Belgorod Battle
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26 March 1944: A Black Day for the 3 IAK

This article was written ca. 2005

The 3rd Fighter Air Corps (IAK), consisting of the 278 and 264 Fighter Air Divisions (IAD) under the command of General-Mayor Yevgeniya Savitsky, fought the German aviation in the Crimea starting from February 1944 with variable success. In spite of the growing number of shot down enemy aircraft in the accounts of the aces of the 3 IAK and the successfully performed missions on escorting and patrolling, the German fighters kept air supremacy. That can clearly be seen from the increasing losses of the corps in air combat. One of the black days for the 3 IAK was the 26 March 1944, when attacks from German fighters killed five of the corps pilots, including three famous aces: chief air gunner in service of the 291 IAP Kapitan Aleksandr Lavrenov (26 personal victories and 3 in a group , that same day was signed a decree which conferred on Lavrenov the title of Hero of the Soviet Union), commander of the 274 IAP Mayor Nikolai Volkhov (13 personal and 6 in a group), Starshiy Leytenant Nikolai Andryushchenko the deputy squadron commander of the 43 IAP (11 personal and 3 in a group).

Let’s try to understand in detail what happened that day, on the basis of documentary evidence:
In readiness first for combat missions in the 3 IAK were the pilots of the 274, 15 and 43 IAP, all elements of the 278 IAD and 291 IAP from 265 IAD. In the morning the group began to go on patrol in the Sivash region, where there was active crossing of Soviet troops. The German aviation tried to disrupt the crossing by sending Ju 87 dive bombers and FW 190 fighter bombers under escort of Bf 109. The only German Jagdgruppe then based in the Crimea was the II./JG52. In the flight book of Leutenant Walter Wolfrum (5./JG52), who on this day claimed to shoot down 4 Soviet Yak fighters, are listed three flights on escorting Ju 87 and sweeps in the Sivash region.

Here’s how it is described in the events of the daily reports of the 278 IAD. (The time difference between the Soviet and German times - 2 hours, the Soviet ahead with behind in brackets M.T. - time in Soviet documents, B.T. - The time in German documents).
The first at 11:02 (M.T.) flew 3 Yak-1 and 3 Yak-9 from 15 IAP, led by squadron commander Kapitan Vlasov, at 11:15 (M.T.) in the Sivash region were attacked by 6 Bf-109. In the ensuing dogfight, the Yak-9 number 0559 of Mladshiy Leytenant Krivobok was damaged, but he managed to make an emergency landing in the region south of Dalniy. Yak-1 number 01112 of Mladshiy Leytenant Rudyk was destroyed (wiped out) on landing as the machine cart wheeled south of Blagoveschenka. Yak-9 number 1023 of Mladshiy Leytenant Ivan Dmitriev did not return from this battle and is still listed as missing. If we compare the time and place of this battle, then the victories are recorded to the already mentioned Leutenant Walter Wolfrum and Feldwebel Peter Düttmann (5./JG52), who each claimed a Yak at 9:16 and 9:23 (B.T.). The Soviet pilots did not claim a victory. The remainder of the group landed at the airfield at 12:02 (M.T.).

Then, with a difference of 8 minutes on patrol took off two further groups, the first of four Yak-1 from the 15 IAP, lead by Kapitan Vlasov. Take-off was at 15:20 (M.T.) and already at 16:05 arrival above Sivash. The group once again came under attack of two Bf 109 at 4000 meters. As a result, there were hit 2 Yak-1: number 22156 of Mladshiy Leytenant Yashin, which lasted up to the airfield and number 17148, leading the group Kapitan Vlasov, who was wounded, but managed to make an emergency landing in the region of Zentyup-1. The second group was the group of Kapitan Lavrenov. At 15:28 (M.T.), the group consisting of eight Yak-1 and Yak-9 aircraft under the command of Kapitan Lavrenov on the signal from the Command Post into zone #4. At 16:05 (M.T.) at a height of 3500 meters, they met 4 Bf-109, which attacked a Yak-1 and then with a dive went to their territory. The group struck composed of 4 aircraft under the command of Lavrenov attacked (unsuccessfully), having thus lost altitude. The group began to gain altitude over the battlefield, losing speed and this time from out of the sun was attacked by two Bf 109. One of these shot at a distance of 50 meters with one long quarter burst: Kapitan Lavrenov fell into the water 3 kilometers south-east of the Chuchak region. Strangely enough the Germans in these two battles recorded only one claim of Leutnant Wulfrum - a Yak at 14:02(B.T.).

At 15:20(M.T.) another group of Yaks of the 274 IAP took the opportunity to attack FW-190’s from SG2 which travelled without fighter escort. Unfortunately, the German pilots either had already bombed or were able to quickly get rid of the bombs and entered into air combat, which ended in 2:1 in their favor: For one claim by Leytenant Klopov in the region of Samay, they shot down two Yak-9 from the 274 IAP: Number 1043 of Leytenant Stepochkin who was shot down, the pilot left the burning machine with a parachute and returned to his unit only on 15 April. Also hit was Yak-9 number 0498 of Mladshiy Leytenant Bakhramov, who jumped out by parachute, but was captured. He managed to return only after the liberation of Sevastopol in May 1944. The German scoring was Leutenant August Lambert, who for some unknown reason identified the shot down Yak-9s as Airacobras, the pilot of the second German claim is unknown. Also unknown are the losses of SG2 in this flight, so it is impossible to clearly identify the claim of Leytenant Klopov.

In the period from 17:40-18:00 (M.T.) several groups of Yaks from the 3 IAK tried to prevent an attack of German bombers with fighter escort in the regions of Tomashevka-Sivash-Tarkhan. The Luftwaffe fighters attacked traditionally, from the sun with height excess. Thus, they operated very actively and it was not possible to thwart the bombing. During this air battle the Yak-9 number 0395 of Starshiy Leytenant Nikolai Ananevich Andryushchenko (43 IAP) was shot down. The pilot was able to use the parachute, but was severely wounded by fire of the Soviet infantry from the ground, who took him for a German pilot. Andyushchenko died the next day in the hospital. Also shot down was Yak-1 number 46146, with Mladshiy Leytenant Viktor Grigorovskiy being killed in the cockpit. A little later, a pair of attacking Bf 109 in the region of Tarkhan shot down Yak-9 number 1050 of Mayor Nikolai Volchkov, the commander of the 274 IAP. Another Yak-1 was also hit, but the pilot managed to fly to the airfield and make an emergency landing. On such losses of pilots the 3 IAK was able to answer with just one shot down Bf 109G-6 Wknr 410680 that was hit in an air battle, and Oberleutnant Fritz Bilfinger was injured after an emergency landing in his territory.

Rank Fname Lname Unit JG Type Location Time
Ltn. Walter Wolfrum 5. JG 52 Jak-7 47 773: 1000m 09:16
Fhj.Fw. Peter Düttmann 5. JG 52 Jak-1 47 733: 4000m 09:23
Ltn. August Lambert Stab II. SG 2 P-39 46 211 4000m 13:25
Ltn. Walter Wolfrum 5. JG 52 Jak-9 47 784: 3500m 14:02
Ltn. Walter Wolfrum 5. JG 52 Jak-1 47 741: 3000m 15:47
Ltn. Heinrich Sturm 4. JG 52 Jak-1 47 843: 1000m 16:00
Ltn. Walter Wolfrum 5. JG 52 Jak-1 47 741: 1800m 16:06
Fhj.Fw. Peter Düttmann 5. JG 52 Jak-1 47 743: 3500m 16:07
Fhj.Fw. Peter Düttmann 5. JG 52 Jak-1 47 771: 3300m 16:08

Table: Claims by Luftwaffe pilots in the Crimea for 26th of March, 1944: 


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