One of the specialties of Russian airmen in their battle against the German air force is the tactic of ramming enemy planes. The sacrifice of a dying pilot in a damaged plane by a deliberate collision with his foe is a relic of World War I; but the Russians have developed ramming as a definite tactic from which both pilot and plane may escape undamaged.
Ramming was developed by the Russian airmen after they observed that frequently German multi-engined bombers escaped after being hard hit and seriously damaged by Russian pursuits. Often the pursuit pilot scored heavily, killing part of the bomber's crew and disabling one or more motors. However, these attacks usually exhausted the pursuit's limited ammunition supply, permitting the bomber to limp back behind its own lines. Ramming is designed to destroy these crippled planes. It takes a combination of skillful piloting and utilization of the crippled victim's lack of maneuverability to execute a successful ramming operation with a minimum of damage to the attacking pilot and plane. More often the attacking plane is damaged and the pilot bails out.
Soviet flyers employ three types of ramming, according to Maj N Denisov in a recent USSR embassy bulletin. The most dangerous is the direct blow. Hitting the enemy plane with a part of a Russian plane and clipping control surfaces by slight propeller contact are also used. The latter method calls for the greatest skill but offers the best chance of survival.
Major Denisov points out that the propeller-clipping method calls for an approach from the rear with the attacking plane's speed adjusted to that of the enemy. As soon as slight contact is felt the attacker must drop away to avoid crashing with the enemy plane as it falls. If the ramming flyer is too slow he may easily become entangled with the stricken plane and dragged down with it.
American Air Forces observers abroad report numerous examples of the Russians' ramming tactics and there are accounts available from Soviet flyers who have rammed German bombers an made successful landings. Here is the account given by Jr Lieut V Talalikhin, who was awarded the Order of Hero of the Soviet Union for his exploits:
"On the night of August 6, 1941, when Fascist bombers made one of their attempts to break through to Moscow, I was ordered to take off in my fighter and patrol the approaches to the city. I soon spotted a Heinkel He-111K at an altitude of about 15,000 feet. Swooping down I managed to get on its tail and attacked.
"With one of my first bursts I put the bomber's right engine out of commission The plane banked sharply and set its course for home, steadily losing altitude. I continued to attack the enemy and gave him about six bursts, following him down to about 7,500 feet, when my ammunition gave out. What was I to do? I could have followed the bomber farther but that would have been useless. With only one engine it could still fly quite a distance and perhaps escape There was only one thing to do ― ram the enemy.
"I decided to chop off his tail with my propeller and opened my throttle Only about 30 feet now separated the two planes. I could clearly see the armor plating on the bomber's belly as I approached from behind and below.
"At that moment the enemy opened fire with a heavy machine gun. A searing pain tore through my right hand. Immediately I gave my plane the gun and the whole machine, not just the propeller, struck the bomber. There was terrifying crash. My fighter turned upside down. I unfastened my belt and drew up my feet, crawled to the opening and threw myself overboard. For 2,400 feet I fell like a stone, not opening my parachute. Only after I heard the roar of my plane to one side did I pull the ripcord. I landed in a small lake an made my way to shore."
Pilot Mikhalev of the Soviet Fleet Air Service was credited with ramming a Henschel Hs-126 in one of the first appearances of this new German aircraft on the Russian front. Mikhalev dived on the plane after exhausting his ammunition. His propeller ripped the Henschel's stabilizer and rudder. A flying piece of wreckage struck Mikhalev on the shoulder but he managed to bring his plan down safely. The plane crashed an burned.
Pilot Vinogradov did his ramming the old-fashioned way. Fighting a single Nazi bomber over a vulnerable Russia target he exhausted his ammunition without getting a decisive hit. Meanwhile a bullet punctured his gas tan and his ship burst into flames. Vinogradov hurtled into the Nazi bomber and both planes were destroyed.
Another Soviet pilot who rammed and lived to tell about it is Alexandrovich Kiselev. He escaped with only a scratch on his cheek after bailing out. His plane was lost.
"It didn't come off very well," said Kiselev in describing his ramming. "I am sure it is possible to ram an enemy ship without losing one's own machine. I was a bit excited and I suppose that is why I muffed the job.
"My ammunition ran out. The enemy had hit my oil tank and radiator and my engine was just about giving its last gasp I didn't want to let him get away so I went at him from below to get at his tail with my propeller. It was possible to calculate the movement so as to clip him with the tips of my propeller. But a stream of oil messed up my windshield and I couldn't see very well.
"Just as I was approaching him the suction of the air whirls caused by the Nazi plane swept my machine upward. I got mad then and rammed him from above, digging into his left side. I knocked my face against my stick. If I had figured it out properly that wouldn't have happened.
"The enemy plane disappeared. My own plane went into a spin. I tried to pull out but it was no use. I took my feet off the controls, stuck my head outside and was knocked back into my seat by the air blast. I pushed off with one foot, counted to eight, ripped and floated down."
Lieutenant Katrich of the Soviet Air Force relates another ramming incident:
"At about 10 AM I was told that an enemy plane had been sighted heading for Moscow. I took off at once and soon spotted a vapor trail at about 18,000 feet. The enemy was above and ahead of me. I put my oxygen mask on and picked up altitude. I drew up to within 300 feet of the Nazi plane. I sprayed him from stem to stern. It was only then that the Nazi crew noticed me. The cabin gunner returned fire. I gave them another long burst until I saw flames streaking from their port engine. After the third attack my ammunition gave out and their tail gunner was silent. The left engine was burning but the plane continued to fly. The pilot was apparently counting on my fuel supply being exhausted. It was then I decided to ram him.
"I had thought a lot about ramming. The first reports of ramming by our flyers interested me but in most of them the planes had been lost. I thought it would be possible to ram without sacrificing one's own plane and here was a chance to test my theory.
"I approached the bomber from the left of its stern and aimed my nose at its tail, calculating my attack so as to clip its stabilizer and rudders with the tips of my propellers. My calculations proved correct. There was a slight jolt. I throttled back and banked. When I came out I saw the enemy gliding sharply downwards. I glided after it. The Nazi pilot made several attempts to level off. By gunning his motor he managed to fly level for a few seconds before dropping off again. He finally lost control and dove into the ground. The ship burned. I landed at my home airdrome. My plane was undamaged except for a dent in my propeller which caused heavy vibration."
One of the most spectacular instances of ramming which throws an interesting sidelight on the combat psychology of Russian airmen was told by eyewitnesses at the airdrome over which the battle occurred. Sgt-Maj Nikolai Totmin took to the air as his home field was attacked by eight Junkers Ju-88 dive bombers escorted by a pair of Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters. Totmin set one bomber's port engine afire with his first burst but was attacked by the Me-109 fighters before he could finish the bomber. Totmin banked sharply to battle the fighters. One Me-109 followed the bombers but the other stayed to take on the Russian.
Totmin and his Nazi opponent went into a tight circle trying to turn inside each other. The Nazi went into a quick climb and Totmin followed him. The Nazi then turned to attack and Totmin banked sharply to bring his plane hurtling head on at the Nazi. Both planes sped toward each other but at the last moment before collision the Nazi heeled his plane over At that instant Totmin banked in the opposite direction and drove his plane into the Nazi's wing. Totmin's plane staggered under the shock and both plane spun earthward. Totmin twice tried unsuccessfully to bail out but the air pressure forced him back into the cockpit. The third time he got out but he was only 120 feet from the ground and his chute didn't have time to open. He fell not far from the wreckage of the plane he had rammed.
This article was originally published in the October, 1942, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 31, no 4, pp 32, 100, 102.
The original article includes an artist's conception drawing of a ramming attack.