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Battle over Niš
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Soviet pilot waving his wings to stop the attack | Skin for Yak9 made by DrNooooo, download here

At about 10AM, the Soviet 6th Guards Rifle Corps was moving from Niš to Belgrade in a long column of vehicles, in pursuit of the elite SS “Brandenburg” division that broke off its occupation of the Serbian region after a successful offensive from the Allies and retreated into Hungary. Suddenly, 3 groups of 12 P-38 Lightnings each were spotted approaching from the west. The men on the ground must have saluted the American forces as they approached. However, they would soon stare in horror as one group of P-38s dropped their bombs right on them, while the other two maintained watch at 1500m of altitude. 37 soldiers were killed in the attack, and another 31 wounded, and the commander of the corps, general G. P. Kotov was found dead afterwards.


P-38 Lightnings in formation


The nine Yak-9 planes that were stationed at the nearby airfield were immediately scrambled into the skies, however one was strafed whilst still on the runway. The eight remaining Yaks went into a steep vertical climb, shooting at the Lightnings above them, they then proceeded to dive, repeating the process while the Lightnings maintained their altitude. The battle continued for about fifteen minutes, with both sides claiming some kills, however the exact number is unknown, but is thought to be anywhere between 3-7 Lightnings and 2-5 Yaks shot down. It was not until one brave pilot flew next to the Lightnings waving his wings up and down to show the red star that the Americans realized they were fighting the Soviets, consequently calling off the attack. The Soviet flight leader was their 8th leading ace of the war, Alexander Ivanovich Koldunov, with 46 victories. Russian sources claimed three P-38's in the battle for Alexander.

Yak-9 on flight patrol

From American sources, however, the story goes differently. When the Soviet 6th Guards Rifle Corps asked for help with a strafing run on the retreating Germans, the commandant of the 15th Air Force, Colonel Edwinson, led the mission. They were so successful that the Soviets asked for a repeat mission. The Americans were happy to oblige. However, Edwinson claimed that the Soviets failed to let the Americans know that they had advanced 100 miles in just a single day. Therefore, when the 15th Air Force reached the 6th Guards Rifle Corps, they thought that they were in fact the Germans that they were sent to kill.

Whether the incident was intentional or simply a grave mistake, we can consider ourselves lucky that it did not ignite into a more major confrontation between the two powers.

Sergej "NuclearFoot" Hrustic

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