Safonov in his fighter
The best known Soviet fighter ace during the first period of the war, was young Boris Safonov, who flew with 72 SAP (Composite Aviation Regiment) of the Air Force of the Soviet Northern Fleet (VVS SF) in the Murmansk area in the far North.

Before his death on May 30, 1942, Safonov scored 17 victories, of which at least eight can be verified by Luftwaffe loss records. During his last combat, he was credited with another three kills--bringing his total to 20 (according to his logbook; higher figures are given in various Soviet publications).

What makes Safonov's achievement remarkable is that 14 of these victories were claimed during the three first months of the war, while Safonov was flying an I-16 Ishak fighter, an airplane far inferior to the German Messerschmitt 109s. During a stay by RAF fighter pilots in this area in the fall of 1941, Boris Safonov gave the British airmen an impressive show of combat skill.
In September 1941, the Air Force of the Soviet Northern Fleet was reinforced with thirty-nine British Hawker Hurricane fighters of Wing Commander H. N. G. Ramsbottom-Isherwood's 151
Wing, including 81 and 143 squadrons. Twenty-four were flown to Murmansk and fifteen to
Safonov with awards
Boris Safonov with his Gold Star medal of Hero of the Soviet Union, screwback Order of Lenin, and 3 screwback awards of the Order of the Red Banner. On July 7th, 1941, Safonov led a group of 9 I-16's to cover the naval base at Poliarnye. They spotted a group of Ju 87's, with Bf 109 escorts. The Soviets desperately attacked the German dive bombers and scored, at first, 4 of the Ju 87's. Three more were destroyed after a short pursuit. The Soviets had no losses! Soon after that battle, a group of five aviators from the regiment were awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Safonov was in that group, with a total of 5 reported kills.

The British were eager to avenge their humiliating defeat in the air over the same area on July 30, 1941, when German fighters shot down 15 British aircraft sent out from the carriers Victorious and Furious - without a single German loss.

On September 12, 1941, the twenty-four Hurricanes bound for Murmansk took off from the aircraft carrier Argus in the Barents Sea. That same afternoon, the British pilots of 81 Squadron flew a combat mission over the front lines. They bounced five Messerschmitt 109s escorting a Henschel 126. In the ensuing action, the Messerschmitt pilot Leutenant Eckhard von der Lühe and the Hurricane pilot Sergeant Smith were both shot down and killed. (The British pilots claimed to have shot down three Bf 109s plus the Hs 126. During the following five weeks, the RAF pilots took part in several combats, claiming 16 confirmed victories, 4 "probables," and 7 damaged enemy aircraft--a high over-claim--for the loss of only 2 Hurricanes.)

In the hands of an expert, the old I-16 was still to be reckoned with, as Boris Safonov would show the British guests. On September 6, 1941, the Luftwaffe raided 72 SAP´s airfield. Safonov and four other I-16 pilots met the attackers in the air, claiming two Ju 87s shot down. While clashing with the escorting Bf 109s, one I-16 pilot was credited with one kill while another "Messer" was shared by Safonov and a third pilot. According to the Soviet report, a third Messerschmitt crashed into the ground while chasing the agile I-16s. None of these claims can be verified in the loss tables of JG 5 (which are not necessarily complete). (continued next page)

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