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- 1 Aces of World War II
- 1.1 USA
- 1.2 Germany
- 1.3 USSR
- 1.3.1 Dolgushin, Sergei F.
- 1.3.2 Golovachev, Pavel Y.
- 1.3.3 Kozhedub, Ivan N.
- 1.3.4 Litvyak, Lydia V.
- 1.3.5 Pokryshkin, Alexander I.
- 1.3.6 Zhukovsky, Sergey Y.
- 1.4 Great Britain
- 1.5 Japan
- 1.6 Italy
- 1.7 France
- 1.8 Other Nations
Aces of World War II
Bong, Richard I.
Bostwick, George E.
Wetmore, Ray S.
Hartmann, Erich A.
Dolgushin, Sergei F.
Golovachev, Pavel Y.
Kozhedub, Ivan N.
- Top allied fighter ace, three times Hero of the Soviet Union
Kozhedub's first flying experience was as a teenager when he learned how to fly through the local Shostkinsk aeroclub where they flew Polikarpov U-2 (trainer versions of the PO-2) and UTI-16 (two-seat trainer version of the I-16). The "U" in the aircraft name is the Russian uchebny which means "trainer." In 1940 he joined the Soviet military and graduated from Chuhuiv Military Air School in 1941 around the time the German's began their invasion of the Soviet Union. Eager to get to the front, Kozhedub was denied a transfer, instead, his superiors recognized his knowledge and expertise around the aircraft along with his ability to teach and retained him as a pilot instructor. Ivan remained at the school for two more years instructing many pilots who would transfer to the front lines. It was during the process of teaching the student pilots that Kozhedub refined his own abilities as a pilot. Finally, in 1943 Kozhedub after several denied requests to go to the front, was granted a transfer to the 240th IAP.
Now on the front lines, Kozhedub was provided with one of the new Lavochkin La-5 fighters. In March 1943, Kozhedub flew on his first combat sortie and it would be one that he would not forget, as while focusing on one target, he developed tunnel vision and did not see two Bf 109s which descended upon him and riddled his aircraft with holes. Able to get away, Kozhedub limped his aircraft back to base where it had to be scrapped after he landed. Lessons learned here taught him that you must always look around and keep an eye on the enemy at all times. Religated to older fighters, Kozhedub did not give up and began to increase his tally score of aerial victories as the months went on. Kozhedub exercised confidence and technique and incorporated it with the experience he was gaining. Initially, he started out as part of a squadron, usually working in pairs when going after enemy aircraft, sometimes as bait and other times an attacker. Bomber escort duty was also necessary, but that didn't stop him from adding victory stars to his aircraft. Over time Kozhedub was provided with another new La-5 and several months later he was given an upgraded La-5F and then a La-5FN.
In 1944 as Kozhedub was generating a significant tally of downed enemy aircraft, he was transitioned into the new La-7, which he determined to be the best fighter aircraft in the world and held that belief even after the war. Aerial victory number 55 was especially memorable for Kozhedub, as while he and a partner were flying on patrol, they spotted an unusual aircraft which was travelling faster than what their La-7s could do. The aircraft turned out to be a German jet fighter, the Me 262 which could outrun them. Eager to attempt to shoot down the jet, Kozhedub's partner shot at the jet, spooking the pilot which caused him to turn to the left, right in front of Kozhedub. Losing enough speed in the turn, the jet was an easy target, one which Kozhedub unloaded on, knocking it out of the sky. By the time the war had ended, Kozhedub had 64 confirmed aerial victories, however, it is estimated he had over 100, many of those others were shared kills in which he gave the full credit to the other pilot rather than take it for himself.
Kozhedub was a pilot of patience, waiting until almost on top of his target before letting loose his weapons. With nose-mounted cannons in La-5, La-5FN and La-7, setting gun convergence was not necessary, yet, Kozhedub typically waited until he was within 200 - 300 meters before firing and preferred unloading on an aircraft through deflection shooting or by aiming ahead of the target while it was climbing, diving or banking left or right. In an interview with Aviation History magazine, Kozhedub stated that while he respected the courage of German aces, he did not pay much attention to them, instead, he focused on "trying to guess as soon as possible the plans and methods of my enemy, and find weak spots in his tactics."
I always felt respect for an enemy pilot whose plane I failed to down.
Describing attacking a target, Kozhedub stated, "I chose a victim and came in quite close to it. The main thing was to fire in time." However, it was important to avoid tunnel vision when following a target hence why it was important to maintain caution as "caution is all-important and you have to turn your head 360-degrees all the time", a valuable lesson he learned in his first combat sortie in 1943. "The victory belonged to those who knew their planes and weapons inside out and had the initiative."Kozhedub spent the early years of the war from 1940 to 1942 as a pilot instructor. While learning to fly always takes time (Kozhedub was required 100 hours of flight time before he was first licensed at the aeroclub) and with the Great Patriotic war heating up, many new recruits were eager to get flying and mastering skills as quickly as possible and as often as eager students tend to do,
"...young pilots often ask how they can learn to fly a fighter quickly; I came to the conclusion that the main thing is to master the technique of pilotage and firing. If a fighter pilot can control his plane automatically, he can correctly carry out a maneuver [sic], quickly approach an enemy, aim at his plane precisely and destroy him. It is also important to be resourceful in any situation."
Keeping a cool head and knowing your surroundings were critical for setting up a battle to the attacker's advantage and here, "the main thing was to attack enemy planes during turns, ascents or descents, and not to lose precious seconds..." because any second lost was an opportunity for the opponent to turn the tables and take any advantage away.
Litvyak, Lydia V.
- First female fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft
- First female ace
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak, born in 1921 in Moscow and found an early love of aviation where she enrolled in a local flying club at the age of 14. By age 15, Litvyak had performed her first solo flight. By the time she was 18, Litvyak had become a flight instructor at the Kalinin Airclub and training 45 pilots by the time the German-Soviet war broke out in 1941. By June 1941 Litvyak applied to join a military aviation unit, however, the recruiter noted that she did not have enough flight hours (1,000 total flight hours were needed) and rejected her application. Undeterred, Litvyak went to the next closest recruiting office and listed her pre-war flight time at over 1,000 hours, thus “meeting” the requirements, she was admitted into Soviet military aviation.
After military basic training, Litvyak was assigned to Marina Raskova’s female air combat unit, Air Group 122, which included three regiments, the 586th Fighter Regiment, 687th Bomber regiment along with the famous 588th Night Bomber Regiment (the Night Witches). Litvyak was assigned to the 586th Fighter regiment where she was selected to and trained on the single-seat Yakovlev Yak-1 fighter aircraft. At the time more advanced fighter aircraft such as the LaGG-3 was reserved for male pilots, whereas the female pilots were allotted the older Yak-1 aircraft.
Litvyak was not a cookie-cutter military recruit and often found ways to express her individuality, including bleaching her hair with peroxide after being required to cut it short and adding a fur collar to her standard-issued military uniform. In spite of her rebelliousness, Raskova determined that Litvyak was a “brilliant pilot with instincts and gifts no training could provide.”
Lydia Litvyak’s first opportunity to fly combat patrols started in the summer of 1942 where she and others were assigned to fly defence missions over the city of Saratov, an important city and major port on the Volga River. After a successful assignment, Litvyak and other female pilots were transferred to a male flying regiment near Stalingrad (current-day Russian: Волгогра́д, English: Volgograd). It was here on September 13, 1942, in which Litvyak was pitted in her first dogfight against Jagdgeschwader 53, one of Germany’s most lethal fighter units at the time. It was during this event in which Litvyak shot down her first two enemy aircraft, a Ju 88 bomber and a Bf 109 G-2 piloted by German 11-kill ace Erwin Meier. After Meier was allowed to meet the pilot who shot him down, he was shocked when it turned out to be Litvyak and refused to believe it was her until she explained in great detail the dogfight which lead to his being shot down. Upon realizing the truth, he offered his gold watch to Litvyak as a sign of his respect where she stated:
"I don’t accept gifts from my enemies."
This began a series of successful missions in which she proved herself as a fighter pilot and earned the respect of the other pilots. Over the next few months, Litvyak racked up several more kills both as the sole attacker and shared attacks with fellow pilots of German Ju 88 bombers, Bf 109s and a Fw 190. Opportunities for combat lessened, mostly due to the senior leadership of Litvyak’s flying regiment and so she was transferred to the 9th Guard Fighter Regiment in early January 1943. The men of this unit flew LaGG-3s and so the squadron did not have the facilities to repair the Yak-1 fighters. Coupled with this and the units upgrade to Bell P-39 Aerocobras, the female pilots with their Yaks were moved to the 73rd Guard Fighter Regiment which did have facilities to repair the Yaks. It was here with the 73rd that Litvyak was promoted to Junior Lieutenant. Due to her fierceness in the air and her proven abilities, Litvyak was selected to participate in an experiment dubbed “Okhotniki” or “free-hunter”, an elite aerial fighting tactic which allowed specific pilots to fly in pairs, hunting the skies for enemy aircraft to seek and destroy at will and racked up a few more aerial victories.
In May of 1943, the German artillery was utilizing an observation balloon to report the location of Soviet soldiers, snipers and equipment to German artillery crews on the ground with great success. Attempts were made to destroy the balloon, however, all Soviet fighter attacks which attempted to attack the balloon were repulsed by heavy anti-aircraft fire. Litvyak volunteered to attack the balloon but was turned down. For Litvyak, “no” meant looking for another way to get the job done. This time she approached her flight commander with a plan to fly a wide circle around the active battlefield and attack the balloon from the rear from over German-occupied territory. The plan was accepted and Litvyak took off. The plan worked flawlessly as she was able to come in from the rear of the balloon and get close enough to ignite the hydrogen-filled balloon with her tracer bullets, sending it to the ground in a crumpled heap.
August 1943 proved to be Lydia Litvyak’s final flights where on her 4th sortie of the day on August 1st escorting IL-2 attackers, her flight was attacked by German Bf 109s. Focused on attacking a Ju 88 bomber, Litvyak did not see the two Bf 109s descend on her tail. Another pilot from her flight, Ivan Borisenko recalled, “Lily just didn’t see the Messerschmitt 109s flying cover for the German Bombers. A pair of them dived on her and when she did see them she turned to meet them. Then they disappeared behind a cloud.” Borisenko last saw Litvyak’s Yak through a gap in the clouds which at that time was pouring out smoke and at that point being pursued by as many as eight Bf 109s. When an opportunity presented itself, Borisenko descended below the clouds but did not see her, a parachute or results of an explosion, however, she never returned from that mission.
Litvyak was listed as missing in action, however, the full truth is not known. There are accounts of a Yak-1 discovered near the battlefield with a female who had a fatal head wound and was buried in a village nearby, however, there are also accounts of a female pilot parachuting to safety and then captured by German forces. Also listed is an account of fellow POWs recognizing her in a POW camp. Stalin was known to state any Russians taken as POW were considered to be traitors, so it is possible if she was captured, she may have avoided returning to a hostile Soviet Union. To this day there are many speculations as to the end of Lydia Litvyak, but no definite proof.
- Aircraft flown
- Yak-1 - ‘’White 02’’
- Yak-1 - ‘’Red 32’’
- Yak-1 - ‘’Yellow 44’’
- Yak-1 - ‘’White 23’’
- Yak-1b – unknown
Lydia Litvyak, was a fearless pilot who took to the skies in her Yak-1 fighter, an underdog when compared to the German Bf 109s both in firepower and overall aircraft characteristics, never-the-less, Litvyak outperformed even some of Germany’s best. One tactic Litvyak utilised was to attack the bombers, in doing so, this would bring in the escorting Bf 109s which she would then work into a dogfight. Not all fights went in her favour as she brought back to base several heavily beat-up aircraft including one which she had to belly-land. Even when wounded, she opted to get back into a fighter and return to the melee. Litvyak also found success when hunting with a partner and teaming up on enemy aircraft brought down a number of them. It was a combination of instinct and brute force which kept Litvyak fighting even when at against all odds until the end.
Pokryshkin, Alexander I.
Zhukovsky, Sergey Y.
Plagis, Ioannis "John"
岩本 徹三 Iwamoto Tetsuzō
坂井 三郎 Sakai Saburō
- Лицар неба Іван Кожедуб. [Knight of the skies Ivan Kozhedub] (2010.). Retrieved from https://poltava.to/news/3210/
- Prominent Russians: Ivan Kozhedub. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://russiapedia.rt.com/prominent-russians/military/ivan-kozhedub/
- Bourne, Merfyn (2013). The Second World War in the Air: The story of air combat in every theatre of World War Two. Troubador Publishing Limited. 978-1-78088-677-0. p.263.
- Guttmann, J. (2000, September). Interview with Ivan Kozhedub. Aviation History.
- White, E. (2017, October 06). The Short, Daring Life of Lilya Litvyak. Retrieved from https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/10/06/short-daring-life-lilya-litvyak-white-rose-stalingrad/
- Simonovich, S. (2018). Pilot Profile: Lydia Litvyak, the World's First Female Fighter Ace. Retrieved from https://aviationoiloutlet.com/blog/lydia-litvyak-first-female-fighter-ace/
- Courtney, C. (2018, October 06). The First Female Flying Ace: Lydia Litvyak. Retrieved from https://disciplesofflight.com/first-female-ace-lydia-litvyak/
- Chen, C. P. (n.d.). Lydia Litvyak. Retrieved from https://ww2db.com/person_bio.php?person_id=433
- Thompson, B. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.badassoftheweek.com/litvyak.html