Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

Podpolkovnik Konstantin Kuzmich Babii

1917 –

Konstantin Babii was born in 1917.

In 1937, Babii entered Eysk Naval Aviation School.

In 1940, he was posted to 72 SmAP-SF as a junior pilot.

In June 1941, he still served in 72 SmAP-SF, flying Polikarpov I-153s.
This unit was a mainly fighter-equipped composite regiment, which operated in the defence of Murmansk with the Air Force of the North Sea Fleet.

In October 1941, he was posted to 78 IAP-SF with the North Sea Fleet. With this unit, he flew the Hawker Hurricane.
He left the unit in June 1943.

On 22 February 1942, Babii was decorated with the Order of the Red Banner.

The port of Murmansk was attacked twice on 15 April 1942 by Ju 87s of I./StG 5, escorted by Bf 110s of 10.(Z)/JG 5 and Bf 109E/Fs of II./JG 5. The 5712-ton British transport vessel Lancaster Castle was sunk by the Stukas during the attacks, the vessel suffering a direct hit to its engine room. A railway crane, a drydock and a warehouse were also destroyed in the port itself, while the canteen building caught fire and three railway tracks were severed. A 500-kg bomb fell into a bomb shelter, and although it failed to explode, the building collapsed, killing 21 and injuring eight.
The first raid came at 14:05 and it met negligible opposition. The Luftwaffe fighters brushed aside the handful of I-16s and I-153s without difficulty and claimed one enemy fighter destroyed (reported as an I-180), when Feldwebel Theodor Weissenberger of 10.(Z)/JG 5 claimed one at 13:18, 10 km west of Murmansk.
The second raid, at 18:30, met stiffer opposition, with ten Hurricanes and three MiG-3s of 2 GIAP-SF being scrambled to intercept the raiders. Leading the defenders was Kapitan Alexander Kovalenko, whose formation was accompanied by nine 78 IAP-SF Hurricanes led by Starshii Leitenant Petr Sgibnev, as well as by a flight of I-153s from 27 IAP-SF. Six Hurricanes of 122nd IAD’s 769 IAP also joined in.
16 Stukas, flying in pairs and with a close escort of Bf 110s, approached the target from a height of 3,500 m. Behind them, spaced at intervals of 500-1000 m and some 500 m higher, came nine Bf 109s. The dive-bombers wheeled around in a 90-degree turn before diving steeply out of the sun one after another. They were accompanied down to 200 m by their close escort, while the Bf 109s kept their distance.
The Guards pilots took off in line astern after receiving word of the approaching German formation, with Kapitan Kovalenko in front. He was ordered to head to Murmansk at a height of 3,500.
There were only three aircraft in the circuit at that time, and without waiting for the others to join up, Kovalenko led them towards the threatened city. While flying at an altitude of 2,500 m, he sighted the enemy aircraft above him, but he considered an attack with just three fighters into the sun unfeasible. Kovalenko duly manoeuvred his small force in behind the bombers while the rest of the Hurricanes and MiG-3s joined him. As the Stukas commenced their diving attack the Hurricane pilots fired a salvo of rockets into the middle of the enemy formation from a range of 400 m, before splitting up and making individual attacks. Kovalenko opened fire from a range of 200 m, and he continued to fire until he was just ten metres behind his target. He was later to report ”the Ju 87 turned over and the cockpit canopy flew off”. Kovalenko did not have time to see his victim hit the ground as he was attacking a second enemy bomber. Opening fire at 100 m, he watched the Stuka roll over onto its back and tumble earthwards. Again, he was too busy to witness its final demise as by then the Bf 109s had arrived on the scene. In the end, it seems that Kovalenko only was credited with one Ju 87 shot down in this combat. Upon their return to base Starshii Leitenant Pavel Orlov and Starshii Leitenant Sergei Kurzenkov also claimed to have destroyed a Ju 87 apiece, the former reporting:

“At an altitude of 1500 m and from a range of 250-270 m I opened fire on the Ju 87’s engine from behind. The engine was engulfed in smoke and I unleashed a second salvo from above and behind while inverted as the Ju 87 was pulling out of its dive. The aircraft caught fire and there were two tongues of flame coming out of each side of the fuselage. I then gave the dive-bomber another burst. It slowed and went down.”
Orlov overshot the Ju 87, and after making a tight banking turn and scanning the sky, he was unable to locate his adversary. Kurzenkov’s report was even briefer:
“I attacked one Ju 87 when it was pulling out of its dive, opening fire from a range of 100 m. After the third burst of machine gun fire the Ju 87 crashed 5-8 km west of Murmansk.”
A fifth Ju 87 was claimed by 2 GIAP-SF when one was claimed by Husin Abishev.
Most of 78 IAP-SF’s Hurricanes, led by Starshii Leitenant Sgibnev, engaged the escorting fighters, thus giving the 2 GIAP-SF pilots their chance to attack the Stukas without interference. Sgibnev and his formation waded into the Bf 110s as they pulled out of their dives, the leading group firing three long bursts into the first twin-engined fighter in a head-on attack. According to Sgibnev’s report, the Bf 110 “dived steeply and crashed into the ground, leaving a trail of black smoke behind it”. Sgibnev then attacked a single Bf 109 from behind and slightly below from a range of 150-180 m. He again fired three long bursts, but could not prevent the enemy fighter from breaking off combat and diving away to the west. Sgibnev did not see the Messerschmitt crash so after the battle he claimed just the Bf 110 destroyed. Although his own aircraft had been damaged by bullets and shrapnel, it was soon repaired. Two of Sgibnev’s squadronmates, Starshii Leitenant I. L. Zhivotovskii and Leitenant Babii, both claimed to have downed a Bf 110.
Leitenant Nikifor Ignatiev from 27 IAP-SF claimed one Bf 110 and one Ju 87 over Murmansk during the day.
For their part, the pilots of the escorting Bf 110s claimed to have destroyed two enemy fighters 20 km west of Murmansk, both by Feldwebel Theodor Weissenberger of 10.(Z)/JG 5, who claimed one MiG-3 at 17:42 and a Hurricane at 17:45. They had stayed above the clouds ready to pounce on lone Soviet aircraft, but they only succeeded in damaging a MiG-3, whose pilot was able to make an emergency landing.
Neither side had suffered unsustainable losses in the battle over Murmansk.

On 18 May, 13 Hurricanes from 78 IAP-SF intercepted six Ju 88s and two Bf 110s. According to Northern Fleet Air Force Headquarters operations report No 0138 of 19 May 1942:

Sgibnev attacked one Ju 88 from above and behind, opening fire with four machine guns from a distance of 300-100 m. The aircraft caught fire and crashed near lake Kilp-Yavr. Babii attacked another Ju 88 from above and behind, opening fire with four to five long bursts from a distance of 200-100 m. The aircraft entered a steep dive and crashed into the ground six kilometres southwest of Lake Dolgoe. Bershanskii attacked a Ju 88 from directly behind its tail and opened fire with five bursts. The aircraft caught fire and crashed five kilometres south of Kyadel-Yavr. Doroshin shot down a Ju 88 and [Leitenant E. M.] Dilanian shot down a single Me 110. The fall of these aircraft is confirmed by air defence posts and verified from the air by the regimental commander.”
78 IAP-SF thus claimed four Ju 88s and a Bf 110 destroyed. At the same time the pilots of 122 IAD and the 14th Army Air Force, who also played a part in countering the raid, claimed to have destroyed 13 Ju 88s, although, as was often the case, the reality was very different. Indeed, KG 30 lost only Ju 88A-4 WNr. 1746.

78 IAP-SF, led by Kapitan Petr Sgibnev (1./78 IAP-SF), was in combat on 1 July 1942 when seven Hurricanes from the regiment repelled a raid by Ju 87s, the Soviet pilots claiming to have downed six of nine dive-bombers engaged without loss. The Germans, however, stated that only two aircraft were destroyed, Ju 87Rs WNr. 5691 and 6225. The aircrew involved, Leutnant Leo Schobert, Unteroffizier Arno Jansen, Feldwebel August Greiner and Unteroffizier Wolfgang Ossowski, were all killed.
The official 78 IAP-SF account noted that at 18:50 its pilots were patrolling over the port of Murmansk at an altitude of 4000 m:

“Performing a barrel roll over the port, the pilots noticed a series of explosions from anti-aircraft artillery shells, indicating the direction from which the enemy aircraft were approaching. The leader of the group, Petr Sgibnev, sighted nine Ju 87s approaching at an altitude of 3000 m. The leading group decided to attack the dive-bombers head-on. As a result of the first attack the dive-bombers dropped their bombs in the mountains. They turned and, descending one by one, set course for their own territory. Having dispersed their opponents, the Soviet pilots continued to attack the fleeing dive-bombers from close range.
In his first head-on attack, Kapitan Sgibnev fired five to six bursts of machine gun fire from a distance of 300-100 m at a Ju 87. The dive-bomber caught fire and went down. Having disposed of one Ju 87, Kapitan Sgibnev caught up with another. He attacked it from above and behind from a distance of 50-30 m. The enemy aircraft started to descend haphazardly after two bursts of machine gun fire. The crewmembers bailed out. One was shot in the air by Soviet pilots but the other landed safely.”
The following pilots each claimed to have shot down a Ju 87: Kapitan Babii, Kapitan Alexei Dizhevskiy, Starshii Leitenant Vasilii Shalaev and Leitenant E. M. Dilanian, while Sgibnev claimed two. Both Babii and Shalaev downed their Stukas during the first attack and both received the Order of the Red Banner on 23 July for their successes (the second time for Babii). An official 78 IAP-SF report recorded:
“As a result of well-organised observation by the Hurricane pilots, the enemy dive-bombers were immediately intercepted and attacked vigorously. Having lost their leader in the first attack, the dive-bombers scattered and started to depart one by one in a panic, the gunners hardly firing a shot. The personal example of the leader of the group, Kapitan Sgibnev, together with the positive results of the first attack, instilled yet more confidence in the pilots that the bombers could be routed.”
There was however some criticism of the Hurricanes’ leader in the official report of the battle:
“Kapitan Sgibnev made a fundamental mistake by being so engrossed in his pursuit of the enemy that he failed to organise a re-grouping of his pilots after the battle, which resulted in them returning to their airfield individually.”
At a conference of Northern Fleet pilots held shortly after the 1 July action, Sgibnev shared his observations and experiences from the battle with his colleagues:
“There is no need to be afraid of attacking a Ju 87 head-on, as it is defenceless from an attack from this direction. However, it is difficult to aim during a head-on attack, and firing can therefore be ineffective. One has to know the weak points of enemy aircraft, and hit them there. The Me 109 is a good aircraft, but even it has a weak spot. In the Hurricane, you cannot get away from the Messerschmitt in level flight. Nevertheless, it can be shot down if you manage to get behind the fighter, as it is not a strong aircraft. It is also lightly armed with one cannon and two machine guns. Me 109 pilots never enter into head-on attacks.”

By November 1942 his various successes earlier in the year had seen him promoted to lead the 1st Hurricane squadron of 78 IAP-SF.

Babii was subsequently sent on training courses to gain further qualifications, returning to the Northern Fleet Air Force in January 1944. He then completed further spells in command of various squadrons within 78 IAP-SF and 54 SmAP of the White Sea Flotilla Air Force through to war’s end.

Babii ended the war 1 biplane victory and a total of 8.
During the war, Babii was decorated with the Order of the Red Banner (thrice) and the Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class.

Babii served post-war in the Pacific Fleet from 1946, and was transferred to the reserves in 1957 with the rank of Podpolkovnik.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  03/07/41   1/4 Ju 88 Shared destroyed I-153   nr Vaenga airfield 72 SmAP-SF
1 09/08/42   1 Ju 87 Destroyed I-153     72 SmAP-SF
2 15/04/42 18:30 1 Bf 110 (a) Destroyed Hurricane   Murmansk area 78 IAP-SF
3 18/05/42   1 Ju 88 (b) Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
4 29/05/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
5 23/06/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
6 01/07/42 18:50 1 Ju 87 (c) Destroyed Hurricane   Murmansk area 78 IAP-SF
7 03/07/42   1 Ju 88 Destroyed Hurricane   Murmansk area 78 IAP-SF
8 31/03/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 8 and 1 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Bf 110s from 10.(Z)/JG 5.
(b) Claimed in combat with Ju 88s from KG 30. Soviet fighters claimed 17 Ju 88s while only 1 was lost.
(c) 78 IAP-SF claimed 6 Ju 87s in this combat but only 2 seems to have been lost (both crews KiA).

All aces of Stalin 1936–1953 – Mikhail Bykov, 2014
Soviet Aces 1936-1953
Soviet Hurricane Aces of World War 2 – Yuriy Rybin, 2012 Osprey Publishing Limited, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-741-1

Last modified 07 March 2018