Date: 18 August 1941
Weather: Clear, Clouds at 800 meters
Today we'll be skirting past Leningrad, near the docks, and on the way to attack targets around Lisii Nos. Russian activity must be waning near the front to send a schwarm of four aircraft so far beyond the battle lines, over water, to strafe vehicles north of Leningrad. Nevertheless, the pressure must remain on the VVS. Any aircraft shotdown is one less that will pose a threat to the bombers and soldiers below. Even though this is another Jabo mission, our hunting fever remains high because we will be flying so close to the great city of Leningrad. Surely, we will find "game" to catch.
Today, none other than the Staffelkapitain of 1st Staffel will be leading the schwarm, Hptm. Reinhard Seiler. He is known by his nickname, "Seppel", but I won't be using it. On his machine is painted a stylized version of Mickey Mouse. However, you won't find this mouse steering a steamboat down a river, as cute and funny as that may be to children. No, this Mickey adorns the machine of Seiler, who is already a well known ace in the Geschwader.
Historical Note: Reinhard Seiler is be awarded the Knights Cross on 12/20/1941.
I am Oberfeldwebel's Auricht's wingman for this mission. This marks the second time that he and I will form a rotte. This is good. After our first mission together, I know what to expect from him and I hope he is confident in my abilities to protect his backside.
The sky is nearly cloudless. All three of us dutifully follow Hauptmann Seiler's lead into the skies. Above and behind us are two schwarms of Friedrichs from JG 53. We envy them because chances will be good they will encounter VVS fighters at their altitude while we continue to plod our way to the target. JG 53's fighters are about 1,000 meters above us and we remain at 2,000 meters.
The entire formation follows a course almost due North. Krasnogvardeisk is quiet. It is my personal belief the town is out of flak ammunition to throw at us. Also, the Army is upon the Russian stronghold and it is only a matter of time, likely a few days, before the town falls and the town will no longer be considered a threat to Luftwaffe planes.
My head is on a swivel, protecting Auricht's tail. Petergrof is to the west of us as land gives way to water. We are over the Gulf of Finland. There, the Leningrad docks! Just in the distance and out of the haze, I can see the dark splotches of buildings that mark the start of Leningrad. The staffelkapitain issues an order and the two rottes of the schwarm separate from one another by 500 meters. This is a more flexible formation than the schwarm and allows a quick response in the event of an attack. My fingers squeeze the stick of White 14 in anticipation.
"Indianers!" Herzl calls out a formation of enemy aircraft co-altitude with us and directly ahead over Krasnogvardeisk. Smoke exhaust pours out of the Hund's engine as he rams the thottle forward to intercept. We all think it's a group of Russian fighters. But wait, the outline of two engines on the silhouettes tell a different story. Similar to the SB raid a few days ago, we've caught another raid on its way to our airbase. The bombers aren't SB's. These aircraft have twin-tails - Pe-2's!
Herzl orders the attack. The schwarm gets ready to pounce on the attacking Russian bombers.
Historical Note: The first production MiG-3 rolled off the assembly line on December 20, 1940. By March 1941, 10 of these aircraft were coming off the production line every day. During inital testing of production aircraft was found to be inferior to the MiG-1 due to its weight increase, and fuel consumption was well over what Mikoyan and Gurevich were promised by the manufacturer (zavod No.24), but the fuel consumption was actually found to be an issue with the testing of the aircraft and the failure to take into account altitude correction. Mikoyan and Gurevich went as far as arranging for two more flights between Leningrad and Moscow to prove the MiG-3 could fly 1,000 km. However that was not the end of the issues that the MiG-3 encountered during its deployment. Several MiG-3s produced were found to have unacceptable performance at altitude due to oil and fuel pressure. It was also found that pilots attempted to fly the MiG-3 as if it were an earlier aircraft (especially the forgiving Polikarpov I-15, I-153 and I-16's) and which led to several other problems. Soon new oil and fuel pumps were introduced as well as attempts at better pilot training to familiarize them with the MiG-3. Over the next two years the MiG-3 several new changes made it into production, including up-gunning to UBS machine guns and ShVAK cannons. At the start of Operation Barbarossa, 1,200 MiG-3s had been delivered. In fact, the type claimed a pair of German Ju86. reconnaissance aircraft even before the start of hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union. Due to the conditions of battle with the German forces, the MiG-3 was forced into a low altitude and even a ground-attack role, but it was quickly found to be inferior, and withdrawn from this role. Throughout the rest of the war, Mikoyan and Gurevich continued to develop the MiG-3 along the high-altitude interceptor lines that it had originally been designed to do.[Wikipedia]
"Achtung, Indianers," Seiler calmly calls out four dots in the distance. How did he even see those specks? Blast! The Russians are above us! Those Ace of Spades fliegers throw themselves at the Russians in our "defense". Meanwhile, we pilots of JG 54 are firewalling the throttles of our Messers and vainly trying to climb before the enemy aircraft are all shot down!
Flak bursts pepper the sky. There's a ship down there! I dip the left wing to try to discern what it is. I'm not in the Kriegsmarine so I couldn't tell a U-boat from the Tirpitz. I think it might be a cruiser. It's very foolish to be venturing away from the protective flak of Leningrad. I'm sure Stukas will be paying the cruiser a visit. We are high enough that the ship's flak is only a nuisance.
A scream over the radio snaps my attention away from the cruiser/destroyer/boat below. A trail of fire paints the azure blue a fiery orange. A JG 53 Friedrich has been hit! No, the chatter of the other pilots encompass blistering accusations at the enemy. He's been rammed.
A Russian fighter sliced his wing into the hapless JG 53 aircraft, cutting it in half. The sounds and images of my propeller chomping through the tail of a Pe-2 flood my mind. Briefly, I think the taran is revenge for my actions from that ramming. I quietly watch the two halves of the burning Messer cockscrew downwards. I see the pilot bail out, but I wonder if he will survive the cold water before and if the Russians rescue him. The MiG rolls lazily onto its back and then dives vertically into the sea. It's pilot also bales out.
I catch movement out the corner of my left eye. I dip the left wing to get a better look. Against the dark blue sea, there is a splotch. Splotches can easily be nothing but dirt on the canopy glass, but I investigate. It grows larger and I see a pair of wings. A biplane?
Historical note: The Polikarpov U-2 or Po-2 served as a general-purpose biplane and was given the nickname Kukuruznik or maize. The reliable, uncomplicated and forgiving aircraft, powered by a 99 hp (74 kW) Shvetsov air-cooled radial engine, first flew in January 1928. Initially the Po-2 (it did not take this name until 1944) served as a trainer and crop-duster. It is the most produced aircraft in the history of aviation. Although entirely outclassed by contemporary aircraft, the Kukuruznik served extensively as a light ground attack and general supply aircraft. German Wehrmacht troops nicknamed the craft the Nähmaschine (sewing machine) for its rattling sound. Its low cost and easy maintenance led to a production run of over 40,000, and manufacturing of the model continued into the 1950s. The U-2 became famous as the plane used by the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, composed of all-women pilots and ground crew. The unit became notorious for its daring low-altitude night raids on German rear-area position and became known as The Night Witches. [Wikipedia]
Red stars under the wings confirm its a Russian aircraft. I open fire. The biplane is traveling slowly, forcing me to push the stick down and dive under the biplane. I feel like Baron von Richthofen fighting British Camels and French Spads. Unlike the Red Baron, I'm flying a monoplane equipped with a 1,000 horsepower engine. I yank the stick back, perform a half-roll and chase after the Russian again.
Quickly the distance closes. Too rapidly for my taste. I barely have time to place the Revi pipper on the biplane, press the triggers before I am roaring past the plane again. I see bullets tear into the wing fabric, but the Russian is still in the air. He must not have seen me the first time because now he is taking wild, evasive maneuvers. I can't hope to follow the tight turns he is making.
The second JG 53 schwarm has ventured on the Russian as well. I roll onto my back and watch the scene from above. I'm not interested in diving down in the fray and risk a collision while the JG 53 cyclists jockeying to shoot at a highly maneuverable plane flown by a skilled pilot. Messers zoom and dive down upon the biplane again and again, but the sturdy Po-2 keeps flying and dodges the attacks. Lower and lower the spectacle goes until a well aimed burst of fire sends the biplane into the sea.
I find Auricht and rejoin the rest of the staffel. Seiler has scored twice, shooting down two MiG's! A JG 53 flieger shot down the fourth and last MiG. My thoughts are on the Russian flying the biplane. He flew skillfully and with great courage. I wish he would have had time to bail out.