The World War 2 fighters designed by A.S. Yakovlev’s and his team are rightfully considered the weapon of the Victory in the history of the Soviet Union and Russia.
Their speed, maneuverability and firepower made them famous over the Eastern front. Yet until present days historians and aviation enthusiast continue to debate whether the design of these machines was adequate. The goal of this book is not to end these debates, but rather to present as precisely as the documents available to the authors allow the story of the first aircraft in the long lineage of Yakovlev’s fighters – the Yak-1 . Many new, sometimes unexpected facts about this important machine are presented in this book.
The beginning of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union against the Nazi Germany and its allies is among the least studied and understood periods in history. The Yak-1 was the best Soviet fighter of that period, but its role is often overlooked. Still, it was that aircraft that together with Polikarpov’s I-153 and I-16 carried the main burden of air battles in the first days of the war.
The Yak-1 was designed under the most unusual circumstances. The Soviet leaders planned to have a new generation of fighters to be in production and mastered by the VVS pilots by mid 1941. Unprecedented measures were taken to speed up the development and introduction of new designs. Recently declassified documents permit another look at the events that lead to adoption of the Yak-1 prior to the German invasion and its development during the war.
Compared to two previous Russian editions, this book is enhanced with new and updated data obtained from newly available archival documents. Events and episodes that are well known to Russian historians and aviation enthusiasts and therefore often mentioned en passé in Russian books and magazine publications are presented in more detail for the Western reader. The authors intentionally did not compare the Yak-1’s performance to that of British and US aircraft, and if the reader would like to do such a comparison, it is important to keep in mind that majority of aerial battles on the Eastern front occurred on altitudes below 5,000 meters and Soviet fighters were optimized to perform the best at these altitudes. It is also noteworthy that the Soviet aircraft was designed to maximize the use of inexpensive construction materials like wood and fabric and yet displayed very respectable characteristics.
In the preparation of this book we used materials from the Russian Military State Archive (RVGA), Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense (TsAMO), Central Naval Archive (TsVMA), Russian State Archive of Economics (RGAEh), Samara branch of the Russian State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documentation (RGANTD), Central State Archive of Moscow Region, State Archive of Saratov Region (GASO), Archive of the Yakovlev Design Bureau, Archive of the Museum of Saratov Aviation Factory. Translator’s notes
Because of the nature of the Soviet style of industry management, a Western reader may find some concepts or practices mentioned in this book difficult to understand. We would like to clarify some basics upfront.
There were no privately owned industrial enterprises in the Soviet Union, all factories belonged to the state. Even in the peacetime, these factories had little freedom in deciding what to manufacture. In the wartime these decisions were done for them by the central government.
The government was unusual in that its structure merged both political (party) and executive leadership. In the peacetime the government had the following structure. The main political and often executive decisions were made by the Central Committee (TsK, pronounced “Tseh Kah”) of the VKP(b). There were quite a few members in the committee, so the main power was concentrated in the hands of a selected group – the Committee’s Political Bureau or Politbureau, and more specifically its secretary I.V. Stalin. The decisions of the Committee or its Politbureau were mandatory for the executive branch of the Soviet government. The top governing body was the SNK – Council of People’s Commissars, akin to the cabinet of ministers. People’s commissars or narkoms headed People’s Commissariats or Narkomats, in essence - ministries. In the wartime, the SNK was replaced by the State Committee for Defence – the GKO.
In our text you will often see the numbers of directives, orders, and resolutions seemingly repeating the same ideas. The way the Soviet government operated was that the central governing body (the GKO in the wartime or the SNK before the war) would make a decision on a particular matter (like the use of skis or RS-82 rockets) and produce a dated and numbered resolution. Based on this resolution, a Narkomat would issue a directive with particular implementation details. This directive would also be numbered, and the date is usually just few days after the GKO’s resolution. In this book we try to provide numbers and dates for both resolutions and directives.