HSU Minakov Vasilii Ivanovich
Interview and editing by Galina Vabischevich and Oleg Korytov
Translation and English version editing by Oleg Korytov and Ilia Grinberg
HSU Minakov nowadays
- Vasilii Ivanovich, I know that you had written everything that you wanted to say in your books. There are many articles about you. I would like to ask some questions that are not so common. Here is your biography; I will use it as a guide.
- Let’s try. I had prepared many documents for you.
- Thank you!
- This is my autobiography, which I’m going to present to you, and here
are some other interesting documents. Here is a rare book, which lists 53 HSUs.
They all lived in our city, and fought on every front. (”Tale of a Feat
of Arms”, compiled by A.F. Pinchuk, St,. Petersburg, Palmira, 2005).
Here is Mazurenko… Twice HSU. Here is his photo. This is my friend. We studied with him in one squadron in Yeisk Naval Aviation School, and our trunks were side by side. We flew in one group, but later he was sent to the Baltic Fleet, while I was sent to the Pacific. We kept in touch throughout the war. He participated in fights from the beginning. I want to describe his first mission, which no one remembers now, even though fate of Leningrad was sealed in those days. There is no doubt that Leningrad would fall if not the Naval Aviation!
When I studied the history of fighting in Baltic region, I was fascinated! When everything was almost lost… Germans made it to Western Dvina river. They had captured Daugavpils on the 5th day – and it was 300 kilometers away from the border… Can you imagine?! Leningrad was only 500 kilometers away! There were almost no troops in reserve. Frontal aviation was unable to work. No fortifications left. Catastrophe! They would have made it to Leningrad in 1-1,5 weeks.
Then ground-attack units of the Naval Aviation were sent in, three regiments, 60 airplanes each, to bomb the enemy. However, we will return to it later…
What would you like to ask me?
- You served on all four Fleets. It is unique.
- Yes, and twice on each! No one else has such experience in our Armed Forces.
- I would like to know if there was any significant difference in training, attitude of the crews from different Fleets? There were different climates and living conditions.
- Second question. You had seen Crimea and Kavkaz defense in the worst days…
- Yes. Those, who haven’t seen 1942, haven’t seen the war at all...
- I would like to know your opinion about Sevastopol defense and about its surrender. And I’ll have some questions about war and later service.
- I’ll give you everything that I prepared, and we will begin.
Here is my autobiography. I wrote everything there. I flew 31 torpedo-bombing missions, many ships were hit, and over 100 missions were flown against land-based targets…
From the Biography of the Hero
Minakov was born on February 7, 1921 in Mineralniye Vody, Stavropol area.
He completed 9 years of the secondary school. He studied flying at Pyatigorsk
aeroclub. In December 1940 graduated from Yeysk Naval Aviation School. He served
as a pilot in the 4th Torpedo-Mine Regiment of the air forces of the Pacific
He participated in combat from June 1942 in the 36th Torpedo-Mine Regiment and from October 1942 in the 5th Guards Torpedo-Mine Regiment of the air forces of the Black Sea Fleet. Participated in defense of Caucases and liberation of Crimea, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria.
V. I. Minakov is credited with 206 combat sorties (including 71 at night). Of them 108 sorties were bombing of naval and ground tragets, 31 sorties – torpedo strikes, 28 reconaissance sorties, and 28 mine-dropping sorties. He destroyed 13 enemy transports (seven personnally and 6 in the group) with total displacement of 36,500 tons, 5 cargo and 7 high-speed troop-carrying barges, 1 mine-sweeper, 4 patrol boats, and 1 tow-ship. He destroyed 4 ammunition dumps, 4 railway stations, and one river crossing across the Don River. In aerial combats shot down 4 enemy planes. The most significant achievement was destruction of the transport «Teya» with the displacement of 2,773 tons with 3,500 soldiers on board near Crimean coast on May 10, 1944. Minakov was wounded twice.
By the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Senior Leutanent Minakov was awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union (Gold Star Medal #3818).
In 1945 he graduated from the Higher Aviation Courses of the Naval air forces in Mozdok and returned to his 5th Torpedo-Mine regiment of the Black Sea Fleet. From December 1947 he served with the 68th Torpedo-Mine Regiment of the 19th Torpedo-Mine Division at the Baltic Fleet. In 1952 he graduated form the Naval Academy and appointed as a commander of the 52nd Torpedo-Mine Regiment of the 89th Division, Airforces of the 5th (Pacific) Fleet. From December 1955 he was commanding the 128th Torpdeo-Mine Division of the air forces of the Baltic Fleet. In 1961 graduated from the Milytary Academy of the General Staff and appointed Chief of Staff and First Deputy Comander-in-Chief of the air forces of the Northern Fleet.
In February 1971 Minakov was apointed the Chief of the 30th Scientific-Research Institute of Aviation and Cosmonautics in Leningrad. He led development of aircraft. During his tenure the Institute participated in development of five aircraft types and seven helicopter types most of which are currently in service. Dozens of various aviation complexes were developed as well. From October 1985 – retired.
General-Major of Aviation (from February 18, 1958), Candidate of Naval Sciences (Ph.D.) and Associate Professor. Awarded with numerous medals: Order of Lenin (1944), Order of October revolution (1981), three Orders of Red Banner (1942, 1945, and 1965), Order of Aleksandr Nevskii (1944), two Orders of Patriotic War First Degree (1944 and 1985), two Orders of the Red Star, Order for Service to the Motherland in Armed Forces, third degree, medals, as well as Order of the Red Banner of the Peoples Republic of Bulgaria
- When I celebrated my 90th birthday, there were a lot of guests. Many guests came from Moscow, including Naval Aviation Commander /1994-2000/ General-Colonel Vladimir Deineka. Many scientists came to my banquet - 65 men in a restaurant. I was surprised that 30 made a speech...
- For most of the Heroes their service ended after the war. It is no secret that some of them started to drink hard, some went to auxiliary ground duties. Many people lost their decency after the war. … Even Heroes. You kept serving, studied a lot, and wrote a lot to commemorate known and forgotten warriors. That is important.
- Naval Aviation Museum has all of my 18 books. They are well illustrated, and have great photos. Here is my torpedo bomber.
- Yes. I fought in it, but I began in another airplane. Here is a unique picture! Five bombers drop high altitude torpedoes.
- This group drops them simultaneously?
In groups. High-level torpedoes are dropped no less than 300 meters, or parachutes
will not open. Therefore, they are dropped from 300 meters up to the ceiling.
When torpedo is released, it descends with a parachute for about 50 seconds
and after getting in the water parachute disconnects and it runs in circles.
Let’s imagine a convoy. Torpedo falls 400-500 meters ahead from it… You see, how many torpedoes are going in circles. I even sunk ships with them. It was a very interesting torpedo! However, it was still much less effective than low torpedo. If we take it for 100% effectiveness, then the high one can be counted for 20-30%. Because the low torpedo was dropped with precise aiming at the ship…
Our airplane was a great one! It could carry up to 20 bombs. 1 kilogram of fragmentation bombs gave up to 250-300 fragments, we also used 2,5kg, 10, 50, 100, 250, 500 and 1000kg GP bombs and other bomb types. ASW, incendiary, marker, and illumination bombs could all be used. It had a bomb bay for 10 bombs and 3 hard points under the wings. It was used as a bomber, torpedo-bomber, reconaissance and mining aircraft.
- And where did you place mines?
- At the Black Sea near Constanta, Odessa, when it was occupied, in the Sevastopol
bays, in Kerch Strait – there were a lot of damage from mines there. We
placed AMG-1 contact mines in the Dunai river estuary; in the end of 1942 we
received British electromagnetic mines. AMG mine had horns, which had to touch
a ships hull to explode, while British mines simply lay on the riverbed where
we dropped it for a set time before activation. It could be set to explode straight
away, but we usually set it for idling for five or more days, we used this setting
at Dunai. It could be set for idling for up to 20 days. It was a great mine,
we used it mostly at the rivers.
Let me show you some other photos. Here are my friends. Here is Alexei Mazurenko, we were friends. This is Alexandr Razgonin, he died recently… We studied at the same aeroclub. We both studied at Mineralnye Vody aeroclub, and were sent to Yeisk School.
- In Mineralnye Vody? Not in Pyatigorsk?
No, no. Well, if you wish to talk about aeroclub… In January 1938 two
instructors came to our school in Mineralnye Vody, they were Buryanov and Kashuba.
Kashuba earned a HSU title for saving General Yeremenko, who was encircled by
Germans. He flew him away in a Po-2. Buryanov later became a test pilot. /HSU
Kashuba was a pilot from 2nd special service airgroup of Red Army General Stab.
Perished in 1944. HSU Buryanov was a test-pilot for Beriev OKB/
They gathered the 9th and 10th grade pupils, and announced that Pyatigorsk aeroclub established its department in Mineralnye Vody. There will be three airplanes, 3 instructors and 30 cadets will be selected for training. If you had the seventh grade education you could apply. They accepted candidates from schools, colleges and from plants. They also said that the ones chosen will study theory in February, March and April, and in May till October they will get a 30 days practice in a U-2 without being distracting from work or studying. I and other five boys raised our hands. We passed different commissions, most important – health check, wrote reports… Most important was the health check. Out of six candidates from our school, I was the only one to pass it. I graduated from the 9th grade and was studying at the 10th, so I was 16 years old. On February 7th I was going to turn 17, but I still was 16 years old when I applied.
From schools (there were three big schools there – Lenin’s School, Stalin’s School and I forgot how the third one was called) 3 boys were accepted –Alexandr Razgonin, Chernyakhovskii Alexandr and myself. We began flying. It was so outstanding! Such a great first solo flight!…
- And where the aeroclub’s airfield was located?
- That’s Kuma River, there was a Brick plant and a bit further Glass plant. Nowadays this area is fully built up. There was a small airfield, about 400 meters in diameter. It was a simple field. Three airplanes flew in from Pyatigorsk. There were boxes with tools and spare parts.
- Have you thought about joining the Air Force before that?
- I came close to aviation at the age of 8, in 1928. It was summer, and we,
kids, were playing games outside and swim in the river. Then we noticed small
airplanes. There used to be a short landing strip nearby. Those airplanes landed
there. We all ran there at full speed. Airplanes must be I-5s, they taxied and
parked in a line. They did not refuel, but on one of them engine cowls were
opened – it was working unstable. One of the pilots dove into the engine,
and began working there. He was dressed in flight helm and a raglan coat –
it was a pure miracle for us! When he finished, he asked:
- Boys, can anybody bring some cold water for me?
It was a hot day, 25 degrees Centigrade, may be, and they were fully dressed. I ran as fast as I could to a nearby house, grabbed a bucket of water from a woman, and brought it to them. He drank some water, and before departing, he gave me the spark plug that he had changed, and said:
- You should become a pilot! Here is a spark for the future!
Can you imagine? For me, a boy?! At the time, when every pilot was a hero! Yes… I wonder, who he was… Years had passed. I joined the aeroclub. We began flying. I flew about 20 training missions.
If I would tell you, how we were trained before flying, you would laugh! First thing was how to see the distance to the ground on final approach. When you are about to level out, and start levelling from 10 meters of altitude.
Airplane is approaching runway at certain angle… Pilot has to look 30 degrees to the side from the cockpit 15-20 meters ahead, to see the distance to the ground. When it is correct, pilot pulls on the stick.
What do we have now? Simulators! You sit in the chair, and here it is - take off, route, landing, all your mistakes will be shown by computers. We had none of that then. Where we had airplane boxes at the side of the airfield, a 10-meter long pole was dug into the ground with a horizontal plank on top. There was a cockpit-imitating box with a stick attached by a rope. A group of 10 cadets would come, and instructor said:
- Minakov, get in.
I got inside. Instructor said:
- Take off!
Other cadets pulled the rope, and cockpit would rise in the air 10-11 meters above ground. Then new order:
- Starting descent to levelling.
And boys give up the rope bit by bit. Therefore, it goes down, down, down… I look as I was told 30-35 degrees to the side and ahead. I announce:
Instructor keeps silence.
- Eight... Six. Five…
And when I believe that everything is in order I shout:
And the rope is let loose. If I miss by half a meter, this box would fall pretty hard, and you will feel it by your butt.
That’s how we were taught. This cockpit imitation was called U-2. We were trained a bit on the ground. U-2 was also placed on a vertical pole, boys would turn it by hand according to your controls input. And that was it.
- That was your training equipment?
- Yes. It was primitive, but so effective! If you felt it once, you would never want to repeat!
- Can we go back a bit? When you applied for a place in aeroclub, how did your parents react? An aviator was quite a dangerous job back then.
- I wrote in one of my books how they reacted. My grandma was very energetic
woman, and she said:
- Where are you going? You are going to crash!
That was first. Then Mom:
- Oy, what are you doing, why you are going to aviation?! These aviators fly off the ground...
We had an airport since 1923. I began flying in 1938. I saw those planes, and I saw them crash. My brother had seen them too. Only my father said:
- Do not object! Let him try. If it is foolishness, it will end by itself.
He was a very wise man, my dad:
- Let him try. He is a young boy, he has to choose his path.
That was it.
What else… It was in August. We flew in a zone from May to July...
Yes… So, I’m about to finish with aero club time. It was August, I flew all by myself already. We began box flying, and then moved to aerobatics. We did all possible maneuvers, except Immelmann – there was not enough power to perform them. Our airplane had just less than 100 horsepower.
So, we were flying... It was organized so that working boys flew at their days off. We, three pupils had a summer vacation then. A military lieutenant-pilot came to us, quite a short guy, with an Order of Red Banner on his chest. We were shocked! He said:
- I’m a native of Mineralnye Vody, came here to rest after fighting at Khalkhin-Gol. I would like to fly alone or with your cadet over my hometown, and breathe some air from my hometown.
He was a fighter pilot, shot down Japanese airplanes and was decorated for those fights.
He was told:
- We do not trust you, because we do not know you. However, we will give you a cadet pilot.
And Instructor Georgii Buryanov said:
- Here is cadet Minakov! Minakov, fly with aerobatics.
I was just 17 years old! Can you imagine, 17 years old boy got such a trust and respect? Of course I was flattered by such a directive, even an order, I should say. I was in the front cabin. The instructor said to him:
- You should sit at the rear, do not interfere with controls, unless situation will get critical.
We had a communication via special tube from his mouth to my ear.
We took off; I gained 800-900 meters of altitude and began aerobatics. I did all I could! There was only one figure that was made slightly incorrect. A loop – that’s when you pull the stick and aircraft turns over. But the cockpit was not cleaned properly, so when I was upside down with a slight delay all junk fell out. All in all I made everything well enough. We landed, got out of the plane and I went to that lieutenant:
- Do you have any comments?!
- You will become a good pilot, keep training. Good-bye.
He shook my hand, talked to my instructor with good comments about me and left.
And he was right; I did become a great pilot!
- It was like movies for you!
- Not exactly. There was one setback. I was 17. The school accepted from the
age of 18. In October a commission came to check us. I got into some problems
again. They flew aerobatics with other cadets, while I received another task:
- We are going to fly the route to Nevinnomyssk.
That’s about 90 kilometers away. So we did. It was raining. We had metal map holders. I decided to check my position with a map, and raised a holder to my eyes. But we had an open cockpit, so wind hit it and it flew right into my goggles! My eyes we full of broken glass. I shook my head; luckily, there was no injury to my eyeballs. I returned home, inspector gave me “outstanding” mark. I graduated. There were six graduates with “outstanding”. We even got a ticket for a resort “Makopse” near Tuapse for great achievements in studying.
Six of us were sent to the Yeisk School. However, commission of that school concluded:
- He is not fit. He is not old enough.
Can you imagine?! It was just 3 month away…
I returned home very upset. My father was a locomotive engineer, just returned home from the route, and asked me:
- Why do you look so sour?!
- They rejected me…
- Stop worrying! I will arrange everything tomorrow!
- How will you do that?
- I’ll go to Pyatigorsk with you, and tell them that you are good enough!
I got just slightly less worried, but still couldn’t sleep that night. We left Mineralniye Vody in the morning by the first regional train. We came to the aeroclub. He left me outside:
- Sit here.
He went to the commission room, and came out in three minutes.
- You are a cadet!
- Are you kidding me? Tell me everything. I can’t believe you! I’m going inside!
I gathered all my courage, and went to the room where the commission was working.
- What now?! We arranged everything.
- Am I a cadet, or not?!
- Your father proved to us that you can be a cadet! Now get lost!
And they sent me away from there.
I asked my dad:
- Well, tell me everything now!
- I went in there and said: This is my son. He is just 3 months short of being 18 years old – November, December and January. I am a locomotive engineer. When I run a steam engine, it has good speed when it has enough steam. My son is like a steam engine. He had lots of steam, and he went forward like a train. He graduated with “excellence” from the aeroclub. And what do you do? You are dragging him back! Those three months will pass while there will be drilling and theory.
That’s how my father convinced them to allow me to study!
- Your father was a great man!
- Can you imagine, there were over 1000 men applying for 600 places in Yeisk School that year! Have you been to Yeisk?
- Yes, of course.
- When you arrive, you have to go up the hill there. So, we were brought there
in a column. Tests began. Medical examination were even stricter then before.
Our flight technique was checked once again. Out of six candidates four were
accepted: Chernyakhovskii, Razgonin and me from schools and Alefirenko from
the factories candidates. 400 men were rejected due to different reasons.
I had a good chance to be rejected too. I was a 10-year-old boy, when I was run over by a tractor with a trailer!
- Did it break your bones?
- No. My leg fell between some rocks on the road, but there was quite severe
soft tissue trauma. I walked for two month with no skin here. Doctors at the
commission looked at me and announced:
- One of your legs is 2 mm shorter then another.
- I can dance for you, if it will prove my abilities! I’ll dance Salsa now!
However, they replied:
- Short legged, go away!
Health check was vigorous. They asked me about scar on my leg, so I told them the truth:
- No, you are not fit.
I went to the chief of the commission and spoke with him. He reassured me:
- You will be a cadet! I’ll see to that personaly.
In 1938 I was accepted at Yeisk Aviation School and I was assigned to the sixth squadron. First month was the drill. At first we sneered. But it was so important for military man! Twice or three times a day we were practicing, marching two-three times a day during that month. In January we began studying.
There were six squadrons. Each squadron consisted of 100 men, 10 groups by 10 cadets. The first squadron was seaplanes, equipped with MBR-2; the second and the sixth – SB bombers, and the third, fourth and fifth – I-15 and I-16 fighters.
We had great training. All winter and spring we studied theory, airplane and engine construction... It was over by May and we began flying. It was R-5 for starters. It was a single engine water-cooled aircraft. It was a record breaker in its days, it flew to Turkey!
- I know that airplane, but it was already old.
- It was a true punishment! On takeoff you had to lower its radiator, which
stuck out of the aircraft like a shovel… On landing you had to raise it.
If landing was hard, it could simply fall off the plane. There were many funny
and tragic accidents with this airplane. It was a real nightmare.
I finished the 1st year. We were stationed in Kukharivka, near Yeisk. I forgot my instructors name by now, but he was a good chap. During the second year we flew SB Fast Bomber: 21 meters long, two engines, all metal. R-5 had two seats and wooden fuselage…
We started training with SBs, but here I was almost lost to aviation. There was a pilot Sidorov from Pyatigorsk aeroclub. We were given observation flights before letting us to fly solo. This aircraft had an emergency landing gear release handle in the gunner’s cockpit… There were no gunners in the school, so cadets were sent in the air in that cabin. Sidorov was a pilot on his first solo flight, I was in the rear cabin, just in case, so that I would be able to release the landing gear.
I remember that morning. Sunny, birds were singing. And we took off. He made a “box”, landing gear down, about to land – everything seemed to be fine. I was looking down from the rear cockpit. Fourth turn. He was slowly going down - 200, 100 meters, levels out fine, lower, lower... Then suddenly he fell and hit the runway by wheels. The airplane got off the ground to a meter high altitude, or even may be less… He should have kept the stick pulled to keep it from gaining altitude, but he gave full throttle to both engine. Flaps down, trimmers in full up position, no way to hold the stick… He tried to do something, but he should have done nothing to bring us back safely…
Airplane went upwards, gained 15-20 meters, and fell on the wing. That wing saved us. It’s 10 meters span was like an accordion – that’s first. Another wing was pointed into the sky. Then airplane hit the ground by its nose, which was ripped of the airframe – that’s second. The third hit my rear cabin and it was also torn away. This was the only complete and undamaged piece of metal from the whole aircraft…
When we began falling, I turned 180 degrees, grabbed machine gun stand, and pressed my back against the seat with all force possible, hoping to reduce the force of hit. The hit force was terrific, and engines cut off.
Silence. Everything ended. I sat, still holding to the stand. It was such a grab! If anybody would try to tear me off it, it would be easier to tear my hands away. I was still not sure, if I was safe and sound?! I tried myself – there was no evidence of injury.
Ambulances came screaming. I began getting out of the wreck and the doctor and the nurse shouted to me:
- Stay inside! Do not get out! We will get you.
But I was out already, and they just helped me a little bit. Therefore, when I got out, I was in a shock… They gave me some ammonia, and I came to my senses. Somebody yelled:
- Pilot! Pilot! He’s bleeding!
Sidorov was still in the cockpit. He was tied only by the waist harness, not by the shoulder ones. So he hit the instruments board, his teeth flew out, but nothing more.
There was a trial. Pilot was sentenced to 2 years in prison. I was a witness. They tried to ask me tricky questions:
- What would you do in such circumstance?!
So I told, what I would have done.
I said to my instructor afterwards:
- I am afraid to fly in the rear cabin.
Squadron and Flight commander began to test me with special attention, trying to find a reason to write me off. I flew normally. So I said to my instructor once again:
- I will not fly in the rear cabin, I’m afraid.
And that was it.
- I wanted to ask you, were there many airplane accidents in the school?
- Can’t recall any more. Not in our squadron. There was a case with an I-16 fighter. It was a very tricky plane. There was a catastrophe. And there was another accident. We were obliged to make a parachute jump. It was when we flew SB already, on a summer day. In the morning, we would come to the airfield. Previous day we looked how our parachutes were packed. We jumped from 700-800 meters altitude. It happened to me again. For the start, I overslept. Everybody was gone, when I woke up. Airfield was 200 meters away from our barracks, so I dressed up quickly and ran to the airfield. The instructor was swearing already, but I asked him to allow me to jump. I got in the front cabin, he was in the second. We gained altitude. I got out of the cockpit...
- Was it a R-5?
No, U-2. Its speed was 80-90 kilometers per hour. I got our, turned towards
the tail, preparing to jump...
I was holding at the cockpit wall, at the same time I checked where the extension ring was. Somehow, I pulled it a bit, and 3 out of 4 rings were released. Only one was holding the parachute in place. Then I looked at the instructors face, and saw his square eyes, and wild expression!
- Jump! Jump!
He shouted. It turned out that small stabilizing parachute began extending. So I jumped and counted - …21, 22, 23, 24 - pull. Parachute did not open, something was holding it. I pulled for the second time. I was getting ready for opening secondary parachute. But as I turned towards the sky primary parachute opened and hit me in the face with some fabrique. It opened at the altitude of 300 meters. People on the ground thought that I was a gonner...
What else. I remember that I was paid 25 rubles for a parachutist badge. It was a good sum of money those days. In December we graduated. Pilots before us graduated as lieutenants, but we fell to Timoshenko’s order to graduate as sergeants.
There was a People’s Comissar of Defense - Timoshenko... We had a new officer’s uniform sawn for us in Yeisk by a tailor. Our school head, General-Major Andreev went to Moscow 3 times and asked the People’s Comissar of Defense:
- How’s that?! Please, allow me to graduate them as officers!
Finally, Timoshenko agreed:
- Fine, for the last time you will graduate them as junior lieutenants.
We cut off second stripes (Leiutenants had two straps) and were given a rank of Jr. Lieutenants.
Can you imagine, 500 men were lined up? Our course was 600 men, but one squadron graduated ahead of time due to the well-known situation with Western Ukraine and Moldova, fighters were sent to the Fleets. So, we, 500 men, were lined up in the gym and congratulated.
- By the way, Naval flight schools were subordinated to the People’s Comissar of Defense?
Schools were subordinate to the Peoples’s Comissar of Defense. Both, the Army and the Navy. After the graduation, we were subordinate to the People’s Comissar of the Navy Kuznetsov.
- And who issued your first rank?
- People’s Comissar of Defense issued the first rank while after graduation it was the People’s Comissar of the Navy. (Prior to 1937 Yesk Aviation Scholl trained pilots exclusively for Naval aviation but was subordinated to North-Caucases Military District command. In 1937. In 1937 it was transferred under command of the Navy. In the summer of 1956 it was again transferred to the air forces of North-Caucases Military District and stopped to be naval only).
- You graduated as an SB pilot?
Yes, SB. Oh! It’s good that you reminded me… When we finished studying
R-5, an officer, then they were called commanders, came to us and announced:
- I’m authorized to ask you, which type of airplanes you would like to study in the future: sea planes or bombers? MBR or SB. Make your choice.
- I prefer bombers.
My instructors also wrote in characteristics that I had an attitude towards bombers... He asked:
- Are you sure?
- And why so?
I believed that it would be a serious airplane with a crew. We knew that heavy
four-engine TB bombers had eight crewmembers on board. It seemed to be solid.
That’s what attracted me. I wished to fly a serious airplane. That I-16
was something like a circus acrobat! Ant there was a lethal accident with it,
and several non-lethal ones. It was especially dangerous on landing, prone to
breaking wings if landed with mistake.
Well, that’s it. I came to my beloved Tamara to Mineralniye Vody for vacation. She was studying in Pyatigorsk Pedagogical institute, and said:
- After graduation next summer, either I will send you money, so that you will come to me, or I will come after you myself.
It was 1940. After graduation, 18 men from our squadron were sent to Pacific Fleet. Other 82 were sent to Black Sea, Baltic Sea and Northern Fleet. It was not very lucky. Four of us went together. Three men from Pyatigorsk aeroclub - Agafonov, Savelyev, and Minakov, our parent came for a farewell. The fourth was Tkachuk. We all were tall, 180 centimeters high; Savelyev was a bit shorter - 170. We came to Vladivostok. There was a port, and to the right side from the railroad station was a square. Across it was the air forces HQ. We crossed the square, went to the HQ and entered the personnel department. Four men. They said:
- Hey! Great! You three, Minakov, Agafonov and Tkachuk will go to Romanovka, equipped with DB-3. You, Savelyev, will go to regiment that flies SB.
So I was sent to the fourth Torpedo-Mine regiment (MTAP), which was stationed in Romanovka, 35-40 kilometers from Vladivostok. The 1st MTAP was at Baltic Sea, the 2nd was at the Black sea, and the 3rd was supposed to be organized at Northern Fleet, but it was not done.
We were assigned to the 4th MTAP, which consisted of five squadrons. Each squadron had 12 airplanes. It was short on flying crews. New, experienced pilots were sent in. We were 20 years old Junior Lieutenants, while they were 30 years old Senior Lieutenants. 18 officers were gathered, and we were assigned to this group. All retraining process took half a month.
- Were there officers in this regiment that participated in fights against Japan?
There were. I’ll come to this later. There were a few of them, but they were there. Some came with experience of the Finnish War. One, or may be two officers.
- What was your attitude towards those pre-war conflicts? How did you get information about it, did you discuss it among yourselves?
We knew about it from newspapers. Nobody told us anything specially. We only
studied. And, what is interesting, there were five squadrons in our regiment.
One squadron was trained for low-altitude torpedo runs. Our squadron specialized
on high-altitude torpedo runs. One squadron was DB-3 dive-bombers. Two squadrons
were level bombers. The regiment was based on three airfields, three squadrons
were stationed at Romanovka, one at Novonezhino, and one more was based at Moscow.
There was a village named Moscow. There was an airfield at that valley.
So, we began flying and did it often. We flew at the Japan Sea. DB-3T was very difficult airplane to fly, especially in the cockpit. There was one handle for lowering landing gear, but you had to open two valves. And there were many such misunderstandings!
June 22 1941 came. We were told that grand exercises would begin on June 23 at the Pacific. It was a free day. Garrison. There was a river on the outskirts. There were big hills, and our airfield was among the hills. That hill that we took off to was called “Girls Bust”. About 200 meters high with two spikes. There was only one open approach – from Sukhodol River, towards the bay. It was a difficult airfield… And our airplane weight was 10 tons.
On June 22 young officers went to the river. We played volleyball. Girls were present, we had a grammophone. At 19.00 an alarm was sounded. Since we were not far away, it was heard at the river. But most importantly – some wise man decided to paint SB bomber in red color. I believe that he should be given a state prize for that.
- It was painted red, or had a fabrique covers?
No, it was painted. When alarm was announced, people were everywhere, including hunters in Taiga, and you had to gather everybody at the airbase. Alarm! And that airplane flew above. We were getting dressed, and then we ran to the base. Engine sound always attracted attention.
- A pilot would always look up at this sound.
At those days civilians looked at the sound source too. It flew at 600 meters
or so. We saw a red airplane. And alarm sound. We arrived to the base, and got
an order to disperse immediately. In a couple of hours, we received our targets.
I asked other pilots from other Fleets, but we were the only ones to have this
kind of organization. In the case of war, we had an order to strike Japanese
Kobe naval base at Honsyu Island. It was a base and a shipyard for Japanese
aircraft carriers. Each airplane was armed with 2,500 kg bombs. We were given
targets, and waited for takeoff order. It was quite late already. We dispersed
our airplanes, set up tents. All those pre-war conflicts that you mentioned
kept our commanders in tonus. We were told:
- Your tents are ready. Today you will move out of your officer’s hostel.
There was an order by the People’s Comissar for those officers who haven’t served for 2 years to live in barracks for 1 year. There were about 30 such men. So we moved from our barracks to tents. When we woke up in the morning, I was unable to recognize our airbase. There was no airfield signs when I left the tent – the runway was camouflaged with haystacks...
- It was turned into the field?
Yes. Camouflaged. There were no airplanes in sight too. In 2 days we flew to the secondary fields. Then to another, and another. War was raging on.
- Before the war Stalin had several times questioned VVS commanders about lack of camouflage paint on our airplanes. It was most noted in the West, and especially was important in regards of all-metal SBs, which were simply not painted and were well visible.
That’s very good question. Our aircraft were painted only at the second day of the war.
- And they were just silver before?
They were aluminum - white. They all were white from the top. Belly was painted
light blue at the aviation plant. Now they were painted in one tone green. May
be they thought that it was enough for the summer. Each day we received bad
news. We wrote reports that we wished to go to the war. But there, at the Far
East we had a million strong – Kvantun Army in Korea. It had a task to
reach the Urals. That’s why we had to stay there. We trained to fly and
shoot. Shot at the dummies that were dropped with parachutes. At first, we couldn’t
hit them at all, but later results were good. We were stationed at the field
airbases in dugouts and tents.
Then, suddenly, good news came: on December 7 Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. It was unexpected! They flew 350 missions. Sunk or damaged almost all American Pacific Fleet. It was America’s luck that their aircraft carriers were out of base for training. So, generally speaking, even Jr. Lieutenants understood that Japanese were stuck there. What America was we also knew. In 2 years, it gained so high tempo… Japanese went to Indochina.
- Did this attack relieve you?
I think, it did make life easier for Stalin and other government members. For us, it was just moral relief. We understood that the war was going... On the other hand, we were too young to understand, what war actually was. I fully understood it only when I was fighting at the front. Sometimes, there was no will to fight anymore, but then an order would come. When in December the Germans almost reached Moscow, our squadron was the first to be sent to the front...
- If Japan would decide to strike the USSR, would there be enough force to hold them?
There was a powerful army fist. From Vladivostok to Khabarovsk and to Chita. Only at the worst moment in November 1941, when Germans were at the outskirts of Moscow Zhukov asked Stalin’s permission to take troops from the Far East. That’s when troops started moving. Naval aviation there had two bomber regiments, 120 airplanes, there also were MBR-2’s, and a lot of them.
- They could carry up to 400 kilos of bombs.
They carried up to 600. There was fighter aviation. There was enough force to oppose Japan. Besides, Japan had fighter airplanes only in Manchuria.
- But what if Japan would throw everything, including aircraft carriers against us?
I believe that we would be able to fend them off. We did in Mongolia and Khasan.
It was difficult, but we did win. And don’t forget about our people! We
would have fought them.
Let’s return. On June 22, my future wife was in Pyatigorsk, graduated from institute, and sent me a telegram:
“I’m a teacher. Congratulate me! Come after me! Yours, Tamara.”
At 19 o’clock, we were told… It was announced at noon at European part of the union, but it was 7 hours after us, it was 19.00 there…
We got carried away. Let’s return to the main line.
- But we are still in line. I know that you loved your wife a lot.
It was an interesting story, how I got married. I was the only man in the regiment
to be on vacation only three times during the war. I fought a lot. I was wounded
in the head. There lies the helm, which saved me.
Twice I was in Mineralniye Vody. Once in 1942 I was sent to sanatorium. We were near Sochi. We met, and I told her:
- If I will stay alive, I will come and marry you.
The war was over! In 1945 I came back, the HSU, five Orders, Golden Star, and said:
- Let’s go!
We married. There were so many stories behind it!
But I had another plan about our discussion. I wanted to talk about VVS KBF actions at the first days and how it saved Leningrad. Do you know how many crews were lost over Dvinsk?
- Only the 1st MTAP lost 11 crews that day…
42 aircraft were downed over Dvinsk that day… My classmate Petr Igashov committed double ramming. And Kramarenko… /HRF Petr Igashov, pilot from 1st MTAP had performed first in history ram of the air and ground target in one flight on 30/06/41/
- There also were 72nd and…
Yes, 72nd and 57th regiments were there…
- It is quite interesting story about pre-war airfields… Most of them hadn’t had any AAA cover at all! Could you tell why?
That was a major deficiency! But much worse was that our neighbors, Special
Western Military District lost 737 airplanes on the first day of the war –
that’s 47% of all available force. General-Major, HSU Kopets, commander
of the District’s air forces, blew his brains out on the second day of
the war. Why? Because the Germans made reconnaissance flights before the war
began, and knew where the airplanes were. And no one had dispersed the airplanes.
Naval aviation of three Fleets had dispersed their airplanes to the field airbases in May with no more than one squadron per airfield. Fuel was brought in, chain of command was set up and not a single airplane was lost it the first day of the war. I was a deputy commander of the Northern Fleet air forces for 10 years (after the war), and I saw those airfields. It was a rocky terrain with a short strip, no more than 600 meters, just enough for I-15 and I-16 fighters.
While at the West we had a whole army group!
- All went down the toilet.
That is quite polite way of saying it.
- There is a question about the Baltics. The 18th squadron was based at Habolovo. Germans were already advancing, when all airplanes were set to repairs, their engines were removed to replace them with new ones. Germans fired long-range artillery at them, and burned all planes on the ground. Personnel were sent to the Black Sea Fleet.
Can’t confirm or reject this story. It was possible. What kind of airplanes were there?
MBR?! Maximum speed of 130 km\h. Over 1200 were produced, and there were a lot of them at every Fleet. The Baltic Fleet had 717 airplanes, among them over 150 MBRs, 300 fighters, the rest were bombers.
- But still, what is your opinion…
It was major disarray that there was no protection. Not right!
- Why do you think this could happen? Commanders were not expecting so deep advances?
You know, I will tell you honestly. Everything that was going on from Murmansk to Black Sea was known only to Stalin and supreme command. The war began, multy-million men army advances, while even the first line units were not ready. In 7 or 8 days the Germans had captured Minsk.
- In your opinion was it supreme commander’s incompetence?
No. It was not military men incompetence; it was Kremlin owner’s political belief that there were 2 more years before the war could start. That’s how they thought. The Germans seemed to be “polite” by passing over half of Poland and Baltic States. That led us to the sence of self-confidence. It was the true reason of the catastrophe.
- That is, it was a prognostic mistake.
It was severe mistake, to say the least. We developed and produced new weaponry, about 1800 new aircraft, T-34 tanks – it was all in progress. If only we had a year or two up in our sleeve...
- At the beginning I asked you to compare naval aviators serving at the different fleets. You saw all four of them.
You know, only one really stands off – the Northern Fleet. They had different
weather and terrain conditions. But there was not much difference.
Pilot’s spirit was very high! Moral condition was very good. Do you know how we were trained at pre-war time? What kind of songs we had! I’ll tell you one small, but memorable detail, which was told to me by HSU Petr Hohlov, who was the first to drop bombs on Berlin.
- I know that he was a navigator in Preobrazhenskii crew.
In 1943 he was transferred to the Black Sea. There was such a practice. He
came as a Division Navigator to Tokarev. Tokarev was awarded a title of HSU
here, at Baltics during the Finnish campaign. So Hohlov told me about 30 June
– when the order to strike Daugavpils was given, many pilots said openly:
- Where are you sending us to? It’s land target, while we were trained to fight at sea. And there will be no cover! Fighters will not be able to follow us due to long distance. There will be counter action. We will be killed!
The Commissar told them:
- Please, understand – we are speaking about the fate of Leningrad. Whether it will be captured or not. Will we kneel in front of the Germans?!
And that was enough to settle the pilots down.
Moral condition was modest, I believe. That’s at the beginning of the war. But in 1942, when I got to the front, I saw another picture. It is a whole different story, how I ended up at Black Sea, since I was supposed to fly to the North. I was literally stolen. I was kidnapped! Would you like to hear?
- Of course!
We flew to Moscow as we were transferring airplanes at the beginning of 1942.
We collected them at the plant in Komsomolsk-na-Amure. Three airplanes were
built each day there. We came there, but there was a que. We had to wait 15
days for our nine airplanes to be built... So we flew our new DB-3f’s
– it was another aircraft, absolutely different /compares DB-3T to DB-3F/.
In 28 flying hours we covered 9000 kilometers. We had to land in Chita, Krasnoyarsk,
Blagoveshchensk, and Sverdlovsk. So we came to Moscow at Chkalovsk airfield,
where the Air Force academy was… Yes. Our Squadron commander Grigori Popovich
later got HSU title. Zhavoronkov summoned him:
- You will lead six crews with airplanes to Safonov’s regiment to the North Fleet. Three crews will go to Saransk, where we are forming two regiments, the 36th and the 35th, which will follow you later.
Can you imagine? Naval Aviation Commander had to direct each airplane by himself!
The Squadron commander came back and asked:
- Who will fly with me?
- We all are willing to fly with you, comrade commander!
We made eight tickets and made a lottery. 3 “losers” - Minakov, Peregudov and Kosyachenko flew to Saransk. There I was appointed to a flight commander position. Six other crews, commanders - Popovich, Balashov, Agafonov, Tkachev, Sidorov and Zubkov flew to the North.
Sometime later, a group of six men was assembled in Saransk and sent by train to Komsomolsk-na-Amure. We received airplanes there, and flew back. We flew for 6-7 hours, and then landed at airbases of Krasnoyarsk, Chita, Sverdlovsk, and Omsk. When we flew out of Sverdlovsk and crossed the ridge one of my engines caught fire. Engine on fire! I asked the navigator:
- Vladimir, are there any airfields or strips?
- There is a small strip nearby, 1,5-2 minutes away.
In 2 or 3 minutes, we were able to see Krasnoufimsk. There was an airfield where U-2’s were based. So I was going to land a burning plane with one engine out. I descended by the mountainside. It was my luck that I studied to fly at mountainous terrain. I landed and ran 400 meters. I stopped 3 meters away from the trench, or I would have crashed the plane. Most likely we would have died.
We landed, I turned off the engine, and then firefighters came in. They managed to put the fire out. It was established that half of the valve in a cylinder group was destroyed. I notified Moscow and Sverdlovsk immediately. On the fourth day we fixed the engine and made it to Chamsinka, that was an airbase near Saransk. We looked at the airfield, but there was not a single airplane there. I switched the engines out. A technician met us.
- Where are the airplanes of the 35th regiment?!
- This regiment flew to Northern Fleet just today.
Well, everything became clear now. I said to my crew:
- Nothing serious. We will sleep over here. 27 of them flew out, we will catch them up tomorrow.
In the evening we sat at the canteen, when a Major, HSU, came to us.
- Who among you is Minakov?
- I am!
I was a Junior Lieutenant, same as I was upon graduation from the flight school.
- I’m Andrei Efremov – commander of the 36th MTAP, which flew out to the Black Sea Fleet yesterday.
He was formerly from the 1st MTAP, he also participated in bombing raids on Berlin and Dvina river crossings, and afterwards he was assigned to the Black Sea.
- You will fly with me tomorrow!
- I will not. I’m assigned to the 35th regiment, and I don’t know you.
- Moscow is already informed, that you will fly with me.
Well, it was somewhat awkward… And he added what had increased worries in me:
- Tomorrow at 4 o’clock in the morning, right at dawn we will take off. Engines should be tested by then.
- Well, it is quite suspicious that Moscow should give permission for some Lieutenant to fly. It’s definitely not the level of Moscow…
Well, generally speaking, yes. I understood that there was some kind of fraud
here. On the other hand, he was a Major, and he was not sending us to America
or Germany. We came to the airfield in the morning before dawn, prepared the
aircraft. Just at dawn he came.
- Minakov! Let’s fly to the south. I will be in the pilot’s cabin, you – in the navigator’s.
He fired up the engines. It was obvious that he hadn’t flown for a long time. At take off the props started to run away.
- Was it set on high pitch angle?
- No, it was at low pitch angle. If you flew DB-3A, B and T, there were two
regimes of pitch angle: high and low, but here you could set it to any pitch
angle you like. That is, it should be placed at specific angle depending on
RPMs. We always took off at prescribed revolutions. He just pushed it all the
way and got runaway props at take-off. It was good that I was able to interfere:
- Runaway! Runaway! Reduce!
And right after that the sound «U-u-u-u». He corrected at once. Otherwise, the engines would be wrecked. Then we flew fine. We landed in Stalinabad, then in Maikop, where the 2nd MTAP was based (later it was redesignated as the 5th Guards Torpedo-Mine Regiment, or GMTAP). Its commander was the HSU Tokarev… He used to be Yefremov’s squadron commander in the Baltics and later the 1st MTAP commander (Blatic Fleet). They were performing first tests of radar-equipped airplane in 1940, when it crashed. Since he was a hero, he was not sentenced, but demoted to the deputy commander of the 2nd MTAP. Later he was promoted to 2nd MTAP commander.
So we landed, and I later understood that he spoke to Tokarev. Yefremov said to me:
- You fly to the 36th regiment and do not tell anyone that I came with you. I will come by a car tomorrow.
It happened so that I was the flight commander right away. The Squadron commander was Barinov. We began flying combat missions. We lost many airplanes in October. Only 10 airplanes were left, including mine. At the end of October our regiment was sent for reforming. Part of the crews and remaining airplanes were transferred to the 5th Guards Regiment.
Yefremov’s 36th Regiment returned in 4 months, in May 1943, equipped with Bostons. We kept flying Il-4s. In October, DB-3F was renamed into Il-4, after its designer’s name.
That’s how I ended up at Black Sea Fleet with the 36th MTAP based in Belorechenskaya near Maikop.
- How your new comrades met you?
I didn’t tell you most important things! You asked about attitude. I
was very surprised! Comparing with what was going on at first days of war and
what Mazurenko and others told me. It was some kind of duality: people were
eager to fight, but at the same time they understood how cruelly the war dealt
with them. Loss of friends, relatives – it was such a severe hit on morale.
When I came there, no one said anything. I hoped somebody would tell me something. It was exactly a year since the war began – I arrived in June. There were my classmates, but still nothing. I started asking:
- Tell me, what’s going on here?
One replied to me:
- Nothing new…
The second one said:
– It is needed to be done, so…
I saw our fighters there, they told me how to maneuver, how to avoid hits from AAA. But I literally had to drag it all out of them. It would be much better if the regiment commander would gather pilots and announce:
- Boys, here is the war. This is our experience. Do so and so… Here are war veterans. They will tell you what should be done, while you can ask questions…
Nevertheless, everyone held it to himself.
It was hard, when you set in a combat-ready status. We were singing songs when we were going to the airfield in a flatbed 1.5 ton truck, 10 - 15 men in each, and singing…
When we arrived, it was absolutely different thing. We started preparing. Most difficult time was when a task was given. Usually you sit, and then the telephone rings. The Commander picks it up and listens. Everybody listens to his replies. Then the commander briefs us in: “There is a convoy going, or there is a target that we have to strike”. That’s the worst moment! I felt it myself, and I could see it on my friends’ faces. Everybody felt such a depression: there is going to be a fight, there will be death, somebody will burn alive, explode or fall out of the sky – all the nightmare that was there.
When the briefing was done, an order would be given:
- To your plaaanes!
That’s it! You forget about everything. You run to your airplane, get inside, take off and follow your route. In 1942, we flew against ground-based targets. When you approach the target, there is some tension for the first minutes, then it fades. After you accomplish your task you leave. After landing, you sometimes recall some interesting points… That is generally, what a man at wartime has to go through. A pilot, I mean.
- You went through so many things, but you were so lucky! It must have been God’s blessing on you!
I will tell you. Sometimes, I can’t believe in my luck myself. By 25
August 1942 I was already baptized by fire, had flown about 50 combat missions.
I brought numerous holes in my airplane, I had to crash-land – I saw it
all! But on the 25 August something happened that I couldn’t imagine before.
I thought that fragments usually hit the legs.
Our reconnaissance plane crew located enemy tanks near Novorossiysk. German tanks hid under the trees in collective farm orchard. From straight above, they were unable to see them, but when the airplane went to the side, it saw 70-80 tanks 50-60 kilometer away from Novorossiysk. They were getting ready for breakthrough.
Our regiment was summoned by alarm with an order to strike them. We got 10 bombs in the fuselage bays, three bombs externally, that is 90 and 27 or total of 117 bombs, and we took off. We were told that there would be six fighters for cover.
- That is nine bombers and six fighters for cover. And where the fighters were coming from?
There was a small airbase near Novorossiysk. If I remember correctly, the 32nd
Regiment was stationed there. They took off from that airfield.
Before that, on 11 July 1941, 12 airplanes from our regiment bombed Sulina naval base. The Squadron commander and another 2 pilots were ordered to supress the AAA sites. When they broke off from the formation, Messerschmitts attacked them, and 20mm round tore the Squadron commander’s head off. Alexandr Tolmachev took the airplane under control and made it to our territory. He later became a regiment’s navigator, brigade’s navigator, and the VVS ChF navigator. He inserted control stick in the navigator’s cabin, crossed Dunai river and landed. Romanians didn’t get there yet. Our people had found the crew; three were wounded, while the pilot was buried on site.
After that pilots were ordered to wear metal helmets if there was a fight going, or we were under flack fire. This helm was always in the cockpit at the right side. We ripped away all the shock absorbing wiring, so that it could fit over flight helm. When it was needed, you simply pulled it out and get it on. I never wore it. Until 25 August I didn’t.
…But that day, it was beyond belief. It was hell! White and black explosion marks, fragments flew all around, Oerlicon streams crossing the skies – a sea of fire! And when we were on the bomb run about to release our bombs, self-preservation instinct must have worked. I reached out and put the helmet on. A few seconds later, when bombs were gone and I could smell piroxylin, which was used to open bomb release mechanism, just 5 meters away from the wing I saw three explosions. Black pillows! That was all that I could remember. I lost conscience in flight!
The altitude was 3200 meters. The airplane went into a steep dive. So I was unconsince until 500 meters of altitude. The navigator was thrown to the front of his cabin, the gunners were upside down, radio station flew out of its holding place and so on… The navigator couldn’t close the bomb bay doors and that also helped us. When the airplane gained speed in a dive the open bomb bay doors brought the airframe to shake, which in turn must have awaken me... When I opened my eyes and saw the altitude of 500 meters with airspeed almost 600 km\h, I thought, this was it! Bailing out at 500 meters?! I’d be flat on the ground in just a second. So I pulled the stick. The airplane didn’t respond. I’m telling all this in a longer period of time than it really happened: in real life it was in seconds. I pulled – no response. I started turning the trimmer handle. Airplane slowly began to rise it’s nose, I thought there was no chance…
The altitude at that moment was 300 meters. The G-load was extreme, at about 6, but I still pulled it out. When the airplane was already stable in the air, I put my glove at my face, and saw that it was all in blood. A fragment about 3 cm wide hit the helmet at temple area. That’s why I lost conscience. The fragment fell to the cabin floor. My crew members are screaming:
- Commander, what’s going on?
I couldn’t get it at first. Then I noticed a hole in the plexiglas, and wind whistling through it.
- I got hit by a shell fragment.
- Would you make it home?!
- I will. Don’t worry.
So I did. We landed. The Squadron commander said to me:
- Minakov, we thought that you were killed!
They saw my plane falling, and reported that I was shot down.
- Well, tell us your story!
While I told them what I could, my mechanic searched through the cockpit and said to me:
- Commander! There is a song, «four steps to death», you were 3 cm away from it. If just a little bit lower…
I used to keep it for a long time in a beautiful wase, but then I gave it up to the museum.
And what is interesting, after that I flew over 150 missions, 206 overall and I never again wore a helmet! I saw everything: my plane burned in the air, I brought back 10 wounded navigators, although only one of them was signed off active duty as crippled! But never again I wore the metal helmet!
On the other case I just escaped a fragment that was about to tear my side. It flew through the engine, cowls, and fuselage side and at the last moment it hit a steel cable for grenades release. Each airplane had four grenades, so that if fighters attacked from below they could be released on a parachute and explode at pre-set distance. A fighter would have been hit by the fragments, if it was close enough. That cord saved me. The fragment fell where the helm was, if it didn’t, it would have torn me to pieces.
There was a lot going on.
- Could you describe Yefremov as pilot?
He was almost always on the ground. The regiment commander had to fly, but he did not. Tokarev flew a lot, even when he was Division commander. And he was killed. It was his first torpedo attack after he got General’s rank. During the war time at all fleets only 3 Regiment commanders flew torpedo missions, and all three had perished. Only one Division commander flew torpedo strikes and he was killed. In general, 1 out of 3 pilots was shot down during torpedo runs. I had flown 32 torpedo missions.
- I have two more questions about Yefremov...
Yefremov sometimes was absolutely insane, my crew had saved him once. He was
about to be shot down. Well, the Regiment commander. He chose easier missions,
with less counteractions, AAA and fighters. Once we flew against mountain crossings.
Our regimen was based at Pizunda then. In August 1942 we were ordered to bomb
German troops at mountain crossings. He decided to lead us. We flew in a 3-ship
- Minakov, you will be my left wingman.
And he led us. We took off, gained about 1500-2000 meters of altitude. We were over Sukhumi, when my gunner shouted:
- Commander, we are under attack by fighters!
It was over our territory, I-16 was attacking. I saw a tracer trail flying at Yefremov.
- Commander, may I shoot at him?
- Do it.
And my gunner shot, possibly shooting it down... There were two I-16 attacking. It turned out that their regiment was just transferred to Gudauty to guard it, and their pilots were eager to intercept the Germans, but they hit us by mistake. That’s it. When I told all this to Yefremov, he kissed me. Then we flew one more mission together… in 4 or 5 months of the war.
On another occasion, Tokarev almost got me killed. It was October 1942. We were lined up, when he came and read an order, that our regiment is going to be reformed. We had 11 or 10 airplanes left.
- You can rest. Tomorrow we will be only filling up documents. Dismissed.
I had to go to the 5th GMTAP, the rest of the crew was sent to the reformed regiment. We did all the necessary procedures. At about 20.00 hours we moved to Dranda village and began drinking cognac. We were drinking until about 23.00 hours.
- That is, you had quite a bit?
Yes, I was “full” by then. Then suddenly, the truck came.
- Commander summons you for a mission.
- What mission, can’t you see my condition? I will not go.
- Your wish. Are you disobeying orders?
Even though I was pretty drunk, I understood that the jokes were over. We got into the flatbed truck. It was going as fast as possible. I still wonder how we did not fell out. He must have had an order to return ASAP. It was pitch-dark night when we entered the briefing room. Tokarev said to me:
- Minakov! An order just came in: Belikov to fly combat mission, but he is sick- something with his stomach. But it is very important that mission to be flown, so I decided to send you.
It happens sometimes. Who will check his stomach? And the mission was important too.
- Do you see that my condition does not guarantee anything?
- You have an order - execute! I will give you the truck to get to the airplane.
- I don’t need the truck…
I waived like that (shows how) and left the room. The squadron commander Osipov waited for me outside (he later perished).
I decided to walk across the airfield to the airplane, so that my anger would lighten up and I get some fumes out of my head. The bad thing was that I had to fly not mine, but Belikov’s bomber. It was a completely different machine. I sobered up a bit, got into the cockpit, and fired up the engines. Squadron commander Osipov (I flew my first combat mission with him) got on the wing and asked quietly:
- Minakov, how do you feel?
- Fuck off...
The navigator was Prilutskii Nikolay. Very tough man, physically strong. He also became a HSU later. I taxied to the runway. It was absolutely dark. At the end of the airfield two small kerosene lamps were placed for orientation. 3 days ago one pilot crashed on take-off. Lost orientation caught up the tree. All crewmembers perished.
- How do you feel?
- Nikolay, it’s like riding someone else’s wife. I fly his airplane for the first time. I know my airplane’s habits to the last rivet, while here everything is the same, but seems a bit different.
I took off luckily. Our route to Sevastopol was over 3 hours, where we had to bomb merchant ship in Southern Bay. We dropped our load of three 250 kg bombs. I had no idea what happened to that ship. On the next day, we were told:
- Fly reconnaissance mission and land in Gudauty to stay with the 5th regiment.
- You flew only the Il-4?
- The entire war on the Il-4.
- And how many airplanes have you changed?
- Not a single one. I always brought it home, and it was always repaired.
You have my word for that! It was all in patches. My airplane was gone on 18
August 1944. I was on vacation for 15 days when operation to capture Romania
and Bulgaria began. The Squadron commander flew my airplane because his one
was damaged. They were downed over Constanta. He wasn’t such a smart Squadron
commander. When you fly a mission, you have to think, maneuver, and avoid dangerous
areas. He was shot down by fighters. Four our airplanes were shot down by fighters
that day. This Squadron commander, another Squadron commander Daryin, deputy
Squadron commander and a Flight commander.
And can you imagine! I met the pilot, who shot our airplanes down! That same fucker who destroyed MY airplane!
- How and where did it happen?
I returned from the vacation at the beginning of September. Our regiment had
flown to Burgas in Bulgaria by then. Two crews were left behind – one
of the squadron commander and mine. The regiment commander told me:
- We got new pilots from the flight school. When you will return, you will have to train them a bit.
There was an airbase Saki near Yevpatoria. For 2 weeks I flew with those boys.
Suddenly the division commander summoned me. He flew in from Burgas to Sarabuz.
- Minakov, tomorrow you will fly to Burgas. Here is a letter. You will hand it to the chief of staff of the division personally. Then you will fly to Romania, the airbase is near Constanta.
Romania was liberated by then. There we were met by the car, and were supposed to go to Mamaya, where the 6th GIAP was based, equipped with Yak-3s.
- You will be loaded there, and then you will return here.
I landed at prescribed airbase, and noticed four Me-110. I asked the driver:
- Stop the car!
It was very interesting. We came out of the car with translator. Suddenly, a small man comes to me, shows me four fingers and points at my airplane. I asked my translator:
- What did he say?
- He said that he shot down four such planes.
- He did what?!
I attacked him, and was about to strangle that bastard to death, when the translator tore me off him:
- There is no need, comrade Capitan! It is a history by now. No need.
But I still chased him and kicked his butt. That’s how we met. That fucker had the nerve to come to me!
How did they catch us? The radar from the ground saw incoming airplanes. Air defense fighters took off, also equipped with radars. They flew at first by directions of ground control and then they would find us by onboard radar. As soon as they noticed our airplane, they tore it down with eight guns. That’s how my airplane was destroyed. It was a Romanian fighter.
I returned to Sarabuz with full load of food – 2 tons of caviar, champaign, cognac, delicatessen. 20 sailors unloaded it all. Division commander said:
- Minakov, you will have to fly to “Malaya Zemlya” and bring 500 bottles of Champaign from there.
«Malaya Zemlya» - that is the place where heavy battles were fought in 1943.
- I will not!
He made a strict face.
- It will be dark. Airfield there is just 20 meters wide, no landing lights or illumination. I’ll crash the plane there. And who is going to be responsible for all that?
He thought for a while, then:
- No! Go! I’m sure you will succeed!
Thus, I had to fly there at dusk.
- It was the same day when you returned from Burgas?
That same day. I returned from Burgas at about 18.00 hours. Some time had passed
until the airplane was unloaded. There was some time needed to fly from Crimea
to Northern Caucases – about an hour. I was shocked, and was sure that
I will break the plane! I came in, flew around once, twice. Then I noticed some
light below. Either they were informed about my arrival, or they simply understood
that the airplane would not fly patterns without purpose. Some lamps were placed
at the ends of the runway. I switched on the landing light and landed safely.
It was the first time I have used this light. I simply couldn’t believe
I did it! I flew a lot, but this one was so difficult... I couldn’t brake,
or my airplane could swing to the side into the trenches, stones or forest.
I slowly reduced speed and taxied to the parking area.
Some men were there already:
- We know what you are after. We will load it now.
A truck came, and how they managed to load that champaign? They had to make a floor in the bomb bay and load it all through the hatch from the gunner’s cabin. Then they covered it all by canvas, hoping that cargo won’t fall out of the bomb bay.
But it was too late to take off, so I had to wait until morning. When I landed the division commander said:
- Minakov and Prilutskii, you will have to fly to your base, get dressed in parade uniforms, Churchill is coming in. You will have about 2 hours to sleep; we will be expecting you by 1500 in U-2 airplane.
We prepared ourselves and returned. Churchill came to Sarabuz airbase on 9 October 1944. He was met only by General-Lieutenant Yermachenkov and a few other men.
There were three barracks. Germans previously occupied one of them. Everything was prepared there, some carpets on the floor, tables served. Three steps lead to the barrack entrance. The commander showed us at the entrance and said:
- Act as honor guards!
My navigator and I had to stand the guard duty. Three cars came in and Churchill came out, then several Generals, and his daughter…
- Churchill’s daughter?
Yes, his daughter, and maybe 10 other men. He appeared to be rather short and round. He came to us, first to my navigator, shook his hand. Then he turned to me, and shook my hand as well. What caught my attention: his eyes were like those of fried fish, you know… hazy and blewish in color. He went inside. Shortly, he came out with a glass of cognac. We waited a few minutes, but then we were given a signal - «leave». They stayed there drinking until midnight, then moved to Massandra beach.
- That’s why his eyes were fish-like.
- Yes. His daughter stayed and danced with our boys almost until morning! She
was there with some other girls. They drank champagne and danced.
English delegation was drinking in Massandra, they drank all night long. In the morning, they were loaded on to the airplane and flew away.
- How interesting!
- My life was long and full of interesting moments! I wrote 18 books. I flew
206 combat missions. I sunk a lot of ships, 46,000 tons worth of displacement.
No one else in the Soviet Union was credited with such displacement sunk. Even
submarine commander Marinesko from the Baltic Fleet had 27000.
In 1944 I was awarded with a title of the HSU. I had become a deputy squadron commander, then the squadron commander. I was just 23 years old. Then I finished Higher Officer’s Courses and Naval Academy. I was the deputy regiment commander at the Baltic Fleet, then moved to the Pacific. I was commander of the Guards Division. Graduated from the Academy of General Staff. Then I became First Deputy Aviation Commander of the Northern Fleet. Then for 15 years I was a Chief of Research Institute. I left the service in 1985.
- It is quite interesting theme, your work in Research Institute.
- That’s separate story! Briefly, I was not under Navy Commander Admiral
Gorshkov, but under Chief Marshal of Aviation Kutakhov. That was very unpleasant,
since I worked for the Fleet Aviation, for Gorshkov! I had to see Gorshkov at
least twice a month, while I met Kutakhov no more than 8 times in 15 years.
He was interested in the Air Force, not in the Naval Aviation. At first I was
- You should report directly to me about all scientific research and development (R&D). Our Institute had about 150 – 180 projects a year, some took half-a year to complete, some took several years.
I wrote the first report and was waiting when they will get back to me. I was waiting for a month, two months, half a year. Than I gave up and stopped reporting (to Kutakhov). I reported to Gorshkov. And if there is a problem to be solved, I got in the car, crossed Neva River – there were seven Scientific-Research Institutes: the 1st, the 4th, the 16th, the 31st, etc. So that how it lasted for 15 years.
I believe that our 30th Institute has to be acknowledged. What did we do? First of all, we provided high quality R&D. We actively interacted with our clients from the military in Moscow, proving them that results of our work should not be shelved; design work, so that designers will decide what fits, so we participated in design process.
Then there were two stages: the first was to evaluate and report on design and the second was to build a mock-up of a plane and see how it all fits, to participate in building the airplane. The third stage was testing when the hardware was sent to test facilities.
That how it was. As a result we created 5 airplanes: strategic Tu-142 (they are based at 2 airfields now – 1 at the Pacific and another at the Northern Fleet), ASW airplane, which flew over Atlantic and Indian oceans as well; Su-27 modification for the Navy – Su-33 and MiG-29K – that’s separate story; flying boat, which is currently used by the Ministry of Emergency Response and firefighters…
- Yes, Be-200; then ASW and general-purpose airplane built at Taganrog. And helicopters: Ka-27, Ka-29, Ka-31 with radar and others. I made a report on Ka-27 in America and scared the Americans I went there for a conference .
- Genearlly, it is clear. Can you tell us in more details what was done for development and series production of these aircraft and helicopters?
- First of all, when I first came, I was instructed by the Deputy Commander-in
Chief General-Colonel Mishuk, he was overseeing production: «Tell me what
is required from you?» I was not there yet and he is asking what is needed
What is needed from me is to know the foreign hardware: fighters, bombers, what systems they have; to know well our aircraft designers and capabilities of the industry. We will justify everything, first mathematical models, develop specifications, coordinate with designers – they will start design process based on our data. After design we participate in everything, then check it out on a mock-up.
- So your task was to develop a concept of new armenments, assigning tactical
and technical characteristics based on objective necessity.
- Exactly, Tactical and technical characteristics. They are sent to designers and when they provide their feedback and corrections, we develop specifications. Their it is specific: what engines, what speeds, what masses, we all wright that.
- It is clear that you studied the state of affairs abroad, compared it to the state of affairs here and tried to develop prospective hardware that would…
- Yes, that would be better in flight and combat capabilities than what a potential adversary has.
- To counteract the threats. I would also like to ask about Egypt.
If you are interested, I’ll tell you about Egypt.
In 1968 an order came to the Northern Fleet to send a squadron of our airplanes to Egypt. Two days later the Deputy Commander General-Lieutenant Naumov came from Moscow with some other people. They picked the crews. Each crew was crosschecked: who, when, where, in which conditions they fly, who was the instructor, and so on. When everything was over, they left to Moscow. An order came when they should fly to Egypt. That was in April, I believe.
I the was deputy commander, the commander was Kuznetsov Yuri. We were dressed warmly, and stood near the runway and waved farewell as they took off.
- That was the 90th spetsnaz long-range reconnaissance squadron from the 967th ODRAP SF? Which airplanes and how many?
The Tu-16. Mostly Tu-16 in reconnaissance version. They were capable of flying
bomber missions as well, but they were reconnaissance.
They landed at Cairo-west, 17 km away from Cairo. Largest airfield. Daily flights began from that airfield over Mediterranean. Heat was terrible – almost 50 degrees centigrade! The first that they saw was a small lake near the airfield, so they went swimming there. The local man came:
- What do you do? You have to pay for that.
That was the first time when they were told that they should pay. Later they were issued special sums of money in change to pay for everything!
It was hot. There was a HQ building, where commanders sat, and there was a bar - cantina. Our boys, not used to high temperatures, after 6-7 hours of flying over the sea, before going to the bar drunk a bit of cognac. Some were stricken so hard; they couldn’t understand where they were. Not in the air, of course. They simply thought that everything was fine.
A few month had passed, may be a year. Naumov ordered the squadron commander to rebase to another airfield – Cairo-West was about to go for reconstruction.
The next day Naumov came to the airfield – all airplanes are in hideouts, covered in tarp, and no one around. Can you imagine? The General gave the order… It was a free day, so he found somebody and asked where to find personnel. There is a restaurant near the pyramids.
- Comrade General, they should be there – celebrating something.
He came to the restaurant, and found personnel drunk. He was mad. He sent a telegram to Moscow to 8 addressees: to the Government, to each Supreme Commander, Minister of Defense, Head of the KGB, Minister of Foreign Affairs – virtually, to everybody! And they all got information that our officers are drinking instead of performing their duty.
By alarm, we were summoned to Moscow. We came in by the airplane –Kuznetsov, Member of the Military Council Novikov, the new regiment commander, because the old one was already relieved from his post, and I. We addressed the Military Council. Supreme Commander was so angry and upset!
- How could that happen? What the hell is going on? Why haven’t you prepared them!
- We haven’t seen them for over a year. We can say nothing.
We were questioned for 30 minutes. Then the Captain 1st Rank comes in:
- The Minister of Defense is on the line.
Supreme Commander left the room. His deputy was asking us now. Then, suddenly, very loudly:
I stood up.
- I will give you 10 men the day after tomorrow and you will fly to Egypt and settle things there.
- It is impossible! We will have no time to arrange for visas, and we have to return to the Northern Fleet for cloths, at least.
- Execute the order!
That’s how the military council ended. The HQ of the Naval Aviation assigned 10 men. Then Commander of Naval Aviation was Borzov Ivan.
We flew to the Northern Fleet, changed our clothes. There was also General-Engineer Mironov and the new squadron commander Colonel Miroshnichenko. At night, we arrived to Moscow. From Izmailovo airfield we and 10 officers from the HQ had to fly to Egypt. However, that was the exact day when our troops were sent to Czechoslovakia. This airfield was open for incoming airplanes, but closed for takeoff. Only on special permission. I was a General already, and went to investigate the situation. At the commanding tower there were Naval officers:
- Vassilii Ivanovich, what can we do?!
- I have to fly out.
- We will let you fly out. Go to your airplane. When you will reach it, an order will be given.
I returned to the airplane, and in 15 minutes permission was given. We landed in Budapest, but it was also in a mess – troops were moving in and out. We hardly got permission to take off again, even though Moscow gave an order to fly ASAP. I called Moscow from Budapest, Moscow arranged permissions and notified Egypt. It was a mess. For 3 hours, we watched how pilots there were suffering… Fighters taking off… Such a mess. At 19.00 hours we took off. It was getting dark in Egypt. I gave an order to the An-12 pilot – he was a squadron commander. He replies:
- I haven’t flown at night lately.
- I flew a lot! If you will have trouble, I will get to the second seat and help you.
- Well, I had to warn you.
So, we took off. We crossed Yugoslavia at daylight. It was so beautiful! The dark caught us over Mediterranean Sea. We arrived to Cairo at 00.00 hours. Four hours in flight. We were met at the airfield, and each of us received a handful of coins.
- What for?
- You will understand it later. Everybody will ask you: «Baksheesh» - and you have to give something. If you will not give – you are a bad person.
At about 01.00 hours we reached Cairo. It appeared as a sea of light! Huge town all in light! I thought: how these poor Egyptians fought the Israelis here?! Total ignorance! Everything was in lights. Restaurants overcrowded. Dancing. We went to the central avenue and as we just stopped, a door was opened from the outside, suitcases were taken out of the trunk:
I walked to the door, they opened it:
They filled all the forms out, we were escorted to the eighth floor, where there was a skinny man:
This «bakshish!» was virtually everywhere!
On the next day, we went to the chief military advisor – General-Colonel.
- Weren’t they responsible for drinking in the squadron?
They were there to teach Egyptian forces how to fight, how to cross the Suez Channel.
- So, there was no one to look after our violators?
There were commander and political officer. There was an advisor from the VVS,
but he didn’t look after them. There were Egyptian fighters, so he taught
them how to fight. A road was built to Alexandria with some houses nearby. Inside
those buildings were hidden airplanes. They would taxi out of them straight
to the runway and take off.
…In the morning I woke up in the hotel. Dirt everywhere, crap. It was common for people to walk on the main street, and take a shit right where they wanted to. I was definitely not excited about all this.
We were standing in the backyard, when some Russian approached us.
- Why so dull faces?
- We just came in. Its a mess here. And we don’t like hotel.
- Do you have bread with you?
- Yes, we were told to take five loaves each.
- Go there, give them one, and you will get the best hotel.
I sent one colonel there, he returned in 4 minutes:
- They did!
The best hotel at the Nile, at the king Faruks villa. Each one got a room. We gave the bread, and we went further.
- You should stay, while I’ll go visit chief military advisor.
I was warned in advance not to have shirtsleeves rolled up (it was 55 degrees centigrade), or else! I came in as ordered, but only in a shirt. I came in and reported:
- General Minakov, my task is…
- Yes, there is mess, you have nothing in order here. Put everything in order, General!
- Can you brief me on the situation?
He began talking:
- Can you imagine, I have a game with maps. Yesterday we spoke how to cross the Suez Channel. In a week time it would be another game, another situation, but they still act as they did one week ago.
Egyptians were dumb... He said that there were many radar stations.
- How long do you plan to work here?
- I was told that I could return only after everything will be in order.
- Remember! Not a single telegram without my signature!
Naumov also sent telegrams with his signature.
Everything in order. I went to the hotel, to issue tasks to the subordinates. In the evening there were concerts, there was no alcohol, they drank only water. There were blue pools, cottages nearby. Every day belly dancing. I haven’t even heard about belly dances before!
There were conditions to work and rest there. To avoid “baksheesh” we began parking our car a bit away from the hotel. It was intense heat, flies… While we had to go to the airfield each day by 8 o’clock in the morning and returned at 00.00 hours. Work, work, and more work.
First thing. They all knew me, because I was in command of this regiment, it was subordinated to me as well as another reconnaissance regiment and one transport regiment were. I walked in civilian clothes – they didn’t even bother to stand up. There is a General walking, and a sergeant didn’t even bother to lift his ass! I understood the problem. On the next day I ordered to line up everybody in Egyptian flight gear. It was like our summer flight overalls except for the sandy color…
Everybody had to be dressed in uniforms. Every morning – line up! Check all personnel for presence! I had to tighten-up the discipline. In a short period of time discipline came into order.
Once I came to the Chief Advisor. I visited him from time to time, so that he won’t feel neglected. I told him what we did, and which goals we achieved. Therefore, I came to him.
- Comrade Minakov, I cannot understand, what is the disposition of the Jewish troops? Where are their stations?! Could you fly a reconnaissance mission?
- I can do that. I will prepare the plan for tomorrow.
I had a plan that I checked in Norway. Very simple and effective. On the next day, I had shown him this plan on the map. If you take off from that airfield and gain 300 meters of altitude, Israelis will see you.
Six airplanes took off and at 50 meters of altitude they flew 500 km towards Lybia, turned around and raced towards Suez Canal, where the Israelis placed their radar stations. Since they did not know that six airplanes took off, they did not expect incoming bombers. At about 150 km away from Suez our airplanes jumped up with a steep climb!
Israelis couldn’t understand what was going on. Six airplanes gain altitude of 4000 meters rapidly. At 30-35 degrees. At an order, one airplane stays in the center, the rest dive steeply with some “twists”. Oh, my God! The Israelis switched all their stations on! They are smart people, but still fell to the temptation to switch them all at once. Our airplane, that stayed above only had to record all the data. They were like a crow that cried with its mouth open! If not more. We had all the data needed – which stations, where, which bands used! Whole plan was relayed to me. We passed the information to the Egyptians, so that they could use it if they decide to cross the Suez.
Chief Military Advisor was so pleased, that he gave me a permission to send telegrams without other signatures. Telegrams! Cyphered data. Usually one had to have eight signatures. He told me:
- I trust you. You are a decent man, a true General, I can see it. It’s a pity that you are not going to stay here with me.
As a result I began sending my own telegrams. Before that it was a real torture – go there, sign, re-write and sign again.
We finished our business and flew away. It took us about 18 days or so!
What is interesting is that at the beginning, I had a Russian driver, then he was changed to the Egyptian. He knew Russian language well, but tried to conceal it. A day before we left, I decided to buy a present for my daughter – she was a pretty girl then. I had a translator and guards with me all the time. We came to the shop, which was owned by the Armenian, who spoke Russian well and sold jewelry. I was looking for cheap rings.
– How much?!
- So and so.
I liked one, but the price was still too high for me, and I decided to leave.
- Don’t worry, I’ll make a discount.
So I bought that small golden ring for my girl.
On the next day, our advisors came to me:
- Vassilii Ivanovich, my wife is here with a kid, she can’t return home. Turkey and Czechoslovakia won’t allow air traffic to overfly their territory.
It happened to be a daughter of the famous aircraft designer Polikarpov. We took her to Moscow with us. At night, we landed in Moscow, reported to Borzov, and got a commendation. I said:
- Comrade Commander! Every armed force has it’s representative in Egypt, except Aviation…
- What do you suggest?
- An advisor!
- We will arrange an order today.
- We need to send there such and such airplanes…
Everything was done.
Our new commander was introduced, and true work had begun. Our airplanes flew a lot there, but the replacement was sent from the VVS ChF. Mironenko, CiC of VVS ChF did all the changes then.
- You mentioned Borzov. What is your opinion about Ivan Ivanovich?
- Borzov was a smart man. He had a God’s gift. He wasn’t highly educated, even though he graduated from the Naval Academy with honors. But he was too prone to drinking, and when he did drink, he could do many mistakes. He would demote people and then promote them back. He was a moody man, so to say.
- Was he a good man?
He was a good pilot! I taught him to fly in 1948. He was about to graduate
from the Academy, where he studied for 3 years, and had to have some practice
to re-qualify. Borzov came to me, to Klopitsy, because our regiment was just
60 km away from Leningrad. The regiment commander said to me:
- Make observation flights with him.
I flew three observation flights with him. Then he was an instructor at the Naval Academy. Like many other pilots, there was no need for him after the war. He went to Moscow and asked for an audience with Vassilii Stalin. Stalin called Preobrazhenskii:
- Borzov is a real gem!
Preobrazhenskii sent Borzov as a division commander to the Pacific fleet. There he got a rank of General. I came there as a regiment commander, when he was there as a chief of staff of the division. After that, he was appointed as a deputy commander of aviation for the 5th Fleet. There was a tragedy with Americans… Then the Northern Fleet, then Riga, and then Commander of the Baltic Fleet Aviation. From there he went as a deputy for Preobrazhenskii…
- And what about Chief Air Marshal Kutakhov?
They were alike. Kutakhov would always find what to punish for.
- He looks very soft on the portraits.
Once, I was in Moscow. It was Friday, 19.00 hours. I was caught and informed:
- Tomorrow, on Saturday, at 09.00 hours you will report to the Commander-in Chief of Aviation, your deputies are to be there as well. Bring them from Leningrad with the documents and schemes of ships…
Can you imagine?! 1900 hours, hot weather, everybody is leaving out of town to dacha.
I began solving this problem. I called Borzov immediately, told him about everything.
- What is he thinking?
And then swearing, he was famous for bad words.
- He’s gone nuts?! He needs a visit to a psychiatrist!
- Please, give me an airplane, so that it will fly to Leningrad at 03.00 hours, collect my men at 05.00 hours, so that they will be in Moscow at least half an hour before 09.00.
Borzov gave an order, and everything worked out well. At 09.00 we were there. Everybody was surprised, that we managed to be on time.
Kutakhov came in, then his Deputy twice HSU Marshal of Aviation, then his deputy for aviation weapons Mishuk. When he was going past me, he said:
- You seem to lose some weight.
- We have to work on Saturdays and Sundays.
- It’s good.
He went and sat at his place. A commission began its work. One made his report, another one, and so on until the last one finished reporting. Then Kutakhov stood up and walked behind me. I sat at the table, while he stood behind me silently. I sat. Maybe, he expected that I would stand up or turn around? I sat – no orders were issued. And everybody sat silently.
- Minakov! Why in February, on such date you haven’t met me in Leningrad?
I stood up:
- Comrade Commander-in Chief, I considered it impossible.
- The Minister of Defense was present, five other ministers, CiCs of different branches of the Armed Forces. I decided it to be incorrect to bother you.
- And how the Communist Party teaches us? You could have found time, even at 00.00 hours, you could have come to my hotel, we would have a cup of tea together and a chat.
- I will consider it next time, comrade Commander!
- Yes, you will!
And he went back to his seat, pleased how he caught me.
During the brake everybody began praising him:
- What a great man is your Commander! How open hearted he is! How he cares about you!
Well, that’s about everything. If you will have more questions, call me later.
Interview 4 July 2012
Thank you for your invitation! Despite the fact that access was granted
to the archives, there are still a lot of facts, which can be cleared only by
eyewitnesses. Let’s speak about some people.
Modern historians argue a lot about the death of the HSU, division commander Tokarev.
I will tell you how he perished. He always flew in Il-4. Not so often –
he was a high-ranking officer, Division Commander. Just as much as it was possible.
In 1943 the 36th regiment came equipped with Boston ?-20G. By the end of that
year our troops managed to liberate almost all of Tavria. In order to shorten
the flight time and increase pressure on enemy shipping lines about 60 airplanes
of different types – fighters, torpedo bombers and so on, were moved to
Skadovsk. The HQ of the Division was located at Ghelendzhik. It was not so effective
to command units from such a long distance, and he chose to fly to Skadovsk
in his Il-4. Skadovsk airbase was crowded with airplanes – it was also
used for the Army aircraft.
It happened so that Tokarev was promoted to General-Major just a day before. On January 29, 1944 they were celebrating his promotion. When he was in the canteen, a report came that the enemy convoy entered Yevpatoria and anchored there. Seven Bostons from the 36th regiment were sent against that convoy. None of seven torpedoes hit a stationary target. That was a scandal, a disgrace! It simply stood there, aim and drop your torpedoes! After debriefing Tokarev got mad, and shouted:
- I will fly myself!
He boarded the Boston and took off with Captain Obukhov as a wingman.
Excuse me for interruption. Seven Bostons were from the 36th MTAP? They
flew out on January 30?
Yes, those were airplanes from the 36th regiment. Torpedo bombers. None of them scored a hit.
Did they have any fighter cover?
I believe eight fighters, or maybe a squadron.
A pilot, that flew out with Tokarev reported that his engine was stalling, and almost immediately returned to base. Tokarev flew that mission alone. He made it to the convoy location and initiated the attack run. For some reason he chose to risk. An anchored ship can be attacked from 1200-1500 meters, torpedo will reach it and hit, since there is no chance to maneuver the ship when it is anchored. At about 700 meters his airplane was hit in the engine and fuel tanks by oerlicons. The airplane was set on fire, the pilot was wounded. He made it to the shore and belly landed at the sandy beach.
On sand? Do you mean on the shore? Could you verrify where the airplane landed as there are conflicting data about this. Two his crewmembers made it out of the airplane, but did not help him to get out. Tokarev burned alive in his cockpit. The Germans came there and captured the survivors – navigator Markin and the gunner. Tokarev’s remains were buried by locals. When Crimea was liberated he was reburied in Yevpatoria. Is it possible that his crewmembers could have saved him?
It is possible, but they chose not to risk. The airplane was burning from one side only. They could have saved him.
It turns out that that flight was spontaneous and not prepared properly? What Denisov and Hohlov thought about all that?
Denisov was an eyewitness of all that, I asked him directly, if there was any
chance to land and save him. He replied that there was very high possibility
that the airplane would get stuck in the sand and have no chance to take off.
It seemed that he still wasn’t sure. Maybe there was a possibility to
help, after all. Besides, the Germans were close. Of course, it was a tragedy
Hohlov was at another airfield that day. He usually flew as Tokarev’s navigator. I asked him and Tolmachev later about their opinion. They both said that they would prevent him from flying without preparations by any means necessary.
Navigator Markin after liberation from captivity was sent to the Northern Fleet and died from alcohol poisoning. What a harsh fate.
When Markin was liberated, he was immediately sent to the Northern Fleet. An order about his arrest came from Sevastopol, but there was celebration of some kind a day before, and 20 men, including Markin died from methanol poisoning. I knew him well. We used to fly together in Komsomolsk-na-Amure. He was very obnoxious guy.
What about his navigator’s qualities?
His friend Kordonskii became the navigator of the squadron, then the regiment,
while Markin was just the flight navigator.
Most discouraging thing was that Tokarev gave his life in vain – he missed…
Last time we spoke about the commander of the 36th MTAP HSU Yefremov. Why didn’t he advance his career?
Even though he was among those who bombed Berlin and was awarded the HSU title for that, he was somewhat, well, a bit out of this world. That’s why he only made it to the regiment commander. He flew at the Black See Fleet and than at the Northern Fleet. When the war ended, he was transferred to the Pacific Fleet. The Regiment was the most he could command.
Do you remember Boris Gromov? He used to fight from the first days at the Northern Fleet, than he was sent to the penal battalion from May 1943 until autumn 1943. Then he was assigned to the 5th GvMTAP at the end of 1943, but soon he perished.
Yes, he was my friend. And he died in front of my eyes. He was a pilot from
Baltic Fleet, but when the war broke out, three torpedo-bombers were sent to
the North with their crews. There were no torpedo-bombers there before that.
They were the first to make torpedo runs at the North. A bit later our squadron
was sent from the Pacific Fleet. Six crews made it to the Northern Fleet and
three including mine, to the Black See Fleet.
He was an outstanding pilot, flew exceptionally well. Two Orders of the Red Banner and the Order of the Red Star were awarded to him. But he was too much into the wine glass… In such condition he once was very rude to a political officer.
For that he was sent to the penal battalion. He returned, but his renome was damaged. That’s why he was transferred to the 5th GvMTAP to a position of the deputy squadron commander. It was October or November 1943. Since he had a huge experience, he was ordered to train rookie pilots in torpedo runs. The young pilot was in the cockpit and Gromov was in the navigator’s cabin. I was getting ready to fly in about 15 minutes – we were going to drop supplies to the partisans.
They flew over the airfield with descent. It was obvious that the young pilot was afraid to fly low. I was about to get in the cockpit, when I looked at their second pass. They were flying at about 40 meters over the center of the field. It seems that Gromov got mad at the rookie and pushed the stick too far forward. The airplane crashed at the middle of the runway and blew up!
Are you sure that it wasn’t some technical fault?
No way! A pilot like him could have compensated for any malfunction. It was clearly his own fault. There was a communication device between the cockpits but instead of calmly saying: «reduce altitude», - he pushed the stick.
How hard was it to train an ordinary pilot or a navigator in torpedo runs?
There were many of such rookies in the 5th regiment. We had a practice range at the sea nearby. There were ships as targets and special boats to catch practice torpedoes. A pilot flew with an instructor, who showed the correct altitude. It took 4-5 runs to understand – the main thing was to get used to holding correct altitude and speed.
Did you use the target-ship practice during the war?
We used small patrol boats as targets at the practice range. At peacetime we used real merchant ships for practice torpedoes or signed-off naval ships for live ammo practice.
How did you aim torpedoes, did you use torpedo aim sights?
In real live conditions no one used the sight. You are in the run under constant
fire at low altitude. There is no time or real possibility to turn left or right
a lot. We knew the average speed of a convoy and accounted for it. Torpedoes
were released at a distance of 600-500 meters not less. It flew 250 meters in
the air, entered the water, and it had to run for 200 meters more, before the
safety device allows it to arm.
The aim sight was very complicated device. It was used for training flights only, when we flew at peaceful skies. When you are under fire from AAA and fighters there is no time to aim with sights, you have to maneuver or you will be shot down. One out of three torpedo bombers perished. We simply added speed of the convoy just estimated adjustments. On average, their speed was 8-10 knots. We began our run at low altitude. When you are at the combat run, you can not maneuver any more. You have to keep in the corridor of 20-30 meters of altitude. One minute to approach, one minute to depart. And 10 meters higher or lower.
I usually tried to approach from the side that was less guarded. Secondly, after I initiated the combat run, and the enemy began shooting at me, I suddenly descended. Sometimes I flew as low as five or even three meters, so that there was a vortex in the water behind me. I only had to keep the course! They couldn’t keep up with me. After the torpedo was released, I simply jumped over the ship, rapidly gaining the altitude and then dropping again as low as I could. The Germans couldn’t lower their Oerlicon 20 mm cannons below certain level. Still, my favorite choice was to depart with a combat turn. They do not do it even in the circus! I would place a plane in this position, and pull, pull…
That is, you made a steep bank and then made a tight turn.
I allowed myself to bank up to 60-70 degrees at an altitude of less than 30 meters!
How much space did it take Il-4 to make a combat turn?
It can have as short radius of turn as 50 meters. Just seconds. I felt that torpedo was gone, the airplane makes a small “hump”, that’s when I began sharp turn. But I’m still near the enemy, and they keep firing at me. Even though when torpedo is in the air there is no way to relax. I remember, once I made a 180-degree turn before the torpedo hit its target. I made a photo of a torpedo hitting a mine sweeper.
So, you believe that it was safer to make a sharp turn at the point of the torpedo release?
Yes, I preferred to depart by sharp 180-degree turn. When you jump over the
target you may fly right into the guns of the escort ship behind it.
Back to the sights. We used them in combat if we used a high altitude torpedo 45-36AV (Aviation, High altitude). We dropped them about 400-600 meters ahead of the convoy. It descended with a parachute for about 50 seconds. When it entered the water, it started running in circles, until it either runs out of fuel or hits a ship.
Did you use some kind of identifiers to understand what your actual target was? Class of the ship or its displacement?
Each self-respecting crew had a set of cards with all the data necessary. They were available for naval ships as well as for the merchants. My navigator had them – I had to fly the plane, while he could look if needed. But even if the exact ship was uncommon, we were sure that it was unable to go faster than 10 knots in a convoy.
Were there cases when our ships were hit by mistake?
Not at the Black See Fleet. It happened at the Northern Fleet where our submarine was sunk due to misidentification.
Last time we spoke about use of the low and high torpedoes. How did you ensure that torpedo ran and how results of the strike were confirmed?
When the high torpedo was dropped we could see their pattern on the water. If the low torpedo was used we had no time to look at it. In 1943 each crew had a fixed internal photo camera, and another one in the gunner’s compartment. If it was at all possible each crew made a shot of the explosion.
What kind of equipment did reconnaissance airplanes use?
They had special, much more powerful equipment.
How did you identify the distance to the target during torpedo run?
The altitude was chosen because if the torpedo were released from less than 20 meters it would “flop” at the water and break apart. If the altitude was over 30 meters, the torpedo would enter the water steeply, and may be unable to surface to the preset depth. It was advised to drop torpedoes at 280 km\h. I dropped them at 260-270 km/h. If the distance is no less than 600 meters but no more than 2000 meters, then it will make it. It could make it even from 4 kilometers away, but there will be too much time for the target to evade.
How did logistics work? Were there shortages of fuel, bombs or torpedoes?
Surprisingly – never. Independent from the airfield size and location.
We flew from Gelendzhik to Sokologornoye. Huge field with a small village. We
were sent to live there, but there was no actual place to live in. Locals were
simply poor, but very honest and excellent people… We had to make a huge
crater and build a dug out for a command post…
There were absolutely no accomodations! The toilet consisted of two bars, a hole in the ground and a fence to hide. But we were well fed. The canteen was in the local school building.
What about a bath? Were there doctors to look after your hygiene?
When we were at Gudauty or Gelendzhik, we had a possibility to have a shower.
At Sokolinogorye it was just the field. There was no place to wash up.
There was a doctor, but he was called for only when something serious happened.
How the tasks were issued to the crews? At the end of 1943 your chief of staff was punished for “insufficient organisation of combat missions”, what was his actual guilt?
When torpedo-bombers or level bombers were in Alert-1 position, there was an
adjutant of the squadron or deputy chief of staff near the telephone. He would
receive an order by the phone: «You are to strike… A convoy located
at…», sign everything and pass the information to us. A command
“To the planes!” would be sounded and we ran to our airplanes.
But if the strike was ordered for large groups, the squadron-strength or more, it was all pre-planned. For example, in April 1943 we had to strike Sevastopol by 18 airplanes. The regiment commander Tokarev issued the order personally.
On September 23 or 24 we flew against Sevastopol. Reconnaissance airplane crew located the convoy, so a force of over 50 bombers was sent. 15 Pe-2, 15 Bostons, our 9 torpedo-bombers and some other units were also used. 10 fighters from Gelendzhik were provided for cover. Aircobras escorted us to Sevastopol. I was in Tokarev’s 5-ship formation. Bombs were already away when Vassilii Skrobov’s airplane lost its wing, and fell overturning. Tokarev pushed the throttles and we couldn’t catch up with him. Skrobov survived the POW camps and returned later. We caught up with Tokarev only in the open sea.
We lost two airplanes that time – another Pe-2 fell short of the airbase due to fuel shortage.
About deputy chief of staff – are you speaking about Nemirovskii? I believe it was some foul mouth business. He was very intellectual man and a good worker.
What is your opinion about young pilots?
It was a problem that we were in constant need of pilots. I was sent to the front from the Far East with over 150 hours of flying experience in 7 months. Some young pilots came with just 10 hours in the air. It was just enough to learn how to take off and land. They were like sparrows fresh out of the eggs. Good commander gave them a chance to train. The HSU Burkin, our regiment commander, left me behind to train them in Yevpatoria, when the rest of the regiment flew to Burgas.
You said that when you came to the regiment nobody helped you to get experience. What was your attitude towards young pilots?
At the end of October 1943 a pilot Panin came from the Far East to a position
of deputy squadron commander. He used to be the squadron commander there. I
knew him well. I was a duty officer once. He came to me and asked to explain
how to attack and maneuver. I told him, than we asked for permission from commanders
and flew out to train together. On the fourth mission we managed to sink a ship
Once, on November 15 1943 he was a duty officer. We sat, and he recalled his wife and three small children. He told me about them when we were sent for a mission! We flew out in a 3-ship formation. He was my right wingman. We flew for 2,5 hours in a complex weather condition. But we still found the convoy. Two merchants guarded by destroyer and patrol ships bound from Constanta to Sevastopol. We attacked, and were at about 600 meters away when Panovs airplane was hit in the wing fuel tank. It caught fire. I released the torpedo, but he must have decided that it was useless and decided to ram the enemy ship. But his aircraft exploded 200 meters away from the destroyer...
40 years later his boys came to me and I told them about his death. One was the KGB colonel, another one was a head of the large plant, and the third one was a head of some railway department.
I understand that nervous pressure was very high, especially for inexperienced crews?
We were beginning to liberate Crimea in April 1944, when 3 boys came in. It
was their first combat mission. One of them was deputy regiment commander. I
had flown over 160 missions by then. He had none. It was his first combat mission.
When the Germans opened fire, they began shaking in the formation, and two wingmen
collided. That is an example of what nervous pressure could cause…
It was a problem, when people without any combat experience were sent to commanding posts. It was because there was pressure from above.
– We need more pressure on the Germans, they are about to leave Sevastopol!
Some men were in the rear for a long time, and felt bad that they hadn’t fought. When they came to us and smelt the war with full chest, saw the airplanes burning, they had very different feelings.
But they were different too. Panin came to me and said:
- Teach me.
I did all I could. I lead him in the torpedo runs, but he perished on the fifth mission…
Your Il-4 was equipped with the radar, but there is a note in the archives that you demanded to remove it’s antennas from your airplane. Why?
It was not exactly so. It is true, that my airplane was the first at the Black
Sea Fleet to be equipped with the onboard radar. Two antennas on the top of
the wings, two below and one in the nose. But those antennas severely reduced
speed and maneuverability. I had flown three missions with them and once even
located some boats at night, but they were too small to attack.
Then I was given a very special task and I temporarily asked to remove the antennas to increase the surface quality of the airplane. They were reinstalled later.
When I left for a vacation, the antennas were installed. I don’t know if they were there when Chuprov was shot down in this airplane over Constanta.
Well I think that’s about everything I could tell you.
SqCndr Minchugov, 5th GvMTAP
Inscription on board of Pe-2 of Boris Safonov's half-brother Evgenii Stupin (in the middle) in 1943.
Technical crew of 5th GvMTAP
ChF commander Oktyabrskii speaks to 5th GvMTAP crews
Commanding officers of 1st GvMTAD ChF
one out of three U-boarts sunk at Constants during strike by 5th GvMTAP in 1944
Commander of 96th detached squadron Korobytsyn. 1941
Vassiliy Minakov after landing from combat mission
Navigator Shika Kordonskii
N.A. Markin in 1938
HSU Tokarev issues orders
Flight Commander of 5th GvMTAP Mikhail Besov ot Gudauty airfield. Vasiliy Kravchenko in the cockpit.