Saturday, September 8, 2012
Ilyushin Heavy Attack Fighter Chapter 7
One day I was summoned to regimental command post and ordered to lead a flight. I was one of only a handful of experienced pilots that were not killed or wounded.
Many considered it a suicide mission. We were to attack an anti aircraft battery. Not the troops or equipment that they were protecting but the guns themselves. Normally we tried to avoid the ack-ack for obvious reasons. I knew we had to fly around the other flack units so we had to take a broad swing over the Azov Sea. I hate to fly over water. Can’t swim and our life jackets were almost useless. Our target was another flack unit further in the rear. We were to assigned to destroy it.
We leaped over two other lines of flack units and dove on our targets and dropped our bombs then we gained altitude and came back with our cannons blazing. I saw vehicles exploding, infantry running and gun emplacements disappearing in balls of flame. Take that you bastards for everything you had done and for everything we suffered. Paniced vehicle were running over their own men in their haste to find a hiding place.
By hitting a unit so far back from the front it caught them by surprise. We made the best of it strafing again and again until we were out of bullets and bombs. Ah the destruction man can deliver to our fellow man is unnatural. Nothing but a hurricane or wild fire causes such destruction in such a concentrated area.
I looked around and my wingman was nowhere to be found. He had gone down in the marshes. We spotted them when they shot a red flare. I banked my wings and made a steep turn and indicating that I would be back and to sit tight. I marked the spot in my mind and went back to base. After landing I reported to the commander and then I got in a trusty Po-2 and headed back to the marshes and picked Zoubov and his gunner up.
He told us he had been damaged by ack-ack and then was finished off by a fighter. He admitted later that he thought I was bad luck when I first came to the regiment, but no more. “All my doubts disappeared when we saw you above us and you picked us up. I beg your pardon…most sincerely comrade.”
I was forced to go to navigation school. One of my fellow students was V. Kalougin know far and wide for ramming two bombers in two days when he ran out of ammunition. The first one he chopped off its wing with his propeller and the next day took down another by ramming its tail assembly. He of course was a legend.
One of our best weapons for killing tanks was PTABs. These were small armor piercing bombs that each Sturmovik would drop by the hundreds. Each plane could hold up to 250 of these little bomblets and they would easily go through the top armor of any tank on the battle field. We simply flew over them at low level and released the PTABs. They spewed out of their cassettes like a farmer sowing seeds, only these seeds sowed destruction for the Nazi pigs below.
I was still flying a single seater when I went away to navigation school when I came back they convinced me to fly a two seater and I had to choose a gunner. I didn’t fight the change too hard as I had a couple of close calls with fighters in my last few flights. When possible we flew wingtip to wingtip in formation and our gunners were able to repel all but the most ardent of attacking fighters. In one of my last flights I was assigned to bring up the rear in a single seater! Now does this make sense to you? Two Messers saw that I was defenseless and moved in for the kill. After avoiding two such attacks and being hit on both I decided to fly to the front of the formation where I should have been all along. Much to the flight leaders surprise I zoomed ahead of the formation for the rest of the flight. This saved my life.
When we landed I was reproofed in front of the whole squadron and my temper got the better of me. “Why, when you saw I was being attacked, did you not order the group into a defensive circle and then draw the fight over our territory?” He had no answer, as this was the obvious thing to do.
After this incident I was issued a two seater. I was given the choice of choosing my own gunner. This was never done and I was speechless. Just give me one I stammered. “Well we do have only one who is unassigned at the moment but he is kind of a queer duck.”
“I’ll take him.” I responded.
Personally I would not want to be an IL-2 gunner. It was very frightening. You sat with your back to the pilot in an open cockpit crammed against a heavy machine gun. Basically there was nothing between you and the 6 or so machine guns or cannons of an enemy fighter. You had nothing to hide behind and all the time the pilot is throwing you from side to side while you try to fight back. Imagine if your gun jammed or you ran out of ammunition. You could just watch death coming in the form of a Me 109. No I would not want to be an aerial gunner.
“He” was very young and very awkward. But what a choice I had made! I knew from the very first flight when he shot a flare at an unseen enemy fighter warning the whole flight. Yes I knew from that point on that he was going to be a good one.