Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

Polkovnik Aleksey Semyonovich Smirnov HSU

Smirnov was born in Paltsevo in the Kalinin area on 7 February 1917. His father died when he was young and he lived with his mother and 6 brothers and sisters. After school he worked with farming and other various occupations.
He learned to fly at the Kalinin aeroclub before starting his military career in 1938 and completing his pilot training at Odessa Military Air College later that same year.

He cut his teeth against the Finns during the Winter War of 1939/40.

At the outbreak of the Patriotic War, he was serving in the 153 IAP engaging in the threefold mission of carrying out armed reconnaissance, bomber escort and ground attack at the Leningrad front.

He claimed his first victory when he shot down a Bf 109 in July 1941 while flying the Polikarpov I-153 and claimed three more German aircraft before the regiment converted to I-16s.

On 14 September 1941, he was badly hit and wounded in a fighter battle but managed to nurse his blazing aircraft back to friendly territory before bailing out. He was hospitalised but returned to duty in the end of October 1941.

By December 1941, he had brought his score to three personal kills.
In early 1942, the regiment was transferred to the Volkhov Front to defend the ‘Way of Life’ to Leningrad across the ice-bound Lake Ladoga.
During the summer the regiment was moved to the Voronezh Front and he was promoted to Starshii Leitenant.
On 30 June 1942, the regiment was as one of the first regiments to be re-equipped with P-39D Airacobras. He was to fly this fighter with notable success during subsequent assignments on Voronezh, Northwest, Kalinin, 1st and 2nd Baltic and 3rd Byelorussian Fronts to come out of World War II as the regiment’s top ace.

On 23 July 1942, he was leading six Airacobras to tear into a formation of six Ju 87s and an equal number of Bf 109s from II/JG 77 near Zemlyansk. Before the escort could intervene, Smirnov had destroyed one of the Stukas, then pulled in behind a Bf 109, and started to pour fire into him. The German pilot knew how to protect his skin and gave him a good fight. By continually turning, sideslipping and fishtailing he managed to work his way back into German territory forcing Smirnov to break off and turn for home when fuel was getting low.
Some sources states that Smirnov’s aircraft was shot down over German held territory in this combat and that he parachuted safely from it. The wind then brought him safely into Soviet territory.

On 22 November 1942 the 153 IAP was designated the 28 GIAP and moved to the North West Front.

He claimed a Fw190 in February 1943.

In March 1943 Smirnov got into a hard, protracted duel with a Fw190 flown by a pilot of equal ability. The combat came to a rapid end when he allowed the German pilot to get close, then throttled back allowing him to overshoot. Smirnov latched onto his tail getting strikes all over him following which the Fw190 hit the ground in a splash of flame.

During the spring of 1943 he was promoted to Kapitan and became deputy commander of an eskadrilya.

On 1 August 1943 the 28 GIAP was re-equipped with P-39Qs.

On 28 September 1943 he was decorated with the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union for 13 victories claimed on 39 air combats on 312 sorties as of August 1943. By the end of September his score had climbed to 18 victories.

In October 1943 he took over as a commander of an eskadrilya.

His highest scoring day was 9 October 1943 when he shot down four German planes and for this feat he was decorated with the Order of Aleksandr Nevskij three days later.

Late in 1943 the unit moved to the 1st Baltic Front.
In 1944 he was promoted to Major and the unit moved to the 2nd Baltic Front.
In January 1945 he advanced to deputy commander of the regiment and participated in the final clashes over Berlin.

On 23 February 1945 he was decorated with the second Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union for 31 victories and 1 shared claimed on 396 sorties as of September 1944.
During the start of 1945 the unit moved first to the 3rd and then to the 2nd Belorussian Fronts. His number two on many occasions was 14-victory ace Poytr Uglyanskiy. At one occasion they together shot down four Bf 109s.
Smirnov was also decorated with the Order of Lenin (twice), the Order of the Red Banner (five times), the Order of Alexandr Nevskii, the Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class (twice) and the Order of the Red Star.
Smirnov ended the war with 4 biplane victories and a total of 34. These were claimed on 72 encounters on 457 sorties of which 100 were ground attacks. The last sortie and combat took place over East Prussia.

Following World War II Smirnov assumed command of a fighter air regiment and flew MiG-15s and Mig-17s. Later he became a fighter inspector of a military district.
He retired from the VVS as a Polkovnik in 1954. He lived in Moscow and died on 7 August 1987.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 ?/07/41   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-153 ? Sortavala 153 IAP
2 ?/?/41   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed I-153 ? ? 153 IAP
3 ?/?/41   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed I-153 ? ? 153 IAP
4 ?/?/?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed I-153 ? ? 153 IAP
? 23/07/42   1 Ju 87 Destroyed Airacobra ? Zemylansk 153 IAP
? 23/07/42   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 153 IAP
? ?/02/43   1 Fw190 Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP
? 15/03/43   1 Fw190 Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP
? 15/03/43   1 Fw190 Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP
? 08/10/43   1 He 111 Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP
? 09/10/43   1 enemy aircraft Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP
? 09/10/43   1 enemy aircraft Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP
? 09/10/43   1 enemy aircraft Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP
? 09/10/43   1 enemy aircraft Destroyed Airacobra ? ? 28 GIAP

Biplane victories: 4 destroyed.
TOTAL: 34 and 15 shared destroyed.

Black Cross/Red Star Volume III - Christer Bergström, Andrey Dikov and Vlad Antipov, 2006 Eagle Editions Ltd, Hamilton, ISBN 0-9761034-4-3
Sovetskiye asy - Nikolay Bodrikhin, 1998, kindly provided by Ondrej Repka.
Stalin's Eagles - Hans D. Seidl, 1998 Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-7643-0476-3
Stalin's Falcons - Tomas Polak and Christhoper Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-01-2
Additional information kindly provided by Alexey V. Andreev.

Last modified 25 September 2007