15 MiG-29M and the carrier-based 9.31 MiG-29K. However, post-Cold War funding cuts saw these programmes abandoned in the early 1990s.

As the manufacturer’s fortunes improved in the twenty-first century, MiG returned to advanced MiG-29 variants, and brought to market a new, unified family of MiG-29 multi-role fighters derived from the 9.15 and 9.31.

The latest variants are based on the navalized MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB (9.41 and 9.47) developed for the Indian Navy. The land-based equivalents are the MiG-29M/M2 variants, and all feature open architecture avionics, Zhuk-ME radar with a slotted planar array, and new RD-33MK engines with full-authority digital engine control (FADEC).

Side number 712 is the Product 9-67 MiG-35D/UB two-seater prototype/demonstrator.

Further enhancements are incorporated in the MiG-35 and two-seat MiG-35D,

which would have boasted a multi-mode phased-array radar, a new electro-optical targeting and reconnaissance system, an improved IRST sensor and a new defensive aids system, plus thrust-vectoring engines. [see below]

The first batch of six RAC (Russian Aircraft Corporation) “MiG” MiG-35 multi-role combat aircraft will soon be delivered to the VKS (Russian aerospace forces), according to Ilya Tarasenko, director general of RAC MiG, in an announcement made at the production plant at Lukhovitsky on November 28. He also said that an active phased-array radar would be offered as an option and stated that a prototype equipped with such a radar had already been completed.

The contract for the production of this initial batch of six MiG-35s was signed during the 2018 Army Forum on August 22. Delivery of these aircraft will allow completion of all planned tests in early 2019, after which serial production will begin at the Sokol Nizhnii Novgorod Aircraft Plant. In 2013, Novosti reported that 37 MiG-35s would be purchased, but 170 aircraft are now planned for the Russian air forces.

The MiG-35 is part of what RAC MiG calls a unified family of multi-role fighters, consisting of the carrier-borne MiG-29K/KUB for India and MiG-29KR/KUBR for the Russian Navy, the MiG-29M/M2 for Egypt, and the MiG-35 for the Russian air forces. All use the same basic airframe, with tandem cockpits (the single-seaters have extra fuel in place of the rear cockpit but still employ a two-seat canopy) and a bigger wing compared to the MiG-29, with bigger flaps and horizontal tails. Carrier versions have an arrester hook and folding wingtips, while land-based variants have a braking parachute and no wing-fold.

The MiG-35 designation was originally applied to an earlier attempt to produce an advanced version of the MiG-29. Six MiG-29M prototypes were produced between 1986 and 1991, and the MiG-29M was briefly re-branded as the MiG-35 before being abandoned.

Some years later the fourth MiG-29M prototype (Side number 154) was converted to two-seat configuration, becoming the MiG-29MRCA in 2005/06 for the Indian Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition, and was subsequently re-designated the MiG-29M2. In January 2007 it became the MiG-35 demonstrator. Soon afterwards, the fifth MiG-29M prototype was rebuilt to become the MiG-29KUB (Product 9-47) prototype, while the sixth MiG-29M was modified as the thrust-vectoring MiG-29OVT testbed.

The MiG-35 was originally conceived as having a range of advanced systems and capabilities, and the MiG-35 demonstrator was fitted with an NIIR Zhuk-AE AESA radar in December 2008. Two further MiG-35 demonstrators flew in the autumn of 2009, converted from MiG-29K/KUB airframes originally intended for India. The single-seater was known as the Product 9-61 (MiG-35) and the two-seater as the Product 9-67 (MiG-35D). They were delivered to the VKS for flight testing in November 2016.

In 2011/2012 two further aircraft were built to meet a Syrian order, which was subsequently canceled. The Syrian version featured a basic Zhuk-ME radar (as used by the MiG-29K/KUB) and was designated the MiG-29M in single-seat form and as the MiG-29M2 in two-seat form. In March 2014 Egypt decided to buy 24 MiG-35s, but changed its order to the “Syrian” MiG-29M/M2 variant before signing a contract for 46 aircraft in April 2015. They were delivered from September 2017.

Russia also quietly “dumbed down” the specification of its planned MiG-35, and when the first MiG-35S and MiG-35SD series production prototypes were unveiled by RSK MiG at Lukhovitsky on January 27, 2017, they lacked the once-planned thrust-vectoring and AESA radar. The MiG-35S/SD is now closely comparable to the export MiG-29M/M2 with the exception of a few additional advanced weapon integrations. State trials began in January 2018.

The single-seat MiG-35S prototype was rolled out in January 2017.

Polish ‘Fulcrums’

A NATO member, the Polish Air Force remains an enthusiastic MiG-29 operator. Poland first ordered nine MiG-29As and three MiG-29UBs, the first of which were delivered in 1989. In 1995 Poland decided to purchase 10 surplus MiG-29s (nine MiG-29As and one MiG-29UB) from the Czech Republic. With the withdrawal from service of Luftwaffe MiG-29s, 22 former East German aircraft (18 MiG-29Gs and four MiG-29GTs) were offered to Poland for a symbolic Euro. The offer was accepted and in September 2003 the first aircraft arrived in Poland. In order to operate within NATO, and to extend their service lives, Polish MiGs are being upgraded with a new digital databus with open architecture, a cockpit using imperial units of measurement, a laser inertial platform with embedded GPS and INS, digital video recorder and data transfer system, an up-front control panel, a new UHF/VHF radio, an upgraded IRST sensor and modernized NO19 radar with increased target detection and tracking range.

 

Ikarus S-49

The first postwar fighter to be designed in Yugoslavia, the S- 49 was a development of the prewar Ikarus IK-3, production of which had been halted by the German invasion after only a few evaluation aircraft had been completed. The prototype flew in 1948, powered by a Klimov VK-105PF-2 liquid-cooled engine, and the first examples entered service as the S-49A in 1951. Subsequent aircraft were powered by the Hispano-Suiza 12Z-11Y engine, purchased after Yugoslavia severed relations with the USSR. In this guise, and with other refinements, the aircraft emerged as the S-49C.

The Ikarus S-49 was a Yugoslav single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft built for the Yugoslav Air Force (Serbo-Croatian: Ratno vazduhoplovstvo i protivvazdušna obrana – RV i PVO) shortly after World War II. Following the Tito–Stalin Split in 1948, the RV i PVO was left with an aircraft inventory consisting of mostly Soviet aircraft. Unable to acquire new aircraft or spare parts for its existing fleet, the RV i PVO turned to its domestic aviation industry in order to create an indigenous design to fulfill the need for additional aircraft.

The same constructors that built the Rogozarski IK-3 before the war, engineers Kosta Sivcev, Slobodan Zrnic and Svetozar Popovic, used existing technical documentation of the IK-3 to construct the new fighter aircraft, the Ikarus S-49.

The S-49A was of mixed construction, with Soviet-built VK-105 engines held in stock, which were no longer available after 1948. Therefore, it was decided to produce a new version of the aircraft powered by the similar French Hispano-Suiza 12Z-17 engine. Because of the bigger and heavier engine, the new aircraft had to be of all-metal construction with a much longer nose. While the aircraft were mainly built by Ikarus, the wings and tail were built by the SOKO factory in Mostar. The armament consisted of one 20 mm Mauser MG-151/20 autocannon produced by Germany during World War II and two 12.7 mm Colt-Browning machine guns. In addition, underwing racks for two 50 kg bombs or four 127 mm HVAR missiles were provided.

The first prototype of the S-49A flew in June 1949. The first operational aircraft were delivered to combat units at the beginning of 1950.

An S-49B Ikarus had been proposed with the German DB-605 engine, but for mass production the Ikarus S-49C was chosen.

The S-49A was superseded by the improved S-49C, featuring an all-metal construction and a more powerful engine. The Ikarus S-49C went into service with the units of the Yugoslav Air Force at the beginning of 1952.

The aircraft factory “Soko” produced the assembly of the wing and empennage for the S-49C fighter, starting in 1952. An all-metal version of the S-49A powered by a Hispano Suiza HS 12Z-17. Underwing mounts were fitted for rockets, MG-151 or Colt-Browning M2 12.7- mm machine guns, or two 50-kg bombs.

A total of 45 S-49A and 113 S-49C were produced by the Ikarus Aircraft Factory in Zemun. The last aircraft were retired from RV i PVO service in 1960/61, having been replaced by more modern jet-powered aircraft.

Variants

S-49A – mixed construction and Klimov M-105 engine (45 built)

S-49B – planned version powered by a Daimler-Benz engine; unbuilt.

S-49C – all-metal construction and Hispano-Suiza 12Z engine (113 built)

Operators:

Yugoslav Air Force

Ikarus S-49A – 46 aircraft (1949–1957)

117th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1950–1953)

204th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1950–1953)

107th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1953–1957)

Training Squadron of 44th Aviation Division (1953–1954)

Ikarus S-49C – 112 aircraft (1952–1961)

116th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1952–1960)

185th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1953–1956)

40th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1955–1959)

109th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1956–1960)

88th Fighter Aviation Regiment (1957–1959)

Training Squadron of 39th Aviation Division (1953–1959) S-49C

Specifications:

S-49A

Engine: Klimov VK-105PF, 1180 hp

Wingspan: 10.30 m

Length: 8.43 m

Height: 3.20 m

Wing area: 16.60 sq.m

Empty weight: 2320 kg

Normal take-off weight: 2950 kg

Maximum speed: 554 kph

Range: 690 km

Rate of climb: 1026 m / min

Ceiling: 10,000 m

Crew: 1

Armament:

1 x 20-mm motorpushka ShVAK with 120 rounds

2 x 12.7 mm UBS machine gun with 200 rounds

S-49C

Engine: 1 × Hispano-Suiza 12Z-17, 1,104 kW (1,500 hp)

Length: 9.06 m (29 ft 83in)

Wingspan: 10.30 m (33 ft 91 in)

Height: 2.90 m (9 ft 6 in)

Wing area: 16.65 m2 (179 ft2)

Empty weight: 2,818 kg (6,200 lb)

Max. takeoff weight: 3,568 kg (7,850 lb)

Maximum speed: 628 km/h (339 knots, 390 mph) at 1,525 m (5,000 ft)

Range: 690 km (373 nm, 429 mi)

Service ceiling: 10,000 m (33,000 ft)

Climb to 6,000 m (19,700 ft): 6 min 54 sec

Armament

1 × 20 mm MG-151/20 cannon

2 × .50 Colt Browning M2 machine guns with 650 rounds per gun

2 × 50 kg (110 lb) bombs or 4 × 5 in HVAR missiles

Crew: one pilot