During the struggle over Kuban’s steppes in spring 1943, three Yak-1b fighters fall into German’s hands. We know that soon after they were used against Soviet forces. Even Alexander Pokrishkin, the top Soviet ace, mentioned it. One of these planes became well documented in the photos. This is its story.

The first two Yaks fall into German hands on Taganrog-West airfield in Rostov Region. On the 17th April 1943 Soviet air units were transferring to Kuban. A group of Yak-1bs from 291 IAP (249 Air Fighter Regiment) took off from Rososh airfield and flew towards Rostov on Don. The navigator of Pe-2 (commander Ltn. Krimov), which was leading the formation, made a navigational mistake and planes finished over German held airfield in Taganrog, which was 40 km from their original destination. Three Yaks landed right away and three others were shot down by German flak. When pilots realized that they were on the German side of the frontline, they started shooting at enemy with their sidearms. During the skirmish one of these Yaks was burnt. Remaining two were caught by Germans. Only four planes of initial ten reached Rostov

Photo above – Yak-1b from 291 IAP captured by Germans. Photo via Aleksiey Krivopustov.

Cover picture – Yak-1b of the Capt. Leonid Smirnov, squadron commander in 148 IAP, Kuban, Spring1943. Artwork by Zbyszek Malicki.

Leonid Smirnov’s Yak-1b

The third plane fall into German hands in completely different circumstances. On the fuselage, behind pilot’s cockpit, there was foundation inscription which reads “To Smirnov Leonid, the Stalin’s Falcon, from workers of Frunze District in Saratov” (“Сталинскому соколу Леониду Смирнову от трудящихся Фрунзенского района г. Саратова”). We do not know any legend about purchasing and assigning the plane. Smirnov was not as known as Yeromin or Lugansky. At that time a lot of Yaks received foundation inscriptions connecting workers with heroes on the fronline. He did not enjoy his plane long. On the 6th May 1943 he did not return, together with his three colleagues, from the combat mission over Niebierdzayevskaya hamlet. That day, because of his plane malfunction, he was flying the other plane and his plane was handed over to another pilot.

zdobyczny jak-1b kpt Smirnowa

Yak-1b of the Capt. Leonid Smirnov on German airfield. Photo via Aleksiey Krivopustov.

Leonid Dimitirevitch Smirnov

Leonid Smirnov was born during tsar Mikolay II reign in 1913 in Kharkov. In 1937 he joined the Red Army. After finishing flying school he took part in Soviet-Finnish War 1939-1940. As a Lieutnant in the 148  IAP  he fought in the “Great Patrotic War” from the beginning in June 1941, flying MiG-3 and Yak-1.

On 6th November 1941, the commander of the South-Western Front, in his Order No 36, awarded Smirnov with the Order of the Red Banner for his leadership as a flight commander.

At the beginning of December 1941 he was nominated to another prize:

“Brave commader. On the 25th September 1941 he shot down enemy plane “Ju-88” but his plane was also shot down and he was forced to bail out from his burning fighter. After returning to his unit he continues to fly missions. His unit has made 410 combat missions to support ground forces, escort bombers and reconnaissance. So far he has made 52 combat missions.”

In the Order No 61 from the 9th December 1941, the commander of the South-Western Front awarded Ltn. L. D. Smirnov with the Order of the Red Star.

On the 7th August 1942, Cpt L.D. Smirnov, a flight commander of 148 IAP, was nominated to the following award:

„ During the Great Patriotic War he proved his bravery. Triumphant during scores of combat missions he also trained brave and dauntless pilots. He did not lose any of escorted bombers or attack aircraft. He fought successfully with the enemy and regardless from German preponderance he always won. He shot down one Me-109, one Ju-87, one Ju-88 and three others together with other pilots. His logbook shows 123 sorties, including 19 to attack enemy ground forces and 15 air combats. During the Stalingrad campaign he shot down 2 Me-109s. During those combats he proved his bravery and strength. His heroism inspired his fellow pilots to defeat fascist forces. His exemplary leadership and heroic deeds are worthy of the Order of Lenin prize”.

According to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union edict from the 5th November 1942, the flight commander of 148th IAP (269th IAD (Fighter Air Division), 8th Air Force), Ltn. L.D. Smirnov received the Order of the Patriotic War First Class.

In the spring 1943 Capt. L.D.Smirnov received a Yak-1 fighter with “To Smirnov Leonid, the Stalin’s Falcon, from workers of Frunze District in Saratov”. At that time he received another Red Flag Order.

On the 6th May 1943 he did not return from another combat mission. Until that day he flew more than 150 sorties, took part in 20 dogfigts, shot down 7 planes individually and 4 shared. He received two Orders of the Red Banner, one Order of the Patriotic War 1st Class and the Order of the Red Star.

Two photos of  Yak-1b handled by German personnel. Photo: “Yak Anthology”

Smirnov’s Yak-1b in Foreign Hands

After Smirnov’s death, his Yak was passed to Ltn. Mikhail Vladimirovitch Shkomplektov. He was experienced pilot and flight commander deputy. He shot down three enemy planes individually and one shared:

  • 29.04.1943 – ¼ Me-109
  • 3.05.1943 – 1 Me-109
  • 8.05.1943 – 1 Me-109
  • 8.05.1943 – 1 Ju-87

Last two victories he claimed after Smirnov’s death, possibly on Smrnov’s plane. His roll, leading to acedom, was not long. On the 11th May Shkomplektov landed on a enemy held airstrip Apana and was taken prisoner. He was captured by Slovak soldiers of the 13 (Slovak)/JG52. In the interview after the war, Ján Režňák, Slovak top ace, told the story:

Jan Reznak, 13 Slovak/JG52

“One day a Soviet pilot landed on the Anapa airstrip and get out of his plane. He jumped off after finishing taxiing and said that he wanted to fight on our side. Germans interrogated him. It was summer but he was wearing long leather gloves. I couldn’t understand why, but later I saw the cockpit I understood. I told him he was tough guy that he flew that plane. I was sitting it the cockpit and my hands were covered with blood. Gloves were necessary as everything was covered with some sticky stuff. Pokrishkin in his book wrote that Shkomplektov got lost while flying that new plane from the factory. That’s not true, he came to us deliberately.”

Photo Jan Režňák, wikipedia

Jak-1b JG-52

JG52 personnel inspect Smirnov’s Yak-1b.  Foundation slogan is clearly visible as well as addition plexi stipe on the rear part of sliding part of canopy.  Photo: “Yak Anthology”.

Režňák’s story combines two stories actually. Pokrishkin probably mentions a flight from the 17th April and capturing fighters of 291 IAP. But did Shkompletov really desert? If so, he would be accepted to service. Documents say that on the 22nd June 1943 he was registered as a prisoner in Kriegsgefangenelager 2 2 d. Lw Litzmannstadt – a prisoner camp for air personnel in Lodz, a city which was located on Polish territories incorporated to the 3rd Reich. After the war he returned to the USSR. On 11th August 1945 he was arrested by the NKVD and on the 3rd October 1945 he was sentenced 10 years of gulag and 5 years of public rights loss. He was also his medals (the Order of Red Banner, the Order of the Red Star and medal for “Defence of Stalingrad”) and downgraded. He regained his rights on the 10th October 1958.

Shkomplektov with JG52 pilots. Photo via Aleksiey Krivopustov.

Shkomplektov’s documents confirming POW status and transition to Oflag in Łódź. Photo via Aleksiey Krivopustov.

Smirnov’s aircraft further fate

The plane was handed over to JG 52 and on the 12th May, after some tests, was transferred first to Taman and then to Kerch. Like two other Yaks-1b, Shkomplektov’s fighter was used to make divertion against Soviet forces. First reports about strange Yaks over Kuban area appeared in April 1943, before capturing Smirnov’s fighter. Soviets soon realized that solitary Yak-1b marked with white stripes was appearing over targets shortly before German air raids. High Command ordered I.V. Shmelevov, who was a pilot in 4 IAP (a regiment in 287 IAD ( Fighter Air  Division) to hunt and destroy traitor’s plane. At the end of April 1943, after 5 days of hunting, he found and shot down German Yak in a struggle over the mountains. That combat was described in Sergyey Andrianov’s short story “A Combat with the Diamond Ace”.

In May 1943 further reports about remaining two Yaks, one of which must have been Smirnov’s aircraft, were comming to headquarters. The 265 IAD operational report No 39 dated at 28th May 1943, in short military style, reads:

“While flying at 3000 metres in the area south-west from the Kiev station, Ltn Rubakhin was attacked by 1 Me 109 which was followed by 2 Yak 1s with red spinners, white inscriptions on their fuselages, red stars and without any tactical numbers. The starboard one was painted in stripes and port one was green. Those Yaks were very close to the Me 109 which was attacking Rubakhin’s plane but weren’t shooting at it. Ltn Rubakhin informed that those Yaks were flying after Pe-2s towards our territory and were shooting at them. After Pe-2s repulsed the attack of Me 109 and 2 Yak-1, 2 Yaks seen by Rubakhin, together with Me 109, flew west. Ltn Rubakhin thinks that 2nd Ltn Ishkhanov’s Yak, which didn’t return from the mission, was shot down by 2 Yak-1”.

On the 21st June 1943, 2nd Ltn Sergey Gorovtsov, flying American fighter P-39 Airacobra s/n 42-4987, engine no 42-27013 from the 11th Guards Fighter Regiment of the Black Sea Fleet Air Force did not return from the mission. His plane crashed and burnt in the forrest in mountains near Shapsugskaya. The pilot burnt with the plane. According to Russian archeologists who were exploring the crash site, the fighter was shot down by the second Yak-1b (but not by Smirnov’s plane).


Jak-1b Luftwaffe

The most unclear photo of Yak-1b in Luftwaffe markings. It was probably taken before flight to Germany. Visible German crosses, swastica and yellow recognition band and engine cover bottom. It wold be also undersurface wing tips. Aleksiey Krivopustov, the author of an article on captured Yaks link suggest it is a photoshoped fake. In my opinion this photo is poor quality and it also may be authentic. Photo via Aleksiey Krivopustov.

Smirnov’s aircraft did not stay on the front too long. At the end of summer 1943 it was transferred to Germany. Most probably it wore black crosses and swastika and yellow quick recognition markings. Russina authors who wrote the article about captured Yaks suggest that the photo is modern photoshopped. However, so far it has not been possible to found the original photo wich could have been manipulated. The photo is of a very poor quality and it is difficult to say what is the proof of forgery and what is, simply, blurred photo. Another photo, taken during German celebrations, shows this plane with Soviet markings, without tactical number and with changed soe of camouflage pattern which suggests that it was repainted. It seems that after the transfer flight it was repainted back to its original markings. It was presented in Rechlin, on the 3rd September 1943, during the captured equipment exhibition. One of the visitors was the Commander in Chief of Luftwaffe – Herman Goering.

Jak-1b Rechlin 1943

Yak-1b during a presentation in Germany, September1943. On wings are visible camouflage correction with different colour. It seems Germans repainted it back to original marking. Soviet stars are painted but tactical number “white 2” is ommited. Photo via: “Yak Anthology”

All known photos show same presentation inscription. We hope that one day someone will find further photos or documents which throw light on the matter of German camouflage of this plane and explain its incredible history.

Jak-1b Luftwaffe 1943

Smirnov’s Yak-1b in Luftwaffe markings, Visible yellow identification colours. Artwork by Zbyszek Malicki.

English translation by Dominik Sędziak

You may be interested:

  • “Yak Anthology” (Антология Як) – extensive selection of Yak-1 markings online. Colour profiles, photos and comments (Russian language) – link. Take a look for more Smirnov’s aeroplane photos..
  • “Yak-1 in Luftwaffe squadrons” (Як-1 в эскадрильях люфтваффе) Aleksiey Krivopustov, link
  • “Shot down by German … Yak-1” (Сбит немецким… Як-1) Aleksiey Krivopustov, link
  • See Yak-1b model kit with Smirnov i Luftwaffe markings in Arma Hobby webstore:

This post is also available in: plpolski