Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

Kapitan Petr Georgievich Sgibnev HSU

25 August 1920 – 3 May 1943

Petr Sgibnev was born on 25 August 1920.

He spent his youth in Leningrad before joining the Red Army in 1937.

In July 1940, he graduated from Eysk Naval Aviation School.

In June 1941, Leitenant Sgibnev served in 12 OIA-KBF, flying Polikarpov I-153s.

He was wounded twice during 1941 and the second injury was heavy requiring hospital treatment in Saransk.

On 13 August 1941, he was decorated with the Order of the Red Banner.

Between February and March 1942, he served in 72 SmAP-SF, which also was equipped with Polikarpov I-153s. This was a mainly fighter equipped composite regiment operating in the defence of Murmansk with the Air Force of the North Fleet.

In March 1942, he was transferred to 78 IAP-SF, which was equipped with Hurricanes.

The port of Murmansk was attacked twice on 15 April 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 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 Konstantin 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.

As a result of the combat on 18 May, Sgibnev was decorated with a second Order of the Red Banner on 26 May 1942. He was also recommended to receive the title of HSU. The official citation that accompanied the latter read as follows:

“For the whole period of the war with the German invaders up to now, comrade Sgibnev has flown 260 combat sorties, totalling 243 hr 40 min flying time. He has engaged in 21 air battles, during which he has personally shot down ten enemy aircraft. One of Stalin’s original falcons, Comrade Pilot Sgibnev is consistently contributing to the glory of our Great Motherland. Through his indomitable ambition he seeks a fight with the enemy, and on finding it, he is unfailingly victorious.”

Sgibnev was appointed CO of 1./78 IAP-SF on 1 June 1942.

On the morning of 2 June, the Luftwaffe struck twice at Murmansk and its port. The Northern Fleet Air Force scrambled 30 fighters at 11:20 to repel the first raid, which comprised nine Ju 87s escorted by four Bf 109s and a similar number of Bf 110s. Several jetties were seriously damaged as well as the railway line to the port. A submarine, which was under repair in the shipyard, was also damaged by a bomb. The Hurricanes were joined by a eskadrilia of I-l6s from 27 IAP-SF under the command of Kapitan Vasilii Adonkin. The Polikarpov pilots engaged the Bf 109s and Kapitan Adonkin claimed one of them (credited as a probable). This gave their compatriots in the Hurricanes an opportunity to attack the enemy bombers without interference. Starshii Leitenant Alexei Dizhevskii, who was leading six Hurricanes, subsequently reported:

“We were patrolling over Mishukov Cape airfield when we encountered eight or nine Ju 87s at 1125 hrs at an altitude of 3500 m. They were flying out of the cloud and out of the sun on a bombing mission. I called on my group to close up and we attacked head-on and from below as a group. Having prevented the enemy aircraft from diving on their targets, they lost altitude and attempted to turn for home. This was a mistake, as their manoeuvring allowed us to get in behind them and continue the pursuit.
I attacked two Ju 87s, the first from behind and below. I fired two bursts into its engine and the Stuka started to smoke. Dropping onto its port wing, the aircraft went down vertically in flames. I then attacked a second Ju 87. I caught up with it and attacked from below and behind from a distance of 30-20 m. After I had used up all my ammunition, I watched as the Ju 87’s engine cowlings broke loose and the engine started to smoke heavily. The aircraft disappeared in a steep dive east of Lake Pyayve-Yavr. I was not able to pursue the dive-bombers any further because of an Me 110, which I engaged in combat. Following this battle I landed safely at my home airfield. My aircraft was undamaged.”
In all, the pilots of 78 IAP-SF claimed to have destroyed ten enemy aircraft during the raid. This total was comprised of six Ju 87s, three Bf 109s and a single Bf 110. The following pilots from 78th IAP were amongst those who claimed to have destroyed a Ju 87: Starshii Leitenant Dizhevskii (who was promoted to Kapitan after this combat), Starshii Leitenant Sgibnev (1./78 IAP-SF), Leitenant E. M. Dilanian, Starshii Leitenant Petr Kolomiets, Leitenant N. I. Nikolaiev and Serzhant Alexei Pilipenko. Starshii Leitenant Vasilii Doroshin claimed a Bf 109. This earned him a second Order of the Red Banner. The Soviet fighters from 78 IAP-SF suffered no losses.
German sources state that 3./StG 5 lost only two Ju 87Rs (WNrs. 5485 and 5545) and had three crewmen killed (Oberleutnant Karl Pauls, Unteroffizier Jakob Holtmaier and Leutnant Karl Rapp). Air gunner Obergefreiter Werner Somann survived being shot down and was taken prisoner. Under interrogation, he made the following observation:
“It has become more difficult to get away from the enemy fighters recently, in as much as now the Russian pilots are starting to get as close as 7-10 m from the bombers, which previously didn't happen.”
It was not such a successful day for the pilots of 2 GIAP-SF, however. Seven Hurricanes, led by Aleksey Kovalenko, were sent aloft to counter the second raid on Murmansk’s port, but they suffered heavy losses. Three Hurricanes (BH328, Z5052 and Z5252) were shot down and Guards Serzhant A. V. Vanyukhin was killed. Only a solitary Bf 109 was claimed by Guards Leitenant Pavel Markov (Hurricane Z5252) in return, although this was not confirmed.

78 IAP-SF, led by Kapitan 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, 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 Konstantin 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.”

On 23 October 1942, he was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin.
Sgibnev was also decorated with the British DFC in the end of 1942.

He left 78 IAP-SF in October 1942, when he was transferred back to his old unit (72 SmAP-SF) as a commander of an eskadrilia. This unit had become a guard’s unit, 2 GIAP-SF.

Sgibnev became CO of 2 GIAP-SF in January 1943.

Later, 2 GIAP-SF was re-equipped with Airacobras.

On 2 April 1943, he was decorated with a third Order of the Red Banner.

Kapitan Sgibnev was killed in a plane crash on 3 May 1943.

At the time of his death, Sgibnev was credited with 1 biplane victory and a total of 17.
During the war, he had been decorated with the Order of the Red Banner (twice).

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  12/07/41   1/3 Bf 109 Shared destroyed I-153     72 SmAP-SF
  26/07/41   1/3 Bf 109 Shared destroyed I-153     72 SmAP-SF
  10/08/41   1/2 Bf 109 Shared destroyed I-153     72 SmAP-SF
  13/08/41   1/2 Bf 109 Shared destroyed I-153     72 SmAP-SF
1 28/08/41   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-153     72 SmAP-SF
2 04/04/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
3 15/04/42 18:30 1 Bf 110 (a) Destroyed Hurricane   Murmansk area 78 IAP-SF
4 10/05/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
5 12/05/42   1 Bf 110 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
6 12/05/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
7 18/05/42   1 Ju 88 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
8 29/05/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     78 IAP-SF
9 02/06/42 11:25 1 Ju 87 (b) Destroyed Hurricane   Murmansk area 1./78 IAP-SF
10 23/06/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Hurricane     1./78 IAP-SF
11 01/07/42 18:50 1 Ju 87 (b) Destroyed Hurricane   Murmansk area 1./78 IAP-SF
12 01/07/42 18:50 1 Ju 87 (b) Destroyed Hurricane   Murmansk area 1./78 IAP-SF
13 26/02/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Airacobra     2 GIAP-SF
14 14/03/43   1 Fi 156 (d) Destroyed Airacobra     2 GIAP-SF
15 15/03/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Airacobra     2 GIAP-SF
16 19/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Airacobra     2 GIAP-SF
17 19/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Airacobra     2 GIAP-SF

Biplane victories: 1 and 4 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 17 and 4 shared destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Bf 110s from 10.(Z)/JG 5.
(b) Claimed in combat with Ju 87Rs from 3./StG 5, which lost 2 Ju 87Rs (WNrs. 5485 and 5545). 78 IAP-SF claimed 6 Ju 87 in this combat without losses.
(c) 78 IAP-SF claimed 6 Ju 87s in this combat but only 2 seems to have been lost (both crews KiA).
(d) Claimed as a “Storch”.

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 09 March 2018