Benedikt Ilyich Kardopoltsev
interview by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin 
olegkorytov.nospam@newmail.ru (remove .nospam)
Last modify on April 3, 2007
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Guards Lieutenant Benedikt Ilyich Kardopoltsev. Participated in the GPW from 10/43 till 5/45, flew La-5 and La-7.

According to Mikhail Bykov has 6 enemy planes on his account:
12.02.44 FW-190
04.08.44 FW-190
11.02.45 Ju-87
12.02.45 FW-190
20.03.45 Me-109
07.05.45 FW-190

Interview taken by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin.
Redactor: Igor Zhidov.
 
 
 

Benedikt Ilyich Kardopoltsev:
I’m 84 now, I was born here, in Leningrad, on 28-th of July 1922.

— What educational status do you have?

On 12-th line of Vasilievskii Island, near Frunze military school there was ordinary school No 12. The building was great, it used to be a gymnasium before revolution. In 1938 we were moved from there. The building there was given to the military students, and I was sent to the school No5 on 13-th line between Srednii and Bolshoi prospect. There I almost finished 10-th grade. I always wanted to get to the aero club, but when I first applied I was rejected by medical commission – they thought that I was too short. At the same time I used to be a yachtsmen, and since I had no chance to become a pilot, I decided to participate at the yachts race. We were racing for two and a half month, and during this time I built up quite heavily, so in the autumn I had no problems with applying to the Second Leningrad Aero Club. Since it was a day-time education, I had to change normal school to the “school of the working youth”. As long as I was studying at the aero club I got a scholarship, I was fed at the clubs canteen and we had free uniform. We also flew quite a lot.

— Where was your base airfield?

Now there is the ending metrostation “Obuhovo”. Nowadays it is quite fast to get there, but we had to go by train from Moskow railway station… It took us about 45 minutes to get there.
At first we had some theory, but in about two or three days we started flying with an instructor in an U-2. There also were I-16, TB-1 and TB-3 on our airfield, but we did not get to fly them – but our instructors used to fly them before or after the main core of students, just “for pleasure” – taking off and landing... I got fascinated by TB’s – our first bombers…
I joined the aero club in September 1940, and finished educational program in March 1941. there were 60 of us, and there was a commission from Moscow, which picked 30 of us and sent them to Vologda, to the bomber-pilots school. The rest were sent to the Bataisk, to the fighter-pilots school. I wanted to apply for bomber school, but my instructor – a very wise man, told to me:
«You should go to Bataisk, as you were told, you will never regret it…»
And on 15-th or 17-th of april we were told to gather ourselves and be ready to depart.
I said:
«I haven’t finished my education.».
«Take a note from your school that you are studying in 10-th grade».
So I did, but in the end I did not need it – 9 classes of education was enough to study at the flight school.
In Bataisk we were met, underwent medical commission. I was sent to 8-th squadron, and we started theoretical education once again. Education was good, as well as teachers. Then we moved to the summer camps. Each squadron had it’s own base – our was near Bataisk. We flew UT-2 there.

Bataisk flight school instructors: Oberyukhin, unidentified, Myagkii, Cyclonov
 
 

— About UT-2 there is a lot of rumours going around – it supposedly was strict plane to fly, had a tendency to enter flat spins…

We were pilots! We finished aero club, and although they tried to scare us, we were too young to be afraid. Flat spins were more common to the UT-1, it required exceptional training. But we never flew it – we ended program with UT-2 and moved on to the UTI-4. By this time the germans captured Taganrog, almost captured Rostov, and we were moved from Bataisk to Azov.

— How did you found out that war has begun?

We used to live in the tents near our airfield, and one night we were raised by alarm. We were gathered together and told:
«War had begun!»
It was Sunday, four, maybe five o’clock in the morning. We were directed to do something – some were told to help load ammo, some helped technitians to prepare planes, some had order to camouflage planes.
My commander asked:
«Who knows how to use Degtyaryov machinegun?»
I knew, so I said:
«I’m ready!».
He gave me two students to carry cartriges and machine gun:
«Hide about 2 km from us, and if you will see some saboteurs, kill them. In about two hours we will change you.».
At five o’clock we left the field. One hour passes, second… twelve, it’s getting dark. Days there are hot, but nights were really cold… We were thirsty and hungry, but we had no order to leave our post. Finally we just went to the base, and met our commander, who said:
“Where were you? Were you AWOL?”
«You sent us on the post in the morning!».
«Well, yes, I had forgotten… Go to the canteen, and after that go to sleep.»
So we went to the canteen, where there was nothing left, and we ended up going to bed hungry… That was my first day of war...
Some time after war started we kept flying, but when we were about to end the education one of the students from the neighbouring squadron was shot down by Me-110, two-keel fighter. After that we ended flying.
When Germans got closer we begun to prepare for evacuation. For three days we waited for a train, and when we were loosing hope it finally came. Technical staff disassembled our airplanes and we loaded them on the train platforms, and then we went to Azerbaijan – through Alyaty to Geran. I remember we had to fight for food there – less then 3 month from the war’s beginning, and there already was nothing to eat…

— In your training program did you have aerobatics?

As a system - no. Take off, raise gear, shooting. We had some spin practice though. Some of UTI-4 (I-16) planes were taken from us – we had to remove second control, gauge panel and close the fuselage. They were sent to the front as fighters. We ended I-16 program in April or May of 1942 and were expecting departure to the front units, but we were kept to wait. We were reading papers, listening to the radio, and could not understand why we were not sent to fight Germans…

— Did you wrote reports to get to the front?

Of course, everyone of us wanted to fight. We were good guys and we were good pilots…
One day we were gathered together, and our surnames were called out. Those who were called were sent to the combat units, and fifteen of us were left behind.:
«You will be returned to your squadron for further training».
This squadron was based at Karamusaly – it used to be the training ground for Republican Spanish pilot, I remember the bits of their SB planes were scattered around the airfield...
Of course we were upset, but we were told:
«...you are going to fly LaGG-3».

— Did you have a nicknames for LaGG’s?

Yes: «Lackuered Aviational Guaranteed Coffin».

— When you heard it first time?

LaGGs were transferred to us by wounded pilots who flew them in combat, so it was their expression. They brought us 6 LaGGs, and as soon as we started to study it, we suddenly found out that it was extremely unstable on the ground, it had heavy tendency to roll to the left.

— We were told that LaGG-3 was exceptionally stable, but La-5 was less stable…

No, no. La-5 rolled on take off, and LaGG used to roll on the landing, because… Well, difficult to explain on such short notice, let’s just say that it was construction fault. If you will not be able hold it straight, or if you will land on one wheel the landing gear would collapse to one side, sometimes it was called “Lezginka dance”. Very weak landing gear. First group had underwent training, and all planes were “on the barrels” – landing gear was damaged and we had no spares to fix them. My group had no chance to try the plane in the air…
The war is still going, and those who flew LaGGs were sent to combat units, we are sitting again... In the end of 1942 we were told:
«You will fly La-5».
We spent 1,5 - 2 month in ground houses in the camp. There were millions of fleas! All of our group got malaria. In the morning and in the evening we would be freezing, then high temperature. There even were two death cases. I came to the point, when I could only drink water and “Khinin”, which did not help a bit, I could not eat… By this time we were sitting in Kurdamir, which is the most malarious place in whole Soviet Union. But the airfield there was great.
Our group begun to fly La-5, but I could not even move. My squadron commander Chirkin came to me and said:
«Do you feel all right?»
I tried to look as good as I could:
«Well…»
«Get your self to the airfield and start flying».
When I used to return from the trining flight my knees were shaking, not because of fear, but because of weakness or malaria attack. Luckily I was pretty good, so I finished La-5 program really fast. I was sent to the 2-nd ZAP near Gorkii. First thing in ZAP was 20 flights to each pilot. Take off, landing, aerobatics, route flights… And malaria ended instantly.

— Were you trained for group or singular flights?

Singular. There were only two excersises which required group flights. Every day a “Douglas” would come – it were the “merchants” from combat units. I was included in one group – six or seven pilots. “Merchant” who spoke with us was division commander HSU Noga, he got it for Spain. He used to ask us:
«At which speed you would make this maneuvre?».
I answered. He asked other pilots, then turned to ZAP commander and said:
«Who are you trying to sell to me? They are worthless!».
But then he turned to us and said:
«Well, I will take you. But! You will fly at any speed, and maneuver when needed, not when allowed. How do you fasten yourselves?»
We used to fasten waist and shoulder belts, as was written in the instruction. He said:
«You are not fighters, you are milkman! Only waist! Otherwise you will be limited in turning your head, and will be shot down soon… Do as I say!».
Everybody used to tell us how lucky we were – the regiment was very good…
«Make us proud of you!».
We took our belongings, loaded into “Douglas” and flew to 2-nd GvIAP, which was stationed in Belorussia... I got to the front in October of 1943.

Guards Leutenant Kardopoltzev.

— What was your rank when you arrived to the regiment?

We were seargeants in the ZAP… When I came to the regiment I got a junior leutenant.
I was sent to 1-st squadron, commander of which was Kosolapov — HSU, he was a very good men... He took me as his wingman, and ordered flight commander Taranenko to test me in the air, I managed pretty well – he was not able to shake me off his tail.
So they started to train me. Each day we would fly in a La-5 two or three times, first in pairs, then in larger groups…

Sitting: Nepryahin, Levchenko, Kosolapov, Taranenko, Chehonin
2-nd row2-nd form right – Arefyev, 3-d from right – Ratnikova (Kardopolzeva)
 
 

— Did you fly La-5 or La-5FN?

I had plain one, three tanks and with gargroth. We used to have five-tank planes in other squadrons. We also had several FN planes in our GvIAP, but they were not given to young pilots – they were considered to be “heavy”, and “more difficult”…

- Why “FN” was considered as “heavy”?

I can’t say, I do not know… We just had rumors that they were a bit more difficult in flight, heavier on controls… I got from La-5 to La-7 directly, I never flew “FN”. Well, I got some training, and stayed at Kosolapov’s squadron. In the late autumn our regiment flew to the front near Vitebsk. The winter of 1943 was snowy, but all went well. We started introduction flights, and in about one weeks time we started to fight.

Sitting: Ozhogin, Arefyev, Kardopolzev,
unknown – got killed in the first flight,-,-,-, Levchenko, Fillipov, Slavgorodskii, Taranenko, -,
Tsybko, Nepryahin.
 

— When was your first fight, and what did you see in it?

There were six of us...
By the way, why 2-nd GvIAP was able to preserve its pilots? Because we introduced young pilots to battle. For example in this fight I was the only one without combat experience. When dogfight ended I was asked:
«What did you see?»
What I saw… I saw a Fokker in front of me, and I trailed him, and shot at him. I did not even care that someone could shoot at me, or what my wingleader did! So, I waisted all my ammo, and of course hit nothing… All the rest in the group had only one task – to cover me, and I had a very serious discussion about my tactics with my friends…
Our main tasks were patrolling the frontline and strafing runs on the railroad… Couple of times I was raised to intercept FW-189. My first kill was 189…

— In archive we found that it was Focke-Wulf 190, 13.02.1944?

I have 6 personal kills and 1 shared. But first one was 189…
Lets take a look in to logbook. Here it is! “Bombing and strafing enemy ground forces on the Vitebsk highway. In the area of 39-th army had a fight with FW-189, which was shot down in a group”. It happened… 08.01.1944.
We flew in a flight - Nepryahin, Levchenko, me and Tsybko. Two pairs, I was on Nepryahins wing. We caught that 189 over Vitebsk, it made tight circle, descended from five thousand to the ground, and headed south. We followed it, and attacked it one by one from approximately 300 meters. The gunner was most likely killed in the first attack, but pilot tried to shake us of, but we shot at him like as if it was a practice target. At one moment we lost him, and spreaded to hunt him down, but we soon found the burning plane on the ground… We killed him! As there was nothing left for us to do, we went home.

A page from the logbook confirming the shared kill of FW-189 on 08.01.44

— But archive data says that at this day Nepryahin got personal kill of FW-189.

There were Nepryahin, Levchenko, Tsybko. Tsybko was the leader, and I was on the Nepryahins wing...

— How could this shared kill transform into personal?

Maybe he needed it for something, like next rank or some award… So we got it written into our logbooks, and he had it in some upgoing documents.

— Did you get payed for this 189?

We were payed for planes we shot down, but I can’t remember if I was payed for this one... Who do you say got it on his account? Nepryahin? Maybe he got the money as well… Who cared?
At about this time Kosolapov was taken from us to become 937 IAP commander, there was a problem, all IAP commanders commander, navigator, zampolit and someone else in the evening of 07/11/1944 flew to hunt some germans, and two were downed. Commander came to the airfield, and brought a Me-109 on his tail.

- He had a messer on his tail?

Yes, as wingman, flight chief shouted over radio:
«Commander, who is behind you… I can’t recognize the type?»
Messer got slightly behind, and shot him down. His name was Kolzov, HSU. Of course this was intolerable…

One force landed at the German territory. It was Bychkov, major Bychkov, regiments navigator. Germans caught him, and he was trying to organize aviation for general Vlasov.

- This was that Bychkov?

Yes, we had found some propaganda lists sighned by him…

(The memory must have failed Benedikt Ilyich in this case: 937 IAP commander Kolzov was killed on 7.11.43, and Bychkov was captured on 11.12.43, when he was deputy squadron commander in 482 IAP. Bychkov really was in 937 IAP earlier, and in 1942 he was sentenced for a crash, caused by him, what did not become an obstacle for him to become a HSU. According to the interrogation protocols, he did not admott him self guilty, claimimg that he never had any relationship with the ROA, and that Germans just used his name and title. No proof was found of his relationship, but he was stripped of his rank, awards and discharged from the active duty.)

— In your regiment there were “Mongolskii Arat” planes? What was the marking? Were the noses red or yellow?

Mongolia decided to help us and tank division. They used to send us gifts: meat, vine, clothes and some other stuff… They used to send them in railroad carts. They also sent us “Mongolskii Arat” squadron.
The planes when they came were ordinary, without any difference to other planes, with an exception of an insignia, it was in red or white letters. Later we painted the noses of the planes in red – it was a tradition for all the planes in our regiment, and we also made a white “cap” at the upper part of the keel. When 12 of these planes came to the regiment, they were given to every squadron – 4 planes each, but in a very short time they were gathered in one – second squadron.

Pilots, who originally got “Arat” planes:
Baranov, Ryabzev, Duldin, Marin, Davydov, Dmitrievskii
2-nd row -, Taranenko, Fillipov, Kardopolzev, Chumak

— Did this planes differ in some way from other aircraft?

Only by insignia.

— Could you remind the colour of the tactical numbers?

White paint, and standard cammo.

— Except for “Arat” did you have any personal planes?

No, no insignias. All planes had a “Guards” symbol in the front of the plane. We did not even drew the stars for kills…

— Did you have any planes with nose or fuselage art?

No, we changed planes way too often. When we were withdrawn from front line we would leave the planes to other regiments, and we would get new ones in the rear. Original “Arat” planes also were given away, but when second squad would get new planes it would draw anninsignia once again, to preserve the name of the squad.

— If planes were colored the same way, how you would know who you met in the air?

Radio worked great! La-5 had excellent radio! I still remember how we congratulated each other on the first sortie to Berlin… For getting familiarized with radio we would even get awards!

Arefyev congratulates Kardopolzev with first sortie to Berlin.

— Did you fly lend-lease planes? Cobras or Hawks?

No… After war’s end I flew La-9 and La-11.

— Did you like them?

I did not fly too much in it, and besides, I did not test it in combat. All I can say – very comfortable plane…

— How long could you fly in La-5 and La-7?

50 minutes in combat, and more than an hour in economical mode.

— When you fle patrol flights what speed you would keep?

About 450 km\h.

— Wasn’t that too fast?

If there were clouds germans could attack suddenly, and if you did not have speed, you would get killed.

— How long could you barrage?

20-25 minutes. Sometimes we would know that change is coming – we would leave our post to the next group, sometimes there would be no change, and we had to stay in the air as long as we could – so we kept about 350 km\h…

— On average, how long the fight fould last?

No more then 5-8 minutes.

— I asked many pilots, and they all said that on average dogfight would last no more then a minute – attack once and disengage.

I said – if we were on barrage, that is, we had to protect some spot on the ground. This situation is totally different to the free hunt – there it would be a single attack and leave.
If we were on barrage and saw enemy? They would never attack if their group was smaller then our, but if we would miss them they could take an opportunity shot at us even by single pair.

— Do you remember how German planes were painted and when you could tell that it was enemy?

They all were something like steel-matt. We would understand who it was at about 400 meters, beyond that it was just a “black spot”.

— When you attacked, what distance was optimal to fire?

About 100 meters. We had grades on our aiming device, and if enemy got in to these marks you could tell the distance...

— Did you have collimators or “rings”?

Collimators. On I-16 we had optical tubes – that was not easy to use. Especially for ground attack – it was very difficult to estimate distance to target.

— Did you complete some kinds of forms for kill claims? Or you would just report, and confirmation was non of your business?

All paper work was adjutants responcibility. Of course we had some problems with confirmations... One of my claims was not confirmed. It was almost at the end of war, in Grenau, near Neische. We flew free hunt. Marchenko took me with him, and he shot one down right by the field. It smoked and dissapeared... Another Fokker-190 was there, so I shot at him, and I saw how it rolled over on the ground, burning.
We landed and reported to IAP commander Sobolev: «Shot down planes near our homebase, send someone to check, we will show where they fell».
He said:
«You become impudent! If you shot down all Luftwaffe, who’s flying the? Do you want more awards?».
(After Orel operation he becames HSU; there were some more Heroes at that time: Pushkin, Mayorov, Kosolapov. Sobolev got killed after war in a crash...).

He told to regiments navigator, Pushkin:
«Take a Po-2 and look for killed planes on the ground».
We suggested to show where the plane was, but Sobolev declined our offer. The plane we shot down fell just outside of the airbase, but Pushkin flew a lot further, came back, and said:
«No, nothing!».
But I saw with my own eyes how Marchenko hit his plane, and how Fokker crashed and fell apart.

Ozhogin, Kardopolzev, Anatolii Kalinin by the fallen Focke-Wulf 190

- When it happenned?

Let me think… It was somewhere… in Germany, February of 1945… Pretty close, I think. Marchenko was very disappointed that time.
We flew in pair each day… That time I saw that his chassis fell out. If such situation would happen, we were obliged to return to base, but he went on. We came to the frontline, and from the ground we were told over radio that a group of FW’s was strafing our groundforces.
He raized the landing gear, but it kept falling out, and I used to tell him:
«Leader, your gear falls out!».
We managed to repell first group, then second, and third. There were three waves of Focke-Wulfs there. Each time when we had a free second, Marchenko would rase his gear, then it would fall out, and we had to get into slow and low dogfight. He was extremely strong pilot, I flew dosens of sorties with him. First fight – we repelled the group, second fight – Marchenko shot one down, third fight – I shot one down... We were going home with no fuel and almost no ammo, when we saw two Focke-Wulfs strafing our field, so we had no other chance – we had to attack and shoot them dow, or we would have no possibility to fly to another field. So we shot them. The ones that we claimed over frontline were accepted, but those over our own base were not noted.
Marchenko was an exceptional marksman. He was lame – near Leningrad he was hit into his knee, but he kept flying, so his nickname was “Lame”.

There was another pilot, who got hit near Leningrad in his elbow… He could not fly any more, so he took a post of squadron adjutant. When we were in Belorussia we were stationed in one house, the owner of which had a hand mill, so this pilot trained, and what do you know! By the time of Berlin operation he was back in the air! His name was Skrypnik.

Squadron adjutant Kazakov and squadron commander Marchenko

— Could you describe how you were shot down?

It happened on 16 of June 1944. Although I was flying La-7, they still caught us, since we were escorting Il’s… Near Shaulai there was a rail station, about 30 kilometers from the frontline, and Germans unloaded their tanks there – they wanted to make a counter strike at us. Ils were sent to destroy the station with everything in it. There were four of us on the escort mission: Levchenko with someone and I was on on the wing of deputy squadron commander Slavgorodskii. The forests were burning there, and Levchenko lost us in this smoke, so, there were only two of us left to cover the Ils. Just before attack Ils had to climb to at least 500 meters from the tree-top level. Here my flight leader made a mistake – he stayed slow and low... I saw them first and shouted:
«Commander! Fokkers on our right-behind!»
I could not even understand where to move – my flightleader was on my left side… There wes no chance for me – there were 18 Fokkers against 2 of us…
As soon as I said it, I saw smoky tracers going hrough my right wing… German had smoky white tracers, we had pinky or reddish. Immediately I saw flames. I remember I thought:
«So, this is how I’m going to die: plane is on fire, and I’m still sitting in the cockpit.»
All I can remember after this – I was falling free from the plane, back first… I took the ring and pulled it. Aerodynamic hit happened at the same time as I hit the ground. I hit my legs quite severely...
I can’t remember how I opened the cockpit... But it should take time... one or two seconds more – and I would not get enough height, I would get killed.

— Did you fly with shoulder and waist belts? Or did you cut shoulder straps off?

Waist only... So I landed, picked my parachute and hid in the bushes. Germans for some reason left without further fighting, and I saw how Il’s assembled into formation, my deputy squadron commander flyes above them… I looked from the bush and saw some barn and five or six German soldiers with rifles… One went towards me. About 50 meters away from me he turned around and went into the house.

— They did not see you?

They saw me, and I think he went for help. I ran away from the house to the forest, and at the same time tried to extinguish my soldiers blouse – it was decaying slowly.

— Did you fly with awards or not?

I did not have any awards at the time, those who had flew with them.
So, I escaped. No one tried to follow me. At this moment new group of Ils arrived. I could see the railway station from the forest. They howled and strafed so fiercely that I ducked and covered – the ammo was blowing up and I was afraid that I will get killed. When they finished – I looked where they went and went after them. I met Germans, but managed to run away from them, I was quite a sprinter back then… I could beat any record at the moment...
Then, suddenly, I became blind – due to the burns my eyelids became swollen. So I would open left eye with my fingers and kept going through the forest. Then, suddenly I heard some noise on the footpath. I hid in the bushes, and then saw three soldiers going towards me. I stood up in front of them, and while they were stunned I ran away. They shouted:
«Halt, Halt!»
Shot a bit, but hit nothing... it happened on the second day. All in all I walked behind enemy lines for three or four days. I kept walking east. On the fourth day I came by the motorway with a heavy traffic on it. On the other side of the road I saw a field with crops. I decided to cross the road during night time, when traffic intensity will decrease. So I went back to the forest and fell asleep near the tree… I woke up due to some noise. It was early morning – I overslept. I went to the road and crossed it. The crops on the other side were quite short yet, so I had to go prone and suddenly I noticed a wire... I moved to the left and found the mine with four wires attached to it’s detonator. It was a minefield!
Found a free place and moved forvard... Then another wire, and another… How did I managed to cross the minefield? Like a fool! There is a saying that fools are lucky, that’s about me! Normal person would never cross it. When I stood up, I could not understand anything. When I came to our lines, major who met me could not believe me:
«How did you manage to get throught? All of our soldiers who went there got killed…»
If I would go through that field at night, I would march standing, and certainly would blow my self up.
On our side I also went through mine field – nothing once again! Damn, I was lucky!
Field ended, I came to the Dubissa river – inflow of Nieman. It goes straight to the south. I’m going through the bushes, trying to hide myself. I was thirsty and hungry – we flew out very early, without any breakfast… I picked some Mountain ash berries… and suddenly I heard “mat” – Russian svearing! It was a music to my ears! I looked outside, and found out that two cows went into the river, and shepard, boy of 11-12 years old was trying to get them out. I said:
«Come here».
He was shoked. Just imagine how I looked like – black face with bits of skin hanging out, unshaven, with mud and fallen leaves all over my face and a pistol in my hand...

— What type of pistol did you own?

TT. It would fire often if hit hard enough – we used to have ninth round in the barrel.
So he ran away. I shouted at his back:
«Why are you running? Where are Russians?»
He appeared for a second:
«Russians are over there. On the other side of the river».
It happened that I went parallel to the frontline – I had no compass, my map burned with the plane…
He talked me into going to the farm, there were an old man and his wife. They gave me some milk to keep my forces up. I asked them for river-crossing. He answered:
«Yes, boy will show you!»
I crossed the river, and came straight at the First Red-bannered artillery regiment. I remember there were boilers, where they made apple jam. I took note where I was – I knew that I will go through cleansing procedure, so I had to know all those who could confirm my words.
To be exact, I came to the observation post, where there was a soldier sleeping. I woke him up, and when he saw me, he almost fainted from fear! He shouted so hard, that his voice was completely lost… When he understood who I was, he took me to the regiment…
We had a pilot, Georgii Filippov. He was shot down, hit in the legs, and could not move, when he landed after bailing out of burning plane he lost consciousness. He was captured, and came to sences when he was transported to prison camp near Orel... He told me everything…
Medical personnel in the camp was our, and they saved who they could. Nurses sighned him off as dead from infection and brought him to the dead body dump, and warned – keep quiet, Germans are about to leave.
On the next day Germans left, closed remaining prisoners (several thousand man) in the barracks and blew them up…
When I came to our side of the front nurses made me some injections and bandaged me. (Those bandages have dried on to the wound, and they had to moisture them with KMnO4 solution – highly unpleasant procedure.) Then I was sent to the medical battalion, then to Panevezhis and further on to Daugavpils… Eventually I got well. Not far from Tallinn was the city of Velikovyssk, there was my regiments base. I managed to get there, came to the airdrome and saw only red cowls there – the regiment had moved, and this base was given to the Il-2 regiment:
«Your regiment moved south…».
I was sent to the 2-nd ZAP, but I decided to move down south, to look for my regiment. When I boarded train, someone stole my “sidor”, where I had my food supply and document… Still I managed to get to Lvov.
«Where is my regiment?»
«Somewhere here».
I came to the fleamarket, and I wanted to steal something to eat, and everytime that I saw a chance something inside of me asked: «What if someone notices». So, I could not do it… Then I noticed a Zis-5 truck with spare parts for La’s. I came to the driver and asked:
«Where are you from? Do you know where 322 division is stationed?»
«I’m from BAO that services 322 IAD, we have 2-nd GvIAP on our airbase».
I say:
«I’m a pilot from 2-nd GvIAP, I got food and documents stolen, take me with you».
At this moment technitian-lieutenant comes to me – and tells me to get off. Somehow I managed to talk him into taking me to the base. So they took me straight to the regiments stab. I opened the door and saw regiments commander and chief of staff Gurevich. (He got Red Banner for disobeying his IAD commander orders.) I found out that my relatives got notified of my death – I still got this death notice. I wrote a letter to my sister in Kirovskaya district to let them know that I’m still alive… My mother died in Leningrad of starvation in 1942…

— Strong and weak points of your aircraft which you flew in combat?

My opinion is that Me-109 was better than our planes in the beginning, only because we were late to start preparing for war.
Speaking of Lavochkin... First of all – better firepower, extremely dynamic plane. La’s easily caught Messer or Fokker. Engine of 1800 hp, ASh-82. I’m a pilot, and when I saw La-5 after LaGG-3 I fell in love, do you understand? Although I think that Yak was easier to fly, it did not require such presiseness, as La.

— Did you fly with opened or closed canopy? And how good was the view?

Canopy was always closed, gargroth was not that bad, so we could see quite well, but only if you would be fastened by waist belts only. There was no rear view mirror either.

— Did exhaust gasses penetrate into the cockpit? Was it hot inside?

No, never felt exhausts… When I fired guns I would feel the smell of burnt gun powder, and yes, it was hot, in 5FN some pilots even got burns.

— We heard that temperatures could reach up to 70 degrees Celsius at the feet level.

In FN yes, our pilots would fly them with fur gloves. Plain La-5 was colder, and La-7 was just a luxury plane.

— There is an opinion that Soviet fighters had weak armament?

Are you kidding! 3 cannons 20-mm each! We used to have machine guns on I-16, those really were only for tickling…

— Did you use oxygen, or you did not fly that high?

We did. I remember we were sitting in an “alert – one” condition, and Ju-88 went through our base. We took off. There was a special tube to breathe, we had no masks at that time, so we started to chase that recce plane. At about 8000 meters I lost consciousness and came back at 2500 meters. I forgot the oxygen.

— By the way, we were told that La’s did not like to dive, that it tended to came to horizon, so the pilot had to “push it” into the dive?

It really had a tendency to return to horizon.

We had quite a lot of divebombing and strafing runs…
In the end of war we had an order – “no flights without bombs”. We used FAB-50 and FAB-100, one under each wing. Good bombs… We used to dive at about 70 degrees. Only one who dove at 90 degrees was Mikhail Ryabzev – he liked it.

— Did you receive used planes from other regiments?

No. No. Our corpus belonged to the Reserve of the High Command, that is why we flew and fought quite rarely. There were units on the frontline that constantly stayed in battle, and when we would leave the area we quite often would give our planes to them. At the same time we would get to the rear and receive new planes.

— How long plane could serve before it was written off?

When I was shot down, I kept regretting: «Such a good plane burned, it could serve for a long time...», La-7 which I received in 1944 served until victory day.

— Did you experience technical failure?

Not a single case…

— But what about Marchenko, when he could not lift landing gear?

It was due to the locks. There was some kind of deformation, but I never experienced any problem…

— Did you destroy enemy planes on the ground?

Of course, but they did not count – there was no way to prove their destruction. Il’s had photo cameras for confirmation...

— Did you have them?

No. Cobras had guncameras.

— How kill would be confirmed?

We would send somebody there. If it happened over our territory – we sent representatives, in Belarus partisans would confirm... There were a lot of them. We had pilot shot down over enemy territory, who were back in one or two weeks…
But you see, we did not try to raise our kill tolls, we had tasks of protecting our ground forces and escorted planes.

- Have you met jet planes?

Not in Germany. After the war we used to chase Canberras in MiG-19PF. They were quite arrogant, until we got an order to shoot them down. I also shot down 7 american baloons…

— Do you know of any cases when experienced pilot would present his kill to young comrade?

No, not in our regiment. I do know that some would fly in group and give kills to the comrade who needed several for HSU, but not in our regiment...

— Why a combat mission coud be not counted?

It would not count if there was no fire contact with the enemy. I had about 25 of this kind of missions.

— What can you say about German fighter tactics?

In the end of war if they saw that they are not in an advantage, they would leave. Real dogfight would happen only if they had numeral advantage at least two-to-one…
I fought many dogfights, but they were always in advantage, only in the last days we met singular planes or pairs…

— What you can say about German pilots? How were they as fighters?

Different... During Orel operation our regiment met “Udet” group. Those were strong opponents. As soon as such group would appear on the front they would shoot all the young pilots... By the end of war we got new planes and it became easy, La-5, it felt, how powerful it was, if German got behind you, just push throttle forward, and you will see how enemy folls behind you. Then we got La-7, me and my wingman brought first three-cannon ones from Luberzy. IAP commander took plane from my wingman Vasilii Troshin. My one was left to me – I finished the “high combat flight school”, and I already had some kills on my account.

- But according to archives you got first La-7 in November of 1944?

First two planes we brought to the regiment at summer, regiment was based at Vilno… Airbase Porubanok near Vilno. By the way – I was shot down in a La-7…
 

Ryabkov, Galich, Boris Ozhogin, Ivan Skrypnik, Georgii Fillipov, Slavgorodskii, Vasilii Troshin, Ivan Levchenko, Zybko, Kardopolzev.

- It means that second victory you got in a La-7? Your second Focke-Wulf 190?

Lets check the logbook… Here it is – 1944, La-7, FW-190…

— Did you meet German flyers on the ground?

Not when I was in the regiment. When I was a student, I remember our pilots shot down a Ju-88, if I’m not mistaken, and they bailed out, the farmers caught them, and since they tried to escape and shot at them, they stopped them, using racers and sickles as weapon. Then they tied Germans up and brought them to our field. I remember our komissar slapped one of them in the face… It happened in Azov in 1941. They thought that we were fools and did not worth respect…

— Did you shoot at the enemy descending with parachute?

We? Never. They did. For example Georgii Fillipov, he came from Moscow. When he got captured in Orel he was shot at after bailing out and his legs were wounded when German Messer shot at him.
But I do not know of any single case in our regiment to shoot at them…

— Did you meet any other Axis pilots, or did you fight only against Germans?

No, only Germans. I remember I saw Americans on the ground, they flew B-29. We were told from the ground:
«Do not worry, it’s allied…».
They were returning from bombing mission and got two engines damaged. It was a big plane, and we were sitting at Oleshicy, which was a small field, but they managed to land.

— Why do you think that it was B-29? May be it was B-17?

We were told so… Fortress, B-29… Then we had a chance to look how Americans worked. They taxied to a stand still and left the plane – the crew consisted of nine men. For a week they were completely drunk and demanded girls… It was shocking! We flew and risked our lives, and they wanted girls! We had a war to fight, and they were trying to make a luxury hotel out of our dugouts! What did they think it was? A whorehouse? Then their cargo plane came and brought new engines.
Americans threw damaged engines on the ground and rolled them to the side…
It was January, and a bit cold one, so they installed a tent overwings and started heating it up. Eventually they worked a few hours a day, and it took them a couple of weeks to change two engines... Our technicians worked in pairs and changed an engine in one night time without any tents by bare hands! We used to say to each other:
«If Americans tried the taste of real all-out war they would not last two weeks, they need too much luxury…»
When they finished and flew away our mechs started to cannibalise the engines they left trying to utilize the spares… The engines were almost similar…
I remember the engines on Lavochkins were really good. I got hit by flak in the engine, and two lower cylinders were shattered to pieces… But I made it home. Mech opened cowls, and we saw some bits falling out. And I can’t say that I lost power drastically.
What was unpleasant about those engines – it’s that they smoked heavily. As soon as the resourse would wear out, the engine would be changed. No one repaired them in the field.

— Do you remember the TN’s of your planes?

La-5 had «17». When I came to the regiment I got it, and when I was sent to the school young pilot took off in my plane and rolled it over… I can’t remember my La-7’s number now… 60 years passed…

— What was the colour of your planes?

We had… Green-green and Green-gray. We had both types…

Kardopolzev and Marchenko

— Were planes re-painted white at winter?

No. We kept flying green ones.

— Do you know of any cases of friendly-fire?

Yes. We were based near Vitebsk, and suddenly just above airbase Me-110 fell out of the clouds. Our “alert-1” flight took off and in one pass they shot 110 down. But it was our Pe-2… Another case – Nepryahin strafed our river crossing…

— Regiments commanders were often seen in the air or not?

No. Our last commander was Sobolev, he flew very little… Deputy commander was Pushkin, also HSU. We were based in Belarus on a very narrow fiel, and Pushkin was taking off. For some reason he veered to the side and saw an aircraft shelter in front of him. He “jumped” over it, but the blade of the plane in that shelter ripped through the belly of his plane, and it fell on the other side of the shelter… At this same time Pavel Nepryahin settled there to relieve himself, and suddenly found a plane falling on top of him from the sky! We all saw how he beated all world record at running, and that with his pants around his ankles! His fate was very upsetting. He got a HSU after war ended, but managed to drink himself to complete degradation and he finally frose to death drunk on the street. It was quite common that people were unable to return to peaceful life after war ended.
We rushed to the crash site, the planes tail fell off, Pushkin gets out of the cockpit and goes to the “KP”. Sobolev says:
«Ordinary pilots fly, but you couldn’t! You will not fly at all!»
So, we almost never saw him in the air again.

— Please tell us, what was combat school in Lubertzy?

There were 15 Yaks and 15 La’s, several Messers and Fokkers, and we fought them and each other. Very good practice. I spent about two month there…

— Did you utilize mixed formations of La-7’s and La-5? Wasn’t it too difficult to have a wingman with lower-class plane?

No, no difference… I had La-7, Vasilii Troshin flew La-5... You see, we fought war, not raced. Speed is of course important, but smart head is an ultimate weapon.

— Do you remember how you shot down that Ju-87?

Stuka?… It happened in Germany, in April I think… No, 12/02/45…
If I remember correctly – we flew strafing mission and returning to base we met 9 Ju-87s. I attacked one, and it landed on the wheels – it was not burning, but smoked heavily, and I remember – yellow field, and two figures in blue standing with their hands up…


1. Kalinin, 2. Kardopolzev, 3. Zhuravlev, 4. Ozhogin, 5. Troshin, 6. -, 7. Kuprechnikov, 8. Shubin
 
 

— How you were fed?

Excellent! We had very good chef, but no one really cared... We were too close to death to note such things. We would come to the canteen, and we had our own table. If we were busy flying our waitresses would bring food to our planes.

— 7 of may 45 you shot down one of the last planes?

Yes, it was the last fight of our regiment… I flew, Troshin on my wing, Galich and Zybko. Our tanks were going to Prague and we covered them. We were going to our home base and met 4 FW-190 with drop tanks going west. I think they went to Italy or Spain…
We started turning, but missed a bit in the beginning of the maneuver and Fokkers got tactical advantage – they were going towards us but higher then we were flying. I raised the nose of my plane and shot, hoping to hit the lower fuselage of the leader plane just behind the engine, in the fuel tank. For some reason enemy pilot half-rolled and all my tree cannons hit the canopy. I saw how it burst open and shiny bits of glass went to the sides. Plane went down like a leaf. All other spreaded and started running. Galich and Troshin got two planes, and one managed to escape – we were low on fuel and could not chase him.

— Who got the last one?

Galich, I think.

— Do you remember how you shot down Me-109 on 20/03/45?

We strafed train station, and were jumped by 109’s, and one overshot me, so I just lifted my planes nose and gave him all I got.

— What is your opinion about Il pilots?

Very respectful! I’m not sure if I would be able to fly Il… Strafing runs are extremely unpleasant, you have to hang above all the guns that infantry has, and you constantly fear that you will get hit by flak.

— About engine control. Germans had Kommandogerat, and La’s pilot had to manually change prop pitch, close cowls and stuff…

We had no problems… We mostly operated speed only by throttle. If we would fly on the rout separated controls were better… If you do not want problems in flight – you have to know how to fly!

— How La’s holded damage?

There was a case with Makarov. You might know that there is a hatch on the Lavochkin’s side where oxygen and compressed air is stored? He was hit by flak in this hatch, and when he came back to the base no one knew how to land him. Chief engenier said thad he should belly-land but someone said that he can land with gear down. So he did. As soon as he touched down the fuselage snapped and he was crashed by the engine…

— I’ve been told that if you had to dogfight the best choice is Yak, but for war La is better. True or False?

True.

— How locals thought of you?

When we got to Germany, for about a week there was some roughness going on – someone avenged for their relatives deaths, but then everybody got relaxed… There is no sense in war with children and old people. In Poland it was completely different… We came as friends, but they met us like enemies…
We used locals to clear the fields of ice and snow. In Germany people would come looking for job, and we would feed them in our canteen – it was not allowed, but why not, after all?

— Was there an opinion that “these Russian bears from Siberia”…

No, nothing like this… At the end of war I remember German soldiers were going towards our field with hands up shouting “Russki plen (into Russian captivity), Russki Plen! Bitte! Bitte! Nach Sibir!”. The point is, if we would hand them over to poles they would simply kill all. We found several execution sites with documents and photos of soldiers families…
What else… Czechoslovaks loved us and were ready to carry us on their hands… It is not people who spoiled everything, it’s politicians…

- How did you found out that war ended?

We were in Grossenheim, and in the evening we were told that Germans are nearby and may attempt a breakthrough… Suddenly, in the middle of the night we heard fierce shooting. We shouted:
«What happened?»
«War ended!»
So we started saluting our selves. In the morning we were gatered and told that shooting with handguns is understandable, but our mechs started engines on fighters and started saluting with cannons, what is intolerable!

In Berlin. No faces can be identified…