Siergiey Luganski

S. Luganski

Siergiey Luganski (1918-1977) was one of the best Soviet pilots. He achieved a total of 37 kills during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) - two of these kills were by "Taran" attacks (air-to-air ramming). He was highly awarded, twice appointed Hero of the Soviet Union.

Born in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, he was fascinated by aviation since early ages. In 1936 he joined the Military Aviation school in Orienbursk. In 1938, Luganski completed the Pilot�s School with the award of Best Student. Next, he went to a fighter regiment, first as an ordinary pilot, next - as leader of a section, and finally as deputy regimental commander. In 1939, he completed the Military Aviation Academy.

During the Soviet-Finnish War (1939-40) he flew 59 combat missions, downing one enemy aircraft. Luganski's Squadron (25 IAP), commanded by Ivan Ivanovich Popov, part of the 14th Soviet Fighter Corps, operated from the frozen lake Karchu-Lampi. The main task for this unit was ground-attack sorties against Finnish troops. During one of these sorties, on 28 February 1940, Luganski's plane was hit by artillery shell (probably Soviet!), and he was forced to bail out, despite the fact that he was flying at a very low altitude. His parachute developed only a few metres above the ground. During the jump he lost his flying boots - which was some quite serious business at 40 Centigrade below zero. But the front line was close. Luganski, running only in his socks, was lucky to reach the Soviet positions. Next day he was airborne again, scoring his first aerial victory against a less fortunate Finnish aircrew. Flying together with his commander, Sen.Lt. Vladimir Nikolayevich Pieshkov (who was appointed Hero of the Soviet Union on 20 September 1940, after 3 kills in Winter War), he managed to down a Finnish reconnaissance biplane.

Yakovlev Yak-3 from 157th GvIAP flown by Sergeiy Luganski. The board inscription reads: "To the Hero of the Soviet Union, Sergeiy Luganski, members of the 'Komsomol' and the youth of Alma Ata.". The number 32 in victory laurels stands for Luganski's victory score.

Luganski's next kill almost finished his career: By mistake he destroyed a Soviet R-5 recon-bomber. But Luganski was lucky again, escaping with only a few days in confinement. Following the Finnish surrender in the Winter War, all pilots were awarded, and Luganski received the Red Star Order. The combat missions he had flown during the war with Finland provided him with experience which would prove very useful in the coming years.

In beginning of the Great Patriotic War, Luganski flew a LaGG-3 fighter, and downed a few enemies. The squadron, commanded by Ivan Gluhih, was re-equipped with old I-16s. In air combat over Bataysk on 9 September 1941, two sections (6 planes) of Soviet fighters encountered 18 Germans. A German (whom Luganski assumed must have been an ace) shot down Vladimir Pieshkov. Luganski followed German in a long persuit, to revenge himself for his friend's death, but instead he got himself shot down. But once again, luck had not completely deserted him, as he managed to bail out and survive.

While covering Soviet Army's river crossings, he downed enemy aircraft through ramming attacks twice. The first occasion was on September 14th, 1942. Having run out of ammunition, Luganski decided to perform a "Taran" attack against an enemy formation, which was approaching River Volga in the air above General Rodimtsev's division. He knocked down a Romanian He 112 with a damaged wing. Next time, the "Taran" attack was accomplished while flying cover over the Dnepr River - this time the victim was an He 111. And luck stayed with Luganski, who in both cases came out of the ramming attacks alive (unlike most Soviet pilots, who performed this type of attack). On the same day as he scored his second 'Taran' kill, he was awarded with the Alexander Nevski Medal.

In June 1943, Luganski�s squadron (12 aircraft) was engaged in a famous battle. Over the front lines, they spotted about 80 German bombers, from which they bagged 12. Several pilots scored multiple victories in this melee). One month later, Luganski's squadron came across 30 Bf 109's. During a prolonged and stiff battle, the Soviets managed to shoot down 8 enemies. On 12 September 1943, acting as squadron commander in the 270th Guards Regiment, Sergeiy Luganski was appointed Hero of the Soviet Union. At this moment he had 18 kills to his credit.

In another aerial combat, Luganski was seriously injured. Still not completely recovered, he returned to Alma Ata in the end of December 1943. The people of the city welcomed him with great enthusiasm, and raised funds which bought him a new Yak-1M. In May 1944, Luganski was put in charge of a Guards Fighter aviation Regiment in the 1st Guards Ground-attack Aviation Corps (1 GvShAK, commanded by V. G. Ryazanov), supporting the 1st Ukrainian Front. At this moment he had 18 kills to his credit. Shortly after taking command of this crack unit, Luganski downed a German fighter ace. In his memoirs 'Glubokiye Wirazhi' (Deep Turns), Luganski describes this event with the following words:

In one of the days of May 1944 , Sergiey Luganski and his wingman took off on an important reconnaissance mission. While Viktor Usov accomplished his task of covering his commander, Luganski discovered some German tanks and armoured columns. They flew at low altitude in order to avoid enemy fighters. Having fulfilled their mission, the two Soviets entered their return flight. What they didn't notice was that a 'hidden' pair of Bf 109s followed them. Later, Luganski assumed they must have noticed the rich ace 'ornaments' on his Yakovlev, which made them decide to avoid an open confrontation, and instead seeking the chance in a surprise attack. They waited patiently, and when Luganski, having reduced the speed of his aircraft, started landing - they decided to hit.

The Ground control noticed the danger and warned both pilots by R/T. Viktor Usov turned sharply to defend his leader and soon he had shot the German wingman in flames. But just in that moment, the leader of the German section hit Usov's plane and he was forced to bail out. Now only the two leaders, the Russian and the German, remained in the air. The German pilot turned against Luganski. The Soviet ace was just come in to land. A small touch down with lowered landing gears probably saved his life. A stream of enemy rounds passed slightly above his plane. While closing his landing gears, Luganski entered combat. Following his first run, the German climbed to make his next attack. He had the advantage - Luganski was flying slowly at deck. The Bf 109 came after him again and opened fire. Several shells slammed into Luganski's Yak. The canopy and instruments panel were damaged, but the plane still was able to fight.

Luganski, noticing the top class of his adversary and aware that his own aircraft was almost out of fuel, realized that he had only one chance of surviving - to use the Yak's superior horizontal. The German pilot, obviously certain of his success, entered a turn fight. After few very sharp rounds, Luganski had the Bf 109 in his gun sight. A fire burst shattered the German�s cockpit hood, injured the pilot and cut the engine power off. The German aircraft slid in the air for a moment, then it made a belly-landing 3 kms from the Soviet airfield. Soviet soldier rushed to capture him and suddenly the hunter had become the prey. Luganski saw this and a few minutes later he landed on nothing but fuel fumes. The duel had lasted no more than 7 minutes long, but it was enough to completely exhaust Luganski. The German pilot was captured: It turned out that his name was Otto. On his killboard were 70 victories, including 30 on Eastern Front. He had just been appointed for the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross. Next day the commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front, Marshal I.S. Koniev arrived at airfield. He inspected the wreck of the German ace's Bf 109, and decided to award Luganski a second Golden Star, so Luganski received his second Soviet Hero title on 1 July 1944. By that time, his victory score had risen to 33, achieved during 335 combat sorties.

During the battle of Lvov, Luganski often flew on free hunting missions with the Soviet Hero Yewgeniy Mienshutin acting as wing man. Once, they encountered a pair of Bf 109, one of them with a bright red nose, over the front line Mienshutin soon downed the leader of the pair, while Luganski hit the 'red-nosed' wingman with a long burst from a very short distance. The enemy plane hit the ground, but did not explode. The Soviets 'investigated' the body of this Bf 109's pilot - it turned out to be an Italian pilot named Gibelli, credited with 50 kills.

In that period, the people of Alma Ata decided to raise funds to equip Luganski's whole squadron with twelve of the brand new Yak-3 fighters! The 'Komsomolec Kazakhstana' squadron was included to Luganski's 157th GvIAP. Shortly afterwards, the regiment received the name-of-honour 'Sandomirskiy' after its great achievements in the air over the city of Sandomierz (Poland). Unit also was awarded with the Bohdan Chmielnickiy and Alexander Nevski Medals.

Luganski finished the war with the rank of Major. His final score was 37 personal and 6 shared victories, on a total of 390 combat missions. Luganski's Fighter Aviation Regiment was credited with the destruction of 245 enemy aircraft in the air. In 1957 Luganski was promoted to Major-General, and in 1964 he retired. He passed away in 1977, in Alma Ata.