Ivan Fedorovich Potapov
by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin; Editor: Igor Zhidov; Special thanks to Svetlana Spiridonova
I was born in 1923 in a village Fanachet in Krasnoyarskaya oblast, 9 kilometers away from the railway. My parents — peasants, absolutely uneducated, like most of our village population, who lived off farming and hunting. Some of those who went to first grade were already married. Our school kept opening and closing all the time. One of our teachers was accused of counter revolution, other one was sick. I went to school at 8, but actually started studying at 10 years old.
— What was meant by counter revolution?
Now it is very difficult to understand. Some suspicions must have appeared, and teacher was gone. What was actually going on we had no idea. But full studying year had vanished. On the next year another teacher was sent in. He was a good teacher, everybody liked him, but he worked for half a year only, and died of some disease. So we waited for another teacher.
— What kind of farming was there? There is no summer over there, if I remember correctly.
Climate there is very good. Summer is excellent, up to 35 degrees. The earth
worms up completely. Winters there — yes, cold ones — below 40 degrees.
In our village I graduated from school, and went to rayonnii center — village Taseevo, which was a more progressive. There even was an aero club. I went to an eighth grade there. In December 1940 a man from aero club came to our school and talked several boys into studying to become a pilot. We went through medical commission.
— What your parents thought about your decision to learn to fly?
Very positively. An air route was just over our village, “R-5s”
overflew it all the time. Everybody was used to airplanes by now.
In Taseevo aero club we had only theoretical training. We studied theory of flight, airplane construction, and meteorology. It was a must-have discipline then. We studied by schemes and drawings. In may 1941 after testing for eights grade (Exams were called tests those days); we were sent to Siberian town Kansk. There were two airfields and two aero clubs: civilian which belonged to GVF, and military one. To be exact, it wasn’t absolutely military one, but we were given uniform, (although, not the first quality) and were subjected for a military discipline. Primary training was only in a U-2 plane.
I tried to keep studying in an evening school. But when flights begun, I had to abandon it. And what kind of a school was that: once a week, it gave no knowledge at all…
— How many flying hours you had in aero club?
In aero club I flew about seven hours on U-2. I remember there were seven flights
with an instructor, the rest were sole…
A photograph to commemorate graduation from Taseevo aero club. Potapov in upper row third from left
— At which cabin sandbag was placed?
A pilot always sat in a front one.
— How you found out that war broke out?
At that time we lived in camps, by the field airbase in tents. At a lineup
we were told about war. There were a lot of patriotic words. An order was given
to send us on official leave for 12 days. After a special notification we had
to appear before draft board. So it was done…
In August 1941 we were brought to the Omsk military pilot aviation school (a hundred man must have been brought in simultaneously), commissions there were very strict, including mandatory commission. With each one of us they talked and decided where to send us. From our Taseevo four men out of seventeen were chosen to become fighter pilots. They were sent to Novosibirsk, while we stayed near Omsk. By this time flight schools evacuated from the west started to arrive, five schools were united into one, what resulted in a mess. We were ordered to dig holes for dug-outs. By the start of 1942 all evacuated schools had arrived.
— Did cadets discuss position on a front and causes for our initial misfortunes?
No, we didn’t bother with such silly stuff. We discussed how to get to the front as fast as possible...
— Did you really think of yourself as combat ready pilots?
Of course not, we studied only basics. And U-2 was not a combat airplane then.
Light bomber units equipped with U-2s appeared later.
After an oath we were sent to ULO – flight-training department and were divided into classes. Many of our teachers were veterans of this war; some were crippled, despite its short time.
Training continued for almost three years. One of the reasons — changes in equipment: we were trained on R-5, but it became obsolete for active duty. SB was given to us, but by the time we finished training it was also gone. So we began to train on Pe-2.
There was another thing, school continuously was enlarged. Then problems with fuel began. I remember a period, when we were on guarding duty only, and on drill practice.
In the school we once again studied theory, more in depth this time.
Before each plane type we studied its specialities. A lot was in common, of course, but there were specific moments in flying them which we had to know about…
— As amount of cadets increased, was airfield enlarged?
No. Quantity of instructors increased. But still, there were not enough of them for all cadets. Then medical commission began objecting against sending graduated cadets to the front, so that they stayed in the rear and became instructors.
— As the amount of cadets increased, did flying activity increase? Didn’t it increase amount of catastrophes?
Airfield worked very intensively. Besides, airplanes from America also flew
through Omsk school.
There were lots of crashes. And they were results not in airfield overload, but with mechanical problems. For example, Pe-2 had M-105RA engines installed, which had a trick: when propeller blades were “lightened” on landing, an over revving commonly occurred. Engine construction couldn’t withstand it, connecting rods snapped, engine blew and caught fire. And even if it didn’t catch fire, it was a serious situation. When one engine suddenly stops working at an altitude of 400 meters at a high angle bank, pilot has no time to react…
— Which foreign airplanes flew through your airfield: bombers or fighters?
I remember how fighters landed. But we were not allowed to be at the airfield at this time. This was not only about foreign airplanes, but when Pe-2 flew through us from Irkutsk aviation plant to the front our airfield was also closed for training flights. Only ferry pilots were served, and they flew on…
— There was limited supply of fuel for training flights, but unlimited for ferry flights?
Yes. They were sent out as soon as possible.
— Didn’t you want to run away with ferry pilots to the front?
It was impossible: No one unauthorized was allowed to the planes. Technical personnel only. Refueling, check up, preparing to the flight. I believe, there was a special group of ground personnel was gathered.
— Do you have a flight log?
Yes, here it is: Here are the notes about U-2, R-5, SB, and Pe-2…
— You learnt to fly three different airplanes in the school, let’s sort them out: How you liked R-5?
R-5 was a more powerful airplane then U-2. To fly it one had to have good physical condition. Stabilizer there was controlled by a special wheel via cables. The force applied to controls, especially on landing, was very serious. But we flew R-5 for a short time.
— After R-5 you were retrained on SB?
We were scheduled to retrain right when it was decided to lessen strain on
main airfield, and at summer we were sent to summer camps. We were based now
in a place Maryanovka. It was a very even area. All western Siberia is an even
place. There are no problems with a place for an airfield. When we came, we
started from digging holes for dug-outs. Two storey trunks 30 meters long were
Later it was decided to leave us there for winter, so we had to start digging again, but this time earth was already frozen. And we hollowed the ground… I imagine all this now and think: how could we do it all! But then we were young and healthy, felt no difficulties...
At winter we almost never flew – there was no equipment to clean the airfield. For a short period of time R-5 and SB flew with skis, but then this practice for some reason was abandoned… We lived through the winter in dug-outs, and in summer finished program on SB. At autumn we were sent back to Omsk. Then we began to study Pe-2.
— From which parts educational course consisted on the plane?
Two-three flights in a box, then in the zone. On U-2 we flew loop, combat turns,
dives and climbs… On R-5 there were no loops and less turns.
On SB you sat like on a roof. Big wings. Navigator had good view. He had all-transparent cockpit, he could see everything in front of him. Pilot saw to the left and to the right only…
— Did you fly combat use training?
On these airplanes we didn’t shoot or bomb. Only flying.
— Did you have navigation knowledge?
Only basics. Orienting, route. Main training we received in combat unit. There was a special book, it was called RV-44.
— From the beginning of the war were your planes taken away to resupply front units?
Here in Omsk? No. On the contrary, we waited for new ones to be sent in, because
airplanes were getting old or damaged, especially dual-control ones. We lacked
On the first flight in a dual-control Pe-2 I had a problem. I begun take off. In the end of runway airplane started turning to the left. Instructor ordered:
— Brake take off!
I, instructor and flight controller, everybody looked what happened, tested engines. They worked fine on the ground…
Then instructor took pilots seat, I behind him, beginning scrambling. Right before takeoff propeller blades suddenly changed pitch to large angle, and in this case there was no way to take off. Instructor had to stop scrambling… There was something wrong with oil lines. I felt much better that it was not my fault…
Dual controls airplane is very good for training flying tecnique. All cadets were training on them, but I was not so lucky: UPe-2 had broken, so instructor said to me:
— We shouldn’t stop. I’ll show you how to fly.
He showed me on a combat Pe-2 all maneuvers in the zone… I sat behind pilot at the navigators place and looked what instructor did… You know, I was so disappointed – everybody had flown UPe-2, they were properly instructed how to fly it… But I had to come to everything on my own.
I even had to pass exams on combat airplane.
— Which airplane was more comfortable for you, as a pilot, SB or Pe-2?
SB I didn’t like at all – it was too sluggish…
— We heard another opinion about SB — not an aerobatic airplane, but very comfortable and pleasant to fly.
If you are to fly at peace time long range flights - yes. But it shouldn’t be compared to Pe-2 in combat qualities. The only drawback Pe-2 had : there could be problems on landing. But it was very responsive on controls in a dive or climb, Excellent.
— How many flights you had no make to become prepared pilot?
I don’t remember exact number. A few. Five or six for SB. About the same for Pe-2. About 10 flights. There also were formation flights on Pe-2. But there not always were possibilities to fly in pairs in a school.
— How you were fed in aero club and flight school?
In aero club we were fed very well…
In the flight school, since there were a lot of cadets (five schools in one), canteen worked 24\7. We had rice, potatoes, some meat. It could have been a small piece of meat, but it was always there…
— At which rank you graduated from flight school?
In November 1943 we were given a rank of Junior Lieutenant. We were not officially
informed about this, but as saying goes “earth filled with rumors”.
But we, as ordinary privates, were sent to different duties. We opposed. I wasn’t
on the list of those who were assigned to duty. But I was like the rest…
Chief of staff lined us up:
— Why you do not obey orders? If you are assigned to some duty go and do it…
And asked me personally:
— You, why are you not going?
— I’m not on the list.
He yelled at our starshina:
— Why this kind of people is lined up here?
There was a huge scandal…
After the New Year we were announced that we were given officers rank and we were sent to Leningrad Front.
— You went through Moscow or straight to the front?
We, a group of 30 men went through Moscow. I remember it: we entered the city, and we all were stunned… Very bright impressions we had of metro, There was an escalator, where you have to make a step off it, but one of our pilots didn’t do it, and fell… I have no idea what was going on in the stab, our senior went there alone.
— You all were sent to Leningrad Front?
Can’t say precisely. Ten men were sent to 140th regiment.
Battle way of 140th BAP
— How you came there?
By train. I remember that we arrived straight to Moscovskii railway station.
But we had no chance to see Leningrad: on the railway station we were loaded
onto the covered truck and we were taken for retraining. Place was called airfield
Uglovo. We were there for about 10-15 days and virtually nothing. They looked
at our documents, and said that 7 hours flying time on Pe-2 were enough, there
was no need to train us…
Then by phone we were sent to different units. So we came to Division stab, it was in Gatchina in a palace.
— It was called Gatchina then or Krasnogvardeisk?
I believe we were told Gatchina, and we called it Gatchina. But on maps it was called Krasnogvardeisk. («Presidium of Supreme Council of USSR returned name Gatchina to Krasnogvardeysk on 23 January 1944»)
We didn’t go to stab – our senior went there again. We jumped out of the truck, walked around a bit, loaded back and left Gatchina. Later that evening we made it to airfield Siverskaya. I remember when we were going past village Mezhno, we saw corpses sticking out of the snow… When it was getting dark, German air raid begun. It seems that they were trying to bomb railway bridge. Our AAA was based on the airfield outskirts. When a Flak cannon fires, it makes a loud noise, then, when fragments were falling back to ground, they made rustling sound. When they landed on the airfield metal plating that Germans left, they made shrill sounds…
We were taken straight to the canteen, where we were fed…
On the next day regiment commissar Grigorii Avramovich Lushik talked to us. He informed me, that special department sent inquery about me to my homeland.
— You were supposed to be introduced to regiment commander?
Regiment commander was wounded and in hospital. I don’t remember him,
he appeared only once, and then he was signed off. And fulfilling duties of
regiment commander Kuzmenko was also absent at the moment, that’s why
we were introduced to commissar.
We were divided to squadrons. I was sent to 3rd squadron… Its commander Borisov was wounded: a shell exploded beneath his seat, and all his behind was damaged by fragments. He was treated in a hospital, but some post effects of the wounds still remained, and he was sent to rest in Leningrad.
Losses in the regiment were heavy. At that moment only three planes remained in the squadron, one of them dual-control plane. After our introduction we were tested for our flight tecnique. I was checked by first squadron commander Moiseenko. Then we flew to the bombing range, but I forgot where it was…
— Did German fighters try to shoot you down while you were training?
No. By this time they already were in Tartu, Estonia. There they pinched our
We waited for new planes, and they came straight from Kazan. A fully equipped flight came to our squadron. Flight commander and pilots: Alesandr Voronov, Petr Andreev and Konstantin Gytsin. Then squadron commander of another squadron Hohlov had talked to us and tested us in the air…
— Meanwhile your regiment kept flying combat mission in reduced strength?
At that period only reconnaissance missions. But we still suffered losses… Nekrasov from our squadron perished then. He crashed in U-2.
— By the way, about losses, do you remember crew Solovyov — Komarov — Silkin, which was shot down on 15 February 1944?
No, I did not know this crew…
— I was asked to clear situation about loss of pilot Karavaev. There is a problem with date of loss: killed on 8 July or 7 September 1944. Do you remember how he was shot down?
Alexei Karavaev wasn’t shot down. It was an accident. We were resting in our squadrons’ hostel, he played an accordion. Mikhail Yenushenko came in. He unfastened his belt with a pistol holster attached to it, and threw it on the bed. Pistol hit the wall, and fired. It happened that he had ninth bullet in it. Bullet went through Alexei’s body from behind… He was killed. So he was buried in Ratchino. (Lieutenant Alexei Karavaev was killed by accidental shot 7.9.1944. Buried in village Ratchino, reburied in Kaibolovo).
— Was there an investigation after this case?
Everyone’s personal weapons were checked, and everyone had ninth bullet in their pistols.
— Pilots were armed with TT?
Regiment navigator had Parabellum. Maybe someone else had foreign weapons. But usually it was TT. Sometimes presence of sidearm and its condition was checked.
— Did you fire it?
Only once near Siverskaya at the shooting range.
— Why so little? Or there were some restrictions?
No, there were no restrictions. But there was no need either.
— Do you remember about Galygins crew? He supposedly was killed on 8 July 1944 in the vicinity of villages Gryazno and Daimishe?
I don’t know exactly. He was not from our squadron. We flew against Vyborg at the time, and he was shot down there. Some said that somebody bailed out. After the war there were rumors that Galygin was alive and returned from captivity…
— But Rozhdestvenskii rayon is not near Vyborg, but on the other side, why didn’t he land in Leningrad? You didn’t fly to Siverskaya over Leningrad?
No. We flew near Kronstadt, there was a special corridor. If we missed it, our AAA opened fire. At first warning shots. Then they could start firing to hit…
— Let’s return to start of your combat life. When you received your first plane?
When airplanes were brought from Kazan, we received our plane. Only one flight
arrived with crews, the rest of the planes were brought to us by ferry pilots.
By this time we had formed a crew. I was the pilot; Navigator was Vasiliev,
and gunner Vasilii… Oh, God, I remembered him well, but now forgot his
surname… All nine planes in the squadron had assigned crews.
Potapov and his crew in front of Pe-2, 1945
— Could your navigator or gunner temporarily fly in another crew?
At war time? Only if someone was ill. I had one such case. I was ready to fly, but doctor said that I was ill, reported to regiment commander. So our crew did not fly this time. And we did not get our 100 grams…
— We heard that there were a lot of complains about poor quality of new Pe-2s. Technicians had to virtually rebuilt airplanes.
Yes. There were such cases. Technicians swore and had to repair deficiencies…
But they couldn’t find all deficiencies. Sometimes pilot had some indescribable feeling. Presentiment, or something… For example I tested airplane before mission: I pushed throttles all the way forward… It looked like everything was fine. But I had a feeling that something was not right. And really, a redactor on the left engine had failed. Oil started leaking. My crew had to change airplane and fly on another machine… That’s an example.
— One fighter pilot told us that old pilot used to say: «Most important gauge in the cockpit is your ass! Not a single arrow had moved on gauges, but good pilot feels incoming problem by his rear part». Would you agree?
It is true. Almost unnoticeable shaking could be a sign of incoming problem…
Old pilots experience is very important. As I was taught: «Turn your head constantly or they will shoot you down!». And «Keep formation. If you will lag behind, they will eat you alive!». That was precise. And one more thing: «If you will accomplish 13 missions, and live through them, you will live till the end of war!»
— Where and when you flew your first combat mission?
First flight was to rebase to Ropsha. Airfield was very small. We hardly managed
to fit in there, after landing we stopped right before bushes.
We have dispersed, placed the tent, where flying crew rested and ate. A big tent for whole squadron. And separate tent for technical crew. We begun studying information about targets, we were supposed to bomb frontlines in the area of Zelenogorsk…
— You bombed Finns?
Yes, we started from this. Finland hasn’t quit war yet, so we had put pressure on them — we bombed Vyborg and Lappeenranta Basically, all strong points, where Finns had fortified positions. All three regiments of our division – 140th, 34th and 58th worked there.
— Which bombs you took for your first mission?
FAB-100. Later, on special racks we carried FAB-250s. Crews from 34th regiment flew with two FAB-500s from Pushkin airfield. Plane required long runway in this case. They flew to Volkhov from there, to bomb bridge. 34th regiment was given a task of destroying Tolmachevskii Bridge then. They were told, who will destroy it, will get a HSU, and they did get it… I just don’t remember who it was…
— How many FAB-100s you had?
Four in bomb bays.
— In bomb bays in fuselage or engine gondolas?
— What about engine gondolas?
There we also could hang one FAB-100, to have 800 kilograms in all. With eight FAB-100 we flew in squadrons from Ratchino airfield. Once we tried to fly in regiment formation. But flying in a regiment formation was uncomfortable, and dangerous… We bombed airfield west of Narva, Rakvere, Yihve and fighter airbase Tapa…
— Did you use RRABs?
We used those against live force. They were in cassettes. Once they opened, they covered large area. I sat in the plane, press a button, bomb bays opened, press another button, bombs are gone. That’s all, my job is done.
— What kind of weapons you used against tanks? FABs or PTABs?
FABs and PTABs both. Second ones were in large quantities placed in cassettes.
According to reconnaissance data there were a lot of German tanks in the forest near Siverskaya. We dropped a lot of bombs here, some did not explode. Sappers had to disarm a lot of them. Here, at Siverskaya, at my own dacha I found these PTABs, one under my own house… Maybe, I placed this bomb myself under my own house?
— You had brake lattices all the time?
They were never taken off…
— How often you dive bombed?
We trained to dive bomb. But sole dives were not used, while in a group we
bombed from shallow dive, about 30-35 degrees. It was hard to stay in formation,
so we spread out a bit to avoid collision, what lead to dispersion.
We began training to dive bomb when we were stationed near Volosovo. I forgot who showed me dive bombing, maybe regiment commander himself. Later I had to show it to others. So I, young pilot showed dive bombing to squadron commander Tunik, who participated in Finnish war in 1939. He was an “old man” then, it was hard for him to withstand heavy loads.
— While training how steeply you dove?
I trained them with dives over 70 degrees.
— When you begun diving?From 2 700 meters.
— But if you will start diving at 70 degrees from 2 700 meters there might be not enough altitude to pull out…
Who told you that?
— We were told that entering a 70 degree dive should begin at 5 000 meters. 1 500 meters for aiming and bombing, then dive automatics was switched on. Then 700-800 meters of altitude is lost while pulling up. Is it possible that you begun diving from 4 700 meters?
No. At an altitude of 4 700 meters oxygen starvation begun. But I remember how I trained pilots. Yes, I lost 1 500 meters. Maybe altitude was a bit higher, 3 000-3 700, no more... Dropping bombs was made by the same button that switched pull out automation on…
— Did you help to pull up yourself?
I did. Sometimes I had a strange feeling – I didn’t want to pull up. You see, speed rose, airplane was very stable in a dive, but on pull up you will suffer from unpleasant experience, and in the end of it all you will have to go through turbulence at the top of the curve…
— Did you lead groups to missions?
No. I finished war as ordinary pilot. In our regiment groups were lead by such “tigers”, that I was long way from becoming one of them…
— From 1944 you flew 80 missions, which is quite a lot.
Not 80, I flew 98 missions.
— In your log book…
In my log book it is written: «awarded by money for 80 missions», in all I made 98 missions. And one mission was not accounted for as combat. We did not hit our target then.
— Not at our forces, at least?
Luckily, no. What happened, there are a lot of lakes in Finland, and there are two lakes that look very much alike. You had to look very closely to note differences. Our leader aimed at wrong place… Later we found out that our forces left this place just hour before we hit it…
— Were there cases when our troops were hit?
There was one case in our regiment. It happened in 1945, our reconnaissance company stopped for dinner, and they hit them…
— Was group punished?
They bombed “by leader”, so only leader was punished – squadron commander Tunik. The verdict was “Ten years with serving at front line”. But he was left in the regiment.
— Was he stripped of his rank and awards?
No. Everything was left for him, just “ten years”… When war ended his crew was sent east to fight against Japan.
— What were your main targets?
Different ones… A lot of times front line. Close air support of advancing troops. We bombed strongholds, fortresses, airfields. When we flew against airfields we were always covered, because there always were fighters over airfields… We bombed ships, when they were near shore. Like in Pillau…
— What about Danzig…
No, we didn’t fly there. We ended at Konigsberg. But Kurland group did not capitulate, that’s in Latvia. War was already over, we celebrated, even had a firework. An order was announced: «To the planes». But then almost immediately said: «That’s it! They capitulated. You may leave your planes». That’s how war ended…
— Which task was most unpleasant and difficult for you?
You know, I was young and wasn’t afraid of anything, there was no fear… I didn’t like being fired upon. When you reach target, they opened fire…
— Did Germans cover frontline with AAA?
Yes, with small caliber AAA. Especially unpleasant were Oerlikon cannons…
— Were you shot down?
No, I wasn’t, but commonly brought holes home. They made a lot of them.
— Did you have to belly land?
Once an engine failed on takeoff. I had to force land at shturmovik airfield.
— Did you drop bombs?
I landed with bombs in bays, everything was well. We repaired our plane ourselves.
It happened so that an oil tube has snapped, the one that supplied propeller
blade pitch control mechanism. Tube snapped and oil spilled out. We said shturmovik
regiment engineer what we needed; he brought it to us… I still remember
how we attached propeller back… It weighted 120 kilograms…
I asked their engineer:
— Would you mind if we leave our bombs here?
— No way, take your bombs with you. We don’t know how to use up our!
We took off. When we landed, I understood that airfield was too short for us, so I had to apply a leg in the end of the runway. Then I taxied past some POW Germans. They were making some bricks…
When we took off, we set bombs to “explode” and dropped them to some lake.
— Have you participated in strikes of composed groups? For example striking of one target by Il-2s and Pe-2s or Tu-2s and Pe-2s? How their actions were coordinated?
We haven’t flown in combined groups. Sometimes shturmoviks attacked AAA. For example, they hit airfield defense. This was common in Prussia. We often flew with fighters. Different fighters covered us, even French ones. But we were not tied with their regiment.
— Was it possible to dogfight against Messerschmitt in a Pe-2?
Solely? I didn’t fly reconnaissance missions, but other pilots from our squadron did. There was a gunner in our regiment who shot down Messerschmitt. German was too impudent…
— Each Pe-2 had two machine guns in the nose controlled by pilot. When you attacked the enemy did you use them?
We did not control them, they were fixed in one position. There was a gun sight
for them. Gunner had ShKAS that could be taken off its mount, sometimes they
even fired it from hands. But it was dangerous, as it had heavy recoil. Navigator
I fired my guns maybe three times, when we tried to strafe…
A fighter or sole plane could aim. In a group only leader aims, others have to keep formation. When we dove, we began firing in the general direction of the enemy. Probability of hitting anything was low…
In all, nose guns were not so needed. Just in case if there is a need to scare somebody.
— During your service, were there cases when navigators and gunners shot down enemy fighters?
Yes. There was a Hero in our regiment, he had three Slava Orders. After the war he worked as advocate in Odessa… For some reason he did not come to our meetings…
— Did you have to fight with enemy fighters?
I met them only in a group, in Prussia. We had complete supremacy in the air
then. But they fought till the end. There were rumors, that there were ROA pilots
on the German side, they had nowhere to escape. And they fought to the last.
But I was lucky.
There was a case, a reconnaissance pilot was placed in our room. We were told: «When reconnaissance pilot will rise, you go to the airfield too. You will fly out at the same time, but in your own group». He walked away in the morning, but didn’t wake us up. We woke up when he was testing his engines, and we, two crews, ran to the airfield in full flight uniform for two kilometers… We arrived right when commander was walking from commanding post with a task. And immediately «To the planes!»…
We made two flights – we stayed without breakfast and dinner. One of our pilots, Ivan Poselenin, had some troubles with his plane. He said:
— That’s enough for you, let me fly at your plane.
— No way.
— I’ll go and say to regiment commander that you fly without breakfast and dinner.
So he did. They returned with regiment commander, who ordered:
— You flew two times already, let him fly now.
He flew, and was attacked by enemy fighters. Ivan Poselenin was shot down, he bailed out and lost his pistol. His navigator hit a stabilizer by leg, when bailed out. Germans caught them easily with dogs. They were loaded on to the barge, willing to transport them somewhere. Meanwhile our fighters began strafing this barge… Poselenin managed to escape, but stumbled across Germans. They caught him. He escaped again. Made it to our territory. He flew again… Then he was signed off flying duty, those, who were captured were signed off at the first possibility. Here, in Leningrad, he graduated from Institute and flew again. Have no idea what happened to him lately.
— As I understand, you wouldn’t give your airplane to somebody else without direct order?
To no one, of course… We looked after them, cleaned them. Even though we were not taught in school, we knew its construction, even repaired its engines… It was badly ermetized, oil oftenly spilled out, so if we were working at the plane we were covered by oil…
— You received airplanes from Kazan plant, or from Irkutsk too?
There were very few planes from Irkutsk…
— Do you remember how your plane was painted?
It was colored in different greens, with some sort of camouflage. From below
it was blue. And dark from above.
After the war camouflage was applied as standard, at war time, oh God, as plant painted it…
— Did you have gray airplanes? Gray, not green?
Yes, we had gray ones too.
— Did you have rudders painted in white?
They all were green.
— Did you have paintings or insignias on the planes?
No, there wasn’t. Except on spare plane, it had a crocodile painted below
We were not too keen on painting. It meant that your plane was special, and Germans would attack this plane in the first place. We were not afraid, but looked simpler at things…
— Did our fighters escort you?
They often escorted us, but not always.
— Pilots from strike aviation quite commonly have a lot to swear about fighter pilots, for poor escort quality, for constant loss of escorted airplanes. Did you have such problems?
Unlike we did, fighters were based close to the front, 10-15, no more than
50 kilometers from the front line. They could do up to 10 sorties a day. That’s
why pilots were exhausted, and airplanes were worn out. But we were told about
it only later.
For example, it was in Prussia, we came to fighters’ airbase, they were not ready, and only three planes are refueling. We receive an order:
— Make a circle!
We were in a regiment formation, and making a circle… You can imagine…
— Three fighters, no more available.
Enemy fighters attacked us and immediately left, one Pe-2 was shot down. Regiment commanders were arguing later…
They were unable to defend us absolutely safe. They tried to defend us to the last, but…
When we were at Leningrad Front, I remember we were covered by regiment, commander of which was Colonel Zhidov. (Major Georgii Zhidov commanded 401 IAP). Georgii Zhidov — HSU. With him there never were any problems, if his regiment was covering us. He personally came to our airbase, discussed interaction questions. A rare case. Maybe the only one.
— How you found out that war ended?
I don’t know, when exactly, but it was at night. A telephone rang. The
officer on duty received a telephonogram, and in calm voice announced:
— Comrades officers, war is over!
No one reacted. He repeated:
— Comrades officers, war is over!
We found squadron commander. War is over! We opened all windows, pulled out our pistols, and opened fire… That’s how it was.
— Second half of your service you were stationed mostly abroad. How local population thought of our military men?
Very well in Austria. Both during war and after its end. We were sent there
in 1950 to change some regiment. After the war there was an announcement, something
like "brotherhood of populations". And our familiarity went so far,
that Austrian women begun to give births from our pilots… And we lived
isolated, our dislocation was closed one…
When Khrushchev made arrangements with Americans about pulling our forces out of Austria, we rebased to Hungary. Well, Hungary was different from Austria, even thought it was at one time one empire.
— It was worse?
Of course. Even though you can’t take west European from them, especially in large cities, Budapest and Debrezin.
— Did you still fly Pe-2s?
On Pe-2s. I flew it abroad. Within boundaries of Soviet Union everybody flew Il-28 by this time. Why there was such practice? It ended in a way that when we moved to Soviet Union all pilots had 1st class here, while we just received 3rd. Because of this my later service went with lower speed…
— What kind of relations you had with population of Eastern Prussia?
There were no Germans at all. They either run away or poles threw them away. After the war they had very bad attitude towards Germans. Besides, they thought that they will have this territory… While they thought that we will come to resort there.
— It is known, that right after war ended there were a lot of flight accidents and catastrophes. Have you suffered from them, and what was the reason?
Firstly, we sucked all juices from airplanes during war. Engines were worn out… They failed… At a low altitude pilots had no time to react for engine failure…
— Do you remember, what was engine resource?
100 or 150 hours. I forgot now.
— Do you remember what airframe resource was?
Can’t say about airframe, sorry…
Then aircrews’ exhaustion began to have its toll. And not only combat exhaustion…
When we were based at Prussia at Gross Dopenin airfield, we all had bicycles there, and at free time we used to travel to the surrounding territories, to the lakes… Once Ivan Nemchaninov, 1st squadron pilot, was run over by a truck on a narrow road. He had damaged skull. He was cured and allowed to fly. We were sent to a vacation together. Before the accident he used to be fun loving guy. I talked to him, and clearly felt, that he lost reaction. I told him about it straight away:
— Don’t you feel that your reaction had worsened? Your reaction time extended, and this is dangerous.
— While Earth is spinning, I will fly.
I told his dad, a surgeon, about this. Father tried to talk him out of flying, but with no luck. When we returned from vacation, there were some training flights. We flew to Siverskaya airfield, weather worsened with low clouds, and he fell on final approach.
Another case was also in Siverskaya. An airplane hit a Voentorg shop… One girl perished and whole crew… Our regiment just arrived there, and we all ran to the crash site. We began collecting hands and legs… Zampolit came to me and said:
— Go away from here, pilot shouldn’t do these things.
There were crashes even on Po-2. There was on pilot Tikhonov. To keep flying practice up we had to fly Po-2s. But it can’t be compared to Pe-2…
— Your attitude towards ground crew?
Technicians lived like one crew. I had Shapovalin as technician.
He has committed a discomfiture. He wasn’t sleeping, he repaired something.
— I’ll be lying here under airplane wing in shadow.
I switched engines on. Tested engines, he did not react, while he should have detached air bottle. Then he stood up and walked away. I also began moving. That time journalists came to make photographs of our regiment flying.
We taxied, but there was an air bottle jumping behind us. We looked at it, and thought, will the hose hold it or not. Regiment navigator saw it, and said:
He ran after monkey wrench, then after our plane and detached the hose. He made it in time while we were taxiing…
There was a photo in a news paper, but without compressed air bottle – it was detached just moments before.
— How many Heroes were in your regiment?
Heroes? Regiment commander, regiment navigator Malin Anatolii.
— Was there a pilot named Kiriichuk?
Pilot? No, Kiriichuk was navigator. He was a huge man. He even was nick-named
“Shortie”. We were in good relationship. My navigator Vasiliev knew
him before me…
This Kiriichuk was navigator in Nemchaninovs crew, but not at that flight when Nemchaninov was killed. If Kiriichuk was in the crew, it is possible that they wouldn’t have fallen. He was very experienced navigator…
— Did regiment navigator fly combat missions?
Malin became regiment navigator after the war. Before him was Salata, also
HSU. His airplane was hit, he bailed out. But parachute did not open…
He fell to the side of the crater and stayed alive. He received treatment and
I believe, there were three Heroes. In 34th regiment there were a lot of them… We were not Guards.
— For 100 combat missions flown you could have been attested for HSU. Weren’t you sorry that you didn’t make 2 missions…?
One I missed, and one was not credited for. I was much sorrier to give my plane
to someone else, not to speak of losing it.
My next plane was belly landed on a ferry flight. It’s leveling was way off. That’s why it had a tendency to yaw to the right all the time towards leading plane.
I was left wingman, and all the time was ready. When shell fragment hit me here at the leg, it began shaking by itself. Pilots who flew behind me said that it was visible how plane shook with my leg. But I kept formation at all cost…
When we landed, doctor came to me and said:
— Take off your pants.
Not even underwear was scratched, only a bruise… It wasn’t a wound.
But at first I was afraid. Even thought that my leg will be amputated. Leg wasn’t working at the beginning, and shook by itself… It happened that shell fragment hit throttle, broke in two and then hit me. I kept it for a long time, but then I lost it.
— When you were given 100 grams?
When we begun flying combat missions. I didn’t drink. I didn’t
drink at all. So I gave my share to my navigator, who was quite ready. He had
problems because of it all the time. Once, we were based in Lithuania, at Pacuny
airfield it was placed in a large crater. There was a local, who sold us moonshine.
They went to him, drunk there and went home, they fell down hill and begun shooting.
Below this hill was commissar Lushik. Damn!
On the next day regiment was lined up, commissar checked everyone’s weapons. Lushik was very smart. "Who fired, was drunk". He pulled Kiriichuk, Vasiliyev and somebody else, five men in all. Oh, there was so much yelling and shouting.
— Did you step out of line?
No. He checked my weapon and that was it… I flew with Lushik three times. He was navigator.
— So, he was a flying commissar?
Yes, flying, navigator.
— Your opinion about commissars and special department?
I wasn’t connected to special department at all. Somehow it passed me.
We were introduced to commissar the first day we came to the regiment. He was like father to us. I respected him a lot. We wrote letters to each other till his death.
I remember when fighters attacked us, although they didn’t harm us… He was in navigators’ position, but didn’t shoot, something happened there. I rudely swore at him. He didn’t even notice it… We were friends.
— Did you swear a lot?
Well, that depended on how people were raised. In our village people swore a lot, so I also did, when dad was not around…
— And what about in flight over radio?
I heard when fighters swore during dogfight… After the war I was punished by Army commander – I couldn’t hold myself.
— Did radio specialists train you?
All the time. How to talk, how to use. We had radio communications through gunner-radio operator. Only squadron commander had direct radio connection. All commands were passed through radio operator. So it took a lot of time, depended a lot on how radio operator understood what was meant. There were misunderstandings.
— Were you satisfied by radio connection?
No, connection via intercom was bad. Technicians tried to do their best, but sometimes only squelching could be heard. It overloaded ears a lot…
— Was your airplane equipped with camera?
Photo camera was not on every plane. Mine was equipped. Leader always had it
and flight commander. The rest did not have one.
We used it to photograph bombing results. It was switched on and off by navigator. If there was no film: flight was not credited as combat mission. And such cases happened.
— How clear it could be seen on these films what was going on the ground?
As soon as bombs were released, camera was switched on. You could see where bomb was falling. And explosions were also seen. But, for example, from an altitude of 4 000 meters you couldn’t see what exactly was on the ground. Not to speak of misty conditions…
— From which altitudes you usually bombed?
From 4 000. But we bombed Konigsberg from 2 000. Because clouds went down, so we made a circle, descended to 2 000. Everything went well, even though they shot at us madly, explosions were all around us, but none of us were shot down…
— Was it difficult to hold battle course?
Yes, main thing is to hold battle course. That’s a guarantee of a hit…
High tension… And it’s not in AAA. No, no one looked at explosions;
all attention was on leader plane… When he released his bombs I ordered:
«Drop». It was important that everybody did it simultaneously.
But interesting things happened. We flew against railway communications in Tartu. Our squadron missed because of navigator Ivan Filippov. I had one bomb in bomb bay that did not fall with the rest, so I had to drop it by emergency release. This one bomb hit fuel train, and it set ablaze whole station.
— Which airplanes you mastered after the war? And at which rank you left service?
Up until 1953 I flew Pe-2. Then, a group of pilots was sent to Voronezh to train on Il-28. They returned with dual-control and combat Il-28 to Debrecen in Hungary. By this time regiment commander was replaced, he changed squadron commanders. Only our squadron had the same commander. I was transferred to another regiment. Then in 1953 I was sent to study at special courses in Taganrog, where we were taught basics of nuclear physics. After I graduated, I was once again transferred to another regiment, which was disbanded in 1958.
— What is your opinion about Khrushchev’s reforms?
I can’t understand what the meaning of that reformation was. If in reducing
the amount of flying crews and airplanes, then why best pilots were fired, and
only those who were not ready to fly at all were left in place. Airplanes were
destroyed not by their combat value, but on basis of numbers. If in 1961 we
were to fight with America, there would be no one to fly the planes…
Speaking of myself, I might be was guilty in my own fate. Our commander suggested me to take a special squadron under command, with a rank of Major. I didn’t know what it was, I thought some sort of transport aviation unit, and refused. Only later I met commander of this squadron, former 34th regiment pilot Dubrovin. It was a special, “nuclear” squadron, equipped with Il-28. It was supposed to use tactical nuclear weapons…
Thus, I demobilized in 1958…