Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

Kapitan Anton Alekseyevich Gubenko HSU

12 February 1908 – 31 March 1939

Gubenko was born on 12 February 1908 in the Donetsk settlement of Chicherino.

He joined the army in 1927, attending the Military Air College in Leningrad, and the College for pilots in Sevastopol.

In April 1934, he served as leytenant and as commander of a detachment of the 116 IAP in the Moscow area.
Soon after this, he became an instructor and, in the summer of 1935,, he served as the chief pilot of the military fighter tests where he worked with testing limiting overloads. The tests went well and ended 1.5 months ahead of schedule and for this, he was awarded with the Order of Lenin. Totally he flew 12 different types of aircraft.

He went to Spain as a volunteer.

On 13 March 1938, with the rank as kapitan, he was sent to China and to Aleksey Blagoveshchenskiy’s fighter group at Nanking.

On 29 April 1938 (Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s birthday) 18 G3M2s of the 13th Kokutai Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) escorted by 27 A5Ms of the 12th Kokutai under the command of Lieutenant Commodore Y. Ozono attacked Wuhan.
The 4th PG at Hankow Field had nine I-15bis, seven I-16s, and two I-16s from the 24th PS. The Russian volunteers had 23 I-15bis and 16 I-16s. The 3rd Group detachment based at Hsiao Kan was equipped with four I-15bis and six I-15bis were from the 17th PS, 5th PG.
Reconnaissance revealed the Japanese intentions in good time and 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 08:00 a lot of fighters had concentrated there. By 09:00 all the aircraft had been re-fuelled 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 10:00. At 14:00, when the Japanese aircraft approached Wuhan fighters were already waiting in the air with sufficient altitude. According the previously drawn up plans, the I-15bis closed in on the Japanese fighters in a pincer attack while the I-16 formation fell upon the bombers.
Mao Ying-Chu, commander of the 4th PG, led nine I-15bis into the battle. Liu Chi-Han and Liu Chung-Wu took off first and met over a reported 20 Japanese aircraft. They each claimed a Japanese aircraft, as did Yang Shen-Yen. Moments later Liu Chung-Wu claimed a second Japanese aircraft. His aircraft was, however, also damaged in this battle.
Teng Ming-Teh led the I-16s of the 4th PG and 24th PS to patrol the airspace over the airfield. The Russians at first left the formation, but then turned around and joined in the battle near Liang Tze Lake. They claimed six Japanese bombers and seven fighters.
During the combat Lieutenant Chen Huai-Min of the 23rd PS claimed a Japanese plane. His plane was then badly damaged and he rammed another Japanese aircraft and both aircraft exploded in mid-air. Chen was killed.
While the combat was in full swing the four I-15bis of 3rd PG and the six I-15bis of 17th PS arrived overhead at 6500 feet south of Wuhan after that the Japanese bombers had dropped their bombs. They immediately joined combat and Shen Tse-Liu, commander of the 3rd PG detachment severely damaged one Japanese bomber. His vice-commander Li Chia-Hsun and Mo Ta-Yen each downed a Japanese bomber. Zhu Jia-Xun flew the fourth 3rd PG I-15bis. During the combat Zhu claimed to have downed one of the G3M2s south-east of Wuchang. This was near the position where two of the IJNAF G3M2s was downed. Many other Chinese and Russian volunteer pilots also made claims so Zhu should probably only be credited with a "shared" kill.
The Russian volunteer Aleksey Dushin told in his memoirs that they took of early, first Aleksey Blagoveshchenskiy, after him the entire group in established order. The I-15bis were to join battle with the fighters. At a height of about 3000m 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 Yangtze. 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 fire to three of the bombers, including the formation leader. The formation immediately fell apart and jettisoned its bombs in a rice paddy. In the air, developed dogfights and in various parts of the sky appeared the torches of burning Japanese aircraft. 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). In this combat Grigoriy Kravchenko shot down two (one bomber and one A5M) 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 Gubenko, who came to his help at the right moment.
Known Russian volunteers known to have claimed in this combat are Blagoveshchenskiy, Dushin, A. Grisenko, Gubenko, Kravchenko (two), I. Puntus, Georgiy Zakharov and A. Zingaev. The major success of the volunteers was explained by the Japanese fighters, which were late at the rendezvous with their bombers, and also by the Soviets’ successful use of the clouds.
AA at Wuchang also fired at the Japanese aircraft over Hanyang and claimed two of them.
A total of 21 Japanese aircraft, 11 fighters and 10 bombers, were claimed shot down in this fierce 30-minute battle and 50 aircrew were killed. Two parachuted and were captured. However, it has only been possible to verify two lost G3M2s.
Twelve aircraft of the Chinese and Soviet volunteers were lost and five pilots killed; identified are Chen Huai-Min, starshiy leytenant Lev Zakharovich Shuster (born 1914) and kapitan Aleksey Yevgen’yevich Uspenskiy (born 1906). Shuster was reportedly killed while colliding with a Japanese aircraft.
The Japanese reported that when their formation appeared over Hankow, a reported 78 I-15s and I-16s rose to intercept. They claimed that in a 30-minute battle they destroyed no fewer than 40 Chinese aircraft while themselves losing only two A5Ms (PO2c Ken-ichi Takahasi (Pilot 19) and PO3c Kinji Fujiwara (Pilot 29) being killed) and two G3M2s. During this combat Motonari Suho claimed his first victory (totally 15 victories – 11 in China) but his own aircraft received hits, however; on the way, back to base he had to make an emergency landing at Anking because he ran out of fuel. Lieutenant Takahide Aioi claimed his first two victories when he shot down two I-15s (totally 10 victories – 5 in China). 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 19 I-15bis and six I-16s were flown by Soviet volunteers. According to these accounts the Chinese lost nine aircraft and four pilots.
After this fierce combat Japanese did not attack Wuhan for a month.

On 29 May 1938, he claimed a Mitsubishi A5M shot down whilst flying an I-15bis, but was then shot down himself.

On 31 May, the Japanese executed a new attack on the aerodromes of fighters defending the Chinese capital. The Chinese had received advance information and were ready for them, having been able to concentrate aircraft at the Hankou aerodrome already the day before. In all, there were concentrated more than a hundred fighters.
At 10:15, 18 enemy bombers were spotted over Tung Chin by Chinese air defence lookouts followed by a reported 36 enemy aircraft over Lu-Jiang at 10:45. 46 enemy aircraft were spotted over the Camel Pass at 11:45 followed by a report of 39 enemy fighters near Qing-Shan at 12:00.
Thus, at midday a reported 39 enemy fighters and 18 enemy bombers approached Wuhan. At 11:50 49 Chinese interceptors successively began taking off from Wuhan. The Chinese fighters were four I-15bis from the 3rd PG, eight I-15bis and six I-16s (of the 21st PS) from the 4th PG, 21 I-15bis and ten I-16s from the Soviet volunteers. The 31 Soviet volunteers become the main attack force according to a previously devised plan while the 18 Chinese fighters climbed higher to provide an echeloned covering detachment. The fighters patrolled between Hankou and Qing-Shan.
Even before the appearance of the bombers, one of the groups of fighters flown by the Soviet volunteers was attacked at 12:07 by 18 A5Ms at 4500 meters. The Japanese fighter formation was reported to be 39 aircraft flying in a ‘V’ formation with 18 fighters at 4500 meters, 12 at 5000 meters and the high-cover of 9 fighters at 6000 meters. Six I-15bis flown by Soviet volunteers arrived to reinforce but at the same time 18 A5Ms joined the fight, leaving only 3 A5Ms as high-cover. At this them the I-16s from the 21st PS also joined the combat while the rest of the slower I-15bis gradually also did this. The formation led by Captain Cheng Hsiao-Yu, consisting of four I-15bis from the 3rd PG and eight I-15bis from the 4th PG didn’t manage to join combat since they were farthest away when the combat started and when they arrived north-east of the airport the enemy evaded east.
After the bombers appeared, A. Zingaev’s group threw themselves upon them, and with the first attack shot down two. The remaining bombers of the first group and the two remaining groups were not able to force their way through to the aerodrome and they turned back.
According to the recollections of N. G. Kozlov, the encounter with a large group of A5Ms occurred about 15 to 20 km east of the aerodrome. The Japanese attacked leaving one flight at altitude. Following the manoeuvres of his leader, Kozlov in a banking turn gave a burst at a Japanese fighter, which was following K. Opasov. In the turning carousel, this Japanese finally flew directly into the gun sights of Kozlov’s I-15bis, but the burst went into an already burning aircraft. A second Japanese began an attack on Kozlov. For their part, the I-16s conducted a battle in the vertical, diving at a steep angle and hitting the Japanese and then soaring upwards, and opening fire at the moment when the Japanese was dependent on his motor, climbing through a half loop. Mainly attacking out of the sun, the Japanese quickly lost the initiative, which gradually passed to the Chinese, as the battle dissolved into a sharp dogfight and gradually dissipated. While departing Kozlov let off a burst at long range at a Japanese under attack by two I-15bis, and the A5M limply began turning wing over wing and tumbled out of control to the ground.
In this combat Gubenko returned in his damaged aircraft and reported that he had shot down one Japanese and rammed another. Aleksey Blagoveshchenskiy also claimed an enemy aircraft in this combat while Grigoriy Kravchenko claimed two.
Totally the Chinese fighters claimed 14 enemy aircraft shot down after a battle that lasted for 30 minutes. The 21st PS Squadron Leader, Captain Lo Ying-Teh, claimed one enemy aircraft shot down, which crashed south of Hou Lake. Lieutenant Liu Chi-Sheng of the 21st PS returned claiming an A5M, which crashed 20 kilometres north of the airfield. The pilot was seen to bale out. Han Sen teamed up with Huang Yan-Po and jointly they attacked one enemy aircraft five times before it crashed near Tian-Xin Shoal. The Soviet volunteers claimed six enemy aircraft shot down; one crashed at She-Kou, killing the pilot while another crashed 30 kilometres from She-Kou with the pilot parachuting.
The Chinese and the Soviet pilots each lost one pilot and one aircraft and several aircraft were seriously damaged. The 21st PS flight leader, Zhang Xiao-Xian, in I-16 no. 2107 was shot down and crashed in the Dai-Jia Mountain killing Zhang. I-15bis no. 90, flown by a Soviet volunteer, crashed near Hang-Dian but the pilot managed to parachute safely.
The Japanese record that 35 A5Ms (eleven from the 12th and 24 from the 13th Kokutais) escorted 18 G3M2 bombers. Poor visibility in the region of the target led to the fighters of the 13th Kokutai failing to discover the enemy, and the A5Ms of the 12th Kokutai became engaged in a battle against a reported 50 fighters. Nine aircraft of the Yoshitomi chutai of the 12th Kokutai reported tangling with about 50 enemy fighters and during the combat PO3c Yoshimi Minami claimed one enemy aircraft (9 victories in China and a total of 15) and Momoto Matsumura clamed three. He then received a hit in his A5M’s fuel tank; moreover, he found himself surrounded by twelve enemy aircraft. Since he had run out of ammunition, he employed a ramming tactic. Then, despite the fact that the left wing of his aircraft had been sheared off from the red ball of the rising sun outward, Minami started on his way back to base. He made an emergency landing on the banks of the Yangtze River and set his aircraft on fire. Fortunately for Minami, friendly search aircraft were able to spot him; he was rescued by a patrol boat and returned safely to base. One Japanese fighter (Sea1c Hiromitsu Takahara (Pilot 36) of the 12th Kokutai was killed) was lost in the combat. The Japanese fighters totally claimed 18 victories (alternatively 12 and 6 probables) including an old, unarmed Bellanca 28/90 biplane (evidently a reconnaissance aircraft).
For his feat on this day, Gubenko gained fame throughout the Chinese Air Force and since these were his fourth and fifth victories, he was awarded the Golden Order of the Chinese Republic.

At 07:00 on 26 June 1938, three Chinese SB bombers flown by Soviet volunteers took off from Nanchang to attack the Japanese airfield at Anking. During June, the 10th I F Chutai flew patrols in the Yangtze area and now four Ki-10s from the unit led by First Lieutenant Shizuzo Tsuruta (45th Class) were scrambled to intercept them.
The Japanese recalled only seeing two SBs and chased them back to Nanchang. The SBs managed to land at Nanchang at 10:30 (the landing gear of B-1573 collapsed on landing, causing slight damage).
The Japanese pilots reported that 60 Polikarpov I-16s were encountered over Nanchang. Despite the disparity in numbers, they attacked, claiming nine shot down, but First Lieutenant Tsuruta and Sergeant Major Katsura Kichise where both shot down and killed, while Sergeant Major Kiyonori Sano returned with more than 20 bullet holes in his aircraft; only Second Lieutenant Tokuo Obe’s aircraft escaped damage.
In fact, the Chinese 1st Route Command at Nanchang scrambled only six I-16s in two separate flights flown by Soviet volunteers to intercept the four Ki-10s. The first flight of three intercepted the Japanese fighters north-east of the airfield. Kapitan Gubenko was credited with shooting down both Ki-10s claimed that day. One crashed on Yangze Zhou and the other on the beach at Qingzhou.

At 11:40, the six fighters in the first patrol returned for refuelling, leaving the others on alert. At 12:00, three Japanese bombers with six escorts emerged from the low clouds and dropped twelve bombs on the airfield, slightly damaging three SBs and one Hawk III under repair. Three Japanese fighters and one bomber were claimed in this second encounter. Two Russian piloted I-15s were shot down; no. 5904 (pilot KIA) and no. 5379 piloted by kapitan Gubenko, who escaped safely.

On 7 July 1938, the first anniversary of the start of the Sino-Japanese war there was a huge air battle over Nanchang. At the sound of the alarm, everyone took off at once, on criss-crossing paths, I-16s, I-15bis and SBs. In this battle, the Japanese adopted a very strange tactics, allowing the bombers to fly in advance without protection while the fighters, in compact groups came later, falling upon the Chinese fighters as they were exiting from their attack on the bombers. On this day four Japanese bombers and fighters were claimed shot down. In the first sudden attack B. Borodai, in an I-16 shot down a bomber. In all, the Soviet volunteers lost seven aircraft, and the I-15bis of Gubenko and N. G. Kozlov were seriously damaged. Sukhorukov was killed in the battle, Gridin baled out, Rovnin was wounded and landed back at the airfield, and E. Vladimirov turned over in a rice paddy in his damaged I-15bis. K. Opasov shot down a bomber early in the battle, and later baled out, but was killed in the air by the Japanese. Three days later fishermen pulled his body out of Lake Poyanghu. (The physician S. Belolipetskii has however described his death differently: K. Opasov shot down a Japanese aircraft and was preparing to land, but very close to the ground his aircraft suddenly went into a steep dive and crashed. There were no signs of bullet wounds in the body, but there were bullet holes in the coverings of the control surfaces and the stabilisers. Seemingly, the aircraft lost control at the moment when it was too low to bale out...”)
On the eve of this battle, Opasov’s I-15bis received a new motor and a heavy calibre “Colt” machine gun in addition to the four PV-1s.
In this battle three Chinese pilots were shot down. Afterward the group of Soviet fighters relocated to the reserve airfield at Tengsu.
According to the Soviet defence ministry archives, starshiy leytenant K. Opasov, and leytenants V.A. Kashkarov, E. I. Sukhorukov, and S. A. Khryukov were killed on 4 July 1938 so it is possible that there is some confusion regarding the battles on 4 and 7 July.

His seventh and last claim was made on 18 July.

In August, he returned to the Soviet Union where he was appointed deputy Chief of the Air Force of the Belorussian Military District.

On 22 February 1939, he was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

He was killed in a flying accident on 31 March 1939.

At the time of his death, Gubenko had claimed at least 4 biplane victories and a total of 7.

During his career, he had also been decorated with two Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 29/04/38 14:00- 1 A5M (a) Destroyed I-15bis   Hankou area  
2 29/05/38   1 A5M Destroyed I-15bis   China  
3 31/05/38 12:07- 1 A5M (b) Destroyed I-15bis   Hankou area  
4 31/05/38 12:07- 1 A5M (c) Destroyed I-15bis   Hankou area  
5 26/06/38 10:30-11:40 1 Ki-10 (d) Destroyed I-16   NE Nanchang  
6 26/06/38 10:30-11:40 1 Ki-10 (d) Destroyed I-16   NE Nanchang  
7 18/07/38   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed I-16   China  

Biplane victories: 4 destroyed.
TOTAL: 7 destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with G3M2s of the 13th Kokutai and A5Ms of the 12th Kokutai of the Japanese Naval Air Force. Chinese pilots and Russian voluntary pilots claimed 21 Japanese aircraft, 11 fighters and 10 bombers, but it seems that only two G3M2s and two A5Ms were admitted. The Japanese claimed 40 Chinese aircraft but only twelve aircraft of the Chinese and Soviet volunteers were lost and five pilots killed.
(b) Claimed in combat with A5Ms from 12th and 13th Kokutais, which claimed 12 victories (and 6 probables?) for the loss of one A5M. Soviet and Chinese pilots claimed 14 Japanese aircraft for the loss of one I-15bis and one 1-16.
(c) Claimed by ramming in combat with A5Ms from 12th and 13th Kokutais, which claimed 12 victories (and 6 probables?) for the loss of one A5M. Soviet and Chinese pilots claimed 14 Japanese aircraft for the loss of one I-15bis and one 1-16.
(d) First Lieutenant Shizuzo Tsuruta (45th Class) and Sergeant Major Katsura Kichise of the 10th I F Chutai shot down and KIA.

Air Aces Home Page - Jan Safarik
Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II - Ikuhiko Hata and Yasuho Izawa, translated by Don Cyril Gorham, 1989 United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, ISBN 0-87021-315-6
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part II - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 10 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part III - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 11 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Stalin's Falcons - Tomas Polak and Christhoper Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-01-2
Additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung and Tom Chan, Andrei Demjanko, Erich Wang and Mirek Wawrzyński.

Last modified 22 April 2020