Alexei Sergeevich Gusev
interview by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin 
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Last modify on April 4, 2011
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Interview with Alexei Sergeevich Gusev

by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin
Editor: Igor Zhidov
Special Thanks: Svetlana Spiridonova
Translation: Oleg Korytov

1st year of service with VVS SF 06.01.1940

 

 

My name is Alexei Sergeevich Gusev, Colonel of aviation. I was born in 1915, and my age is well over the edge, I stayed too long in this world…
I lived full life. Flew… From which point of view you are interested in me? For history?…

— From your point of view, as an eyewitness. Who were your parents?

My father, Sergei Afanasyevich was, how to say… Simple peasant, served in the army… Mom was a housewife. That’s my parents, they were peasants.

— Where you were born?

Village Polyany, Belinskii region, Penzenskaya Oblast, town Chembar. We lived in Chembar for some time. We later moved to village Poim, in Penzenskaya Oblast too.
In the village Kaltusy I went to school, graduated from 7th grade and was accepted into chemical college in town Shostka. My brother worked there in MGB, so he took me there. But I haven’t worked as a specialist I was trained to be, because plant was not constructed yet, so we often worked at subbotnik.
Then I moved to Astrakhan, where my aunt lived, and applied to fishing industry institute.

— Why did you decide to study in a completely different specialty?

Firstly, I wanted to receive supreme education. Secondly, my senior brother advised me to, and as he was older then me, knew life better, I listened to him.
But in 1933, when I studied at second grade, there was a famine, and I was so weak, that I couldn’t get to the second floor. We managed to live through it only by small fish… Everything on earth burnt by sun…

— What was the reason for famine in 1933?

Bad crops, I think…

— How many people had died of it?

Can’t say precisely. But people used to say: «people die here, people die there…» Out of rumors I could understand that a lot…
In Penzenskaya Oblast situation was different. There were some stocks of grain. My younger brother worked as an operator of mill, where grain was turned to flour. He had enough bread. He wrote me a letter: «Are you going to die there? Come to me».
So I did, and started to work as ordinary peasant. When I came to regional center, to enlist as Komsomol member, I was asked:
— My dear friend, you have middle education, what do you do?
— I shovel crap.
I was immediately after sent to primary school as a principal. At this same time I worked as a geography teacher at local 7 grade “school of working youth”. My things were going quite well by now. I was sent to pedagogical institute in Kuybyshev. I passed all exams, and began studying in the institute, but in 1935 I was sent to the Army. Representatives from flight school came, and I ended up in Yeisk navy aviation school.

— You were sent there by Komsomol direction, or free willingly?

More like by Komsomol direction…
Those who had finished middle education were without exams included into navigators department. The rest — to the pilots department.
When I graduated from flight school, pilots were ranked as Jr. Lieutenants, while we received Lieutenants rank. Half of graduates were sent to the navy, the rest to the army. I was sent to the navy. We — sailors, were given a whole handbag of uniform and items, including white parade uniforms, while army aviators were only given belts.

— This uniform was sawn personally, or standard?

We came to the warehouse, where we were given new uniforms. If it did not fit well there was a tailor who adjusted it…

— When did you graduate?

I was included in 1935, add 3 years. Before war.

— Which planes you flew while training to become a pilot?

We flew R-1, R-5 and Po-2. Mainly these three. We once flew in TB-3, an introductory flight, we were loaded into the fuselage, we flew once, and that was it. Then it was parked at the Yeisk airfield and corroded there… And, of course, MBR-2.
Our group consisted of 8 men.

— Were there cases of expelling cadets from school for any reason?

No. Mostly disciplinary punishment. There were no cases of expelling. There was one cadet named Kolpashnikov, the tallest in the Navy, he finished 2 grades in the institute. He should be expelled for sloppiness. But commanders took pity in him, and he stayed.

— You were sent straight to the north after graduation?

No, at first I was sent to Sarabuz, that’s a town near Simferopol. I was sent to the brigade which was under command of Ostryakov, who received HSU for Spain. He later became commander of VVS ChF.
Planes were SBs. There were a lot of crews, and we had rare chances to fly. Very rare — maybe once a week. I also sometimes flew R-5. A navy unit equipped with MBR-2s was set up, so I was transferred there. It was 54th squadron.

— You graduated from school flying one type of planes, then you were retrained to SB, and then to MBR-2 again. Didn’t you feel discomfort from it?

Of course we did.

— Did you like SB from navigator’s point of view?

Most graduates wanted to be sent to SBs. It was a fast plane with good working station…
MBR-2 was very uncomfortable. It was such an unpleasant thing. It was all about water, you see… Uncomfortable in many ways, even in small things… For example, you bend over the cabins edge, and stuff from pockets may fall out and drown… No problem if it was small change, but what if it would be document?

— Did cadets-navigators receive any flying practice?

Flying planes? No. And passing airplane controls to the navigator was strictly forbidden.

— We talked to the former MBR navigator Avanesov…

Grigorii Avanesov, I know him…

— He told us that at Baltic’s pilots sometimes changed places with navigators.

Avanesov served in another unit, maybe they had different regulations.

— How gunnery practice was done? On all airplanes you were taught to fly on navigator was also a gunner.

Yes. MBR-2 was equipped with a very rapid firing machine gun ShKAS — 1800 rounds per minute. Very powerful weapon. We fired at towed cone. Training procedure No 1 — firing at the cone. Training procedure No 2 — firing at ground targets. Most difficult was firing at cone head-on. If you hit it with one bullet it was «excellent». Cone was 9 or 10 meters long, and 1 or 1,2 meters wide. It was hard to hit. You had to make correct deflection, aim precisely, not everyone could do it.

— How ammunition loading was organized?

Two boxes were hanged to the turret. At about waist level. Gun it self was a bit higher. Turret could be turned 360 degrees. But there was a small sector where it could not be fired in order not to shoot your own engine.

— How did you end up at the North?

An order came, so I and Anatolii Kovalev were picked. We two were transferred to the North in September. We did not want to go there — it is much easier to live down South. We came there in summer uniforms, but it was snowing already.

— You came there before war?

Yes.

— Did you fly a lot before war?

My flying work was going pretty well. I flew a lot. Began to climb up professional ladder. I became a navigator of detached squadron equipped with MBRs, but detached squadron was equal to regiment, even though there were 3 ordinary squadrons.

— Do you remember squadron No?

Detached 49th squadron. I served with this squadron in Archangelsk.

photo of squadron commander of 49th detached_squadron. Pankov, squadron commander, Flag-navigator Gusev, commander of radio operations gunner Morozov. March 1942.

 

— Do you remember Finnish war?

I do. I was already up North. There was no detailed information. We knew that we fought against Finns. Newspapers, radio… But I can’t recall if we were informed, or some consulting was done…
We flew some combat missions. But we haven’t actually take part in combat…

— Was that winter cold?

Yes, very.

— Did you suffer from frostbites in flight?

I did. I was dressed in all clothes I could get, because I flew standing waist height in the wind. All winds were mine. When we flew in a Po-2, we were frostbitten by wind created by propeller. I commonly suffered from frostbitten cheeks. We were given mole fur masks, but they didn’t help a lot, because when you turned your head, wind would get under it.

— In pre-war time our VVS took part in Civil war in Spain, in Finnish war, Fought in China and Mongolia. Did you talk to any veterans of those campaigns?

Can’t recall. I knew that Ostryakov fought in Spain, but he never told anything.

— In which equipment you flew in MBR?

Flight clothes were fur flight suit.

— At summer and winter?

Both, at an altitude of 5 000 meters it could be up to - 50 degrees Celsius.

— You flew MBRs at 5 000 meters? What for?

For a reason. There were such tasks that required flying at this altitude.

— Did you have electrically heated clothes?

No. Only worm clothes.

— Did you have Raglan coats?

I received two of those. Raglan was a leather coat. I received one during war time and another one before it began.
Very good ones. It still is hanging in my wardrobe. Even though it lost its look, but it is still a memory…

— What kind of weapons you had?

TT pistol, there were no revolvers.

— Did you fly MBRs from ground?

MBR-2 flew mostly from water, but skis could be fitted. Airplane came, moved close to the descent. Navigator drops an anchor. In order to drag airplane to the ground special «dragging chassis» were fitted. This was performed by special divers. Then airplane was dragged to the shore by special tractor.

— What was a procedure to set it afloat?

Trolley had to be pushed by hands to the descent, then divers removed the chassis, and airplane was floating. Then a boat dragged it to the special “barrel”, parking area on water, where it was fixed by anchor. If a navigator missed with taxiing, he would throw an anchor and tie an airplane to the “barrel”. There were a lot of problems with these planes. Later, when I was transferred to SB, I though that I was in heaven.
There was a hatch in MBR-2 fuselage — there was a possibility to open o close it in flight, but if you forgot to close it on landing — you had a full cockpit of water.
And cockpit was filled with parachute, bomb sight, machine gun, photo camera. There wasn’t even enough space to turn…
Even engine starter was in the navigators’ cockpit. It was called «Gorel». It was a device like a compressor, it pumped air into the engine in order to rotate it.
And before starting engine pilot shouted to me:
— Alexey, go on!
Propeller has moved a couple of times, air pumped in the pistons, engine begins working. Anchor… While you pull it out your hand get dirty. Later, in the air, recovered after take off, you start to fulfill your task. It was a bad plane.

— MBR landed mostly on water, so what could happen if belly was damaged prior to landing? Water could fill the fuselage?

I don’t remember such cases.

— Was there a pump to get rid of water in fuselage?

No, there wasn’t.

— Bombs were hanged on the shore or at water?

More often on the shore, there were cases when it was done on the water, but it was not safe. Bomb is a bomb…

— You used iron bombs, RSs or depth charges?

We mostly used PLAB-100. 2 bombs under each wing. 4 bombs in all. About 500 kilograms – they were a bit heavier then nominal number said. I never used RSs, they came when I left the squadron.

— You began war flying MBR?

Yes. In 49th squadron.

— Did you believe that you were well prepared for war when it came?

We did not self attest. We were trained for it, and when time came we just had to do our job.

— At the beginning of the war, did you think that you were better trained then Germans or not?

We did not compare. I do not remember such discussions.

— Didn’t you suffer from overconfidence?

No, nothing like this. At first couple of weeks, maybe.

— Did you understand that war is going to be long and hard from the start?

Yes. It was not a game — we entered combat area for a long time.

— What kind of missions you flew?

At peace time — route flying. A triangle was drawn in the sea, we had to fly by its sides. Bombing at the shooting range. We had to drop four concrete bombs.

— What kind of missions you flew after war started?

Our main mission was ASW. It meant flying at an altitude of 50-500 meters. At this altitude eyes get tired pretty fast. But submarines were really visible. If it went with periscope up, it was simply excellent.

— Wasn’t airspeed of MBR too low for effective ASW and reconnaissance?

No. For these tasks it was fine.

— Were there actually cases of locating enemy submarines?

Enemy? We mostly saw our boats. I remember in the area of Zemnogorsk Vassiliy Solovyev managed to drop 4 PLAB-100 at our boat. Luckily, with no effect… It was going to Archangelsk for repairs and refitting, when he almost finished it off.
Bombing targets were either on the front line or Navy bases, ports. Our common target was Kirkines.

— Wasn’t it a target for SBs?

Yes, but we also attacked it with MBRs. We dropped PLABs on it.

— PLABs were special anti-submarine bombs?

But we dropped them at ground targets too. We had large supply of them. PLAB was our main weapon. We didn’t carry larger bombs. For submarines they were more then enough. Couple of PLABs –and everything is fine. If aimed correctly, of course.
Main targets were, as I said — port Kirkines, airfield Luostari, Varde, Vadse. We “serviced” these objects.

— Did you fly at day or night time?

At nights, mostly…
Pilot worried, while I wanted him to fly at combat course. I’m busy with aiming, while pilot saw all the explosions around:
— Come on, drop them, will you!
I replied:
— I have to aim.
Pilot worries even more. I’m busy, I have to find the target. I have to make a photo shot to establish results of a strike…

— Did you have a built-in or manual camera?

Manual. A large one.

— To make photos you opened a hatch or bend over cabin side?

Over the side. Uniform and parachute was an obstacle…

— Did you carry parachute?

Parachute was lying near by. If I would have got it on, I wouldn’t be able to work at all. If a shell would hit us, there was no way to get it on… Some perished this way.

— Did you squadron suffer from losses?

I wouldn’t say that they were significant, but they were.

— What were the main reasons for MBR losses at that time? AAA? Fighters?

Mainly for AAA. We were covered by our fighters, so enemy had difficulties to get to us.

— You mostly flew over sea. Did you have some kind of radio navigation?

Can’t really say… It somehow did not held in my head…

— How did you set course?

There was a navigator in MBR-2… Standard equipment. There was no extra equipment.

— There were no cases of lost orientation?

There was such case in 49th detached squadron. Anatolii Kovalev got lost and landed in taiga near Zemnogorskii lighthouse. We searched for a three-man crew for seven days. Anatolii wasn’t looking like a man anymore. But we still found them and managed to evacuate.

— Airplane was written off?

All that could be ripped off was carried to the PARM. That’s airplane repair workshop.
Anatolii Kovalevlater became a chief of parachute service… He made a lot of jumps. After transfer to Moscow he jumped over 500 times in different styles.
After the war he became a chief of parachute sport for all Soviet Union.

— Navigator Yevdokimov told us that they had a saying: «Pilot is a personal driver, who gives a ride to the navigator to his working place». Were there sayings like this in your unit?

I can’t recall anything like this. We were living in friendship…
Of course there always was a place for a good joke. Each one of us had a deficiency, or “hand writing” so to say…

— How MBR-2s were painted?

Planes were white. Or silvery… Belly was dark. Very dark, there was a special paint for ships - surik…

— When war began, did you camouflage your MBRs?

No. There was no time…

— Do you remember who was 49th squadron commander?

Pankov. What was his name?... Pavel Alexandrovich, if I’m not mistaken. He had two children, and his son became a singer. My wife liked to listen to him singing.

— When did you marry?

I already had forgotten… It was before war, but I already was a pilot. My fiancé was a director of kindergarten from a village Poim in Penzenskaya Oblast. Very beautiful…

— When you moved to the north, she followed you?

I didn’t want to leave here behind. But at that time there was no possibility to live with a family, so I lived in Vaenga, while she – in Archangelsk.
I used to have a friend – Catalina pilot, Vassilii Spirov. We studied together at Supreme Pilots Tactics courses. He used to fly to Dixon, and he had intermediate stop at Archangelsk. I asked him:
— Vassilii, bring my wife to me, but be careful, or you might have trouble from commanders.
He was very reckless.
— Don’t worry, I’ll bring here.
So he did. He brought his wife and mine. I remember that they were caught in bad weather, and I worried a lot. My wife spent some time with me and I sent her back on board of Douglas. We were not allowed to live with our families, but having a friend helped…

— When convoy operations began where you were serving? Still with 49th squadron?

With 2nd GvIAP, I believe.

— When you were transferred there?

Can’t say for sure. It was already Guards, under command of Safonov. I was transferred from a position of detached squadron navigator to position of chief of operations department, and later became a chief of staff in this same regiment.

— What was the reason of your transfer?

Rising in career.

— Weren’t you sorry to quit flying?

Very sorry. I thought for a long time, even wanted to reject, but agreed eventually.

— Your former squadron remained near Archangelsk?

Yes.

— What was your work as a chief of operations department?

Mostly it was training of flying crews. Studying area of operations. I had to show young pilots area of operations so that they won’t get lost.

— What about briefings?

Stab of VVS gave orders to the units, reconnaissance units got their tasks, Bombers their, torpedo-bombers their. And so on. Amount of planes, ordnance selection, it all came from stab of VVS…

— What about route and altitude?

Altitude was given “from” “till”.
Briefing was a work of chief of stab. I had to prepare everything for him. I had to precisely define our goal, calculate required forces, write it all on paper and present to the commander.
When mission was over — I had to describe what happened, which results were achieved. If there was a fight, I had to collect all data.

— A lot of bomber veterans complain a lot about fighter cover: Not coming in time, leaving too early or something else. Let’s suggest that fighter regiment is given a task of escorting bombers to their target. Bombers arrive on time, but fighters for some reason can’t take off. Not refueled or rearmed, just returned from another mission…

That shouldn’t happen. Day planning is done such way that assigned forces should be prepared and ready to join bombers…

— But war is war…

If bombers took off, fighters should join them… Otherwise…

— …Mission was aborted?

Mission was not aborted. In such case bombers were directed to secondary targets. For example, «strike against airfield Luostari is cancelled, drop bombs on Vadse and Varde».
Then we had a serious debriefing.

— Did fighters loose escorted bombers?

There were such cases.

— Were there discussions about these cases?

Of course. Some could get “black eye”, some had disciplinary punishment.

— Did pilots discuss missions flown? Did they express their displeasure by other pilots’ actions…

No, only debriefings with commanders.

— What about Sorokin, for example, by whose lies there were a lot of complains…

Well, he was just single one like that. You hit bull’s eye. Sorokin was a pathological lire. Safonov sometimes couldn’t contain himself and told him:
— Zakhar, if you will continue lying, I’m going to shoot you down myself. Understood? These are not just words, I am going to shoot you down. I’ll find a way to report it somehow.
Sorokin almost hated him at such moments.

— Did Safonov use foul language?

No, never. He was very polite man. He was bulky, heavily built man, very tough man. He gained respect not by words, but by personal example. A flight is sitting in Alert-1. An air raid against our field. No one could take off before he did. He would fasten parachute belts and take off. Do you imagine what kind of effect was when he shot down enemy Ju-88 over our airfield? I still remember it. He was highly respected.
There always were problems with Sorokin. Everything inside him was directed towards lies. It was in his blood.
When he was shot down, we searched for him, but he returned himself from Zapadnaya Litsa with frostbitten legs… His leg fingers had to be amputated.
But he lied so much about his journey that Safonov had to ask:
— Please, stop lying, tell us what really happened…

— He kept flying after this?

He did. But he did not receive a Hero title then. Regiment commander was on his side and wanted to send a presentation list. He kept saying:
— We have to arrange it for Sorokin somehow…
I was the one who wrote presentation lists… But to fill it correctly all acts of heroism had to be properly described. He did not shoot 10 enemy planes down. That was the norm. So we had to “pull” him up… We wrote truth and lies. We described 10 planes shot down, so he received a title “in advance”. But he earned it. He later achieved all requirements.

— Did he keep flying after earning Hero title?

He did.
But he was such a talker… There was one case, when a singer Kozin came to us. He came to Vaenga, and had a brief concert in a House of Culture, two songs, maybe. Sorokin came to him and said:
— I’m flying without legs… While you…
He was great at talking. Singer after talking to him felt ashamed and continued singing… I was on duty with the regiment. Sgibnev was regiment commander then.
After that case Sorokin and Kozin became friends. Sorokin was very proud of it…

— Did artists come often to you?

I’d say, rarely.

— For how long you were a chief of operations department?

A year or a year and a half.

— What was your rank then?

Capitan or Major.

—  Did you fly in 2nd GvIAP?

No. I was there only at stab work.

— How did you become a chief of stab?

As a raise in career. I was a chief of operations department and became a chief of stab.

— You became a chief of stab while Safonov was regiment commander?

No, Sgibnev was. Petr Sgiblev was a good man, a cheerful man. I remember I had to meet his parents when he perished, and I passed them his belongings. I cried with them. I can’t hold my self even now… He was such a good man, what can I say more. I can’t recall him calmly even now, not to speak about those days... His dad and mom came and said:
— He was our only hope. Now we have no one left.
He was cheerful and very nice. He did not punish anyone when he was regiment commander. Golodnikov was his friend…

— Did you meet British pilots? They were in your regiment…

I haven’t seen them. They fought alongside with our pilots on Hurricanes. Then they passed us their aircraft, boarded ship, and set off to England.

— What was our pilots’ attitude towards British pilots?

They were very different. Some were very serious pilots, others were not too keen on fighting. But we still were friends. I used to have a photo with them…
They were good fighters. Good. But their equipment was pretty crappy, especially bombers. They had Hampdens. Very slow, they suffered great losses.

— Were they awarded by our awards?

If I remember correctly their high ranking officers were. Not ordinary pilots.

— Pokrovskii told that one pilot was awarded by Order of Red Combat Banner.

You met Pokrovskii? Vladimir Pokrovskii. He was very phlegmatic… Very calm. Very… I often told him:
— Vladimir, try to be a bit faster.
He even spoke rarely, and to run for him was a serious event.

 

Commander and friend Boris Safonov

 

— When Safonov perished, you were a chief of operations department?

Yes.

— It is said that two pairs took off in Kittyhawks: Safonov-Kuharenko and Pokrovskii-Orlov.

So.

— Pokrovskii told that Kuharenko returned because his engine was not working properly, and Safonov remained alone.

I remember that one plane’s engine gave fillings. They took off in four plane formation. Someone returned… Yes, it was Kuharenko. They flew in three plane formation instead of four. On Kuharenko’s plane engine began giving filling out, so he had no right to continue flying. He returned and landed in Vaenga.
I used to have great memory then. Took off, returned, time of landing, results, all this passed through me.
I had a large amount of information, great experience and felt if somebody tried to lie to me.
But some pilots were not into discussions. I asked them:
— Please, tell me something, I have to report something.
I met Golodnikov quite often. He graduated from military Academy, and became a General… He used to live in Stavropol, and rang me by telephone… A few days ago I received a telegram that he passed away…
(Nikolay Golodnikov had died at night 25 may 2010)

— Was Golodnikov prone to “telling tales”? He claimed in his interview that he fought in I-16s and Hurricanes, while historian Yurii Rybin says that it is a false claim?

Nikolay came to our regiment when we flew Kittyhawks, but before we received Cobras… By this time there were some airworthy I-16s and Hurricanes. Did he fly them… Can’t say – I don’t remember. Theoretically he could. He used to be very correct, and never was caught on lies.

— You saw P-40 Kittyhawks. What is your opinion about this plane? We heard absolutely opposite opinion about it.

It was mediocre airplane with a poor maneuverability.

— What about other foreign airplanes?

Hurricane was obsolete. Then we received Kittyhawks, but they were not too good either. Rifle caliber machine guns were no longer up to date, so our weapons officers rebuilt airplanes to utilizing large caliber machine guns and cannons right at the airfield.

— That is, cannons were better then machine guns independent of caliber?

Of course. At first we had rifle caliber machine guns, and then they were changed to heavy machine guns. Those were much better. They were changed by rapid firing cannons. Better once more. Caliber only increased.

— How pilots thought about Cobras?

Fine. That machine was for fighting.

— Pokrovskii told that several pilots were lost in flat spins flying them.

Yes, it was known to be hard to recover from spins. There were such cases. But I didn’t analyze them.

— How often dogfights took place when you came to 2nd GvIAP?

If weather was good – 2-3 fights daily. They all had to be documented. It was my work, all paperwork was on my hands.

— What were the main mission types? City, airfield defense or free hunt?

Mostly airfield and naval bases raids, like Luostari, Kirkiness, Varde, Vadse — they all were nearby. Our regiment flew there from Vaenga.
We suffered losses. Of course they had big effect on morale. Sometimes there were no losses at all. Losses depended on the situation. It was quite nice to fight in I-16s, and losses were pretty light. Hurricanes were difficult to fight on. Kittyhawks were better, but still… Then we received Airacobras, they were more powerful airplanes. By this time there were almost no I-16s left…

— When you were transferred to 2nd GvIAP, airplanes were plain green or camouflaged?

I don’t remember now… Cobras were black-orange or something.

— Were there Il-4s based near you?

Don’t remember.

— What about torpedo bombers?

They were stationed near Murmansk. DB-3, DB-3f.

— What about Hampdens?

O-o-o! Those were coffins. It was scary to fly them, or even come close to them. Even their appearance was… Shitty. It was nicknamed “Balalaika”. They were parked separately on the remote part of the airfield. There must have been a squadron of those. They disappeared without fame or trace… They were bad planes. Pilots swore at them, and refused to fly them, but it was war, so no opinions were left…

— Were pilots introduced to new enemy airplanes characteristics and where did you get information about it?

It mostly passed through me. I collected this data in VVS stab and passed to the crews.

— What did your political officers do?

Nothing. Wasted time. Some flew – a bit. Others just talked. Pilots had no respect towards them.

— Were there political officers who would be really respected?

For example – regiment Commissar. He did not fly. But he had correct approach to the people. He was highly respected. At Safonov’s time Commissar was Filipp Petrovich Pronyakov. He used to be a deputy of Supreme Council of Belarus, serious man. But he was not offended by Safonov’s practical jokes. For example Safonov told him:
— Today I’m going to study Marxism-Leninism philosophy, bring me the sources.
Pronyakov shouted in excitement:
— I’ll be right back.
He brought some books:
— Here, read this article, this one should be studied too…
— Fine, give them all to me.
Safonov packed them and went to sleep, using books as pillow.
— Wake me up later.
That was his kind of jokes.

— Who was Commissar at Sgibnev’s time?

I believe that it was Pronyakov too.

— Was there a special department representative in your regiment?

Yes. He appeared sometimes. We knew what he was up to. It was his own business… People despised him, sometimes they could call him traitor He did not deserve it, but still…

— What were the relations between flying and technical crews?

Very good. Flying crews protected their technicians.

— What if pilot returned from a fight and claimed that engine did not work properly or weapon did not fire?

There would be a serious investigation. A reason should be found. For example, ShKAS jammed quite often on it’s own…
But relations between pilot and his mechanic were always great, pilot always respected technicians work.

— What if malfunction was caused by improper service? What was the punishment?

Depending on what kind of mistake was done. But I do not know of a single harsh punishment case. Mostly by words.

— In archives there can be a special type of documents found, - investigation report for a reason of loss of aircraft. Was it written on each and every plane lost?

Depth of investigation depended on current situation in the fight. And yes, each lost airplane was subjected to investigation, it was required for proper writing off. It all depended on the man who was investigating the case. On his decision depended whether pilot will be punished or not. Sometimes, if pilot would crash-land, these planes could be signed off as “battle damaged”. But that was not common.

— What if regiment suffered serious losses in a short period of time? Would regiment commander be punished for it, or “war is war – can’t fight without losses”?

War is war. It can’t be fought without losses… There always were debriefings. After each fight there always were debriefings.

— But still, regiment commander could be punished for losses?

He could be seriously punished. Depending on the situation.

— If your regiment had a task of escorting Shturmoviks or bombers, which suffered losses, did you perform an investigation?

Of course. We had to find our mistakes to prevent them from happening in the future.

— Were fighters used for ground attack roles?

Yes. For example, intelligence reported that troops movement was found on some road. In this case we were sent to strafe enemy reinforcements.

— Strike by fighters and by shturmoviks was a completely different thing. Was it really needed to send fighters there?

There were cases when it was obvious that strike will be ineffective, and in such cases we refused to fly these missions.
You see, we had to answer the question: will results be good enough? And we had to take possible losses into consideration.

— What pilots thought about strafing ground troops?

I don’t understand? There can’t be any discussion, if task is given. If supreme commanders decided, there should be no democracy. After executing orders they returned back, but it was not too interesting to discuss missions afterwards.

— Who became regiment commander after Sgibnev?

Colonel Morenko. I didn’t work a lot with him. I was transferred to the stab of VVS SF.

— Pilots were awarded for amount of missions flown, for shooting down enemy planes. How stab officers were awarded?

Regiment commander wrote a presentation. It depended on how one showed himself at the post. If we worked fine, we were not forgotten… But there was a statut which was used for awarding.

— Were there pilots who thought that they were not awarded by their achievements?

There are such people in each unit. And they should be. That is inside each one of us.
And they presented their versions: commanders do not like me because I have a sharp tongue. Other one will think of something else…

— So, in your regiment if pilot shot enemy plane down he would get an Order, if ten – Golden Star?

If it was confirmed — he will get the award. And there could be no holding. Some thought that they were passed by.

— Were there pilots in the regiment who were shot down behind enemy lines and then returned?

There were such cases. That same Sorokin, for example.

— Were there cases when pilots were picked up from the sea?

Yes. Pokrovskii, for example…

— I believe that he was swimming for 2 hours 40 minutes...

That I can’t confirm or oppose. Don’t remember.

— Have you fought with the Finns?

Finns? No.

— When they were showing Germans their way out of Finland in 1944 did you discuss operations with them?

No, we haven’t met…

— Did you drink alcohol?

Yes. 100 grams. It was very strict with flight crews. Political officers were supposed to look after them.

- And you?

No. I was sent in if there was a need to make some adjustments. There was a commissar, forgot his name now… He was very keen on drinking. Regiment commander sent me:
— Alexey Sergeevich, go there, they are going to start up now. Razgulyaev is there… That,s his name – Razgulyaev!
So I went there and did what he asked.

— How people were accepted into the Party?

One had to be a Candidate for about a year… This time was not reduced during war time.

— How you spent you salary?

I sent most of my salary to my family, and the rest I received in cash.

— How could you compare German, Finnish and Soviet pilots? Who were better trained? What kind special characteristics they had?

There were no Finns there. Only Germans, although they were sitting at Finnish airbases.
We knew a lot about German training, and we knew many German aces. We studied them, same as they studied us. When there was no flying weather we examined their tactics.

— Was there such thing as “Messer fear”?

No, no, no, no.

— Who shot Muller down? How did it happen?

It all passed through me. There was a large investigation. Bokii and Sgibnev tried to get credit for it. Sgibnev wanted to get credit for it. I was his advisor, so to say, and I told him:
— Petr, stop it. I know Bokiis character well — there will be trouble. He is too cocky. You shouldn’t get involved in this. You won’t be able to get this claim from him.
Sgibnev later decided to give away this claim. It was credited to Bokii. When Muller was shot down, he belly-landed North-West of Murmansk, 50 or 60 kilometers away from the town. Then he ran away on skis.

— How far it was from front line?

About 70 kilometers. Sgibnev saw ski prints and announced:
— He is trying to escape, and can do it.
He personally called to Fleet Commander Golovko and said:
— This man should be caught at all costs.
When Mullers airplane was located, on its fuselage in a square there was a number «87», meaning 87 aerial victories (At Me-109 fuselage there was a number 87 in yellow triangle, which meant octane number of fuel to be used. Traditionally kill-marks were painted at the rudder of German airplanes. Muller had claimed 92 kills. But since he was shot down in a brand new Me-109G2, which he newer flew previously, most likely that no kill marks were painted on the plane) Can you imagine? It means that he shot down 87 allied airplanes.
A whole infantry battalion was sent after him. Muller managed to make almost 70 kilometers for just 12 hours. But he couldn’t keep up the pace and laid down to rest… There he was caught.
I had to work with him. He was a pleasant man for communication. We hid in the same foxhole during air raids. But we couldn’t let him go.

— How he was brought to your regiment?

I had to go to the frontline, where he was captured, and bring him with me. All pilots were gathered, and an interrogation took place. He told everything. Later regiment commander Sgibnev and other pilots used him to gather information. He listened to the radio transmissions and told: bombers took off from this field, fighters from that one, over this point they are going to meet. Group separated here. One group went to bomb Murmansk, second – Polyarnoye, third - airfields. They used large groups for raids then…

— That is, Muller actively cooperated?

Absolutely. He had nothing to lose and nowhere to run.

— What about patriotism? «Heil Hitler…» and so on?

No. Nothing like that. Our pilots tried to ask him tricky questions. But he replied to all questions fully, calmly and openly.

— Did our pilots try to “clean his face”?

People were different. Most likely there were thoughts like that. But he acted with dignity and did not give a reason for someone to start beating up.

— For how long did he stay at your regiment?

For over two or three month, perhaps. Then SMERSh came after him. Muller gave good information, so he was held at the regiment as long as possible.

— He was of the same age as you?

Yes, he was also born in 1915.

— Who else from other German pilots was brought to the regiment?

We also caught squadron commander Schmidt
(In the loss list of 6.JG5 there is Ltn. Heinrich Schmidt 11.12.1943 – lost in a crash after being shot down by Soviet AAA. Bf 109G-6 WrN 410041 NW of Barkany.).

— Who brought him down?

Can’t recall now.

— What was c kill confirmation procedure?

That was one thing I had to deal with quite often. I questioned all participants of the fight. I knew each pilots qualities, who will tell all truth, who may lie somewhere…
If pilots’ reports differed, and that was a common situation, I had to gather extra information, by calling to air observation post, for example. Then I would sum up all the information and do some report.

— Sometimes only claiming pilot saw what had happened…

Quite often pilots reported: «enemy fell into the sea», but we still needed the confirmation. Mostly, they came from aerial surveillance posts. There were a lot of such posts over the coast. Their reports were the main documents.
Sometimes I had to personally travel to the wreck site to get extra information.

— Could it be that several pilots would claim at one and the same wreck as a proof?

Of course there were some problems, but usually those were misunderstandings, and if no kill was achieved, there was no confirmation...

— At which distance surveillance posts were positioned?

Depended on the terrain. They should be in visible contact with each other. They were also connected by telephone.

— Did they have radios?

Radios appeared later. Mostly by telephone wires. When radios were introduced it became a lot easier to cooperate with them.
They also reported if our plane was shot down… But it sometimes was difficult to distinguish one from other… There also were command posts all along coastal line that passed orders to the units in the air.


— How you found out that war had ended?

We were told by our commanders, who were informed via radio.