Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

General Major Georgiy Nefedovich Zakharov HSU

Zakharov was born on 24 April 1908 in the village Staroye Semenkino in the Samara region.

In 1930, he joined the Army and attended the 7th Army Pilot School in Stalingrad. On graduation from the school he served in 109th Istrebitelnaya Aviaeskadrilya in the Kiev Air Brigade.

He served in the 109 IAE (Istrebitelniy Aviatsionnaya Eskadrilya - Fighter Aviation Squadron) of the 36 IAB (Istrebitelniy Aviatsionnaya Brigada - Fighter Aviation Brigade) in the Kiev Military District.

In 1936, now a starshiy leitenant, he volunteered for Republican service in Spain and arrived there during August.
In Spain, he served in the Escuadrilla Palancar.

The first batch of aircraft to arrive in Spain from the Soviet Union included 40 I-15 fighters. On 28 October 1936 the steamship Carl Lepin docked in the Spanish Mediterranean port of Cartagena, having sailed from Sebastopol with 15 pilots (including starshiy leitenant Zakharov), led by starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov (nom de guerre Pablo Palancar), and 25 dismantled I-15s. A few days later a further group of ten pilots, headed by Boris Turzhanskii, and 15 I-15s arrived at Bilbao, in the north of Spain.
The first group was quickly sent to Alcantarilla airfield near Murcia, where the fighters were promptly assembled in an olive grove by Soviet technicians and then flight-tested. According to starshiy leitenant Zakharov, the I-15s were assembled on the day of their arrival, 28 October. Spanish Republican markings of red wingtips and fuselage stripe and red, yellow and violet striped rudders were also hastily applied.
From October of 1936 until February of 1937, starshiy leitenant Rychagov served as commander of the so-called Escuadrilla Palancar.

On 4 November 1936, the I-15s were put in their first air-battles. There were four missions during the day.
Commanded by Petr Pumpur and starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov, I-15 fighters in squadron strength engaged the enemy planes over Carrabanchel during the day’s first mission. The Soviet pilots claimed four victories in the clash that lasted barely 10 minutes.
It seems that Evgeniy Erlykin and Nikolay Mirosnichenko took part in this mission since it’s known that they made claims in the Madrid area in the morning when Erlykin claimed a Ro.37 destroyed and Miroshnichenko claimed a shared CR.32 together with another pilot.
The aim of the second mission was to intercept six Ju 52/3ms escorted by fighters. Commanded by starshiy leitenant Rychagov the squadron shot down one Ju 52/3m.
During the third mission a squadron led by starshiy leitenant Zakharov (in his first mission) fought against two flights of bombers, which were escorted by ten fighters. I-15s claimed one enemy fighter. There were no losses of I-15s even if it seems that Zakharov’s I-15 was badly damaged. Of this combat, Zakharov recalled:

"Here I am above Madrid. I look around and there's no one there, neither friend nor foe. Then I scrutinize the horizon in the direction of the glaring sun. With flickering eyes I finally detect the remote shapes of friendly biplanes. Stressing my vision, I manage to count them 12! So Pavel must have decided to ensure the most favorable conditions for our attack, thus heading north of Madrid so as to lead the flight into the attack from down-sun, That’s where I should have looked for them right from the start.
They approach the city in a wide arc and I am inside that arc, so I can quickly catch up, flying headlong towards them. I want to make my way towards the leading aircraft and take up my position on Rychagov's left. Well, I’ve been too hasty and popped up in front of the leader. Now I need to he spotted by my comrades, so I reduce speed and rock my wings. I believe they will see me and soon catch up. What happens next I still regard as being beyond my comprehension. I will forever remember that feeling, which is hard to explain in mere words, when the burst of enemy gunfire narrowly missed cutting off my wing. However, it was instinct that saved me, rather than training or rational thinking. Before I realized where I was and what was happening I had already swerved away into a steep turn to spoil the enemy’s aim. Yet I still felt I was a target, and I felt it with my entire physical being.
Today I see that the only reason I survived was that there were too many hunters after me. The entire swarm was engaged in pursuing me and they got in each other’s way. Otherwise, the first one to approach me from behind would easily have split my aircraft in two with his first burst. Instead, they all began to shoot erratically. My fighter was hit but I was alive! I was spinning between them while trying to draw them towards Madrid where, I felt, I could save myself. My comrades-in-arms would soon come to my rescue, I thought. The g-forces were almost blinding but I knew I couldn't give up and fly straight and level for more than a second! The aircraft had to withstand the punishment. I prayed that it wouldn't fall apart.
Three times Heinkels popped up into my gunsight and I pushed the firing buttons. And here I was, finally, approaching my airfield. Well, I could do better than reveal its location to the enemy, but I had no choice. My aeroplane’s bracing wires had been shot away and the wing curved upwards to the verge of collapse. I looked back, just in time to meet another blast of gunfire. My instrument panel was smashed and my upper machine guns were out of order. A Heinkel kept close behind me to finish me off, but I made it and landed from a hedgehopping approach.
The mechanics promptly pulled me out of the cockpit and we escaped to shelter under the nearest trees. I pressed my back against a tree-trunk and suddenly felt that my lips were being wetted - oh, it was just some water from a friend’s flask."
It seems that Zakharov is credited with one victory in this combat.
The last, forth mission at the end of the day was an alert scramble. A squadron led by starshiy leitenant Rychagov claimed one more enemy fighter.
In all, the I-15s claimed five enemy fighters and two Ju 52/3m bombers on this day - 7 victories without losses. One of the fighters, a He 51, was claimed by starshiy leitenant Rychagov. Two I-15s however became lost and the pilots made forced landing in Segovia.
Sources from the Nationalist side at least partially confirmed this tally. During the day, Capitano Vincenzo Dequal and his wingman Sergente Giovanni Battista Magistrini of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio were on a reconnaissance mission over Madrid when they saw a Nationalist Romeo Ro.37 coming under attack by seven biplane fighters the likes of which they had not seen before over Spain. The Italian fighter pilots managed to distract their Soviet opponents long enough for the Ro.37 to escape, albeit with a wounded Spanish observer on board and some damage to the airframe (Erlykin’s claim?).
Overwhelmed by the well-flown Republican machines, both CR.32 pilots were eventually shot down. Capitano Dequal lost consciousness after suffering wounds from a bullet that hit him in the forehead. He woke up next to his parachute in enemy territory, at which point he realised that he had fallen out of his stricken aircraft and the 'chute had opened automatically. Despite suffering further injuries to his legs and chest when he was yanked out of this fighter, Dequal somehow managed to limp back to friendly territory, where he was rescued by Nationalist soldiers and hospitalised in Talavera. Sergente Magistrini, meanwhile, had landed his badly shot up CR.32 behind the Nationalist frontline, but he subsequently succumbed to serious wounds later the same day in a local field hospital. Although seriously damaged, Sergente Magistrini’s aircraft was recovered. Two more Fiat CR.32 suffered damage in landing accidents at Torrijos. Two Nationalist bombers also suffered this day. One German Ju 52/3m from the Pablos y Pedros squadron, flown by Leutnant Kolbitz, was shot down over Humanes and a Spanish Ju 52/3m from Luis Padron’s squadron was badly damaged and had to force-land at Esquivias. The observer Captain Aquirre was fatally wounded.

On 9 November, starshiy leitenant Zakharov of the Escuadrilla Palancar claimed an enemy aircraft, which he identified as a two-seater bomber Arado. This was actually an Italian Romeo Ro.37 reconnaissance biplane heading for Madrid. He recalled:

"On my fourth mission in Spain I brought down my first prey. That's not to say it was a great victory, just an obsolete two-seat Arado bomber also on its way to Madrid. We met above the clouds. Having noticed me, the Arado pilot swerved down to hide in a cloud but I was too quick. Avoiding the enemy's fire, I followed him and also dived into the clouds. Having emerged at an altitude of about 500 m, I started circling around and waiting for the Arado to appear. Indeed, seconds later, the bomber fell from the cloud bit by bit - a wing came first, then the fin. Whether it had been overstressed or whether it was the result of my fire, the unfortunate Arado was in pieces before it reached the ground."

On 13 November, 14 Fiat CR.32s escorted five ”Junkers” and three ”Romeos”. Over the Pasco de Rosales (Madrid) they were surprised by 16 I-15s led by starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov, which dived on them from above out of the sun. Despite immediately being on the defensive, the Fiat pilots managed to protect the bombers as the air battle broke up into a series of individual combats.
The Soviet pilots claimed six victories (three of them fell in Republican territory) while two I-15s were lost when Karp Kovtun and Petr A. Purtov were shot down by Fiats and killed. Kovtun’s death was witnessed by starshiy leitenant Zakharov, who also took part in this combat.
On their return flight, the Nationalist pilots encountered five Katiuskas, bombing Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from a height of 5000m. Capitán Ángel Salas damaged one so severely that the crew had to take to their parachutes, and capitán Joaquín García Morato damaged three others.
Totally the CR.32 pilots were credited with ten victories (nine “Curtisses” and one SB). Sergente GianLino Baschirotto (who reported that the I-15 was seen falling out of the sky smoking) and Corrado Ricci were among the Italians to be awarded a “Curtiss” each while Capitano Guido Nobili was credited with a probable. A Soviet fighter, whose pilot escaped by parachute, was shot down by Capitano Goliardo Mosca. The latter was in turn badly wounded in his right thigh and forced to limp back to Talavera, where he crash-landed. Capitano Mariotti force-landed outside the airfield at Getafe, but without damaging his aircraft. Capitán Morato claimed one I-15 (plus three damaged SBs), capitán Salas damaged three I-15s (plus one SB destroyed) and Julio Salvador claimed another I-15.
Capitán Morato recounted:

“Fiat Squadriglia. Bomber escort. “Junkers” and “Romeos” bombing Rosales (Madrid) clashed with 13 “Curtiss fighters”. I shot down one that caught fire in the air, and then machine gunned three “Sophias” till my ammunition ran out. Saw Anti-aircraft fire.
Total flying time 1 hour 30 minutes.”
Capitán Salas recalled:
“Fiat number 128. 1 hour 30 minutes.
Torrijos to Madrid, escorting five Junkers. Fourteen Fiats attacked 13 “Curtiss fighters” – three combats, one frontal, fired on the second while banking, and on the third from behind. Noticed several hits on the fuselage of one aircraft, but could not follow him due to the presence of others. Remained alone throughout, and eventually saw five “Martin bombers” attacking Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from 5000 metres. I fired at them twice until my guns stopped. On landing, Noreña, Celier and Betancour told me that one of the bombers I had attacked lost a wing and fell to the ground, its crew escaping by parachute.”

In the afternoon, nine He 51s from the German Legion Condor took off from Avila to provide escort for five Ju 52/3ms and three He 46s, which were to attack the Republican positions on the west bank of the Manzanares. It seems that at least six CR.32s also were present.
At 15:00, twelve I-16 type 5 “Moscas” and twelve I-15s intercepted them over Madrid. The I-16s were led by the Russian squadron leader Kapitan Sergey Tarkhov (’Antonio’) (he was the commander of the first and newly created escuadrilla of I-16s) in their first combat while the I-15s (Escuadrilla Palancar) were again led by starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov. All Republican pilots taking part in this combat were Russians.
The Republican fighters dove on the Henrici Kette. Unteroffizier Ernst Mratzek was able to claim an I-16 as it dove past. Oberleutnant Oskar Henrici claimed a Russian fighter in the same way as the He 51s dove into the clouds. A bitter dogfight raged over Madrid at 1,500 meters. The Knüppel Kette dove into a cloud, reversed course in a steep turn and re-emerged below the Republican aircraft. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Unteroffizier Erwin Sawallisch claimed two I-15s; Sawallisch made his way home with some difficulty with shot-up tail surfaces. The Eberhardt Kette had remained above the bombers as top cover. Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt collided with an enemy fighter he had shot down and was killed; the Russian pilot was able to bail out. Oberleutnant Henrici took a bullet through the lung, but was able to land his aircraft in friendly territory. As he left his aircraft, however, he collapsed and died. The German Staffel became completely scattered, each pilot seeking cover in cloud and making his own way back to Avila. Leutnant Henning Strümpell and Leutnant Dietrich von Bothmer reported the destruction of two further I-15s.
Henrici was probably shot down by Sergey Chernykh, (I-16). It seems that Eberhardt collided with Tarkhov since it’s reported that he single-handed fought against a number of He 51s before being forced to bail out after a collision. While hanging in his parachute, Republican soldiers mistook him for Nationalist pilot and opened fire, hitting him six times. Tarkhov landed in Madrid but was attacked by the public because they thought he was a German. He died of his injuries at Gómes Ulla hospital on 23 November. This led General Miaja to the issue following order the next day:

“Any aviator who jumps from his aircraft using a parachute is out of the battle and, therefore, I order all forces defending Madrid not to shoot at parachutists under any circumstances. They may be our own men, but, if they prove to be enemies they can provide us with valuable information, which will be of great use for our operations.”
A second Russian pilot was killed when Vladimir Bocharov was wounded and made a forced-landing in enemy territory with his I-16 “Black 9”. He later died of wounds or was killed by Nationalists.
Totally, the Nationalists claimed seven victories (2 I-16s and 5 I-15s). Five of them were later confirmed; the two unconfirmed was those made by the killed Henrici and Eberhardt (I-16) for the loss of two aircraft (Henrici and Eberhardt) (other sources claims four lost He 51s).
The Republicans claimed four victories while losing four aircraft and pilots (including Bocharov and Tarkhov). Bocharov and Tarkhov were posthumously awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union on 31 December 1936.
Following Eberhardt’s death, Hauptmann Knüppel became the new Staffelkapitän. Eberhardt was awarded a posthumous Cruz Laureada de San Fernando. At the time of his death he was credited with five victories. This was the He 51s first combat with Soviet fighters.

In the afternoon on 16 November, there was an air battle between CR.32s providing escort for bombers and four I-16s escorting nine I-15s over Madrid. Starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov’s (CO Escuadrilla Palancar) I-15 was initially hit by return fire from a Ju 52/3m, before being finished off by Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco. Although Rychagov was forced to abandon the aircraft on altitude of only 150 meters, he managed to parachute and survive. He landed in the Paseo de la Castellana, near the War Ministry.
During the same engagement, Sergente Maggiore Vittorino Daffara recorded his very first individual kill when he shot down an SB.
The Nationalists claimed two fighters while one Italian pilot was wounded but managed to reach his base. The Republicans claimed five victories, two of them by starshiy leitenant Rychagov, and one loss (Rychagov).
Rychagov was slightly wounded and during his recovery, the Escuadrilla Palancar was commanded by Petr. I. Pumpur. The two detachments were in turn led by Evgeniy Erlykin and starshiy leitenant Zakharov.

On 8 December, starshiy leitenant Zakharov and leitenant Nikolay Shmelkov from the Escuadrilla Rychagov claimed a shared Potez 54. It seems that this was a civilian aircraft from the French Embassy (F-A000) shot down by mistake.

During the morning on 1 February, a patrol from 4a Squadriglia consisting of the recently promoted Tenente Adriano Mantelli and his two wingmen intercepted a pair of Potez 540s from the Escadrille André Malraux, based at Tabernas, near Almeria. Having already bombed Motril, the aircraft were heading east along the coast towards home, their progress being overseen by an escort of five I-15s led by starshiy leitenant Zakharov (and including American pilots Albert Baumler and Koch). The escort fighters were quite some distance away from the bombers, and at a height in excess of 16,000 ft, when the three CR.32s appeared unexpectedly from the south over the sea and intercepted the Potez bombers as they flew below the I-15s.
Tenente Mantelli quickly set a Potez 540 alight with his opening burst, although the French upper gunner, lieutenant René Deverts, returned fire. Two bullets hit the CR.32 in the oil tank, causing the engine to overheat. As Mantelli turned towards Nationalist territory, he was set upon by the I-15s and force-landed in enemy territory close to the frontline east of Motril – the latter had been occupied the night before by Italian troops. The pilot of the Potez shot down by Mantelli, Frenchman Guy Sentés, ditched his bomber just offshore near the village of Castell de Ferro despite being wounded in his right arm. His Indonesian co-pilot (of Dutch nationality), Jan Frederik Stolk, suffered serious chest wounds and died in a coma some hours later, although the remaining four crewmen survived, three with injuries.
Mantelli’s wingmen attacked the other bomber before the distant fighter escort could intervene, forcing it down into Republican territory near Dallas. The Potez 540 was damaged beyond repair and five of its seven-man crew were wounded.
The Republicans credited starshiy leitenant Zakharov with the destruction of Mantelli’s CR.32, which had overturned along the banks of the River Guadalpece not far from Motril.
Having escaped unhurt, Mantelli managed to evade enemy militia that were roaming the area and reach Nationalist territory thanks to guidance from a local farmer. The pilot rewarded the latter with 100 pesetas for his assistance and soon met up with the vanguard of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie, returning to his unit five hours later.
Once the front east of Motril had been secured, his fighter was also recovered.

He claimed a Fiat CR.32 on 10 February over the Madrid area.

During his time in Spain he is known to have claimed a shared He 51.

He returned from Spain on 7 April 1937 with 6 and 4 shared victories.

Then he subsequently volunteered for service in China.

By 21 October, 447 Soviet volunteers were prepared (including ground personnel, specialists in airfield maintenance, engineers and workers for assembling the aircraft) for departure to the Far East. Changing into “civilian uniform” the volunteer pilots travelled by train to Alma-Ata. They were accompanied to the station by Ya. V. Smushkevich, unintentionally spoiling the secrecy. None the less, on the train, the pilots represented themselves as a sporting expedition. But Zakharov represented himself to the railway authorities and everyone else as the oldest of the legendary track athlete Znamenskii brothers and distributed forged autographs!

On arrival at Alma-Ata it was discovered that waiting for them were more than 30 already assembled but un-flown I-16s and that most pilots in the group only had experience on the I-15. In consequence, during the course of two-three weeks waiting for a new group of pilots, it fell to Zakharov to train each of the new pilots on the I-16.

Zakharov claimed one victory in February 1938.

According to Aleksey Dushin, the A5M2 shot down by him on 18 February was repaired and flown by Blagoveshchenskiy and Zakharov. Finally, in the summer of 1938 they tried to ferry it to the Soviet Union. However, the commander of the bombers, S. V. Slyusarev, quoting Zakharov, asserts that the Japanese whose “Type 96” was later repaired, was forced down by Zakharov in an I-15bis and a young Chinese, Tun, in an I-16 during the first days of February. After two-three weeks the aircraft was restored. Zakharov himself dates this episode closer to the summer of 1938, but that the “Type 96” they had driven down, could not be retrieved for almost a year. About this incident Zakharov wrote that he and Tun landed nearby and then:

"As we approached the Japanese aircraft we heard a gun shot - the pilot had committed suicide. Then we smelled smoke and saw it seeping from the cockpit. I climbed up onto the wing and saw that the smoke was coming from burning maps and documents, the latter being a record of the missions flown and lists of active and dead pilots. The Japanese pilot had apparently been commander of a fighter unit (possibly Lieutenant Kaneko). We inspected the aircraft and soon determined the reason for the forced landing - the engine had been damaged, but in all other respects the fighter was completely untouched. We had captured a Japanese fighter, which was now available for thorough inspection."
After repairs and several test flights Zakharov was ordered to fly the A5M back to the USSR. He recalled:
"For three days I was kept on the ground as the weather along the route was terrible. When I was finally allowed to take-off, it turned out that some of my personal belongings had been stolen from the cockpit. All I had with me was what could be fitted into the cockpit, so I had left it there. Now I had nothing left apart from a tiny toy gun - a gift from my Chinese commander, which was in my hip-pocket.
Of course, I was worried about the intrusion in the cockpit of my aircraft. Our official representative was also concerned about it. The Chinese guard was immediately interrogated, and he reported that many people had visited the aeroplane, taken off the covers, taken photographs and generally interfered with it. After that the guard mysteriously disappeared from the base. We thoroughly inspected the aircraft for any evidence of sabotage but found nothing suspicious, so I took off for Xian. On the way I landed in Xianyang to refuel. I again took off immediately, not trusting the people there either.
The Xianyang to Xian leg was probably the hardest of the whole trip, so I was eager to get on with it as soon as possible. The flight was just within the fighters' maximum range. Secondly, I had to cross mountains with no emergency airfield available if I had to land. I cruised at an altitude of 13,000 ft.
The entire itinerary had been agreed prior my departure, and I was under close surveillance. I had to report to Moscow as soon as I arrived at the intermediate points in the journey. An hour after taking off from Xianyang the engine failed. It just coughed twice and stopped, leaving the propeller blades horizontal - they seemed like whiskers mocking me. The aircraft was going down fast, but I couldn't bail out because I couldn't see the ground. In any case, it was my duty to save this aircraft that had been captured after so much hard effort.
Soon I entered thick clouds, hoping that they would not go all the way down to the ground. Yet here I was going down and down but still in thick cloud. It seemed like a disaster in the making, with a mountain range somewhere down there. It was sheer chance that took me out of the clouds in between two steep hills. I was flying along a ravine, and there was a shallow river, or rather a creek, below. As the ravine ended the creek widened into a waterfall. I had neither height nor time left for any deliberation, so I just turned the aeroplane and decided to land it right onto the stones of the waterfall. The last thing I remember before the crash-landing was trying to ward off the inevitable blow by stretching out my left arm and pressing my hand against the instrument panel."
Zakharov came away from the crash-landing with a seriously injured left arm. A rescue team found him three days later and took him to Lanzhou for transfer to Moscow aboard a DB-3. It is possible that the discussion relates to different machines; in fact two flyable A5M2s became trophies of the Soviet volunteers. The second was conveyed to the USSR along a different path, although S. V. Slyusarev maintains that the second A5M2 was lost in an accident through similar sabotage, injuring Aleksey Blagoveshchenskiy. The Mitsubishi fighter delivered to the Soviet Union was tested at the NII VVS (Scientific Test Institute of the Air Forces) but was destroyed during a training battle against the I-153 in August 1939, killing the test pilot Vakhrushev.

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 Anton 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, 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.

According to some sources, he claimed one more victory while flying I-15bis biplanes over the Central China.

Back in the Soviet Union, he was promoted to Polkovnik on 16 July 1938 and by 1941 he had been promoted to General Major and was commanding the 43 IAD in Minsk.

Despite his rank, he still flew combat missions and on the first day of the Great Patriotic War he shot down two Ju 88s during two sorties flying I-16s over the Minsk area.

On 23 June, he claimed a bomber in the Minska area.

On 1 October, he used an I-16 to destroy an Hs 126 over Juchnov-Medyn.

In November 1941, he was appointed commander of the Pilot School in Ulan-Ude but in December 1942, he returned to the front as commander of the 303 IAD.

General Mayor Zakharov commanded the 303 IAD during the battle of Kursk in July 1943. At the time, the 303 IAD consisted of 18 GIAP (Yak-7B), 20 IAP (Yak-9), 168 IAP (Yak fighters), 523 IAP (LA-5) and the Normandie-Niemen (the French volunteer unit, equipped with Yak-9s).

Later his unit was flying on the 3rd Ukrainian Front.

During 1943, he claimed an Fw 189.

In the summer of 1944, he shot down a Bf 109.

In 1945, his unit fought over East Preussia, and by the end of the war he had flown 153 sorties since June 1941, engaging in 48 combats and claimed 10 more victories to his total.

On 19 April 1945, he was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin.
He was also decorated with a second Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Banner (four times), Order of Kutuzov, 2nd Class, the Order of Aleksandr Nevskij, Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class, Order of the Red Star (twice) and the French Legion d’Honneur.

Zakharov ended his combat career with 8 biplane victories and a total of 18 victories claimed during three wars.

In 1950, he graduated from the General Staff Academy. He retired 10 years later in 1960 as a General Major and lived in Moscow. He wrote two books: Povest ob Istrebiteyakh (Tales of the Fighters) and Ya – Istrebitel (I-Fighter).

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 04/11/36   1 He 51 Destroyed I-15   Madrid area Escuadrilla Rychagov
2 09/11/36   1 Arado (a) Destroyed I-15   Madrid area Escuadrilla Rychagov
  08/12/36   1 Potez 54 (b) Shared destroyed I-15   Spain Escuadrilla Rychagov
3 01/02/37 morning 1 CR.32 (c) Destroyed I-15   Motril area Escuadrilla Rychagov
? 10/02/37   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Madrid area Escuadrilla Rychagov
7 ??/02/38   1 A5M (d) Destroyed I-15bis   China  
8 29/04/38 14:00- 1 A5M (e) Destroyed I-15bis   Hankou area  
9 22/06/41 22:00 1 Ju 88 Destroyed I-16   Minsk area 43 IAD
10 22/06/41 22:00 1 Ju 88 Destroyed I-16   Minsk area 43 IAD
? 23/06/41   1 Enemy bomber Destroyed I-16   Minsk area 43 IAD
? 01/10/41   1 Hs 126 Destroyed I-16   Juchnov-Medyn 43 IAD
? ??/??/43   1 Fw 189 Destroyed Yak     303 IAD
? summer/44   1 Bf 109 Destroyed Yak-3?     303 IAD

Biplane victories: 8 and 4 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 18 and 4 shared destroyed.
(a) Actually an Italian Romeo Ro.37.
(b) Probably a civilian aircraft from the French Embassy (F-A000).
(c) CR.32 flown by Tenente Adriano Mantelli shot down and force-landed. Possibly shot down by Potez 540 from the Escadrille André Malraux.
(d) Force-landed in Chinese-held territory.
(e) 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.

Air Aces Home Page - Jan Safarik
Esa mezivalecneho obdobi (Plastic Kits Revue 44/95) - Tomas Polak, 1995, kindly provided by Ondrej Repka
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
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
Ja stihac - Georgiy Zakharov, 1992, kindly provided by Ondrej Repka
Kursk – The Air Battle: July 1943 – Christer Bergström, 2007, Chevron Publishing Limited, ISBN 978-1-903223-88-8
Pobedy sovetskich letcikov pervogo dnya vojny (Aerochobbi) - Igor A.Gulyas, kindly provided by Ondrej Repka
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 II - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 10 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
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
Tidbits from the Sino-Japanese Air Battles - Chang Kuang-Ming, 1998 World News Weekly August 1998 kindly provided by Tom Chan
Much additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung, Tom Chan, Andrei Demjanko, Ondrej Repka, Alexei Stepanov and Mirek Wawrzyński.

Last modified 24 April 2021