Soviet Fighters in the Sky of China
by Anatolii Demin
Aviatsiia i Kosmonavtika 9.2000
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 July 7, 1937 near the Lugoutsiao old marble bridge, mentioned in the diaries of Marco Polo, there occurred a border clash between the Japanese occupiers of Manchuria and the forces of the Guomindang government., which became the start of a full-scale war.  Although the Japanese later hypocritically began to call it the “second Sino-Japanese conflict”, many historians consider this date to have been the actual beginning of the Second World War.  The pretext was laughable: During Japanese maneuvers in Manchuria a soldier vanished.  They maintained that he simply ran off in the night to some den of iniquity.  The Japanese delivered the Chinese an ultimatum that they had over the soldier, the gates of the city, and then perhaps we will find him ourselves.  Refusal of the Chinese authorities and the skirmish at the bridge, and soon the Japanese brought up their forces, began an artillery bombardment of the Chinese territory not yet occupied by them.
                Not meeting organized resistance by the Chinese forces (not infrequent were instances of outright treachery among the higher command staff of the Guomindang), the Japanese began to push deeper into China.  Beijing fell on July 28, Tientsin on July 30, then Kalgan and other cities.
                On August 13 began the battle for Shanghai.  Later the Japanese, affected by a sickness of the head, wrote that the garrison in this city encompassed significant Chinese forces.  Japanese intelligence warned that with the support of aviation from the aerodromes in the region of Nanking, the Chinese forces could in the course of several days wipe out the surrounded Japanese.  By coincidence, that very day the Aviation Committee (AK) of the Guomindang government issued order No.1 to the Chinese Air Force on conducting combat operations.  The Japanese did not have any aerodromes in the region of Shanghai, and the ground forces were at risk of remaining without aviation support.  The light aircraft carrier Hoso with ancient A2N fighters was unable to render serious opposition to the Chinese aircraft, so by August 15 they dispatched  the heavier aircraft carrier Kaga to the Chinese coast near Shanghai.
                Combat activity in the entire Chinese territory with the large scale use of aviation began on August 14, but the forces in the air were blatantly unequal.  The Japanese at this time began to receive tangible results from the government program of development and modernization of military aviation, particularly the development of their domestic aviation industry.  During the years 1935 to 1937 the Japanese procured domestically. 952, 1181, and 1511 military aircraft.  From 1937 the Japanese aviation industry drew a veil of strict secrecy and began a sharply increased production of modern military aircraft.  By 1936-1937 the Japanese had independently developed and put into series production the  twin motor bombers, Mitsubishi Ki-21 and G3M1, the reconnaissance aircraft Ki-15, shipboard bomber B5N1 and shipboard fighter A5M1 (Type 96).  Their later appearance in the sky of China in the fall of 1937 was a notable event, which at the time just did not receive attention.  At that time almost everywhere in the west the potential of Japanese aviation designers appeared very small; the Japanese aviation industry seemed capable only of copying western examples, and the military aircraft lagging behind by an entire generation.  The appearance of the A5M, the main rival of the Chinese Air Force from 1937 to1940, signified that the Japanese had a fighter equal in all regards to the best of its western contemporaries.
                Although by the start of the war the Japanese had managed to reequip only naval aviation,  and the army was still in the process of reform, it did not yet have any decisive importance.  Operating from aircraft carriers and coastal airfields, and utilizing an overwhelming superiority of numbers, Japanese naval aviation quickly secured complete dominance of the skies.  Specially valuable for the Japanese were the long distance raids by naval bombers deep into Chinese territory from bases in Japan and Taiwan.  Army aviation, limited to protection of ground units in Manchuria, quickly formed new units.  But measured by the participation of new Japanese aircraft, and also of the training of aircrews Imperial Army Aviation was more widely used in the battles in China.
                The combat potential of the Chinese Air Force opposing them was limited by the absence of an actually functioning aviation industry.  Although from the beginning of the 1930s under the condition of permanent civil war, the Guomindang gave great attention to the development of military aviation and constructed several aviation factories in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shaoguang, Nanchang, the actual results fell far short of those desired.  Aviation advisors, invited from developed European countries and the USA for rendering technical assistance, for the most part lobbied for the commercial interests of their countries.  This led to a chaotic purchase of various types of aircraft, many of which by that time were more or less obsolete.
                In 1934 China concluded a contract with the American company Curtiss-Wright for the construction at Hangzhou occupied mainly with assembling the American fighters Haw II and Hawk III.  In 1934 -1935 from the USA, the main supplier of aviation technology, China imported 213 aircraft and 94 aircraft motors, in total sum, including spare parts, 6.2 million dollars.  At the beginning of 1936 the central government of China in Shiansu Province (Its capital, Nanking became the temporary capital of China after the Japanese seizure of Manchuria) opened a wide campaign for the collection of donations to Chiang Kai Shek for the purchase of airplanes.  The activity was analogous to our ODVF {the Soviet Voluntary Society for the Air Fleet, an organization which collected donations from Soviet citizens to purchase “dedicated” aircraft, and provided flight training to thousands of Soviet youngsters. -GMM}; in this enterprise, they collected 3.5 million yuan, and of this the greatest portion was spent for the purchase of Hawk IIIs, and replacement parts for them.  A further 9 Haws were bought for the Guangdong province Air Force.  By the start of the war the aviation factories at Hangzhou and Shaoguang had managed to assemble from imported parts about 100 Hawk IIIs, and it had become the primary fighter of the Chinese Air Force.  In the summer of 1937 the air force of the Guomindang numbered about 600 combat aircraft, of which 305 were fighters, but not more than half were combat capable.
                After the reorganization of the Chinese air force in 1935-1936, independent aviation squadrons, consisting of flights from the various provinces of China were combined into several air groups, each of 3 squadrons (of 10 aircraft each).  Fighters were the 3, 4, and 5 Air Groups, and the independent 29 squadron.
                “New Hawks” (as the Chinese called the Hawk III) equipped the 4 and 5 Air Groups and also the 7 and 29 squadrons (before the war the 7 squadron still retained a number of Italian Breda Ba-27s).  The other squadrons of the 3 Air Group, the 8 and 17 were equipped respectively with the Italian Fiat CR.32 (in China there were a total of about 15), and the obsolescent American Boeing 281 (P-26).  The 5 Air Group and the Flight schools had about 50 obsolete “Old Hawk” IIs.
                On August 14, all this “International” went to war.  The Chinese pilots struggled gallantly, and according to Chinese data, during the first month of air combat, beginning on August 14, in spite of overwhelming predominance of the Japanese Air Force, shot down more than 60 aircraft inflicting tangible losses on the aggressor.  Historians in the Chinese People’s Republic claim that in 1937 during the fighting in the region Sunzyan-Shanghai the Chinese Air Force together with the ground forces shot down 230 aircraft, killing 327 Japanese airmen.  Although these figures seem obviously exaggerated (though this is usual for historians of aviation in almost every country), all the same, the honor of the Chinese fighters in the opening period of the war was great.  According to Japanese data, during the period August 14 to October 10, 1937 they lost a total of 39 aircraft, destroying 181 Chinese aircraft in the air and 140 on the ground.
                But the losses of the Chinese Air Force in the first months of the war were extraordinarily high.  Actively employed in China from September 1937 in increasing quantity, the Japanese fighter, A5M (Type 96), in its performance considerably outclassed the Hawk III, then the best fighter in the Chinese Air Force.  Most of the few air victories were attained with much Chinese blood, and the score of victories was continually not in their favor.  Already in the first air battles 2/3s of the combat aircraft were lost.  On October 10, 1937 remaining in service were only 130 combat aircraft, and by the beginning of November there remained not more than three dozen combat worthy machines.  The Chinese aircraft factories could not make up for the combat losses.  “1 Air Force Aviation Factory” in Shaoguang by the end of 1937 had assembled 12 Hawks partially from parts salvaged from destroyed aircraft.  Not solving the problem was the purchase of three dozen English Gloster Gladiators Mark I, with which the 28 squadron of the 5 Air Group began to replace their destroyed Hawk II and III from the beginning of October.1937.
                Under these conditions, the government of Chiang Kai Shek was able to count only on the wide scale help of the USSR.  And it came.  Already by August 21, a week after the Japanese invasion, China and the USSR signed a Treaty of Nonaggression and agreements on military-technical assistance.  In September 1937, long before the official apportionment in March 1938 of the first tranche of credits of 50 million dollars, there was a resolution to deliver to China on credit, 225 combat aircraft, among which were the fighters which had distinguished themselves in the skies of Spain, the I-15 (62 machines) and I-16 (93 machines), and also 8 UTI-4 trainer aircraft.  Thus began the top secret “Operation Z (Zet)”, envisaging not only the dispatch of aviation equipment, but also the tours of Soviet volunteers for participation in battle.  The Chinese delegation returned to I. V. Stalin on September 14, 1937 with such a request.  Soon the Komissar of Defense K. E. Voroshilov received an order to assemble the best volunteer aviators and send to China a squadron of I-16 fighters (31 aircraft, 101 men), and a squadron of SB bombers (31 aircraft, 153 men). {At this time a Soviet ‘eskadrilya’ consisted of 31 aircraft in 3 ‘otryady’, each otryad having 10 aircraft.  The remaining aircraft was for the commander. Two or more eskadrilii equaled a ‘brigada’.  During 1938 the ‘eskadrilya ‘ was redesignated the ’polk’- regiment, while the ‘otryad’ was redesignated as an ‘eskadrilya’.  The strength or structure did not change, only the names, though later the regiments began to organize with 4 to even 6 component squadrons, while the squadrons themselves became 15 aircraft formations-GMM}
                For fulfillment of “special government assignments” from the middle of September and through the first ten days of October, the selected fighter pilots assembled from across the country in conditions of the strictest secrecy.  Many of those who were chosen at first believed that they were headed for “the Spanish corrida”, but their long road led to “the Sino-Japanese tea ceremony”.
                Pilots sent from all districts for the Far Eastern special aviation units were inspected by “Spaniards” - Kombrigs Ya. V. Smushkevich and P. I. Pumpur. Already during the scrupulous vetting of individual preparedness, pilots of the 9 Independent Fighter Squadron {OIAE} Named For K. E. Voroshilov surmised that the selected were going to the war in Spain.  Mainly the old-timers were chosen, men who had served in the squadron since Smolensk, where at the beginning of the 1930s Ya. V. Smushkevich was Komissar of the air brigade, and also several young pilots - D. A. Kudymov, Korestelev, Bredikhin, Kuznetsov, and others.   From the 32 OIAE of the Pacific Ocean Fleet six were chosen, among them A. Z. Dushin, S. Remizov, Manuilov, and others.  On the command staff of the air group were included several test pilots among them A. N. Chernoburov.
                In October 1937 the pilots from the Far East traveled t Moscow where at the flying  brigade of the Zhukovskii Academy, the volunteers assembled from all over the country.  None of them had Spanish experience.  The pilots acquainted themselves with the basic characteristics of the Japanese fighter Type 95 (Ki-10).  By October 21, for departure to the Far East 447 men were prepared, including ground personnel, specialists in airfield maintenance, engineers, and workers for assembling the aircraft.  Changing into “civilian uniform”the volunteer pilots traveled by train to Alma-Ata.  They were accompanied to the station by Smushkevich himself, unintentionally unmasking the entire enterprise.  None the less, on the train, the pilots represented themselves as a sporting expedition.  But the “Spaniard” G. N. Zakharov, a future Hero of he Soviet Union, represented himself to the railway authorities and everyone else as the oldest of the legendary track athlete Znamenskii brothers and distributed forged autographs.
                But nothing goes without a slip-up.  On arrival at Alma-Ata it was discovered that the whole group flew only the I-15, but at the local aerodrome, waiting for them were more than 30 already assembled but unflown I-16s.  In consequence, during the course of two-three weeks waiting for a new group of pilots, it fell to Zakharov to train each of the new pilots on the I-16.  They were sent on only at the end of November.  The personnel of the I-15 squadron (99 men, of whom 39 were pilots), under the command of Captain A. S. Blagoveshchenskii, traveled to China in three groups in November, and December 1937 and January 1938.
                The first groups of I-15s and I-16s, analogous with the bombers, were ferried along the southern route Alma-Ata - Lanzhou (Gansu Province).
                Until the opening of the northern route in across Mongolia, the only alternative to the southern route was by sea, which the Chinese government decided to establish for military equipment.  For this the Chinese chartered several English steamships which delivered the weapons to Hong Kong for re-shipment to the Chinese authorities.  Eventually, Haiphong and Rangoon served as designated ports.  From their moorings, military equipment and weapons were transferred to China by motor or railroad transport.  The first two steamers with 6182 tons of military cargo departed Sevastopol in the second half of November 1937.  On board, among the motor and armored vehicles (82 T-26 tanks, 30 motors, and 568 crates of spare parts for the T-26, 30 Komintern tractors, 10 ZIS-6 trucks), various infantry and artillery weapons, were also included 20 76mm anti-aircraft guns and 40 thousand rounds for them, 207 crates with control mechanisms for them, 4 searchlight units, 2 sound locators, and aviation armaments.
                Avoiding an undesired meeting with Japanese warships, the steamships arrived satisfactorily at their appointed locations only at the end of January.  In February from China a telegram was sent to the USSR: “Cargo of the first and second ships arrived in Haiphong and Hong Kong.  Ships unloaded and beginning of transshipment or cargo to center of China.  In a few days the trans shipment should be complete...”  But the weak development of the transportation net, did not permit a high rate of delivery of military equipment to the zone of military action.  This took another 1.5 to 2 months. 
                It is natural that similar operations for delivery of aviation equipment were unacceptable.  But if the landing fields of the southern route, high altitude, of small dimensions, and ill-equipped, were poorly suited for fast bombers, for fighters they were simply dangerous, especially for the I-16 with its high landing speed.   And further, the machines were overloaded. As G. Zakharov wrote, “apart form the full load of fuel and ammunition, we had to carry what we would need in the event of a forced landing.  Hooks, rope, tent, tools, even spare parts.  In truth, every fighter was turned into a truck.
                Winter weather did its bit.  While Zakharov’s group was overnighting at Gucheng, “overnight the airfield and aircraft became snowbound, and by morning, it was impossible to fly.  There was no way to clear the landing field; the area was wild, with few people.  Then I freed two fighters as far as the runway, and in the space of 2 ½ -3 hours, taxiing one after another they wore down a rut.  Taking off from such a rut was dangerous, it is not at all like going out skiing with a rucksack on your back.  A meter to either side... and a crash!  But there was no other way out.  Eventually Zakharov flew off.  A short time later, one of the groups of I-16s was stranded for a month at Gucheng and there greeted the new year (1938) in a small clay hut.  When the blizzard subsided, in the words of mechanic V. D. Zemlyanskii, “it seemed you could only guess where the fighters were under the snow.  For clearing the airfield they mobilized a number of local inhabitants - Chinese, Uigurs, Dungans, who cut a runway through the snowy obstruction.  At the same time F. P. Polynin’s group of SB bombers at a different aerodrome, for a space of two weeks was blanketed by a sand storm.
                In his memoirs, the navigator P. T. Sobin wrote in detail how from September 1937 to June 1938 he and the pilots A. A. Skvortsov or A. Shorokhov repeatedly led groups of 10-12 fighters.  For ferrying the very first group of I-16 fighters, as  navigator for A. Shorokhov, N. I. Ishchenko was brought from a TB-3, already familiar with the route.  Ferrying the I-16 and I-15s usually proceeded along the following scenario: First the leader took off, and then circling he collected the other fighters taking off individually.  Along the route they flew in zvenos (flights - either 3 or 5 aircraft) or pairs, with the crew leader attentively watching his wingmen: no one fell behind.  On approach to the airfield, the leader dispersed the formation, the fighters formed a circle and landed individually. The intervening aerodromes, in general were located at the limits of the fighters’ range, therefore the assembly of a group after take-off proceeded very quickly and they landed directly.  Occasionally there was insufficient fuel.  The leader would land last. Then the commander critiqued the fligh and gave the pilots orders of the next leg of the journey.
                According to Sobin, during his entire time ferrying, there occurred only one occasion of losing an aircraft en route.  As a result of a malfunctioning motor, an I-16 made a forced landing in the region of Mulei (70 km east of Gucheng).During the landing the pilot received a concussion, and the damaged aircraft remained in that location until the arrival of a repair brigade.  The pilot A. Z. Dushin while flying an I-15 to Langzhou on December 25, smelled a whiff of acid in te cockpit and then the aircraft began to slip out of control.  Fortunately he managed to land successfully in a relatively level open space and save the machine.  But after repair, while taking off from the strip, the machine fell apart, and he came down again, among the rocks and  forests.
                Too often at the intermediate aerodromes aircraft nosed over on landing.  The pilots of course received light injuries, but the aircraft suffered bent propellers, damaged cowlings, motors and tails.  These aircraft were quickly repaired.
                The most serious accident happened during the ferrying of the first group.  On October 28 while landing at the Suzhou aerodrome, located in the middle of the mountains, the commander of a group of ten I-16s V. M. Kurdyumov did not note the decreased air density and increased landing speed : the rolled at the edge of the strip, turned over and burst into flames, killing the pilot.
                Unwarranted losses and delays due to meteorological conditions during ferrying resulted in the “air bridge”soon shutting down, and fighters were sent in disassembled in trucks began to travel to Hami (Sinjiang province).  For this a thousand soviet workers were sent to this region, who under difficult conditions in a very short period of time built a road through the mountains and desert.  The first trucks started down the “road of life” in April 1938, and at the end of the month the automobile convoy reached Hami.  There the fighters were assembled, flown, and then ferried by air to Lanzhou.  The entire journey took 18-20 days.  Along such a path were sent the first 62 I-15bis., and also 10 complements of aviation bombs and cartridges for all the aircraft sent on the credit account, replacement parts, POL, aerodrome and other materials, in all 2332 tons.
                From October 31, 1937 the southern route was commanded by Kombrig P. I. Pumpur.  Learning of the flying accidents in the Kurdyumov group, he changed the already set flight date for the second group of I-16s, composed, for the most part of Far Easterners : fighters from the 9 and 32 independent squadrons.  Pumpur began to train intensively the pilots for flights at maximum altitude, with landings in almost inaccessible places in the hills, and limited landings strips.  The pilot Korestelev, who nosed over on a short landing strip in the mountains was removed from flight status, and was almost returned t his unit, but his comrades displaying bravery, stood firm.  This group stood out for its preparedness.
                The group of 9 I-16s flew out from Alma-Ata at the beginning of December 1937, led by Kombrig P. I. Pumpur himself.  (Later another commander of the route, Kombrig A. Zalevskii also sometimes escorted ferrying groups in an I-15bis, which he often flew to Hami for instruction of inexperienced pilots who frequently nosed over the I-15bis  or stood it on the nose  while landing.  The single catastrophe occurred in Lanzhou on February 18, 1938, killing Lieutenant F. S. Romanov.).  The group flew to Lanzhou without special incidents.  There they turned the I-16s over to the Chinese and returned to Alma-Ata in a transport aircraft for a new group of machines.  As the volunteer D. A. Kudymov remembers, after the second successful journey Pumpur requested this group to continue in the role of ferry pilots, but then taking pity on them, let them go to war anyway.
                The group, flying on to Shanghai was led further by Chinese pilots Tun, Lo and Li, flying in the Hawk III.  Unfortunately our volunteers remembered at best distorted names of the Chinese, more like nicknames; and  in Chinese sources the family names of Soviet are not understood either, and are written in ideographs, and therefore it is practically impossible to establish for certain the interaction between Soviet and Chinese pilots in the vast majority of cases.  But in the given situation, it is known that the leaders were the new commander of the 4 Air Group Li Guidan, the commander of the 21 squadron Dun Minde, and his deputy Le Yitsin.  From the moment of arrival of this group at Shanghai were busy with the Japanese, and by the beginning of December the entire group had been deployed together with Chinese fighter units at Nanking.
                The first Chinese pilots were sent to Lanzhou for the new fighters in September 1937, long before they arrived in China.  By order of the Aviation Committee, as early as September 21, the 4 Aviation Group transferred all its remaining Hawk IIIs to the 5 Air Group, and departed to get I-16s.  The 7 and 8 squadrons of the 3 Air Group at the end of August received an order to prepare to rebase to Xian (Shansi Province) to re-equip with the I-15.  Retraining on the I-16 proceeded at Lanzhou, and on the I-15 at Xian and Xiangfan (Hubei Province).  By November 6, 35 I-16 and 4 UTI-4 had gone from Alma-Ata to China, but to the end of November, in China there were only 23 I-16s (the group of Captain G. M. Prokov’ev).  By December 1, 86 aircraft of various types were handed over to the Chinese representative in Shanghai.
                The pilots of the 4 Air Group seemed more prepared, quickly transitioning from the New Hawk to the I-16.  Already by the second half of November the first group of Chinese in the I-16 were able to return to Nanking, but during the flight hey went off course and during a forced landing a portion of the machines were wrecked, though the details are unknown.  The second group of I-16s was led by Gao Zhui-han, the commander of the 4 Air Group, who had recovered from wounds (He was the first pilot in the Chinese Air Force to shoot down a G3M2 bomber, on August 14,1937, but was wounded the next day.).  While refueling at Zhouzheyakou aerodrome (Honan Province), they were caught by some Japanese, who evidently were conducting reconnaissance.  Bombs from one of the 10 G3M2s scored a direct hit on an I-16 killing Gao Zhui-han (The first loss in an I-16, on November 21.).  The next day 11 bombers repeated the  attack, but 2 or 3 I-16s of the Kurdyumov group chased them away from the airfield and shot down one aircraft.
                Further, the Chinese, in spite of the serious situation at the front (in the first ten days of November Shanghai fell, Nanking on December 13, and Hangzhou on December 27), did not hurry with retraining.  Official training of Chinese pilots on the fighter trainers began at Langzhou only on December 3,1937.After three months 73 Chinese pilots had been prepared.  In addition to this, a number of Chinese cities (Chengdu, Suinin, Lyangshan, Laohekou, and others) opened flying and aviation-mechanical schools where Soviet aviation specialists directly participated in training national aviation cadres until 1942.  Sometimes combat pilots came to the aerodromes of the aviation schools in new or repaired aircraft.  Then they conducted demonstration air battles for the cadets, thus once G. Zakharov and A. Dushin “fought”, sharing their combat experience.  Several of the fighter pilots, among them D. a. Kudymov, during quiet  periods specially traveled to Lanzhou to teach Chinese pilots on the I-16.  In 1938 the already combat-experienced test pilot A. N. Chernoburov became head of one of these schools.
                Also, some Chinese pilots traveled to the USSR to train.  Two hundred pilots were trained in Soviet flying schools by the spring of 1938.  Soviet volunteers remembered that in China attached to them was a certain Colonel Chan who had earlier completed the Borisoglebsk flying school.  In addition to the Nationalists, the Chinese Communist party also sent cadets to study, a very large group being sent in the winter of 1937.  Chu De sent 43 men from the 8th Red Army to study aerial mastery and the acquisition of technical knowledge at the flight school at Xinziang (It was led by Sheng Shicai).  Later, beginning in 1949 this cadre became the nucleus of the air Forces of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army.  But during the Sino-Japanese war Nationalist aviation units with the I-16 and I-15 began to participate in battles only from February-March 1938.
                Our pilots began to fight literally from the first hours of arriving at the forward aerodromes.  Having lost their commander, V. Kurdyumov, the first group (including Veshkin, Demidov, V. P. Zhukotskii, P. Kazachenko, Konev, P. Panin, Panyushkin, I. G. Puntus, S. Remizov, Seleznev) entered combat as early as November 21.  In battle with 20 Japanese, 7 I-16s over Nanking shot down without loss 3 Japanese aircraft (2 Type 96 fighters and 1 bomber) The next day G. M. Prokof’ev’s group scored its first victory, in a battle 6 against 6 (I-16 against A5M) shooting down the pilot Miyazaki.  On November 24, six A5Ms escorting eight bombers damaged three of six intercepting I-16s.  The Japanese themselves asserted two victories.  According to data in the Ministry of Defense archives, on November 22, 1937 the pilot Lieutenant N. N. Nezhdanov was killed in an air battle.[1]
                On December 1 the fighters rose to battle with bombers approaching the aerodrome at Nanking.  In all, that day, during five flights, the volunteers shot down or damaged about 10 bombers and four fighters.  Two I-16s were lost, their pilots escaping by parachute.  One fighter from a malfunction of the fuel system landed in the water of a rice padddy.  The Chinese peasants pulled it out with oxen.  On December 2, over Nanking the Soviet fighter pilots Bespalov,  A. Kovrygin, Samonin, Shubich, and others in five flights without loss shot down six bombers.  On their side, the Japanese claimed that during the attack of eight Yokosuka B4Y assault aircraft with an escort of six A5Ms of the 13th Unit they shot down seven I-16s without loss.  December 3 the volunteers shot down four Japanese aircraft.  During these days, in one battle a foursome composed of Dun Minde, Khlyastych, Panyukov, and Kudymov destroyed five bombers, and in another the pilot Zhukotskii shot down 2 A5Ms.
                However, with out a commande with battle experience,and fearing the numerical superiority of the enemy, in the words of the “Chief Navigator” (this was the camouflage for the Chinese of the Group Komissar) A. G. Rytov, “They acted each on their own...The air battle... procedded without spirit, unorganized.”  According to the memoirs of D. A. Kudymov, “The Japanes hung over the city without a break... By day there would be five-six flights each.  We took off in groups of five or six aircraft against 50 bombers and 20-30 enemy fighters..  We were preserved only by impudence, quick wit, and the complete confusion in the sky, which was thick with enemy aircraft hurrying to drop their bombs on the city and clear the way for a new armada of bombers...”
                The Japanese Type 96 fighter was a surprise to our pilots, since before their departure from the USSR, they studied only the Type 95.  Continuous combat effort exhausted the pilots and losses grew.  The day Rytov flew to Nanking at the beginning of December, two were killed.[2]  The answer to the question why, after the death of V. Kurdyumov the group remained without a commander is only in the memoirs of Rytov.  It seems that the deputy commander of the group, Sizov (possibly, the name has been changed), in that very difficult situation did not wish to assume complete responsibility and categorically refused to accept command.  Interestingly, Rytov remembers three similar circumstances.  One of the pilots of this same group (identified under the pseudonym “Mashkin”), pleading indisposition, regularly avoided taking part in battle.  The doctor finding no  signs of illness, the group was of one mind that the problem was cowardice and sent him to the rear to train the Chinese.  In another group, the pilot  N., seeking an escape from battle, shot through the cockpit of his aircraft, but then conquered his fear and later fought bravely, in one battle covering and saving the pilot Baranov, and later in the Finnish war became a Hero of the Soviet Union.  In the bomber group the pilot K. shot himself in the shoulder.
                Accompanying Rytov, t in his trip to Nanking, in two SBs were Kombrig, P. V. Rychagov, HSU, who had shot down more than 20 aircraft in Spain, Captain A. S. Blagoveshchenskii, and the fighter pilot N. A. Smirnov.  According to the plan, Blagoveshchenskii was to command the I-15 squaadron, of which at the end of 1937 or beginning of 1938, three groups had been sent to China.  But suddenly it fell to him to organize the combat activity of the Nanking fighter group with the I-16.  Rychagov became the advisor for fighter aviation; there is no information about his personal participation in combat.
                Rychagov’s  Spanish experience and the command abilities of Blagoveshchenskii, gradually corrected the situation, which had resulted to a certain degree from miscalculations by the high command in Moscow: already from the fall of 1937 it was forbidden to send to war a group completely without any combat-experienced  pilots   Soon they began to conduct combat operations in a more orgnaized fashion and losses became fewer, and shot down Japanese more numerous.  One day (on February 19, according to indirect references) Blagoveshchenskii dueled one on one with the leader of a group of Japanes fighters while his followers kept away the other Japanese fighters.  The Japanese, some well-known ace, was finally was shot down, but he also managed to hit the Soviet.  The control stick was damaged, bullets hit the armored plate and tore his flight suit.  Victory in battle was a result primarily of correct tactics.  Pilots attacked formations of enemy aircraft from the rear on the sunny side, or at thinly watched locations.  It was recommended that they not go in mass formation, but in small groups from several directions.  A specially designated group was to join battle with the enemy fighters.
                Success of the Soviet volunteers quickly became the property of the world’s presses. Already by December 18, an American pilot having come to Hong Kong from the southern province of Guarngdung announced that in the sky of China were bravely fighing 50 Soviet aviators, who had shot down 11 Japanese aircraft in their first battles.  After two days the Times’ Hong Kong correspondent noted the appearance, after a long interruption of Chinese aviation, and that Russian “pilots displayed enormous courage.”
                Their first successes led to the Chinese government, as early as mid-December, to request the USSR to increase the delivery of aviation equipment.  Soon a new resolution was enacted in which it was decided to prepare and send to China without delay an additional 62 I-15s and 10 standard loads of aviation munitions.  The second group of I-15s (or I-15bis) was delivered and included in the Chinese Air Force order of battle by April 1938.  In all, bythe spring of 1938 the Chinese were sent 94 I-16, 122 I-15, 8 UTI-4, 5 UT-1 and also 62 SB, 6 TB-3, and 40 loads of munitions.
                In battle the Soviet pilots gradually gained combat experience, later used successfullyat Khalkin Gol, in Finland, and the Great Patriotic War.  At the time of the evacuation of the Chinese forces from Nanking, the pilot Zhukotskii was unable to take off with the rest of the group due to a malfunctioning motor on his I-16.  The mechanic Nikol’skii repaired the motor at the very last minute.  The Japanese soldiers approaching the aerodrome were already visible as he started the motor, and squeezed himself into the cockpit.  Together they flew off to Nanchang, landing at the nearest Aerodrome of Anquin.
                From the necessity to protect the aeerodromes from sudden attacks of Japanese aircraft, A. S. Blagoveshchenskii organized a VNOS (Air Observation Notification and Communications) service fully in accordance with Chinese realities.From morning to evening the pilots remained with their aircraft and parachutes, near the machines being serviced by the mechanics and technicians. The aircraft commande usually stood by the the command post, and the remaining machines were dispersed not far away by in chessboard order (staggered rows).  Immediately upon receiving an alarm of approaching enemy a dark blue flag appeared on the watch tower, signifying alarm.  Blagoveshchenskii usually took off first, after him the others.  At the spacious Nanchag aerodrome for economies of time the aircraft did not taxi to the starting linefor take off malong a narrow landing strip with a gravel covering, but began theri take-off runs in different  directions (like a fan) on intersecting courses.  There were no collisions.
                At that time there was no radio communication between aircraft and the ground.  Groups in battle were directed only by rocking the wings.  Signals were determined clearly on the ground beforehand.  However, as was shown by the experience of the Korean war at the beginning of the 1950s, radio communications brought no special advantage in battle to the “Chinese pilots”, “Li-Si-Tsin”, “Van-Yu-Shin”, and their friends.  For conducting radio conversations strictly in Chinese, in their document cases, together with flying maps there was inserted a crib sheet of Russian-Chinese phrases, for them to use during flight.
                A. S. Blagoveshchenskii took the initiative in organizing cooperation between the “fast” I-16 and the “maneuverable” I-15.  At the suggestion of one of the pilots he centralized firing of the machine guns, ordering the installation of the firing button on the control stick, for lightening the aircraft he had the accumulators removed from all aircraft, and he installed armor plating behid the seats on the I-15, saving hte lives of many pilots.
                The first series of I-15s sent to China were still without armor plating, even though our technicians in Spain had already begun to install hand made armor under field conditions.   Prior to departure for China, G. N. Zakharov, with his Spanish experience,  was entrusted with battling over the M. V. Frunze Central Aerodrome, to test an I-15bis  modified in light of combat experience.  In his words “The aircraft had become somewhat heavier, and  become more stable, but through this the I-15 had lost some maneuverability..  In the I-15 I could complete a turn in 8-9 seconds, in the bis it required 11-12 seconds.  None the less, in general , it was the same machine, comfortable and obedient...”  Zakharov’s opponent in this “battle” with camera guns was the combat pilot P. Agafonov, andthe factory test pilots Shevchenko, the brothers Davydov, and K. Kokkinaki also participated  in the tests.  The last of these  later conducted “combat testing” of the I-15bis in the sky of China.  The Chinese did not distinguish in documents between the I-15 and I-15bis, and it is impossible exactly to determine the number sent of “clean” I-15s and “bisy”  According to some sources, “the bisy” went in China from the middle of 1938.
                The I-16s were supplied to China in two variants - type 5 and type 10..  The Chinese sometimes called the I-16s of the latter series “I-16 III”.  The first I-16 type 10s began to be sent to China from the Spring of 1938.In the first battles was revealed the inadequate fire power of the two SkKAS wing machine guns of the I-16 type 5.  Therefore in the spring of 1938, together with the I-16 type 10 (2 wing and 2 synchronized ShKAS machine guns), in China there began to appear supplementary machine guns for rearming the I-16 type 5.  By June 14,1938 a hundred ShKASs had been sent for installing on 60 I-16s.  At the same time 2 million rounds of ammunition were supplied.  There is information that in a group of 30 I-16s sent to Langzhou on 3 August 1939 there were 10 cannon-armed {I-16 type-17 - GMM}. 
                In their memoirs the volunteers assert that writing large numbers on the sides of the aircraft for easy recognition was also the idea of Blagoveshchenskii.  The fact is, tht all the aircraft in the Chinese Air Force had analogous markings long before then.  The first two digits designated the number of he squadron, and the final two the number of the aircraft in the unit.  Only the 24 squadron was an exception, where the number was written on the I-16 very small, the size of the numbers not exceeding 30 cm.  On the tails of the machines in small script was written the four digit registration number preceeded by the letter “P-“ {This means the Western P, not a Cyrillic P -GMM}.[3]  The Chinese recognition markings were white and light blue zebra stripes on the rudder and a twelve-pointed star on a blue field on the wings and fuselage.- marked on aircraft at Langzhou even before transfer to the Chinese.  The finish remained as original, except that the black cowlings of fighters built at the Moscow factory No. 39 were repainted in “protective” color (dark green -the basic overall color -  from other sources, about fs 34102 - GMM)) .
To be continued...

[1]Archival records in a number of instances such as these need correction. Thus, with reference to their claim that one of the places of burial of V. M. Kurdyumov appears to be in Nanking, which is hardly likely (the body would not be transported across the whole of China to the front).  The buried in Nanking in 1938 numbered three Soviet aviators at most. (the city was captured by the Japanese in December 1937.  Bombardier M. A. Tarygin, killed during an attack on Taiwan on February 23,1938 (drowned through landing in the water by the Chinese crew)is listed as dying only on February 24, and the official date of death of fighter pilots killed on February 18,1938 over Wuhan appears only on February 25, and perhaps they are buried in Nanchan
[2]According to the archives of the Ministry of Defense, on December 2, 1937 killed and buried at Nanking were Sr. Lt. A. N. Burdanov, Lt. V. S. Alekseev, Lt. M. I. Andreev, Lt. A. P. Petrov, and Starshina S. G. Popov - 2 I-16 pilots and an SB crew.
[3] Later in the text we encounter aircraft numbers of both types: side nubers beginnig with th efigures”2”, “3”, and from 1940, “4”, registered on the tail beginning with the figure “5” and higher (with the letter “P” almost always omitted.

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