Soviet Fighters in the Sky of China Part II
by Anatolii Demin
Aviatsiia i Kosmonavtika 10.2000
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}
Before moving on to a more detailed description of the air battles involving the participation of our fighters, and the Chinese and Japanese, it is necessary to make a small digression.  In recent times, along with the memoirs of Soviet volunteers, not only Western sources (written on the basis of Japanese) but also Chinese (both Communist and Taiwanese) sources (unfortunately not archives) have become available, for the first time presenting the possibility of comparing writings about the same air battle as told by both sides.  Not pretending to the completeness of the facts provided below, none the less, I will try, even if as a first approximation, to compare several battles in the fall of 1937, even before the appearance in China of the I-15 and I-16.  Further, such a comparison permits to a degree, calculation of the well-known “Muenchausen coefficient”, reflected in the history of air actions of all nations.
                Thus according to Japanese sources, on September 4, 1937 the first pair of new A5Ms of Lieutenant T. Nakajima from the aircraft carrier Kaga for the first time met with several Chinese Haw II and Hawk IIIs over Lake Taihu.  They shot down three Chinese fighters and returned to the Kaga undamaged.  The Japanese newspaper Ashahi Shimbun sensationally reported to its readers that yesterday a dozen A5Ms wholly successfully debuted in the capitol’s skies over Nanking, destroying without loss no fewer than 33 enemy fighters in only 15 minutes!
                On that same day a dozen A5Ms from the 13 aviation unit (“Kokutai”)[1] together with six A5Ms from Kaga under the command of Lieutenant S. Yamashita completed during the day two missions over Nanking supporting bombers.  Meeting with more than half a hundred Hawk IIIs and Boeing 281s, the Japanese claimed the destruction of 26 Chinese fighters without losing a single machine.
                On September 20 and 22 the A5Ms once again supposedly claimed four victories each day.  On September 26 the first A5M was shot down.  From October 3, for three weeks A5Ms from the 13 air unit completed 27 missions during the second “air offensive” on Nanking.  On   October 6, ten A5Ms conducted two battles in all with 23 Chinese fighters, in which they supposedly claimed ten victories without loss.  Six days later 11 Japanese fighters, for the first time under conditions of numerical superiority fought with seven Chinese and destroyed five, but three A5Ms were also shot down.  These losses testify to the inexperience of the pilots, perhaps mistaking Chinese Breda 27 fighters for their own.  On October 14, A5Ms without loss shot down two of eleven opposing Chinese aircraft.  In November activity of Chinese fighters was very limited, and for the first three weeks of November there occurred only a single air battle, on November 11, in which three A5Ms from the Kaga intercepted three Northrop 2EC ground attack aircraft attempting to attack the aircraft carrier, and shot down two of them.
                The Chinese do not give a complete list of their victories and losses, but describe the loss on September 3 of one of nine Hawk IIIs (No. 2310) of the 21st  squadron during an attack on Japanese positions near Shanghai, the death in an air battle of September 19 over Nanking of two flight commanders of the 8th  squadron - Huang Jugu and Liu Chi Huang.  On October 12 the Chinese note only one victory over an A5M - by the commander of the 24th squadron, Liu Cuigang, who became on the Hawk III, the first Chinese ace with 10 (according to Taiwanese sources -11) victories.  On that day he shot down a Japanese “shipboard fighter Type 96” the first by the Chinese Air Force.  Perhaps the other A5Ms lost that day and earlier in September, were credited by the Chinese to antiaircraft artillery.[2]  On October 14 participating in an air combat were Lieutenant Liu Cuigang and Lieutenant Zhang Taoliang from the 8th squadron, whose hawk III (No. 2102) was shot down[3].  During the first half of that same day the Japanese also shot down fighter No. 2207 (Breda 27 or Hawk III), killing the pilot.
                After the capture of Shanghai the Japanese forces moved up the Yangtse River toward Nanking.  On November 20 began the third and final Japanese “air offensive” on the provisional capitol of China.  Although resistance on the ground was ineffective, aerial protection of the Capitol and city of Nanking having became the second basic goal, it was strongly reinforced by the volunteer squadrons of the VVS RKKA, arriving at exactly just the time to strengthen the fairly tattered anti-aircraft defenses.
                At the time of these air battles, continuing after the capture of Nanking until about December 22, A5M fighters from the 12 and 13 air units, and the aircraft carrier Kaga continually escorted the Hiro G2H1 and Mitsubishi G3M2 bombers.  During these missions the A5Ms supposedly destroyed 38 enemy aircraft.  None the less, the Japanese recognized that the Soviet I-15 and I-16 fighters hastily entering the battles over Nanking and Nanchang, had established a certain degree of local air superiority.  In the last third of November the pilots of the Imperial fleet experienced a sudden decline in the number of new air victories - two aircraft on November 22, and two days later another two, in spite of numerous air engagements.
                In China the Soviet fighters which received new nicknames (I-16 was “Lastochka” or swallow, and the I-15  Chizh or siskin), actually fought on the same side as the American Hawks, the Crickets of the Pyrenees (Fiat CR-32), their main rival in Spain, English Gladiators, and the French Dewoitine D.510.  There was no special distinction for the maintenance and repair of the various types of machines.  In Nanchang the unified Soviet-Chinese fighter aviation group of 30 machines for some time was commanded by Dun Minde.
                However the A5M pilots soon learned to cope with the soviet fighters and on December 2, according to Japanese sources, “under conditions of numerical inferiority” shot down 7 Chinese fighters and 3 SBs.  The Japanese also claimed that already in the first battle in which the I-16 took part six A5Ms of the 13 air unit under the command of Lieutenant M. Nango took part without loss in a battle with 20 Lastochki.  They explained their success, in general to the inexperience of the Soviet pilots.  The Chinese write that on December 3 the commander of the 21st squadron Dun Minde and his deputy Le Yiqin took part, flying the Hawk III in an air battle over Nanking.  Soon afterward, already awarded the Chinese Golden Order for military service, he was killed.
                A curious incident demonstrating the reliability of the new Japanese A5M fighter occurred on December 9 in an air battle over Nanking.  Quickly viewed, in a neglected film sequence, it looks, at first like a structural defect.  But ultimately the strength of its structure astonished even the Japanese themselves - the fighter was capable of withstanding sufficiently well the bullets of the ShKAS {7.62 mm - GMM}.  On December 9 the A5M1 of Sergeant[4]  K. Kashimura of the 13 air unit collided in the air with a Chinese Hawk III, seemingly already shot down and falling out of control.  A third of the left wing of the Japanese fighter flew off, but Kashimura fortunately was able to return to base.  In this battle seven A5Ms battled with 20 Chinese and Soviet fighters.  The Japanese claimed that they shot down 12 enemy aircraft while losing one A5M.
                The Chinese reported that this A5M was shot down by the commander of the 26th squadron, Wang Hangxun, taking part in the battle in a formation of four Hawks.  In this battle, they themselves lost three aircraft, amongst them Hawk No. 2604, flown by Zhou Guanei, sent from Wuhan.  In this battle participated the new commander of the 29th squadron Lin Juetian and Guan Zhongjie of the 8th squadron (Hawk No. 2606).  Both were shot down.  Guan Zhongjie  escaped by parachute from his burning machine but was strafed by the Japanese on the ground.  Which of these pilots “kissed” Kashimura, and under what circumstances, is unknown.
                The fact is, aerial rams were far from uncommon in this war.  Among our pilots, only the one ram accomplished by A. Gubenko on May 31, 1938 became widely known.[5]  In addition the Chinese and our volunteers completed several rams in Soviet fighters.  On February 18, 1938 in a heavy air battle over Hankow a pilot of the 22nd squadron, Wu Dingchen in an I-15 rammed a Japanese aircraft and saved himself by parachute.  On April 29, 1938, also over Hankow, heroically died Junior Lieutenant Chen Huaimin of the 23rd squadron.  When his I-15 was boxed in by five Japanese, and his fighter had taken numerous hits, in stead of using his parachute, the pilot rammed an enemy aircraft and perished.  A month later his body was discovered in the Yangtse River.  Chinese historians mention yet one more ram, in the same battle in which heroically perished the Soviet volunteer Senior Lieutenant L. Z. Shuster (to the Chinese - Shu Sidie).  But according to the opinion of the fighter pilot N. G. Kozlov, in an attack on an enemy at point -blank range he miscalculated his exit from the attack and collided with the Japanese.
                The volunteer Kudymov remembers the pilot Sharai, who after exhausting maneuvers in a “carousel” managed to get on the tail of an experienced enemy, but his burst didn’t hit.  Then, inflamed by the battle, the Soviet volunteer approached really close - “wishing to scare him” and...crashed into the enemy.  He received the Order of the Red Banner.  Observing the battle from the ground the physician S. S. Belolipetskii drew a somewhat different picture: “At low altitude a battle proceeded between an I-16 and I-96 (A5M).  After a short turning fight, the Japanese suddenly climbed sharply upward, turned around, and from above gave a burst of machine gun fire to his opponent.  The Lastochka flew lower.  It seemed as if the Japanese had won.  But suddenly he flew down, touched the Lastochka, and crashed to the ground.”  Lightly wounded in the leg, Sharai landed his damaged aircraft, in which the Japanese bullets had torn apart its ammunition box.   As the doctor wrote, judging by recovered documents recovered from the Japanese, he appears to have been an air ace.
                The battle continued in July-August 1938 over Nanchang, including the very famous Japanese pilot Lieutenant Commodore M. Nango, killed on July 18 over Nanchang.  According to the Japanese, this was a genuine shock in Japan.  On that day six A5Ms from the newly formed 15 air unit, met with 11 Chinese Gloster Gladiators Mark I.  When the group leader, M. Nango finished off a damaged fighter and turned to search for a new opponent, another burning Chinese fighter crashed into him.  Both machines tumbled into the lake.  The Chinese do not report details of this battle, but in the English sources we find confirmation that the Soviet volunteer V. Dadonov crashed into Nango, escaping by parachute.
                The Japanese write of only one of their rams - December 22,1937 Lieutenant N. Obbayashi over Nanchang crashed into an I-16 and perished.  He flew at the head of a group of 12 A5M of the 13 air unit and the aircraft carrier Kaga.  His “vis-a-vis” appears to have been Lieutenant G, Ya. Kashin, who was the only death on that day, and was buried in Nanchang.  According to Japanese sources, Obbayashi’s followers that day destroyed in that battle a dozen Chinese fighters.
                It is not very clear whether Obbayashi and other Japanese were completely “kamikazes”, or whether their ramming attacks were initiated during the course of battle.  A veteran of Spain and Khalkin Gol, the fighter pilot B. Smirnov recollects that in the last battles in Mongolia among the Japanese fighters there appeared suicide pilots: “I cannot support that with any documents, but just the same I am certain of it, because several times I observed attacks of Japanese obviously intent on midair collisions.  And not only I saw it, but also may of my comrades.  We became careful, and when the Japanese went to ram, tried to shoot them down with the first burst.  And that we managed to do.”  The volunteers who fought in China do not report similar incidents.
                The Japanese command supposed that after the fall of Nanking the Central Government of China would collapse and resistance would disperse to localized centers.  But Chiang Kai Shek relocated his capital westward to Hankow.  In spite of fearsome losses, the Chinese demonstrated that they were ready to struggle further.  New shipments of Soviet aircraft significantly increased the air strength of the Chinese Air Force, restoring its combat capability.  The Chinese maintain that by the beginning of 1938 their air force numbered 390 combat aircraft, primarily of Soviet production.  But Japan at this time captured Shantung.  Their aviation continued air attacks on Nanking, but Their aviation continued attacks on Nanking, but the main attention now was given to Wuhan (it was actually formed of three cities , Hankow, Wuchang, and Hanyang).  From the beginning of January 1938Japanese naval aviation sharply increased the portion of their attacks on these large Chinese cities.
                On January 4, sixteen A5Ms of the 12th and 13th air units escorting bombers struggled with a group of 18-20 I-15 and I-16 fighters in a battle above Hankow.  The Japanese claimed four victories without loss.  Participating in this battle, along with the Soviet pilots were the Chinese of the 24th and 25th squadrons in seven Hawk IIIs and one Fiat Cr-32..  Shot down were the Hawk No. 2303 of the commander of the 24th squadron, Zhang Zhun, and a pilot of the 25th squadron, Sung Enzhu.  The Chinese pilot Wang Feifen was able to return to the aerodrome with a damaged left wing.  Three days later the Japanese Lieutenant R. Yoshioda, deputy commander of the fighter group of the 12 aviation unit was killed while strafing the aerodrome at Nanchang.  Perishing that same day and being buried in Nanchang were Senior Lieutenant K. E. Zabaluev (or Zabalaev) and Lieutenant I. I. Potapov (on January 7) and also Lieutenant A. V. Orekhov (on January 9).
                On February 8, 1938 a pilot of the 25th squadron, Yang Jien was shot down in air combat over Hankow.  He baled out of Hawk No. 2306 (it was his second escape by parachute during the war), but was strafed by the Japanese.  It is necessary to note that the Japanese pilots, out of simple Samurai cruelty chased after pilots who had force-landed or baled out by parachute trying to finish them off in the air or on the ground.  Thus perished too many Chinese pilots and a number of our volunteers.  In August 1938 in one battle over Hankow the Japanese at once strafed two pilots who had baled out of Soviet fighters.  A gunner-radio operator saved on August 12 from a shot down SB (the pilot and navigator perished) remembers: “How I opened the parachute I don’t know...Observing me, a Japanese fighter began to dive at the parachute and opened fire, with the result that there were several tears in the canopy of the parachute, but I remained unharmed.  Then he drew very near to the canopy; to all appearances he wanted to hook me on his landing gear and drag me back to his own territory as a trophy.  I actively defended myself and began to slip the parachute, rapidly losing height.  Following  three or four unsuccessful attacks, the Japanese left me in peace...”  Killed that same day[6] were Senior Lieutenants F. D. Gulyi, N. M. Terekhov, Kh. Kh. Churyakov, and Lieutenant A. G. Maglyak.
                By February 1938 retraining on the I-15 and I-16  finally concluded for the first Chinese air units, and they began to take part in battle.  By this time the Chinese had practically no combat worthy New Hawks remaining.  In 1938-1939 their factories managed to assemble or restore 28 machines, and this limited the role of the Hawk III in further battles.  As a result of the rise in losses, on orders of the Aviation Committee, the squadrons transferred their remaining fighters to still operational air units (Sometimes an entire squadron was transferred to a different air group), and were themselves sent back for retraining.  Thus at the end of 1937, the 3rd air group was gradually combined with the 4th air group and familiarized with the I-15.  The 17th squadron, on the eve of the fall of Nanking, transferred to the 5th  Air Group and was given I-15s.  The 26th squadron was withdrawn from battle in January1938 and sent to Lanzhou for the I-16.  By the spring of 1938 most of the Chinese pilots had already transitioned to Soviet fighters.
                The 4th Air Group with the new I-16 was concentrated at the city of Fencheng in the neighborhood of Wuhan.  The first major air battle took place on February 18.  Twelve G3M2 heavy bombers (by Chinese reckoning) took part in an attack on Hankow, escorted by 26 A5M fighters of the 12th and 13th air units.  Historians from the PRC write that at once almost the entire 4th Fighter Group rose against them - 29 I-16s.  After a fierce 12 minute battle, 12 Japanese were shot down and the remainder were dispersed.  Killed was the leader of the Japanese fighter group, Lieutenant T, Kaneko.  Five I-16s were shot down in the battle, killing the commander of the 4th air group Li Guidan, the commander of the 23rd squadron, Liu Chichun, and pilots Ba Qingzheng, Ba Yi, and Li Peng Xiang.
                According to Taiwanese sources 14 Japanese aircraft were shot down in the 12 minute air battle.  They also maintain that in addition to the 16s, the 15s of the 22nd and 23rd squadrons (from the 23rd - 8 machines) participated.  The pilots of each of these squadrons shot down four Japanese..  In the battle three pilots of the 22nd squadron were killed , and the commander of the 22nd squadron, Liu Zhigang was shot down, escaping by parachute.  His deputy was wounded and made a forced landing.  It is mentioned in passing that Wu Dingchen rammed a Japanese and saved himself by parachute.
                According to the recollections of the volunteer A. Z. Dushin, about 10 o’clock in the morning they took of on an alert and at an altitude of 4500 m found themselves under cumulus clouds.  An arrow on the ground pointed out the direction from which the Japanese would appear.  After a ten minute flight along this course they turned and flew back, and straightaway  they discovered about 1500-2000 m beneath them, 3 flights, each of 9 Japanese bombers flying in an tight formation.  A moment later Japanese fighters appeared flying above the clouds.  They began to dive on the Soviet volunteers on a meeting course, with the initiative remaining with them.  Three Japanese attacked Dushin, and consequently he shot at all three.  A cone of bullets, in his words, found one aircraft, but it did not burn.  Two A5Ms began to fire at him, but he was rescued by the maneuverability of the I-15 bis.  The pilot was able to escape from them by diving, but on the way out, but the third Japanese was waiting for him.  But rushing to his rescue came an I-16, which later turned out to have been flown by Blagoveshchenskii himself (or I. Puntus according to other sources).  Then Dushin chased after “his” Japanese opening fire at a distance of 25 meters.  But the guns suddenly ceased, out of ammunition.  Nonetheless the A5M made an unnatural climb upward and vanished from the pilot’s field of vision.  Several days later a Japanese fighter was found in this region, in Dushin’s opinion, the very same one.  K. K. Kokkinaki, who arrived later in China mentioned the names of four Japanese aces who were killed in this battle - Kawanishi Yashihiro, Shirai Sadao, Kurimoto Toshiki, and Minamoto Shigeake, though these names are not found in other sources.  In this battle perished the commander of the I-15 squadron N. A. Smirnov, in an aircraft, which as will become clear later, the Japanese were specially hunting, and also one additional volunteer.  After the death of N. Smirnov the commander officially became A. S. Zingaev, though the “chef” of the group remained Blagoveshchenskii himself.
                According to Japanese sources in the battle over Hankow on February 18, there participated 18 I-15s and 18 I-16s.  They counted 14 I-15s and 2 I-16s shot down, and themselves lost 4 A5Ms among that number the machine of Lieutenant T. Kaneko who had replaced Yoshioda as deputy commander of the fighter group of the 12th air unit.  A week later over Nanchang another deputy was shot down, Lieutenant S. Takuma, together with another pilot.  On that day, 18 A5M fighters of the 12thand 13th air units 50 I-15s and I-16s.  The Japanese claimed 27 victories.  In this, his first battle, Sergeant T. Iwamoto, later to become the highest scoring ace on the A5M, supposedly destroyed five enemy fighters, and in one combat flight immediately became an ace.  In other sources report that on this day 15 I-15s and 11 I-16s fought with 18 A5Ms escorting 35 G3M2 bombers.  The Chinese supposedly lost one aircraft and another four were seriously damaged.  Neither the Chinese nor our pilots mention anything about a major air battle over Nanchang on  this date.  However, according to archival sources, N. A. Smirnov is listed as killed on February 25 and buried at Nanchang, together with Lieutenants H. I. Vasil’ev and S. D. Smirnov, also killed on this date.  It is possible that one of these, together with N. A. Smirnov was killed on February 18 over Hankow.
                There is information that in two months of 1938 the Chinese and Soviet fighters completed about 250 combat flights, and shot down about 30 Japanese aircraft.  In 27 air combats the Guomindang Air Force lost 31 aircraft and 22 pilots.
                According to Dushin, the A5M2 shot down by him on February 18 was repaired and flown by Blagoveshchenskii and Zakharov.  Finally in the summer of 1938 they tried to ferry it to the Soviet Union.  However, the commander of the bombers, S. V. Slyusarev, quoting Zakharov, asserts that the Japanese whose “Type 96” was later repaired, was forced down by Zakharov in an I-15 and a young Chinese, Tun in an I-16, who damaged his motor during the first days of February.  After two-three weeks the airplane was restored.  Zakharov himself dates this episode closer to the summer of 1938, but that the “Type 96” they had driven down, could not be retrieved for almost a year.  While ferrying it to the USSR, due to sabotage (sugar in the fuel tank), Zakharov suffered an accident in the mountains, seriously injuring his left arm.  It is possible that the discussion relates to different machines; in fact two flyable A5M2s became trophies of the Soviet volunteers.  The second was conveyed to the USSR along a different path, although S. V. Slyusarev maintains that the second A5M2 was lost in an accident through similar sabotage, injuring A. S. Blagoveshchenskii.  The Mitsubishi fighter delivered to the Soviet Union was tested at the NII VVS {Scientific Test Institute of the Air Forces-GMM} but in August 1939 was destroyed during a training battle against the I-153,killing the test pilot Vakhrushev.
                In March 1938 began a fierce battle for Taierzhuang and Zaozhuang (Hubei Province).  In Ziaogan, for the support of the ground forces, it was ordered that retraining on the I-15 for the 7th and 8th squadrons be concluded.  On March 24,1938 14 I-15s carrying 25 kg bombs, led by the commander of the 7th squadron Wu Ruliu flew to flew from Gui De (Henan province) to bomb the cities of Lingcheng and Hanzhuang in Shandung province.  They were intercepted by the Japanese on the return flight, and a sharp air battle developed.  According to Taiwanese sources 6 Japanese aircraft were shot down.  The Chinese lost: from the 7th squadron aircraft No.s 5864 and 5860 shot down in flames, and 5866,which made a forced landing in a millet field  In the 8th squadron shot down were the squadron commander, Lu Guangqiu in I-15 No. 5871, his deputy He Ziangya in No. 5911, and pilot Mo Xiu in No. 5913.  The latter two parachuted, but were killed by the Japanese.  Additionally pilots Huang Minxiang and Likang were wounded and made forced landings.  At the same time the 17th and 25th squadrons with the I-15 concentrated at Sian (Shensi Province).  On March 8, a combined group of I-15s from the two squadrons flew from Sian to attack Fenglingdu.  After dropping 25 kg bombs they stumbled into the Japanese.  The pilots Song Guacheng and Lo Chuntun were shot down,  Liu Jinguang and Liu Yiji were wounded, and Zhou Zingyan parachuted.
                In April 1938 the Japanese suffered a major defeat at Taierzhuang.  Chinese regular troops and partisans numbering more than 200,000 soldiers under the command of General Li Conggeng cut off and surrounded a 60,000 strong Japanese army.  Ultimately the Japanese broke through to the north losing about 20,000 killed and abandoned a large quantity of military equipment.  The aircraft of the 3rd and 4th air groups were committed and ordered to take active part in the battle supporting the ground forces, On April10 the 23rd squadron of the 3rd air group, with I-15s made a ground attack Zaozhuang (Shandung Province).  Zang Guangming and Sun Qinqian were shot down and baled out.  The latter was shot in the air by the Japanese, and was hit by five bullets.  The same day occurred an air battle over Mamuzi.  The commander of the 3rd air group Lui Tianlong breaking out of a circle of Japanese fighters suffered multiple wounds.  Two more Damaged I-15s made forced landings.  Junior Lieutenant Liang Zhihang, after baling out, was strafed on the ground by the Japanese.  The victory at Taierzhuang raised the fighting spirit of the Chinese, but did not bring them a strategic advantage as the Japanese forces regrouped and resumed the offensive.  The temporarily began to advance north of Wuhan, but the Chinese capitol remained the main target of Japanese aviation.  In the sky over the city until its fall on October 25, 1938, there continued a number of air battles.
                The very heaviest air battle of the entire Japanese-Chinese war occurred over Wuhan on April 29.  The Chinese concentrated their fighters at aerodromes around the capitol and waited for a suitable occasion for counterattack, but the Japanese on the emperor’s birthday burned with a desire to avenge a successful attacks of Chinese SBs on the Nanking aerodrome on January 25, 1938, and on airbase on Taiwan on February 23.  Participating in the attack on the Chinese air bases were 18 G3M2s of the 13th  air unit protected by 27 A5Ms of the 12th air unit, under the command of Lieutenant Commodore Y. Ozono.
                The Chinese write that reconnaissance revealed the Japanese intentions in good time.  According to Dushin’s recollections, on that memorable day early in the morning at Nanchang’s aerodromes (there were two) the order went out to all to fly to Hankow in flights, at treetop level (altitude no greater than 25 m).  By 8 AM more than a hundred fighters had concentrated there.  By 9 AM all the airplanes had been fueled up and the pilots were in the cockpits waiting the order to take off.  That day dense clouds at several levels covered the sky, beginning at 2000-2500 m.  The first communications from the air warning system (VNOS) began to be received at 10 AM.  The Chinese record that at 1400 hours, when the Japanese aircraft approached Wuhan, already waiting in the air with sufficient altitude were 19 I-15s and 45 I-16s from units of Soviet volunteers entered into the staffs of the 3rd, 4th , and 5th fighter groups.  According to the previously drawn up plans, the I-15s closed in on the Japanese fighters in a pincer attack, and the I-16 formation fell upon the bombers.  In the fierce 30 minute battle, 11 Japanese fighters and 10 bombers were shot down, and 50 aircrew were killed.  Two parachuted and were captured.  Twelve aircraft of the Chinese and Soviet volunteers were lost and five pilots killed, among them, Cheng Huaimin, and L. E. Shuster who rammed Japanese aircraft, and also Captain A. E. Uspenskii.  The Chinese report that after the serious defeat in this battle, for the space of a month the Japanese did not dare conduct attacks on Wuhan.
                From Dushin’s memoirs we read that they took off early, first Blagoveshchenskii, after him the entire group in established order.  The I-15bis were to join battle with the fighters.  At a height of about 3000 m they moved off from Hankow about 100 km in the direction of Nanking, orienting themselves through the gaps in the clouds by the channel of the Yangtse.  Not finding the fighters, on a return course, through gaps in the clouds they discovered a large group of bombers approaching on a parallel course.  With a sudden attack at close range they right away set afire three, including the formation leader.  The formation immediately fell apart and jettisoned its bombs in a  rice paddy.  In the air developed, in the words of the Chinese writer and historian Guo Moruo, “dog fighting”.  In various parts of the sky appeared the torches of burning Japanese.  The “Chizhi” chased after the bombers for their full radius of action - more than 200 km.  When his ammunition was completely exhausted Dushin ran into two A5Ms but there was nothing he could do to them.  A. S. Zingaev’s group, with an advantageous position attacked a group of Japanese bombers on the approaches to the aerodrome, and in their first attack shot down two (Zingaev shot down the leader).  On that day, our future Twice Hero of the Soviet Union  No. 2,  G. P. Kravchenko shot down two (or according to other sources - three) aircraft.  But in the end, he was cut off from his formation and hard pressed by four Japanese who set his aircraft afire.  He was saved by A. Gubenko who came to his help in the nick of time.  Both of them arrived in China in February-March 1938, and with each battle gradually gained experience.  In various sources it is stated that Kravchenko either baled out and parachuted into a lake with muddy water, from which he was pulled by an old Chinese, or that he made a forced landing without undercarriage in one of the small lakes along the course of the Yangtse.  In one of the following air battles, in a reversal, Gubenko was isolated by four Samurai who set his  aircraft afire, and when he baled out, tried to strafe him in his parachute.  Rushing to his assistance, Kravchenko shot down one of the Japanese in a head-on attack, and chased away the others from the parachutist.
                Increasing their scores in the battle of April 29, 1938 were A. Blagoveshchenskii, A. Grisenko, A. Gubenko, A. Dushin, G. Zakharov, A. Zingaev, G. Kravchenko, I. Puntus, and others.  The major success of our volunteers is explained by the Japanese fighters which were late at the rendezvous with their bombers, and also by the Soviets’ successful use of the clouds.
                In their own turn, the Japanese write that when their formation appeared over Hankow, 78 I-15s and I-16s rose to intercept.  They claim that in a thirty minute battle they destroyed no fewer than 40 Chinese aircraft, while themselves losing only 2 A5Ms and 2 G3M2s.  The Japanese attribute the greatest part of their success to the inexperience of their opponents.  In other accounts (also based on Japanese sources), 67 Soviet aircraft participated in the battle, of which 19 I-15 bis and 6 I-16s were flown by our pilots.  Here it is claimed that the Chinese lost 9 aircraft and four pilots.
                The Japanese write that in spite of so serious a blow, after a month they found that the number of aircraft of Hankow’s air defenses has recovered (which is not at all surprising, considering the actual results of the battle).  To the point, just in April, the 13th air unit, having suffered great losses in the continuous air battles, gave its remaining A5Ms to the 12th  air unit and was withdrawn t Shanghai to rebuild.  The Japanese government indirectly recognized the great effectiveness of the activities of the Soviet pilots, by demanding in April 1938, through diplomatic channels that the USSR withdraw them from China.  Naturally this demand was categorically and unequivocally rejected.  The Komissar for Foreign Affairs, M. Litvinov replied officially that the USSR had the right to render assistance to any foreign government, and that “the claims of the Japanese government were even more incomprehensible, since according to the declarations of the Japanese authorities, there is not now a war in China, and Japanese are not fighting in China at all, and that what was happening in China qualifies only as an “incident”, more or less accidental, and having nothing in common with a state of war between two independent governments”.  Our volunteers continued to fight in China.

[1] The Russian text uses the term “Aviaotryad”, translating literally as air unit, and at that time used by them for a unit corresponding roughly to a western squadron in strength, about 12-15 aircraft.  Even though we, and they as well, understand that the unit is a Kokutai, I will continue to translate it as “air unit” for the sake of translation integrity. - GMM
[2] Or were shot down by Chinese pilots who perished themselves before returning to base to report a victory? - GMM
[3] The Russian text is unclear as to which pilot is meant. - GMM
[4] the Russians used the Germanic term “unter-ofitser” instead of the Russian equivalent term“serzhant”. - GMM
[5] In this forum it might be appropriate to clarify that the Russian ramming attack (taran), though an extreme tactic, was not ordinarily intended as a suicide attack, even if often fatal in practice.  The idea was to attack the enemy’s control surfaces with the propeller blade, or to smash him with a wingtip.  With luck and skill, a pilot might well be able to return to base and land normally.  During the war against Germany there were instances when such an aircraft was flying again within a couple of hours.  Several Russians scored multiple ramming victories; the records belonging to Boris Kovzan with 4 rams, and to Aleksei Khlobystov, who scored only 3 ramming victories, but accomplished two of them in the same dogfight, after which he landed his P-40 Tomahawk back at base!  Of course, some were actual suicide attacks by pilots already shot down but determined to “take one more with me”, and some ramming attacks were actually collisions retrospectively glorified. -GMM
[6]It is uncertain whether Demin means February 8, or the day in August 1938 when the SB gunner was shot down, but the former is more likely. - GMM.

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