The Yak-1, like many other Soviet fighters, was very reliable in the field and this allowed it to remain in combat without having to be repaired in a factory.
Furthermore, the relatively quick turning rate of the Yak-1, at around 17 seconds for a 360 degree turn aided the fighter in its combat against opposing German aircraft. Another attribute was that, like its fellow Soviet aircraft, it was also very efficient at operating at low altitude. Considering how almost all air conflicts on the Eastern Front were below 5000 meters, the Yak-1 was very much in its environment of choice.
Operational service ceiling was 10,500 meters, and rate of climb was 926 meters per minute.
The first and only real variant of the Yak-1 was the unofficial Yak-1b. This model, although not officially designated as a variant of the series as it later became the standard for Yak-1s was a change that added two 12.7mm machine guns instead of the earlier 7.62mm, a much improved engine, a new gunsight, a modified cockpit layout and canopy, and improved armor. Other variants include the predecessor of the Yakovlev Yak-3, the Yak-1M, which had smaller wings and a significantly decreased total weight of 2,665 kilograms when combat loaded.
The Yak-1 was initially developed in 1939 out of the need for the Soviet Union to replace its aging fleet of wooden biplanes. Work immediately began on a prototype, with the first one being called the I-26. This model used the M105P engine that the Yak-1 would later have, because of the shortage of the intended M106. Its first flight took place on January 13, 1940. The results being good, the I-26 was further developed into the I-28 and I-30 before being changed to the Yak-1 and finally being put into pre-production. While the latter two prototypes did not influence the design of the Yak-1 (The I-26 was the base in the end), they did go on to be the base frames for later Yakovlev aircraft. Production began later that year.
The Yak-1 first entered service with Soviet troops in late 1940, first seeing combat in 1941 during the Invasion of the Soviet Union. It served well here, though the initial Blitzkrieg certainly dampened any positive effects it could have had on the battlefield. By this time, though only 400 examples had been produced. However, production was setback by the moving of the factory back 1,600 kilometers away from the front. The moving and setup time only took six weeks and then Yak-1s would once again be rolling off the production lines. Now that the element of surprise was lost in the German attack, the Yak-1 began to make a name for itself.
Soviet aces, after gaining critical experience from combat developed tactics to defeat their German foes and Axis losses mounted. Most likely the most notable use of the Yak-1 was during the Battle of Stalingrad, protecting friendly troops and attempting to maintain aerial superiority. One such Soviet ace who used the Yak-1 was Lydia Litvak. However, victories were not without costs and in fact, the Yak-1 had suffered extreme losses in the fighting. In total, around 8,700 examples had been produced during the war. From their beginning in 1941, the Yak-1 continued to serve until the end of the war with the VVS.
- Lüdeke. Alexander. Weapons of World War II. Parragon Publishing (2007), Page 250