The FW 190A Vs the La-5 from the German perspective
In the summer of 1943, a brand-new La-5 made a forced landing on a German airfield providing the Luftwaffe with an opportunity to test-fly the newest Soviet fighter. Test pilot Hans-Werner Lerche wrote a detailed report of his experience. He particularly noted that the La-5 excelled at altitudes below 3,000 m (9,843 ft) but suffered from short range and flight time of only 40 minutes at cruise engine power. All of the engine controls (throttle, mixture, propeller pitch, radiator and cowl flaps, and supercharger gearbox) had separate levers which served to distract the pilot during combat to make constant adjustments or risk suboptimal performance. For example, rapid acceleration required moving no less than six levers. In contrast, contemporary German aircraft, especially the BMW 801 radial-engined variants of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 front line fighter, had largely automatic engine controls with the pilot operating a single lever and electromechanical devices, like the Kommandogerät pioneering engine computer on the radial-engined Fw 190s, making the appropriate adjustments. Due to airflow limitations, the engine boost system (Forsazh) could not be used above 2,000 m (6,562 ft). Stability in all axes was generally good. The authority of the ailerons was deemed exceptional but the rudder was insufficiently powerful at lower speeds. At speeds in excess of 600 km/h (370 mph), the forces on control surfaces became excessive. Horizontal turn time at 1,000 m (3,281 ft) and maximum engine power was 25 seconds.
The La-5 had a slightly better climb rate and smaller turn radius, however the Fw-190A-8 was faster at all altitudes and had significantly better dive performance. As a result Lerche’s recommendations for Fw190 pilots were to attempt to draw the La-5FN to higher altitudes, to escape attacks in a dive followed by a high-speed shallow climb, and to avoid prolonged turning engagements. Utilizing MW 50 the German fighter had superior performance at all altitudes.
The La-5 had its defects. Perhaps the most serious being the thermal isolation of the engine, lack of ventilation in the cockpit, and a canopy that was impossible to open at speeds over 350 km/h. To make things worse, exhaust gas often entered in the cockpit due to poor insulation of the engine compartment. Consequently, pilots ignored orders and frequently flew with their canopies open.
In general, Soviet pilots appreciated the La-5 as an effective fighter. “That was an excellent fighter with two cannons and a powerful air-cooled engine”, recalled pilot Viktor M. Sinaisky. “The first La-5s from the Tbilisi factory were slightly inferior, while the last ones from the Gorki plant, which came to us from Ivanovo, were perfect. At first we received regular La-5s, but then we got new ones containing the ASh-82FN engine with direct injection of fuel into the cylinders. It was perfect. Everyone was in love with the La-5. It was easy to maintain too.” Nevertheless La-5 losses were high, the highest of all fighters in service in USSR, not considering those of the Yak-1. In 1941-45, VVS KA lost 2,591 La-5s, 73 in 1942, 1,460 in 1943, 825 the following year and 233 in 1945.
The La-5 Vs the FW 190A from the Soviet perspective
FW-109A fighter is a single seat low wing metal monoplane with retractable gear and retractable tail-wheel.
German Luftwaffe command used this fighter primarily on the Western front against the British in the beginning of the war. The FW-190 appeared on the Russian front at the end of 1942.
FW-190 has a 14-cylinder air cooled, twin-row radial engine. The engine fan is located at the front of the fuselage and is connected to the engine spinner. The fan rotates at three times the speed of the propellor. The engine generates 1,460 hp at nominal power and 1,760 hp at full power. It can only work at full throttle for no more than 1 minute.
The fighter has two machine guns and four cannons, situated as follows:
- Two synchronous 7.92 mm MG-17 machine guns in upper engine housing. Machine guns fire at 800 rounds per minute. Each machine gun has 750 rounds.
- Two synchronous MG-151 cannons in the wing by the fuselage, firing through the propeller. Cannons fire at 500 rounds per minute. Each cannon has 250 rounds.
- Two synchronous MG-FF 20 mm cannons in the wing, firing outside the propeller diameter. Cannons fire at 520 rounds per minute. Each cannon has 90 rounds.
Guns can be fired simultaneously, or from each of the group separately (machine guns or cannons). Gun fire is selected electrically, by pressing buttons on the pilot control column. The cockpit is equipped with gun round counters. In addition, the FW-190 can carry one 250 kg bomb or a fuel tank.
Armour on the FW-190 is located in the following areas: the pilot is protected by the engine and 60 mm of armored glass. The nose of the aircraft enclosing the oil radiator is made of 5 mm of armored plate; the rest of the nose comprises 3 mm of armor plating.
There is also an 8 mm armored seat that covers the pilot up to the level of the shoulders. There is room at the base and back of the seat for the parachute. A 5 mm armored plate behind the pilot seat fills the full fuselage profile except the area for the parachute depression. A 12 mm headrest protects pilot’s head and shoulders. There is no armor protecting pilot from the side or below.
Two fuel tanks are located directly under the pilot’s cabin, starting from the rudder pedals and back for a total length of 1.9 meters. Both fuel tanks have a total fuel capacity of 520 liters.
Russian La-5 pilots that fought the FW-190 successfully are certain that an La-5 has a faster climb-rate and smaller turn-radius than the FW-190. The FW-190s are marginally faster at higher altitudes and possess a better dive rate. Do not engage a FW-190 which has a superior altitude to you, in this situation, the FW-190 is likely to dive from altitude and attempt to attack from the rear in one pass, using the element of surprise. The La-5 has a better performance than the FW-190 at lower altitudes; draw the FW-190 into a turning fight at altitudes below 4,000 meters (13,000 ft.) where the La-5 can easily outmaneuver the FW-190.
The following information about German tactics is derived from experience of our pilots that fought the FW-190:
The enemy mostly stays in obsolete formations when flying, i.e. closely spaced pairs, etc.
Germans will position their fighters at different altitudes, especially when expecting to encounter our fighters. FW-190 will fly at 1,500-2,500 meters and will attempt to close with our fighters hoping to get behind them and attack suddenly. If that maneuver is unsuccessful they will even attack head-on relying on their superb firepower.
The FW-190 will commit to the fight even if our battle formation is not broken, preferring left turning fights. There have been cases of such turning fights lasting quite a long time, with multiple planes from both sides involved in each engagement.
FW-190 will dive, sometimes inverted, when threatened by our fighters getting on his six. There has never been an occasion of FW-190s attempting to climb away in such situations.
FW-190s will most often fight in separate pairs. The leader will roll and dive to attract our fighters when they get close. The wingman usually climbs away and watches our planes. If our fighters dive after the leader, the wingman will ‘boom-n-zoom’ our fighters and attempt to form up with his leader.
Enemy fighter tactics are mostly built on individual engagements. This fact has been confirmed by captured FW 190 pilots. Thus, Germans will try everything to break up our formations or at least force single planes to break off from the main groups. As one captured pilot said, “we count on the slow ones”.
Captured FW-190 pilots are familiar with specifics of all our planes, and consider Yak-1, Yak-9 and La-5 to be superior to theirs. It must be however pointed out that FW-190s have not been fighting on our front for long and thus their tactics are still being developed. They are more than likely to change drastically very soon.
Yak-1s, Yak-7s and La-5s fighting the FW-190 have all the factors necessary to win. Our fighters are almost as fast as the FW-190, turn and climb better and have formidable firepower.
The FW-190 has a lot of vulnerable areas. The pilot is exposed during all but the perfect 12 and 6 o’clock attacks. The fuel tanks are not at all protected and are located directly under the pilot. The area in front of the engine housing the oil tank and radiator is most vulnerable as well. The engine fan works at extremely high rotations, if the oil system or fan is knocked out, it will inevitably cause the engine to overheat and flame out or malfunction.
The electric control circuit for weapons selection is located behind the pilot armor and is not protected. Damage to it will prevent all guns from firing.
The best position for attacking the FW-190 is from its 3 or 9 o’clock. The standard Luftwaffe inverted dive evasion tactic is the most beneficial maneuver to us as it immediately exposes all of the FW-190’s vulnerable areas, namely the fuel tanks and the pilot. Numerous FW-190 fighters have been shot down precisely at the moment they went inverted; planes usually explode in the air when shot down in this manner. It is however not at all easy to catch the FW-190 right at the precise moment it goes inverted.
The rest of the tactics when fighting FW-190 should be no different from any other enemy fighter. The element of surprise and altitude advantage is of course very important, and all other important tactics mentioned above should be considered as well.
It is unsurprising to observe that both the Germans in their commentary on the La-5 and the Russians in their views on the Focke-Wulf 190A favour their own aircraft’s capabilities in terms of performance, power and armament.
An impartial observer would perhaps conclude that: the La-5 possessed a superior rate of climb and tighter turning radius; whereas the Focke-Wulf 190A held an advantage in speed at all altitudes (although this could be considered a fraction faster when comparing the specifications below) and a superior diving rate from altitude.
Despite both reports, the FW 190A does enjoy an advantage over the La-5 in terms of firepower. The La-5 carries 2 × 20 mm ShVAK cannons with 200 rounds each whilst the FW 190A has 4 × 20 mm MG 151/20 E cannon with 250 rpg, synchronized in the wing roots and 140 rpg free-firing outboard in mid-wing mounts in addition it has 2 × 13 mm (.51 in) synchronized MG 131 machine guns with 475 rpg over the engines which gives the aircraft a considerable ‘punch’.
However, it is my consideration, that on balance, both aircraft are fairly evenly matched and the outcome of any one-on-one engagement would be determined by the quality of the pilots and of tactics employed by the respective combatants.
The Focke-Wulf FW 190A-8
- Guns: * 2 × 13 mm (.51 in) synchronized MG 131 machine guns with 475 rpg
- 4 × 20 mm MG 151/20 E cannon with 250 rpg, synchronized in the wing roots and 140 rpg free-firing outboard in mid-wing mounts.
The Lavochkin La-5
- 2 × 20 mm ShVAK cannons, 200 rounds each
- 2 × bombs up to 100 kg (220 lb) each.
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