Home Articles Conversations with N.Golodnikov. Part One. I-16 and Hurricane

Conversations with N.Golodnikov. Part One. I-16 and Hurricane

by Andrey Suhorukov

Nikolay Gerasimovitch Golodnikov – Major-General (Ret). He was with the 2-nd Guards Fighter Regiment (GIAP) of the Northern Fleet Aviation (VVS SF) from March 1942 till the end of the war. N.G. Golodnikov is an ace with seven downed German aircraft and is decorated with many military awards.

Andrey Suhorukov had several conversations with Nikolay Gerasimovich and we are happy to propose these interviews to your attention.

Translation was kindly performed by James F. Gebhardt.

The Russion version originaly published on the www.airforce.ru web-site.


Part One. I-16 and Hurricane

N. G. Golodnikov – the student of the Ejsk Navy Pilots Flight School.
1940, photo from Golodnikov’s personal file.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, at which aviation school were you trained? On what type of aircraft?

N. G. At the I. V. Stalin Naval Aviation School in Eysk. Our course was two years. We were the first class of our school that was graduated as sergeants. Before our class the school graduated junior lieutenants. I was a sergeant while in training at the school and graduated as a sergeant. They had already taken our measurements for officer uniforms, but then an order arrived from Marshal Timoshenko stating that everyone who completed the aviation school in 1941, irrespective of the length of their course, would be graduated as a sergeant. We completed the course three days before the start of the war.

After graduation they assigned me as an instructor pilot in the school, and I did not make it to the front until March 1942. From the beginning of the war in June 1941 until March 1942 the school was relocated more than once. The last place of my service in the school was at Mozdok. On more than one occasion during my time in the aviation school I requested transfer to an active regiment. My request was finally approved in March 1942, when they assigned me as a pilot to the Red Banner Northern Fleet, to the 72d Mixed Air Regiment of the VVS KSF, which later became the 2d Guards Fighter Regiment. After the death of its commander, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union B. F. Safonov, the regiment was named after him. I fought through the entire war in this regiment.

In the regiment I sequentially served in the duty positions of pilot, senior pilot, flight commander, deputy squadron commander and, after the war, squadron commander. After the Great Patriotic War I was appointed to be the chief of aerial gunnery training of the VVS KSF, and later the senior inspector for techniques of piloting and theory of flight in the directorate of flight inspection, VVS KSF. Subsequently I attended the K. E. Voroshilov Naval Aviation Academy in Leningrad, after which I served in various command positions in naval aviation and national air defense. In short, there were few jobs I did not hold between sergeant and major general of aviation.

In aviation school, as a future air squadron cadet, I had to study the I-5 airplane. Later, from among those cadets who had flown on the I-15 bis, they selected 10 men (including me) and transferred us to a squadron that was preparing cadets on the I-16. In this squadron we trained on the I-16 type-4, -5, -10, -17 and -21, the type-21 being in short supply. In late 1941 aircraft of all types that had the M-25 engine were handed off to active formations, after first having their heavy machine gun armaments supplemented with rockets. This left us with the I-16 type-4 with the M-22 engine for training. This engine differed from the M-25 in that its propeller turned to the left and it used castor oil for lubricant.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, after completion of flight school how many total hours did you have and how many in a combat aircraft?

N. G. When I was a cadet I had something like 40—45 solo hours in a combat I-16. If you count all my flying time up to graduation, add about 60 hours on the U-2 in the aeroclub and about 5—6 flights each in the UT-1 and UT-2. Then I was in the so-called “training detachment” (before flight school), where we flew the R-5, and as a cadet I flew the UTI-4. All this adds up to about 110—120 hours. Of course, there is also the time I flew with other cadets, which is an additional 30—35 hours in the UTI-4 and combat aircraft. Unlike the other cadets, I also had 45 hours in the I-16 and here is the reason. We had a type-10 I-16 in our regiment that was unique. Apparently, after the repair and replacement of a wing it did not take well to the landing flare and at the moment of landing it literally “fell” toward its right wing. I was well aware of this idiosyncrasy, having literally “caught on” during my first flight in the aircraft. The instructor planned a full regime of flights for me in this aircraft. I was the only cadet among all the students who was allowed to fly this aircraft after another cadet did not maintain control during taxi. After this incident only the instructors and I flew this particular I-16. After the wholesale transfer of aircraft to the front, this I-16 remained in our flight. The powers that be felt it was too risky to send it to an active unit.

Our military establishment had already experienced the war of 1930—40 and therefore taught us with relative intensity.

Before graduation I completed the entire course of combat training—firing at ground targets, firing at air targets (sleeve), and aerial combat. Our class was considered to be fully prepared for combat employment. Now we had standing in front of us an accelerated class (one-year), junior lieutenants who would be graduated without “combat employment”.

By the time of my arrival in a combat regiment, I had considerable time in fighters and was also an instructor. They wore us out in “the box”! They would give the flight assignment to six cadets “in the box” and hope that they all flew their maneuvers correctly. In the flight zone each cadet would attempt to demonstrate his sharp-edged flying skill, pushing the UTI-4 to its limit. On occasion, with the permission of the flight commander, someone would have to repeat an assigned maneuver to reinforce a skill. In general, until everyone flew all their assigned maneuvers and completed all their tasks, they did not pass “go”.

On top of all this, in addition to the I-16, at the aviation school we studied the LaGG-3. We received several of this aircraft a month before the start of the war. They were not used to train cadets, only instructors. Naturally, I learned to fly it. At first the LaGGs were from the Taganrog plant, with five fuel tanks; but later they came from Tbilisi, with three fuel tanks.

I went to the front with our last group. We graduated 10 students in March and I went to the front as the senior person with five of them. We flew by Douglas [DC-3 or PS-84] to Moscow, then by Douglas to Arkhangelsk, and from there in the bomb bay of an SB to Severomorsk.

A. S. What type of I-16s did you fly in combat?

N. G. When I arrived in the north and in my regiment, I immediately began to fly in the type-28 and type-29, with the M-63 engine. Although we had six type-29s, after a bombing raid only two remained and they did not play any special role. Later we turned them over to a neighboring regiment.

A. S. What was your general impression of the I-16?

N. G. The I-16 was a complicated aircraft, demanding in piloting technique. It could fall into a spin at the slightest “overhandling” of the stick. True, one could recover quickly, whether from a simple or inverted spin. The I-16 was very agile and could execute any maneuver. I loved this fighter.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, is it true that in an I-16 one could literally “execute a spiral around a telephone pole”?

N. G. It is true that as far as horizontal maneuvers were concerned, this was a unique aircraft.

A. S. And in the vertical plane?

N. G. It depended on the type and on the engine type. The majority of types, with the M-25 engine, were fair.

A. S. It has also been said that the I-16 had an uncomfortable cockpit.

N. G. As you know, the cockpit was small. But this is because the I-16 was itself a small airplane, and the cockpit could not be enlarged.

A. S. Was the visibility poor?

N. G. It had a large nose and the engine was close to the cockpit, covering a large sector from the front. Of course, if you were going straight ahead, you could see very little. But we never taxied straight ahead, rather like a snake, constantly turning left and right. When the tail came up level during takeoff, then visibility was normal.

The aircraft in our regiment had movable canopies, but before combat we locked them in the open position. In the first place, our canopies had a large number of cross-pieces and the celluloid of the canopy was somewhat dark, causing poor visibility in itself. We also feared that the canopy would jam. If we were shot up and had to bail out, we could not jettison it.

A. S. So the canopy was made of celluloid? Was this some sort of “home-made” canopy? And didn’t it have an emergency jettison capability?

N. G. No, this canopy was factory-made. It was celluloid, not plexiglass. It moved on rails, “rearward—forward”. There was an emergency jettison capability on some aircraft and not on other aircraft.

A. S. What else can you say about the cockpit?

N. G. The control stick was a normal fighter stick, that is, it moved forward, backward, right, and left at its base. It had buttons to control fire; they were convenient and could be manipulated with one hand. There was nothing else on the stick except the gun triggers. It was a clean stick.

A. S. Was there a special heater?

N. G. There was no special provision for heating. We got a lot of heat back from the engine. Our body would not freeze, but our face would. To prevent freezing of the face we had special masks made of moleskin fur. But almost no one used this mask. It got in the way during combat.

A. S. Did the I-16 have radios?

N.G. The I-16 had a radio beginning with the type-17. They were poor excuses for radios. Garbage! The circuitry was wound on some type of cardboard material. As soon as this “cardboard” got the slightest bit damp, the tuning of the circuit changed and the whole apparatus quit working. All we heard was crackling.

The throat microphones were such large, uncomfortable shapes that made our necks sore.

Command and control of a group in the air was accomplished by maneuvering one’s aircraft (for example, rocking the wings), by hand signals, fingers, pointing to one’s head, and so on. Let’s say I showed two fingers and then swept my arm to the right—this would mean “pair to the right”. Every facial expression and gesture carried some special meaning.

A. S. Did you have an armored seat and bullet-proof glass?

N. G. We did not have bullet-proof glass. Our front windscreen was ordinary plexiglass. In a frontal attack we were covered by the engine. This was one of the strong points of the I-16. It was very good in a frontal attack. The I-16 had an armored seat with a head protector. It was effective and could stop small arms projectiles. Cannon and heavy machine gun projectiles, of course, penetrated right through it. But it was not designed to stop them.

A. S. Did it have an artificial horizon? Radio compass?

N. G. It had neither a radio compass nor a horizon indicator. We had the “Pioneer” instrument. This contained an arrow that showed the “turn and slide” and a ball that showed a right or left bank. The attitude of the aircraft in the air could be determined by the combined position of these indicators on the scales provided. This was a reliable instrument. There were other instruments in the instrument panel of the I-16. It was well-equipped.

A. S. Do you have any comments on the “mechanics” of the wing?

N. G. Beginning with the type-17 the I-16 had retractable flaps that were deployed by hand. But in aviation school we cadets did not use them. They were rigidly secured. At the front, on type-28s and -29s, we also did not experience any need of these flaps. They were also rigidly secured.

The landing gear were raised and lowered mechanically, rope-operated by hand crank, without hydraulic assist, 43 turns. Sometimes, when we were in a hurry, especially when we were short on fuel, there was no time to crank down the gear. Therefore each of us kept a pair of pliers in the cockpit. We would cut the cable and the gear would fall of its own weight, then a “left roll, right roll” or some sharp maneuver to get the gear to lock, and we could land normally.

The brakes were foot-operated with special pedals. Normal brakes.

A. S. Was the I-16 equipped with oxygen equipment?

N. G. It was. When we flew above 5,000 meters, in accordance with instructions it was recommended to use the oxygen mask. This equipment was reliable. It supplied pure oxygen. The flow level could be regulated by a valve. If you felt yourself breathing heavily, you could turn up the flow. We had an oxygen mask; then they made a kind of mouthpiece that we grasped in our teeth. However, relative to the overall number of sorties, we seldom flew above 5,000 meters.

A. S. What kind of sight did you have?

N. G. We had two sights. The first was a long, optical sight [scope]. I don’t remember what it was called. The sight tube passed through the windscreen and it had crosshairs in it. On this tube was mounted a second, not large collimator sight.

A. S. Did these sights permit normal precise aiming?

N. G. In our regiment we commenced firing at ranges of 70—50 meters, when we could see the rivets. One could not miss with either sight at that range. We never fired from beyond 200 meters. It was too far.

A. S. What kind of armaments did you have?

N. G. We had various weapons. Cannons were mounted on type-28s and -29s, machine guns on type-10s, -17s, and -21s. Berezin [12.7mm] machine guns and ShVAKs [20mm] could be interchanged on some fighters.

We mounted ShKASs [7.62mm] in the wings, sometimes two in each wing and sometimes one. This was on old types, -4 and -5. These were very rapid firing machine guns and not very reliable. They had frequent stoppages. They were susceptible to dust. During the firing of a long burst they gave a tolerable dispersion. But we rarely fired in long bursts, rather primarily in short bursts, to range and then destroy the target. The destructive power of the ShKAS was not great. They were suitable to use against a Bf-109E, which was insufficiently armored. But the ShKAS was weak against an F model or a bomber.

The type-10 had two Berezin heavy machine guns, synchronized to fire through the propeller. These were good machine guns, powerful and reliable.

The ShVAK cannon was very powerful. Although the cannon-armed I-16 was heavier than normal, just the same it was good. Sometimes the ShVAK experienced stoppages, but this was the fault of poor maintenance. As soon as our armorers were taught to service this weapon properly, it worked very reliably. The ShVAK had a powerful high explosive round. If it exploded in the engine compartment, it scrambled everything in there. An armor-piercing round was also available. We loaded the belt with both types—two high explosive rounds and an armor-piercing round or, conversely, two armor-piercing rounds and a high explosive round. It depended on the type of target. The armor-piercing round was a conventional steel shot, without tracer. The high explosive round had a tracer element.

A. S. Were rockets mounted on the I-16?

N. G. They were. 57 and 82mm, primarily 57mm. Two were mounted under each wing. These were not a precision weapon, especially the 57mm. But if someone fired a salvo at a group of bombers, the group lost its formation as the targets dispersed in various directions. It was a sight to behold.

A. S. Did the warheads have proximity fuses?

N. G. For the most part, yes.

A. S. Did you hang bombs?

N. G. Rarely. But two 50kg bombs per wing. For the most part we all flew with rockets mounted. The two were never combined. Either rockets or bombs, but never both.

A. S. Were there problems with the engine?

N. G. The engines on the I-16 were good, very reliable. Two or three cylinders could be damaged and it would still bring us home. Now the “-63” engine, it was a “beast”! Very robust! The I-16 in general responded quickly to the throttle and would rapidly acquire speed. This is especially true with the “-63”. It worked well at all altitudes.

A. S. Was there a special high-output regime?

N. G. No. Simply “full throttle”. Everything depended on the pilot, how he employed the engine. How he evaluated the situation and exercised throttle control.

A. S. What was the altitude capability of this engine?

N. G. 6—7 thousand meters was its limit. But we practically never fought at these altitudes. We tried to conduct battle lower, at 1—2 thousand. The Germans, although they did not fly particularly high, tried to hold us at 4—5 thousand. At this altitude the “Messer’s” engine was operating more within its design parameters.

A. S. What about fuel expenditure?

N. G. The I-16 consumed its fuel rapidly, in 40—45 minutes, and in combat perhaps in 25—30 minutes.

A. S. Did the I-16 have a variable-pitch propeller?

N. G. On type-28s and type-29s. But, you know, we were somewhat skeptical regarding it. The VISh [variable-pitch propeller] was good for heavier aircraft. On the I-16, either because of the opinions of the airmen or for still other reasons, the capabilities of this system were rarely employed. It was controlled by rods, by a special hand lever. Before we began an aerial engagement we reduced pitch and subsequently worked only the throttle. That is all there was to it.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, was the I-16 a great deal less capable than the Messerschmitt?

N. G. All the basic types of I-16, the type-10, -17, and –21, were less capable in their technical and tactical characteristics than the Bf-109E, but not by much. Of course, the older types, the -4 and -5, were not comparable.

The I-16 types -28 and -29 were superior to the Bf-109E. They were capable of the same speed and in maneuverability, in the vertical plane, the Ishak surpassed the E model.

A. S. This is strange. In any reference book you look at it says that the speed of the I-16 types -28 and -29 at 3,000 meters altitude is on the order of 440—460 kmh, and of the Bf-109E–570 kmh. And you say they are the same? And that the I-16 was superior in vertical maneuver? This is news.

N. G. It was the rare pilot who sought to fly at maximum speed in maneuver combat and even rarer was the pilot who achieved it.

In principle, the I-16 could easily and quickly attain a speed of 500 kmh. The E model was quicker, but not by much. In combat there was no practical difference in their speed. The dynamic of achieving top speed of the I-16 was explosive, especially with the M-63 engine. This was its second unique quality, after horizontal maneuverability. It could out-accelerate all other then-existing Soviet-produced fighters, even the new types. The Yak-1 was the closest to it in this capability, but even it fell somewhat behind.

The “Messer” could dive well and get away. The I-16, with its rather large nose, could not develop 530 kmh in a dive. But it must be said that in combat, if we had to disengage, them from us or we from them, we always managed to do so.

A. S. How did you disengage, with a dive or in the vertical?

N. G. As the situation permitted. One or the other.

A. S. So when Hero of the Soviet Union V. F. Golubev and Hero of the Soviet Union A. L. Ivanov write in their memoirs that the I-16 was not outclassed as a fighter until the end of 1942, then they are not lying? This is not propaganda?

N. G. They are not lying.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, how do you see the I-16 in comparison with the Bf-109F and FW-190?

N. G. I did not have occasion to fight much in the I-16, but I can relay the opinion of my comrades.

The type-28 and -29 were arguably equal to the Bf-109F, perhaps a little bit behind. The remaining I-16 types, of course, were not even close. The F model appeared in the north in large numbers in November 1942. Before that time we saw primarily the E model. The I-16 type-28 and -29 fell behind the F model in maximum speed and vertical maneuver, but surpassed the F model in horizontal maneuver and armament. The F model was very capable in vertical maneuver. If he even thought you were going to catch him, the pilot gave it more throttle and broke away.

The FW-190 appeared at approximately the same time as the Bf-109F, sometime in October 1942. It was a powerful fighter. The 190 surpassed the I-16 in every respect, perhaps, except horizontal maneuver. But by this time our Yaks and lend-lease P-40s and P-39s were arriving in large numbers.

The Bf-109G arrived in 1943 and the I-16 practically had no combat contact with them.

Personally I had about 10 combat sorties and two or three aerial combats in the I-16. Then I transitioned to the Hurricane.

A. S. On what type of Hurricanes did you train? And what type did you fly in combat?

N. G. We fought in the same aircraft in which we trained. There were no training air frames. The English of the 151st Wing transferred their Hurricanes to us and we trained on these very aircraft. These Englishmen fought well.

There were two types of Hurricanes, with 8 and 12 machine guns. There was no other difference between them. Later, aircraft began to arrive from England, in crates. It appeared that these Hurricanes had been intended for North Africa, because they were painted in desert (yellow) camouflage.

A. S. So there was no doubleseaters?

N. G. Yes, there were no doubleseaters. We had documentation in English and an English instructor. But he wasn’t much of an instructor. He sat in the cockpit and pointed things out, and not even to everyone, but only to the first group. This group then showed the rest of us. They gave us some young female translators who translated everything for us. Later it was revealed that the Englishman was a certain Major Rook and that he spoke excellent Russian. He had completed our Kachinsk Aviation School. But he spoke English during the entire training period and Russian only at the farewell banquet. At the banquet he said, “I could not [speak Russian] because I am an offical and it was forbidden.” One of our squadron commanders, Kovalenko, studied with him at aviation school. No matter how much Kovalenko tried to coax him:” Hey, why are you evading, you understand everything”, but still failed to convince him to speak [Russian].

This Rook fellow flew the I-16 one time, and climbed out drenched in sweat. “Let the Russians fly this airplane!”

Altogether we spent about five days in the transition training. We learned the general layout: “There is the engine, here is where we top off the fuel tank, there the oil” and so on. We did not go particularly deep into the airplane’s design. We talked, we sat in the cockpit, we taxied a couple of times, and then flew the airplane. I made three flights, that’s all, and I was transitioned. Like they told us, “You want to live—take a seat.” Safonov flew first. He sat in the cockpit four hours familiarizing himself with the layout and then flew the airplane. The rest of us followed him.

A. S. Was there any kind of special selection for transition?

N. G. No. We were trained by squadron.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, what was your first impression of the Hurricane?

N. G. My first impression was “Hunchback!” Such a “hunchback” cannot be a good fighter. Subsequently my first impression did not change. I was particularly alarmed by the wings. They were so thick. The wings on the Hurricane were thicker than on the Pe-2.

A. S. Was the Hurricane easier to control than the I-16?

N. G. Yes, it was simpler. I did not experience any difficulties in learning the airplane or how to fly it.

A. S. What was the cockpit like for you after the I-16—visibility, bullet-proof glass, armored seat?

N. G. The cockpit, of course, was larger than in the I-16. The visibility forward was also better. Forward visibility was very good. To the side, and especially to the rear, it was poor. The canopy reminded me of the I-16 canopy. It had many sections and slid backward. The many sections greatly hindered lateral visibility. If you looked in any direction except toward the nose, a window frame blocked your view. Initially before combat we slid the canopy open to improve visibility. Later, when we had adapted to the canopy, we left it closed so as not to lose speed. The canopy slid on two lateral rails.

The control stick was a surprise. It was like that on a bomber. The upper portion was thick and had a ring, inside of which were two buttons, switches. In order to employ all the weapons, one had to use both hands. The stick at its base moved only forward and backward, and right or left movement was accomplished at the mid-stick level, from which cables controlled the ailerons.

It had bullet-proof glass and also an armored seat. They were reliable.

A. S. Was there a special heater in the cabin?

N. G. No, the heat came from the engine.

A. S. Were there any problems with the instrument panel in the Hurricane?

N. G. Not at all. It had all the instruments, but of course in pounds and inches. But we adapted to it quickly. The instruments were laid out exactly the same as in our UT-2, which of course used the metric system of measurement. It was simple for anyone who had flown the UT-2.

We had experienced pilots who literally upon questioning, “And this instrument—what is it?” would respond, “Don’t pay it any attention. You will never need this instrument. Here you have your altitude indicator, RPMs, coolant temperature, oil pressure and temperature—that’s all you need.”

We also had a boost pressure gauge, also in pounds. Our gauge had a scale of -4 to +12. We determined the power output of the engine by the magnitude of the boost pressure.

A. S. Did it have an artificial horizon? Radio compass?

N. G. Not all aircraft had an artificial horizon. There were none in our unit. It had an instrument analogous to our Pioneer. But in the English instrument were two indicator arrows rather than an arrow and a ball like in ours. One arrow showed bank and the other turn and slip. It was a reliable instrument.

A. S. Did it have a radio?

N. G. The Hurricane had UHF [ultra-high frequency] radios, six channels. They were reliable, good sets. Both receiver and transmitter. The only negative aspect of this was that the microphone was inside the oxygen mask. The mask itself and microphone were heavy and cumbersome in combat. If you wore the mask too tight it pinched, and if you wore it too loose it would pull away during heavy g-forces. The transmitter was simplex—duplex, that is, it could be activated to send—receive with a push-to-talk switch, and also with voice. When we spoke the transmitter turned itself on and when we were silent we could listen. We could select the mode ourselves. We had a special knob in the cockpit that we could place on voice-activate or push-to-talk. In the beginning we all used the voice-activation capability. Sometimes in combat someone would curse [Russian curses], the transmitter would put this out and the pilot would stop listening and another pilot was prevented from transmitting a necessary command. Later, on all aircraft we were required to switch control of the radio set to the push-to-talk mode, on the throttle control, and we wired down the knob for voice-activation.

Because of the microphone we always had the oxygen mask on our face. The oxygen system also worked reliably.

The landing gear operated efficiently, raised hydraulically by a special lever. This same lever was used to control the flaps.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, what was your opinion of the Hurricane’s armaments?

N. G. The Hurricane had either 8 or 12 machine guns, either 4 or six in each wing. The machine gun was a Lewis 7.7mm [.303 caliber]. In reliability it was analogous to our ShKAS. Initially we experienced stoppages due to dust and dirt. It was sensitive to dust. Here is how we dealt with this problem. We plugged all the holes along the leading edge of the wing with percale [a muslin-like fabric]. When we opened fire, the percale was shot through. The guns began to work reliably. They were not particularly effective when fired at ranges of 150—300 meters.

On the initiative of B. F. Safonov, our regiment commander, the mobile aviation repair facility began a program of mounting Soviet weapons in our regiment’s Hurricanes. We had an armaments technician, Boris Sobolevskiy, who supervised this effort. We had many other smart people as well. They mounted either two ShVAK in each wing or a ShVAK [20mm] and a BK [Berezin 12.7mm]. Later the Englishman, without any special fuss, more or less pro forma, registered a complaint with us that we had made this modification without their permission and so on. Nonsense. Everyone understood that they had decided to protest just as a matter of preventing any future repercussions.

I will say that if you got close enough, the Lewis machine guns could be quite effective.

Our squadron commander was Aleksandr Andreevich Kovalenko (deceased, God took him). One of the first to receive the award Hero of the Soviet Union, he was a typical Ukrainian, contemplative and quiet. I was his wingman. I think this happened in ’42. Murmansk was under attack and six of us went up. Here is what they said to us on the radio (ground control was already working): “First [squadron]! Group of 109s!” I had a good view of the air space and transmitted to Kovalenko, “I see the 109s!” He quietly replied, “Good work. Boys, let’s go get the 109s.” Then from the ground vectoring station: “First! Group of 87s! Switch over to the 87s!” Again he quietly said, “Boys, let’s go get the 87s.” We spotted them on the approaches to Murmansk. There were about 20 of them, perhaps more. We attacked them from below at high speed. I watched as Kovalenko placed his Hurricane almost vertical and with a skid, fired up a Stuka from about 50 meters with 12 machine guns. Then as Kovalenko fell away, I also peeled off and observed how the tail of the Junkers went in one direction and the rest of the airplane in another. Kovalenko had sliced through the Junkers right in front of my eyes. “Almost all ammunition expended.” Then the ground [radio] intercept station informed us that the Germans were screaming, “We’re surrounded by Soviet fighters! They are killing us!” Along with another six fighters who went after the Messers, we shot down eight aircraft that day.

A. S. I thought it was an old wive’s tale, if I can use that expression, when during the Battle of Britain British pilots said that they cut through German aircraft with machine gun fire.

N. G. No, this could be done with Lewises, and of course also with our ShKASes. The ShKAS, in its rate of fire [approximately 1800 rounds/min], was a unique machine gun. From close range, from 50 meters, a battery of four ShKASes could cut off a wing and on occasion did. At this range, if you held the trigger and didn’t economize on the bullets, you would get some dispersion. It was possible to cut off a tail or a wing, literally to cut it off.

By the way, I had my first victory in a Hurricane. A 109. My aircraft still had English weapons. I was a wingman then, and he was attacking my pair leader but did not get there. He got between me and my leader, and I let him have it literally from a range of 20—15 meters.

A. S. How long did you fight with English machine guns?

N. G. About three months, and then they began to replace them with ours.

A. S. Did the placement of the guns in the wing cause any problems?

N. G. Did it ever! The distance between the two barrels [on each side closest to the fuselage] was about two and one-half meters. The dead zone in the dispersion of rounds between these two guns was significant.

A. S. Did you ever have Hurricanes with English cannons?

N. G. No. They began to mount English cannons on Hurricanes some time later than we did, based upon our successful experience.

A. S. Did they mount rockets on the Hurricane?

N. G. Yes, four under each wing.

A. S. Sights?

N. G. English sights. Collimator. Normal sights. I already said, we came in close and fired without any special lead.

A. S. What about the English engine, they say it was unreliable?

N. G. It was a good engine, powerful and sufficiently reliable. The engine worked very clean. It had exhaust stacks and flame suppressors, mounted like mufflers. This was very helpful because it prevented the pilot from being blinded. In this regard our own aircraft were significantly deficient.

During negative g-forces the engine choked. There was no compensating tank. This was very bad because any maneuver should be able to be executed with positive g-forces. We mastered this peculiarity quickly but, initially, in the heat of battle we forgot about it. Later, with experience, we never permitted this condition to develop. An abrupt, unanticipated lessening of g-force changes the maneuver, and in combat this is dangerous.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, didn’t you get the impression that the engine was somewhat underpowered?

N. G. This was a heavy air frame that did not glide well. The Rolls-Royce engine was good, but could not stand up to prolonged operation at maximum output. It broke down. Of course, it was a weak engine for this particular air frame.

Let me say something else about the air frame. The Hurricane had a very light tail. We were based on sandy, insufficiently packed airfields. It was mandatory that a technician or mechanic sit on the tail when we were taxiing to keep it on the ground. We even flew with a technician sitting on the tail. We had a technician named Rudenko who flew around in a circle sitting on the tail. He sat with his back forward and was unable to jump off because his hands got caught in the skin of the vertical stabilizer. He sat there until the pilot landed the aircraft. There were cases when men fell off the tail and died.

A. S. Were holes in the Hurricane covered with percale?

N. G. We used percale on the fuselage and very thin duraluminum on the vertical stabilizer and wings.

A. S. Was there a special high-output regime? In the handbooks it is written that there was some kind of switch that permitted the pilot to increase the engine power sharply for a brief period of time.

N. G. We did not have such a device. We simply used the throttle to control RPMs. As I said, these aircraft were manufactured for use in North Africa, and perhaps were not the latest models. Perhaps on later models such capability existed.

A. S. How much fuel did you carry?

N. G. Sufficient for one hour twenty or thirty minutes.

A. S. Was the Hurricane engine capable of more altitude than the I-16 engine?

N.G. I wouldn’t say so. It was the same. The engine was not high-altitude.

A.S. What about propeller?

N. G. It was interesting. We had a variable pitch propeller, but with wooden blades. We changed the pitch manually with levers and rods. It was not difficult. We had one propeller technician for every four aircraft in the squadrons.

A. S. Nikilay Gerasimovich, what was it like to fly the Hurricane after the I-16? Better, worse?

N. G. One had to become accustomed to flying in the Hurricane. I liked the I-16 more. Though, in principle, the Hurricane was approximately the same as the -10, -17, and -21 types of the I-16. But if I had never seen a Hurricane, I wouldn’t miss it.

A. S. Marshal G. V. Zimin, on one of the first to master the Hurricane, wrote in his memoirs that “fighting in a Hurricane was the same as fighting astride a pterodactyl.” It was unique, he said, from an aerodynamic point of view. The airplane did not accumulate speed in a dive and momentarily lost carburetion. Is this a propagandistic putdown?

N. G. He is correct. Precisely a pterodactyl. It had a very thick profile and poor acceleration characteristics. At maximum speed it was somewhat faster than an I-16. But until it had attained this speed, many things could happen. It was not slow in responding to the control stick, but everything happened smoothly, in its own time. In the I-16, if you moved the stick, the airplane inverted right now. With this beast, it would roll over very slowly.

It had good lifting strength and could therefore equal the I-16 in rate of climb.

It was very good in horizontal maneuverability. If four Hurricanes established a circle, it was impossible to break out of it. No Germans could break into the circle either.

It was very poor in vertical maneuver, the thick profile. Primarily we tried to conduct battle in the horizontal and avoid the vertical plane.

The Hurricane had a short take-off run, again because of the thick wing.

In its technical and tactical characteristics the Hurricane was somewhat behind the Messerschmitt Bf-109E, primarily in the vertical. It was not inferior in the least in the horizontal. When the Bf-109F arrived, the Hurricane was well outclassed but continued to contest the skies.

The Hurricane burned rapidly and completely, like a match. The percale covering.

A. S. Did the I-16 burn more readily? It also was percale-covered.

N. G. Worse. The I-16’s engine was more reliable. And the little I-16, one had to hit it.

A. S. Nikolay Gerasimovich, if you had a choice, in which airplane would you prefer to fight, the I-16 or the Hurricane?

N. G. Of course in the I-16, on the type-28, which I fought. But there was no choice. I made some 20 combat sorties on the Hurricane and fought perhaps 3—4 air engagements. Then I transitioned to the P-40.

Text © Andrey Sukhorukov
Translation © James F. Gebhardt

Part Two. P-40 Kittyhawk and Tomahawk >

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