Jump to content

FarflungWanderer

Members
  • Content Count

    229
  • Joined

  • Last visited

Community Reputation

63 Excellent

1 Follower

About FarflungWanderer

  • Rank
    Member

Profile Information

  • Gender
    Male

Recent Profile Visitors

837 profile views
  1. Chapter Six: Through a Red Haze It was quiet in Major Fokin’s office. Tsvetkov and Fokin sat quietly, either unwilling to break the still. The Major glanced at the clock on his desk - 1356. There wasn’t much time left to make a decision. Tsvetkov sniffled, wrinkling his nose. “If you’re not going to say anything, at least pour us a drink.” The Captain said, frowning. Fokin nodded slightly, and reached into his desk for the squirreled away spirits and drinking glasses. Tsvetkov leaned back in his chair as he waited, then took the small glass when the Major was done. He nursed the alcohol slowly, thinking. “I think Kozlov should fly.” “You’re kidding.” Fokin blurted. “You know I don’t kid, Ignatiy Titovich.” Tsvetkov took another sip, draining the glass. He shook his head slightly at the kick of the vodka. “Kozlov should fly.” “His friend just died!” The Major leaned in, holding his drink but seemingly unaware of its existence in his hand. “He and Melnikov! You saw them both, neither are fit to go up.” “Melnikov is not, you’re right about that.” The deputy commander nodded. “He needs the day. But Kozlov is different. He is at a critical moment.” The Major finally realized that his drink was in his hand, and downed it in a single motion. “Ah.” He sighed, placing the glass back down. “I see.” Fokin ran a finger through his mustache, frowning. “He would be dangerous to himself in a plane. Someone in his state would easily throw himself away in some mad quest for revenge.” “That is the risk.” Tsvetkov admitted. “But, he would destroy himself if he were to stay here.” Fokin stood up, his arms bracing himself on his desk as he hung over it. Slowly, he nodded. “Then it’s settled. Kozlov will fly.” He brought his head up, and raised a finger between his face and the Captain’s. “As my number two.” Tsvetkov got to his own feet, and smiled thinly. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” <><><><><><><> Kozlov boiled. It was a sensation so deep, so raw, that it felt like it was consuming him. Vladimirov was dead, the Major had said. Dead in some damn-fool collision with a German. What had the idiot been thinking? What had drawn him into such idiocy? He had nearly thrown his own life away in some moronic attack on a heavy fighter - maybe even the same heavy fighter, if fate decided to play a joke on them all - and then Saveliy had decided to commit to an attack he damn well should have known not to commit to! He was mad at everything. He was mad at Vladimirov, for doing something so fatally foolish. He was mad at Melnikov, who had drawn inside himself and wouldn’t say a word. He was mad at Fokin, who played at being father, and Tsvetkov, who played at being NKVD. He was mad at the whole goddamned war, and he was mad at the goddamned Germans for starting said goddamned war. But most of all, he was mad at himself - he could have been there. He should have been there. His presence could have saved Saveliy alone, if not his guns. But where was he? Drinking with Grigorev, watching as his MiG started its repairs. He was on the cusp of descending into another round of silent finger-pointing when the door to the barracks room opened without a knock. Kozlov sat up in his bed to see the intruder, and out of the corner of his eye could see Melnikov do the same, albeit at a much slower pace. Somehow, Aleksei wasn’t surprised to see that it was Tsvetkov standing under the doorframe. Slowly, both Junior Lieutenants got to their feet and dutifully saluted. There didn’t feel a need for haste anymore - certainly not for this man. “Melnikov, your flight duties have been relieved for the day.” The Captain spoke, not even acknowledging their action. “Kozlov, you are needed at the assembly area.” Kozlov blinked. Training failed him. “What?” He said, taken fully aback. “I said get ready to fly, Junior Lieutenant.” The deputy commander said. He seemed perfectly composed, completely indifferent to Aleksei’s break in protocol. “When you are, we’ll walk together.” Unsure, Aleksei slowly changed into his flight-suit. Tsvetkov, thankfully, turned away politely as the Junior Lieutenant put on the requisite jackets and vests. When he was ready, he grabbed his flight cap and goggles, then paced over to the Captain. His composure had returned, at least for now, and he nodded his head slightly. “Ready, Captain.” “Good.” Tsvetkov said, turning. Kozlov grabbed the door by its handle and slowly closed it. The last he saw of Melnikov was him lying in his bed, staring blankly up at the ceiling. “We need to talk, Lieutenant.” “About what, sir?” Kozlov lied, his hands clenching into fists. He could feel the sword of Damocles hanging above his head. “About you.” The two of them stepped outside. Ahead, Aleksei could see the other pilots some distance ahead, already on the move to the briefing area. “Do you know why I chose you to fly, Lieutenant?” “No, sir.” Kozlov replied. He was honestly unsure as to why Melnikov had been told to stay behind and he wasn’t. It seemed almost punitive. “Why?” Tsvetkov turned his head slightly to look at the pilot. “Because I think you need to.” “And Melnikov doesn’t, sir?” “Melnikov is a different man than you.” Tsvetkov explained. “He needs time. You need blood - it doesn’t matter to you which.” He stopped and looked the Lieutenant dead in the eye. “Back there, in your room, the only person you hated - truly hated - was you.” Aleksei felt his body twist deep in his core. He shook his head, lying instinctively. Before he could say anything, Tsvetkov’s hand appeared before him in a flash, a finger jabbing towards Kozlov’s chest. “Don’t lie to me, Kozlov.” Tsvetkov’s eyes narrowed. “It wastes my time, and I cannot abide that. What I said wasn’t a suggestion, it was fact, don’t bother denying it.” His hand returned to his side, and he faced back forwards. He started to pace again. “I know how you were feeling because I felt it, too.” Kozlov paced after him, his heart racing. What the hell was happening? He didn’t even know what to say to that. Tsvetkov, perhaps sensing this, continued. “The details don’t matter. What does matter is that I made a choice that day to fly, and if I hadn’t I would have been dead within a week.” Tsvetkov spoke coldly, distantly. “I’m making that choice for you, Junior Lieutenant.” “Why?” Aleksei asked, mind spinning. “Sir?” He added quickly, catching his mistake. Tsvetkov stopped again, and again looked him directly in the eyes. “You’re something special, Kozlov. Three kills in nearly as many days. You have the makings of an ace. Maybe something much more.” “But heroes die fast out here.” Kozlov repeated the Captain’s words. He was beginning to understand. Tsvetkov slowly nodded. “I don’t truly care how many Germans you kill by the end of this damned war.” The deputy commander spoke with a surprising softness, one that he didn’t expect that the reclusive officer had. “I care about you surviving it. Intact, and not a shell of a man.” The two walked quietly for a long time. Kozlov’s brain ran through what had been said over and over again, trying to break down every word. Eventually, they arrived at the briefing area. Tsvetkov didn’t say anything as he broke away from the Junior Lieutenant. Alone in a sea of pilots, Aleksei found his seat. <><><><><><><> “Pilots.” Fokin’s voice carried far in the afternoon wind. “Our mission for this afternoon is escort duty for a flight of Sturmoviks. Here-” his baton struck the map next to a small town labeled Tesovo “- intelligence has identified a German fighting position. Seagull flight is to hit the positions to relieve pressure on this section of the front.” The mission's flight plan “This is another mission close to Rzhev,” the Major continued, “and we expect to be at the target area within fifteen minutes. Our path doesn’t take us over any airfields, which hopefully will mean less resistance versus this morning.” He raised a finger. “Keep in mind, however, that a Sturmovik lacks a Peshka’s defensive armament. We will need to work hard in order to protect them from harm.” His eyes scanned about the men of the 34th. “I will be on point for this one, and I want you-” his finger jabbed towards Kozlov “-to be second in flight.” Slowly, the Junior Lieutenant nodded. “After that will be Emilyanenko, followed by Kulagin. Davydov will be fifth in flight, and Golubev will be flying tail. Are there any questions?” No one said a word. They understood their duties well - the question now was to execute. Fokin gave a nod, and as one the pilots got to their feet. As the Lieutenant turned to head for his revetment, there was a tap on his shoulder. He looked back to find Fokin’s hand resting on him, an odd look on the Major’s face. “Yes, sir?” Aleksei asked, warily. “Stick close to me today, Kozlov.” The Major said slowly. “I’ve already lost one Junior Lieutenant this day - I don’t want to lose two.” <><><><><><><> The 34th waits for the arrival of Seagull flight The day had brightened, the afternoon sun flitting between the grey clouds that hung overhead. It was still too cold to open up the canopy, which suited Kozlov fine. Even without the engine running, he felt hot enough to boil. Sitting in the number two position was chafing in a way that he couldn’t describe. It felt like he was being baby-sit, which - after all - he was. For now, though, all he could muster was a deep-set annoyance, one that made his already cramped body feel all the more constricted. “Storks, from one - Seagull flight approaching off our left. We’re taking off.” Fokin’s fighter roared as he gunned the engine. Kozlov held down his brake lever as he pushed the throttle forwards, and a second later released. His MiG skittered down the runway, chasing after the Major. Kozlov takes off after Fokin The MiG climbed at a decent pace, and over his shoulder he could see the rest of Stork flight take off behind him. They would be joining them both in the skies within seconds. Over his left shoulder, Kozlov could make out the distant forms of six Il-2s passing low over the airfield. Seagull flight, composed of Ilyushin (Il) 2 'Sturmoviks,' in a standard 1941 model The Storks began a gentle right-hand banking turn, while the Seagulls followed suit. The intended altitude for the escort mission was the same as it had been for the Peshkas of Hawk, some 2000 meters above the ground. Kozlov readied his mask and braced himself for the bitter cold of higher altitudes as he brought his fighter higher and higher. The Sturmoviks were so much smaller than the Peshkas that Kozlov had acclimated himself to escorting. They had only one engine, and bafflingly they had no tail gun. They seemed fragile, like he was escorting slower fighters rather than heavily armored and protected bombers. By reputation, they were tough aircraft - today would be their chance to prove it to the young pilot. “Two, from one - keep a tight formation.” Fokin’s voice came over the radio. Aleksei pushed his throttle forward, closing the distance to the formation leader. It seemed that the Major didn’t want him to have any opportunity to break away. Kozlov closes the distance to Fokin's side The two flights continued on towards the front in quiet. For now, there was nothing, but that was not likely to last long. Their destination was not far inside the German front, and it would not be long until their ground controllers vectored fighters to intercept the formation. West, Kozlov told himself. They would come from the west. That’s all that mattered until they revealed themselves. He could feel the Major watching him closely as they maneuvered - what was he expecting? What would he do when contact was made? The minutes passed slowly. In the distance, between the clouds, Kozlov could make out tracers between embattled ground forces. They had arrived at the front line already, and it seemed closer than it had been in the morning. The Germans were driving towards Rzhev with deadly determination. Within days, the city would become a battleground. A hail of gunfire suddenly reached up towards the Seagulls. They had been spotted by the enemy, and now were taking sporadic AAA fire in their direction. The shots seemed wild, but they would dial in their targets with time. The Sturmoviks were doing little to aid themselves, continuing their level advance towards the target area. The Sturmoviks take fire from German ground troops Dark puffs of shrapnel started to fill the air, though bizarrely they were arriving at fighter altitude. Had the gunners mistaken them for a second flight of Sturmoviks? It was a beneficial mistake if so - a MiG could easily dodge the occasional flak burst, but a slow Il-2 could not. As soon as they had entered the fire zone, they exited. Kozlov could spy no damage on any airframe, Stork or Seagull. Below, artillery shells exploded in dry tan fields, the result of some Soviet fire-mission. They didn’t seem to be hitting anything of value, but it wasn’t for him to say - certainly not so far above the target. And then, suddenly, the sky was full of dots. Kozlov squinted - six of them, right in front of them, all at higher altitude than the MiGs. He keyed his radio. “This is two, unknown flight ahead of us.” “Storks, meet them.” Fokin ordered. “Keep any Messers away from Seagull. Two, stay with me.” Kozlov grit his teeth, but followed the Major as he entered a climb towards the unknown contacts. “From six, confirm Messers inbound!” Golubev shouted. “They’re diving on us!” The furball had begun. Two Me-109F-2s dive on the mixed formation <><><><><><><> The two formations merged in a flurry of aircraft. Some opened fire, but most passed by the other, steeling themselves for the dogfight that was to come. Kozlov strained to keep with the Major as he pulled into a hard left bank, then climbing upwards towards a stall. When the Major dove, Kozlov rolled inverted and followed him down. He could see the 109 that the commander was after, some kilometer and a half away, but already others were on him. Perhaps that was why, wordlessly, Fokin pulled hard opposite and switched on to a different aircraft. A Messer and a MiG roared over Kozlov’s left shoulder, one after the other in a chase to the death. He could feel his body tense, his breathing become more rapid, and his adrenaline spike as a rage began to flow through him. “Damn you, Major! Let me fly!” He whispered, seething. Fokin and Kozlov merge with two 109s in the midst of the dogfight “Stay with me, two.” Fokin said over the radio, like a chiding parent. “From four, the Messers are on Seagull!” Kulagin called. Kozlov looked, and sure enough there were three German fighters in the mix of the Sturmoviks, now attacking their ground targets. It was becoming fatally ridiculous. The critical moment had arrived. As he followed the Major on another rolling climb, he pulled hard on the stick to undercut the maneuver. Fokin’s MiG disappeared underneath Kozlov’s nose - if anyone asked, he could say that he had simply lost sight of the officer. His eyes strained against the G-forces as he looked for a target, and in a cloud of fighters it wasn’t difficult to find one. The 109 passed overhead as he turned to meet it at a distance of less than 100 meters. The chase was on. Kozlov turns to follow the 109. Above are Davydov and a Sturmovik, the former chasing another 109 Aleksei pushed his engine into boost. The 109 maneuvered how he expected it to - a defensive series of turns and counter-turns. The difficulty wasn’t predicting the pattern, but finding a way to exploit it. He was closing rapidly now on one, less than 200 meters away at a medium deflection shot. He pulled hard on the stick to give him the firing angle, then depressed both triggers. He couldn’t see the hits, as the 109 had slunk beneath his nose, but when he relaxed the pressure of the pull he could see holes riddling the left wing near the stem. It was a good start. He pulled hard again, rising to follow the German in the tight turn. His MiG slipped out from him, a stall trying to form, but Aleksei kicked with his rudder to compensate and recovered nearly instantly. He felt rage, a true and deep rage, bursting to the surface, and with that came the resolute knowledge that he would not allow his plane to deny him a chance to punch back. Vladimirov was gone - and by God, Kozlov would not rest until he had avenged him. Aleksei fired again, the first burst missing the tip of the right wing by centimeters. He adjusted to continue the pursuit, his vision greying more and more as he did. Again, the MiG faltered, and again he kicked hard to recover and maintain the chase. In doing so, he had now ended up slightly below the 109, and could clearly see the whole of the right side of the aircraft before him, slowly drifting into his sights. He fired a long burst, all three guns roaring. Kozlov fires at the 109 from close range Immediately, he could see the German fighter begin to trail green. He had hit a fuel tank - but that wouldn’t be enough to put the Messer down. He kept in his turn, watching as the German prepared to reverse into a left bank. It was easy to follow the maneuver, but as he did he held the triggers down. Another stream of bullets lanced out - there didn’t seem to be hits, but the flurry of ammunition just off of the Luftwaffe pilot’s nose made him weaken his turn, allowing Aleksei to easily slide behind him. Another burst caught the 109 at the stem of the right wing - still not enough to put it into the Earth. Again, the Messer reversed its turn, now banking right once more. As it did, it trailed directly into another burst from Kozlov’s MiG. He could see flashes rake down the body of the fighter in a soft diagonal cut. Kozlov hits the 109 across the body in the clouds The Messerschmitt was still moving, defiant to the end, but he could see what looked like radiator leaks as well coming from his foe. The fight was nearly over, Kozlov could sense it in his bones. As the two exited the cloudbank, the 109 dove directly into the path of Aleksei’s guns. He could see impacts all along the underbelly of the fighter, one striking directly into what looked like the air intake. He pushed the nose down and scored another burst as the Messer began to pull into a hard right turn. Completely lost in the haze of adrenaline, he didn’t notice that another 109 had suddenly arrived. It winged over him, unable to gain a firing solution. Kozlov continues his pursuit as a second 109 passes overhead The two ducked back into another cloudbank, then out again in a second, cutting through the rain like knives. Aleksei could see the Messer’s engine emit dark trails of smoke - was it damaged, or simply being pushed to its limit? It mattered little. At 200 meters, he fired again, and could see hits off the right wing. At 130, another burst that impacted low on the body. Another turn was met with a long burst at less than 80 meters. The first flash of an impact seemed to be directly in the yellow section of the nose assembly. He had put what looked like a 12.7mm round right through the block. At 50 meters, one last volley. Kozlov fires at 50 meters Aleksei brings his MiG through a dark cloud of debris as his bullets punch through the 109 from center to tail. The 109 begins to slowly bank right, lazily sliding underneath. He lets it drift, climbing up and away. He had seen the cockpit for only a moment, but it had been enough - the glass was stained crimson. Without anyone to control it, the Messerschmitt slammed into the ground, blossoming into a fireball. The 109 an instant before it crashes As he pulled into a left hand turn, the light flashed in the corner of his eye. He felt nothing towards what had happened except for a grim satisfaction. It was one less. Without warning, something yellow flashed up and into his gunsights from below. Aleksei shouted, startled, as the Messer he had been unaware of roared past him, having failed to line up a shot. The second Messerschmitt appears suddenly in Kozlov's view Immediately, Kozlov kicked his plane over to follow the German. He was incredulous - where had this fighter come from? It too trailed black from its exhausts, its engine running as hard as it could. Whipping his plane over, he watched as the Messer began to reverse its turn, now realizing that it was on the defensive. The two danced, the German desperately swinging back and forth in an attempt to shake the Soviet behind him off his tail. Their flight took them both into a cloudburst, rain streaking over the canopy glass as Aleksei urged his MiG forwards. The Messerschmitt was less than 200 meters away, and closing by the second. He fired at 120 meters, but as the German pulled into the sun it became impossible to see if he was hitting anything. He doubted that any of his rounds had landed on target anyways. Against the brightness, Kozlov tried to stare at the increasingly vague shape of his prey, a silhouette that was consumed by the light behind it. Mercifully, the Messer continued in its left bank, and the sun passed out of view beneath the lip of his canopy. He was close now, dangerously close, the 109 filling his gunsight. Both triggers went down, and the MiG shuddered as it fired a stream of bullets directly into the side of the German’s cockpit. Flashes ran down the plane all the way to the wing tip, sending up a plume of debris. Kozlov's bullets impact against the Messerschmitt's cockpit, killing the pilot The 109 went completely inverted, and Kozlov strained to follow at such a close distance. It entered a sharp, but recoverable, dive. Unwilling to let his foe escape, Aleksei went after it, some twenty meters between each other. As he pulled up, the aircraft shaking as it fought against a stall, the 109 kept its dive. Instead of heading straight down, it had entered what seemed to be almost a controlled spin, rotating lower and lower towards a forest below. At the last possible moment for recovery, it suddenly deepened its dive, smashing into the treeline like an arrow. Kozlov could barely make out the impact against a growing black-out, but he made it out all the same. That was two fighters in nearly as many minutes. He had become wrath in a human shape, his gravity-drained mind already wondering where his next target would be. The Sturmoviks faded from memory as if they had never been there - all there was now was himself and every Messerschmitt he could spy. The doomed Messerschmitt enters the forest nose-first Elsewhere, Davydov scores a kill. Note the pilot of the Messerschmitt bailing from his fighter Elsewhere, a Sturmovik attacks a ground target while a Messerschmitt fires a long volley Suddenly cutting in front of his nose appeared a third Messerschmitt, its nose guns flaring as it engaged some target. Immediately, Aleksei rolled right to follow it. If it was to present itself as such an easy target, then he would oblige it. As he turned, he could see the Messer continue its attack on what looked like a Sturmovik pulling up and away from a run. The German seemed oblivious to the oncoming danger. It passed through Seagull’s formation, climbing for altitude. Kozlov followed, pushing his engine to keep up with the nimble opponent. The German came left. He had intended to do so in order to come around on the Sturmoviks from behind, but as the 109 came about, the pilot inside saw Aleksei’s approaching MiG. The turn tightened as the fighter went evasive. Kozlov pulled the stick back to his gut, fighting G-forces and aerodynamic strain as he closed his turning circle to one that would be inside of the Messer’s path, but it wasn’t enough. He sailed outside the turn as the German doubled back to the right. The fighter crossed Kozlov’s nose, and the Soviet pulled the trigger, but it had been too quick - no hits. He pulled back around again, but the German was already reversing his turn. The two were now locked into a rolling battle, each turning in on the other with only a few meters in altitude between them. One moment, Kozlov was below. The next, he was above. They flew nearly in line with each other, in some strange aerobatic display. He rolled inverted, flipping the plane into a rapid left turn as the Messer attempted to break away for safety. No luck - Aleksei pushed his plane into boost to avoid losing his quarry. He had been carefully managing his fuel mixture through the past two fights, and now some part of the back of his mind began to do the math. How much longer could his engine withstand being pushed back and forth? When would something break - and if it did, could he safely return home? The Messer had gained altitude and distance, but both were things Kozlov could also claim. When the German entered the clouds, Aleksei followed without a second thought. There was no escape now. Kozlov is barely visible in the clouds as he pursues the 109 As they exited the clouds, Kozlov watched as the German rolled left to re-enter. Aleksei pulled to follow, firing a wild burst off the Messer’s nose to dissuade it. Immediately the German jinked harder, his turn now taking him out of the clouds and over a clear patch. Below them both, a village burned - Tesovo, perhaps? Aleksei didn’t have time to wonder. More wild bursts, but the last one caught the Messerschmitt by the tail. The damage was minimal, but it put pressure on the pilot inside. Kozlov’s breathing had become manic, rapid and shallow, as he continued his chase. Again, his MiG caught itself from a stall in the deep turn. Aleksei let out a string of curses but kept on the pressure, unwilling to let the fighter escape. They were 200 meters away and closing now. Each turning circle they made brought them lower and lower, the trees now only a few hundred meters away beneath them. The Messerschmitt rolled right abruptly, pitching its nose up. The German had rightly sensed that Kozlov’s MiG was nearly out of energy, and a rapid climb might be enough to force the Soviet aircraft into a stall. Kozlov was beyond the point of tactics - he followed willingly, eagerly. His plane felt his rage - no stall. The distance had closed to point blank. As he fired, Kozlov shunted the stick forward to prevent his rounds from sailing high overhead to good effect. He saw impacts along the tail section, which beat no hits at all easily. Rather than following the German into the next turn, Kozlov climbed and then winged over to the left, regaining the energy he needed in the pitched fight. The German reversed again mid-maneuver, and Kozlov immediately reversed his own turn. He was diving now, following in this mad battle. At 150 meters, the nose of the German obscured by the flash of Kozlov’s guns in the extremely high deflection shot, Kozlov opened fire. The bullets were too low to score a canopy hit, but they ran down the center of the plane tailwards. From the close distance, Aleksei could see that the German was applying hard rudder in order to maintain his defensive posture - and hopefully, force the Junior Lieutenant into an overshoot. Instead, it kept the 109 slow and without options. 100 meters - another burst. Light damage, but nothing more. 60 meters - a long burst, running along the side of the aircraft, from just below the canopy to beneath the tail to the base of the left wing. The Messerschmitt began to spew fuel and radiator coolant, crippled. 40 meters - another burst, a long one that ran from the left of the plane to the right. Kozlov rakes the Messerschmitt twice at 50 meters At 30 meters, he fired once more, each round impacting directly into the base of the tail section from a near perfect 6’o’clock position. Debris clicked and tapped as it bounced off of the canopy glass, the MiG blowing through the debris cloud effortlessly. Another burst, this time from below, struck the underside of the fighter. Once again, the air intake was riddled with 7.62 and 12.7mm rounds, and more debris bounced against the glass of the cockpit. The Messerschmitt slid beneath Aleksei’s aircraft, diving. Incredibly, as Kozlov slid away and then back again to continue the attack, he found the German continuing to fly! The German attempted to level his wings, but gave up with a shallow left bank. Kozlov watched as a canopy flew open and passed overhead. For a moment, he wasn’t sure if the pilot of the Messerschmitt had bailed out, or if the assembly holding it in place had failed under his gunfire. He had not seen, after all, anyone abandon the plane. The German pilot watches as Kozlov continues his pursuit of the abandoned fighter Kozlov put a burst into the plane, unsure if there was anyone left in the seat. It paid to be sure, and it was damn cathartic to continue to ventilate the dying aircraft. Sure enough, the Messerschmitt banked in, and at high speed plowed into the river with a terrific splash. The Messerschmitt sees its own reflection as it impacts the water Kozlov watched with rapt attention as a section of the wing assembly went flying off as the fighter disintegrated. It landed in the water some thirty meters away, it too creating a blue-white plume as it struck the river. Aleksei breathed heavily, his heart pounding. Three Messerschmitts were dead by his hand. His body coursed with adrenaline, but as he circled low over German-held earth he could feel that anger, that energy, seep away from him. There were no other aircraft in sight, Soviet or otherwise. The war had passed him by. Slowly, he began to climb towards the clouds, searching for anyone else. He did the math in his head, trying to puzzle out how much ammunition he had left. Surely not much, he wagered. Not after shooting so much at so many targets. Perhaps it was time to return. He had done his duty, there was no question in that. Had he avenged Vladimirov, though? Was Saveliy watching from above with pride? His mind raced. He was lost. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the flash of an anti-aircraft gun’s tracer aimed up at some unknown, distant target. And then, off his right, more tracers. An air battle! Immediately, Aleksei aimed his plane in that direction - whatever was happening, he would intervene. Ground fire lanced up at the dueling two aircraft, but it was hard to say yet who was who. As he closed, his chest tightened into a knot. There, ahead of him, a Messerschmitt chased after a MiG. <><><><><><><> Fokin’s fighter danced around the incoming bullets. The Messer behind him was scoring hits, damn him, but nothing serious yet. His left wing was a mess, and the fuel tank had been punctured, but by some luck his engine was still intact. “This is one!” He shouted into his radio, pulling hard. “Can someone get this Messer off me?” “This is two, I’m on him!” Came a voice seconds later. Fokin felt a flood of varying emotions, ranging from an intense anger (where the hell had he gone?) to a deep relief (thank God he was back!). “Two, from one,” Fokin barked, “make it fast!” It was the only thing he really could think to say. <><><><><><><> The rage returned, deep and crimson. Fokin, for all his faults, was a brother in arms. Aleksei wouldn’t let him die, not on his watch. He pushed his MiG into the boost, trailing after the Messerschmitt. He fired a short burst with the 7.62, trying to make the 109’s pilot blink. It worked. Immediately, the Messer banked away and entered a dive, suddenly made violently aware that it was no longer in a one on one in its favor. The two circled, Kozlov closing in on the second. He was within 100 meters within a heartbeat, but he still didn’t quite have a firing solution. He opened fire at 60 meters, and immediately he could spy hits. His bullets ran from the left of the fighter’s center all the way down to its tail assembly, another lethal swath cut through another German fighter. Kozlov opens fire on the Messerschmitt, scoring hits along its center The 109 began to leak fuel, and Kozlov dove beneath it as it started to climb again. He climbed, readying to come back on it again, but by the time he had leveled out the Messer was gone. The pilot, either injured or just smart, had decided to leave the fray. “One, from two, the Messer is gone.” Aleksei keyed his radio, expecting a lecture. Instead, Fokin spoke with obvious relief. “Good work, two, return to Acacia.” The Major replied. “Seagull is heading back, and you should too.” “Understood, one.” Aleksei sighed in relief, slumping back in his chair. If there was a lecture coming, it wouldn’t be until after he landed. Now, it was just an issue of going home. Beneath him, more tracers streaked out from some ground battery. Anti-aircraft, probably German, but he wasn’t sure. It didn’t matter either way, or at least it didn’t until the gun turned on him. A hail of yellow streaks lanced up at him, passing harmlessly beneath him. Aleksei could feel his temper rise again. So that was how it was going to be. With perhaps half as much thought as he should have applied, the Junior Lieutenant brought his plane around, diving in a split-S back towards the guns. The Germans had switched targets onto something else, heaven knew what, but quickly realized what the Soviet was intending. More flashes blew past him, but they had aimed too low. Aleksei lined up his guns, and depressed both triggers. He didn’t realize immediately that his initial target wasn’t actually a gun, but some form of ammo depot. It took the gunners on the actual AAA vehicle firing desperately up at him to make him adjust. He was 300 meters away from a collision with the ground when he opened fire from the 5’o’clock high position down on the truck. The vehicle had been parked into a defensive berm, but from where he was it offered them no shelter. If anything, it trapped them like a proverbial fish in a barrel. The German gunners fire up at Kozlov's MiG an instant before their vehicle is struck Kozlov pulled hard, narrowly avoiding the ground. His fighter passed into a treeline at nearly trunk level, passing between two trees. It was an obscenely stupid maneuver, but it was the only one he could think of, and by some miracle he managed to avoid either of them. Kozlov only just misses hitting either tree He pulled left and up, coming back around to prepare for another run if need be. Nothing. That position had been silenced. More tracers from further down the battery meant, however, that not all the guns had been destroyed. Quickly, Kozlov slotted himself for a firing position. His gunnery was wild, splashing across the front of an artillery gun’s berm. Kozlov narrowly misses a German artillery piece The attack had failed to score anything of merit. Frustrated, Kozlov let himself gain some distance before coming back around again. He could see another position below him, just some other link in the German front line. In the distance, more tracers. It was a target rich environment if there ever was one. His pick of whatever he wanted, and he seemed to still have the ammunition for it. He pulled right towards another, more AAA fire thrown in his direction as he did. Nothing close, the shots falling safely below him. He circled in defiance above them, trying to identify an obvious target. Out of the corner of his eye came another stream of AAA fire, this time much closer than the last salvo. He was almost fascinated by the display of lights until something went bang. A single round had hit him - nothing critical, it had passed into the section of the body directly behind the cockpit harmlessly - but it had been enough to suddenly snap the Soviet back to reality. In a millisecond, Aleksei Kozlov felt mortal again. He gunned his engine, immediately trying to find which way was north and to exit as fast as his MiG would allow him. The time for fun and games over German-occupied Russia had come and gone - now was the time for running and surviving. It didn’t really matter where he was, only that he was going away from the battery and towards Soviet territory. He flew evasively for minutes, weaving back and forth in a vaguely northern direction. He needed to find a landmark, something to tell him he was on the right course. Something sparkled in the distance. Aleksei blinked, confused. The lights didn’t go away. It was indeed something, but what? His brain processed the information as he brought the nose of his fighter towards it. It looked like navigation lights on an airplane - perhaps he was close to some Soviet aerodrome? Surely by now he was over friendly territory! The unknown lights, as observed from Kozlov's cockpit He sped towards the distant light, and the airfield that it belonged to. Was he already close to Borki? Or was this some other Soviet landing strip near the front line? He approached fast, not really thinking about what he was doing other than the burning need to identify his position. It certainly looked like a Soviet position, a single-strip paved-dirt airfield by a river. Was it Borki after all? There were planes on the revetments, sitting idly as their crews worked on them. Kozlov’s eyes struggled to identify them up until the very last second. When he did, he pushed the throttle to maximum immediately. There, sitting on the parking ramp, were Ju-52s. A view from the ground of the exact moment Kozlov realized his error <><><><><><><> Leutnant Julian von Schleicher had been having a fairly bad day. His flight had been butchered in no less than two running battles against different Bolshevik squadrons, and he was becoming less and less sure that there was anyone left other than him returning to the airfield just north of Subbotino. It was a miserable day, one of what felt like many miserable days, in this godforsaken war. At least he could take some relief as to being back on the ground. Soon he would be out of the cockpit and back on his own two feet. As his Messerschmitt purred near-idle, slowly working down the runway towards the taxiway to the parking ramp, he saw something moving fast high off his right. He looked at it expectantly, wondering if it was another one of his fellow pilots coming in for a landing approach. Good God, how much he wished he wasn’t wrong. <><><><><><><> Kozlov winged over towards the German fighter idling down the runway. It was as good of a target as any, and he had seconds before the anti-aircraft guns were manned by the airfield crew. He fired a short burst at the ground just before the 109, watching as the dirt kicked up in the face of the taxiing fighter. It was impossible to say if he was scoring any hits, but it certainly looked impressive. Kozlov strafes the taxiing Messerschmitt He roared overhead, pulling high and hard right to avoid the inevitable incoming fire. Strangely, nothing happened - it was as if the Germans were stunned that a lone Soviet pilot would dare to attack. A strange giddiness creeped into Aleksei, a dangerous one at that. He banked the plane back left, turning towards the airfield. <><><><><><><> When the dust settled, von Schleicher patted himself to make sure he hadn’t been injured. His aircraft seemed to be intact enough, his engine still sounded like it was working nominally. His canopy was completely filthy, covered in dirt and debris from the strafing attack. What the hell had just happened? And why the hell wasn’t anyone shooting at the Soviet attack? Were there more? He flipped open his canopy and stood up in his cockpit, shouting as loud as his lungs could carry him. “What the hell are you idiots doing!” He screamed, indignant. “Shoot at that Sov-” his head snapped around at the sound of an approaching engine. “Oh hell!” He yelped, throwing himself from the cockpit and onto the dirt below. He could feel the wind be knocked out of him by the blow, but adrenaline kept him moving as he gasped for anything worth breathing as the world erupted behind him. <><><><><><><> Aleksei lined up his guns. He could see some commotion there, on the field, but his eyes remained fixed on the prize. He depressed both triggers at 700 meters, letting his rounds arc up towards the fighter. Almost immediately, the 12.7mm ceased to work - it was completely out of ammunition. The 7.62mm continued admirably, but Kozlov knew that there were only seconds of rounds left loaded. With scant meters of clearance, he pulled up and over the Messerschmitt, letting his speed carry him away. His mad dash was done - it was well and truly time to go home. The Messerschmitt takes a second volley of fire <><><><><><><> Von Schleicher lifted his head up from the dirt, his ears ringing. He was utterly coated in dirt and completely drenched with sweat. Others ran to him, and quickly hoisted him to his feet, but he pushed himself off of them. He looked back at his Messerschmitt and let out a silent cry. It was still moving, the engine purring indifferently to what had happened, but fuel was leaking from the aircraft like a sieve. He hurried over to the plane to get back inside and turn off the engine before anything exploded. As he did, he cast a glance at the MiG now speeding away from the airfield. Who the hell was that? <><><><><><><> When Rzhev finally came into view, Aleksei slumped in his cockpit in relief. He was, impossibly, still alive. Strangely, he also seemed to be the first one back - an honest surprise, given how waylaid he had ended up being. He switched his radio to the tower frequency and called in. “Acacia, this is Stork two, requesting landing clearance.” “Roger, two, you are cleared.” Rzhev’s traffic controller replied. “Welcome back, out.” Aleksei straightened himself up in his chair as he brought his fighter around for the approach. Within minutes, he was bringing his plane in to his revetment, his mad sortie finally through. Kozlov lands at Rzhev airfield <><><><><><><> Kozlov stood at rigid attention in Fokin’s office as the Major stared at him in utter disbelief. Tsvetkov watched him carefully, searching for any sign of a lie. There was none to be found. Fokin leaned back in his chair, incredulous. “If this is a joke, Junior Lieutenant, now is not the time to make it.” The commander stared up at the ceiling as he spoke, at a loss. “No, comrade Major, I am not joking.” Kozlov shook his head for emphasis. “I scored three definite kills, and damaged two.” “And charged an anti-aircraft gun,” Tsvetkov added. “Let’s not forget that.” Fokin leaned back in his chair, staring Kozlov dead in the eyes. “I’m going to speak to the rest of the flight, then ring up the Seagulls. If I can confirm all three, well…” He trailed off. “It means medals for you, Junior Lieutenant.” Tsvetkov finished for him. “I’m not sure if you realize how incredible a job you’ve done today, Kozlov.” Something in Aleksei snapped at that. He glared at Tsvetkov spitefully. “I didn’t save Saveliy today, comrade Captain.” “This is true.” Tsvetkov replied slowly. “But goddamn if you didn’t bleed the fascists for it.” Aleksei bit his tongue. He was coming back to his senses again. Before he could formulate an apology, Tsvetkov winked at him. It was enough to shock the junior officer into silence. Fokin rose in his chair a moment later. “You are dismissed - for now.” The Major said, reaching for the phone on his desk. “Expect to be back here in a few hours.” “Yes, comrade Major.” Kozlov saluted, a gesture that was met, then turned on his heel and walked out of the room. Did he feel better? Of course not. His heart had spoken for him in that moment - nothing would bring Saveliy back, this child slaughtered on the altar of war. But did he feel better in the temporary sense, relative to an hour before. Of that there was no debate. He clenched his jaw, determination settling in. Saveliy Vladimirov was gone. Only time would tell how many more 34th men would join him. But Aleksei Kozlov would fight on in their memory, in his memory. He would see himself, and however many more he could, through this damned thing. Or die trying. After action, air strike at Tesovo, 7 October 1941
  2. Hey everyone! I just wanted to let everyone know that I intend to maintain the same designation system that we've seen in previous chapters up to the conclusion of the first "chapter" of the game's career mode, which is rapidly approaching (in-game, I actually have to fly the rebasing flight the next time I load up the career!). However, I've been doing some light historical research, and I intend to intensify that research as best as a non-Russian speaker with no easy access to scholarly work can in order to make later chapters more realistic, especially in regards to radio protocol. Come the start of the next arc of the storyline, expect there to be some differences in how squadrons and pilots call each other. Unfortunately, I can't really provide in-story an explanation as to why the protocol has changed as it was, technically, always supposed to be there. That being said, I would like to say that, when the series is all said and done (which ideally should be by November or December of this year given the rate of the missions), I do intend to touch up my source document (I do all of my writing on Google Docs and then copy/paste it to the IL-2 forums when a chapter is done - this is also why you might spy spelling or grammatical errors in my work, I only really have time for one draft!) and then release it as a .pdf for off-line reading. During that retouching period, I intend to bring the story in-line with any accuracy changes I make mid-story, including this one and any future ones to come. Anyways, happy reading, and see you all tomorrow! EDIT: I also wanted to add, I am continually confused as to how the copy/paste process works when moving from Docs to IL-2. When transferring as "rich text" or something of that description, all of my text comes out bolded automatically? It's a strange phenomenon for sure, but does anyone know of any workaround other than opting to not make it rich text when pasting?
  3. Chapter Five: A Brush with Death The 6th of October came and went quietly. Aleksei had flown his patrols, going up and coming back each time with no sign of the enemy in the skies. It seemed almost as if they had surrendered the skies to the VVS. Beneath his wings, Kozlov could see the war rage on, the flash of gunfire from fighting positions and the clouds of dirt and shrapnel from an artillery shell. For the infantryman, there was no respite - and, the Junior Lieutenant noted grimly, the front line was inching closer and closer to Rzhev by the day. By dawn of the 7th, the guilt that Aleksei had faded into the background, lost in the fog of exhaustion and the rush of combat flight (even if the combat was absent). He had failed that afternoon, there was no doubt in his mind about that, but he would not fail like that again. He was rookie no more, after all. He had the kills to his name to prove it. Quietly, though, in the darkest corners of his mind, the horror of the doomed Ishak played on repeat. He had woken up, short of breath and sweating as if it had been the middle of summer, late the night before. He could still feel his legs burning. <><><><><><><> Major Fokin rapped the mission board, bringing the briefing into session. Kozlov sat next to Vladimirov, the two Junior Lieutenants surrounded by their seniors as they awaited their orders. “Good morning, comrades.” The Major started, smiling thinly under his moustache. “I hope that you all rested well, as our work is beginning early today.” The Major’s stick slid down to a small town bisected by a thin rail line heading on an almost true north-south line. “This is Novoduginskaya, our target for today. The Germans are using it to bring men and materiel between Vyzama and the northern front, and it has been identified as a weakness that can be exploited. Our task in this is simple - protect Hawk flight during their bombing run.” Aleksei frowned. Another escort mission, escorting the same planes and pilots as the last time. It seemed fate had saw fit to test him again under nigh-identical circumstances. The mission's flight path “Hawk expects to be here by 0810 or so, and it’s to be a 15 to 20 minute flight to Novoduginskaya.” Fokin continued. “Ideally, we’ll be back at Rzhev within 45 minutes, maybe by 0850 or 0900.” “There is a complication, however.” Captain Tsvetkov interjected. The deputy commander sat high in his chair, turning back to look at the rest of the pilots. “The flight path will put us over Sychevka airfield, and right next to Dugino. That means Messers.” Tsvetkov held up a finger. “And, possibly, heavy fighters. There are reports that the Germans are forward-deploying a squadron of Me-110s, and they might already be operating in our area.” There was a murmuring amongst the veterans. Kozlov leaned forward in his seat - he hadn’t come across these aircraft before, but he was aware of their reputation. They had powerful engines, deadly forward armament, and a tail gunner. Whether they were worse to go up against than their lighter 109 brethren, he couldn’t say. Fokin cleared his throat, bringing attention back to him. “Regardless of what we encounter up there, I expect all of you to make sure that the Peshkas make it through. And,” he gave a sly grin, “I have faith that you won’t let me down.” He glanced down at his watch, tapping it as he thought. “It’s already 0730, so I won’t keep you much longer. The flight order is as follows: I will be on lead, followed by Vladimirov-” the Junior Lieutenant blanced at the mention of his name “-and then Captain Tsvetkov. Kozlov is number four, then Kulagin, and Melnikov taking the rear.” Melnikov tapped Aleksei on the shoulder at that, and gave a worried look. All Kozlov could do was shrug - the decision had been made. Mumbling to each other, the pilots of the 34th stood as Fokin gave a nod to dismiss the assembly. The three Junior Lieutenants walked together towards the revetments, talking and shivering in the cold (a brisk 1 degree Celsius). It was hard, Aleksei realized, not to feel the worry build up inside of him again. They were being thrown back out with the faint hope that they would come back again intact enough. How many more times could they be lucky? <><><><><><><> Aleksei didn’t leave the canopy open as he looked for the approaching Pe-2 formation. It was just far too cold for him to even flirt with the idea. The MiG’s engine, the AM-35a inline, technically helped warm the cabin, but it could only do so much. He was no stranger to Moscow winters, but at least before the war he could stay inside when the snow started to fall. The 34th waits at Rzhev - note the pilot's barracks in the background It was quite cloudy that morning, the sun only barely peeking through the cover. The approaching winter solstice meant that dawn was coming later and later by the day, leaving the world darker each morning. Kozlov worked through his final pre-takeoff checks, his mind ticking off what boxes remained while the engine purred in his ears. “This is three, I see Hawk flight.” Tsvetkov’s voice came over the radio. “Off our 9’o’clock, high above the clouds.” Kozlov strained to look - sure enough, there they were, just right of the rising sun. There seemed to be nine of them, flying in a standard V formation. He had never asked how the Peshkas had made out the last time, and now he sat there wondering how many of those pilots were the same as before, and how many were replacements. “Storks, taking off.” Fokin’s voice came over the radio. A swell of dust followed shortly afterwards as the Major’s MiG roared. When it was his turn to go up, the Junior Lieutenant pushed the throttle forwards into the boost and felt his fighter kick forward in response. Perhaps it was the pressure of being in the center of the formation, or perhaps it was just something in his brain finally clicking, but he managed to keep the fighter moving in an almost straight line as he hurtled down the dirt strip. When he pulled back on the stick, the aircraft said good-bye to the ground and took to the dark dawn sky. Kozlov takes off. Behind him are Kulagin and Melnikov He joined the others in a soft right-hand banking turn, beginning the long climb towards altitude. Once again, they would be patrolling at a high 2000 meters above the earth, which meant that his breathing equipment needed to be functional. He checked to make sure it was ready to enable as he passed through the clouds, raindrops streaking across the glass of the canopy. As he climbed higher, he could make out the dots of the Peshkas before him, flying all in a line southeast. Below him, sleepy Rzhev was waking up to another day at war. <><><><><><><> Kozlov flies high escort over Hawk flight The pilots of the 34th quietly flew over the formation of Pe-2s, watching the clouds carefully for any sign of intruders. Kozlov doubted that they would avoid interdiction, so the question became who would come after them, and how many. Would the Germans only be able to muster a small patrol? Or would they go toe-to-toe with the bulk of a squadron? “Storks, from one - Raven flight is in the area, keep an eye out for three MiGs.” Fokin said over comms. “Three, acknowledged.” Tsvetkov replied, sounding almost disinterested. “From four - how far out are they?” Kozlov asked, keying his radio. “Not far, they’re doing a line patrol. We should cross paths with them soon.” Fokin answered. Aleksei smiled under his breathing mask, relieved. It was good that they weren’t walking into this completely alone. It seemed like no time had passed at all when Melnikov’s voice cut in. “This is six - incoming, off our 9’o’clock low!” The Junior Lieutenant shouted. “Heavy fighters, six of them approaching fast!” A Messerschmitt Me-110E-2 enters a dogfight against Raven flight “Storks, engage the fighters!” Fokin barked a quick order. “Raven flight is in the mix, they need help!” As one, Kozlov banked a hard left, joining Kulagin and Melnikov in the turn. He couldn’t see the fighting quite well yet, but in the distance he could make out tracer fire and fast-moving dots. Which were German and which were Soviet would require closing to identify. “This is three, I’m coming behind two heavy fighters!” Tsvetkov sounded strained as he brought his fighter in to attack. “They’re splitting!” Kozlov rolled inverted, tracking a big black shape start to pull away beneath him. He could make out the twin engined silhouette of the airplane. They very much resembled their mono-engined cousins, with boxy wings and a sharp profile. He had no doubts that they were as dangerous as a Messer, either. Diving slightly, Kozlov recovered and followed into a right-hand bank to keep up with the turning 110. He could see Tsvetkov beneath him, firing sporadically at the German. Tsvetkov turns to keep up with the maneuvering 110 Aleksei could feel the G-forces pull on him as he brought his MiG to bear on the second heavy fighter, the one that Tsvetkov had seen break away. The 110 seemed to be this massive target, almost impossible to miss - certainly not at the range that he was accustomed to shooting at. He fired his first burst, depressing both triggers to make sure that he hit the plane with everything he had. 12.7 and 7.62 rounds filled the air ahead of him, and he could see the banking 110’s wing spark and flash with impacts. Kozlov's fire hits the left wing of the defending 110 He tucked his turn in, letting the Messerschmitt pull ahead of him so he could observe the damage. Then, pulling hard again, he brought the nose ahead of the plane and depressed the triggers. There were more impacts on the plane, and he could see a stream of coolant begin to flow freely from the fighter’s left engine. Tracers streaked back, the rear gunner opening fire with his machine-gun. Aleksei grit his teeth, and tried to bring himself beneath and level with the heavy fighter so as to finish the job. The 110 banked right as he tried to right himself, suddenly bringing himself into full view of the tail gun. Desperate, Kozlov pushed the nose hard down, diving beneath the gunner’s arc. A stream of bullets whizzed over his canopy, only barely missing him. Black tuffs of smoke appeared in the sky - flak. This was becoming an increasingly dangerous situation. Kozlov began a steady right-hand turn, pulling back around towards the heavy fighter that he had already damaged. He seemed to be right in the thick of it, as a 110 pulled vertical above him and another chased after a MiG, one sans tiger’s stripes. The Raven was in danger, there was no doubt in that. Suddenly, more tracers flew past Kozlov’s MiG. From a kilometer away, the 110 chasing the Raven had broken off and let its tail gunner fire wildly in his general direction. Aleksei was in disbelief - they had to be mad to fire at such a distance, and insanely skilled for the bullets to arrive so close to him. He dove underneath the spread, gritting his teeth - he’d have them for that. Kozlov closed, hanging beneath the heavy fighter before pulling back to rise his nose onto the target. The 110 was 500 meters away and closing - soon it would fill his sights. At 300 meters, he pulled back, watching the 110 bank lazily left to bring him into the view of the tail gun. The 110 was pulling harder by the second, giving the Junior Lieutenant a clear view of its profile. He fired at just over 200 meters, a deflection shot that went only just too high over his target. Another burst landed just behind its wide tail assembly. The third raked across the right wing, sparks and debris announcing the hits. Kozlov's gunnery strikes the right wing of the heavy fighter The aircraft was still moving, so Kozlov pulled hard to match it. He fought with the stick and rudder to align himself for the perfect high rear-aspect shot. At this distance, it would be near impossible to miss. There was a flash from the rear gunner’s position, and then a sudden bang, followed by more - he was being hit! Aleksei depressed the trigger, firing all of his guns in a mad exchange of fire. Kozlov and the 110 exchange fire at a distance of less than 100 meters The heavy fighter began to spew a trail of green mist from its left side, and Kozlov dove underneath it. His fighter felt wrong, the impacts had sounded far too close to him to be safe, and he had seen several punch right through the engine compartment. He glanced back over his shoulder - a trail of coolant followed him. His eyes widened as he called over the radio - “This is four, I’m hit!” “Four, return to base immediately!” Tsvetkov ordered. “Are you injured?” “Negative, negative!” Kozlov could feel his heartrate skyrocket as he dove away. “But my engine is damaged!” “Four, from one, head north and land at Acacia!” Fokin entered the conversation, unable to hide the concern in his voice. “If you have to, bail out, but try to land if you can!” “Understood!” The Lieutenant replied, his heart pounding in his chest like a jackhammer. “I’m sorry!” He couldn’t help but apologize - dammit, how had he been so stupid? Hadn’t he learned from the bombers on his first day? His words were lost in the chaos of battle, as he heard no reply. Pushing the stick forwards, Kozlov’s MiG dove towards the earth in a desperate bid to escape the fray. Kozlov's damaged MiG heads for Rzhev In a frenzy, the Soviet’s eyes danced from instrument to instrument. His tachometer was reading fine, but there was no way that it could maintain maximum cruise anymore. He rotated the RPM wheel, bringing it down from 2040 rotations to less than 1800. At the base of his canopy glass, dark streaks began to form - oil, he was leaking oil! Something flashed out of the corner of his eye. Aleksei turned his head to see tracers dance just over his right wing. “Holy-” The Lieutenant cursed violently as he banked hard to avoid the incoming fire. Incoming fire forces Kozlov to go evasive The rounds passed by him with what had to be centimeters to spare. He looked back over his shoulder - a 110 was coming after him! He pulled desperately into the bank, and watched as the speeding fighter, moving far too fast to keep up, sailed on by. Aleksei blinked in disbelief as he saw the green trail behind the plane - had that mad bastard tried to follow him down despite his own damage? Kozlov reversed his turn, his head going back and forth between tracking the 110, high and behind him, and the world in front of him. He had to get the German off of him, and fast - there was no way his engine would survive a prolonged battle, and he was too far behind the lines to bail out now. He pulled again, diving into a cloudbank to break visual contact with the heavy fighter. In the white mists, the 110 vanished from view like a ghost. He reversed again, pulling back towards his hunter, but as he continued his turn the 110 remained gone. Kozlov released the canopy and slid it back, the cold wind blowing through his compartment as he tried to see what he might be fatally missing. Nothing. The German was gone, and in its place came dark brown splotches of oil landing on his goggles. Aleksei turned to point his plane north, and lowered his altitude to just below the clouds. He wasn’t certain that the 110 had well and truly left, but for now all that mattered was to get to the right side of the front line. If he could make it to Rzhev, then he would be a happy man, but all that he needed to do was ensure that he wouldn’t be dropping into the arms of the German army. He changed his radio’s frequency away from the in-flight and to Acacia’s. “Acacia, this is Stork four - my plane is damaged and I am attempting to return.” He said with a shaking voice. “Please be ready for me, over.” There was a brief pause. “Understood, Stork four, we’ll be waiting for you.” The ground controller replied. “Good luck to you, out.” He was alone. <><><><><><><> Aboard the Peshkas, there was work to be done. The Storks had done their job, of that the aircrews could be assured. Not one of the 110s had gotten even close to them yet, and they weren’t far from their objective. Hawk flight approaches Novoduginskaya “One, from nine - I see a German approaching at our level 6’o’clock.” Hawk nine’s pilot and commander announced over the radio. “Two kilometers plus and closing.” “Roger, nine.” The flight leader replied with grim indifference. “We’re nearly there, keep an eye on him.” He switched over to the intercom. “Bombadier, ready?” “Bombadier ready!” Came the reply. The town was beneath them now, half-covered by the low cloud-layer. It didn’t matter - level bombing was not a game of precision, but of area saturation. They would cut a swath right down the rail-line. “Bomb bays open!” A pause. Time seemed to pass at a glacial, agonizing pace. Beneath them, Germans and Soviet citizens - if any yet lived - alike braced for what was to come. “Bombs away!” Hawk flight drops its payload on Novoduginskaya A rain of explosives fell from the bomber, each coming away from the plane with a rattle that shook the entire plane. A look to the left and right confirmed that each plane in the formation was doing the same. “Hawks, bank left - it’s time to go home.” The flight commander intoned, bringing his plane into the steady turn. They had done what they had come out to do - now they had to survive the return trip. Through the clouds, explosions ripple across the village Bombs impact at the southern tip of Novoduginskaya <><><><><><><> Kozlov wasn’t sure where he was. He was heading in the right direction, sure, but only in the vaguest of terms. The area south of Rzhev had become foreign to him, the land unrecognizable through the haze of adrenaline. How much longer would the engine hold out? Already, the leaking oil meant that its temperature had begun to climb. His forward canopy was a complete mess, the dark streaks making it impossible to see through clearly. Landmarks, he had to look for landmarks. It was all he had to go on in a situation as desperate as this. As if a gift from above, he found one. Just off to his right, he spied a uniquely shaped point in the river Volga where, as it flowed south, it split into four. The meeting had always resembled in Aleksei’s mind like the open talons of an eagle. The Volga bifurcation south of Zubtsov, which can be seen faintly in the distance Aleksei felt a sudden onset of relief. He was close to home, and his plane hadn’t died on him just yet. Could he really bring it in? He struggled to look past the now completely-useless forward glass to spy Rzhev. It had to be somewhere ahead of him, but where? He doubted he had the time to make more than one approach - he had to land on his first. He could see the city loom off his left, growing closer and more distinct as time went on. His eyes struggled to find the familiar dirt strip through both the glass and the oil droplets that continued to fall on his goggle. He was tempted to put back on his oxygen mask despite being at low altitude just to avoid ingesting what was surely a toxic chemical. There it was, just ahead of him. Rzhev was only a few kilometers away and closing. Kozlov whooped in his seat, taking his hand off the throttle to pump it into the cold rushing air. He was going to make it! Quickly, he keyed his radio. “Acacia, this is Stork four on inbound - requesting permission to make an emergency landing.” “You are cleared, four.” Rzhev’s controller answered, audibly relieved. “We see you on inbound, and have crews standing by.” Aleksei felt his smile melt away as he focused on the last tasks before him. He began to lower the flaps as he steadied his approach, lining up on the airfields north-south runway. The landing gear came next, mercifully lowering without difficulty. There had been a moment during his return trip where he feared that the damage might have knocked out the mechanism and would have forced him to hand-crank the gear down, or attempt a belly landing. Thankfully, neither were in store for him today. The plane shuddered as the gear extended fully, the fighter affected by vicious drag forces. He could feel the MiG sink lower and lower, but there was only so much he could do through his canopy screen. It was a miracle he was even vaguely on course, as far as he was concerned! A view from the cockpit as Kozlov begins to land He sank lower and lower, struggling to avoid a stall as the fighter began to land. There was a sudden crump as the aircraft hit the ground and bounced up, the tires forcing him away from the ground, then another as it settled on the dirt. Quickly, Aleksei pulled on the brake lever, trying to bring his wounded plane to a stop. The fighter began to slide out from under him in protest - a ground loop. He tried, in vain, to stop it by winging over and forcing hard right rudder, but it was too far gone. The plane suddenly hopped, and the right wing collided with the ground with a crash of wood and metal. From the rear of the plane came skidding the right aileron, freed by the violent impact. Kozlov's MiG is damaged in the ground loop Shockingly, the plane came to rest back on its tires, now having done a near 270 degree turn from the approach angle. Dazed, Aleksei just sat there as men sprinted towards the resting plane. Sergeant Grigorev was the first to arrive, and the man’s bear-sized hands began wrestling with the belts holding the Lieutenant in his seat. “Comrade Lieutenant, are you alright?” The crew chief shouted into the pilot’s ear. Aleksei just looked at him, the adrenaline high dulling his ability to think clearly. “What?” He shouted back, confused. “Are you hurt, Lieutenant?” Grigorev shouted again, working faster to wrest his care free of the plane. His hands went to the fuel mixture lever, and he slid it all the way to the zero position. The MiG’s engine coughed and died, the blades swinging slower and slower until they were at a standstill. Kozlov shook his head. “No, I’m alright I think.” He managed, finally able to muster the composure to help his sergeant. Shakily, he exited the plane, his legs trembling. “God, that was a mess.” “It’s not so bad.” Grigorev said, comfortingly. He clapped the officer on the shoulder. “I can repair the tail-” “The tail?” Kozlov interrupted, incredulous. He looked back at the plane - sure enough, the plane was missing a chunk. “That won’t be hard to fix!” Grigorev continued. “I’ll have to look at the engine to see how bad it is, but I’m sure it’s nothing major.” “What about the others?” Kozlov stopped dead in his tracks. “Are they okay?” “The flight?” The Sergeant shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m sure they’ll be back soon.” Aleksei felt his stomach twist. “I hope so, Sergeant.” He said, looking out at the horizon. He sighed - there was nothing he could do now but wait. “Do you have anything to drink?” He asked, looking over at his crew chief. Grigorev nodded, and from his jacket produced a small flask. “Happy landings, Lieutenant.” He said, giving Kozlov a wry grin. “And to many more.” Aleksei added, taking the cold metal bottle in his hand and giving it a swig. <><><><><><><> It was some time before the rest of Stork flight made their landing approach at Rzhev. Kozlov watched them come in quietly, the worry in his stomach unabated despite the swig of vodka he had imbibed earlier. No less than an hour had passed since he had made his own landing, and he couldn’t help but notice that the flight returning was short two aircraft. He was waiting for them at the parking ramp, the MiGs coming to a stop in their revetments. The crew chiefs did their work, helping the pilots up and out of their planes and back onto the ground. Aleksei waited for Melnikov to be standing before he approached. “Taras, what happened?” He asked. Melnikov looked at him mournfully, silently. His eyes were puffy and red. The pit in Kozlov’s stomach widened. “Taras!” He said again, but Melnikov brushed past him without a word, heading for the barracks. Kozlov didn’t chase after him, looking instead for either Fokin or Tsvetkov. He found the former - the latter was absent - and hurried towards him. The Major moved oddly, presenting a regular pace - but his shoulders were slumped ever-so-slightly. “Major!” Kozlov yelled, hurrying towards the commander. Fokin turned his head to look at the Junior Lieutenant, and stopped where he stood. A strange look of relief seemed to wash over the man’s face as Aleksei approached. “Kozlov, I’m glad you’re alright.” Fokin sighed, scratching at his bushy moustache. “Is your plane intact?” “It’s damaged, sir, but my crew chief says it can be repaired.” “That’s good.” Fokin said, absently. “Major, what happened?” Aleksei asked. “Where’s Captain Tsvetkov? Where’s Vladimirov?” “Captain Tsvetkov landed at Borki,” the Major answered. “He’s alright, and should be back here soon.” There was a pause. “And Vladimirov?” Fokin’s mouth twisted as he swallowed back some unwanted emotion. When he spoke, he spoke in a flat voice, hollow of emotion. “There was a collision.” The blood rushed from Kozlov’s body. It felt impossibly cold. “A collision?” He repeated. “Vladimirov was attacking a 110, but his approach was too sharp. He collided with the plane. I’m sorry.” “Did he-?” Fokin slowly shook his head. “His fighter disintegrated on impact.” He said. Unsure, the Major’s hand rested on Kozlov’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Kozlov.” The Major’s last words came through to the Junior Lieutenant like from a dream. “Vladimirov is dead.” Vladimirov's fighter collides with the 110, killing him After action, bombing raid on Novoduginskaya, 7 October 1941. Circled is the location of Junior Lieutenant Saveliy Vladimirov's crash
  4. Yeah, I was worried it would be that way. I'll have to make some edits for future chapters in order to have a consistent naming system. Regarding radios, I'm okay with the system I have currently, where only flight leaders have radios on their aircraft that allow them to communicate with other elements. It's an abstraction for reality, and maybe when the series is all said and done I could go back and change everything to bring it more in line with history as part of some final release. Appreciated!
  5. This is more a question aimed at the developers - how is the callsign logic passed out? It's leaving me incredibly confused. For example, the Acacia callsign is distributed to both Rzhev and Borki airfields (Battle of Moscow). There is the callsign of Hawk, which is assigned to bombers - but on the two bomber escort missions I have flown for my series, the Peshkas I escorted had different camo schemes on each sortie! But most baffling of all is the Raven callsign, which seems to be passed out to two fighter units. I only realized that there were two flights out using the same handle a few minutes ago, when two different Raven 3s started shouting that they had destroyed a target! So, how does the callsign system work, and is there any way to reverse-engineer by them which squadron/regiment is talking?
  6. Hey everyone! I'm happy to announce that this week will have a regular two updates, which will be released at their regular dates/times. I'm sorry to keep you all waiting, but in the end I opted against an intermission chapter. Expect the next chapter sometime Thursday afternoon (Central time), and see you then! EDIT: Just a real quick addendum, but I want to say that I've been finding it difficult to understand the logic as to how the callsign logic of the Career mode works. Acacia as a callsign is used not just for Rzhev, but for the Borki airfield too. Raven flight seems to be the 27th IAP given that it flies both I-16s and MiG-3s, but I am not sure if that is the case or if the 27th and the 495th both use the same moniker. I would greatly appreciate anyone explaining further on how callsigns are handed out in the game's backend!
  7. Hey everyone! I am unfortunately not going to be able to upload the next missions tomorrow and very likely Friday (if I can, I'll publish them this weekend, but if not they'll be released next week). I'm a student, and I have an exam Thursday for my summer class, which means that schoolwork has to take priority for me. I have been working on an interlude chapter that, if finished, I'll be able to put up as a substitute to tide everyone over, but it would be without pictures. With any luck, we'll be back to normal by this time next week! Take care all, and thank you for all reading
  8. Thank you to all of the people who have been reading these, it means a lot! Also, I apologize for an error I made above, where the same picture was used twice: It has been fixed! Happy reading!
  9. Chapter Four: Strike at Klokova The day dragged on. By late afternoon, Kozlov’s hangover had more or less vanished, lost in the buzz of a combat pilot’s adrenaline high. His sorties had gone without incident, but some great anxiety had uncoiled itself inside of Aleksei’s brain. Would Tsvetkov tell the Major about what had happened that morning? Was the Captain’s silence some favor, or was it something that bore the promise of future quid pro quo? More than anything, Kozlov couldn’t free himself of the image of Tsvetkov silently watching from afar. “Heroes die fast out here,” he had said. Was that a warning, or a threat? It was colder than it had been the day before, though the breeze was softer. Winter was approaching, though if Kozlov had to guess they were still a few weeks away from the first major snowfall. Perhaps by then the regiment would have an indoors briefing area, but the Junior Lieutenant wasn’t about to put his hopes up just so yet. From the looks of the other pilots sitting about him, they were as cold as he was - except for Tsvetkov, who stood stoically at the front besides the map, seemingly indifferent to the temperature. “Comrades,” Tsvetkov began. “This is our last major flight for the day. Our mission is simple: to protect the bombers of Hawk flight through their strike on here-” The Captain tapped the map with a finger, rapping it softly. “Klokova, just north-east of Vjazma.” The mission's flight path “The goal is scorched earth - to deny the Germans access to any infrastructure of value.” The Captain continued, his voice still like a lake. “I want all of you to remember that when you go up today. You will be dropping Soviet bombs on Soviet towns for the sake of a Soviet victory. This is the nature of the war we are in, and I advise all of you to become familiar with it.” There was a rustling from the assemblage of pilots. The veterans shifted uncomfortably in their chairs, but Kozlov couldn’t resist the urge to look, uncertainly, at his fellow Juniors. The three exchanged worried glances in the silent moment. What nightmare was 1941? No one said a word. Desperation had brought them to the unthinkable, as it had for some of them many times before, and as it would bring them many times to come. “I will not be leading this mission, as I am to retrieve the Major from Borki. Instead, Captain Golubev will be in charge of the flight.” Tsvetkov extended a hand to his fellow officer, who took the cue and stood up to join the deputy commander up front. “Thank you, Captain.” Golubev said, nodding. Tsvetkov moved to the fringe, folding his arms as he watched. “Hawk flight will meet us here, at Rzhev. We will climb to join them at 2000m and escort them to the target point. Once they have dropped their bombs, we will cover their exit back towards Borki, which will be acting as a recovery airfield. Questions?” “What kind of resistance should we expect?” Davydov asked, raising his hand. “The flight path will take us past Dugino,” Tsvetkov answered for Golubev. “Intelligence states that the Germans have put several fighter elements there. Messers, F-2s and F-4s.” “Do we know how heavily defended Klokova itself is?” Another Senior Lieutenant asked, his hand raised. Kulagin, another of the veteran pilots who he had interacted with in the previous night’s party. It was a strange realization that after today, he would have flown with every member of the 34th. They were a small family of pilots, it seemed - too small against too many foes. Senior Lieutenant Vladislav Kulagin “Expect the usual - flak, anti-air guns, machine guns.” Tsvetkov answered again. He exchanged a quick glance with Golubev, so quick that it was near-invisible. “This should be a fairly simple mission,” Golubev said, “but we cannot afford to be complacent so far behind enemy lines. Keep your eyes sharp, and your heads turning.” The pilots nodded their head, with the occasional mumble of “yes, comrade Captain.” Golubev rubbed his hands together, his gloves making a soft noise as he struggled to keep warm in the Rzhev cold. “Flight order is as follows: I am lead, Vladimirov will be number two. Davydov, you’re three, Melnikov is four, Kulagin is five, and Kozlov is six.” Each of the pilots bobbed their heads as their name was called in turn. Kozlov felt a small sting of chagrin - for the second time today, he would be taking the tail of the formation. Was this some kind of punishment? Tsvetkov stepped forward, standing next to Golubev. “The bombers will be here at 15:08, and it is currently 14:35. Get to your planes, all of you.” The Captain cast a long glance over all of them, his eyes stopping on Kozlov. He spoke slowly, intently. “Good luck, and come home to Rzhev safe.” <><><><><><><> The 34th waits for the bombers The cockpit was, thankfully, much warmer to be in than standing around outside. The engines of the six MiG-3s growled impatiently, a steady din that had become increasingly familiar to the Junior Lieutenant. When going on patrol, there would be the sound of half as many aircraft, if that, filling the air - when the might of the 34th was put on display, it was a noise that was impossible to feel at least some excitement in. Kozlov slid open the canopy, leaning out of the cockpit to stare up at the sky. It was nearly cloudless, with only a few puffs of white dotted about the light blue canvas. The autumn sun cast a cold light over the world, shining brightly as it began its sink towards the horizon. By any rights, it should have been perfect conditions to spot a formation of bombers, but Kozlov was struggling to detect them. “Does anyone see Hawk?” He asked casually over the radio. “Not yet.” Melnikov replied. “I’ve been looking north, but I’m not seeing anything.” “They won’t be coming from the north,” Golubev interjected. “They’re turning in from the southeast. By the time we’re airborne, they’ll have done a 180 and will be facing the target.” Kozlov turned his attention over his right shoulder, back in the general direction of Borki and Klokova beyond that. There was a bright flash, high above the horizon - a flare? “I think I see them.” He said, squinting his eyes. “Yes, I see Hawk flight approaching us. There must be a dozen of them!” Hawk flight's Petlyakov (Pe) 2 series 35 dive bombers “I see them too.” Golubev said a second later. “Get ready for takeoff, Storks.” Kozlov slid the canopy closed, locking it in place, and readied his aircraft for the takeoff roll. A few seconds later, Golubev’s voice called over the radio. “Stork flight, taking off.” One by one, the MiG-3s kicked forward, dust trailing behind them as they gained speed. Once again, Kozlov struggled to keep the fighter moving straight, but found himself inevitably drifting further and further right, off the gravel and into the grass. Embarrassed, he pulled back on the stick when the time was right and left the earth, hoping that no one had noticed. Kozlov takes off from Rzhev As the MiGs climbed, the bomber formation became more and more distinct. Kozlov’s count had been close to the truth - there was a grand total of nine of them, all beginning their graceful left-hand bank back towards Klokova. Their massive twin-engine frames were incredible to behold, moving together like a flock of birds. Aleksei stifled a laugh when he realized that Hawk flight too was “migrating” south for winter. Minutes passed as the six fighters made their way to altitude, climbing steadily to link up with the formation. Klokova was a good twenty minutes away, little over half of which would be spent in friendly territory. Past that point, wherever it was, they would be traipsing into the lion’s den. <><><><><><><> A view of the formation from below. Melnikov can be seen behind the bombers, escorting Time passed slowly as the 34th banked and turned gracefully over the bombers droning along beneath them. By turning so much, they were maintaining a relatively high speed, something that could be easily tapped into should any interceptors appear, but it was a vaguely dizzying experience. Kozlov could only catch glimpses of the bombers during their movements, their steady flight surprisingly difficult to track while making the wide turns over their heads. That peace broke suddenly, far sooner than anyone had expected. “This is three,” Davydov broke the still. “I’m seeing something on our 11’o’clock. Possible fighters, over.” “Three, from one - keep an eye on them.” Golubev replied. The formation tightened, the maneuvers became less graceful and more sudden. The 34th was a tightly-packed spring ready to be released. Beneath them loomed was what Kozlov presumed to be the town of Subbotino, bisected by a river running through it. They had only just crossed the German lines, and it seemed that the invaders were lying in wait for their approach. “This is three, I spy four- no, five Messers approaching!” Davydov’s voice cut in, now very alarmed. “Four kilometers or more and closing!” “Storks, engage the fighters!” Golubev ordered. “Do not let them reach the bomber flight!” The formation scattered, breaking off as they banked towards the incoming threat from the formation’s left. Kozlov turned, trying to acquire the incoming. He couldn’t quite make them out, not yet, but he knew they were closing. “This is three, I’m on a Messer!” Davydov cried. Davydov pursues an attacking Messerschmitt Flak bursts bloomed around the growing dogfight. The German crews below had spotted them, and were now engaging with every weapon in their arsenal. They either didn’t know, or didn’t care, about their comrades also committed to the attack on the bombers - the black clouds of shrapnel appeared nonetheless. Kozlov banked, and suddenly caught motion - a glint of sunlight on metal - from above. He looked up - there dove a 109, passing just in front of him! A Messerschmitt dives above Kozlov, as seen from the cockpit “This is six, attacking!” Kozlov called over the radio as he pulled the plane vertical to follow. The 109 slid underneath him, but the Soviet followed, calmly rolling his plane upright and pulling gently back in the stick to recover from the maneuver. He could see the 109, a faint grey cross against the khaki-and-brown grassland below, slowly edge closer into his sights. The German, recognizing his predicament, began a bank to the left, one Kozlov compensated for as he approached. The German was just under 600m away now, and they were closing rapidly. Kozlov approaches the maneuvering 109 The two joined into a tight left-hand turn, Kozlov straining to keep up with the agile German craft. He checked quickly over his left shoulder - nothing, thankfully. For now it was just him and his foe. The distance closed to 300m, the MiG ever gaining. G-forces pulled on him, and Kozlov’s eyesight began to grey. At 250m, he depressed the firing button for the twin 7.62mm, tracers arcing out towards a target so heavily deflected that he could only see the very tip of its nose. He relaxed the turn to let his MiG recover, and to observe the damage - nothing, as far as he could tell. He fired again, but his shots went low, sailing harmlessly beneath the tail of his target. Out of the corner of his eye, absurdly, he saw a Ishak dive past him at what must have been 50m away, but his brain didn’t have the time to process it. “This is four!” Melnikov’s voice broke through the fog. “I have two Messers on me!” Clarity of purpose filled Kozlov as he lined up another shot - he needed to deal with this thing and move on, and fast. As the 109 leveled in preparation to reverse its turn, the Lieutenant lined up a shot. 7.62mm was joined by 12.7mm as Kozlov let the fighter have everything he had. Immediately, a plume of white fluid trailed from where his rounds had impacted - the 109 had been damaged! He fired again, and a second trail began to flow from the other side of the aircraft. Kozlov scores hits on the 109 Kozlov pulled the stick back tighter, and fired a third burst, this time the rounds impacting in the tail assembly. He let the 109 slide away in front of him - the aircraft was too badly damaged to remain a threat, surely. A view of the damaged Messerschmitt from the cockpit Slowly, he leveled his wings and watched the Messer dive away. He checked his tail again quickly - once again, they were alone. Kozlov pulled up, letting his aircraft climb, and slowly rolling it onto its side as he watched the wounded Messerschmitt slide under him. His mind returned to the present - where was Melnikov? “Four, from six, where the hell are you?” “Low altitude!” The other Junior Lieutenant called. “They’re right up on me, goddammit!” Melnikov narrowly avoids an attack by one of the Messerschmitts Kozlov scanned, trying to find his friend, but there was nothing to be found but flak bursts erupting around him. The AAA had him squarely in their sights, and they were trying to bracket him with ordinance. As he turned, he could see I-16s flying, and a second Messerschmitt. Was this one of the ones pursuing Taras? He pulled hard to follow it in the turn, only to realize a heartbeat later that it was the same 109 as before, still flying - and incredibly, still trying to kill him! There was an Ishak hot on the Messer’s tail, but that seemed to bother the German little as he flew. It was a distraction he didn’t have the time for. Kozlov continued his pull, trying to work his way onto the inside of the German’s maneuvering while not hitting the I-16 also on the hunt. When he saw a chance, he broke away, quickly gaining distance - this was something that someone else could easily handle, but he had other priorities. Tracers from anti-aircraft guns whizzed past him, but he paid them little heed. “Four, where are you? I don’t see you at all!” He shouted into his radio. “This is one, I see four!” Golubev barked. “Engaging!” Relief washed over Kozlov - his friend wasn’t alone now. But where was he? Where was anyone? It suddenly occurred to him that he had completely lost track of the formation in the dogfight. A Polikarpov I-16 dodges ground fire As he maneuvered, Kozlov saw the wounded 109 again. He was incredulous - how was that damnable machine still flying? Ground fire arced up at him as he turned towards the bleeding Messerschmitt. As he flew, he glanced off his right shoulder only to see a thick black stream of smoke falling towards the ground. “Oh, God.” He whispered in horror. An I-16 burns as it enters a death dive An inexorable force kept him from looking away for longer than a heartbeat as he watched the I-16 dive lower and lower until it finally slammed into a river below with a tremendous splash. There was no way anyone aboard had survived. The 1-16 hits the water Aleksei felt sick, but in a heartbeat it violently transformed into anger. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the wounded 109, and pushed the MiG into boost. The engine roared as his aircraft accelerated, the distance between himself and his quarry closing by the second. The Messerschmitt began to bank left, realizing that it was being preyed upon, and Kozlov followed it. His first burst was a wild one at 300m, without a chance of hitting. The Messerschmitt passed by as the Junior Lieutenant pulled his aircraft into a hard turn, G-forces sapping the world away. For the briefest moment, he lost himself to the black, but his eyesight was restored before he could pass out. The 109 was still turning, and so was he. A brief burst at 400m, an attempt to force the German to jink. No luck. A second burst, with the same result, at 250m. A third burst, this one longer, at 200m and closing, and with it came a puff on the body of the Messer. He was outside the turn now, the undercarriage of the German fighter clearly visible. It reversed its turn on a dime, and Kozlov followed it, firing a long burst with all three of his guns. Rounds shattered against the aircraft, kicking up debris. The two were close now, well within 100m. Kozlov moved his plane into a right bank while the German did the opposite, the two meeting like an X high above the Russian soil. Kozlov fired. The bullets raked the Messerschmitt from stem to stern. The German trailed aviation fuel now, alongside the twin flows of coolant. Kozlov watched as the 109 passed overhead, banking left and away. He climbed, readying to pull inverted and set up for another attack. Kozlov strikes the Messerschmitt with his weapons at point blank As he came over, he watched as the Messer began to descend lower and lower towards the ground. Before he could line up an approach, the enemy fighter smashed into the ground at speed, exploding into a tremendous fireball. The Messerschmitt explodes after hitting the ground Kozlov pulled away with grim satisfaction. It was one less German to worry about, and vengeance for the I-16 pilot who had died only moments prior. “Six, scratch a Messer.” He growled into the radio, his head still buzzing with adrenaline. “Is everyone alright?” “This is three, I’m on a Messer right at Hawk!” Davydov said, exhilarated. “I’ll have this one!” “This is one, I’m still engaged with the Messers!” Golubev shouted. “Four, where are you?” “One, from four, I’m away!” Melnikov answered. “Don’t worry about me, Captain, I’m fine!” Kozlov banked away from a gun battery. All he could feel was relief - Melnikov was alright. From the sounds of it, he wasn’t even touched. The man had some unnatural luck, and he was damn thankful for it. Now all he had to worry about was regrouping with them. The bombers had to be further south somewhere, and that was where he was going to go. “This is five,” Vladimirov cut in excitedly. “Bombs away! Hawk has dropped!” Hawk flight drops their ordinance on Klokova Bombs impact at Klokova A view of the impacts from above Even from a distance, the sound of the explosions faintly reached Kozlov, though it was difficult to hear over the roar of his engine. The devastation must have been unimaginable, a wall of fire and destruction. In the distance, another black cloud streaming downwards. Was it one of the bombers? A German? A friend? A distant fighter collides with the ground “This is one, Messer down!” Golubev called. Kozlov leaned back in his seat, exhausted in relief. The mission had all of the markings of a nightmare, a dream he couldn’t escape from. A German pilot abandons his burning Messerschmitt “Now can someone clean my six?” Golubev yelled, furiously. “I’m leaking fuel like a goddamn sieve up here!” “One, from six, I’m coming!” Kozlov shouted, sitting back up. He aimed his plane towards the smoke. Surely, this was where the action was. It was hard to see anything in the chaos of battle. He turned, hunting for the fight, only to see an I-16 chasing a Messerschmitt. He turned to follow, flying close with his fellow Russian as they came over the bombed-out town. The Messer they both had been tailing suddenly just seemed to vanish, cutting and running for home. The Germans were withdrawing, it seemed. “Six, from one, don’t worry!” Golubev replied. “The Germans are withdrawing. Storks, return to the formation, we’re heading back to Acacia.” A chorus of “understoods” greeted the message. Kozlov aimed his plane back north. From where he was, he had honestly lost sight of just about everyone, but he knew the direction home. He would regroup with them either along the way, or back at Borki. As he flew back, Aleksei thought about the I-16 that he had seen go into the river. It was an image seared into his mind, a horrible photograph he couldn’t unsee. Was that his fate? Was that the fate of Taras, or Saveliy? Would they all meet their end like that? In silence, Kozlov pointed his MiG home and flew, one eye always looking over his shoulder. <><><><><><><> The flight had regrouped over Borki with little fanfare. There had been some minor clashes with some remaining German fighters, but without injury on either side it seemed as if the 34th was home and in the clear. Kozlov watched as the lead Peshka dove towards the recovery airfield, trailing aviation fuel behind it. A few others joined it, eager to be on the ground and repair whatever damage they had taken during the mission. Kozlov counted the bombers - all nine had returned. He then counted the fighters, only to find that some were bizarrely absent. More concerning, flak bursts erupted in the sky above the field - had a German followed them home? “This is six, there’s flak going up!” Kozlov reported, worriedly. “Is everyone alright?” “This is one, I’m on a German, standby!” Golubev barked. Kozlov’s concern mounted. “This is three, I’m with four, we’re returning.” Davydov reported. “This is five, doing the same.” Kulagin added. “This is two, I’m being attacked!” Vladimirov shouted. Kozlov circled over Borki, staring out at the vast blue. He had no idea where anyone was - he was more or less alone over the airfield, helplessly. As he watched the bombers come in, the only thing he could think to do was to cover their approach for landing, listen to the radio, and hope. He watched as one of the Pe-2s landed hard, careening off the strip and only narrowly missing the airfield’s control tower. “Five, I see one, I’m coming to help!” Kulagin said, startling Kozlov. He scanned the skies again - where were they? Just how far back had they been engaged? “This is one - if you’re not being engaged, return to Acacia, we’re too spread out!” Golubev ordered, the strain of combat in his voice. “Five and I can handle this, just get home!” Kozlov froze - he didn’t know what to do. His mind raced as he tried to decide his next course. He knew the direction that the flight should have been returning from, all it would take would be making a 180 and he could travel directly towards the embattled Golubev and Kulagin. Tsvetkov’s warning rung in his ears - could he afford to disregard such an order twice in a day? He stayed still, circling Borki. It was the best he could think of. Seconds passed. “This is one, the Germans are gone. Guess we scared them off.” The Captain called, exhausted. “Let’s head home, Storks.” After a moment, Kozlov keyed his own mike. “From six - understood, returning.” As he pulled the plane away, a deep shame settled into him at his inability to decide, at his getting lost. He had been needed, dammit, and he had failed them all. It was a feeling he wouldn’t shake for the rest of the night. Kozlov lands at Rzhev After action, air strike on Klokova, 5 October 1941
  10. Chapter Three: Tiger Cub Kozlov’s world felt sharper the next morning, his brain protesting at the all-vodka immersion it had been given the night prior. Water helped, some, and coffee helped more, but neither were perfect fixes. As he walked to the briefing area, he winced as the sun stabbed at his eyes. Flying this morning was to be painful. Major Fokin spotted him, and began walking towards him at a brisk pace. The Junior Lieutenant, busily shielding his eyes, didn’t realize that he was being stalked until the senior officer was upon him. Fokin’s hands wrapped forcefully around Kozlov’s head, and forced him to stare directly into the Major’s eyes. “What the-” Aleksei started, instinctively pushing away, before common sense returned to him. “Easy, Lieutenant,” Fokin said, with a doctor’s calm. “I need to see if you are fit to fly. How bad does your head hurt?” “It stings.” The Junior Lieutenant answered. The Major released his grip, and Aleksei immediately broke away. Before his common sense was overwhelmed by a deep desire to say something about what had just happened, Fokin held up a hand. “I do this with all of the new pilots, don’t worry.” He said. “You seem well enough for the mission.” “Thank you, sir.” Kozlov spoke flatly, and he could feel his cheeks start to burn. The other pilots had been watching the interaction intently. This was no doubt part of the hazing ritual for new members of the 34th. Quietly, he found a seat in the back of the area and waited for the briefing to begin. It was difficult to say which hurt more now - his head, or his pride. The Major slowly paced over to the briefing board, and once again appeared his lecturer’s rod. He rapped on the map, still attached to it, pointing at a small town just beyond the front line. “Gzhatsk,” Fokin started, his face deadly serious. “Earlier this morning, reconnaissance flights identified a German gun battery in this area. The task of suppressing it has fallen to us.” The mission’s flight path “To accomplish this,” he continued, “our fighters will be equipped with rockets along with our standard load.” Captain Golubev raised his hand, to which the Major nodded in his direction. “Why only rockets?” He asked, frowning. “Bombs are good for this sort of work.” “I can answer that,” came a voice from the front row. Another Captain turned around in his chair to look at Golubev. Kozlov recognized him by reputation, and from the previous night’s part - it was Tsvetkov, the regiment’s other senior officer and deputy commander. Captain Rostislav Tsvetkov, Deputy Commander of the 34th IAP PVO “There’s an airfield not far from Gzhatsk, and the Germans have moved fighters and anti-aircraft there.” The deputy commander continued. “Bombs would be dangerous to bring in case they have Messers on patrol.” Golubev sat back in his chair, sucking the air through his teeth sharply in disapproval. “Damn, Messers.” He shook his head. “I guess we’ll have to hope we’re lucky.” “I don’t trust in luck, Arkadiy Rolanovich.” The commander said. Aleksei blinked - he hadn’t expected the Major to speak in such a familiar tone. “I trust in us.” Golubev nodded slowly, but didn’t say a word. Fokin cleared his throat, and looked around at the assembled pilots. “The flight order will be straight to the point. I will be taking the lead plane, followed by Captain Golubev, and then by Captain Tsvetkov. Lieutenants Melnikov and Vladimirov-” At the mentioning of his name, the two Junior Lieutenants sat up in their seats. Vladimirov was, unlike Tsvetkov, someone that Kozlov had interacted with prior to the evening party. As a fellow Junior Lieutenant, the two found themselves spending meals together alongside Melnikov discussing their sorties, women, and home. He was a strange fellow, young like Melnikov but nowhere near as shrewd, bearing a kind of wide-eyed adventurism that the veterans lacked. Junior Lieutenant Saveliy Vladimirov “Finally, we have our tiger cub, Lieutenant Kozlov.” Fokin concluded, and again Aleksei could feel all eyes fall upon him. “May your stripes serve you well, Junior Lieutenant.” “I’ll do my best, comrade Major.” Kozlov said, firmly. He didn’t feel the need to ask if his best would be good enough. <><><><><><><> It was hard to describe the feeling Kozlov had climbing into his MiG, now bearing the long tiger’s stripes of the 34th. For a moment, the hangover fell into the background, and all he could feel was a sense of awe and pride. Standing next to the plane, grinning like a father, was Sergeant Grigorev. Junior Lieutenant Kozlov’s MiG in 34th IAP PVO pattern “Congratulations, comrade Lieutenant!” The man said. He grabbed Kozlov’s hand and shook it vigorously, enough so that the officer could feel his arm vibrate in its socket. “I had a good feeling about you the moment I saw you!” “Thank you, Sergeant.” Aleksei’s voice was faint, lost in the haze of a trance. He slid from the NCO’s hand as he approached the resting fighter. He let his fingers run down a stripe running down the engine cowling, the plane’s skin cold to the touch. Kozlov turned back to look at his crew chief. “You did a magnificent job, you and the crew.” Grigorev, his grin still set on his face, shook his head abashedly. “You’re too kind, sir - I’ll pass on the compliment.” The Sergeant walked to join the Lieutenant by the plane’s side. “Let’s get him started.” Aleksei nodded, his face breaking into a wry grin as he started towards the wing. <><><><><><><> The 34th waits for take-off. Note the rocket pods beneath the wings The MiG shuddered on the runway, much like its pilot. Even on the ground, the aircraft felt heavier with the weight of the six ROS-82 rockets hanging underneath the wings. They were heavy things, a grand total of 60 kilograms of ordinance and racks to hold them, and they would contribute to no small amount of drag. Kozlov didn’t want to imagine how much worse it would be had the regiment opted to carry bombs as well for the strike. The take-off order came over the radio, and at the front of the formation came a plume of dust as Major Fokin released his brakes and began his take-off roll. The others followed in his stead until it was, finally, his turn to follow. Kozlov begins his take off roll. Behind him is Vladimirov, already in motion The fighter bounced and twisted on him like a thing possessed, and the Junior Lieutenant fought to keep anything resembling a straight line. He felt no small amount of relief when the landing gear finally left contact with the earth, and the MiG was finally airborne. Kozlov takes off from Rzhev Sure enough, the plane felt sluggish in a way that felt unfamiliar and immediately dangerous. It was nothing that the aircraft couldn’t handle, but the rockets were an obvious liability when bullets started to fly. He was eager to get them off of his plane, to punch them into the Germans and to free himself of their unwanted bulk. Kozlov checked the clock - it was 8:57, and Gzhatsk was a good ten minutes away. Was their timing right, or would they be flying right into a swarm of Messerschmitts? There was only one way to tell. <><><><><><><> The flight was uneventful, suspiciously so. No German ground fire reached up to meet them, and there were certainly no fighters in sight. The ten minute flight had come and gone, and they were undoubtedly just at the cusp of the German lines. Gzhatsk was right on the edge of the battlefield, scant kilometers from fighting positions, so it was impossible that the 34th’s approach had gone unnoticed. Where, then, was the response? The 34th approaches Gzhatsk In the distance, Aleksei could make out the town, and adjacent to it the single-strip airfield that the Germans occupied. He could feel his body tense as both became closer and more distinct. “Storks, attack at will.” Fokin’s voice came over the radio. “Good hunting, tigers.” The formation dove, and Kozlov followed them down, reducing his throttle to keep his engine inside of safe tolerances as it picked up speed. A grey cloud of smoke rose from Gzhatsk, some great fire burning the town down. The guns themselves, though, he couldn’t see - not yet. But they had to be somewhere in front of him, hidden from view. Gzhatsk burns The absent flak made its presence known, puffs of deadly black appearing around the flight. Their gunnery was - so far - poor, but it would take only one close hit to bring down the fighter. One by one, the fighters rolled in, Kozlov following along as best as he could. It was then that he made out the battery for the first time, a series of guns obscured at the edge of the woodline. There were trucks accompanying them, and he could make out anti-aircraft guns as well. This would be no easy target. The artillery position at Gzhatsk “Rockets-” Fokin started, but his voice was lost in the noise as Golubev activated his radio simultaneously. “Rockets fired!” The Captain shouted, exhilarated from adrenaline. Kozlov watched as white streaks lanced out from the two lead fighters, and then more as the rest of the squadron opened fire. Fokin and Golubev fire their rockets. Behind them, Tsvetkov lines up his attack It was magnificent to behold, but now it was Kozlov’s turn to attack. He had gone too high over the rest of the formation, and his approach was poor. Quickly, he rolled the plane over its side and brought it inverted in order to rapidly force the nose down onto the battery. He leveled his wings, lining up on a truck with an anti-aircraft gun sitting on it, and depressed the trigger. The MiG’s machine guns roared to life, tracers arcing down towards the threat. The gun returned the favor, bright yellow tracers flying towards him, but the Soviet barely noticed. All of his attention was on the attack. A heartbeat later, he let loose his first missile, then another. Kozlov fires rockets at the Gzhatsk battery He loosed his third rocket, then his fourth, then his fifth. As he did, he could see explosions just to the rear of the gun - he was shooting too high, but he didn’t have the time to process this information, let alone compensate for it. When his last rocket came off the rails, he began to pull away, relieved to have the weapons gone. Rockets impact around the flak truck Kozlov rolled left, towards the smoke at Gzhatsk, bringing himself into a long circle and away from the German anti-aircraft positions. His brain quickly processed what had happened - he had failed to destroy anything with his rockets, near as he could tell, but the close hits might have suppressed the gun crew, maybe even wounded or killed them. Either way, he was down to his guns for the rest of the sortie. The Junior Lieutenant continued his turn, banking him back towards the guns and the airfield. More tracers from AA trucks lanced out at friendlies he couldn’t see - there was still work to be done. Leveling the wings, he opened fire at the same target, only to see a cloud of tracers hurtling towards him. The gun was still active! Immediately he broke off, bringing his plane back left to avoid the incoming fire. Kozlov banks to avoid being hit He corrected to take himself over the forest, at an angle he hoped was too difficult for the German gunners to follow, as he struggled to come up with a plan. He had completely lost track of the rest of the flight, which was doubtlessly making attacks on their own volition. A quick scan around revealed no obvious fighter threat, which was some small comfort. It felt like there was very little he could do in his situation other than continue to strafe and hope for effect. As Kozlov thought, the airfield loomed closer and closer in the turn. The young pilot clenched his teeth as an idea came to him. The airfield was, of course, protected, but the gunners seemed to be mainly surprised that anyone would be stupid enough to fly directly towards the parking ramp. As Kozlov made his approach, he spied for a second underneath him what looked like tanks of aviation fuel - an ideal target of opportunity. There was no time to worry about aiming - he pointed his aircraft at the revetments and opened fire. The MiG’s guns chattered, and he could see tracers bury themselves into the wood and dirt, and hopefully the aircraft sheltered between the low walls. Kozlov pulls away from his strafing run on the airfield As he flew overhead, he could see Germans run for cover as the bullets kicked up the earth. Some dove to the earth, expecting the blast of a bomb. He could spy no real damage, but it had put the fear of God into the invaders - and that would be enough for now. As he pulled away, still no ground fire came up at him. The airfield defense seemed to be nonexistent, even though Kozlov had definitely seen weapons sitting at the ready for use in repelling air attack. He distance between himself and the field, beginning a shallow bank back towards the airfield. Gaining some altitude, Aleksei scanned the horizon for any sign of his fellows. He could see the anti-aircraft guns fire on them, but the targets of the Germans were considerably harder to make out. His vision felt blurry and unfocused, his hangover suddenly worse than it had been on the ground. The stress was getting to him. As he finished his pass over the airfield, Kozlov banked in for another attack, this time on the aviation fuel storage hidden away from the rest of the installation. Again, his guns came to life, bullets striking into the rows of storage tanks. Kozlov strafes the airfield aviation fuel supply There was no terrific explosion, to the Junior Lieutenant’s disappointment, but he had scored obvious hits on the tanks. They would be no doubt leaking, spilling their precious supply on the Russian soil. In a flash, they were all behind him as his MiG carried him over the depot. It was then, as he looked over his left shoulder, he made out a brilliant streak of tracers - there was the rest of the flight! They were attacking from the forest-side, in a direction that made it near impossible for the German battery to hit them on their approach. Kozlov pulled hard to follow them, then stopped when something caught his eye. A stream of tracers lanced out towards an exiting MiG, the fire wild but still dangerous. A fury took Kozlov, and he angled his plane towards the offending position - or, at least, his best guess as to where it was, the firing position obscured by trees. He gave it a wild burst, his machine gun roaring as he kicked the airplane with his rudder to make sure it covered as much ground as it could. In a second he was gone, already pulling up and away to join the rest of the flight for their runs. “Six, from three - is that you down there?” Tsvetkov asked, sounding bemused. “I saw your attacks on the airfield - I applaud your enthusiasm, but you’re a damn fool. Stick with us, over.” “Six, understood.” Kozlov replied, unsure if he should feel embarrassed or proud. Dutifully, he joined the others on their turn, and then on their dive on the German position. He lined up at an anti-aircraft gun at the fringe of the battery, and opened up with both the 12.7 and the 7.62 - he was determined to come away from this with a confirmed kill. A view from the cockpit as Kozlov strafes the German battery As he pulled away, the Lieutenant could make out smoke rising from the engine compartment of the vehicle. The gun was probably still operational, but the truck it was resting on was out of action. He continued his exit run, pulling up and away to join the rest of the flight for another pass. Kozlov’s fighter passes over Gzhatsk Again, the MiGs dove on their target, and again Kozlov took aim at the fringes of the battery. With the AA gun silenced, he could turn his attention to a proper artillery piece. He adjusted his fire, leading with the 7.62 before following with the 12.7 once he had his shots on target. Kozlov watched as bullets splashed around an artillery piece, but no explosion. He needed to go in again. In the distance, Kozlov spied aircraft and more tracers - there was another fight in progress, somewhere away from the 34th. “This is six, what’s going on off our left?” There was a pause before a reply. “Six, from one - Ravens are engaging German fighters returning from patrol, they say they have it handled.” A pit opened in Aleksei’s stomach - German fighters were here, and they were close. The Ishaks of Raven flight were no slouch in a dogfight, but they were still outdated combat aircraft from the better part of a decade ago. If the Messers were out in force, they would be overwhelmed, Kozlov was sure of it. As he made his next pass - all near-hits, frustratingly - his mind was drawn increasingly away from the now and more to the fight going on just away from him. How long until their battle became his? It was on the next pass that Kozlov finally put the gun down. As his machine gun fire struck the howitzer dead-on, there was a sudden explosion - an ammo detonation that enveloped the fighting position. As he pulled up and away, giddy with his success, a fighter flashed past his cockpit. For a moment, he wasn’t sure what had happened, but then three Ishaks came roaring past him in hot pursuit. The German fighters had made it to Gzhatsk. <><><><><><><> “This is six, Messer!” Kozlov shouted into his radio. He snapped the plane over onto its side and pulled hard to try and pull in on the 109 that had just blown by. “Storks, break off!” Fokin barked an order. “We’re done here!” “This is four, he’s shooting at me!” Melnikov’s voice was frantic, desperate. Kozlov could see the 109’s guns erupt, tracers cutting through the air towards his fellow’s MiG, but he couldn’t spy any hits - yet. Melnikov is attacked by the 109F4 Melnikov pulled for his life, his aircraft straining to avoid being hit as the tracers cut closer and closer. By some miracle, not a single round seemed to connect, and the Messerschmitt, unable to keep in the suddenly sharp turn, roared past. Aleksei pushed his plane into boost, feeling the engine scream as he urged it onwards. He was going to make the bastard pay for that! Melnikov’s MiG dove beneath the 109, and it seemed as if the German had lost track of his target, leveling his wings. Over Kozlov’s head, the four I-16s of Raven flight continued their pursuit, eager to kill the fighter. In the chaos of the moment, Kozlov was lost - he couldn’t begin to imagine how many Germans were out, be it one or twenty. All that he knew was that the one he was staring at had tried to kill a friend, and he would be damned if it got away. As Kozlov closed, the Messer reversed its turn, pulling up and away from the approaching flock of Soviet fighters. It turned again, this time in the same direction as the Junior Lieutenant, hoping to leverage maneuverability against the fast-approaching aircraft. “Four, go home!” Tsvetkov’s voice was terse with strain. “I’m on-” He cut off, loosening his turn, as a flurry of bullets filled the air in front of him. The Ravens had opened fire wildly, hoping to score a hit on the desperately maneuvering German. “If you’re still over Gzhatsk, you are to leave!” He said, sounding frustrated. “There are too many planes, we risk a collision!” Melnikov didn’t say anything. Instead, Kozlov watched as his fighter slotted in behind the German and fired a burst from 600m. The bullets were clear misses, but the Messer juked all the same, dodging any possible hit. Melnikov fires at the 109 from long range “Junior Lieutenant, you are to return to Acacia immediately, do I make myself clear?” Tsvetkov said with a commanding fury. “Yes, sir.” Melnikov finally replied, restrained. “This is one, my engine is having issues.” Fokin suddenly cut in. “Two, you are in command of the flight, I’m going to find some place to put him down.” “Understood, comrade Major.” It was hard not to hear the worry in Golubev’s voice. “See you back at Acacia.” The Major’s plight was a distant concern, one that barely registered with Kozlov as he brought his MiG in on the 109. Melnikov had been ordered out, but as yet the same command hadn’t been given to him. Even if it had, it was unlikely that he would have heard it, much less that he would have complied. Apart from when high-G turns pulled the blood from his eyes and turned the world into a movie, Junior Lieutenant Kozlov saw red. The Messer pulled into a turn as Kozlov approached, and he followed, the German less than 400m away. I-16s swarmed around them both, turning the sky into a cloud of aluminum, wood, and gunmetal. He strained against G-forces as he pulled hard to follow the turn, trying not to pass out as he brought the enemy fighter into his sights. Kozlov opens fire, scoring hits on the 109 At first, he wasn’t sure if his rounds had done much of anything. It had been a high-deflection shot, with only the nose of the Messer visible when he had pulled the trigger. But as Kozlov slackened his turn, and the 109 surged in front of him, the result was made obvious. A long stream of white fluid trailed behind the German plane, proof that a critical hit had been made. Kozlov fired again, but his shots went wild - no hits. He made a few more bursts before rolling underneath the defending fighter, but nothing seemed to connect. The fight was to continue for at least a while longer. Overhead, the other fighters continued to circle the wounded Messerschmitt, Tsvetkov included. For a moment, Kozlov thought he saw Melnikov still prowling, but his attention was pulled away to his quarry. Tsvetkov was right - there were too many Soviets in too small a space. Kozlov watched in horror as two Ishaks barely avoided a collision in their attempts to track the bleeding foe. He needed to put an end to this quick, before the worse case struck. Pulling hard, he got on the inside of the German turn and lined up for yet another deflection shot, but before he could fire the 109 slackened its turn and reversed. Kozlov followed, hoping to catch it before it could slip out from him. He fired with the 12.7mm, and saw a flash on the tail assembly of the German aircraft, but nothing more. The Messerschmitt is hit in the tail, tearing the rudder Kozlov pulled in for another burst, following the German in their maneuvers and into the cloud of white fluid their machine trailed. At this range, it was nearly impossible to miss. Kozlov fires at close range The German was now leaking fuel as well as coolant, or whatever it was that the white trail was composed of. It was badly damaged, but it stringently refused to fall. Kozlov’s mind was, in an instant, returned to the day prior - was it always going to be this difficult to put a German fighter into the ground? He passed underneath, observing the damage, before pulling high to avoid an overshoot. Rolling the plane over, he tracked the German as it began a turn to the right and did his best to follow. The 109 suddenly reversed its turn, but more alarmingly came tracers just from behind them both. The Ishaks had opened fire, seemingly disregarding Kozlov’s presence as casually as one could. “Six, this is three!” Tsvetkov’s voice called. “What are you doing? Go back to Acacia!” “Negative, sir!” Kozlov yelled back. “I have this one, I know it!” “You’re going to ram an Ishak, turn back now!” Tsvetkov spoke. “You too, Melnikov - I know you’re still here, damn you!” Kozlov dove, furious. The Captain was right - he was lucky to not have been hit by the I-16s during their errant attack. He watched as a MiG, probably Melnikov, made a brief pass before pulling away. The air had suddenly cleared, and the 109 had ended up, somehow, directly in front of him. It seemed like his last chance to put the Messer down before being forced away. Kozlov lined up his guns on the fighter, following it into yet another turn. The 109 suddenly eased its turn, leveling its wings and diving. The Junior Lieutenant watched as the two cleared each other by scant feet. Kozlov and the Messerschmitt barely avoid a collision Immediately Kozlov climbed, worried that he had just put himself in front of the guns of the deadly Messer. Rolling inverted to try and reacquire the German, he was not surprised to see that the I-16s had caught up with him. “Damn it!” He cursed, slamming his fist against the front of his plane. There was no safe way to stay with the German now, and he was assuredly drawing the ire of a superior. And yet, he couldn’t let himself give up the kill. Some part of him, like a dog, had bit down and would not let go until he had seen the job done or someone had beaten him to the punch. It was a grim determination that he had never felt before, and it held him in its trance. He watched as the other Soviet fighters engaged the 109, Ishaks tearing into the Messerschmitt with their guns - but no kill. The German lived on. For what felt like hours, the swarm circled. The Messerschmitt fought on, though its guns had not been used since the initial attack on Melnikov some six or more minutes ago. And then, in the snap of a finger, the tables had turned. Tsvetkov had overshot in a pass, and the 109 had slotted into a firing position on him. The deputy commander was silent, unwilling to call for assistance from the men he had ordered away. He would face this danger alone. The Messerschmitt pulled hard to follow him, but before it could get its guns on the Captain, it suddenly began to wobble. There was no better word for it than “wobbling,” the aircraft see-sawing back and forth like a drunkard. It seemed to be barely stable in the air, unable to maintain itself in flight. Kozlov saw his moment. He followed the Messer’s unsteady movement, and lined up an uncertain shot. His first burst went wild, but instead of climbing over the German he brought himself over and fired again at point blank. There was only one hit, and Kozlov wasn’t certain how critical it was, just a small puff on the undercarriage of the 109. Kozlov scores a final hit on the Messerschmitt In truth, it may not have been that last shot that put the enemy fighter in, but rather the defensive flying the 109’s pilot had engaged in. Slowly, the Messerschmitt began to descend, and as Kozlov pulled into a position to observe he wasn’t certain if it was going in at all. The plane winged over, becoming mostly inverted before slowly starting to level its wings on a final dive. The fighter seemed to be losing altitude like it was being tugged to the earth regardless of the efforts of the German inside the cockpit. At some speed, it collided with the forest below with a tremendous force, ripping the fighter apart. Kozlov could see a sudden large puff as it hit the ground, sending soil into the air. The Messerschmitt strikes a second tree “This is six, Messer is down.” Kozlov said. He would have felt giddy in the adrenaline of the moment if it wasn’t that he was sure what the response would be. “Confirmed, good kill, six.” Tsvetkov replied. “Now get the hell back to Rzhev. We are going to have a talk after we land.” “Yes, comrade Major.” Kozlov felt himself slump in his cockpit. He wasn’t going to enjoy what was to come. Kozlov lands at Rzhev <><><><><><><> Kozlov and Melnikov stood by the assembly area, waiting patiently for Tsvetkov to finish speaking with Golubev. Tsvetkov gave a nod to the Captain, who nodded back and walked away. The deputy commander turned on his heels and walked strangely calmly towards the two Junior Lieutenants, his face as plain as it had been during the briefing that morning. “I just spoke with Captain Golubev,” he said by way of starting. “Major Fokin put down at Borki. He’s alive, but his aircraft needs to be serviced and won’t be back until evening.” The Captain folded his arms. “That means that you’re both my problem, and not his.” He sighed, shaking his head. “Let me be clear. What you both did was reckless, and you ignored orders from a superior officer. If I had it in me, I would have you both court-martialed and drummed out of the regiment, if not the air defense force.” Tsvetkov unfolded his arms, only to suddenly grab both the Junior Lieutenants tightly on the shoulder. He brought his face close to them, not a hint of anger on his face as he spoke. “The next time you do something like this, you are out of the 34th. Am I understood, Lieutenants?” “Yes, comrade Captain.” Kozlov said. Melnikov only meekly nodded. The grip on them both suddenly released, and Tsvetkov’s attention rested wholly on Kozlov. “Congratulations on your second kill, Junior Lieutenant.” Tsvetkov glanced at him oddly, a piercing stare that seemed to go straight through him. “That’s two in two days, if my count is correct. Your skill is admirable, but I advise you to be cautious in the weeks to come. Heroes die fast out here.” Kozlov swallowed. “Yes, comrade Captain.” Tsvetkov turned around, leaving the two younger officers just standing there. As he left, they could hear him call over his shoulder. “Get some food in you, it’s going to be a long day!” Kozlov and Melnikov looked at each other, both taken aback by what had just happened. Before either could say a word, another pilot approached - Vladimirov, who had been watching from the wings. He stared at them, concerned. “Are you both alright?” He asked. “You’re not being-” “No, Saveliy,” Melnikov interrupted him. “We’re not being kicked out, don’t worry.” He shot a quick glance at Aleksei. It took a second for the signal to be processed, but when it did he immediately nodded his head in agreement. “It was just a, erm.” Kozlov started, fumbling for words. “A lecture on tactics, that is all.” “Oh.” Vladimirov said, sounding only partially convinced. “That’s good.” “Come on, we both heard the Captain.” Melnikov interrupted hastily. “Let’s get something to eat. I’m sure they’re still offering breakfast at the mess.” As the three started to leave, Kozlov looked back over his shoulder at where Tsvetkov had been. Tsvetkov stared back, standing still with his arms folded, and gave the faintest nod. Aleksei couldn’t suppress the shudder. After-action, air strike on Gzhatsk, 5 October 1941
  11. Both flights for the day are done. A quick correction - I called Cpt. Golubev the squadron's deputy commander. That is incorrect, the actual deputy commander is Captain Rostislav Tsvetkov, whom you'll all be meeting tomorrow. The last chapter has been edited for accuracy, I removed the reference to it from Golubev's portrait but it's not impossible I missed something else in my writing. Apologies, see you all tomorrow!
  12. Hey everyone! I just finished recording the next mission, and hopefully I'll be able to turn it into a chapter by the end of the day tomorrow at the latest. However, two quick things regarding it. First of all, unfortunately my recording ran out during a strafing run, and I lost the "money shot" of a howitzer being blown to hell. Apologies for everyone reading tomorrow, you're just going to have to imagine it! Related to that, if anyone knows a way to increase the time of recording up from the default, please let me know. Second of all, there is a second mission to be flown this in-game day, which I will be doing shortly. However, I am curious as to how all of you feel about how much ground should be covered in a single chapter of the story. Would you prefer each mission be its own, or would you rather that each in-game day be lumped into a single "megachapter"? I am honestly torn between both as there is a long way to go from 4 October 1941 to March of 1942. One final note, I think I will calcify my writing schedule into there being two weekly updates, one on Thursday and one on Friday. Hopefully by the end of the year we will have seen the battle all the way through, but it is hard to say what the future holds!
  13. Chapter Two: Earning Stripes It was a sunny, albeit quite cold (it had been 8 degrees Celsius all day, despite how relatively cloudless it was), afternoon. The day’s patrols had come and gone since the morning, and true to Major Fokin’s word, Kozlov had been out on more than a few himself. They had been uneventful, just quiet winging over the embattled front. Occasionally there would be a burst of machine-gun fire lazily aimed up at them, but fate had ruled it so that his flights had never made contact with their opposites in Messerschmitts. In the morning, there had been a special sortie, with a single fighter going up to intercept a German reconnaissance plane, but within half an hour the MiG had returned with no victory to the regiment’s name. And so there Kozlov found himself, sitting on small wooden chairs under a camouflage netting, waiting for the briefing to begin. This was to be the regiment’s last major flight for the day, and his personal last. He could feel his anxiety begin to build, even though he was yet a full half an hour away from sitting in his cockpit and beginning to spin up the MiG-3’s engine. Anything could happen once Rzhev was far behind him. Any flight could be his last. He began to, as he had at all of his briefings that day, started to bounce his left foot softly against the grass at a frantic rhythm. As the other pilots took their seats, Major Fokin walked to the front of the make-shift assembly before coming to a stop in front of a drawing board that bore a map of the Rzhev region. The chart was a military one, and someone had taken the liberty to scrawl on it with red and blue pencil-marks the current front line. More recently drawn were Fokin’s own strokes with his regular pencil - the flight path for what was to come. The mission’s flight path Seemingly from nowhere, the Major produced a long stick, the kind a professor would use when instructing a class, and rapped on the board three times. Each impact caused the three-legged structure to wobble disconcertingly, though it never collapsed, and a tremendously loud clack noise clearly audible even over the din of an airfield at war. Immediately, hushed conversations stopped - all eyes were now directly forwards. “Comrades, your attention please.” Fokin said, as if he didn’t already have it. “Our day is nearly done, but we have one last major task to attend to before we can rest.” His staff wandered to the terminal point on the flight path, located squarely over some settlement. “Our regiment has been requested to patrol over the river crossing at Bor in case of another bombing raid. We will be maintaining over the crossing for a good twenty to thirty minutes, so be prepared to be in your seat for some time.” The pointing rod moved again, this time to Rzhev. “We will be taking off at 1500 on the dot, and ideally we will be over Bor by 1505. I wouldn’t expect us to be back at Rzhev any later than 1615, but we will have to see what the Germans have in store for us!” There were a few laughs from amongst the pilots to greet the Major’s jape, but the rest, Kozlov included, simply gave tired smiles. Fokin’s rod fell to his side, and as soon as it had appeared, it vanished back into the aether. “Are there any questions?” The Major asked, his head swiveling across his audience like an owl. “Are there any other flights in the area?” Came the voice of Senior Lieutenant Emeliyanenko, the pilot who had failed to kill the recon plane earlier in the morning. Senior Lieutenant Nikon Emeliyanenko Major Fikon shrugged. “The usual. Expect the 495th to be out. As for the Germans, I wouldn’t be surprised if we encountered Messers escorting Stukas or Heinkels.” His head continued its swivel. “Any others?” Silence greeted him. Satisfied that no one else intended to ask a question, the Major raised a hand and pointed at himself. “I will be leading this flight, followed by Captain Golubev-” the finger traced over to a bald man sitting to the front and right of the briefing area, his arms folded in thought. Captain Arkadiy Golubev Major Fokin’s finger moved again, this time coming squarely to rest on Kozlov’s chest. The Junior Lieutenant could feel his body tighten instinctively, his breath drawn immediately short. “Number three will be our new friend, Junior Lieutenant Kozlov. This is the last flight of his first day, so I want everyone keeping an eye out for him, understood?” There was a mumbled mass of understoods returned, and suddenly Kozlov was all too aware of half a dozen pairs of eyes squarely centered on him. Indifferent to the Junior Lieutenant’s anxiety, the Major’s finger continued to move. “Following Kozlov is Emeliyanenko-” the Senior Lieutenant bobbed his head in ascent to the posting. It was obvious he was eager to even the score after the morning’s disappointment. The finger moved again. “- and after him is Melnikov.” Kozlov shot a glance at his fellow junior, who shot a glance back. Melnikov’s face was a mirror to his own, a indescribable mix of excitement and raw panic coursing through them both. The finger moved one final time. “And lastly will be Davydov, taking the rear of the flight.” Senior Lieutenant Svyatoslav Davydov The Senior Lieutenant gave a tired grin to the Major. “Understood, comrade Major.” Fokin’s wandering finger, having completed its duty, fell to the Major’s side. He gave a good long glance across all of the pilots. “Good luck to all of you, comrades. When we return, we will celebrate to our new friend’s good fortune and long life.” Despite the enthusiasm of the words, Fokin’s voice remained flat. Kozlov stared at the strange man standing before him, who casually stared back, and he understood. There would be drinks tonight, regardless of if Junior Lieutenant Aleksei Kozlov was there to have them. “Dismissed.” <><><><><><><> The MiG-3 thrummed beneath Kozlov’s seat, shaking and bouncing as its propeller cut through the air. The aircraft felt alive, ready to leave the ground and return to the place it was born to roam. The engine’s steady growl had become a familiar one to the Junior Lieutenant, and even through his flight cap’s padding it ground against his ears. His eyes fell to the clock built into the aircraft - 14:59, soon to be 15:00 on the dot. He gripped the stick tighter subconsciously as his body braced itself for the incoming ordeal. Kozlov had not been paying terribly close attention to the resting aircraft of the 34th when he had landed at Rzhev the first time. Now, though, the full splendor of their patterns were on display. Great black stripes ran down each aircraft, sharply contrasting with the standard green between each line. They were magnificently done, an obvious labor of love by their crew chiefs, and the Junior Lieutenant’s bare paint-job seemed all the more drab by comparison. The 34th prepares to take off A flare popped overhead, launched from Rzhev’s simple control tower. The radio in Kozlov’s ear crackled to life. “Stork, cleared for take off,” the voice of the tower controller said in a flat, commanding tone. The clock ticked 15:00. “Stork, taking off.” Major Fokin’s reply came a second later, equally flatly and equally commandingly. The humor from before had left him - war demanded his focus. Ahead of Kozlov, the Major’s MiG roared, kicking dust as it began to move down the runway. A second later, Golubev’s did the same, the dirt strip being churned in the wake of his fighter’s prop wash. Golubev’s fighter begins its take off roll It was his turn now. Kozlov applied the brake as he brought the throttle forwards, closer and closer to the boost. When the aircraft began to buck, he released the brake lever. Immediately, the MiG jostled forwards, and immediately Kozlov was fighting to keep straight on the roll. The aircraft wanted to slide off to the side, but Kozlov could feel himself overcorrecting with the rudder pedals. The fighter’s guiding tail wheel was allowed to turn with rudder commands while on the ground, but it was notoriously over-sensitive. He only just straightened the craft when the tail lifted from the ground. Gently, Kozlov pulled on the stick, and the MiG went airborne. Kozlov’s first take off with the 34th As the Junior Lieutenant busily moved to retract flaps and the landing gear, the rest of the flight continued to vault skywards. His fighter’s engine roared in the boost, straining to bring this carved wood and metal to a safe speed. Slowly, the fighters began to bank towards their destination, climbing ever higher into the cold Russian sky. <><><><><><> The flight to Bor was uneventful, the pilots of the 34th jockeying into formation. Occasionally there was a buffet of turbulence, but the MiGs kept flying as straight as their occupants dared. Kozlov’s eyes strained as he attempted to keep Golubev steady in his canopy, fidgeting with the throttle to maintain his place in the right echelon. The 34th approaches Bor The radio again popped. “Storm, this is Stork.” Major Fokin announced suddenly. “Arriving at our station, over.” “Roger, Stork,” came a weary reply by the ground controller. No doubt he had spent the day desperately maneuvering squadrons against squadrons, and being bombed all the same. “I’ll inform you of any incoming, out.” Kozlov glanced down at the crossing as he pulled his fighter into a deep banking turn. He couldn’t make out very much from his altitude, but doubtless there was Red Army materiel somewhere beneath him. He returned his attention to the skies, both to make sure he wouldn’t smash into another MiG and to scan for targets against the blue. The Germans would be coming from the west and southwest, assuming they came at all. He couldn’t even begin to guess at their numbers if they did. The crossing at Bor For several minutes, the 34th circled like sharks over the river town, their MiGs leaving trails of engine exhaust in their wake. Kozlov was beginning to wonder if anything would happen at all, a possibility that he was content with. No contact meant a safe flight home and one day under his belt, a win if there ever was one. “Stork, this is Storm. German bombers approaching from the west.” <><><><><><><> Kozlov’s first reaction was panic. As he began to bring his plane around, he realized suddenly that he was moving further east by accident. Disorientation took him - where were the bombers? How many? Were there escorts? “Stork, engage the bomber flight.” Fokin ordered over the radio. “Do not let them reach Bor.” “One, this is two.” Golubev interrupted. “I can see them, looks like a flight of two Heinkels. Unsure about escorts.” “There’s always escorts, two.” Fokin replied grimly. The German bomber formation “Two again, the lead bomber is leaking.” The Captain added. “I take it Raven flight encountered them first?” “From six, that’s probable, I can see them exiting behind us.” Davydov answered. “Flight of three Ishaks heading back away.” “Four, we’ll thank them when we’re back.” Emeliyanenko’s voice was eager. There was blood in the water already, it would not be difficult to put down such a small bomber formation, especially one that was already wounded. Kozlov forced his fighter back around, trading altitude for speed in a shallow dive. He was heading the right way now, but he was still several kilometers away from the action. Already he could see trancers lancing out from the bomber flight towards the incoming MiGs. He was doing just over 500 kilometers per hour, the aircraft a blur in the sky, but even so he wasn’t sure if he was fast enough to make it to the engagement in time. “Fighters, fighters!” Came an alarmed yell from Davydov. “Messers coming from our left!” Davydov and Emeliyanenko merge with the first Me-109F2 A dogfight had begun. Even from where he was, Kozlov could spy the rest of his flight bank up and away from the incoming in order to gain an early altitude advantage. What would he do? The bombers were still approaching, unwavering in their course, but the 109s were a danger to himself and to the rest of the flight. Which would take priority? The view from the cockpit. The dots left are the bombers, the dots right are the fighters In the end, the mission had to come first. The 34th had come up to defend the river crossing, and the bombers were endangering that. Kozlov pushed the stick back and left, beginning his climb towards the flight of Heinkels. As he closed, he could see the damage that the others had described. A light green streak of fluid trailed from the left wing of the lead bomber, marking the formation’s location for all to see. Slowly, he climbed closer and closer to the tail of the formation from below, readying to bring his gunsight over the already damaged He-111. There were flashes from the bomber’s underbelly - the tail gunner had spotted him, and was opening fire with his machine-gun. Tracers flashed past the aircraft, but Kozlov kept pushing on doggedly until the massive bomber filled his sights. Kozlov makes his first attack through the center of the formation Immediately he could spy hits, though it happened so fast that he barely had time to register what had occurred. Nothing seemed to be fatal, and as he brought the bomber back into his sights to fire again he observed more hits, more damage, but still no response from the ailing Heinkel. The incoming fire came closer and closer, and he could both hear and see the machine gun rounds impacting against his fighter. One smacked just shy of the canopy, startling him as he pulled beneath the enemy aircraft. The Heinkel’s defensive fire scores a hit on Kozlov’s MiG “Three, you have a fuel leak!” Emeliyanenko shouted over the radio. Kozlov looked over his shoulder - sure enough, his MiG was also leaving behind the same faint green mist as the He-111 was. A round must have struck through a fuel tank on the left side. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t critical - his fighter had several hundred liters, and otherwise the aircraft’s performance hadn’t been injured. He was still able to fight. “Understood, coming around!” Kozlov shouted back, gripping the flight stick ferociously as he pulled away from the bombers. “This is six, looks like the Ishaks are coming back to help.” Davydov reported, strangely calm despite being in a fight for his life. “Good!” Fokin growled into the radio. “Can someone get this bastard off me?” Fokin is attacked by a 109F2 As quickly as he had pulled away, Kozlov had pulled back in. The bombers were just above him, but their fire was directed away at Emeliyanenko and Davydov, the two making a pass at the beleaguered flight. Carefully he slewed beneath the fire, lining himself up on the tail of the second of the two bombers. He fired a burst, and could see the ailerons of the left wing tear and split under a volley of 7.62 and 12.7 ammunition. It was at that moment, as he pulled away from the burst, that large black objects suddenly spewed forth from the bottom of both bombers. He was too late, he realized suddenly - the bombers had reached their targets. The He-111 flight drops their bombs on Bor As soon as the bombs were gone, the rear gunners opened fire again. This time, it was only Kozlov in their sights. A sudden criss-cross of tracer fire enveloped his MiG, impacts tearing into his aircraft with a steady cacophony of dings. The Junior Lieutenant pulled up on the lead bomber, opening fire in an attempt to force damage and reduce the incoming fire. The ammunition left their mark, tearing into the outer sections of the bomber’s right wing, but it was only superficial damage. The He-111s kept on, indifferent to the actions of the lone Soviet. Kozlov banked away, and suddenly was aware that the cockpit’s usual din had grown louder. He looked around, and realized in horror that the incoming fire had shattered his canopy glass. There were sharp, jagged holes where they had taken the impact for him, saving his life from being cut short by a German gun. He pulled into a shallow inverted dive, pulling below the flight and diving away. “This is three!” Kozlov yelled into his headset. “I’m shot up, but okay!” “Return to base immediately, three!” Fokin barked. “You’ve done enough, go home!” But Kozlov didn’t hear him. The pilot was already in a high-G turn back towards the formation, ready to make another run of his luck. A kind of combat madness had taken hold, the kind where a pilot ceases to be aware of his surroundings and of his own mortality. He was alive, his six seemed to be clear, and the two bombers were still flying away from their deadly work. Bombs explode at the Bor river crossing It was impossible to say from his altitude what the damage was to Bor. Assuredly there were casualties, perhaps even total destruction. Kozlov could only hope that his attacks were enough to force some degree of inaccuracy to their attack, anything to spare the lives of his terrestrial comrades. As he brought his fighter back up for a third attack, Melnikov’s voice broke through Kozlov’s deadly focus. “Three, Messer on your six, break!” A Me-109 opens fire. In the distance, Melnikov warns of danger while diving away <><><><><><><> Kozlov jinked, and he jinked hard. He rolled the plane over to the left and pulled, all the while looking over his shoulder back at the fighter that was sizing him up for dinner. Ill-aimed tracers lanced out after him, but none hit their mark. It was by luck alone that he hadn’t already been killed - luck, and the watchful eye of a fellow Junior Lieutenant. Kozlov dove for the ground, hearing the air whirl up into a roar as the fighter rapidly accelerated. He could feel his vision grey as he pulled back on the stick to recover, doing God-knows-how-many G-forces in the process. The 109 followed him down, dogged in its pursuit of the wounded fighter. Kozlov went vertical, hoping to draw away from the Messer’s guns. There was no chance of an overshoot, but if he could break line of sight between himself and the German pilot, he had a hope of turning the tables. Again, severe G-forces drew the world into black and white, and the young pilot fought to stay conscious. He was so close to the ground now, surely less than a kilometer if that. A slip up here would be instantaneously fatal, just another dead Soviet pilot in a war full of them. The town of Bor itself was a blur as he completed the loop and roared overhead. Where was the 109? Kozlov recovers from his maneuver as the German fighter dives He began to bank to the right. The German couldn’t be far behind, he wasn’t foolish enough to think that he had lost him for good, but if he hadn’t been shot at yet it followed that he had managed to force the enemy into a bad position. It was something he could take advantage on, he was lucky and clever enough to see it through to the end. He pulled hard on the stick, and distantly was aware of tracer fire between the rest of the flight and other Germans. He dimly realized that he was absolutely, totally alone - there was no one to help him here in this fight for his life. And suddenly, there he was, dead in front of him. The two fighters closed in their turn, each unable to put their guns on the other, each dead set on getting as close as they could so they could see their opposite’s face. Kozlov and the 109 merge with each other He banked away, this time to the left. Reversing the turn was perhaps foolish, but it might draw the German out of a good firing position. Or, perhaps, it would get him quickly killed. He could see Bor through the canopy - the damage was, thankfully, minimal, but the bridge had taken some minor damage. It would take hours to repair what had been destroyed. Bor, as viewed through Kozlov’s canopy. Note the turning 109 against the horizon He didn’t have time to dwell on it. The Messer was visible against the horizon, a difficult to track speck just above his nose and on the same plane as him - and concerningly, its nose directed at him. The Messerschmitt opened fire, tracer rounds streaking from both its machine guns and cannon, but none scored a hit as the two passed by each other again. Flak shells burst around the two duelists as the enraged troops tried to swat at the only German they could. Whether or not they hit their fellow Russian came now down to luck and training. Kozlov’s vision fell entirely to black as he pulled hard to avoid the guns, his consciousness slipping away from him. Only just did he manage to stay awake, and eventually the world returned to him. He had never flown so hard in his life, not even in training. It was a miracle he was still alive. Through his foggy vision he tried to make out his opponent, but to no avail. All of the detail of the world was gone, washed out as blood drained away from his head. Then suddenly, the glint of metal - there the 109 was again, charging towards him. Kozlov went inverted, his nose now aiming upside-down towards a thick forest of green trees. He continued the roll until he was now in a right bank, and pulled hard. The aircraft shuddered in protest, and again his vision began to blur, but he had successfully reversed his turn in an instant. The two circled each other, gaining no advantage. Kozlov’s mind raced - there had to be a way to force an error, some way to finally gain the upper hand! As the two approached what he thought to be a merge, Kozlov dipped the nose to slide underneath any incoming fire, but realized suddenly that he was not in front of the 109, but rather behind it! Kozlov slots in on the 109’s 8’o’clock position It wasn’t long before he had a firing position. The Soviet depressed the firing buttons, and the MiG’s guns roared to life. He watched as the rounds streaked out towards the 109, sailing uselessly over it. He followed it as it began to turn into him, and fired yet again. This time, there were hits. Kozlov’s rounds impact the 109 along the right side of the canopy Despite the violence of the impacts, the Messer kept flying onwards. No solution streaked from its inner workings, no flames gouted out from the depths of the German machine. It seemed as indifferent as the He-111s had been only minutes before. Kozlov fired again, but the high-deflection shot on the turning fighter were next to useless. The puffs from superficial impacts showed that the fight was still far from over. Kozlov pushed the plane into boost to follow the 109 in its turn, trying desperately to keep pace with the considerably more maneuverable fighter. His aircraft shuddered in protest, flirting with a stall, but it never crossed the line. The opposing aircraft was no less than ten meters away throughout the turn, close enough for Kozlov to see the German working desperately in his own cockpit. When it became clear he was risking an overshoot, Kozlov loosened his turn and pulled up. He would dive down on the German, not play the enemy’s game. The Messer vanished beneath the MiG’s large green wings as he climbed, then reappeared as Kozlov winged back over only to see that the 109 had done something similar. The German was reversing his turn in a manner similar to how Kozlov had moments prior, hoping to draw away from the fight or to force a fatal mistake. The two whirled about each other, each trying to bring the other in front of their guns. The Messerschmitt was the one who broke, pulling hard and going for distance away from the maneuvering Russian in the hope that he had been lost in the confusion. Not so, as Kozlov brought his MiG up to re-enter the turning duel. He could feel his aircraft strain beneath him, and he knew that it could only stand boost for so long. Even despite his careful management of the fuel mixture, he couldn’t help but wonder when something would give up the ghost. His first burst went wild as the 109 ducked underneath it, casually trashing the effort Kozlov had made to set up for the kill. The second burst, at a distance so close that it could be fairly described as suicidal, raked across the entirety of the 109 in less than a second as the enemy fighter pulled away. Kozlov engages at a dangerous distance Suddenly, Kozlov realized his error - he had completely overshot the German, and was sailing casually into the sights of the Messerschmitt. Was his foe so insane as to weather a storm of bullets in order to secure a victory? Desperately, the Junior Lieutenant pulled up - he had to trade his speed for altitude now or he would be dead. As he did, he rolled inverted to be ready to pounce on the German should he turn away. He had to put an end to this mad encounter, and quickly. The two crossed again and again, weaving to see who would fall in front and who would fall behind. And suddenly, just like that, the 109 vanished. Kozlov, stunned, continued his turn, desperately trying to reacquire his foe. The way the German had taken advantage of his blind spot was incredible, inspirational if he was feeling poetic, but more to the point was incredibly dangerous. He reversed his turn, hoping to catch a glimpse - sure enough, the German had done the same moments prior, and the two were again in a chase. Kozlov was still squarely behind his enemy, but he didn’t feel even vaguely safe. It was then that Kozlov realized that his rounds had struck home in that one last burst - the Messer was, like him, trailing aviation fuel. He allowed himself a small amount of relief - at least now they were on even footing. Immediately he began to close again on the 109, following him into a sharp vertical turn. Again, the MiG shuddered and complained, but through what must have been force of will alone it continued flying straight. The German reversed, and Kozlov followed. He was getting closer and closer, well within half a kilometer. His guns were set to converge at 250 meters, and it was within that range he would score his victory. Despite that, Kozlov’s first wild burst was at 350 meters, an attempt to score a hit or “convince” the German to break off the turn. No luck was to be had, the round sailed harmlessly past the fighter. Kozlov brought his plane into the turn, hoping to slot in on a high six’o’clock position. G-forces again drained at him, and he could feel his body begin to grow weak. He had been at this for minutes, and exhaustion was setting in in a way that he had never felt before. Gritting his teeth, he pulled harder, and the 109 slowly dragged itself down towards the sights of the MiG-3. Suddenly, the Messer relaxed its turn, setting up for yet another reversal. Kozlov took aim and fired. The burst, miraculously, sailed past both below and above the 109’s left wing. The Junior Lieutenant went vertical again - this was becoming infuriating. The climb was steep, well over forty-five degrees, but quickly Kozlov softened it as he began to roll inverted once more. He brought the plane in on the 109’s turn, merging smoothly behind it. His guns came to life as he fired at the turning enemy, and watched with grim satisfaction as his rounds impacted along the Messerschmitt. It wouldn’t be long now, he could feel the end deep within him. Kozlov fires at the defending Me-109 The two closed rapidly, and Kozlov brought his plane mostly inverted to prep for another shot. The 109 snapped right, and the Soviet’s MiG sailed beneath it. He brought the fighter back up again, returning to the rolling fight that had characterized their long, brutal engagement, but the Messerschmitt’s pilot continued into a long right bank. Dimly, Kozlov wondered why they had been left alone, why no one else had interrupted their fight. Had everyone else returned to their bases? Or had they wandered so far away from the rest that they may as well be on a different planet? It mattered little. All that Kozlov could focus on was one last shot, one final burst to bring the dance to an end. Another burst, sailing harmlessly overhead. The German ducked underneath the shot, but fell again into Kozlov’s gunsight. Again at point blank, Kozlov fired. Rounds exploded against the underside of the 109’s frame, perhaps damaging vital control systems, perhaps not. Kozlov broke off from the attack, pulling far away as the 109 straightened out. He was finished with the turning battle - his next burst would be his last. The two swung at each other, sliding harmlessly past, then again. There was a moment when Kozlov strained the MiG an inch too hard, and it shuddered just dozens of meters above the trees, but it recovered and continued flying. He had come too close to lose it all now to branches. Again, the two dancers merged, tired and bruised. Kozlov and the Messerschmitt merge a final time On the next pass, it was Kozlov who was able to bring his nose onto target. The burst was quick, an opportunity milliseconds long, but he could spy damage as his guns struck the nose of the Messer. The 109 was now leaving behind a second trail, a white plume that implied damage to an engine component of some kind. The fighter continued to try to maneuver, but its performance was no longer the same - it was increasingly easy to bring the Messer into Kozlov’s sights. The Junior Lieutenant fired, then again. The 109 straightened, barely intact, then lazily banked to the right, then back left in a final attempt to juke. Once more, at a distance far too close to be advised, Kozlov fired. Kozlov fires a long burst into the crippled 109 The 109’s left aileron detaches - the fight is finished Kozlov watched as the 109 drifted to the left of his canopy, the missing part of the machine going sailing past harmlessly. For a moment, he thought that he would need to fire again, close on the machine and put it down once and for all - truly, it was a durable aircraft! - but then, slowly at first, the Messer began to sink. He climbed overhead, watching it fall with rapt attention. As the fighter approached a patch of woods, it seemed as if it would collapse into the treeline. Yet, impossibly, it kept flying just far enough to carry it over the trees. Grimly, Kozlov realized what he needed to do. Gracefully, the MiG-3 responded to his commands as he took a position behind the Messerschmitt. It would have felt tragic if Kozlov was capable of feeling much of anything at all through the adrenaline haze. The 109 jerked in a final attempt to avoid the inevitable, but it was helpless to survive what was coming. One final pair of bursts into the Me-109 The 109 banked hard left, inverting - it was an unrecoverable position, and both Kozlov and his German opponent knew it. There was no attempt to escape, no desperate jettison. The tattered Messer banked earthwards at the end of its last flight. The Junior Lieutenant watched in grim silence as his adversary slammed into the ground, finally ending a duel that had lasted for only eight minutes. The 109 impacts the ground, finally concluding the battle Kozlov felt a wave of emotions, too many to name, let alone process. More than anything, he felt relief. The fight was over, and he was still in the skies. As the adrenaline began to ebb from his system, he checked over himself and his plane. Despite the damage, the aircraft was still operational, and he himself had not been shot. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what radio transmissions he had missed during the fog of fighting, but from the looks of things the fight had left him far behind. For the first time since the fight started, he keyed his radio. “This is three, returning to base.” He said between deep, exhausted breaths. “I scored a Messer.” <><><><><><><> Kozlov’s flight home was a solitary one. There was still fighting going on, but the fuel leak was slowly eating through his reserves. Even with as much as his plane carried, it couldn’t go on forever. Quietly, the Junior Lieutenant left the scene, winging his way towards home. It took him two attempts to finally land the fighter. He had come in sloppily on both, his nerves shot and his mind split between putting a plane safely on the ground and his far-too-quickly draining fuel supply. When he did finally put down, he did so with all of the grace and poise of a brick. For a moment, Kozlov was concerned that the entire thing was going to come apart on him. Kozlov’s rough landing at the end of his sortie In total, Aleksei Kozlov had been in the air for 41 minutes, but it had felt more like a lifetime. As he taxied his plane back to the revetments, he heard with relief the sounds of his fellow pilots coming in for a landing. Of the six that had gone up that afternoon, all six were returning. The after-action map of the engagement over Bor, 4 October 1941 As night fell, Kozlov and the others met in the mess hall to celebrate the end of the day. The squadron had scored three victories during the air battle - Kozlov and Golubev had each claimed a 109, and Davydov had managed to bring down one of the seemingly-invincible Heinkels. Poor Emeliyanenko,so eager to earn a score of his own, had come home with nothing, as had Fokin and Melnikov. In truth, though, it mattered little - they had all made it through yet another day at war. Fokin left the mess hall for but a moment, long enough to head to his office and return. When he did, he carried with him several large glass bottles filled to the brim with vodka. Drinking glasses were appropriated from the kitchen staff, and in a crowded room eight men cheered to the health of a ninth. “You’re one of us now, comrade Lieutenant.” Fokin said, smiling broadly under his moustache. “From here to Berlin, or to the grave.” Kozlov smiled back as he grabbed the first drink handed to him and downed it in a shot. No one could say what tomorrow would bring, or any day beyond that. But for tonight, Kozlov was alive - and by God, he was going to get drunk.
  14. Chapter One: The New Arrival Rzhev airfield came into view over the nose of the Junior Lieutenant’s MiG, a sight that elicited a deep sigh of relief. He had been flying for well over half an hour, and was beginning to be concerned that he might be lost. Somewhere, nebulously west, was the front-line, and a navigation error so close to it could prove fatal. A map of the region surrounding Rzhev Airfield, 3rd October 1941 The pilot checked his radio to make sure he was on the right frequency for the airfield’s controller, then keyed the transmitter. “Acacia, this is Falcon, flight of one - request clearance to land, over.” There was a pause before he heard a response. As he waited, Falcon began a slow descent to an approach altitude. The radio clicked to life in his ear a moment later. “Falcon, Acacia, we’ve been expecting you. You are cleared to land, over.” “Understood, Acacia,” Falcon’s pilot replied, “coming in from the west, out.” With the conversation over, the Junior Lieutenant put his focus into bringing his aircraft down. It was late afternoon, the sun low against the horizon. Not too far away, the war raged on. <><><><><><><> Junior Lieutenant Aleksei Kozlov Kozlov clambered out of Falcon, his legs aching as he stretched them out after so long a flight. From a dirt field near Moscow to halfway across the region in a single hop certainly did little wonders to the body. Waiting for him at the mouth of the dirt-and-wood revetment was a man in a crewman’s overalls staring back at him. He was dirty and covered in aviation grease, balding with brown hair, but he had a wry grin. Politely, the crewman had already taken off his gloves, which were resting snugly between his right arm and his torso, and had extended his hand to shake. Kozlov took it, and wasn’t surprised to receive a crushing vice of a grip in return. “Afternoon, comrade Lieutenant!” The crewman said, grinning widely. “I’m Sergeant Grigorev, your new crew chief. How was your flight?” “It was uneventful,” Kozlov replied, smiling despite himself. “Good to meet you, Sergeant.” The two broke the handshake, and already Grigorev was moving to examine the parked MiG-3. A Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) 3 series 24 fighter aircraft Grigorev’s smile had turned into a look of intense concentration as the sergeant examined the aircraft’s exterior. Kozlov watched as the crew chief walked around the aircraft, his head bobbing up and down to examine key features of the craft. When the man had done a complete circuit, he approached the pilot. “Your aircraft is in good shape,” he started, “but it’s unpainted.” “Is that a problem?” Kozlov asked, quizzically. “I wasn’t told that a pattern needed to be applied.” “Oh, it’s not a problem.” Grigorev replied, “if anything it makes things easier. No need to paint over anything.” He folded his arms. “That being said… I’m not going to be able to have it done by tomorrow morning.” “Why is that?” “Because.” The sergeant’s face took on an unusually sinister look. “You haven’t earned your stripes yet.” “My stripes?” Kozlov repeated, confused. Grigorev smiled wryly at the pilot. “Speak with the Major, he can explain it better than I can.” The crew chief clapped Kozlov on the shoulder roughly, taking his arm in hand to lead him away from the pit. “Come on, I can give you a ride to his office.” Befuddled, the Junior Lieutenant walked with his crew chief, casting one last glance backwards at his aircraft before he left. <><><><><><><> Major Ignatiy Fokin, Commander of the 34th IAP PVO Major Fokin’s moustache moved imperceptibly as the officer read through the transfer papers, gently mouthing each of the words as he made his way through the document. Every so often, his eyes would dart away from the crumpled paper and up at Kozlov, the Junior Lieutenant standing rigidly at attention before his desk, only to return again to the document. When he was finished, the Major placed the papers gently down on his desk. “Everything appears to be in order, Lieutenant,” Fokin said as he patted down the creases on the previously pocket-bound parchment. “Let me officially welcome you, then, to the 34th.” Kozlov’s face broke from its stern composure to offer an awkward grin. “Thank you, comrade Major.” The Junior Lieutenant bobbed his head slightly in respect. “It will be an honor to fly with the regiment.” The corners of Fokin’s mouth gently twisted as he considered the words. “I suppose so, but you may not feel that way after a week.” The Major’s hand went to brush at his moustache as he leaned back in his chair. “An air defense regiment like ours tends to be in the thick of things, after all.” Regimental Banner of the 34th Air Defense Fighter Regiment “I, er-” Kozlov cleared his throat before continuing. “I was actually curious as to what the duties of our regiment entails, sir.” “You don’t have to put it so diplomatically, Junior Lieutenant.” The Major raised an eyebrow bemusedly. “Do not worry, you won’t spend your career protecting transports - but you will be asked to do so, on occasion.” Fokin leaned forward, straightening his posture. “You should expect any manner of combat duties befitting a fighter regiment. Interception, ground attack, patrols, and the like. Does that answer your question?” “Yes, comrade Major.” Fokin got to his feet, straightening his uniform before maneuvering around his desk in order to stand in front of Kozlov, face to face. The two were nearly equal in height, but the Junior Lieutenant had him by scant inches. A strangely mischievous look crossed over the commander’s face, a similar one to what Sergeant Grigorev had worn. “Now, Lieutenant, before you’re dismissed - did your crew chief mention something about stripes?” “Yes, comrade Major.” Kozlov started. “Sergeant Grigorev told me to ask you about it. I wasn’t sure what he meant by it, something to do with a camouflage?” “Correct.” Fokin answered, his voice suddenly very sharp in comparison to the more lax tone he had conducted himself with prior. “We have a tradition here with the 34th, you see. Our planes are painted with the tiger’s stripes, a reminder to both ourselves and the enemy that we are hunters. However-” the Major raised a finger, “- this is not given out to any fresh-off-the-train transfer.” Fokin suddenly clapped the Junior Lieutenant on both shoulders, his arms moving surprisingly swiftly. Despite himself, Kozlov jumped slightly. The Major’s grin widened into something toothy - he was enjoying this. “Tomorrow, comrade Junior Lieutenant, you will go up with us. And - if you return - you will have earned your stripes.” <><><><><><><> Kozlov’s baggage was waiting for him at the barracks entrance, shipped ahead of him by truck. There had been little room to fit the duffel bag in his MiG, so he had managed to convince a particularly amicable Corporal to see that it arrived safely through the Red Army supply network. A cursory inspection confirmed that the bag’s contents hadn’t been touched, though that had less to do with the superb moral caliber of each and every member of the transport corps, and more to do with the fact that Kozlov had very little of value to steal. His uniforms, a pillow, and some light reading material - it was all a junior officer such as himself had to his name. Slinging the bag over his shoulder, the Junior Lieutenant made his way to the room he would be staying in. The Rzhev barracks was nicer than he had expected, certainly better than the accommodations he had at flight school. The pilots were dorming two per room, which meant he only needed to worry about one person’s body odor - and not twenty. Kozlov let out a soft, nervous sigh before putting his hand on the doorknob and turning. There was, to Kozlov’s surprise, another person in the room. It was already nearing nightfall, and he had expected everyone to be at the mess hall for dinner. Instead, he found himself looking at a man wearing a shirt and duty uniform pants lying on one of the two bunks in the room, his face obscured by a book. The sound of the door opening was enough to prompt the pilot to turn his attention back to the real world. “Hello?” He asked, uncertainly. “Good evening, comrade..?” Kozlov started, walking into the room proper. “Melnikov.” His new roommate replied, putting his book down on the bed and getting to his feet. “Junior Lieutenant Melnikov.” Junior Lieutenant Taras Melnikov Kozlov extended his hand to his compatriot, who shook it. “Nice to meet you. I’m Junior Lieutenant Kozlov.” The two broke away, and Kozlov quickly removed his bag from his shoulder and onto the empty bed. “I’m your new roommate, it seems.” “So it seems!” Melnikov said, folding his arms. “What regiment are you from?” “Just a reserve one.” Kozlov admitted, turning back to face the other pilot. Unlike Major Fokin, there was a significant height discrepancy between the two - Kozlov stood a full head taller than his opposite. Melnikov also appeared to be younger than Kozlov, though it was doubtful that they were significantly different in age. His face was fresh and sophomoric, as if a student had gotten lost from some technical college and had stumbled into the war. “Ah.” Melnikov’s forehead scrunched as he bit at the skin on his lip in thought. “You are like me, then.” “Did you just transfer here?” Kozlov asked. “About a week ago.” For a moment, Kozlov wasn’t sure what his fellow Junior Lieutenant would do. The man seemed to be examining him like he was hosting an interview, scouring him more thoroughly than even the Major had during their brief meeting. In the end, it seemed a more pleasant nature won the contest, as Melnikov smiled at him eagerly. “Tell me, comrade Kozlov, have you had any dinner?” He asked, his arms uncrossing. “The food here isn’t gourmet, but it’s something to eat, yes?” It was Kozlov’s turn to smile. “I’ll take that over nothing any day.” He gestured towards the door leading out of the room. “Let’s go see if there’s anything left for us!” The state of the front, 3 October 1941
  15. This is the story of a pilot, one of thousands, who fought in the conflict we know today as World War II. Over war-torn skies, he fought against those like him for survival and for his fellow airmen. Now, some seventy years since his struggle, can his story be told... In Defense of Moscow: Aleksei Kozlov's War is a long-form write-up of the exploits of the titular character inside of IL-2's excellent Career mode. Starting as a novice, the series will track his progress from his first day to the conclusion of the Battle for Moscow. As such, I would like to give thanks to IL-2's development team for making this possible, and I wish to ask for patience from this forum's moderator staff as they are about to have to deal with massive walls of texts being added semi-frequently to the site in the near future! I hope that this will be the first in a series of similar write-ups, but I cannot say at the time of writing this (2:42 in the morning, 9 July 2020, somewhere in Chicagoland...) what the future will hold. Regardless, I hope that this will bring some enjoyment to all of you. EDIT (0313//9JUL2020): Thank you to Charon for posting! Chapter one is up, and I am passing out as it is far too early in the morning for me to be up. I hope you all enjoy the first entry! Table of Contents Chapter One: The New Arrival Chapter Two: Earning Stripes Chapter Three: Tiger Cub Chapter Four: Strike at Klokova Chapter Five: A Brush with Death Chapter Six: Through a Red Haze
×
×
  • Create New...