Russian Ace of WW11, Ivan Kozhedub was the leading Soviet and Allied Ace of WWII. Flying mainly the Lavochkin La-7 fighter aircraft, he carried out 330 sorries, was involved in 120 aerial combats and was credited with 62 confirmed victories. Earning the nickname "Ivan the Terrible", he was the only Soviet pilot to shoot down a Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter. Ivan was one of only two Soviet fighter pilots to be awarded the Gold Star(Hero of the Soviet Union) three times during World War II. Soviet Air Forces suffered very high losses during World War II. US historians David M. Glantz and Jonathan House("When Titans Clashed", 1995) give the figure 88,300 Soviet combat aircraft lost. The Germans claimed the destruction of 77,000 Soviet aircraft(including 45,000 in aerial combat) during the entire war.
Born in Ukraine in 1920, Ivan Kozhedub began his rather distinguished career in the VVS in 1940 and was graduated as a pilot at Chuguyey military flying school a year later. Ironically prevented from fighting because his skill as a pilot made him more useful as an instructor, Kozhedub did not fly his first combat mission until March 26, 1943. He was posted as a Starshij Serzhant in the 240 IAP on Voronezh Front flying La-5s in 1943. He did not make his mark against the Luftwaffe until several months later when the regiment became greatly involved in the Battle of Kursk. Kozhedub, who had by now become a Miadshij Lejtenant, was off on July 6 with three fellow pilots providing ground force cover in the Pokrovka area where they stormed into a formation of 22 Ju 87s with Kozhedub destroying one of them. He claimed another of these the following day and on the 9th Kozhedub and his flight were assigned to a front-line patrol and became involved in a melee with nine Ju 87s, four Bf 109s and two Fw 190s. During this combat he bagged a Bf 109 on his first pass and with his fourth kill met the conditions for the award of his first Order of the Red Banner.
A short time later he took over as leader of a fighter squadron which was to be credited with downing 12 Bf 109s, 11 Ju 87s and a Fw 190 during 165 combat sorties between August 21 and October, 1943. Kozhedub became a devotee of the surprise attack closing right in before firing. He now began to pile up victories at a remarkable pace. On August 9 another Bf 109 fell to his guns while leading four fighters on a Pe-2 escort to Kharkov. Six Luftwaffe fighters rose to oppose them but broke away as the La-5s turned into their attack. Six days later he made a claim for two Bf 109s when enemy aircraft tried to bounce a Pe-2 reconnaissance plane and on August 22 was leading an escort for 14 Pe-2 bombers to Merefa(SW Kharkov). In the target area they came under attack of Fw 190s , one of them being shot down in flames by Kozhedub himself. He had by now become a Kapitan and on September 30 splashed a Ju 87 for a change while leading six of his squadron to bounce 18 Stukas in the Borodayevka area.
He continued his streak into October, when the regiment became involved in the ferocious battles above the Dnyepr River. In 10 days of combat he ran up a string of 11 kills while runners-up were Vasilij Mukhin and Pavel Bryzgalov with five apiece. On October 1 he was leading six La-5s against two large gaggles of Ju 87s west of Pogrebnaya and blasted two of them as his squadron got two more. The following day he shot down another of these together with a Bf 109 when eight of his squadron took on 27 enemy planes destroying four dive-bombers along with three Messerschmitts for no losses. He was in action three days later claiming a Bf 109 shot down in flames when 14 La-5s tackled with 15 fighters near Borodayevka.
Later that afternoon he added another 109 when combat occurred with 12 Ju 87s escorted by six fighters. The total claims for this affray were three Ju 87s and a Bf109. He was wounded in a fighter battle on the 12th but was able to stagger back to his own airfield being back on duty a few days later. On October 29 Kozhedub and five of his comrades were off on a sweep and once over the front made contact with a formation of He 111s, Kozhedub claiming one of them destroyed. Shortly after this they met Luftwaffe dive-bombers engaged in bombing ground targets with Kozhedub blasting one out of the sky. With 20 personal kills he now was well qualified for his first award of the coveted title Hero of the Soviet Union and had already established a reputation for aggressiveness, skill and tenacity.
It is particularly noteworthy that he required only 27 encounters to pile up his kills during the course of 146 sorties, 90 of which were escorts, 39 ground force cover, 9 armed reconnaissance and 8 scrambles. After a short rest from operations Kozhedub was again in the thick of fighting and on January 1, 1944 was providing ground force cover with five La-5s between Kapitanovka-Lebedin(NW Kirovograd), where they engaged nine Ju 87s, four of these being shot down. Kozhedub personally accounted for one as a Bf 109 fell to his guns a short time later. He participated in periods of intense activity that flared up along the Yuzhnyj Bug River and subsequently took part in the brutal battles over Rumania. In the same time frame he was in a highly competitive scoring race with another great fighter ace, Kirill Yevstigneyey.
Kozhedub claimed another Ju 87 shot down in flames on March 14, 1944 while leading five La-5s assigned to patrol the air space over the Yuzhoyj Bug and five days later forced down an He 111 when four fighters under his leadership took on 18 bombers escorted by six Messerschmitts in the vicinity of Vulturul. On the 29th six La- 5s with Kozhedub in the lead were sweeping over the Yassy area where they engaged a formation of 10 Hs 129s and four Bf 109s. Kozhedub went after the assault aircraft, pulled in to point-blank range and after several bursts one of them blew up and crashed. In an outstanding effort Kozhedub's squadron had been credited with 65 enemy planes in the air since August, 1943 consisting of 23 Bf 109s, 30 Ju 87s, 5 He 111s, 2 Hs 129s, one Fw 190, three Fw 189s and one PZL-24 during 710 sorties(318 ground force cover, 357 escorts, 35 armed reconnaissance). Kozhedub's score now had risen to 34 and he was recommended for his second Gold Star award.
Triumph followed triumph. At Yassy, victories continued to come thick and fast. He chalked up four more kills between June 1 and June 3 to run his tally to 43 but Yevstigneyev in the same time frame had increased his score to 44 by claiming five aerial victories. A short time later he was posted as deputy commanding officer of the 176 GIAP flying La-7s. On September 22 he took off with Lejtenant Sharapov on a patrol and engaged two gaggles of Fw 190 fighter-bombers comprising of 4-8 aircraft each and shot down two of them in quick succession opening fire at 150 meters. He added another of these on January 16, 1945 while victory number 50 came on February 10.
On this day Kozhedub was carrying out a free hunt with Major Titarenko as his number two in the vicinity of the Oder River, two German fighters being seen, and Kozhedub shot down one of these. The enemy pilot made a forced landing in his crippled aircraft in a pasture and became a prisoner. It was discovered that he was an ace with eight victories but his identity has unfortunately not been established. Two days later he was off on another free hunt with Lejtenant Gromakovskij flying wing to him and while sweeping over the Konitz area they spotted 18 Fw 190s fighter bombers flying at 400 meters. They immediately swept down and Kozhedub opened fire on "tail end Charlie," seeing hits exploding all over him and pieces flying off in all directions whereupon he spun into the ground in a solid sheet of flame. He then destroyed two more in quick succession which crashed 10-12 km southwest of Konitz. Gromakovskij shot another off Kozhedub's tail for his second kill of the day.
Kozhedub is believed to have shot down one of the first Messerschmitt Me-262 jets to be encountered on Eastern Front during February but the date for this remains dubious. The date given by Kozhedub himself is the 19th while others are suggesting the 15th or 24th of February. It seems most likely that this claim has never been officially accepted as it cannot be traced in his "nagradnoj lisf'- the recommendation submitted by Polkovnik Chupikov, the commander of the 176 GIAP, for the award of his third title of Hero of the Soviet Union on March 31, 1945. On March 18 he claimed a Fw 190 that crashed 5-6 kilometers northwest of Kiistrin and five days later four La-7s with Kozhedub and Major Kumanichkin in the lead tackled with some 30 Fw 190s in the Seelow area. Kozhedub and Major Titarenko attacked from the sun claiming single 190s each on their first pass before breaking away in a high speed climb. In continuing action Kozhedub bagged a second while in taking on another gaggle Kumanichkin and his wingman, Gromakovskij, both knocked down singles with the latter's victim taking to his parachute. By March 31, 1945 Kozhedub had reached 60 confirmed kills becoming the top Allied fighter pilot of the war.
During the Korean conflict he displayed exceptional leadership, his unit claiming 207 U.N. aircraft destroyed for the loss of 27 MiG-15s in combat and 9 pilots. He later was assigned as an inspector of VVS flight training between 1956 and 1963 and in January, 1964 became deputy commander of the Moscow PVO forces. In 1967 Kozhedub was appointed president of the Aviation Sports Federation and vice president of the International Federation of Aviation(FAI). He later rose to Marshal Aviatsii and was assigned as an inspector of the Soviet Ministry of Defense.
Perhaps the last words should be left to Kozhedub himself, who provides the following revealing recollections: "I destroyed my first enemy aircraft in the air during the Battle of Kursk. Historians have been setting forth my total score as 62 victories. As a matter of fact this figure requires revision. There were many victories that either remained unconfirmed or were credited to fellow pilots. I reckon that my personal score actually is in excess of 100 victories while I never counted enemy aircraft destroyed jointly with my comrades."
Air Marshal Ivan Nikitovich Kozhedub passed away in August, 1991.