Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

General Leitenant Ivan Trofimovich Yeremenko HSU

7 July 1910 – 1 December 1986

Ivan Yeremenko was born in Yekaterinograd (now Krasnodar) on 7 July 1910.

He joined the army in 1927, graduating from the Leningrad Military Air College in 1928 and then from Sevastopol Military Air College in 1929.

Later he served in and commanded the 119 IAE of 95 IAB in the Transcaucasian Military District.

During the spring of 1937, the second group of Soviet volunteers was sent to Spain. The group was led by Kapitan Yeremenko (who left from Baku) and included Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin ('Carlos Castejón'), Leonid Rybkin, Mikhail Petrov, Sergei Shalyganov and Ivan Karpov.
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 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 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 Mikhail 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 Leitenant 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.
Leitenant Mikhail 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 Yeremenko claimed one CR.32 together with Leitenant Viktor Kuznetsov (some sources credits them with three shared). Leitenant 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.

In the morning on 6 July, a German Do 17 was claimed shot down near Madrid by the escuadrilla leader Kapitan Yeremenko together with his wingman Bozidar Petrovich of the 1a Escuadrilla.
The Nationalists side does not admit this loss.

In the early morning on 7 July, Kapitan 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 Leitenant 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 Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin, Kapitan Yeremenko, and Starshii Leitenant 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.
Starshii Leitenant 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 Griñon 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.

At 08:35 on 9 July, he claimed a CR.32 in the Madrid area.

Around 17:00 on 12 July, there was a big air combat west of Madrid. During this combat Bozidar Petrovich of the 1a Escaudrilla saved his leader Kapitan Yeremenko from the dangerous attack of a CR.32, probably piloted by capitán Joaquín García Morato, but the I-15 of the Serbian pilot was seen to crash, maybe out of control or shot down by a CR.32 flown by teniente Miguel García Pardo (2-E-3) (CR.32 NC 596/3-60). Petrovich lost his life in the crash.
Both Yeremenko and Petrovich are credited with one CR.32 each in this combat.

On 25 July, he claimed a He 111 in the Madrid area.

The next day, on 26 July, he claimed a CR.32 in the Madrid area.

He claimed two shared Meridionali Ro.37s on 22 August between Huerva and Zaragoza.

At the end of August, his unit moved to Bajaralos, while in October it operated from Zaragoza.

During the night of 14-15 September, over the region of Sarihena, Yeremenko was flying an I-I5 when he shot down a Ju 52/3m bomber from 2.G/22. This Ju 52/3m was coded “22+61” with a Spanish crew consisting of Jose Muntadas Prim (some sources say Captain Carlos Muntadas Salvado-Prim), Carazo Calleja, engineer Sergeant Romero, radio operator Corporal Apricio Velasco, and gunner Jose Ramon Blasco Lavfn. The 2nd pilot was a Russian, Lieutenant Vsevolod Marchenko. Only Blasco survived to reach his lines after bailing out; Marchenko also parachuted safely, but was executed by Republicans. It was a unique occasion; thousands of kilometres from their mother country a Russian had shot down another Russian!
Vsevolod Marchenko was a Ukrainian who graduated from the Russian Naval College in 1911 and during the First World War, he transferred to aviation. During the Russian Civil War he served with the White Russian Army of Admiral Kolchak and was awarded the St. George Cross. He left Russia after the October Revolution in 1917, going first to Yugoslavia and then joining the Spanish Legion serving in Los Aicazares as a Captain. He became a pilot with the Madrid-Paris airline, and then during the Spanish Civil War he was a pilot on Ju 52/3m bombers for Nationalist forces.

On 15 October 1937, capitán Juan José Armario Álvarez, CO of Grupo No 26 led a strafing attack on Garrapinillos airfield, in Saragossa. To ensure the success of this raid, the armourers worked through the night loading the aircrafts’ machine guns with incendiary ammunition.
Capitán Armario himself led the I-15s of the 1a and 2a Escuadrillas, which carried out the attack on the parked aircraft.
The 1a Escuadrilla took off from Bujaraloz with twelve I-15s under the command of Kapitan Yevgeniy Antonov (Starshii Leitenant Yevgeniy Stepanov took part in this attack and Kapitan Anatoly Serov flew in the ‘Plana Mayor’).
The 2a Escuadrilla took off with nine I-15s from Sariñena under the command of Aleksandr (?) Smirnov. Two of the pilots taking part in the attack was teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez (CO 2a/26) and sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó.
The I-15s were covered by the I-16 from Grupo No 21 that flew top cover:
1a/21 - six I-16s from Caspe under the command of Manuel Aguirre López
2a/21 - ten I-16s from Caspe under the command of Pleshchenko
3a/21 - nine I-16s from Hijar under the command of (Boris) Smirnov
5a/21 - seven I-16s from Escatrón under the command of Ivanov (and including Ivan Devotchenko)
6a/21 - eleven I-16s from Puig Moreño under the command of Gusev
About 60 planes were claimed destroyed and damaged by the I-15s but the real total losses were only three Ju 52s, six CR.32s and three He 46s. Other aircraft were damaged by fire. The Republican aircraft only suffered one damaged I-15. This aircraft was from the 1a Escuadrilla and it was unserviceable that afternoon.
During the attack Kapitan Serov claimed some aircraft destroyed on the ground. Kapitan Yeremenko also took part in this attack and according to some sources he led the whole attack.

On 28 October 1937, he was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union (no. 60) and the Order of Lenin.

On 8 November, just before the battle of Teruel, capitán Manuel Aguirre López was appointed to lead both Spanish escuadrillas of Grupo de Moscas No 21 - 1a and 4a, commanded by tenientes Eduardo Claudín and Manuel Zarauza, respectively. The grupo had a further four escuadrillas - 2a, 3a, 5a and 6a, - all of them led by Soviet kapitan Yeremenko.

On 15 December, he claimed a Bf 109B near Teruel.

By the end of 1937, he had claimed 7 victories, and in mid-January 1938 he returned to the Soviet Union.
In Spain he flew 260 flight hours and made 348 sorties.
For his service in Spain he also received Order of the Red Banner (on 2 September 1937 and 2 March 1938).

During 1939, he completed a course at the General Staff Academy, and in 1940 he was promoted to General Major.

He held several commands during the Great Patriotic War. Included in these were Commander of 9th Army Air Force ((July-November 1941), Commander of 18th Army Air Force (November 1941-June 1942), Commander of 237 IAD (June-October 1942), Commander of 10 IAC (July-August 1943), Air Force Commander in Stalingrad (August-November 1943) and Air Force Commander in Kiev (December 1943-May 1945).

Yeremenko ended the war with 7 victories, all of them claimed in Spain.

He continued to serve after the war and in 1949, he graduated fully from the General Staff Academy, retiring as a General Leitenant.

During his career he was also decorated with a second Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Banner (a third time), the Order of Kutuzov 2nd Class, the Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class (twice) and the Order of the Red Star.

He lived in Kiev until his death on 1 December 1986.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  01/07/37 (a) evening 1/2 (b) CR.32 Shared destroyed I-15   Toledo 1a/26
  06/07/37 morning 1/2 Do 17 Shared destroyed I-15   Madrid-Brunete area 1a/26
  07/07/37 07:00- 1/3 CR.32 (c) Shared destroyed I-15   near Madrid 1a/26
1 09/07/37 08:35 1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Madrid area 1a/26
2 12/07/37 17:00 1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   W Madrid 1a/26
3 25/07/37   1 He 111 Destroyed I-15   Madrid area 1a/26
4 26/07/37   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Madrid area 1a/26
  22/08/37   1/? Ro.37 Shared destroyed I-15   Huerva-Zaragoza 1a/26
  22/08/37   1/? Ro.37 Shared destroyed I-15   Huerva-Zaragoza 1a/26
5 14-15/09/37 night 1 Ju 52/3m (d) Destroyed I-15   Sarihena area 1a/26
6 15/12/37   1 Bf 109B Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 1a/26
7 22/12/37   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 1a/26

Biplane victories: 7 and 5 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 7 and 5 shared destroyed.
(a) Some sources states that the date was 30 June 1937.
(b) Some sources credit him with three shared in this combat.
(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+61” from 2.G/22 shot down. Captain Jose Muntadas Prim, Carazo Calleja, engineer Sergeant Romero and radio operator Corporal Apricio Velasco were killed. The 2nd pilot Lieutenant Vsevolod Marchenko and gunner Jose Ramon Blasco Lavfn parachuted but only Blasco survived since Marchenko was captured and executed by Republicans.

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Last modified 03 May 2021