Jump to content

Airacobras


willedoo
 Share

Recommended Posts

Have started reading 'Attack of the Airacobras - Soviet Aces, American P-39's and the War Against Germany'. An excellent and eye opening book written by Hero of the Soviet Union, Dmitry Loza and translated and edited by James F. Gebhardt. Colonel Loza commanded a tank battalion of lend lease Sherman tanks during the war, and was approached by James Gebhardt, a twenty year U.S. Army veteran, to collaborate on an English language version of the book.

 

It dispels a lot of the myths surrounding the P-39. Considered by the West as obsolete by the time it went into action, it was well respected and put to good use by the Soviets. Almost 5,000 lend lease Airacobras were delivered, approximately half shipped to Iran, assembled and flown by ferry pilots to the Caspian Sea region of Russia. The other half were flown via the Alaska/Siberia route, with a small number shipped from the U.K. via the northern sea route to Murmansk. Contrary to popular beliefs that they were used primarily as ground attack tank busters and close air support, most Soviet Airacobras were used in a fighter attack role, engaging German bombers and their fighter escorts.

 

The P-39 changed air combat methods for the Soviet air force in general. The previous self defeating tactics were replaced by new tactics developed by top ace, Alexandr Pokryshkin in the P-39. The Airacobra was fast and maneuverable with good fire power, and superior to the Messerschmitts in the vertical plane. Previously, Soviet air cover was strictly controlled by ground controllers. The standard method was to arrive at the operational area and all circle around in a carousel formation. This enabled easy pickings for the Germans to attack from above. Pokryshkin's methods used altitude, speed, and the element of surprise, maximising the P-39's abilities. The low altitude carousel was scrapped for a bookshelf formation of flights and elements at different altitudes covering each other. Height was used to provide speed to swoop on the enemy from above, then climb back to altitude for another go. Very similar to the way the Soviet MiG-15's fought the Sabres during the Korean War.

 

Once the new tactics were employed, the tables were turned and the German forces started to take significant losses. As an indication of how effective the Airacobras were, the Germans transferred many of their top aces to the Kuban to try to deal with them. Another turning point the P-39 caused in Soviet air combat was the use of radios. The Airacobras came with an array of radios fitted and strict radio communication soon became an essential part of combat methods. Previously, very few Soviet fighters were fitted with radios. Usually the mission commander had the only radio to communicate with ground controllers, or in other cases, the other aircraft had receivers only to receive commands. A lot of hand signals were used. After the P-39 experience, radios started to make a general appearance in the Soviet air force.

 

In typical Soviet fashion, Pokrushkin was initially severely punished for rocking the established boat, but once he was able to prove the effectiveness of his theories, they were soon adopted throughout the Soviet air forces.

 

 

9780700611409.jpg

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I always thought that the "-cobra" was an interesting aircraft. This New Zealand video explains why the Airacobra was used as it was - why the Yanks and Poms didn't like them, but the Ruskies did. It came to the fore when standard operational tactics were developed to utilise what good points it had. (You only need to watch this video for 5.45 secs. The rest of doesn't take you further.

 

 

This isn't a too bad article about the Ruskies' use of it.  https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/7/5/1544368/-The-Unloved

  • Like 1
  • Informative 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

For a little country, New Zealand seems to have a lot of restored warbirds.

 

There's no doubt the lend lease programme had a big input in the war. On the Soviet side, most publicity appears to be around the lend lease aircraft. Often not much mention of other gear like the Sherman tanks referred to previously. I read an article that said one of the most effective parts of the lend lease programme to the Soviet Union was the provision of trucks, jeeps and food rations.

 

  • Like 1
  • Agree 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Further to the above, Hitler didn't have enough trucks either by the time he launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviets. The Germans used captured French trucks, but a lot of their artillery was hauled by horses. Hitler's forces had a lot of supply and logistics  problems in the USSR due to their dependence on horses for transport and haulage.

  • Like 1
  • Agree 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

For it's day, I think the Airacobra had a lot of good features. Tricycle gear for a start. The service crews liked the easy maintenance position of the engine, which also provided added protection of the pilot from enemy fire from the rear. A lot of armour plating, including the floor. Room in the front for cannons and a good aerodynamic front end due to lack of engine. I think they retained spent cartridges and links in the front to maintain c.o.g. balance.

 

To bail out, they could blow the door. I haven't read anything about how they bailed out and risk of hitting the tail plane. Maybe they could do a side roll and drop out ok, similar to conventional cockpit aircraft rolling inverted and dropping out. At least that way, gravity would help get to away from the tail rather than egressing in the horizontal plane.

  • Informative 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The P-39 is an interesting aircraft the more you delve into it. It seems to be an underrated and relatively forgotten aircraft of the war period.

 

Lend lease aircraft came with  helmets and oxygen equipment from the originating countries. British gear had little influence on future Russian designs, but U.S. gear had an impact. German helmets and masks provided the bulk of ancestry of wartime and early cold war Soviet designs, but the lend lease oxygen masks from the U.S. also had an influence on some designs used until the mid to late fifties.

 

First photo shows an American pilot in an Airacobra with an American A-8 mask hanging beside him. This is a continual flow re-breather type mask good for altitudes up to about 32,000 feet; well above the combat heights of the Soviet P-39's. With that in mind, I would assume it would have been the mask issued to the Soviets for P-39 use. This mask was the basis of the Russian KM-19 mask which had a long post war use as a non pilot mask. Used by troops and passengers in transports such as the Ilyushin 76, Antonov 12 etc. until fairly recent times.

 

The other two American wartime lend lease oxygen masks that morphed into Soviet designs were the pressure demand masks A-14 and A-12. The post war Soviet KM-17 mask had very little difference from the parent American A-14 mask and was used in fast jet applications through to the early to mid 50's. The American A-12 was the basis of Soviet KM-18, KM-24 and KM-30 masks which were in use until the late 50's. The major difference between these masks and the American A-12 was that the Soviets developed an occipital bladder type pressure compensation/mask tensioning system around 1956, and the masks had an outlet hose fitted to supply excess flow to the compensating bladder. The Americans adopted this system thirty years later as a major component of their combat edge system.

 

Second photo shows Airacobra ace, Alexandr Pokryshkin, wearing a U.S. flight helmet. American leather helmets didn't seem to influence later Soviet helmet design; the Soviets were quite happy with German designs and their offspring.

 

 

American.png

Alexander Pokryshkin.jpg

Edited by willedoo
  • Like 1
  • Informative 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...

This is a very interesting video on the design features of the P-39 Airacobra. It seems to answer all you ever wanted to know about the whys and wherefores if its mid-positioned engine, tricycle undercarriage, handling characteristics and performance at altitude. 

 

 

  • Like 1
  • Informative 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...