The Shocking Dogfight between Russia and Nazi Germany

Top Gun, World War II Style: The Shocking Dogfight between Russia and Nazi Germany

In June 1942, the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on the Crimea was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. Commanded by Generaloberst Erich von Manstein, the German Eleventh Army was dispatched in a powerful attack to seize this important stronghold. Throughout the battle, a stiff but uneven air war raged between German Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters and a handful of determined Soviet airmen based inside Sevastopol. Due to the limited geographic area, the same fighter aces on both sides met in combat each day. Hauptmann Gordon Gollob, Oberleutnants Anton Hackl, Heinrich Setz, and Feldwebel Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert were among the most prominent protagonists in German Fighter Wing 77 (JG 77), as were Kapitans Mikhail Avdeyev, Konstantin Alekseyev, and Boris Babayev in the Soviet naval 6th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment—6 GIAP/VVS-ChF.

Both sides learned to pay great respect to their adversaries. Heinrich Setz, commanding the fourth Staffel (squadron) of JG 77, described the air combat with “most experienced” Soviet fighter pilots over Sevastopol as “extremely hard,” and Hauptmann Gollob was compelled to instruct his fighter pilots to avoid “turning combats at low flight altitude.”

And Kapitan Mikhail Avdeyev, commanding the first squadron (1 AE) of 6 GIAP/VVS-ChF, dedicated much space in his memoirs to honor a most feared German ace over Sevastopol, whom the Soviet pilots called “Z”—their interpretation of the call sign on the fuselage of this Me-109 F as a black Latin character “Z.” Avdeyev wrote: “‘Z’ appeared every day, always with his back protected by other fighters. Usually, he picked his victims carefully, and only rarely were his attacks without success. More than once, I tried to pursue this Fascist, but this proved to be a most difficult undertaking.…

“It was clear that ‘Z’ was an outstanding pilot, definitely somebody from…

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