Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

Starshiy Leitenant Pavel Ivanovich Gavrilov

20 June 1918 – 22 March 1943

Pavel Gavrilov was born on 20 June 1918.

Pavel Gavrilov was born in Leningrad on 20 June 1918, graduated from the Tashkent Railway College after six years of study in 1938. Later that year he was accepted into the ranks of the Red Army Air Force and began his military service in the Guards’ battalion of the 1st Chkalovskoe Military Aviation College.

Graduating in January 1940, Gavrilov was initially posted as a mladshiy leitenant to 163rd Reconnaissance Air Regiment, before joining 152 IAP in September 1941.
152 IAP had been established in late 1939 within the 9th Army Air Force, being based initially at Voynitsa airfield near the town of Ukhta. 152 IAP, comprised of five eskadrilyas (two flying the I-15bis and three the I-153), played an active role in the “Winter War” with Finland between 9 January and 13 March 1940.
Following the cessation of hostilities, the regiment’s fighters operated from airfields in the Petrozavodsk, Leningrad and Arkhangelsk areas.

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, 152 IAP – with its five eskadrilyas equipped with 64 I-153s – became part of 134 IAD, within the city of Arkhangelsk’s air defence system. Based at Kegostrov airfield, it was engaged in the air defence of this vital sea port. In the absence of appropriate air observation, early warning and communication posts, there were no encounters with the enemy and, in any case, at that time the only Luftwaffe flights made in this area were by lone reconnaissance aircraft.
In August 1941, 152 IAP was reduced in size to just two squadrons operating 20 I-153s, its remaining three units being relinquished to allow them to serve as foundation squadron for newly formed regiments.
On 17 September, 152 IAP was transferred to Sosnovets airfield on the Karelian Front, from where it was to play an active role against enemy ground forces.

Between 09:25-10:25 on 27 September 1941, luutnantti Martti Kalima’s 1/LLv 10 was on an interception at Ontajoki engaging in a combat with four I-153s over Rukajärvi. The Squadron combat report recalled:

“On an alert mission at 09:25-10:25 hours we flew towards the front with eight aircraft. The lower patrol, where belonged luutnantti Kalima (FR-150), vänrikki Salomaa (FR-154), vänrikki Virtanen (FR-155), kersantti Nuorala (FR-148) and kersantti Kilpinen (FR-141), flew at about 100m altitude. The upper patrol, luutnantti Lehtonen (FR-156), vänrikki Ukkonen (FR-153) and vänrikki Leino (FR-138) about 200m higher. The top patrol leader, lutnantti Lehtonen observed on the sun side five Russian fighters of I-153 type picking up at the front-line. We were about 5km from them. Luutnantti Lehtonen tried to come and inform the lower patrol his observations, but before this vänrikki Salomaa flying the left wing of the lower patrol had already observed the enemies and informed the lead plane luutnantti Kalima this. We turned towards them and tried to obtain more altitude since the Russians were already at 500m. Only four enemies had remained, one had broken off earlier and the others were going east in a shallow climb. When noticing us they turned towards us and dived in a line towards us with a 150m altitude advantage. Our own aircraft were in an inclined echelon caused by the bank and that the top patrol had just tried to inform us of the Russians. We pulled at them and started firing and after the pass we turned after them, after which began a blind combat, where the Russians as more manoeuvrable in spite of their inferior numbers always got behind somebody’s tail, but then we were saved by good comrade spirit. This was exhibited in us trying to fire at a Russian plane, which had got behind the tail of some of us. At the very beginning luutnantti Lehtonen got an exploding bullet to the cockpit through the wind shield and was forced to break off, since the splinters of the bullet hit the eyes so badly that the sight blurred. Vänrikki Ukkonen shot at one I-153, which flew towards him so long that he had to make only a small dodge, but the Russian flew straight on. The result was that vänrikki Ukkonen’s landing gear swept off the port upper wing of the Russian, and the I-153 crashed; vänrikki Ukkonen had great difficulties in regaining control of his aircraft and was forced to break off the fight. The aircraft caught fire and vänrikki Ukkonen had to bail out 20km from the frontline on our side. An I-153 was behind the tail of kersantti Kilpinen firing at him. Luutnantti Kalima got behind the Russian and gave a burst. Then the Russian quitted firing and pulled into a shallow climbing turn, when luutnantti Kalima shot from a bank a burst and the Russian aircraft flashed up in flames and crashed in a pond. Liberated from the Russian kersantti Kilpinen pulled a bank, when he got from behind one banking Russian into his sight, fired a burst and the Russian caught fire and crashed. Vänrikki Salomaa got behind the last I-153 and shot a burst, when the Russian took a shallow dive to escape and while smoking broke off due to his higher speed.”
The returning Finnish pilots claimed three I-153s and one damaged. These were claimed by luutnantti Martti Kalima, vänrikki Leo Ukkonen (his fighter crashed at 09:50 at Kotskoma), kersantti Arvid Kilpinen and vänrikki Mikko Salomaa (1 damaged).
They had been in combat with five I-153s from 152 IAP led by starshiy politruk Sergei Khoteev, which strafed enemy forces in the village of Rugozero. During their return flight, the Soviet pilots were attacked by a reported nine enemy fighters, which they identified as Bf 109s. They reported that leitenant M. N. Piskunov collided with a Fokker (Ukkonen) and was killed while starshiy politruk Khoteev and mladshiy leitenant Gavrilov each claimed an enemy aircraft shot down.
Khoteev’s I-153 was damaged in the combat and he made a successful emergency landing on a country road leading from the front.
Pavel Gavrilov was promoted one rank following this action.

On 2 November, 152 IAP was pulled back to a rear area outside the city of Arkhangelsk to re-equip with Hawker Hurricanes.
Two weeks later, on 16 November, the regiment returned to the front with its first ten fighters.
After conversion to the Hurricane, 152 IAP became part| of 103 SAD (Combined Air Division), which had been formed within the Red Army Air Force on the Karelian Front at the end of October. The unit was based at the Segezhsk airfield complex and given the task of defending the southern sector of the Karelian Front, specifically the areas of Medvezhegorsk, Mosalsk and Rebolsk. The principal enemy in this sector was the Finnish Air Force.

Starshiy leitenant Gavrilov claimed a Bf 109 on 24 November but this claim can’t be verified with Finnish records. This was 152 IAP’s first victory with the Hurricane.

On 27 December, Gavrilov took-off in one of two Hurricanes scrambled to intercept a Finnish reconnaissance aircraft, he subsequently returned to report having shot down the intruding ‘Blenheim’, although the victory remained unconfirmed with Finnish records.

The activities of 103 IAD forced the Finnish to move 2/LLv 24 to Tiiksjärvi airfield with their Brewster B.239s on 8 January 1942.
The next day, 9 January, eight Brewsters were transferred from Kondogoli to Tiiksjärvi and they encountered Hurricanes from 152 IAP when they targeted their airfield shortly after arrival. Five Hurricanes carried out the attack and judging by their combat reports the pilots achieved considerable success, claiming the destruction of seven enemy aircraft: in the air and on the ground. What follows is an extract from 152 IAP’s account of the day’s action:

“At 1325 hrs three passes were made by five Hurricanes in an attack on the airfield at Tiiksjärvi, where five aircraft were concealed in the outskirts of the forest. As a result of the attack four Fokker aircraft were taken out of action. The second airfield, where up to ten Brewsters and Fokkers were located, was attacked at 1340 hrs, and three aircraft were damaged. Up to seven Brewsters and Fokkers appeared following this attack and engaged our fighters. As a result, three Brewster and two Fokker aircraft were damaged. Our losses amounted to one Hurricane and pilot Lyusov, who, having destroyed a Fokker, was shot down. The exact location of the crash site has not been established.
As a result of these attacks on Tiiksjärvi and the aerial battle, seven aircraft were destroyed on the ground and in the air, our pilots making the following claims – Eliseev (one Brewster), Gavrilov (one Brewster), Lyusov (one Fokker) and Zelentsov and Kuznetsov (one Brewster each).”
The Finns confirmed that only one aircraft had been damaged on the ground. Five Brewster B.239s managed to take off during the attack and two engaged the Hurricanes, but they achieved no success because their guns jammed. The B.239s sustained minor combat damage in return – just two holes in the starboard side of one aircraft. The three scrambling Fokker D.XXIs of Lentu (Flight) Kärr from LeLv 14 were even luckier. Having taken off under fire, alikersantti Hemmo Leino (FR-146) claimed one probably destroyed Hurricane over Ontrosenvaara between 12:15-12:45. According to Soviet archival documents, leitenant N. Lyusov failed to return from this sortie in Hurricane DR340.

On 6 February, five Hurricanes of 152 IAP that flew a reconnaissance mission to Tiiksjärvi. Appearing suddenly over the airfield at low level, the Soviet pilots saw enemy fighters scrambling to take off. Yet the Finnish pilots were able to avoid the losses that seemed inevitable. A single Brewster was making a training flight around the airfield, and vänrikki Marrti Solovaara (BW-379) of LLv 24 not only broke up the Soviet attack but also claimed one of the probably destroyed and a second damaged. One of them was flown by starshii leitenant Gavrilov, who was wounded in the shoulder while his Hurricane was holed in its main fuel tank.
The Hurricane pilots were in no hurry to leave, however, and they attacked a Fokker D.XXI that had appeared over the airfield upon its return from a combat sortie. Having claimed it destroyed (this can’t be verified with Finnish records), they then returned to base. The Brewsters that had been scrambled to intercept them did not pursue the Hurricanes. Starshii leitenant Vladimir Basov seems to have been credited with the Fokker even it’s reported as Brewster in his tally.

On 20 March 1942, Gavrilov was awarded the Order of Lenin.

152 IAP continued to see action through to April, when a sharp rise in the temperature brought the spring thaw. This rendered Letnyaya airfield inoperable as the previously compacted snow turned to mud, resulting in a brief halt in operations.
In May the regiment received its first four Kittyhawk Is to add to the five surviving Hurricanes that remained on strength. With such a limited number of aircraft available, the regiment engaged in only a handful of missions during the summer months, spending most of its time performing familiarisation and training flights with the new American fighter. There were, however, some engagements with enemy aircraft.

During the early afternoon on 25 June, notification was received from local air observation, warning and communication posts of the approach of enemy aircraft. Four Brewsters of 3/LeLv 24 had carried out a reconnaissance mission over the Kirov railway line, prompting the 152 IAP’s duty flight of Hurricanes to scramble after them. Two fighters soon returned, but serzhant I. A. Repin spotted the enemy aircraft and set off in pursuit. He also notified his base of his discovery, and three Kittyhawk Is (some sources indicate that only two Curtiss fighters were involved) and three more Hurricanes were scrambled. These machines, led by starshiy leitenant Gavrilov, intercepted the intruders and engaged them in combat.
Minutes later two pairs of Brewsters from 2/LeLv 24 were scrambled under the command of luutnantti Lauri Ohukainen, these machines being vectored to the aerial battle that was being fought between the Kirov railway line and Segozero. When the Finnish reinforcements arrived on the scene there were three separate combats taking place within the main battle, which lasted for about 15 minutes. Luutnantti Ohukainen reported:

“At 13.35-14.40, altitude 6,500-10 m. I flew an alert mission with four planes. West of Segesha we met the swarm of lentomestari Juutilainen. While Juutilainen attacked a Hurricane, which took off from the air base I remained with kersantti Anttila to fly top cover at about 5,000 m altitude. When the battle shifted to south-east I followed at about 3,000 m altitude. Suddenly we were attacked by one Mig and four Hurricanes: I observed one Hurricane fire at Anttila and scored hits in him, before I could assist him. I shot at the Hurricane at a close range, when it went in a vertical dive and crashed in a swamp beneth us. Finally, I had four enemies attacking me while Anttila descended to the west alone. After a short fight, I managed to break off. About 12 km north of lake Kalitsin took me by surprise. At 4,000 m altitude one of them scored hits in my engine and rear armour plate setting the port wing fuel tank on fire. When I dodged I managed to shoot at the attacker from very close when it caught fire and disappeared southward smoking. My engine stopped and when I was trying to make a forced landing on a small lake about 15 km north of lake Kalitsin, the other Hurricane fired my starboard tank into flames setting the whole plane on fire. From 10 m altitude and 250 km/h speed I pushed the plane in the lake, where it flipped over. I dived out of the plane and swam ashore. The plane sank in half a minute. After a walk of 20 km I reached a Finnish outpost south of lake Jolmozero. The infantry observed that a Hurricane had crashed and started a forest fire in the mentioned location. About 15 Hurricanes and Migs participated in the battle. The HCs appeared much faster than the BW in the ceiling and also relatively manoeuvrable. My plane BW-372 became a total write-off.”
Luutnantti crashed at 14:40 and his Brewster was recovered from the lake in 1998 and is now on display in the Finnish Air Force Museum.
Kersantti Kalervo Anttila (BW-381) landed his damaged aircraft in a marsh around 14:20 and he could return to friendly territory suffering nothing more serious than numerous bites from forest mosquitos.
Totally the Finnish pilots claimed three destroyed Hurricanes, three probables and one damaged and one MiG-3 destroyed in this combat:
ylikersantti Nils Katajainen (BW-388) one Hurricane over Sekehe
kersantti Emil Vesa (BW-353) one probable Hurricane over Sekehe
lentomesteri Ilmari Juutilainen of 3/LeLv 24 (BW-364) one Hurricane over Sekehe and one probable and one damaged Hurricane over Seesjärvi
ylikersantti Aarne Korhonen (BW-357) one MiG-3 over Sekehe
luutnantti Lauri Ohukainen of 2/LeLv 24 (BW-372) one and one probable Hurricane over Seesjärvi
Judging by the reports made by pilots of 152 IAP, it was starshiy politruk Vladimir Faerman who shot down Ohukainen (Faerman’s third victory with the Hurricane). In all, the Soviet pilots reported the destruction of three Brewsters. Starshiy leitenant Gavrilov claimed a second Brewster while a third was shared between starshiy politruk Faerman, leitenant Sergey Zelentsov, starshiy leitenant Vladimir Basov and Nikolay Fabristov. 152 IAP only lost serzhant Repin (Hurricane Z3096), who was shot down and to this day remains listed as missing without trace.

On 6 August, kapitan Gavrilov and starshii leitenant Vladimir Basov, flying Kittyhawk Is, photographed the Finnish airfield of Tiiksjärvi and then attacked it with two FAB-100 bombs. The Soviet pilots had to dodge bursts of flak as they set course for home and were then bounced from above by five Brewsters of 2/LeLv 24, Gavrilov spotting them as they closed from behind. Opening his throttle, he broke away from his pursuers, who focused their attack on Basov. When the latter failed to return to base, it was initially thought that he had perished, as several searches for him revealed nothing. The following note appeared in the regimental diary:

“The regiment has lost one of its best men, one of Stalin’s proud falcons, our respected comrade Vladimir Basov.”
But there was good news ten days later. Basov was reported as lying severely wounded in a hospital bed. He later stated that he had shot down two Brewsters north-east of Tiiksjärvi airfield – claims not confirmed by Finnish records – during an uneven dogfight. However, the wounds he had received fighting the B.239s were so severe that he was unable to return to action. With 240 combat sorties to his name, he had completed more missions than any of his colleagues up to that point in the war. Basov had survived eight dogfights, during which he claimed five individual and one shared victory. He was awarded the order of the Red Banner on 27 October 1942.
2/LeLv 24 reported that lentomestari Yrjö Turkka’s three Brewsters escorted a Fokker reconnaissance aircraft between 09:55-10:40. Two Tomahawks appeared over Tiiksjärvi airfield and dropped their bombs. One of them was caught and shot down as a shared between lentomestari Turkka (BW-357) and ylikersantti Heimo Lampi (BW-354) over Ontajärvi.

Gavrilov had flown 95 operational sorties and survived eight dogfights by the beginning of August. He received his second Order of Lenin for his achievements by order of the commander of the Karelian Front, dated 12 October 1942.

By the end of 1942 only four Hurricanes and three Kittyhawks remained in service with 152 IAP, and all were defective. The combat report for the month of December noted that ”the regiment did not engage in any military action while based at Segezha airfield because its equipment was not up to full strength, there was a lack of combat activity by ground forces and weather conditions were bad”.
152 IAP was down to just two Hurricanes and three Kittyhawks by March 1943, and shortly thereafter it was reformed in a three squadron format as part of 259 IAD and re-deployed to Kandalaksha with a single mission – to protect the local railway line from attacks by Ju 87s of 4./StG 5. The dive-bombers were escorted by the experienced fighter pilots of II./JG 5 Eismeer, which was equipped with Bf 109Fs and Gs.
In early March 1943, at its new base at Gremyakha airfield, 152 IAP received a further 15 Hurricane IIcs drawn from other units to supplement their worn-out survivors.
152 IAP began combat operations from its new location virtually immediately. The regiment shared Gremyakha with other units that were also equipped with Hurricanes, namely 760, 768 and 966 air defence IAPs. Each unit was assigned its own sector of the Kirov railway line to defend, and usually they were expected to do so unaided. However, the most dangerous sector, and the one that suffered the most intensive bombardment by enemy bombers, was that assigned to 152 IAP. Combat reports of the initial clashes indicate that the regiment’s pilots acquitted themselves well, with formations of dive-bombers, escorted by just two or three Bf 109s, tending to turn away and jettison their bombs short of the target when encountering Soviet fighter patrols.

During the morning of 12 March seven Hurricanes of 152 IAP, led by Gavrilov, encountered a formation of enemy aircraft that the Soviet pilots took to be three Ju 87s and three Bf 109s. However, during the ensuing battle, the ‘Ju 87s’ unexpectedly raised their undercarriages to reveal themselves as Bf 109s. Yet this rapid transformation from ‘dive-bomber’ to ‘fighter’ did not worry the 152 IAP’s pilots unduly, as they had been reinforced by two pairs of Hurricanes from 966 IAP just minutes earlier. As a result of the combined action the Soviet pilots reported shooting down five Bf 109s, three being claimed by 152 IAP and two by 966 IAP, although none of the claims were confirmed. Gavrilov was credited with one Bf 109 and a second shared with five other pilots (one of these pilots were Pavel Levchuk).

On 18 March, Soviet pilots were ordered to attack Alakurtti airfield and destroy German aircraft there. However, the defences, both flak and fighters, took a heavy toll of the attackers. Of the four Il-2s of 828 ShAP taking part, none returned. Two were shot down by flak and two by fighters. All the crew members perished apart from one who could return to his unit on foot five days later nursing a head wound.
152 IAP also suffered. Its pilots had been escorting the Il-2s, and all but one of the five Hurricanes involved were shot down (aircraft numbers 519, 545, BN823 and 938). Only Gavrilov managed to avoid the carnage. He eventually succeeded in shaking off the Messerschmitt that had pursued him almost back to base. Two young pilots, mladshii serzhant I. S. Zagorodnikov and mladshii serzhant N. S. Kharlamov, were killed, but serzhant G. M. Sukhov survived after belly landing on a frozen lake and escaping from his machine prior to it being strafed by Bf 109s.

On 22 March, kapitan Gavrilov was leading six Hurricanes that had been scrambled to intercept enemy dive-bombers. The Soviet fighters reached their objective just as the Ju 87s pulled off their target and were setting course for home. As they pursued the Stukas, the Hurricanes were in turn attacked from above by two groups of Bf 109s. By making a left-hand turn and forming a defensive circle at an altitude of about 600 metres, the Hurricane pilots started to break away from the fighters. Whilst some of the Messerschmitts fired at the Hurricanes from above, others descended to 200 metres and attacked from below. Thanks to this pincer movement, the German pilots succeeded in destroying three Hurricanes.
The fuel tank of one Hurricane (BN518) exploded in the first attack and the aircraft tumbled out of the sky in a steep dive. The stricken fighter, together with its pilot, eskadrilia commander starshii leitenant Ivan Medvedev, penetrated the ice like a hot torch and sank. Another pilot, starshii leitenant S. A. Rogachevskiy, bailed out of his burning aircraft and managed to walk back to his unit, despite having suffered a foot wound.
Fatally injured, kapitan Gavrilov made an emergency landing near Zhemchuzhnaya station. By the time he was found beside his Hurricane, Gavrilov was dead. Prior to succumbing to his wounds he had accordingly to legend written ”I die for my Motherland” in his own blood on the fuselage of his fighter. Following this battle, Gavrilov and Medvedev were posthumously credited with the shared destruction of a Ju 87 between them. Gavrilov was also credited with a shared Bf 109 together with five other pilots.
Without their leader, the remaining 152 IAP pilots broke off the combat. Starshii leitenant Pavel Levchuk and mladshii leitenant Petr Churkin escaped at low level, while mladshii leitenant Timofey Ryabchenko headed for the clouds, his damaged aircraft leaking hydraulic fluid. As he climbed to safety, Ryabchenko saw six Bf 109s heading west at low level in line astern. After two weeks of active combat 152 IAP had only two serviceable Hurricanes left.

Gavrilov also flew Kittyhawks with 152 IAP.

At the time of his death. Gavrilov was credited with 1 biplane victory and a total of 6.
During the war, he had been decorated with the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 27/09/41 09:25-10:25 1 Fokker D.XXI (a) Destroyed I-153   Rukajärvi 152 IAP
2 24/11/41   1 Bf 109 (b) Destroyed Hurricane   Karelian Front 152 IAP
3 27/12/41   1 Blenheim (c) Destroyed Hurricane   Karelian Front 152 IAP
4 09/01/42 13:25- 1 Brewster (d) Destroyed Hurricane   Tiiksjärvi base 152 IAP
5 25/06/42 14:20-14:40 1 Brewster (e) Destroyed Hurricane   Urosozero-Segozero area 152 IAP
6 12/03/43 morning 1 Bf 109 (f) Destroyed Hurricane   Karelian Front 152 IAP
  12/03/43 morning 1/6 Bf 109 (g) Shared destroyed Hurricane   Karelian Front 152 IAP
  22/03/43   1/2 Ju 87 (h) Shared destroyed Hurricane   Karelian Front 152 IAP
  22/03/43   1/6 Bf 109 (i) Shared destroyed Hurricane   Karelian Front 152 IAP

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 6 and 3 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with D.XXIs from 1/LLv 10, which claimed 3 I-153s and 1 damaged while losing 1 D.XXI (pilot safe). 152 IAP claimed 3 D.XXI while losing 2 I-153s (1 pilot KiA).
(b) This claim isn’t verified with Finnish records.
(c) This claim isn’t verified with Finnish records.
(d) Claimed in combat with fighters from 2/LLv 24 and Lentu Kärr/LeLv 14, which claimed 1 Hurricane probably destroyed without losses. 152 IAP claimed 7 fighters (in air and on ground) while losing 1 Hurricane.
(e) Claimed in combat with Brewsters from LeLv 24, which claimed 3 Hurricanes, 3 probables and 1 damaged and 1 MiG-3 while losing 2 Brewsters (pilots safe). 152 IAP claimed 3 Brewsters while losing 1 Hurricane (pilot MiA).
(f) Not confirmed with Luftwaffe records.
(g) Not confirmed with Luftwaffe records.
(h) Not confirmed with Luftwaffe records.
(i) Not confirmed with Luftwaffe records.

All aces of Stalin 1936–1953 – Mikhail Bykov, 2014
Soviet Fighter Pilots 1936-1953 - Mikhail Bykov
Soviet Hurricane Aces of World War 2 – Yuriy Rybin, 2012 Osprey Publishing Limited, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-741-1
Suomen Ilmavoimat part III – 1941 – Kalevi Keskinen and Kari Stenman, 2007, ISBN 978-952-99743-1-3
Suomen Ilmavoimat part IV – 1942 – Kalevi Keskinen and Kari Stenman, 2007, ISBN 978-952-99743-2-0
Additional information kindly provided by Ondrej Repka.

Last modified 11 June 2020