100 years to the best Soviet ace

Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub near the La-5FN plane

On June 8, 1920, Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub was born in the Glukhovsky district of the Chernigov province, the future three times Hero of the Soviet Union, a participant in the Great Patriotic War, a famous air ace and air marshal. It is Ivan Kozhedub who holds a personal record for the number of air victories among all fighter pilots of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition: 64 shot down enemy aircraft.

During his school years, the ace pilot loved drawing

Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub was born on June 8, 1920 in the village of Obrazhievka, located in the Glukhovsky district of the Chernigov province, today the territory of the Shostkinsky district of the Sumy region of Ukraine. The parents of the future ace pilot were ordinary peasants. The father was the head of the church (this is a secular position held by people in charge of the church economy). From his father, who independently learned to read and write and loved to read, Ivan took over his love and craving for knowledge. In 1934, Kozhedub graduated from a seven-year school and continued his further education, enrolling first in an evening school at a factory school (FZU), and in 1936 in a chemical-technological technical school located in the city of Shostka.

In Shostka, Ivan Kozhedub took his first steps into the sky. In 1938, Ivan Kozhedub came to the local flying club, and in April 1939 he made his first flight. Passion for aviation forever determined the fate and life of the famous pilot. It is from the Shostka flying club that Ivan Kozhedub will go to military service, having entered the Chuguev Military Aviation School in 1940.

It is curious that as a child, while still a schoolboy and then a student at a technical school, Ivan Kozhedub was very fond of drawing. During his school years, Ivan was often involved in creating posters, he was good at displaying various slogans and took part in the design of the wall newspaper. Later, having already become a pilot, Ivan Kozhedub said that drawing helped him in the profession, which became the main one for him for the rest of his life. According to the ace pilot, his love of drawing developed in him a good visual memory, observation, and working with various fonts and posters became a good training for the eye, which was especially important in flight and air combat.

Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub, photo: goskatalog.rf

Another hobby of the pilot was gymnastics. Ivan Kozhedub was the youngest, the fifth child in the family. From childhood, the boy did not differ in special growth, but he was of a strong constitution, and his health never let down. In the future, all this also came in handy in his profession. At the age of 13, the boy witnessed the arrival of circus artists in the village, especially Ivan was shaken by a strong man who freely squeezed a two-pound (32 kg) weight with one hand. Later Kozhedub himself learned this, having achieved everything by training. The physical endurance that the future pilot developed from an early age was very useful in air battles, which exhausted the pilot’s body and were accompanied by serious overloads. Even at the front, Ivan Kozhedub always tried to find free time to do exercises.

In the first combat sortie, the future ace pilot almost died

In February 1940, Ivan Kozhedub, having passed a strict medical examination and selection, was enrolled in the Chuguev Military Aviation School. In March 1941, the status of the school was downgraded to a pilot school. This decision meant that upon release, the pilots received the rank of sergeants, and not lieutenants, as it was previously. Despite this, Kozhedub did not write a transfer application, continuing his studies. As a cadet, Kozhedub gradually mastered the UT-2 and UTI-4 aircraft, and later the I-16 fighter.

Having appreciated the talent of the pilot, the school management decided to leave Ivan Kozhedub in the educational institution as an instructor pilot. This is how the future ace pilot met the Great Patriotic War. Kozhedub’s report on being sent to the front was not satisfied, the country needed good instructor pilots to train new personnel for the Air Force. Ivan Kozhedub achieved transfer to the active army only in the fall of 1942. In November of the same year, the pilot arrived in Moscow and was enrolled in the 240th Fighter Aviation Regiment, where he was trained to fly the new Soviet La-5 fighter. After the personnel mastered the new combat vehicle, the regiment was sent to the Voronezh Front, where it arrived in March 1943.

Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub, photo: goskatalog.rf

The very first air battle almost ended in death for our hero. La-5 was seriously damaged by a burst of the German Me-109 fighter. From the death of Ivan Kozhedub was saved by an armored back, which was not pierced by an incendiary projectile. Already on the approach to the airfield, the damaged fighter was fired upon by their own anti-aircraft gunners, having achieved several hits on the La-5. Despite this, the pilot managed to land the plane at the airfield, however, the fighter was no longer subject to restoration. After this incident, for some time Kozhedub flew on the “remnants”, as the squadron planes were called, which for some reason were free.

In June 1943, Ivan Kozhedub was awarded an officer rank, he became a junior lieutenant, and by August he became deputy squadron commander. The ace pilot won his first aerial victory during the Battle of Kursk. A tremendous confrontation between the two howling armies unfolded in early July 1943 on the ground and in the sky. On July 6, during his fortieth sortie, the pilot won his first victory by shooting down a German Ju-87 dive bomber. And then – as it burst, the very next day Kozhedub again shot down the “bastier”, and in air battles on July 9 he wrote down the first two German fighters – Me-109. By the end of 1943, the ace had already destroyed 25 enemy aircraft.

Throughout the war, Ivan Kozhedub flew on Lavochkin fighters

While another famous Soviet ace Alexander Pokryshkin won most of his victories on the Lendleut P-39 Airacobra fighter, Ivan Kozhedub flew the entire war on Soviet Lavochkin fighters: La-5, La-5FN and La-7. These fighters are rightly considered one of the best Soviet combat aircraft of the Second World War.

Kozhedub fought on the La-5 fighter from March 1943 to the end of April 1944. This single-seat fighter, created in 1942 in Gorky, was produced in a large series – almost 10 thousand aircraft. The car of the designer Semyon Alekseevich Lavochkin was distinguished by very good flight technical data. The maximum speed at altitude is up to 580 km / h, the service ceiling is 9500 meters, the practical flight range is 1190 km. At the same time, the fighter was distinguished by powerful cannon armament – two 20-mm ShVAK automatic cannons were installed on it.

Fighter La-7, which was flown by Ivan Kozhedub

From May 1944 to August 1944, Kozhedub fought on the La-5FN fighter, which was an improved version of the previous fighter with a new more powerful M-82FN engine, which produced 1460 hp (130 hp more than the M- 82 La-5 fighters). The increase in power was significant and made it possible to bring the maximum speed of the fighter to 648 km / h, and the service ceiling rose to 11,200 meters. It is curious that the new La-5FN fighter, on which Kozhedub fought, was built with the money of the 60-year-old beekeeper Vasily Viktorovich Konev from the Bolshevik collective farm located in the Stalingrad region. Flying on this registered aircraft, during a week of air battles in the Romanian sky, the ace pilot shot down 8 enemy aircraft.

Ivan Kozhedub ended the war on the La-7 fighter, which was a further development of the La-5FN, and made its first flight on it on January 23, 1944. This machine is rightly considered one of the best front-line fighters of the Second World War. The aircraft had significantly improved aerodynamics, which provided the fighter with an advantage in speed, rate of climb and practical flight ceiling over the conventional La-5. At the same time, the car received a new, more powerful engine, with it the maximum speed of the aircraft at altitude could reach 680 km / h. Flying on this fighter at the final stage of the Great Patriotic War, Ivan Kozhedub shot down 16 enemy aircraft. It is noteworthy that the La-7 fighter, on which the ace pilot flew, has survived to this day and today is on display at the Central Museum of the Air Force of the Russian Federation.

Ivan Kozhedub was never shot down

Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub arrived at the front in March 1943. From that moment until the very end of the war, the ace pilot was never shot down. For several years at the front, Ivan Kozhedub made 330 sorties, having conducted 120 air battles. Of course, things happened in the air. The hero’s plane was repeatedly riddled with bursts of German machine guns and aircraft cannons. But none of the hits ended in a serious injury or death of the pilot, in part this was due to strong luck, but, of course, it also testified to the excellent skills of air combat.

Three times Hero of the Soviet Union Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub

At the same time, the skill of the ace pilot was especially manifested in the fact that Kozhedub always managed to return the damaged fighter to the ground. He never left the plane using a parachute. Affected by the serious level of pre-war training in the flight school and the work of an instructor. The high level of piloting technique of Ivan Kozhedub has never raised doubts among anyone.

List of victories of Ivan Kozhedub

During the war, the pilot, according to official Soviet historiography, shot down 62 enemy aircraft. But, as further studies showed, for some reason, two more downed aircraft were not included in this number, which were officially confirmed and were recorded on the personal account of Ivan Kozhedub. Thus, in 120 air battles, the brave pilot shot down 64 enemy vehicles: 21 Fw-190 fighters, 18 Me-109 fighters, 18 Ju-87 dive bombers, three Hs-129 attack aircraft, two He-111 bombers, one PZL P- 24 (Romanian) and one Me-262 jet fighter. At the same time, Ivan Kozhedub, apparently, became the first Soviet pilot who managed to shoot down a German jet fighter. The ace pilot won this aerial victory on February 24, 1945 during a free hunt.

Ivan Kozhedub shot down a Me-262 jet fighter

Thanks to 64 air victories, Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub became the most productive fighter pilot among all the pilots of the anti-Hitler coalition countries. But even this list is incomplete. It is believed that in the second half of April 1945, Ivan Kozhedub shot down two attacking American P-51 Mustang fighters. Later, the pilot himself recalled this in his memoirs, and at the end of the war this episode of friendly fire was simply hushed up. The surviving American pilot noted that they attacked the La-7 Kozhedub, mistaking it for the German Fw-190 fighter. Indeed, these two fighters could have been confused in the turmoil of air combat. At the same time, the American pilot was sincerely convinced that it was a German who shot him down.

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