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IL-2 Ground Attack pilot - A Soviet Memoir

Discussion in 'Eastern Europe' started by James Quinn, May 1, 2003.

  1. James Quinn

    James Quinn Member

    Mar 19, 2003
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    The following is a summary of the memoir of Yurii Khukhrikov, a young man who fought in WWII as an IL-2 pilot in the VVS (Soviet Air Force).

    Khukhrikov was a Muscovite from what appears to be a somewhat privileged family. He came from a family with a military tradition. His father had fought in WWI and in the Russian Civil War, eventually reaching the rank of Colonel. His uncle reached the rank of Lieutenant General during the Civil War.

    When Khukhrikov was 16 years old in 1940 he joined an aviation club and was taught to how to fly in a U-2 aircraft (a light observation bi-plane). One month after the German invasion, in July of 1941, he graduated from the club. Surprising to me Khukhrikov did not join the VVS until he graduated from a flight academy in 1943. I would have expected the enormous demand for pilots in 1941-1942 would have swept him up at a younger age.

    Following graduation Khukhrikov was assigned to work with the 566th Ground Attack Aviation Regiment under Zhora Parshin. Parshin was famous because, even though he flew an IL-2 he had become an ace by shooting down 10 enemy aircraft. The 566th GAAR, like most VVS formations, had been well worked over by the Germans. Very few pilots remained who had been with the unit in 1941. One was named Afonia Machnyi and “even he lost his mind after half a hundred sorties”. During the war 105 pilots in this regiment lost their lives. Of Khukhrikov’s class of 28 new pilots, 15 were killed.

    During the war Khukhrikov flew 84 sorties. This is extraordinary given that according to Khukhrikov the average life of an IL-2 pilot was 7-8 sorties, “such were the statistics.”

    During some of his missions Khukhrikov was escorted by the Normandie-Niemen squadron. This squadron is famous as it was made up of Free French pilots who served in the USSR during the war. As far as I know these were the only French men who served in the Red Army during the war. I believe they flew Yak fighters.

    Some of Khukhrikov’s missions were against German shipping in ports, four times he attacked enemy airfields, “That was scary business! They were well protected.” He also attacked formations of enemy armor.

    When asked if he considered enemy aircraft or anti-aircraft artillery to be the greater danger Khukhrikov answered, “AA Artillery. Of course, in the beginning of the war the fighters really made the lives of ground assault pilots difficult. But by the end of the war it was the AA we most hated. Several dozen small caliber AA guns would be deployed together and fire into the same spot. All around you would be black clouds from medium caliber AA guns. You would fly in and not know which if any of them would “kiss” you.”

    “We usually flew 50 by 30. Fifty meter intervals and 30 meters distance. When approaching the frontline we separated to 150 meter intervals and spread our planes out side by side. Then we would get into a circle above the target and start working it over. Little ones (i.e. fighters) would cover us. That was the mechanics of ground assault.”

    - How many passes would you make?

    “It depended on the situations. There could be a lot of resistance, Lord help us! Then it would only be one pass. You would use everything at once – rockets, guns and bombs. If the resistance was lighter then we would make several passes, maybe four or six.

    - What was the most vulnerable spot on the IL-2?

    “The engine. The wings were fine more or less. If a fuel tank was hit, that wasn’t bad either. Why? When we approached a target we opened carbon dioxide canisters which filled the empty space in the fuel tank. If a bullet pierced the body and hit a fuel tank the sealer would fill the hold and the fuel would not leak out, there would be no vapor and so no combustion.”

    - Was the German infantry well covered?

    “They covered themselves only in one way, concentration of AA fire. Not single guns, concentrated guns, in fours. I would sometimes count up to 40 guns, an uninterrupted steam of bullets. Small caliber AA artillery was especially dangerous.”

    - How many sorties did you fly in a day?

    “Sometimes three, but that was a lot. A lot.

    If someone tells you it wasn’t scary – they are lying. The moment of expectation was the scariest and most unpleasant. For example, the controller would say something like “1400 you will attack so and so airfield.” and then you would sit there. 1400, 1430, nothing, no order to take off. You sat in the cockpit and waited for the ground crew to reload your plane. You’re legs would shake, sometimes a real panic would start. After all, there was no guarantee that you wouldn’t be shot down that mission. Then a flair would be shot into the sky signaling it was time to take off and your panic would be turned off. There was a terrible feeling when you would approach a target and not attack it right away. They would be prepared for us then. After you started your attack, you would work, looking for targets, pushing triggers, rockets, guns, machine guns, pulling the emergency bomb release…”

    - Did you ever hit friendlies?

    “Len’ka killed 118 men at the end of the war. It wasn’t his fault, they told him before the mission, “bomb that target”. But he had to get there first. It took him maybe 30 minutes. While we were flying there, the situation changed. Our men had captured the place, but no one reported this to us. The group worked over the target. When Len’ka returned, they tore off his shoulder boards. Later when they investigated the decorations were returned to him and he went on to be Air Force Commander of the Belorussian Military District.”

    - Did you ever encounter enemy aircraft?

    “I never had to participate in a dog fight, but my rear gunner didn’t sit without work. After pulling out of an attack he would fire at ground targets.

    - Were there any cases of cowardice?

    “There were single occurrences of cowardice. There was one time when N. was leading a large group, about 20 aircraft, and he turned around before reaching the target. The entire group returned to the airfield. Court martial. They gave him seven years. But he fought well afterwards, four orders of the Red Banner. There were sly men as well. A small number, but there were some. Some would gain altitude, when we attacked they would just hang back and then descend to 1000 meters, release their bombs and get back into formation. But we had seen everything.”

    - Did you beat him up?

    “We warned him. We told him, “Sasha, you do this one more time, we’ll shoot you down ourselves!” He was disrupting our whole formation. The warning worked.

    The whole memoir can be found at the I Remember section of the Russian Battlefield’s forum:


  2. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

    Dec 19, 2000
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    Jefferson, OH
    Welcome to the Forum James. Interesting reading and a good post. Thank you. [​IMG]
  3. James Quinn

    James Quinn Member

    Mar 19, 2003
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    I'm glad you enjoyed it. If you like WWII memoirs I highly recommend the "I Remember" site. There are about 25-30 other Soviet memoirs there, each from 3-15 pages in length. Some really good stuff there. - James

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