Sergei Isakovich Nasilevec
by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin; Editor: Igor Zhidov; Translation by: Oleg Korytov ; Special thanks to Svetlana Spiridonova
— Introduce yourself, please.
Sergei Isakovich Nasilevec. I was born on 19 March 1919, in Ukraine, in a village Zhadovo, Chernigov Oblast. It was a huge village, 12 kilometers from side to side. There were 12 kolkhozes before war and 2 selsovets.
A village house, where Sergei Nasilevec was born
Then they were united to six… So it was a big village. But nowadays... Daughter recently took me there. I wanted to go there, take a look. I looked — half of the homes stand empty, no one interested in them, you can buy them for a hundred rubles but there is no buyer… Those poplars, which I planted as a boy around school building, cannot be embraced by two men. Germans burnt the school, but trees remained… Half of the people remain. None of my boys are alive. I’m 91 years old, there are very few of those, who make it to such age. I’m the last…
And the fields… My God, tall weeds in growth of the person, no wheat or rye is sawn. But bread is expensive nowadays…
My parents were peasants. I remember everything from childhood. Dad during NEP had a small business. He manufactured sheep skins, that people brought him, and took money for that. If there were no money, he took payment in grain. I remember those huge barrels, tops of which I couldn’t reach full of grain. Before revolution, and immediately after it dad was considered to be a farm labourer, poor. But he had 3 hectares of earth.
Kolkhozes were started, and my dad was imprisoned for a year.
— What for?
A village meeting was gathered and an announcement was made:
— Go on, show your fields. We are going to make kolkhoz.
My dad said to those who organized this meeting:
— Show us your fields first, chiefs, and then we will show ours.
Dad said that there was nothing else. On the second day, in the morning, they came after him. I remember when my dad was taken away. He got a year for speaking out against government. On the other hand dad learnt carpentry there. Making wheels is an art. He also made both carts, and sledges. After returning from jail, dad worked at workshop. My two brothers, one born in 1905, other in — 1912, were helping him.
- Which year it was?
1933. It was hunger in Ukraine, half of the population had died.
— Could you tell us about hunger?
I lived through it. It was 1933.
Those, who worked in kolkhoz, received grain. This time everything was collected, not even seeding material remained. Ukraine government were accused and punished for it later — Kosior, Petrovskii, Postyshev were guilty. But they were obedient to the higher officials. Moscow was in charge, but they were accused and shot for this. At about this time Khrushev was in charge of Ukraine. I don’t remember if he went to Moscow before or after these events… As I remember those days I have chills go through my skin. People died walking… I remember, we, boys had to take horses to the meadows, and in the morning we had to bring them back to kolkhoz to work. A good old man, Gramps Andrey Kostyanka, walked with a walking stick to the forest. We met near the cemetery: he sat on some hump near the drainage.
— Well, kids, are you bringing all horses?
— Yes, Gramps, we bringing them all…
— Well, well.
Half an hour later boys caught up on us and shouted:
— Gramps Andrey Kostyanka is sitting dead.
— How can this be? Just now a man was walking, talked to us, and now dead?
It was a very hard time. My dad’s sister had gone to Irkutsk. There was a large family, but now they are all dead. My nieces, other relatives… But I’m still here.
— Where you studied?
At that same place. There was a seven grade school.
— When you graduated?
I graduated in 1935, and moved to Shostka, in Sumskaya oblast, which was not far away from my village, just across Desna River. Our neighbor and his son-in-law worked there, so I took his address and went there. Through Komsomol Obkom I received a place of a student in carpenters’ workshop at a plant No 6. It was the only plant in the Soviet Union that produces film for photo and video purpose. First film «The Great Citizen», was shot on our film. We traded with America then, and made special film for them «Avio ChS» – film with a sensibility of over 6 000 points. There was an exchange. We took negative from them, and sold positive to them.
— Which equipment you had?
American one, and what an equipment! This device was called "Trommel"
about 25 meters long. Hermeticly sealed. Inside was a transporter - a pure gold
line 75 centimeters wide. Without junctions, a whole, solid one. On top a special
plastic was cooking... It, via special trenches, was poured onto the transporter,
which was moving evenly.
Below reeling devices stood, and magnifying device to check quality. If for 300 meters of film there were two cuts - it was completely spoilt film. It was very strict. Imagine, a platen gone bad. A piece of solid gold was brought in, and it was processed by chief turner. Almost all chiefs of the plant were there for control. Velvet was placed under the machine tool. They had to process it, polish to mirror stance. Still, 12 or 15 grams turned to dust.
I still remember, and I'll never forget it. I was then a shift chief of the workshop.
— When you became a shift chief?
I studied at Moscow University part-time. As I was working and studying at the same time, I was given a place in a hostel. There were special, “stakhanov” rooms. For stakhanovtsy, best workers. I was given a place in such room, and I was allowed to study in Red corner. Here is a photo, where I lie on a bed in this room. Here is a table that was made especially for me… If there were no evening courses in aero club it meant that I was studying at home.
Sergei Nasilevec in his room, provided by Shostka Film making Plant
— Here you joined an aero club…
For a year I worked at the plant, and on the next year I applied for a place
in aero club. There was some kind of mass impulse "Komsomolets to an airplane".
And everybody tried to apply for a place.
At our time young people wanted to go to aviation or navy, now they are doing everything to avoid army. When I was young I wanted to get into the air. I applied to aero club, passed commission. They looked through the documents, healthy, everything was fine. Nothing was said about my father, who was imprisoned. They decided that I was too short. Commissar of the aero club, I remember, he was a tall man:
-Well, son. Tell your mom to give you more potato, you will grow a bit taller, and on the next year we will accept you.
I walked away with tears on my eyes. I came to a hostel, where boys from work said:
-How did it go? Stop crying!
They took a piece of paper to write Narkom of Defense Voroshilov a letter. Imagine, it came from Sumy to Moscow and back in two weeks, I received an answer. And aero club received a copy. I was summoned to aero club. Postman brought the summons: "Arrive at such date and time". I asked for a leave at my job and came to an aero club. That same commission was there, they were. Commissar came, greeted me, looked and smiled:
-How annoying are you.
-I want to fly. That's why I'm annoying.
-Fine then. But how did you reach Voroshilov? Went to Moscow in person?
-No, I wrote a letter.
Voroshilov wrote a letter to us too. Fine, if you are so in love with aviation, we will include you into Kalkovs group.
Kalkov was an instructor and excellent technician. This group was that same one from which one year earlier Kozhedub graduated. He already died, three times HSU, good fellow.
On 45th flight I flew solo in U-2, and graduated from aero club. Commission came from Odessa to test us.
— Which year it was? How long you studied?
1937. That is, I studied for almost a year. We were accepted in autumn, and
passed exams in spring. Commission came from Odessa right when I was in hospital
— follicular quinsy. I suffocated, and ambulance brought me from plant
to hospital. I was supposed to stand before commission, but didn’t appear.
They sent an enquiry to the plant — where is this man. Reply came from
plant that I was in hospital. There was no free space in hospital — I
was placed in a corridor on a couch. I was suffocating. If my chief did not
come, I would have died. I heard that someone was demanding:
— Our pilot is here!
He announced surname, they found me in roster:
— Here, he lies in corridor.
He came, looked at me:
— How are you?
I couldn’t speak by this time.
— Do you know who he is? He is a pilot! State had paid a lot of thousands of rubles to train him, and you want to kill him? I will return in two days, use all medicine needed, but he has to be able to stand before commission by this time.
As soon as he left, a place was found for me, hot sand bags were placed over my neck, some medicine was given to me (there were no antibiotics then). By evening I asked for food. Two days later a driver came. He ordered doctors to dress me up, loaded into the car, and brought to exams.
— You worked, studied in institute and flew in aero club…
I had so much to work, that I was completely exhausted. My body was totally worn out.
— How your colleagues looked at your study at an aero club, you must have flown in the morning?
Well, no objections were sounded, even postroicom chief…
— What’s a postroicom?
Each plant had a special building department, which built houses for workers,
furniture, doors… Plant had to provide its workers with living apartment.
It was like this everywhere, all around the country.
I remember how local committee dressed me for some holiday. Chief of local committee guided me by hand to the shop, where he bought me suit, boots, trousers, shirt, peak-cap… And postroicom paid for it all…
— You got it as a best worker?
Of course. Who worked well was needed for a plant. But it seems to me that then there were no bad workers…
— How you found out about airplanes? How you decided to become a pilot?
I was 10 years old. At spring, when weather was good I came from school and
went to the garden. I liked gardening. Suddenly two planes appeared very-very
low… I never saw planes like those again. They flew over village, and
then they returned and turn around once again… I thought: «People
fly, while we have to walk». Since then I developed a thought about flying.
Well, boy is a boy… Then, at dinner time we were told that one plane fell
seven kilometers away, second plane had landed eight kilometers farther in a
village Radanka. In the evening two pilots came to our village. They informed
Moscow about crash, and immediately special service representatives came…
What do you think — those planes carried money to Kiev. People from Moscow began to search through wrecks, opened boxes with money. When our men saw it, they said:
— We searched through the wreck and found nothing! Fools...
— Your first impressions from flight? I remember my first flight — it was a nightmare, because I got so sick...
I felt fine… When we flew over city, I looked with pleasure. Oh, how beautiful it is, I thought, that’s it, I’ll fly. A thought appeared in childhood. When a child is asked: who you would be, a doctor or a pilot…
— Were you fed in aero club?
There was a canteen in aero club; there we had one good meal on a flight day for free.
— Were you given a flight uniform?
Of course. Also for free.
— What if cadet did not master flying, but he got flight uniform and was signed off…
No, there were no such cases. No one was completely signed off. Some were transferred to mechanics; they were already trained pretty well, so a prepared mechanic went to aviation unit.
— Let’s return to Odessa commission.
I was brought before commission with bandaged throat. Aero club master said:
— This is Voroshilov’s protégé. Kliment Yefremovich personally took part in his fate.
I flew well, had only 5s (Soviet school system had numerical grades and 5 is the highest one).
— Do you have any questions? Agreed?
— Long time as agreed.
But they fooled us, 60 men graduated and were sent to Odessa School named after Polina Osipenko. This school was not fighter one, but shturmovik one… It prepared shturmovik pilots.
Almost everyone ran away from there. I also ran away. I went to my home, not to the plant. Dad was disappointed, of course:
— What happened, you studied so hard!
— I’m going to the Army anyway. I’m about to be drafted.
— You were not punished for running away from that school?
No. We did not give an oath. We ran away, just left everything and ran away.
— No documents?
We had no documents with us. They were in a pack for everybody.
— You didn’t even start training?
We came, and immediately understood that we were fooled, just like I was fooled
I was at home for a month or a month and a half, when I was drafted to the army together with other boys from Zhadov. We were sent to VDV. We were brought to Kiev, then to Lvov and Peremyshl. That's on the border with former Poland, at the river San. We got that part of Poland. It was 1939.
— How locals thought of you?
In former Poland? Excellently. We went for dances that were near our hostel in the evenings, and dated with girls. I haven’t seen anything bad at all.
— That is, there were no such things as if you felt an occupant?
No. Nothing like that.
There I met my friends. Fedor Fedkov — we were from one school. He graduated from some sort of MVD (Ministry of internal affairs) courses, and was in intelligence in Poland… I walked over Polish village, and noticed a group of soldiers. I couldn’t understand straight away was he one of ours or not. Yes, he was!
I lived there for about half a year, when it was discovered that I was a pilot, so I was directed to descent... Why they sent me to descent?
In descent I served for a year. While we helped Moldavia, I fell severely. We were dropped after Bolgrad, that’s in Moldavia, to cut Romanian forces the retreat routes. They marauded through all Moldavia: they collected all goats, pigs, even chicken they could find, loaded them in the carts and wanted to take it all with them.
When their king was signing the protocol with Stalin in Moscow, Our brigade was in the air over Lyman at Odessa. Waited, when an order would come. As long as treaty was not signed, we had no right to cross the border, but as soon as last full stop was placed we were ordered to descent. It was a strong wind, and according to instruction we shouldn’t have descended. Not only I fell, but more than a half of the unit crashed. I fell so hard, that I came to my senses on sixth day only. I was saved only by correct adjustment of the helm. If there would be no helm, I would have been killed for sure. Wind carried me towards some village, I pulled the cords, even some skin bits were torn off my hands, but it brought me to some house. I landed on the roof and fell down to the ground from it. I hit so hard, that I lost conscience. Moldavians brought me to the hospital. Then two boys and a girl came visiting me, they wanted to see me, but I was unconscious. When I came to my senses, they brought me a bucket of apricots. It was just harvest time. And they told me what happened, how they found me and brought to the hospital.
I was discharged from hospital, and came to my unit. It happened that more than a half had fallen that time. Even chief of staff of our 330th division and his deputy… There were few people killed, more had damaged limbs and heads. But our starshina crashed to death, he too was unconscious for six days, like I did. But, unlike me, he had cracked skull. On the sixth day he died…
Well, anyway, we crossed the road for Romanians-marauders. They took nothing with them. I was told later how Moldavians gathered around those carts and begun dividing goods. Someone gets something, another yells: «It’s mine!», but how to find out, whose it was in reality…
Sergei Nasilevec in TsAG
— What was your armament, when you served in descent brigade?
«PPD» — machine-pistol constructed by Degtyarev.
— did you jump with weapons?
We jumped with weapons too. For jumping with weapons I was paid 50 rubles, if unarmed -25.
— How often you jumped?
It was supposed to be two jumps per month. Sometimes we jumped four times per month. We earned good money. I earned 75 rubles, and went to Kiev for recreation. I was a king!
— You had round disk or stick one?
Disks, round ones… There were no stick magazines then. There were very few PPDs at that time. Most of us jumped with carbines. Clamp it between legs, and step forward.
— You had one or two parachutes?
Two, two of course. One combat big parachute and small secondary in front.
— In 1939—1940 there was a war with Finland, what did you know about it?
I was drafted at this time, but I was sent to the other side. We were told nothing about that war.
— When you made it to aviation the second time?
To aviation — second time… Oh, I don’t remember now… let me check voennyy bilet (A personal booklet, where all steps of a military man are listed), and we will find everything there. So many years had passed, my friends, how can I remember it all?
— In May 1940 you became a cadet of...
Stalingrad fighter pilot school.
— Did you apply for a place there, or you were sent there?
After I unsuccessfully landed in descent, our brigade was returned to Borispol,
near Kiev. By this time I almost fully recovered. I was summoned to stab:
— We are sending you to school.
— What school?
— It seems that you are a pilot…
— You came to Stalingrad school in May 1940 and begun to fly straight away?
Yes. There were no U-2s in the school. We began flying UTI.
— How did you like Ishak (Donkey – a nick name earned by I-16 for similar sounding of it’s official name)?
A lot of pilots were killed in flight accidents. It was such a strict plane,
that chief of school, when we graduated, said:
— If you mastered I-16, you may fly any other type of airplane. This is a strictest plane of them all. There is no pilot, who can’t land any other aircraft after I-16.
— Did you fly Chaika (Gull - nickname earned by I-153 for it’s gull wing shaped upper wings)?
Yes, it’s almost the same as I-16. You could train on both of them.
— There was no dual-control Chaikas.
No, there weren’t. It was lighter than I-16. I-16 was very strict on landing. It was like a spindle. On I-16 you had to keep your legs in tension all the time…
— In your voenniy bilet it is written that you kept studying till June 1943?
Yes. We wanted to go to the front, but we were not allowed… And we were
— You will study new equipment…
— How many flying hours you had when graduated from school?
About 250 flying hours, no less…
Sergei Nasilevec in 1942
— How you were told about war?
We were graduated that day. There was an order already, we were directed to
our new units, received suitcases, two uniforms in them, for daily use and for
holidays, sheets for bed, everything really. We were told that we will go to
celebrate at Volga shore. We came to Stalingrad, boarded a ferry and crossed
the river. Everything was ready there, wind orchestra and dance area, a lot
of people came for dances. Then suddenly, it wasn’t 12 yet:
— Alarm, flight crews to the school, immediately!
To school, fine. No one objected. We loaded to the ferries, and just when we were about to disembark, it was announced:
— There will be an announcement on radio by Molotov...
«War!» We were called back to the school; our suitcases were taken away… We began retraining…
— Did Timoshenko’s order about graduating in Sergeants rank touch you?
Just when I started studying this happened. Half of those who applied had failed exams on purpose, but almost no one was expelled. Whether you liked it, or not, you had to study.
— You graduated as Sergeant, were about to leave to your new unit, but were returned?
Yes. We were called back and told:
— There will be a new plane.
A week later we received a Yak-1. Chief of school summoned us:
— Comrades! I’m talking to you not as with cadets, but as with pilots. You have to master new type of airplane. But there is only one airplane of this type.
I felt chills at my back. I don’t know this plane, and it’s a single seat…
— I — He continued, — Will check this plane. I’ll try it out in the air, fly in the zone. Then I will return, land, showing you the landing. Then we will decide shifts, and we all will fly it in turns...
I was the third one. We all made 10 flights each on Yak.
— How you felt Yak-1 after Ishak?
Excellent. After Ishak — «rest and smoke». And how it landed…
Like by guitar string.
We kept training in I-16s… When time came to be sent to the front, we were given simple backpack, tablet…
— Your flight school was evacuated?
We were evacuated in 1941, when Rostov had fallen, it was warm yet. Airplanes
were sent away earlier. We, personnel, crossed Volga by ship to Baskunchak,
from ship we moved to train to Chelyabinsk, and to the town Kustanai. That’s
in Kazakhstan. River Tobol. And training again. Everybody wanted to go to the
front, while commanders were weaving fists at us:
— You are ready, but wait for an order. You are in reserve.
Then, a group was gathered very fast, six men, — I, Alexandr Matashov, Vladimir Morozov, Nikolay Lgotnii — he lived in Moscow, — We were loaded on train and sent to Moscow to Directorate. From there we were sent to 3rd Ukrainian Front. We almost by foot travelled to small railway station «Dedovichi», before Dnepropetrovsk. Germans were still in Zaporozhye, but they were already on the run…
— It was 1943 already?
Yes. June 1943, it was middle of Kursk operation.
— And where you ended up?
3rd Ukrainian Front. 161st fighter regiment. Simple, not Guards.
— You were a lieutenant then, or still a sergeant?
— Until 1943 there were junior commanders, senior commander. Then there were officers ranks introduced, with shoulder board — «white guards»… What was your attitude towards it?
At first “officer” was indecent, and then we got used to it…
— There must have been people who were grumbling about these changes?
Of course. It is normal situation…
— You came to the regiment, say: «Hello!», and what in reply?
Our documents were checked, who we are, how and where we flew. A closed envelop
was opened, commanders read the notes and divided us:
— You go to 2nd squadron, you to 3rd…
I was sent to 2nd. Commander was Andryushenko Alexandr Mitrofanovich, he lived in Voroshilovgrad, a former civilian pilot, good commander, nice man. His deputy was Lieutenant Korneev Mikhail — he lived in Moscow. During war he became senior lieutenant, and he became Capitan after the war. He was such a crook… After the war he was arrested and stripped of all awards for some reason.
— Who was a regiment commander then?
Kaftanov. He burned even worse than I did. How it happened: our regiment suffered
losses and a few pilots remained. But it was needed to fly. And regiment commanders
decided to fly themselves. Four pilots flew out in a group. They returned damaged,
but alive. Regiment commander landed, but his landing gear did not extend, so
he had to belly land. Perhaps, his wing structure was also damaged — he
rolled over nose and caught fire, we couldn’t even come to his help. I
remember how I sat near my airplane fully ready, with parachute on — we
were supposed to take off on escort mission when they landed. When he ignited,
I dropped parachute, and we ran with other guys towards his plane. Shells began
exploding. We stuck our noses into the ground; it was senseless to try to help
him while they exploded. Firing stopped, and we run close. We lifted airplane
by its wing, and he walked out of fire alive. He was saved by leathern overcoat.
He covered himself by it, except his nose, which was completely burned away.
Commander was absent for about four or five month, we even thought that his days were over... Then he returned to the regiment. He was operated on his face, and even his nose was reconstructed by plastic surgeons…
(On 06.08.44 regiment commander Pavel Kaftanov, with his wingman Boris Kobyzev were ordered to attack a group of 4 Ju-87 covered by 12 FW-190, which were going to bomb river crossing. Soviet pilots managed to down leading bomber, what caused other bombers to drop bombs without aiming. River crossing stayed intact. Two more FW-190 were shot down, but both La-5s were severely damaged…
Burnt, unconscious pilot was taken into hospital in Leningrad (note – city was still in blockade), where he was placed in a morgue... A call from I. Zhuravlev, Commander of 14th Air Army, made medics check Kaftanovs body again. He was still alive!
Pavel Kaftanov returned to active service after treatment, and quit active service in 1959 at a rank of General-Major)
— Who was your wing leader?
In our pair we both were newcomers: Victor Fedoseev and I. I became a wingman.
— How it was decided who was a leader?
Perhaps, commander decided that way because I was younger. Victor looked more adult. But there was no difference in combat. If leader was attacking, I had to cover him. When he was done attacking, I begun attack run — he had to cover me. But there was no difference in combat…
— So, your pair was a “floating” one?
— You were in a regiment, which was equipped with La-5s or La-5FNs?
La-5FN appeared only by the end of war.
— Before you came to the regiment you haven’t flown La-5s, so how long it took you to master it enough to fly combat missions?
Less, then you are sitting with me. Taxied, took off. It was a war…
— In different regiments commanders’ thought differently about training. What was your thought about La-5 after Yak?
There was almost no difference. The only difference was that I was in love with this plane. La-5 had air cooled engine. Yak had water cooled one…
— Your La-5 had a gargrot, or you canopy was already droplet-like?
— What about La-5 armaments — were two cannons enough?
It was good. Good cannons. If you fired from both cannons, it felt as if airplane stopped in flight.
— Germans had 200 rounds per cannon, we had 100-120. Isn’t’t that not enough?
What could we do, there was no way to squeeze in more. It was enough for a fight, if you don’t waste it. If you will fire at target – enough, if just towards enemy in that general direction – two hundred will not be enough. Just like with rifle or pistol…
— Lavochkins and LaGGs had weak landing gear, so they couldn’t withstand side loads. Have you had such problems?
— It is also known that if Las throttle was given full throttle on landing, it had a tendency to roll?
You have to know your airplane. What kind of pilot are you, if you cannot predict your airplanes reaction…
— Do you remember your first combat mission?
First combat mission was at 3rd Ukrainian Front. We entered a fight, and I didn’t complete my first turn, when my tail was hit, and it fell off…
— That is, you were shot down in your first flight?
— Who you fought against?
What do you mean against whom? Against Germans. «Focke-Wulfs»…
All my back was scratched down to the butt. I was lucky to open canopy. I landed on neutral strip, closer to our trenches. Germans wanted to capture me, but our artillery covered me. I had to lie on the ground for over an hour, like under umbrella. Then a feeling appeared — our soldiers waited for me, it was time to escape.
— Weren’t you disoriented? You were sure, where were Germans and our forces?
Why, I knew exactly. I saw it from the air, where Dnepr goes…
When we arrived to the regiment, Zaporozhye was still occupied; commander invited us to that same area — to show how land forces fight each other, so that pilots would see it from the ground. We came to the trenches, which were dug through the bushes… We were picking berries from those bushes, while commander showed us the situation... At that time Messerschmitts were flying low, just above ground — zoom-zoom. They caught our pilots from below…
That’s how they caught me…
We didn’t see them, and second pair didn’t see them too. So they hit me, and tail fell off. La-5 was made of wood, except, longerons were made of metal and engine frame, all the rest was made of wood…
— How long it took you to return to your regiment?
It was close by… frontline no further than 5 kilometers away… Our commanders were informed by ground forces and sent a truck after me.
— Weren’t you accused of loosing airplane?
No, war is war…
— When you made it to our forces, did you left your parachute behind?
Of course I dropped it. Germans used it for aiming. I was lucky to be able to make it out of there.
— What was your personal weapon?
— Did you fly with nine rounds, or with eight?
No, we did not place a round in the barrel, what if I hit it by accident… But I filled two pockets with rounds…
— After returning, you received a new plane straight away or had to wait?
There were few planes remaining. And there were several men older then we were, also young, but with more combat experience. We were sent to Gorkii after new planes.
— Did this misfortune in your first fight affect you?
I was young, and everything was fine. War is war… We had to continue
But I know about such stuff. After descent in Moldavia was dropped and we returned back several men refused to jump. They were court martialled and got eight years each for breaking an oath. There was a moment, when instinct fights brains.
My fellow men, we jumped together… And they stopped. You could shoot them on site, they won’t jump. Descent brigade commanders mother, a 79 years old woman had climbed to the training mast to show those boys:
— Look boys, I’m going to jump.
There were so many steps, and she needed help to climb up there. And she did jump with parachute; she was hooked to the training parachute and carefully brought down…
— You accomplished one mission, and were sent to Gorkii, and then regiment was pulled back. How long did it last?
I returned from Gorkii, fought for some time and then we were pulled out. We came there at winter time, and by spring we were at 3rd Pribaltiiskii Front, there we were based near French “Normandia”. «Normandia» was formed in Tula, they flew Yaks, we La-5s. And we had not a regiment formed, but whole division. Division commander Colonel Andreev was a friend of Marshal Novikov. We received La-5 airplanes at Gorkii plant, new ones.
— Did you have a possibility to choose airplanes?
Yes. They stood in rows — choose any one you would like. I bought my
plane for a pack of cigarettes. A boy said to me:
— Man, for cigarettes I’ll show you best airplanes. Go over there, planes there are excellent! They, — he said, — are made of dry wood, from pre-war stocks.
He showed me:
— This one, number 25.
Airplane I got was a good one, but engines were assembled by children, and when we ferried airplanes from Gorkii, one cylinder fell off almost completely. I was covered by hot oil, and flew over Volga, while commander talked to me over radio:
— Hold on, Serezha, hold on, hold on, my dear friend. Hold on, if you will fall here, you will drown.
I made it to base, engine did not stall, but I landed soaked in oil. When engine cowl was opened, two cylinder heads were almost completely torn off…
— You were formed in ZAP?
Yes, this ZAP was at Seima station, it’s near Dzerzhinsk and Gorkii…
There was GUTAP. Pilots were trained there for fighters and shturmoviks, there
were a lot of planes.
We were there until January, and then we flew to Tula, town or village Volyntsevo. There our division was formed completely.
— Did you fly training missions in ZAP?
Of course. We flew a lot. Flew in pairs, new pilots came. We fired at cones too. There was a lot of training.
— How your planes were painted?
When I just came to the regiment, color was gray-green, gray with some sand, in camouflage. My No25 was pure green without any cammo…
A profile of his plane based on Nasilevec's description:
overall green uppersurface, including spinner (the only uncamouflaged plane of the unit);
four victory stars and the slogan «For combat friend and comrade Viktor Fedoseev» on the left side.
— In which clothes you usually flew?
In flight suits at summer. At winter: trousers, fur coat…
— Did you have a leather coat?
No, there were no leather ones.
— What about Reglan coats?
No. Regiment commander had one old raglan, which saved him in the fire. We didn’t have one. We had fur coats.
— What kind of helms you had, our or German?
Let me show – and we can make a photo.
Konstantin Chirkin With Sergei Nasilevec. Note WW2 era pilots helm on his head
— How you were fed at the front?
No one was fed like pilots.
— And in the rear?
Fine. Everyone was fed great in aviation.
— How radio equipment worked?
Good… We already had radios.
— Were you keeping discipline in the radio communications or not?
It was differently… If we flew in a group with Korneev, he told us:
— Well, boys, let’s sing!
And he began singing… We helped him. He was a young man, large built…
— You fly singing, and here is a German pair attacks your group, how you would warn the others?
No one singed in combat. There is no time for that…
— Suggest, you saw an enemy, what was your actions? One hand on the stick, other on throttle? How you controlled prop blade pitch?
What for? I enter a fight with everything ready. There was no time for pitch control, move it to the front all the way… Only throttle and cannons. Start maneuvering as much as your strength allows you. So much that your head would spin.
— You fought mainly on horizontal or vertical maneuvers?
In initial meeting – in horizontal. Then – how it will go. If you are hit, like I was, here in horizontal — give foot in to try to extinguish the flame. If unsuccessful, — break away from the fight and go as far as you can towards your home base, gaining speed while engine works.
— How many enemy planes you shot down?
Six in all. Up till the last fight — four: «rama» (“Window
frame” was a nickname of FW-189 reconaissance airplane), then three more
— one «Messerschmitt» and two «Focke-Wulf 190».
On 6 September 1944 I brought down two more in one fight, last one by ramming.
First one was «rama». We arrived to the 3rd Pribaltiiskii front, Pushkinskie Gory and Opochka, it’s on the River Velikaya, further on was town Ostrov. We went with Viktor Fedoseev on patrol to cover our troops. We arrived to designated spot, everything was fine. Clouds were a bit high. Then over radio we were told:
— Small ones, there is an artillery correcting airplane above you. Try to take it off.
For that we had to fly away, hide above clouds, Otherwise we couldn’t catch it, because FW-189 pilots when noticed that we were trying to intercept him would half-roll and dive straight down. If I would try to follow him, it was grave almost for sure. I wouldn’t catch him, because it was heavier… Then it made a sharp pull out above ground. Fighter had a large procorf, so if I would try to repeat his maneuver I would hit ground by belly and crash… That’s almost what happened to me.
— Gaining altitude.
We gained altitude away from the front line, located him through holes in the clouds. Found him. I said:
— Viktor, I see him.
I was closer, from left side. Viktor ordered from behind:
— I won’t attack right now, let’s get closer to the clouds, and then I’ll hit him from the clouds.
— It’s up to you, I’ll cover.
I looked around, everything was clear. Engine worked like watches. I made a turn, approached from side accurately. I thought that I will strike him from the side... I thought too long — there were gunners in the rear. I just made a turn to start attack run, when he made half-roll and went down. I followed him and shouted to Viktor:
— Cover me!
I followed him, and pressed triggers with all force I had, tracers disappeared in it, but rama kept going down. I couldn’t catch it; it extended away, extended… I kept firing. Then Viktor yelled:
I pulled stick as hard as I could, and blacked out. Thanks God, I made it, turned around. Then I noticed a pillow of black smoke.
— Alive? — Viktor shouted.
— I’m alive.
— Look at the ground, he’s burning!
We returned, and regiment commander was waiting for us with open hands, he hugged us:
First two fighters I shot down at Ukranian front, so when I returned to Pribaltiiskii front after hospital, they were not listed in my log book…
Kozhedub and other Heroes had shot down so many enemy planes… Kozhedub scored 63 kills. But what if he would fly escort missions like we did; He wouldn’t have shot down so many planes.
— What was most pleasant work for you, and what you did not like?
Most pleasant — free hunt… There was a case when we flew with Viktor.
It was getting a bit dark, just before night. Towards Eastern Prussia there
was a German airfield, we flew with Viktor to the side from it, when I noticed
it. We flew far to the West, almost to the shore, to Pillau. We turned back,
when I noticed that Viktor disappeared:
— Viktor, where are you?
He’s absent! I made a turn… Absent! Then I heard:
— I’m at the airfield, going to land.
Something must have happened to the engine… I said:
— Fine then, I’ll go and strafe…
So I turned towards that airfield. I shot at the parked airplanes, and went home… I returned home, when AAA guarding our field opened fire at me, I gained altitude, hoping that our gunners won’t kill me. I heard commander shouting:
— What are you, parasites, doing, that’s our plane.
They didn’t let me land on my airfield. Another division, that flew Yaks, was based nearby. I flew there. They allowed me to land — showed me the lights, and I landed. From my airbase a message came:
— If Nasilevec landed at your base, keep him till tomorrow; don’t let him fly at night.
On the next day I showed my hosts how La-5 can fly inverted, a thing that Yak was unable to perform. La-5 was equipped with completely different carburetor.
— Which one was more difficult to shoot down: «Messerschmitt» or «Focke-Wulf»?
How to say… Did you fight in your childhood? Did you? How you chose your opponent?
— That is not what I’m asking for. Let’s say: at which plane you used up more rounds? Which plane could take more damage?
Point is not in taking damage, as you put it. I’d say that everything is in pilots. If you shoot well — good at stick and gun sight, both planes don’t need a lot to be brought down. But enemy were good pilots too… Each plane had its strong and weak points. Me was more agile, FW had heavier armament. But it all depended on who’s flying it.
— Could you say which missions you did not like?
There were no such missions…
— What about sturmovik escort? You have to run around them like a dog on the leash.
That’s not exactly like this. We brought sturmoviks, and if enemy comes
in with a task of not allowing attack, we have to meet him. Head on… I
will not turn away — I have to defend sturmoviks. My commander connects
with sturmoviks, they reply:
— Small ones, start fighting, we will protect ourselves.
They can protect themselves. They formed defense circle, one after another — they had good guns in the front, and they had a gunner with large caliber machine gun in the rear. They had to be protected from attacks from above and below. That’s why they flew as low as possible while bombing and strafing.
Then sturmoviks send a report that at this day, this time and place there was a fight in which such pilots participated, with a full description and results… Some where I have such report… And I have a letter from medical battalion, thanks to which I was not sent to the filtration camp.
— Explain please.
No one knew that I fought behind enemy lines, burnt, but was still alive. And
that I spent many months in hospital — too.
Ivan Degtyar was shot down behind enemy lines. On the second day he came back, but was in filtration camp for three and a half month. He told us, that he was interrogated day and night.
Just imagine, how many people returned from POW camps after the war… There were cases when commanders were not traitors, but were in a situation, when they had no other choice? No weapons or ammo. Anything could happen…
— But there were soldiers from Vlasov army. And they should have been identified.
Of course, they had to be identified and punished. There were a lot of them.
I was signed off, and everyone forgot about me, so I had to prove everything. Commander presented me with Combat Red Banner order.
This is what I got recently. Read it.
— From central administration of personnel of Ministry of Defense
from chief of 3rd directorate A.Ilyin.
«As a result of studying documents in TsAMO RF, it is established, that for excellent accomplishing of combat missions in August-September 1944, courage and dignity shown in its course, by an order of 1st Air army commander No 03\n issued on 20.01.1945 you were awarded by order of Red Banner. In a presentation list there is written following: 06.09.44 pair of La-5s was on a mission to escort Il-2s in Aidera area, where they were to strafe enemy troops and equipment. In the target area had a dogfight with FW-190. In a head-on attack against two FW-190 had downed enemy leader, whose wingman set airplane of comrade Nasilevec on fire. When comrade Nasilevec had extinguished flames from his plane, it was attacked second time by a pair of FW-190 from behind, that set him on fire again. His burning plane comrade Nasilevec had guided at enemy FW-190 and rammed it, which fell in the area of Aidera. Comrade Nasilevec bailed out, suffering from burns on face, body and hands».
You see, what’s written there?
- «…Thus, all combat achievements, that you described in your letter, were marked and award was issued by USSR government, and there is no possibility to issue awards twice for one act».
That’s it. They fooled me. What do you mean how? For air ram in a burning plane I received nothing.
— It is written here: «Order of Combat Red Banner».
It was written tin the list later. I will explain. I was downed on 06.09.44.
Award was issued 20.01.45. That’s almost five month away.
All this time I spent in hospital, where I was brought like a «roasted naked piglet». Professor gave me a vacation for 45 days. I asked him:
— If you give me a vacation time, please, send me to my unit.
— I cannot send a cripple to the unit. You have to undergo one more operation. And I give you a vacation so that you would rest a bit.
I thought of a reason and said to him:
— Professor, my parents are in Ukraine. It is liberated, but there is an order, that officers going there for a vacation or temporary duty have to be armed with personal weapons. Otherwise I can’t go there.
I talked him into giving me a direction to my unit. There they did not know that I was still alive. Sturmovik pilots reported that there was a dogfight just like in the letter you wrote. I was written off as KIA. When I returned, regiment commander reported to 1st Air Army commander. The fight took place on 3rd Pribaltiiskii front, in 14th Air Army. When regiment commander took me to Hryukin, commander of 1st air army, we entered reception room, colonel was invited first ad he kicked him so much, that regiment commander came out all wet of sweat, and just weaved his hand — go in. I entered, introduced myself, Hryukin showed me award list and said:
— Your commander presented an award list for Order of Patriotic War. It is a small award for your work. What I can do — I crossed Patriotic War out, and wrote «Order of Red Banner» — this is all I can…
— Your attitude towards technicians?
I liked technicians a lot, because our life depended on their work.
— We talked to a Hero of the Soviet Union and he said:
— There is a statue of me erected at my homeland, but I want to see a monument for my technician by its side.
— How interaction with bombers and fighters was organized? Were you warned that you were about to fly mission? Or you based at the same airfield?
We were based at different airfields. Shturmoviks can fly on their own. If shturmoviks need a cover, they ask for it from commander of 161 IAP. We were given a task with a route…
— Who set altitude of your flight?
We set it ourselves. Where we thought it would be more comfortable to meet the enemy, above or below. Above we have supremacy in altitude and speed.
— What was your attitude towards political workers?
How to say… We had a small Smirnov. There also was big Smirnov, fat,
huge man. He moved from our regiment to some other, he should be living in Gatchina
now… We had small Smirnov. And there was a pilot Antonyanz, aggressive
fighter, so he chased this regiment political officer, small Smirnov around
his plane. This political officer received Orders for asking pilots, who just
returned from fight:
— How many airplanes you shot down?
He had to take notes and send them higher. This Antonyanz said:
— You bastard! Do you know what it’s like to shoot enemy plane down? Have you seen a dogfight at least from the ground? You didn’t even see it, but ask us! I’ll load you, parasite, in the cockpit tomorrow and take with me to the mission. I’ll see what you will be asking us then.
He jumped out of the cockpit and chased him round the plane.
— I’m going, — he shouted, — to kill you.
Political officer was sent away somewhere after this incident. Imagine, regiment commander burned alive in the plane, he had only one Order of Patriotic War for all war! Meanwhile political officer had five. There is how they worked, politicians.
— That is, your attitude towards them is negative?
That parasite, who… Hey, are you taking notes? Or those, how they were called — KGB?
If not one of them… For act like mine people are awarded posthumously. What if I perished? Good commander tries to show people act of heroism, issues awards. But this one: “What if he betrayed us, and we will award him. You, regiment commander, will be responsible for this”. And they refused to award me just in case…
— Were there cases of cowardice? Refusal to fly or fight?
No, there were no cases when someone would refuse to fight. There were no cases if somebody left a dogfight without a reason. But there were other cases, like some would break a plane. Or a thunderstorm would come, but we have an order for escort mission. How can we cover in a thunderstorm? It was forbidden to fly in thunder. We had a group leader at Ukraine that took his group and lead right through the cloud. He returned with a deformed fuselage, while others had perished. (In the area of Yaumatgale on 22.7.1944 Lieutenant, flight commander Anatolii Zelenov “crashed, after entering thunder clouds”)
— This isn’t cowardice…
It’s not cowardice, but what for he went there?…
— During war it is often needed to fly breaking the instructions. How often did you break flight instructions?
Listen, by instruction human body cannot withstand over 12 G loads.
In a fight you sometimes had to withstand more. Like when I followed the enemy in a dive I had to pull out with huge overload, but there was no other way to escape…
— Did you fly patrol missions?
A few times.
— I was told by a veteran that they were given precise time to patrol over frontline, so they had to fly at economic speeds, so that fuel won’t be expended too soon.
He is a fairy taller and coward. This is my answer.
— Why so? Explain, please.
Because pilot shouldn’t be telling such crap. Fuel expenditure rate was never specified for fighter pilots.
— There was an order of Stalin, to fly slower (Order No 142 was issued in 1942. Full text can be read in Russian at the following link http://bdsa.ru/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=375&Itemid=30) …
There was none. There was nothing like this… There was an order of Stalin concerning ramming, I know about it. But if I came to the front line, if I am in a fight, I can use as much fuel, as needed.
— That’s if a fight begun, but while patrolling…
I patrol at a speed that I will be sure I won’t be caught off guard.
What kind of cover I will be then?
No, there never was something like this. Maybe I flew a little, not for four years, but there was nothing like this.
— How many missions you flew?
Just over 40 missions.
— For forty missions six planes downed…
Six downed, air ram…
— Did you shoot at ground targets?
Yes, two times. I singlehandedly strafed airfield… With guns. We did not have bombs.
— For what reason your regiment did not receive Guards?
I don’t know, it was Red Bannered, Suvorov regiment. (161st, Riga, Order of Suvorov Fighter Air Regiment) We were in reserve, and were thrown everywhere. I don’t know why we did not receive Guards.
— How many HSUs were in your regiment?
I don’t know them. Timur Frunze received an HSU for just a few flights.
I don’t know how many planes he shot down.
Here an extract from official regiment history: «During GPW regiment flew 5943 combat missions, pilots participated in 710 dogfights, shot down 246 planes, destroyed trucks with supplies and troops - 594, killed 1386 enemy soldiers and officers».
— How a kill was confirmed?
Until it was confirmed, it was not credited. Confirmation could come from special intelligence or from ground troops…
— Pilots from your group could confirm a kill?
From our flight? No. Sturmovik pilots could.
— Sturmoviks confirmed your ram?
All in the documents. And it was written in the award presentation list…
— Did you have a tradition to draw stars for kills? Or, perhaps, some inscriptions or drawings?
I had an inscription on the left side of the fuselage: «For combat friend
and comrade Viktor Fedoseev».
Fedoseev was killed during liberation of Ostrov. (Jr. Lieutenant Viktor Fedoseev was killed in action 23.8.1944) We flew in a pair; behind us was a pair, and a flight in front. I didn’t even see it coming, Fokker dove past me out of the sun, sent a burst into Viktors plane, I tried to follow German in a dive, but it got away – speed difference was too great. Viktor burned alive in his plane…
— With whom you were in your last fight?
With Vladimir Suharev.
— Did he survive?
No, he perished… (Lieutenant Vladimir Suharev was killed in a dogfight
near Tartu on 06.09.1944)
It was reported to the regiment, that his plane went in a steep dive and hit an opposite river bank.
— How many pilots, with whom you came to the regiment made it to the end of war?
Alexandr Matashov, here is the photo. Vladimir Morozov, Denezhkin… A
lot of those pilots were killed, who were in the regiment before my appearance
Home village of our pilot Lieutenant Mogiley — Pyatihatki, behind Dnepropetrovsk was not liberated yet. He flew to the village to show his relatives that he was alive and coming; Germans noticed his flight, found and exterminated all his relatives… Mogiley was killed in 1943 at 3rd Ukrainian Front I was in the regiment, when it happened…
(Quite possibly, he speaks of Lieutenant Grigorii Mogiley, from reconnaissance squadron 113 GvIAP, 10 IAK. Was born in Pyatihatka. Did not return from combat mission 23.9.1944. Possibly, was shot down while in ranks of 161 IAP in 1943, was wounded, and after recovering was sent to 113 GvIAP for further service)
— On average how many flights young pilot lived?
How to say… If one made it through 5-6 fights, it meant that his chances were very high.
— Was there a “national question” in your regiment?
I’m Ukrainian, there were Russians…
I believe there were more Ukrainians. Ivan Staroryko was Ukrainian, Mogiley was Ukrainian. There were a lot of Ukrainians. There were no Byelorussians. Armenians were present… Very good fighters. Antonyanz was a good guy, tall man, we were friends. Very good guy… (Lieutenant Georgii Antonyanz, born in 1922 in Irkutsk. Killed in a dogfight on 17.8.1944) He was shot down over Pskovskoye Lake.
There were two Jews: Polevich — he was shot up in a first dogfight, he didn’t make it to the airfield and made an emergency landing. After that he became frightened and started complaining about headaches and so on. He was transferred to stab, where he somehow earned an Order of Red Banner. Second one, Makarevich was transferred to another regiment in Seim.
— Here are two pilots near Lavochkin, Who are they?
I believe they are both dead by now. Colonel Alexandr Matashov was a flight technique inspector in Leningrad. Second one — Vladimir Morozov. He was sent to Japanese war and perished there. They were my friends.
— Were you bombed at the front?
Not at the front. When our flight school was rebasing, we crossed Volga and
were bombed near salt lake in Solemolki.
There was a big hospital in a former school building, full of wounded, and bombs hit it. After bombing finished we went there to look what happened, and noticed blood figures on the walls. Doctor explained that a nurse was running through a corridor when bomb blew up, and she was thrown at the wall. All wounded and most of the personnel were killed in that hospital…
— What was your personal opinion about Stalin and Communist party?
We were all in Komsomol then. We were raised by Party and Komsomol - communists. We were not talking about Stalin, we discussed how to get to the front and defend our Motherland.
— You said that German tried to kill you while you descended in a parachute. Have you heard about such cases from our side?
Can’t recall, really.
He was my enemy, I fought him, and maybe just moments ago I killed his wingman, so he was trying to kill me. On the other hand, I was descending at German held territory, so there was no reason in shooting at me.
— I’m asking if our pilots strafed parachutists. Rudel in his book wrote that it was a standard practice.
I don’t know. I don’t know of a single case.
— What was a strong and what was weak side of our pilots? And of Germans?
Listen, — our pilots had lots of courage, bravery, intention to win at all costs. Germans never rammed a single our airplane.
— In which aspect German pilot was better than our pilots? And which deficiencies they had?
There were aces that were shot down by our beginner pilots. Dogfight is a dogfight. Whatever ace he was. At flying technique we were roughly equal. But I will say once again — they lacked courage of our pilots.
— What about airplanes? Were we equal, or La-5 was worse than FW-190?
It’s not that airplane was worse. At first we were a bit too careful about it. A lot was said about Focke-Wulf. It’s like boxers in the ring. So much is said about one of them, that his opponents really think that he is so great, while in reality... Time passes and everything gets in its place... Messerschmitt was a good plane, maneuverable, good in handling. But I wouldn’t trade my La-5 for any other plane… I could fly it so hard, that no one could get me.
— Let’s return to a fight when you rammed. You bailed out, or fell with your plane?
It is written here that I bailed out. Did author of this reply know that cockpit
was full of fragments? That I had no possibility to open cockpit, and leave
it with parachute, so I was sentenced to death… They write that I bailed
out. Hero was given for air rams when author stayed alive, and brought plane
to the ground. What I did was a death wish.
I know of no other case, when air ram was made on a burning plane. Those parasites hid this case from the people. But I have no health to keep fighting them. At the age of 25 I was a wreck. No one recognized me, when I returned to the regiment; I had a mouth that I could hold only a cigarette…
13 days I was in the marsh, without food or treatment, it’s a miracle that I stayed alive. Motherland must have thanked me for what I did…
— Let’s return to the beginning…
Let me tell you how it happened. How I hate these democrats! He wrote an answer
to me without looking inside of the problem…
I rammed on 3rd Pribaltiiskii, but was awarded from commander of 1st. Almost half a year later. I returned to service only on 5 May. For 8 month professor treated and cared for me, I was like a torn soldiers boot. Doctors wanted cut my legs away, but I didn’t let them. And my legs still with me. I was blind, and have a document to prove that. I worked until 60 and now I almost completely blind again… I can see just a bit out of this eye. When I wrote a letter to Putin, he was a president then, and asked to provide me with a cheapest car, which I can’t buy on my own, so that my daughter could take me somewhere away from my room, because I cannot walk the streets anymore, he forwarded my letter to governor of Leningrad Oblast Serdyukov. He, in turn forwarded my letter to local social service burocrat Markina. Do you know what she found in me to refuse in my wish? Elderness! I wrote here a letter: «If you were where I became old in 25, you wouldn’t write me things like this».
There was a chief of electrical service, and when he was a child he tried to disarm something and lost two fingers… He received a car among the first…
I went to Ukraine, there was a man working in official structures, who knew me. He asked me:
— How are you, Sergei Isaakovich?
I told him everything. He wrote to the government, you read the answer…
— We met things like this…
Well, I’ll start from the beginning.
We were sitting by our planes smoking, when a flare was fired. We took off, met a six plane Il-2 formation. Our task was to escort six Il-2s to strafe enemy troops and equipment at Egueima river crossing.
Shturmoviks flew at an altitude of 800-1200 meters, not higher. We were escorting them a bit above. Just as we crossed frontline, it was 20 kilometers behind Tartu… I heard:
— Small ones take a fight…
I began attack run, Vladimir said:
— I’ll cover you.
— I’m aiming at closest leader.
I took aim. I thought, this bastard is going to get it. He was holding to the last moment — he thought that “Russian will turn away”. No, bastard, «turn away» my ass! I saw how he banked and put full load at his belly. He immediately caught bright fire and went down, I followed. Vladimir shouted:
— Stop! Get out of the fight.
As I was pulling out, I was hit from below left behind… airplane caught fire. I pressed a pedal — flame reduced, then extinguished. Just as I stopped skidding I got a second hit from below. Those were two hunters… If you saw enemy in a fight, it was not a problem to defeat him. Worst of all was when you couldn’t see them coming. Those two hunters approached from below. How did they make it, Shturmoviks were there? We had a bit of extra altitude, so he attacked me from below, when I tried to get away from a fight. I flew away, made a half roll, and noticed enemy planes. Vladimir was attacking one of them, while another chased him from behind — about to open fire. I pushed throttle forward, airplane responded well, well, thanks God! I had to pay enemy for everything! And I went… then we collided…
A hand-made poster for 85th birthday of Sergei Nasilevec
— That is, you hit from front below?
Yes. It was the only way. I was coming from below, and he did not see me. German
was in a climb, trying to get to Vladimir’s tail.
When I hit him, my plane made a roll over remains of the left wing above his fuselage and fell apart. I still remember this far… Past this moment I lost conscience.
Shturmoviks reported on the ground that both planes fell to pieces. I came to my senses, but saw nothing. I was spinning and something strangled me. Belts were connected here by a special lock. I pulled it and belts unfastened. I pulled the parachute string. Parachute opened, right boot fell down, helm was compressing my scull, and I tried to take it off…
— If you are tired, maybe we should come some other day?
Give me a moment, I’ll catch my breath. I have poor health now. I became old. Where we stopped?
— You are descending on a parachute.
My face was burnt, but goggles saved my eyes. I noticed that flight suit was
still on fire. Wherever I touched, my body ached… then a stream of tracers
flew past me. Those were Germans trying to execute me in the air. There were
ten of them. I downed two of them, and Vladimir was attacking… but at
least seven remained… shells flew past me, but he returned for another
run. He strafed me three times, while I was hanging there, and managed to snap
a few cords… But most frightening was that I was going to land right at
Tartu-Tallinn road. It was just strafed, trucks were burning… Folwark
was to the left, marsh — to the right. And a crowd of Germans near folwark.
I was descending closer to marsh and river, on the opposite side from the road. Germans were looking like fascist was trying to shoot me.
When I landed, I took off parachute. When I lifted my head, Germans opened fire from machine guns and assault rifles… Bastards! I jumped into the river. Got over it, hid in the bushes, took my helm away, left boot, which was still on, got pistol out. Checked it, made sure that pockets with ammo were still with me.
I decided not to give up. Better to finish myself off. There was a trench full of water, and a field with cut grass, and a hay pile. I got into this trench, to be sure that they won’t find me in the bushes. Dogs were barking… I got into the water up to the neck.
I held pistol in one hand, other one was completely burnt. I decided to stand there. Germans opened fire with machine pistols, grass was falling around me, but they did not hit me… A night passed, I heard some fire at a large distance. Then there was silence. By this time I began understanding that I was about to die. At first it was even comfortable – cold water eased pain in my burns… But my legs were not working by now. I froze. There was no ice around me, but when extended my hand I reached a place where it was forming. I thought to myself: «Well, Sergey, this is where you are going to die – in a swamp…».
Morning came. Airplanes were flying over me, but without any fighting. In the morning they once again strafed this swamp. At the evening of the second day I carefully listened around, and tried to get out of the water. Legs were not working completely, with a lot of difficulties, pulling on a grass; I made it to the swamp shore. When I sat down, I was exhausted. That was it. Then I noticed a pile of hay on the other side of the trench, and a bit further another one. No one around... Absolute silence... Then I thought, if I was going to die, then I will die doing something. Once again I crawled into that trench. With great difficulty I crossed it, when a hare scared me to death, I decided that it was a German, and hardly contained myself not to shoot. I whispered:
— Oh, my God…
After lying in a trench a bit I reached hay pile and got inside. I have no idea, how long it took me… Legs and hands were completely worthless. Somehow I made it inside, camouflaged entrance hole as good as I could, and fell asleep. No idea how long I slept. I dreamed of sitting in a restaurant, eating some delicatessen… Perhaps, my body demanded food this way. I dug out a hole in the ground near me, took out first aid kit. It was in oilcloth coating. I tore it, took out bandages, and used it to get some water, I could only suck it, because my mouth was scarring with only a small hole remaining… I laid there sleeping, woke up, sucked some water and doze off again. I felt that the end was coming. If I won’t get out, I’ll die. I heard our airplanes flying over, but I heard no AAA fire. Thus, it came to me that front must have moved West wards… I got out of the hay and sat by its side. My legs couldn’t bed, so I just sat there, but I hid a pistol behind my back. I was hoping that some locals would come by. If there are hay piles, there should be civilians. Then, a dry branch cracked, my hart began racing. What if those who were coming would press a trigger…? I couldn’t’t see who it was. He came close to me and asked:
— Who are you, tank crew member?
I replied as I could:
— No, I’m pilot.
— How did you get here?
— My plane was shot down, I burned.
— O-o-o-o… Brother, how did you managed to survive here?
— You see how I lived here.
— What should we do with you? You can’t even speak well? Oh, we are even scared to look at you.
— I can’t open my mouth. And I look like I my condition allow me. Take me to the road. There should be a road nearby.
— We can’t. We are side patrol, our unit is moving to the front.
— Is front close by?
— It’s far away, 20-30 kilometers towards Tallinn.
— Oh, and I’m lying here all this time…
Two men picked me up, and then one said:
— Let me hold him alone, there is nothing left of him, only bones.
When they lifted me they saw a pistol in my hand:
— What is this, you were trying to defend yourself?
— Of course.
They brought me to the road and placed at the road side and said:
— When trucks will pass, independent where they will be going, to the front or to the rear, raise your hand, and they will take you.
They left, and maybe ten minutes later I heard engine sound, I raised hand, and truck stopped. Driver shouted:
— Well, get in.
How could I get in, when I was about to go to the other side... I weaved my hand. He got out, walked towards me.
— Are you tank crew member?
Damned, I was getting tired of this:
— No, I’m a pilot.
— Where can I take you, I have to take ammunition to the front?
— I don’t care anymore, just take me somewhere away.
— Damn, I will take you to the field hospital at the frontline.
He positioned me in a truck, closed the door and we took off. I asked:
— What’s the date today?
— Nineteenth. Why do you ask?
— I was shot down on 6th…
I lost conscience, and came to my senses when he was calling medics. They dragged me out of the cabin and took to the hospital.
— How long was your travel from hospital to Moscow?
Oh, I don’t know. Not too long, as I was brought there by plane.
Then a letter from a nurse of that hospital came, I keep it with me all my life, as it saved me from filtration…
When I was in Moscow, twice people from SMERSh came to check me. First time professor didn’t let them in, because I was blind then. On the second visit I gave them this letter. They checked all facts in it and returned it…
For eight month professor Vishnevskii treated me in Central Aviation Hospital (Professor, Academic Alexandr Vishnevskii, 1874-1948. Famous Russian surgeon, inventor, founder of Moscow Surgery Institute. Central Aviation Hospital was founded on 7 May 1942 with a sole purpose of treating wounded aircrews. Was located in Sokolniki area of Moscow. After the war it took part in examining possibility of manned space flights. Currently still exists as a part of medical wing of MO RF).
— When you returned to your regiment your belongings…
Were already taken by the other pilots. I came – nothing was left.
— We thought you were dead. — They said.
When I arrived, they firstly dragged me to the canteen. From control post it was announced that such pilot came back. A whole truck of people came to the Control post to meet me. They brought me to the canteen, where the same girls worked who knew me before:
— Sergey, you are alive!
«Bla-bla-bla…» As I sat in the canteen and ate, whole regiment came there:
— We are going to celebrate in the evening…
— By the way, when you received 100 grams?
At the evening at front only. When there were flights. If we were on the ground, then we were looking for it ourselves.
— Did you receive extra 100 grams for shooting own enemy planes?
Can’t remember about extra 100 grams, but we were paid for shooting enemy
planes down. Bomber cost 2 000 rubles, fighter — 1 000. «Rama»
was accounted as bomber. We also were paid for number of accomplished missions…
When I demobilized, I had about 25 000 rubles.
— How you found out about war end?
How I found out… I came on 5th May, and even managed to accomplish two
flights on 9 may.
Regiment commander asked:
— Well, do you remember how to fly?
— No way.
— Well, let’s try.
He sent a technician.
— Prepare an airplane for him.
I took parachute, tested it at full throttle.
— Try to taxi.
I taxied, and then took off. Flew over Konigsberg, looked at it, and landed.
Two times I flew with my friends. Germans kept fighting there until 15 May. There was so much equipment there…
We later went there by foot. We also walked to Konigsberg, looked at the fortifications. Everything was in concrete, well prepared.
Alexandr Matashov and Vladimir Morozov at Konigsberg airfield
— But still, when you were told that war ended?
On 9 May it was announced over radio. But we had to kill those who did not want to surrender…
— In Eastern Prussia there were a lot of Vlasov army soldiers. Were you informed about them?
I was afraid of those parasites. There were cases when pilots disappeared…
— War ended for you on 15 May, what happened next?
Then we were sent to Novgorod, airfield Krichevitsy. When we came there, everything
was destroyed, only walls remained, so we had to rebuild all village first…
In April 1946 I demobilized.
— You never flew again?
I was invited to fly U-2 in a detached light transportation and connection squadron, but I couldn’t fly it due to open cockpit, since my face was burnt… So I decided to quit.
— May be a stupid question. If you had a chance to repeat everything, what you would have changed?
Nothing. I would live it all again with pleasure… Even if when I studied
I dreamed of a piece of bread with a half kilo of jam on top… It was hard
to live, but interesting. We helped each other…
I gave an oath to defend Motherland, and was ready to give my life away if needed... I stayed alive miraculously. My time passed, but I don’t regret about a single minute…