Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

General Mayor Mikhail Nikolaevich Yakushin

20 March 1910 - 5 July 1999

Mikhail Yakushin was born on 20 March 1910 in the Moscow suburbs.

Like many Soviet youths at that time, he decided to become a military flier. After graduating from the military pilot training school, he was assigned to the 70th Separate Detachment based in Baku (in the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan). There he flew Polikarpov I-I6 fighters with M-22 and M-25 engines. As his colleagues remembered, Yakushin was by nature a restrained man accustomed to expressing his thoughts succinctly and clearly.

During the spring of 1937, the second group of Soviet volunteers was sent to Spain. The group was led by kapitan Ivan Yeremenko and included leytenant Yakushin ('Carlos Castejón'), Leonid Rybkin, Mikhail Petrov, Sergei Shalyganov and Ivan Karpov. Yakushin had left from Baku.
They travelled through France with Dutch passports - they didn't speak either foreign language fluently! Not without adventures the Soviet fliers arrived at their destination on 31 May 1937.
Arriving with them where Spanish Republican pilots who had been undergoing fighter training at the Soviet flight school near Kirovabad.
At the same time as this second group of Soviet volunteers arrived, another batch of 31 Chatos arrived from the Soviet Union, taking the total number supplied to the Republicans to 116. These new fighters greatly enhanced the strength of the I-15 Grupo.
After arrival, an escuadrilla of I-16 fighters, designated 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo de Caza No 21 (1a/21), was organized under the command of kapitan Ivan Yeremenko while Andrés García La Calle was to undergo further training in the Soviet Union. Initially this unit performed defensive duties from Cartagena and Elche to Alicante, protecting Republican warships and cargo vessels from insurgent air raids. Following the redeployment of the I-16s to the north, and the poor quality of the latest batch of I-16s to reach Spain and during a period of forced inaction in June 1937, half of the group was sent to Los Alcazares airfield, where it was re-equipped with the new I-15s. The new escuadrilla was later designated 1a/26 and commanded by kapitan Ivan Yeremenko.
The Russian pilots in this escuadrilla included Yevgeniy Antonov, Ivan Karpov, Georgii Masterov, Mikhail Petrov, Leonid Rybkin, Anatoly Serov, Nikolai Sobolev, Sergei Shalyganov and Yakushin. The 1a/26 was completed by pilots of different origin; three Spanish, two Austrian, two Americans (one of them was Harold Dahl) and the Yugoslav Bozidar Petrovich. It is also known that leytenant Leonid Rybkin served as a Patrulla leader and Harold Dahl was part of this Patrulla. Another Patrulla leader was Yevgeniy Antonov.
The escuadrilla, was based at El Soto, had already become operational two days after the Brunete campaign began and where aviation played considerable role. The insurgents increased their presence in the air battles by using German and Italian units armed with the newest aircraft. Nevertheless, Soviet fliers gained considerable success there, claiming numerous enemy aircraft shot down.

On 1 July, the 1a Escuadrilla was ordered to conduct reconnaissance flights over all of the enemy highway roads coming to Madrid from the west. In the morning, they started the planned flights; however, no results were gained at first.
As the day was tending to the evening, the command decided to conduct the last flight of the day by the whole escuadrilla.
Twelve aircraft took off along a road to Avila. Some 30-40 kilometres from the front line, over the region of Toledo, they met and engaged an equal number of CR.32s.
Leytenant Yakushin described the combat:

“I cannot describe the battle in full as this is impossible. 24 aircraft fought over the small space in the sky. All around, grey biplanes with black crosses and green ones with Republican insignia. Burning aircraft and parachutes appeared, but whose? Gradually, ours became all more numerous and only our I-15s remained in the air by the end of this battle. One of them reformed the escuadrilla with signals; this was aircraft of kapitan Yeremenko which came from the east,...”
In all, the escuadrilla claimed six victories without losses, but none of the Soviet pilots could put a claim for four of the shot-down Fiats because of the confusion of the dogfight. In this combat kapitan Ivan Yeremenko claimed one CR.32 together with leytenant Viktor Kuznetsov (some sources credits them with three shared). Leytenant Yakushin claimed a second, which was confirmed by Yeremenko and Kuznetsov.
According to some sources this combat took place on 30 June but one source (Shingarev) writes that Commissar of Soviet volunteer pilots, Felipe Agal'tsov, visited them on the afternoon of 30 June (his pseudonym in Spain was Colonel Martin). Shingarev mentions the date of this combat as 1 July 1937, and that it was their first combat over Toledo - they were attacked by a group of Fiat CR.32s.

The basic task of the escuadrilla task at this stage of the operations was cover of the capital, for which they were based at Campo Soto airfield.

In the evening on 6 July, Bozidar Petrovich claimed a CR.32 in the Madrid-Brunete area while starshiy leytenant Anatoly Serov and leytenant Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a shared Fiat CR.32.

In the early morning on 7 July, kapitan Ivan Yeremenko was ordered to take off at 07:00 with his escuadrilla (1a/26) and fly towards Madrid to join with Lakeyev’s Escuadrilla (1a/21) in the air. Meanwhile the escuadrilla of Aleksandr Minayev (3a/21) was flying over the front line. The antiaircraft defence opened fire upon the Republican fighters over the Delicias railroad station. Fiat CR.32s appeared from the Princess Bridge side. Dogfights began over the Delicias railroad station, Andalusia Bridge, and Tobacco Manufacture. A group of Ju 52/3ms and Do 17s appeared from the western side and Minayev’s escuadrilla flew to intercept the bombers but Fiats attacked the I-15s and dispersed them.
Sargento José Redondo Martín, the Spanish pilot of one of the I-15s, was wounded and leytenant Leonid Rybkin shielded him, but both were forced to fight nine Fiats. One Fiat collided with another and was set on fire; it was in fact credited to Rybkin. Rybkin and Redondo joined with M. Petrov and I. Karpov whom had flown to help. At that moment leytenant Yakushin, kapitan Yeremenko, and starshiy leytenant Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla attacked the leading group of Fiats from above. One Fiat was shot down and the pilot bailed out (claimed as a shared between Yakushin, Yeremenko, and Serov). Pilots of I-15s and I-16s had seen four Bf 109s in the area, but they did not attack the Republican fighter.
The I-15 of the Austrian Walter Koraus was attacked by a Fiat and was shot down. Yakushin immediately attacked this Fiat and destroyed it in the air.
Starshiy leytenant Serov claimed two more CR.32 during this day while Bozidar Petrovich claimed a CR.32 in the Madrid-Brunete area.
It seems that three I-15s from the 1a/26 were lost, with Karpov killed, Shalhiganov wounded and Austrian Walter Koraus surviving unscathed. Flight leader Serov and his wingman Yakushin managed to nurse their badly damaged biplanes back to base. Nikolai Aleksandrovich D’yakonov, who was leading an I-16 flight, suffered serious wounds in combat possibly from Capitano Degli Incerti’s gunfire, and he died later that day after landing in Republican territory.
The Aviazione Legionaria reported that during the morning between Madrid and Brunete, 14 CR.32s of 19a and 20a Squadriglie, led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti (CO XXIII Gruppo), encountered nine I-15s and eight I-16s that were escorting nine R-Zs. The Republican aircraft were joined by other flights from a formation of 20 I-16s as they flew over Madrid. Italian pilots were credited with shooting down seven ‘Curtiss fighters’ during the clash, one of which was claimed by Maggiore Zotti. Three ’Ratas’ were also destroyed, one of which was credited to Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti (CO 19a Squadriglia), while Sergente Maggiore Alfonso Mattei downed an R-Z but was then forced to take to his parachute after his CR.32 was hit by return fire from the R-Z. He landed in Nationalist territory near Pozuelo de Alarcón.
After claiming his I-15, Zotti shared the destruction of a second I-15 with his two wingmen. Ten minutes later, however, his CR.32 was shot up by an I-16, the Italian being wounded in the thigh. His engine was also hit, and as it began to overheat Zotti was forced to land at nearby Grińon airfield. Sergente Maggiore Gino Passeri (19a Squadriglia) protected his CO until he was safely down, only to then be bounced by another I-16 upon re-joining the battle and killed. Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin (19a Squadriglia) (CR.32 “3-12” no. 435) claimed an I-15 (”Curtiss”) but was then attacked by an I-16. He was saved by his leader Capitano Degli Incerti, who damaged the Rata, which quickly broke off. Sergente Giuseppe Mottet (20a Squadriglia) claimed an I-15.
Totally after this confusing and slightly contradicting battle it seems that the Republican pilots at least claimed six CR.32s while losing three I-15s and getting several damaged. The Aviazione Legionaria claimed seven I-15s, three I-16s and one R-Z for the loss of two CR.32s.
It seems that Republican I-16s also took part in this combat but no claims nor losses has been found.

Yakushin claimed a CR.32 on 8 July.

The Republican squadrons were effective in defending the airspace above Madrid by day, but the enemy exploited the night to bomb the city. Faced with this situation starshiy leytenant Anatoly Serov and leytenant Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla, both experienced night pilots in their own country, having obtained authorization from the high command, set about organizing a night fighter group comprising of Viktor Kuznetsov (CO), Serov, Leonid Rybkin, Yakushin and Vladimir Sorokin. The unit was known as the Patrulla de Noche.
It was no easy task, given that the airfields did not have the necessary infrastructure for night operations (beacons, searchlights, etc). They set up some car headlights and lit bonfires along the runway, which the ground personnel covered over at the first sign of enemy presence, and training began at Alcalá de Henares, whose airfield was the most suitable.

On the night of 18 July Yakushin intercepted a Ju 52/3m. The Junkers opened fire and slightly damaged the I-15, which, however, landed successfully.

The experiment was put into practice on 25 July. Yakushin took off first to patrol at 3000 meters altitude, followed by Serov, at 2600 meters.
Yakushin sighted an enemy three-engined aircraft heading for Madrid. Closing in from astern he opened fire with his four machine guns almost at point blank range - about 40 meters - and exhausted his ammunition. The rounds hit home but the aircraft did not go down, and it altered course and sped off toward its own lines.
Back on the ground a disappointed Yakushin discussed the unsatisfactory result with Serov. They decided that if they were to set the Junkers alight they would have to concentrate their fire on the fuel tank, which was located at the union of the right wing with the fuselage.

During the night of 25-26 July, informed that enemy aircraft were bombing the Republican lines in the area around the Escorial, starshiy leytenant Anatoly Serov and leytenant Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla headed for the front, flying over it by night for the first time. Aided by the glow from the fires, they found the patrol zone.
At 01:42, leytenant Yakushin spotted an enemy bomber. Turning through 180 degrees, he closed in from astern, at the same height and to the enemy’s right. Closing in as near as he could he opened fire, and instantly flames appeared along the Junker’s fuselage. The enemy gunner tried to fight off the attack but leytenant Yakushin carried on firing, following the aircraft down until it hit the ground beside the El Escorial - Robledo de Chavela highway. Yakushin later described his first night victory:

"At midnight we received a telephone report of an enemy bombing raid on Republican troops near El Escorial. It was the first time that we had approached the front after dark. The search area was outlined by the fire started by the bombing. Serov remained at our initial altitude of 6500 ft, while I climbed 3250 ft higher. My luck was in, for ten minutes later I spotted an enemy bomber heading towards me. He would not get away.
Having let him pass, I turned and began to approach him at the same height from his right and behind. We had learned by then that the Junker's fuel tank was positioned near the right wing root. Having approached the target and slowed down, I fired at that area. Flame appeared along the right side of the bomber’s fuselage. Almost at once the enemy gunner responded, but he was too late. His bomber was already going down in flames. I followed him down almost to the ground. After that we left our patrol area a few minutes early and rushed home to spread the news of our victory. Once out of my cockpit and back on the ground I was immediately grabbed by Serov. He looked as triumphant as I was because our vertical split formation was his idea!"
The enemy aircraft was Ju 52/3m “22+76” from 3.K/88. The enemy aircraft crashed near Valdemorillo and Colmenar. The crew of the German aircraft consisted of Leutnant Leo Falk, Feldwebel George Übelhack, Unteroffizier Fritz Berndt and Unteroffizier Walter Brötzmann, which all were killed. The navigator Unteroffizier Heinz Bottcher survived and was captured. The Germans erected a commemorative tablet there, in memory of their dead comrades.
This was the first Republican night victory during the Spanish Civil War.
Lately a historian and archaeologist found the commemorative tablet. It was much damaged, so he is restoring it at his home. Once finished, the tablet will be presented to the Spanish Air Museum; a copy of it will be erected at its original location.

For the success in the night patrol flights flown the last two nights, the Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrin personally congratulated Yakushin and starshiy leytenant Serov and presented them each with a gold watch and a personal car as tokens of his gratitude.

On 14 August Yakushin claimed a Ju 52/3m.

Starshiy leytenant Nikita Syusyukalov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a shared Ju 52 with Walter Korouzom over Baharalos on 24 August while leytenant Yakushin claimed a second.

All Russian pilots flying the I-15 were to serve only six months of combat in Spain. It was recognised that many fliers did not endure aerial battles for long, mostly because of the psychological stress of combat, especially after the appearance of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. Very frequently they fell seriously ill after having been exposed to nervous shock, haemorrhage of the brain, and physical exhaustion from over-work. Many of them couldn't endure the climate, they did not eat, only drinking table water because of the constant heat. Weariness was often reflected on eyes.

Yakushin return to Russian from his “official business trip” in October 1937 after having been awarded the Order of the Red Banner and went on to service in the Soviet Air Force.
He claimed 6 biplane victories in Spain and his 180 flight hours in Spain included eight night sorties and 25 aerial engagements.

Back in the Soviet Union, an acrobatic unit with five I-16s was formed under the command of his friend Anatoly Serov, together with Yakushin and was called 'Red Five'.

It is possible that Yakhusin also served as a volunteer in the Sino-Japanese War in 1938. Until June 1938 the Soviet volunteers fought only on the main approaches, defending the large cities of Nankin, Nanchang and Wuhan. During this time, a group of ten I-15bis led by kapitan Yakushin is reported to have arrived in China.

Later in 1938 he was promoted to Chief of the Air Inspectorate of the Soviet Union.
A. Sidorenko was appointed as flight commander to replace him in the acrobatic unit.

Yakushin took part in the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940.

On 22 June 1941 Yakushin, being a member of the inspection group of the General Staff, arrived by air at one of the airfields of the 11th Mixed Aircraft Division in the region of Stariy Dvor. On hearing of the attack on the USSR by German troops, Yakushin ordered to the Regiment Commander to shift a half of his aircraft to a reserve air field in the region of Lidda. His school-mate from flight school, 9th Mixed Aircraft Division Commander Brigade-General Sergey Chernikh (also a participant of the war in Spain) had little time - almost all of his aircraft were annihilated on the ground (Hero of the Soviet Union S. Chernikh was executed on 27 July together with a group of other commanders blamed for the failures in the early period of the war).
Even then, when many of Soviet aircraft had already been burnt on the airfields, some commanders still did nothing because of the threat of severe penalties for any provocations against the Germans. Any display of personal initiative by a commander or voluntarily-made orders were forbidden under threat of tribunal These prohibitions also applied to Yakushin, who notwithstanding orders, risked his own life attempting to save aircraft.

In July 1941, mayor Yakushin was appointed as a superior of one of the AF sectors of Moscow and later he became Deputy Commander of the 6 IAP.

Polkovnik Yakushin commanded the 215 IAD during the battle of Kursk in July 1943. At the time, the 215 IAD consisted of 156 IAP (La-5), 263 IAP and 813 IAP.

He finished the war as commander of the 215 IAD. Included in this division was the 8 IAP under the command of another veteran from Spain, Aleksandr Osipenko. The 215 IAD operated over East Prussia during 1944.

After the war, he served in several command posts.

Mikhail Yakushin retired from Air Force with the rank of general mayor.
During his career, he was decorated with Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Banner (four times), the Order of Alexandr Nevskiy, the Order of Patriotic War and the Order of the Red Star (twice).

He passed away in Moscow on 5 July 1999.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 01/07/37 (a) evening 1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Toledo 1a/26
  06/07/37 evening 1/2 CR.32 (b) Shared destroyed I-15   Brunete area 1a/26
  07/07/37 07:00- 1/3 CR.32 (c) Shared destroyed I-15   near Madrid 1a/26
2 07/07/37 07:00- 1 CR.32 (c) Destroyed I-15   near Madrid 1a/26
3 08/07/37   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Brunete 1a/26
4 26/07/37 01:42- 1 Ju 52/3m (d) Destroyed I-15   Valdemorillo and Colmenar area 1a/26
5 14/08/37   1 Ju 52/3m Destroyed I-15   near Madrid 1a/26
6 24/08/37   1 Ju 52/3m Destroyed I-15   Baharalos 1a/26

Biplane victories: 6 and 2 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 6 and 2 shared destroyed.
(a) Some sources states that the date was 30 June 1937.
(b) Republican fighters claim at least 2 CR.32 during the evening in the Brunete area. Only 1 CR.32 was lost, when Sottotenente Vercellio from the 19a Squadriglia was KIA on the afternoon.
(c) In this confusing battle it seems that the Republican pilots at least claimed 6 CR.32s while losing 3 I-15s and getting several damaged. The Aviazione Legionaria claimed 7 I-15s, 3 I-16s and 1 R-Z for the loss of 2 CR.32s.
(d) Ju 52/3m “22+76” from 3.K/88. Leutnant Leo Falk, Feldwebel George Übelhack, Unteroffizier Fritz Berndt, Unteroffizier and Walter Brötzmann were killed. Unteroffizier August Heyer was captured.

All aces of Stalin 1936-1953 – Mikhail Bykov, 2014
Caballeros del aire de la Guerra Civil Espańola (1936-1939)
Carlos Castejon - Soviet Volunteer in the Spanish Civil War - Igor Gordelianov and Mikhail Zhirokhov with editorial assistance by Richard Karbowski, 2002 Small Air Forces Observer no. 100 kindly provided by Mikhail Zhirokhov
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Kursk – The Air Battle: July 1943 – Christer Bergström, 2007, Chevron Publishing Limited, ISBN 978-1-903223-88-8
Polikarpov I-15, I-16 and I-153 Aces - Mikhail Maslov, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-981-2
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part III - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 11 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Stalin's Falcons - Tomas Polak and Christhoper Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-01-2
The Legion Condor - Karl Ries and Hans Ring, 1992 Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-88740-339-5
Much additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.
Additional information kindly provided by Vladislav Arhipov and Carlos Casas.

Last modified 17 February 2020