The war in the Far East once again thundered in the summer of 1937, when Japan invaded China. The fighting began in July 1937 and continued until the end of World War II. Assistance to the Republic of China was provided by the Soviet Union, which sent its military specialists, including pilots, to the country. In March 1938, Anton Gubenko also arrived in China, becoming one of the pilots of the Nanchang fighter aviation group.
In the Chinese sky, he won several aerial victories, the most famous of which was the ram on May 31, 1938. This event made an indelible impression on the Japanese themselves, who christened the pilot who committed the ram “Russian kamikaze”, calling him the “son of the sacred wind” (kamikaze) of a pilot from another country. The international press also wrote about the successful ram: in Japan – with a certain fear and apprehension, in Germany – with indignation, in Great Britain – benevolently, in Canada – with delight.
How Anton Gubenko came to aviation
Anton Alekseevich Gubenko was born on January 31 (February 12 in the new style), 1908 in the small village of Chicherino, located on the territory of the Volnovakha district of the Donetsk region, into an ordinary peasant family, he is Ukrainian by nationality. Already in the early 1920s, he moved to his brother in Mariupol, where he graduated from the seven-year school, as well as the factory apprenticeship school (FZU).
During these years, the life of Anton Gubenko was the ordinary life of an ordinary Soviet worker. At the same time, Anton was actively looking for his place in the world. In Mariupol, he managed to work at the railway station, as well as on the ships of the Azov Shipping Company. Later, he worked for six months on the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, being a dolphin hunter. In those years, he was attracted by the thirst for travel and new experiences. From the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, Gubenko returned to Mariupol, where he worked for another six months as a locksmith’s assistant until Anton caught sight of an article in the newspaper about the recruitment of pilots to the school.
Anton Alekseevich Gubenko
The idea of becoming a pilot captured the young man, and he wrote an application to the District Committee of the Komsomol with a request to be sent to a flight school. Already in May 1927, Anton Alekseevich arrived in Leningrad and entered the Leningrad military-theoretical school of pilots. After graduating from Leningrad in 1928, he entered the 1st Kachin Military Aviation Pilot School, which he successfully graduated in 1929.
As Major General of Aviation Pyotr Stefanovsky noted, Anton Gubenko was not one of the light cadets, but was very purposeful, rushed ahead, ahead of the training program and always wanted and strove to fly. According to Stefanovsky, Anton Gubenko knew the theory perfectly and flew superbly, which allowed him to make a successful career in the Soviet Air Force. Pyotr Stefanovsky believed that Gubenko’s qualities were innate, he was a pilot from God. At the same time, Anton never got tired at the airport, which only confirms that he liked the business he was doing.
Best of all, the qualities and aspirations of the young pilot are reflected in an episode from his educational biography, which was told by Major General Stefanovsky. Landing after a heavy rain, Anton Gubenko could not stop the plane, which rolled out of the runway and hit the pit with its wheels, after which it turned over. For the pilot, this episode could have ended in death, but by and large he got off with only fright. When the airfield personnel ran up to the plane, the pilot was hanging upside down on parachute belts. Instead of swearing and selective obscenities, which could be heard from a person in such a situation, Gubenko calmly asked: “Will the second flight fail?”
The beginning of the army career
After completing his studies at the flight school, Anton Gubenko went to serve in the Far East, where he gradually gained experience and skill. At the beginning of his service he was a junior and senior pilot, then a flight commander. In 1934 he became the commander of an aviation detachment in the 116th Fighter Aviation Squadron of the Moscow Military District. After some time, he will become an instructor in piloting techniques for an aviation brigade and will be directly involved in testing new aircraft.
Fighter I-16 type 5, which participated in the battles in China in 1938
In the summer of 1935, Anton Gubenko was appointed the lead pilot for conducting military tests of the new Soviet I-16 fighter. At the final stage of testing the new combat vehicle, Gubenko performed a flight aimed at identifying the ultimate loads of the fighter’s design. At the same time, the tests themselves were completed a month and a half ahead of schedule, and Anton Gubenko was awarded the Order of Lenin in May 1936 for successfully testing a new combat vehicle. In total, the future Hero of the Soviet Union took part in tests of 12 types and modifications of new Soviet aircraft.
At the same time, Gubenko not only flew on a new fighter, but also managed to make several rational proposals aimed at improving the qualities of the combat vehicle, which were taken into account by the designers. At the same time, the command spoke flatteringly about Anton, calling him a pilot of a new, modern formation. By that time, he had 2,146 aerobatics behind him, and the total flight time on different types of aircraft was 884 hours, during which time the pilot successfully made 2,138 landings and had no accidents or breakdowns. At the same time, Gubenko was a very experienced parachutist-instructor, having made 77 jumps, among which 23 were experimental, and two more were made at night.
It is believed that in the 1930s, Gubenko witnessed an aviation accident when, during takeoff, a young pilot did not notice the plane in front of him and chopped the tail of the front plane with a propeller. The car received serious damage, which in flight would have led to a disaster, and the plane of the perpetrator of the accident remained intact. What he saw led Anton Gubenko to the idea that such a “trick” could be done in air combat, as the last and most extreme measure in the fight against the enemy.
Aerial ram on May 31, 1938
On March 13, 1938, Captain Anton Gubenko, as part of a group of Soviet pilots, was sent to China, which at that time was already at war with Japan. The Soviet Union sent the best and most trained combat pilots to China. In the Chinese sky, Gubenko fought as part of the Nanchansk fighter group, led by Lieutenant Colonel Blagoveshchensky. Soviet volunteers were supposed not only to fight the Japanese, but also to help the Chinese train national flight personnel, for which several flight and instructor schools were opened in China at once.
So for Anton Gubenko a new page of life was opened – participation in real hostilities. In the Chinese sky, the Soviet pilot fought from March to August 1938, shooting down 7 enemy aircraft during this time. So in a battle on April 29, 1938, repelling an enemy air raid on the city of Hankou, Anton Gubenko saved his comrade-in-arms, Senior Lieutenant Kravchenko. During the battle, Gubenko noticed how a Japanese fighter was chasing the downed Kravchenko plane and rushed to help, even though he himself had already run out of ammunition by that time.
Anton caught up with the Japanese fighter and, with maneuvers and imitation of attacks, managed to drive it away from the damaged plane of his comrade-in-arms, after which he accompanied the Kravchenko fighter until the moment of an emergency landing. And when on June 26, 1938, the I-15bis Gubenko fighter was shot down by the enemy and the pilot had to be thrown out with a parachute, Kravchenko himself covered his comrade from the Japanese attacks until landing.
The most famous episode involving the brave Soviet pilot took place on May 31, 1938. On that day, at 10 o’clock in the morning, as part of a group of I-16 fighters, Captain Anton Gubenko flew to intercept a large group of Japanese combat aircraft, numbering 18 bombers and 36 escort fighters. All Soviet and Chinese pilots took part in repelling this large-scale raid on Hankow. The battle in the sky began directly on the outskirts of the city.
Already at the end of the air battle, when Gubenko used up all the ammunition, he unexpectedly discovered the A5M2 fighter that was lagging behind the rest of the Japanese forces and decided to try to force him to land on a Chinese airfield. Having flown close to the enemy fighter, Gubenko tried to order him to land with signs, but the Japanese decided to break away from the Soviet fighter and leave. Having made a coup through the left wing, the Japanese fighter increased its speed, but Anton caught up with the enemy and repeated the demand again. Most likely, at that moment, the Japanese pilot finally realized that his enemy did not even have ammunition and, ignoring his demands, calmly turned around and flew in the direction he needed.
It was at this moment that Anton Gubenko decided to shoot down the enemy’s plane with a ram. Having flown close to the Japanese fighter, Gubenko propelled the enemy plane on the left wing aileron, as a result of which the A5M2 lost control and crashed to the ground, which was soon confirmed by the Chinese command. At the same time, the I-16 Gubenko did not receive serious damage and safely landed at the airfield. The case received publicity in the press and was widely reported in China. For this air battle, Captain Anton Gubenko was awarded the Golden Order of the Republic of China, while Chiang Kai-shek held a personal meeting with the Soviet pilot, after which he held an evening reception in honor of the Soviet pilots, accommodating the aviators in the best hotel in Hankou on the Yangtze River.
Death in a plane crash
During his stay in China from March to August 1938, Anton Gubenko made more than 50 sorties in I-15bis and I-16 fighters, with a total of 60 hours of combat flight time. The pilot took part in 8 air battles, in which he shot down 7 Japanese aircraft. After returning to the USSR, Gubenko was awarded an extraordinary military rank, while he immediately became a colonel. After being awarded a new rank, Anton Alekseevich began to prepare for admission to the Air Force Academy, but immediately before passing the exams he was recalled and on August 8, 1938, was sent by the Air Force Directorate to the Belarusian Special Military District for further service as deputy aviation commander of the district.
Annotation board on Gubenko street in Smolensk
In February 1939, Anton Alekseevich Gubenko was nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his courage and bravery in battles with the Japanese in the Chinese sky. Ahead, the brave Soviet ace pilot could have had a successful military career, but the commander, valuable for the Soviet Air Force, died tragically on March 31, 1939 in a plane crash that occurred while performing training flights with shooting. He was buried in the Polish cemetery in Smolensk, in 1971 he was reburied in the park in Memory of Heroes, located at the Smolensk fortress wall.