Soviet Fighters in the Sky of China Part III
by Anatolii Demin
Aviatsiia i Kosmonavtika 11.2000
translated by George M. Mellinger, Twin Cities Aero Historians

{For Russian names I have used a simplified version of the Library of Congress system; for Japanese names, the rendition common in Western literature.  Except for a very few well-known exceptions (Beijing, Chiang Kai Shek) Chinese names and places have proven very difficult.  I have been given by a friend a table for transliterating Pinyan phonetics into Cyrillic, and have tried to work it backwards to obtain Pinyan from the Russian.  I am not confident of any success.  I ask your indulgence, and any corrections the knowledgeable may wish to give. -GMM}

                 On May 31 the Japanese executed a new attack on the aerodromes of fighters defending the capital.  The Chinese write that they had received advance information and were ready for them.  At mid day 36 fighters and 18 bombers flew against Wuhan.  Thirty-one aircraft of the Soviet volunteers took off without delay to a height of 1.5 km, becoming the main attack force.  At the same time 18 Chinese fighters from the 3rd and 4th Air Groups climbed to an altitude of 2.4 km, providing an echeloned covering detachment.  When the Japanese appeared above Wuhan the Soviet volunteers, already awaiting them, cut off their path to the east.  Fifty Soviet and Chinese fighters pursued the Japanese, who, retreating, gave a battle which lasted about 30 minutes.  In all, 14 Japanese wee shot down, and the attempted attack was foiled.  The Chinese and the Soviet pilots each lost one pilot and one aircraft.  According to Taiwanese information, 6 I-16s of the 21st squadron participated in the battle, of which aircraft No. 2107 was shot down.

                Judging by Rytov’s memoirs, concentrating the aircraft at the Hankow aerodrome began already on May 30, and was completed by early on the morning of May 31.  In all,  there were concentrated more than a hundred fighters.  After the sounding of the alarm, according to the previously devised plan the I-15s occupied an echelon at 4000 m, while the I-156s flew higher.  Even before the appearance of the bombers, one of the  groups of fighters was bounced from an altitude of 6000 m by A5Ms.  But the surprise did not help, and they were not able to engage all the fighters in battle.  After the bombers appeared, A. Zingaev’s group threw themselves upon them, and with the first attack shot down two.  The remaining bombers of the first group and the two remaining groups were not able to force their way through to the aerodrome.  The fighters chasing after them lit 14 bonfires on the ground.  Two Chinese aircraft were lost and several seriously damaged.  Rytov worried about the fate of A. Gubenko, who finally returned in his damaged aircraft and reported that he had shot down one Japanese and rammed another.

                According to the recollections of the pilot N. G. Kozlov, the encounter with a large group of A5Ms occurred about 15 to 20 km east of the aerodrome.  The Japanese attacked leaving one flight at altitude.  Following the maneuvers of his leader, Kozlov in a banking turn gave a burst at a Japanese fighter which was following K. Opasov.  In the turning carousel, this Japanese finally happened directly into the gunsights of Kozlov’s “Chizh” (I-15), but the burst went into an already burning aircraft.  A second Japanese began an attack on Kozlov.  For their part, the I-16s conducted a battle in the vertical, diving at a steep angle and hitting the Japanese and then soaring upwards, and opening fire at the moment when the Japanese was dependent on his motor, climbing through a half loop.  Mainly attacking out of the sun, the Japanese quickly lost the initiative, which gradually passed to the Chinese, as the battle dissolved into a sharp dogfight and gradually dissipated.  While departing Kozlov let off a burst at long range at a Japanese under attack by two Chizhi, and the A5M limply began turning wing over wing and tumbled out of control to the ground.

                The Japanese record that 35 A5Ms (11 from the 12th and 24 from the 13th Air Units) escorted 18 G3M2 bombers.  Poor visibility in the region of the target led to he fighters of the 13 Air Unit failing to discover the enemy, and thus the A5Ms of the 12th Unit engaged in a heroic battle against 50 fighters.  In the dogfight one Japanese and perhaps 18 Chinese were shot down, including an old, unarmed Bellanca 28/90 biplane evidently a reconnaissance aircraft.  According to other sources, participating in the battle were 31 Soviet pilots and 18 Chinese pilots (33 I-15 bis and 16 I-16).  One Chinese pilot was killed, and there is no report of deaths of our pilots on that day, but the Japanese claimed 12 victories.

                On June 5 the Guomindang government in Wuhan conducted a festive ceremony in memory of all the air heroes, Chen Huaimin and others.  At the meeting, in addition to the Guomindang authorities, attending and laying a wreath was one of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Zhou Enlai.

                In May 1938 the Guomindang government again addressed a request to the USSR for the supply on credit of new shipment of weapons and aviation equipment.  The next resolution was  issued by the Council of Ministers on May 17 authorizing the provision to China of 60 SBs and a complement of spares and armaments, an augmented  quantity of fighters was not yet approved.  But after the escalation of the struggle at Wuhan, the Chinese delegation again raised the issue of the supply of aviation equipment, and on June 17, a decision was taken to provide China with a credit for 100 I-15bis fighters.  These arrived in Lanzhou on November 10.

                By the summer of 1938 the period of the special detail expired for the first group of Soviet volunteer aviators.  They returned to the Soviet Union via the southern route leaving all their aviation equipment with the Chinese.  Unfortunately, this did not occur without loss.  On March 16, 1938 a TB-3 piloted by Guo Jiayan and Zhang Jun crashed in a mountain ravine of Imphal, according to reports, from the failure of one motor.  Flying on it were 25 Soviet volunteers, amongst whom the number of volunteer fighter pilots killed is unknown.  In October 1938 during the period of the evacuation of Wuhan by air, a C-47 burned for unknown reasons.  Twenty-two people were killed of which 19 were returning Soviet volunteers, including the fighter pilot Sokolov.  the only two survivors were the aircraft mechanics V. Korotaev and A. Galagin.  Later, yet one more C-47 crashed in the mountains.[1]  Suspecting sabotage, for which  there was every reason since 50% of the losses of Soviet aviators occurred due to accidents, the Soviet leadership categorically forbade our volunteers from using air transport without special permission.

                With the rotation of the returning aviators there arrived a new group.  Already by the spring of 1938 a group of I-16 pilots of Captain E. M. Nikolaenko (73 men, including 26 pilots) began to adopt combat lessons.  The group of Captain M. Yakushin with 10 I-15bis arrived in June 1938.

                At the meeting of the Soviet and Chinese delegations on July 22, 1938 the first conclusions were summarized  from the participation of Soviet volunteers in the Sino-Japanese war.  Considering the interaction of the Soviet and Chinese pilots, our representatives observed  that in the Chinese Air Force, alongside  pilots who were courageous and fearless, one met with members of the aircrew who not infrequently avoided fulfilling military assignments, intentionally disabled aircraft and so forth.  As an example, 23 SBs of the latest group (27 SB) wee put out of service soon after delivery to China.  The Guomindang representatives expressed deep indignation on this occasion.  Possibly from precisely this moment began the rapid cooling of relations between our volunteers and the Chinese authorities.

                There were no such reports about the fighters, but the criminal negligence of the Chinese military administration was noted: aviation suffered serious losses from untimely notification of the approach of Japanese aircraft.  The alarm signal (“timbo”) often sounded only 5-10 minutes before the Japanese flew over.  Pilots were unable to gain the necessary altitude and occupy a suitable tactical formation.  D. A. Kudymov mentioned that the signal for take-off was perpetually tardy because the air observation and warning service in Nanking operated poorly, and that pilots could take off only when the enemy was already over the city or the airfield.  The problem was made worse by the construction of the I-16’s undercarriage, which for retraction  required the pilot to give more than 40 turns of a wheel, while taking care not to hit the control cables.  In Kudymov’s memoirs there is a very dramatic description of such a procedure:

                “While the ‘little hawk’ gained altitude - before it could assume horizontal flight, it was necessary to retract the undercarriage, which requires the pilot to turn the control handle on a drum mechanism 42 times, - the enemy fighter was already approaching the airfield, and began to dive from above on my clumsy fighter.  The thought flashed through my mind - shot like a snipe taking wing! - frantically turning the drum, I gave full throttle and turned the nose of the fighter straight toward the Japanese.  Head to head!  But the enemy had already managed to give a burst from long range, about 300 meters, and I felt my little hawk shudder.

                The enemy swiftly made a steep dive under me and swooped upward.  It was clear he was turning for a new attack, striving to get on my tail... Immediately putting the airplane into level flight I strongly turned the bothersome crank.  Most important - don’t fumble, don’t get nervous.  The Japanese had just completed his turn and I had a couple of seconds before he sat on my tail.... I almost shout “Ura!” when the little hawk, like a war horse freed from the path, breaks  into a full gallop.  Undercarriage is up!  The fighter almost rises up on its tail from the sharp jump upward, and turns toward the attacking enemy...”

                The general inability to organize on the part of the Chinese delayed introduction of new airfields which would permit the dispersal of aircraft, but also did not allow them to be evacuated to less exposed airfields in the rear.

                Unfortunately, to reach a quantitative summary of the role of our fighters in the beginning stage of the war, and to identify the most successful groups and individual pilots is almost impossible for a number of reasons.  In addition to the commonplace registration of kills by foreigners to “volunteers”, according to agreements with Chinese aviation officials (and to this we will return again), the basic fact is that our pilots and the Chinese entered air battles in mixed groups, together they fought and shot down the Japanese, and together they died.  The archival information of the Chinese Aviation Committee is still unavailable to me.  In addition to this, the membership of the Soviet volunteer groups was continually changing.  In this connection, the Soviet aviation command maneuvered the fighter groups according to reconnaissance data, rebasing them from Hankow to Nanchang as reenforcements and the reverse.  Also, as a measure of the development of the aviation network, large groups splintered and were deployed as flights at small fields (at Nanchang there were two fields, a large and a small one, and later at Chengdu there were seven), which at the same time complicated the task of the Japanese bombers.  Unknown ever are the names of all the commanders of these small groups.  The Chinese write that during various periods f the war the number os Soviet fighter groups varied from two to eight, though for the largest period of time there were five.  Among the named commanders of the groups are V. M. Kurdyumov, G. M. Prokof’ev, A. S. Blagoveshchenskii, N. A. Smirnov, A. S. Zingaev, G. N. Zakharov, E. M. Nikolaenko, F. F. Zherebchenko, G. P. Kravchenko, M. N. Yakushin, S. P. Suprun, K. K. Kokkinaki, A. I. Lysunskii, S. K. Bdaitsiev, N. G. Kozlov, T. Rakhmanov, Ivanov, Bol’shakov, Baranov, etc.[2]   From memoirs it is also known that already in China at the time of the conflict were several pilots among them, N. G. Kozlov, E. Vladimirov, K. Opasov and others, transitioned from “lastochki” to “chizhi”, which also caused some confusion.  Thus in various sources we find that A. Gubenko on May 31 conducted his ramming attack in the I-15 and in the I-16.

                In the summer of 1938 the commander of fighter aviation, P. V. Rychagov was recalled to the Soviet Union together with the volunteers, and was replaced by P. F. Zhigarev.  Finally the chief aviation advisor became P. N. Anisimov.  His deputies were S. P. Suprun (fighters) and V. A. Kartakov (bombers).

                Until June 1938 the Soviet volunteers fought only on the main approaches, defending in the air the large cities of Nankin, Nanchang, and Wuhan.  But air battles with the Japanese in the south of China - in Guangdung and Guangsi provinces, an din the north in the provinces bordering Manchuria.  Here the Chinese, together with the New Hawks used other not very modern aircraft.  At the beginning of he war all combat capable fighters from the flying schools were transferred to the operational squadrons, consolidating the instructors in the 34th squadron, which defended Shanghai and Nankin for about a month.  Then the instructors returned to the flight school at Hankow and transferred three Old Hawks to the 28th squadron for the battle for Tai Yuan (Shansi Province).  In exchange the squadron commander Chen Chiguang turned over three New Hawks and was dispatched to the to Shaoguan (Guangdung) for “defense and liaison”(before the war the local aircraft factory here assembled the Hawk III, and from the end of 1937 was occupied with copying the I-15).  In the 5th Air Group all the Old Hawks were divided into two sections, one dispatched to the south to Guangdung, and the second to the north to Shansi.

                On September 21, 1937 in an air battle over Tai Yuan, Chen Chiguang was seriously wounded and made a forced landing.  Liang Dingyuan (Hawk No. 2810) was shot down.  On October 15, three Hawk IIIs of the 28th and 31st squadrons took off to bomb the Japanese positions at Gosyang (Shansi).  Pursued by the Japanese on the return flight they lost two pilots. One of the shot down Hawk IIIs, No. 8, of the 31st squadron not long before had been mobilized from one of the training schools.  After this battle, having lost all but one of their Old and New Hawks, the 28th squadron received the English Gloster Gladiator Mk.I, and in November the 31st after being decimated at Anyang was sent for retraining to the bomber school at Hankow, and was later redeployed to Yichang (Hubei Province).

                In the spring of 1938, resisting the Japanese offensive the Chinese-flown I-15s were often used in the role of ground attack.  On May 20 the 17th squadron with I-15s was ordered to attack the Japanese positions near Yifeng (Henan Province), with escorts by I-16s and Hawk IIIs.  However, before take-off the I-16s received information about the appearance in the air of Japanese aircraft, and the signals officer of the 3 Army ordered the I-15 group to take off earlier.  Near the target they were intercepted by the Japanese and an air battle ensued.  Without protection of the I-16 group they suffered heavy losses.  I-15 No. 5883 of squadron commander Cheng Jiliu was damaged and he turned back.  Four I-15s (No.s 5905, 5909, 5903, 5910 - pilots - Zhu Jiongtiu, Tang Weiliang, Qiu Ge, Zhang Shangren) were shot down.  Two more I-15s (No.s 5901 and 5899) made forced landings among the Japanese positions, but the pilots, Hu Zuolong and Deng Zhengsi managed to hide and return to their unit.  the same day the 22nd squadron dispatched two Hawk IIIs (No.s 2201 and 2205) of the 5th Air Group to bomb Lanfeng (Henan Province).  In an air battle over the target both aircraft were shot down.

                Fierce air battles, though on a smaller scale occurred in southern China.  Urgently formed in August 1937 from instructors of the Central Bombardment Aviation School, the 32nd  squadron with antique Douglas O-2MC (similar to our R-5) was destroyed by the Japanese on August 16, in a single air attack.  The squadron was disbanded and the instructors returned to the aviation school, but the number was allocated to a second squadron organized at an airbase in Guanxi Province.  Their equipment was the American Vultee V-11 ground attack aircraft, but somehow they were counted as fighters and quickly were relocated from Liuzhou to Nan Ning for air defense of the provincial capital.  In January 1938 Japanese aircraft repeatedly conducted attacks on Nan Ning.  On one occasion five V-11 light bombers rose to intercept the Japanese and shot down two aircraft, losing their own aircraft No. 507.  The 32nd squadron was reinforced by the 34th, organized in December 1937 on the base of the local aviation school, and equipped with the obsolete American Atlas from the Guanxi Provincial Air Force.  Although their mission also included regional air defense, during attacks the pilots in the air attempted to avoid encounters with the Japanese.

                On September 15, 1937 an Air Force headquarters was organized at Gunagzhou (the provincial capital of Guangdung, in western sources usually called Canton), to which were subordinated the 28th and 29th squadrons with the Hawk III, and the 18th squadron with the Douglas O-2MC.  As early as September 21, on the occasion of a heavy air attack, four Douglases were given the order to disperse (that is “to make themselves scarce”), and fly to the northwest.  The Japanese spotted them and quickly shot down the commander of the group, Liang Guopeng and set fire to the aircraft of Liu Baosheng who baled out.  From this battle only one aviator survived, the rest perished.  After this the 18th squadron was sent back to the bomber school at Yichang to reform.

                On the morning of September 21, at the time of the massive Japanese air attack, seven Hawk IIIs of the 29th squadron, following squadron commander He Jinbeng, engaged in a heavy battle and in thirty minutes lost two aircraft (No.s 5239 and 5232).  From one of them the pilot baled out but was killed.  The middle of the same day the Japanese repeated their attack.  Five Hawks rose to battle, and No. 5231 was shot down in flames, the pilot saving himself by parachute.

                On October 7,1937 a group from the 28th and 29th squadrons shot down two Japanese.  Hawk No. 5250 of the group commander, Chen Shunnang was set afire and the pilot killed.  On this same day, during a sharp and massive attack on the railway station near Yingde, Hawk No. 2807 was shot down, one pilot made a forced landing at Shaxing, and another pilot was wounded and returned to the aerodrome.  After this battle, there remained battle worthy in the 28th squadron only a single Hawk II.  As the Taiwanese wrote “all the remaining aircraft were quantitatively and qualitatively outclassed by the Japanese, therefore they began to avoid taking part in combat”.

                At the start of 1938 the 29th squadron reequipped with the Gladiator and redeployed to Guangzhou.  The staff of the 5th Air Group was redeployed there from Hankow in February 1938  to provide the 28th and 29th squadrons with combat-experienced leadership.  The 29th squadron had already suffered heavy casualties by the time of the redeployment, having run into the Japanese at Nangxiong.  The 28th squadron with the Gladiator Mk.I was dispatched for the defense of Guangzhou on February 23, 1938.  The very next day eight Gladiators form the 29th and three from the 28th squadrons shot down two hydroplanes.  In this battle Chen Chiwei (No. 2806) was shot down and Zhou Linxiu (No. 2810) was damaged, and aircraft No.s 2902 and 2907 were damaged while returning to the airfield.  The unserviceable Gladiator No. 2909, with a pierced fuel tank, was destroyed on the aerodrome.

                In April 1938 the 14th Aviation Unit was formed in Japan for support of land operations in southern China, equipped with 12 A5M and 24 shipboard bombers.  The new air unit was quickly sent to Sangzao Island (near Macao).  On April 13 the air battle resumed anew over Guangzhou.  With combined strengths the 28th and 29th squadrons shot down 7 Japanese.  In the battle the pilot of aircraft No. 2803 was killed.  Gladiator No. 2910 was shot down and the pilot of aircraft No.s 2810 and 2812 were wounded when their aircraft were shot down.  The commander of 29 Squadron, Huang Xianrui was also wounded, and baled out by parachute.  Gladiator No. 2908 made a forced landing.

                According to Japanese sources, 6 A5Ms from the aircraft carrier Kaga participated in this battle, escorting groups of D1A and B4Y bombers.  They were intercepted by more than 20 Gladiators and Hawk IVs (they forgot that the only examples of the Hawk IV went to Argentina) from the aerodrome at Tienho.  The Japanese claimed that the A5Ms without loss destroyed 11 Chinese fighters.

                By June 1938 Japanese attacks by the 14th Air Unit on Guangzhou become more frequent.  At the same time the 15th Air Unit was sent to reinforce the 14th Air Unit, but numerous losses required that they were equipped equally with the A5M2 and the A4N1.  Due to the delays in organization, the 15th Air Unit entered combat on July 10 over Anqin, and then they included A5Ms from the aircraft carrier Soryu, stationed on the coast since April.  The old A4N1s were replaced with A5Ms only in September when the 15 Air Unit relocated to Yuan for attacks on Hankow.

                During the summer Chinese intelligence received information that off the southern coast, near Guangzhou a major landing assault was being organized.  It was decided to send there a group of our volunteers.   The redeployment took place in small groups, because the intermediate aerodrome could not manage large groups, being tiny and bounded by a marsh.  Landing there proceeded fairly well.  Only the pilot Andreev touched down far from the landing “T” and at excessive speed ran into the swamp at the edge of the runway, turned over completely , coming to rest upright on his landing gear.  Both the pilot and the airplane received “only a mild scare”.   But the adventures were not finished.  Most of the group landed at Guangzhou shortly before sunset, but Blagoveshchenskii in the last I-15 and A. G. Rytov with Colonel Zhang in a light four-seat aircraft could not make it before nightfall.  At that time the Chinese were not equipped for night take-offs or landings.  As Rytov wrote, “they simply had no idea of the concept, and flew only during the day”.  The native pilot with “Olympic” calm descended into the dark toward the glowing lights of a large city.  Barely missing collision with a large building, he turned sharply to the right and flew into a ditch.  The aircraft was destroyed but the passengers were unhurt.  Moments earlier, Blagoveshchenskii somehow had managed to spot the airfield through the darkness, but while landing he snagged his wheels on something and ended up on his nose.  It seems that in the darkness he had confused the runway with a sewage pipe.

                The Japanese intelligence agents did their job, and that night the Japanese bombed the airfield.  However, the losses were minimal - only one I-16 damaged, and several holes in the wing surfaces of N. G. Kozlov’s I-15bis.  In the morning the Chizhi, loaded with 25 kg bombs, under he escort of the Lastochki flew to bomb the port of Aomyn, at Macao, where a Japanese airbase was located.  The Japanese had timely removed their aircraft away from the attack - the airfield was empty and the group was met with fierce antiaircraft fire.   After dropping all their bombs on a nearby Japanese cruiser (like stoning an elephant), the pilots returned without loss to Guangzhou.  here they awaited the Japanese landing for a week, but the information proved false.  Leaving a portion of the group behind to reinforce the local air defenses, the rest returned to Nanchang.

                In the summer of 1938 the Japanese began a new offensive against Wuhan.  After capturing Anqin on June 12, the Japanese based there the recently organized 15 Air Unit and began to advance up the Yangtse in the direction of Wuhan.  Somewhat surprising for the Japanese, Chinese aviation became active, making 49 on the Japanese ships on the river and troops on the land.  In air battle over Anqin Lieutenants V. G. Veligurov (May 19-25) and S. A. Moskal’ (June 3) were killed.  Until the arrival of the 15th Air Unit at Anqin on July 10, the several A5Ms located there were unable to provide adequate air protection for the Japanese forces.  Mainly they escorted groups of bombers attacking Wuchang (July 12), Wuhan (July 14), Nanchang and the aerodrome at Xiaogan (July16), where two Soviet air groups were based.  Two more of our air groups were also based at Hankow.

                From July 14 to July 28 the Japanese managed to intercept only a few of the 49 Chinese air attacks.  However, sometimes the Chinese themselves unwittingly assisted the Japanese.  On June 28, 1938, when six SBs of the 2nd squadron following squadron commander Sun Tungan flew from Nanchang to bomb the Japanese ships in the neighborhood of the Madanyaosai fortress, not only did they lose contact with their escorting I-16 fighters, but they also broke their own formation.  Ultimately, only two SBs (No.s 1104 & 1103) arrived over the target, and they were attacked from all sides by the Japanese.  One SB (No.1104) was shot down in flames,  and the pilot and gunner killed; only the navigator, Qian Changsong was able to bale out.  On July 3. Senior Lieutenant A. I. Matkin and Junior Commander I. S. Bastynchuk, the crew of an SB were missing in action in an air battle near Anqin.  In addition, during 1938 three more SBs went missing - on February 17 near Beng-Pu (Sr. Lt. V. N. Fomin and Starshina[3] M. M. Rumyantsev), March 14 in the Wuhu region (Lt. P. V. Murav’yov, Lt. I. N. Kushchenko, and Voentech 2nd rank[4] M. A. Domnin), and on May 24 in an unknown location (Sr. Lt. S. A. Mursyukaev, Lt. I. P. Makarov, and Jr. Commander G. F. Lebedev).  News arrived of only one of them, Voentech Domnin, who was captured by the Japanese and executed.  There is no information about missing fighter pilots.

                Although during July the scale of resistance of Chinese aviation decreased dramatically, based on  Japanese claims, in the air over Wuhan and Nanchang there continued sharp air battles between the Japanese A5Ms escorting bombers and the Chinese interceptors.  But the Japanese write that after July 4, when the Chinese sent up 65 fighters over Nanchang against 23 A5M and 26 G3M2, and over half the defenders were destroyed, the Chinese interceptors became rare.

                The Taiwanese claim that in this battle seven I-15s of the 22nd squadron led by squadron commander Zhang Beihua shot down one A5M, whose pilot was captured.  The squadron commander himself was wounded, and baled out, and the pilot Zhang Zhichawu was killed.  Another pilot baled out and was strafed in the air.

                The toll of the July air battles was also heavy for the Soviet volunteers.  In that month 11 pilots and crew members were killed, more than 10% of the combat losses for the period 1937 to 1939.  as an aspect of the ground forces offensive the enemy extended its network of aerodromes, while the number of Chinese air warning posts decreased.  This decreased the time from the first notice to the appearance of the Japanese.  According t the recollections of N. G. Kozlov, constantly “ the pilots were assigned to the exhausting duty flight, maintained at ‘readiness number one’, sitting in their airplanes in the broiling sun, shielding their heads with their map cases.”  On July 7,1938, the first anniversary of the start of the Sino-Japanese war there was a huge air battle over Nanchang.  At the sound of the alarm, everyone took off at once, on criss-crossing paths. Lastochki, Chizhi, and Katyushi (SBs).  In this battle the Japanese adopted very strange tactics, allowing the bombers to fly in advance without protection while the fighters, in compact groups came later, falling upon the Chinese fighters as they were exiting from their attack on the bombers.  On this day four Japanese bombers and fighters were shot down.  In the first sudden attack B. Borodai, in an I-16 shot down a bomber.  In all, the volunteers lost seven aircraft, and the I-15bis of A. Gubenko and N. Kozlov were seriously damaged.  Sukhorukov was killed in the battle, Gridin baled out, Rovnin was wounded and landed back at the airfield, and E. Vladimirov turned over in a rice paddy in his damaged I-15bis.  K. Opasonv shot down a bomber early in the battle, and later baled out, but was killed in the air by the Japanese.  Three days later fishermen pulled his body out of Lake Poyanghu.  Curiously, the physician S. Belolipetskii has described his death differently: “K. Opasov shot down a Japanese aircraft and was preparing to land, but very close to the ground his aircraft suddenly went into a steep dive and crashed.  There were no signs of bullet wounds in the body, but there were bullet holes in the coverings of the control surfaces and the stabilizers.  Seemingly, the aircraft lost control at the moment when it was too low to bale out...” Perhaps his description referred to someone else. (According to defense ministry archives, Sr. Lt. K. T. Opasov, and Lieutenants V.A. Kashkarov, E. I. Sukhorukov, and S. A. Khryukov were killed on July 4,1938.  It is possible that the date in the memoirs of July 7 is in error.)

                It remains to be noted that on the eve of the battle, Opasov’s I-15bis was mounted with a new motor and a heavy caliber “Colt” machine gun in addition to the four PV-1s.  In this battle three Chinese pilots were shot down.  Afterward the group of Soviet fighters relocated to the reserve airfield at Tengsu.  After four days, N. Kozlov was shot down in flames but baled out.  Not long after, L. I. Lysunskii, the recently arrived commander of a new group was shot down.  He was killed in a night battle on September 9, crashing beyond the aerodrome runway at Henyang.

                In an air battle on July 16, Er Shitong of the 32nd squadron, which had received Gladiators in April, first shot down a Japanese.  The group lost two of the five Gladiators (No.s 3204 & 3210) which took off to intercept, the pilot of the latter baling out.  After two days five I-15s from the 8th squadron at Xiaogang (Hubei Province) were sent to Nanchang for early reaction to Japanese attacks.  In an air battle Lieutenant Huang Qiu was first shot down, and then the Japanese surrounded and destroyed the entire group of I-15s.  In the attack on Nanchang perished the leader of six A5Ms of the 15th Air Unit, M. Nango.

                It is interesting that in July the entire Chinese 4th Fighter Aviation Group relocated specifically to Nanchang as a combat reserve, and then were transferred to the training center. (Main Fighter Unit) at Liangshan (Sichuan province) “for training”.  The 21st squadron of the 4th Air Group was sent there even before July;  in September they were sent to Lanzhou for new I–16s, and at the end of November the squadron was rebased at Chengdu (Sichuan).

                The Japanese claim that Chinese fighters appeared in large numbers over Hankow once again on August 3, when bombers traveling under the escort of 21 A5Ms were intercepted by about 50 Chinese machines.  27 of them were claimed shot down, and the Japanese themselves lost three fighters.  According to Chinese sources, in all 70 Japanese aircraft participated.  In the battle, the commander of the 26th squadron, Wang Hangxun was killed in his I-16 after managing to shoot down an aircraft; in his cabin were more than 60 bullet hits.  Liu Lingci (No. 5922) also shot down a Japanese.  When his I-16 was set afire the pilot baled out.  I-16 No.5921 was shot down and No. 5920 made a forced landing.  The 26th squadron received the I-16 at Langzhou in January 1938, and participated in battle over Hankow from the end of  July.

                A major air battle occurred over Wuhan on August 12, in which forty fighters of Major E.M. Nikolaenko gave battle to 120 Japanese aircraft.  According to our information, the Soviet volunteers shot down 16 Japanese aircraft, losing five of their own machines.  According to reminiscences, I. N. Gurov was killed in this battle.  As they watched from the ground, his I-15bis gradually descended completing a series of loops, one after another.  Exiting from the last loop it struck the surface of the earth, tearing off the landing gear and damaging the propeller, and skimmed along the earth’s surface for a short distance on its belly.  Gurov sat strapped into his seat, his right arm grasping the control stick, the left on the throttle, and feet on the pedals.  In his chest were six bullets.  (According to archival information I. N. Gurov is listed as killed on August 3, 1938 together with Sr. Lt. P. S. Filippov.  Killed in air combat on August 12 wee Capt. A. P. Tikhonov, Sr. Lt. Kh. Kh. Churyakov, Lt. A. G. Maglyak, and Jr. Commanders A. P. Ivanov an P. G. Popov.  They all, except for Maglyak, are listed as buried at Nanchang.)

                On August 18, the Japanese sent three nine-aircraft flights in a massive attack on the aerodrome at Henyang.  Our SBs without loss waited out the attack in the air, although one impatient aircraft almost was hit by the bombs while making a landing approach.  In the air two Chinese Hawk pilots were killed, one was seriously wounded, and one more was killed on the ground.  On August 19, 27 Japanese bombers flying in two groups against Hankow were met by a dozen Chinese fighters and anti-aircraft fire.  Two Japanese were shot down and the bombs released from 3000-4000 m fell on an empty aerodrome, as on the eve the SBs had flown to another aerodrome at Juangxi.  During the attack of August 21, the Japanese straight away shot down two aircraft of the 12th training unit.  The new commander of the 24th squadron Li Keyuan managed to take off with his wingman, but while trying to gain height, he was shot down.

                After the Japanese in the south captured Guangzhou, an attack on the provisional capital of China began from a southerly direction.  On August 26, by order of the staff, the Air Force transferred the  7th and 8th squadrons of the 3rd Air Group, equipped with the I-15, to  the 2nd Army at Henyang (Hunan Province), and on August 29 to Nanxiong for defense against enemy air attacks the 32nd squadron with Gladiators under the command of the commander of the 3rd Air Group, Wu Ruliu.  This was observed by the Japanese and the very next day they mounted an attack.  Nine Gladiators rose against them and shot down four Japanese.  The group commander, Wu Ruliu, and another pilot were killed in the battle, three pilots baled out.  Squadron commander Zhu Jiaxun and pilot Yang Yongzhang made forced landings.  Only two aircraft of the entire squadron managed to return to base.  The Japanese claim that in this battle A5Ms from the aircraft carrier Kaga shot down 16 Gladiators, losing two aircraft of their own.

                Having borne major losses in battle, at the beginning of September the 3rd Air Group was sent by a special train to Henyang for rebuilding.  On September 6 (or 7th) on the outskirts of Henyang there was a train wreck: the special train with the pilots ran into another train (according to a different version, at an unguarded railway crossing the train ran into a truck carrying pilots).  Two pilots from the 7th squadron were seriously injured and later died, while the rest were seriously battered, and there were many injured and dead in the 8th squadron, in all twelve people were killed.  Therefore, on September 10 the Aviation Committee sent the 3rd Air Group to the training center at Liangshan for rebuilding, reinforcing it with pilots from the 28th squadron (Later redeployed to Lanzhou).  The Chinese suffered more non-combat losses later.  Thus on January 2, 1939 five pilots of the 25th squadron, returning from Chongqing to Zhichyang (Sichuan province) were killed in a flying accident.  The remaining pilots of this squadron were sent to Lanzhou for reforming, and in August 1939 they were dispersed to the 4th and 5th Air Groups.

                In 1937-1938 the Chinese tried to use other foreign volunteers in their air force besides the Soviets.  About the 14th squadron under the command of some Vincent Schmidt, and its participation in battle, we have heard in some detail in the memoirs of the volunteers.  The Chinese actually disbanded it in March 1938 for inactivity.  The Soviet bomber pilot M. T. Machin also mentions a group of French volunteers, supposedly based at Nanchang, and fought the Japanese in the Hawk.  While repulsing one of the attacks by A5Ms, in his words, they lost four machines, from which two pilots baled out.  After several days, the Japanese shot down three more, and one pilot was killed.  After this the group ceased to exist.  Machin perceived  the reason to be the significant superiority of the A5M over the Hawk.  To the comparative characteristics of the fighters battling in Chine we will return later., but according to Taiwanese information, in June 1938 in Kunming (Yunan Province) the 41st squadron was organized, and with it served French advisors-volunteers.  But their main assignment seemed to be the securing of purchase from France of the Dewoitine D.510.  At that time, when the Japanese began continuous attacks on the city, this unit practically never participated in battle and, according to Taiwanese sources, never did anything at all.  In October 1938 all the foreigners were dismissed and the 41st squadron was disbanded, At first the Dewoitine D.510s were sent to the air school, and later to the 17th squadron.

[1]Information about the transport aviation catastrophes in the memoirs in a number of cases significantly from archival data.  On August 5, 1938 in the region of Urumchi were buried the crew and ten passengers lost in the fatal crash of a Soviet military transport aircraft.  On November 1, 1938 in one of the outlying districts of the city of Hanzhong (Shansi Province), while flying from Lanzhou to Chongqing, a transport aircraft was lost under uncertain circumstances, killing 21 Soviet airmen.  On December 19.1938, near Chengdu (Shangpang settlement, Pinglu region), a Soviet military transport aircraft crashed killing 17 people including the crew and volunteers.


[2]The average Russian reader would automatically recognize a half dozen of the preceding names as famous fighter leaders, aces, and test pilots during the war against Germany.

[3]The top Soviet non-commissioned rank, equivalent to Sergeant Major.

[4]A Red Army “enlisted rank” dating to the egalitarian period when traditional ranks were abolished in favor of designations such as “Military Technician”, Korkom (Corps Commander), Divkom, etc.