Ivan Kozhedub was the top scoring fighter pilot on the Allied side during World War II. He was born on 8 June 1920, in the village of Obrazheyevska, Shostka district of the Sumy region in the Ukraine as the youngest of five children in his family.
In 1934 he finished a seven-year school. For two years he attended a school for young workers. In beginning of 1940 he graduated from the Shostka chemical technical school, then he joined the Soviet Army admitting to the Chuguyev militaryaviation school.
In 1941, he finished flight school (learning to fly the UTI-4 & I-16) with excellent results. Because he remained in the school as a flight instructor, many young pilots were trained by him. But, his dream was to enter real air battles.
- He remembers:
- "I requested a transfer to the front more than once. But the front required well-trained fliers. While training them for future battles, I was also training myself. At the same time, it felt good to hear of their exploits at the front. In late 1942, I was sent to learn to fly a new plane, the Lavochkin LaG-5. After March 1943, I was finally in active service.
On 6 July 1943, Kozhedub scored his first kill. The squadron led by Major Soldatienko spotted a group of 20 Junkers Ju 87 "Stukas" harassing the Soviet ground forces. Folowing his third attack, Kozhedub downed one of the Ju 87s.
Further dive-bombers were shot down by his comrade pilots, and the remaining Ju 87s escaped rapidly.
Lets hear Kozhedub's describe of this combat: "We were ordered to attack a group of Junkers Ju-87 dive bombers. I chose a "victim" and came quite close to it. The main thing was to fire in time. Everything happened very rapidly. It was only on the ground, among my friends, that I recalled the details of this battle. Caution is all-important and you have to turn your head 360 degrees all the time. The victory belonged to those who knew their planes and weapons inside out and had the initiative. On July 7, I downed a second plane and, on July 8, I destroyed another two Bf-109 fighters."
In the following ten days, Kozhedub´s victory tally rose to 8 (on 16 July 1943). In begin of August 1943 Kozhedub was promoted to flight leader function.
On 6 November 1943, he scored his 26th kill in a hard combat with German fighters. During the battle over the Dnepr Front, Kozhedub achieved his greatest successes. In ten days, he downed 11 enemy planes! In April 1944, he downed 3 German aircraft in one mission. On 4 February 1944, Captain Kozhedub was awarded as a Hero of the Soviet Union. In fact, he received this the highest Soviet award three times (only Pokryshkin received this award as many times as Kozhedub): second time on 19 August 1944, with total 34 kills, third time after war, on 18 August 1945.
In July 1944 he was posted to the 1st Belorussian Front as vice commander to the 176th Guards Fighter Regiment, and received La-7 No. 27, in which he score his final 17 victories
During WWII, Ivan Kozhedub flew 326 combat missions, took part in 126 aerial combats, and achieved 62 kills (in them 22 FW 190 and 18 Ju 87).
Apart from these 62 victories, Ivan Kozhedub also was forced to shoot down two U.S. P-51 Mustangs that mistakenly attacked his La-7 on one occasion. Both these P-51 losses have been verified by USAAF sources.
The planes he flew were La-5 FN & La-7 fighters. In 1949, he finished the Zhukovsky Military Aviation Academy. In 1956, he graduated from the High Command´s Academy, after which he was promoted to General.
Ivan Kozhedub passed away in August 1991.