Secrets revealed part III: in Soviet hands
Secrets revealed – Part III
Just like the British and Americans, the Soviets were keen to get their hands on a Fw 190 and test its abilities against their own top fighters. An opportunity to do this presented itself in unlikely circumstances…
Battling four Russian Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks just outside Leningrad on January 13, 1943, Unteroffizier Helmut Brandt of 2./JG.54 was not having a good day. His Fw 190A-4 was struggling to cope with the arctic temperatures and as the aerial combat against the 158th Fighter Aviation Regiment fighters progressed, he opened fire with his nose mounted MG 17 machine guns and was horrified when their bullets shot off his own propeller blades. The synchroniser gear had failed and Brandt was left with an effectively powerless machine. He attempted to glide back to German lines but didn’t get very far and was forced to make a belly landing on the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga. Jumping down from the cockpit, Brandt opened the side fuselage hatch of his machine and drew out the skis he had been carrying for just such an eventuality. He put them on and hastily tried to escape, leaving his aircraft out on the ice, but to no avail – he was picked up by a Soviet patrol and the Russians had their first Fw 190, WNR. 142310. Realising what they had, the Soviets quickly hauled the aircraft on to dry land and took it to the nearby 1st Repair Depot at Leningrad, where its shot-off propeller was reportedly replaced with another salvaged from a Junkers Ju 87. Next it was put on a train bound for Moscow and the Research Institute of the Soviet Air Force – Naoochno-issledova-tel’skiy institoot Voyenno-vozdooshnykh (NII VVS) at nearby Schelkovo, arriving on January 16. This was the main centre for studying and testing captured German aircraft throughout the war. Engineer-captain P S Onopriyenko was assigned to get the A-4 airworthy again and flight tests were conducted by Major Yuriy A Antipov. This process continued for nearly six months, with a total of 37 flights being made by the major. Antipov’s official conclusion, and that of other pilot’s who flew WNR. 142310, was that the Fw 190 lacked the performance edge necessary to defeat the latest Soviet designs – the Yakovlev Yak-9 and the Lavochkin La-5. A top speed of just 379mph at 19,680ft was recorded for the Focke-wulf.
On the other hand, the Russians enjoyed the A-4’s automatic engine management system, which substantially reduced pilot workload compared to Soviet types, the good undistorted visibility offered by the canopy and the Fw 190’s superior structural strength. Handling the Fw 190 was apparently more difficult than handling the Yak-9 and La-5, however. Soviet aircraft designers also took the opportunity to example the latest German fighter at close quarters. Semyon A Lavochkin was particularly interested in the BMW 801D’s cooling arrangements and cowling. Since he specialised in producing aircraft with air-cooled engines, he was fascinated by the Fw 190’s cooling fan and oil cooler system. Some of the ideas he saw in the A-4 later found their way into Lavochkin designs. Once it had been documented in every conceivable way, in 1944 Unteroffizier Helmut Brandt’s Fw 190A-4 was put on display at BNT TSAGI, Moscow’s New Equipment Bureau, alongside comparable Soviet types. As for Brandt himself, he had even less luck as a POW than he did as a pilot – ending up murdered in the prison camp where he was being held before the end of the war.
Two further A-4s were captured during the spring of 1943 – WNR. 2362 and WNR. 2367 of IV./JG.51. These too were tested by Soviet pilot, who were quick to officially testify that they were inferior to their own machines. They found the cockpit conditions too cramped and dismissed the Fw 190’s performance as second rate. The aircraft was overweight and manoeuvrability was inadequate, particularly when compared to the Luftwaffe’s other main fighter on the Eastern Front at that time, the Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2. They did, however, find something to praise in the form of the aircraft’s tail-wheel castoring lock arrangement. Soviet designer Aleksandr S Yakovlev took note and a similar mechanism was used on the Yak-1m, the prototype of the Yak-3. The next machine to be captured, in July 1943, was Fw 190A-5 WNR. 1154. This suffered engine problems and gave an even poorer performance overall than the A-4s. However, the A-5 was also found to have additional armour plates on the lower parts of the wings and the engine cowling which, it was thought, were likely to improve its survivability in combat. A pair of Fw 190A-8s were captured and tested at NII VVS later in the war, Wnrs. 682011 and 580967. The first of these was fitted with either the R2 or R8 field modification because it had MK 108 cannon in its outer wing positions. The Soviets presumed that, rather than being used for downing bombers, the cannon were there for ground-attack purposes. The heavy Sturmjäger was clearly ill-suited to aerial combat against Soviet fighters but it was regarded as being a serious threat to the Red Army. Therefore, the A-8/R2 (or R8) and WNR. 580967 were test flown in a way to suggest that they were preparing to attack ground troops and the VVS’S fighters, an La-7, Yak-3 and Yak-9u, were sent up to intercept them – and formulate tactics for doing so in the field. WNR. 580967 was also flown in mock dogfights against the same Soviet machines, unencumbered as it was by the extra armour and guns of its counterpart, but was found like all the Fw 190s that preceded it to be a poor match for the Yakovlev and Lavochkin designs. Beyond the A-4s, A-5 and A-8s, numerous further Fw 190’s fell into Soviet hands but many were damaged in one way or another and there was little to be gained from further tests on similar machines, even when they were found to be in good condition. As the war drew to a close, the Soviets captured a number of Fw 190D-9s and subjected them to the usual battery of tests. However, these are further discussed on p122-125.
The Fw 190F-3 flown by Hauptmann Alexander Gläser of Stab II./SG 77, from Kalinowka, USSR, during October 1943. Gläser was a Junkers Ju 87B Stuka pilot of considerable experience, having fought in the invasion of France, the Battle of Britain and the invasion of Czechoslovakia with Sturzkampfgeschwader 77 (STG 77). When Operation Barbarossa began, he was a Kettenführer (formation leader), and his unit successfully provided close air support for the German army as it plunged ever deeper into the Soviet Union. STG 77 flew missions over Stalingrad before the The Fw 190A-7 flown by Oberleutnant Otto Kittel with 3./JG 54 from Riga-skulte, Latvia, on June 23, 1944. The previous month he had received the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross from Adolf Hitler personally at the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia.there is no known photograph of the Fw 190A-8 Kittel was flying eight months later when he was shot down 3.7 miles south-west of Džukste. He died when his aircraft broke up on hitting the ground and it was not until last year, 2013, that the crash site was finally discovered. According to Ruediger Kaufmann, who conducted the search:“we found all parts of the aircraft in the earth and identified them, enabling us to rebuild the situation of the crash in February 1945.
tide of battle turned and German forces were forced into retreat. Most of STG 77 became SG 77 in October 1943 and began converting to the Fw 190F. Gläser was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of II./SG 77 in February 1944 and led the group for the rest of the war. His unit attacked overwhelming Soviet formations to defend the crossings over the Oder and when the war ended, Gläser successfully negotiated the surrender of his men to the Americans – when the usual practice was for them to turn Germans who had fought on the Eastern Front over to the Soviets. He died in 2003. “After being shot down at about 450ft, Otto Kittel must have opened his safety belt and the harness of his parachute, so he must have still been alive before the crash to prepare for an emergency landing.the canopy was still closed so he did not have time to open it using the special Focke-wulf system. He came down in an unlucky downhill area.the plane was totally broken into thousands of pieces by the trees and exploded when it came to rest.the BMW 801 engine was thrown about 230ft into the woods. “The broken parts of the 12mm armoured pilot seat show that Kittel must have been killed immediately after passing the first small trees when the cockpit section of the plane was broken off.” * Kittel’s life and service career are covered in more detail on pages 80-85.
by the Soviets, WNR. The firstfocke-wulf Fw 190 to be captured the original was shot off by 142310 with repaired propeller after its own guns. WNR. 142310 painted in full Soviet colours – red stars on white. A very sorry looking Fw 190A-4. WNR. 142310 with its ruined propeller and underside damage from Unteroffizier Helmut Brandt’s belly landing on Lake Ladoga.this photo was taken on January 16, 1944, three days after the aircraft came down.
One of the best Russian aircraft in early 1943 was the Yakovlev Yak-3. Smaller and lighter than the Fw 190, it was nevertheless slower and poorly armed. Soviet official reports, however, cast it in a glowing light compared to the Focke-wulf machine. Soviet pilots who tested the captured German Fw 190A-4 reported that it lacked the performance edge to overcome the latest fighters from their own air force – such as the Yak-9. How far they really believed this and how far their report was made in the ‘patriotic spirit’ to avoid attention from political officers remains to be seen. The Lavochkin La-7 was powered by a 1650hp Shvetsov ASH-82FN radial engine based on an American design.this gave it excellent performance and the Soviets believed it was far superior to the Fw 190, though less so when compared to the Bf 109G.