Big Gun Fighters

Part II

Although the Yak-9T and -9K aircraft were the premiere Soviet large-caliber cannon fighters, they were not the only such machines. During the spring of 1942 an evaluation batch of LaGG-3 fighters were built at Gor'ky incorporating a 37mm Sh-37 cannon in place of the engine mounted ShVAK. All 20 of these machines were deployed for service with the 42 IAP (Shinkarenko), and served successfully throughout the summer.

During December 1942 Narkomaviaprom agreed upon a limited Series of LaGG-3s mounting a 37mm gun. These aircraft were manufactured at Tbilisi from that December well into 1943, never in large quantities, but consistently in small batches. The limited production model was dubbed LaGG-3-37 (as were the evaluation machines), but these later examples were based on the LaGG-3 oblegchenniy (lightened) airframe. In these Tbilisi variants, the Sh-37 cannon was replaced with a superior NS-37, as on the Yak-9T.

Examples of the limited production LaGG-3-37 were widely distributed throughout the VVS, presumably to judge their performance in combat. They were regarded as successful, but inferior to the Yak-9T, and as a result no large-scale manufacture ever ensued.

In this continuing series we will try to demonstrate some of the more colorful large-cannon fighters of the Patriotic War, many of which are probably as yet unknown to Western readers.
This article has been updated with newer artwork and research. The original text will be left "as-is". This helps to track the progress of newer and better information, discoveries, and thoughts about VVS camouflage. Also it is fascinating to see how, or if, perceptions evolve. The updated text will appear in a box like this, and this should be seen when in contradiction to the original to be the correct current interpretation, supplanting the former.


Yak-9T "Red 04"
Ivan Stepanenko
summer 1944

Stepanenko's Yak-9T is probably not 'unknown' in Western texts, but it has appeared in such varied forms, it might be worth revisiting once more. Though Stepanenko flew this machine for some time, its appearance changed quite dramatically and here corresponds to the summer/44 time frame, and is not relevant for its earlier iterations.

The aircraft wears a typical NKAP pattern AMT-12/-11/-7 scheme, and features some individual variations, as usual. The numeral "04" is in red, as is the spinner, which features a small white stripe. The fin flash is white, also. The area of color underneath the artwork on the fuselage is a matter of debate [see VVS Decal Sheet Review No.5 ]; in this profile the area has been rendered as an AMT-11 patch.
I have given much thought to this aircraft over the years. It strikes me that the usual depiction of "04" is still not quite satisfactory. Several versions of the famous photograph of this aircraft exist, and together they make a better picture than that which was known previously. In the first case, the national star on the fin certainly is a plain red type marking; of that I have now no doubts. There is, as well, still no evidence whatever concerning the fuselage star, assuming that one is even present. I would suppose that it, as well, is most likely to be a plain red type marking. The dimensions and placement shown here conform only to where we can see that it is not; further evidence will be needed to remove all doubts. The tactical number must be wider than usually depicted according to the geometry of the photo. The usual number "04" artwork does not line up accurately with proper scale drawings. The artwork, too, has been the subject of my attention, and I think this version is in best agreement with the evidence. Also, I am more convinced now than before that the underlying colour is simply and area of AMT-11; one can see where it overlaps with the AMT-12 below in an irregular way. This scheme is surely a field applied NKAP type job done by the regiment. I have guessed that the underwing stars might have been likely to be white border types, as shown, which would be common during 1943 manufacture.


Yak-9T "White 10"
u/k unit
pilot u/k

This Yak-9T was photographed along the Baltic Front during the early winter of 1944. Alas, the unit and pilot of this colorful machine are not known [see AJ Press "Yak-7 / -9 Monograph" for a published photograph, p.64].

"White 10" wears a typical NKAP template AMT-12/-11/-7 scheme. The spinner is white and features two red stripes. The tactical numeral is also given in white. The individual variations of this camouflage scheme are quite attractive, and unique.

Yak-9T "White 39"
612 IAP
F. Mordovskiy

The 612 IAP was replete with shark-mouthed Yak-9s during the summer and fall of 1944, and "39" is a superb example of this work. [see AJ Press "Yak-7 / -9 Monograph" for a published photograph, p.43]

This machine wears once again a typical NKAP template AMT-12/-11/-7 scheme. In the 612 IAP it was vogue to apply stripes and trim in a color representing each eskadrilya (squadron), and I believe that yellow was the color for the 3rd; "39" carries these trim colors on the spinner and as a stripe on the fin/rudder. The 'eye' artwork is trimmed with a black circle, but the 'mouth' is trimmed in white.

Yak-9T "White 66"
347 IAP
Artem Nikolov
winter 1944-45

This aircraft is an interestingly re-painted Yak-9T photographed in Poland with the 347 IAP during the winter of 1944-45. "66" is thought to be the personal mount of Artem Nikolov, who was later a leading engineer in the Soviet space programme.

"White 66" wears a solid-color AMT-12 camouflage, a color somewhat unusual on the Yak-9, but common on Yak-3s and La-7s. This coloration was certainly applied in the field, and "66" appears to have been completely refinished in this way, the color demarcation being quite soft. The spinner is red, and the national star borders were rendered in yellow. The small tactical numeral was painted on the rudder in a very old fashioned manner. The Order of Lenin emblem seems to be located on a un-repainted patch of the original scheme, apparently AMT-4 green.

Yak-9T "White 91"
113 GIAP
Viktor Orlov

Hero of the Soviet Union Kpt. Viktor Orlov spent most of his flying career in the famous 42 IAP of Maj. Shinkarenko, flying various Yak-9Ts. In September 1943 he was awarded the Gold Star HSU with 18+4 confirmed victories and reassigned to the 113 GIAP. In a wonderful ceremony on the 29th, Orlov was given this stupendous presentation Yak-9T, donated by the workers of the "Baydar" Collective Farm.

"White 91" wears a typical AMT-6/-4/-7 scheme of 1943, but featuring somewhat soft color demarcation lines on the upper surfaces. The Kremlin type national markings were trimmed beautifully in yellow, and the tactical numeral was white. The spinner was painted red and white, while the vertical fin/rudder were done in red. A Guards emblem was located on both sides of the engine cowling. The inscription was given in white.

Sadly, Kpt. Orlov was killed shortly after receiving this machine in an epic battle. On 9 December 1943 Orlov and his flight of six aircraft rushed to the rescue of a small group of Pe-2 bombers that had been cornered by more than fifty German fighters in the Kiev area. Fighting desperately, Orlov destroyed two Messerschmitts before his machine was fatally stricken. Although he successfully bailed out, Orlov was shot in his parachute by a German pilot and killed. His body was later recovered and subsequently buried in the Kiev Victory Park with a nice plaque describing his service.
Looking over the information on "91" again, I have made some small changes to my earlier interpretation. I think the borders around the Kremlin type stars might in fact be white; a bit filthy, but white nonetheless. Other researchers who have looked at the photo more recently than myself have indicated that I did not execute the numeral correctly; I have amended it to suit their description.


LaGG-3-37 "White 75"
303 IAD
M. Kravchuk

The photograph caption of "75" states that this aircraft belonged to pilot M. Kravchuk, about whom I have found no further information. Certainly this machine was photographed in service with the 303 IAD (Regiment as yet unknown) during 1943. It is thought that this aircraft was also piloted by several other aviators in combat, including some French pilots of the Normadie-Niemen (one of whom is visible in the photo). Further investigation of this machine will continue.

"White 75" wears a not entirely typical AMT-6/-4/-7 scheme in the 1942-43 style, but clearly deviating from the more usual pattern applications of this period. The spinner is finished in the classic 303 IAD manner, with red/white/blue stripes. The national stars on the fusleage are of the obsolete black bordered variety, and on the fin a small pain red type. Both the tactical number and the rudder were completed in white. The small inscription below the cockpit (in white) reads, "za Rodinu!" ("For the Motherland!").
The possibility that a French pilot might have flown this aircraft continues to draw considerable discussion. The matter is delt with in more detail here.


LaGG-3-37 "Red 90"
42 IAP
pilot u/k
winter 1942-43

Number "90" was one of the original 20 evaluation machines mounting the Sh-37 gun. It appeared to have survived with the 42 IAP until the winter months of 1942-43, when it was photographed with an unknown pilot in partial winter livery.

This aircraft was finished in a Green and Black scheme, but from the photo it is not clear whether this was comprised of AMT or AII paints; either are possible (it is shown here in AMT colors). The pattern looks very typical for the 1942 period. The star on the fuselage is a Kremlin type, probably modified in this way from a typical white bordered type star (as it would have probably left the factory). The numeral on the fin/rudder is unusually large, and completed in red. White MK-7 distemper was applied to the forward fusleage, and appears to be somewhat worn looking; alas, no view is available of the wing upper surfaces. The spinner was painted yellow.
I now suspect that perhaps the aircraft left the factory wearing thin black bordered stars, as was so common at that time in Gor'ki manufacture. The white border surrounding the Kremlin star seems too small for such applications, and I now suspect it was modified elsewhere (when the star was made into a Kremlin type). The wing undersurface stars have been drawn to correspond to this interpretation. Despite many suggestions, the spinner colour is still yellow for me.