Soviet pilot pilot S. Kuzniecov was flying his Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik back from a mission when he was engaged with Messerschmidt fighters. A fierce dogfight ensued, and the pilot was shot down from the sky.
As the Sturmovik went down, one of the German pilots decided to land, finish off the Soviet pilot, and maybe claim a victory trophy back home. However, he didn’t quite expect what was waiting for him as he approached the wreck.
The Flying Tank
Despite being completely overwhelmed during the early months of Operation Barbossa, the Soviets had one ace down their sleeve and that is the emerging Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik warplane.
It was a formidable aircraft that carried bombs, rockets, cannons, and machine guns. This translates to an unparalleled source of firepower that would soon become the scourge of German armored divisions on the battlefield.
However, what earned it the nickname the Flying Tank was its impressive armor plate configuration, making it one of the most survivable planes on the Eastern Front, and more than capable of sweeping low to deliver its payload to German tanks, buildings, and infantry.
Soviet pilot identified in reports as S. Kuzniecov was sent on a reconnaissance mission to Kalinin, now Tver. This region was controlled by the German military. According to sources, Kuzniecov was engaged by a squadron of Messerschmidt fighters who attacked the lone Soviet airman. He attempted to flee the scene, but it was too late.
Several bursts of fire impacted the Flying Tank and although most of them were repelled by the armor, one of its wings was clipped. He then began falling from the sky and eventually crashed into a densely forested area.
One of the German pilots decided to land in a nearby patch of land, eager to collect some battle trophies, and finish off his Soviet counterpart.
Swindling the Hunter
As he made it to the wreck of the Ilyushin Il-2, the cockpit was empty. Little did he know Kuzniecov walked away from the crash unscathed and hid as the German approached the site.
He then bolted out of his hiding spot as fast as he could in the direction of the German pilot’s plane. When his enemy heard the roaring sound of his own Messerschmidt’s engine, it was already too late.
Against All Odds
Kuzniecov was exhilarated that he was able to escape. However, the truth soon dawned that while he managed to escape Russian territory, his plane would be now seen as an enemy by every Russian unit in the vicinity.
As soon as he reached Soviet territory, he began receiving anti-aircraft fire from his own comrades. Luckily, he managed to evade these attacks, penetrating deeper behind the Soviet front line.
His aircraft began to get considerable damage as his plane made its final descent into the runway.
Once on the ground, he slowly exited his stolen warplane, hands in the air, yelling in Russian, and local operators soon realized that he was a friendly airman.
For this feat, Kuzniecov was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest military decoration of the Soviet Union.