Interview with Rumyantsev Nikolai Andreevich by Oleg Korytov
and Konstantin Chirkin
Redactor: Igor Zhidov
Special thanks to Svetlana Spiridonova and Eugene Rudman
Photo: Rumyantsev, 1945
Rumyantsev Nikolai Andreevich: I was born on 28 May, 1925, in
a Semovo village, where I spent my childhood until the age of 17. It used
to be the Chegodishenskiy district of Leningradskaya Oblast. In 1939, just
before the war, it was given to Vologodskaya Oblast. (Oblast = county).
My grandfather, Artemii Karpov, lived for 101 years. After the revolution he left Petrograd, and lived in his old dacha. (Dacha – it’s something like village house). When he died our family moved there. My dad served in the Tsars army for seven years, and was demobilized because of poor health condition. During GPW, he was an engineering battalion commander in Lodeynoe Pole. Their main task was to dig trenches and build dugouts. My second sister was also in the army, and she was commander of a tractor brigade.
Not all women were enlisted, only those who had some specific specialities, like tractor drivers. My younger sister Maria Andreevna died during the blockade, from hunger in Mechnikov’s hospital. Older sister was crippled, and also died in Leningrad.
Our family was very big – there were five boys and three girls. The girls were oldest, then my older brother was born, but he died at the age of 5. Then I was born. Two of my brothers are still alive. My mom worked at Kolhoz, and was even awarded by Kalinin for great work.
— You lived in the village until the age of 17? Did you finish the
I finished seven years of school, and was about to apply for mechanization college, which was at 70 kilometers from our school. But war broke out, and my life changed drastically.
— Did you have the feeling that war was coming?
There was something in the air... but I was somewhat prepared. There was a voenruk in our school, Pavel Alexandrovich Adrianov, and he always told us:
— Gun powder should always be dry!
And that is what I want to tell you:
— Peace is good thing, but guns should be ready to fire at any moment!
On 22 July, we met at the river bank. There was me, my neighbour Vasilii Gavrilovich and Pavel Merkushev, who came from a nearby village. Very early (I did not have a watch at the time) a horseman came. We understood by the expression on his face that something important had happened. We ran towards him, and he gave us orders:
— Boys, I need your help.
He sent us after the most important people in our village. Selsovet chief came dressed more suited for a sauna… (Selsovet – an administration of the village). He got dressed in a hurry, opened the selsovet and gave out mobilization orders. At 11 or 12 o’clock, we listened to Molotov’s speech. Those who got an order to go to the army were by this time sitting in the beds of the trucks. As we listened to Molotov’s speech, they set off.
Starting on 24 June, 1941, my working life begun. Kolhoz chief, Uncle Misha, gathered the youngsters together and assigned us to different jobs. I thought that, since I was very small, there would be no work for me, but he called my name and told me:
— Here are the keys from the mill, you will be the miller.
— How can I be the miller? I’m too small and weak…
— You will be the chief miller, and you will take notes and stuff, and I will give you a subordinate miller, who will do all the dirty jobs.
From 24 June, 1941 until 25 December, 1942, I was a miller. On 25 December, I was enlisted into the army. At medical commission we all were standing naked at one side of the room, and on the other side was a table, where a commission was seated. Among commission members was a Gypsy guy, and when I said that I want to go to flight school, he told me:
— You will be in my company.
That’s how I ended up in «Lepelskoye voennoe uchilishe Krasnyh komandyrov», it was located in Cherepovec. (Lepelskoe red army officers school). It was evacuated from somewhere in Latvia or Estonia.
On 23 February 1943, we were given new uniforms with shoulder straps.
Photo: Rumyantsev on 23.02.1943. Cherepovec.
— When did you finish your education?
We were taught for four months. January, February, March and April, and we were considered to be ready for practice at the frontline. We were dressed, received all that we needed, but at the last moment an order came that we will have extended training for another four months. So, my training lasted until August 1943. I remember my teachers – they were great! I will never forget how they said:
— Your best friends are stones and bushes! Do not forget to keep low.
And they would drop into the mud to show us how to keep low.
— Did you get an officers rank when you left school?
No. We had to go to the front line for practice. Three battalions, three
companies each were sent to Kharkov. After that we marched to Valuiki railway
station. Housing around it was completely burned down. The station still
exists today, but the village was not rebuilt.
My front line experience started from there in the 734th rifle regiment. When we were lined up at Kharkov, a man with glasses came before us:
— I’m Konev. Drop all heavy stuff on the ground and run to Valuiki.
That’s seventy kilometers away! We started running at 11 or 12 o’clock at night, and by 7 or 8 in the morning we already were at the defined location.
— Did you have weapons with you?
No. When we arrived to Valuiki we were given PPSh’s and PPD’s, but I got only a Nagant revolver.
— Was it a good weapon?
Decent enough. It was quite good on long range, and it fit in the hand quite well… Very stable gun!
— What post did you get at the regiment?
Rifle detachment commander. I had seven men in my detachment. But my commanding time was short. In the first attack I was wounded, and I was wounded a second time in my second fight.
— How long did artillery preparation take place before attack?
It started from both sides, almost simultaneously. It began at 4 o’clock in the morning, and lasted until 8. It was quite effective too. I saw how German pillboxes and bunkers blew up…
— What about aviation?
Quite a lot of Sturmoviks flew…
— As an infantry man, what did you think of the Sturmovik?
Oh… It was such a pleasant view. They would drop hundreds of small bombs… Or sometimes they would drop 250 kilo bombs, and then even our trenches would shake…
— Aviation was represented by Il’s only?
Just before the artillery shelling, U-2’s would come. They would come in close, and we heard how wind whistled in their wiring… Then we would hear an explosion, and then an engine would roar, and they would hurry back. In an hour or two before actual attack time, Il’s and bombers would come…
— Was there fighter cover by our air force?
— Were you bombed?
Several times… Once a week, maybe…
— Who bombed you?
— In your opinion, how effective was their bombing?
At the front line – completely ineffective. Quite commonly bombs fell in the “no man’s land”… They were way too afraid to get into our airspace. It was 1943. Our air force had complete supremacy.
— When you were wounded the first time, how long you were in a hospital?
You know, I did not even notice when I was wounded. I was not in the
first rank already, and suddenly it felt like someone hit me in the head
with a stick… In the evening I went to the kitchen, and someone told me:
— Sergeant, why is your back covered in blood?
Our medic checked my head, and told me:
— You have to go to the hospital!
But I decided that I was still capable of fighting. So he bandaged my head, and I returned to the company. I am still alive due to the fact that I wore a helmet. Otherwise, I should have died…
— As I understand, your detachment was multinational. Was there some
If you were in my detachment, and fought well – who cared, if you were Jewish, black, yellow or blue… Same if you got frightened and ran away – who cared what your nationality was? These problems can arise only in peace time, when there is no way out for aggression.
— How did you get your second wound?
The second wound was by bullet, which hit me right under my knee. I managed to cut it out with my pocket knife.
— Was it quite painful?
The pain came the next day…
— What about your second wound?
It happened near Kremenchug, at night of 13-14th october. That’s when I was sent to the hospital. We were supposed to cross Dnepr, to the south of Kremenchug. For starters we stood in ice-cold water for four or five hours – we couldn’t get out of the water. After we crossed Dnepr in the morning, a mortar shell exploded behind me, fragment damaged my right elbow. A paramedic, a girl, ran to me, bandaged my hand, and fixated it:
— Well, Nikolay, you had it! Wait until night, all of the shore line is under fire.
So I waited until dark…
— Did the Germans shoot paramedics?
They shot all, and did not care who the target was… So in the evening I found a log, and swam across the river.
— How wide was Dnepr at that place?
About 800 meters.
— And how long did you take to cross the river?
About an hour. When I finally came to our shore, I could hardly move. After some rest, I marched for ten kilometers to the field hospital. There was a nightmare – hundreds of wounded were lying there. Since I was able to move, I was sent to Kobylyaki, and then I was loaded onto the medical train. At Kharkov, I was sent to the local hospital – my wounds were itching, and when I moved the bandage to the side, I saw white maggots. It’s quite an unpleasant feeling, when you are being eaten alive… So my wounds were cleaned and I was sent further, to Bobry, near Voronez… There, the hospital was in the former school. Me and my ward mate, Pavel Chernov were in some small room. I remember that he had his whole throat torn to pieces. A doctor checked me, and said:
— We will operate on you tomorrow.
All in all I was operated for seven times… There was an inflammation, and no antibiotics...
— What happened after hospital?
Then I moved to Otrozhki railway station. There was an accumulating point for all of the wounded soldiers who were about to return to active duty. It was in April, 1944. A day passed, another passed, then:
— Artillery men!
Artillery men left our barracks… By this time I had spoken with aviators, and decided to fulfill my dream. Besides, I decided that if death would get me, it would be a lot nicer to simply burn to death, than to rot on the battlefield. So, when an aviation representative came and called aviators out, I stepped out front. He saw my infantry marks, and asked:
— Why have you stepped out?
— I want to be in aviation! If my time comes, I want to die “with music”!
— How is your hand?
My hand was not in the best condition yet, but my handwriting was good.
— Well, start writing the candidates. I need 60 men!
He got his sixty men, and we went to Kuybyshev. We were told that we were sent to aviation school, but it turned out to be gunner school. I had to pass medical commission, but there was some colonel from my village, who recognized me, and arranged a passage for me.
The airfield was located about seven kilometers from city, and we were living in dugouts. There also were about a dozen planes. At first we made 3-4 sorties each, under supervision by doctors. Some of my mates were signed out after this test. Training lasted for two months.
— What did your training consist of?
Radio for two hours, machine gun UBT, aiming.
— Were you told about it’s deficiencies?
Quite commonly belts would tear apart. But that happened due to the fact that we were not looking at the ammo and machine guns, and used what we were given. That’s good enough in peace time, but not in war time. You have to check the weapon by yourself, and then there will be no “hiccups”.
A belt had 180 bullets in it, and if you checked every single one – then you could be sure that there would be no problems. I even used to carry a second belt with me, and if the first one was expended, I could reload my gun. After two months we were raised by alarm:
— Comrades! We are leaving immediately to Kharkov…
Again I had to go to that town. From there we were sent to Chuguev. There was a huge airfield, and on the right half there were our planes, and on the left half there were American bombers with escort fighters.
— By the way, what was your opinion about opening a second front?
At first we had no opinion. It was opened when we did not need it. After all, we decided that it would be better if our allies stayed at the British Isles. They had no idea how to fight modern war, and as the Germans would kick their butts, we would be sent to a new offensive to relieve the pressure on them, without any preparations. American and British success was mostly paid for with Russian soldier lives…
— What were the Americans doing in Chernigov?
They landed at this base after bombing Germans, and then bombed them again on their way back.
So, the time came for us to be spread out to our new crews:
— Five men for 232 ShAP!
So we stepped out... We were introduced to our new commander Tkachev, who directed me to 2nd squad, which was commanded by HSU Piskunov Vasilii. He said:
— Who’s Rumyantsev?
— Do you have combat experience?
— This is your pilot – lieutenant Vorontsov.
He died two years ago… That’s how I got to 2nd squadron of 232nd ShAP, 289th ShAD of 7th ShAK.
As usual in aviation, we “walked through the flights” first, and then we started flying. We made several familiarization flights before we started combat missions. I got lucky again. Vorontsov was squad commander’s wingmen, so we did not fly in the rear of the formation.
— What kind of Il’s did you have? Plain or swept winged?
We had plain wing versions only…
— Did you have a canopy?
Gunner’s canopy? Yes, but we used to remove it in order to increase view… And we had a special rope to tie ourselves to the aircraft. Sometimes gunners would be thrown out of the plane even if they were tied…
— What kind of seat did you have?
On a piece of fabric, about 15 cm wide…
— What kind of armament did you have?
Two cannons, two machine guns in the wings… «Il-2» and «Il-10» the same. UBT as a protection for us.
— Do you remember your tactical number?
Yes, "twenty four". Squad commander loved number “thirteen”. Numbers were black in color... Planes came in a single green color finish. There were stars on the lower wing, fuselage and keel, underside was blue.
— Did your planes carry FRE?
— What about insignias and pictures?
It was forbidden in our regiment.
— What about kill marks?
Yes, we used to draw those.
— Did you have a kill mark yourself?
Only an unconfirmed one.
— Could you tell us about that episode?
Four planes were gaining on us. Blunt-nosed - «Focke-Wulfs». I called my pilot while aiming:
— Yurii – I have four enemy planes in my sight…
And I shot at them… I knew that they were way too far, but I had to warn other gunners about incoming threat, and to show enemy pilots that there will be no surprise here for them. So I made four short bursts.
— How many bullets you could fire in one burst?
It depended on many factors. From one to fifteen usually, but the longer the burst, the more bullets you wasted. Only the first one or two bullets hit the target, all the rest would go elsewhere… One enemy fighter got below us, and I shouted to my pilot:
— Yurii, raise the nose!
That is, I asked to lower our tail in order to be able to shoot at the enemy. So he did, and we with Fokker pilot were shooting at each other. And we both hit. He was faster than we were, so he passed us. I could even see his face, but had no chance to add some more to him – the turret had its limitations…
— Was there a gunsight on your UB?
I can’t remember it’s name now – collimator sight?
— By the way, were there single-seat planes in your regiment?
Not a single one. Starting from 1943 – none. I even knew gunners, who flew as gunners in single-seat planes. For example, Piskunov’s gunner Nikolai Turchin made 240 combat sorties. Our engineers cut a hole in the fuselage behind the pilot’s cabin, and made a turret with ShKAS machine guns…
— Did you have armor for yourself?
Yes, there was a 10mm armored door to the fuselage…
— Any armor on the sides?
No, and there also was no armor below me.
— Some gunners state that they used frying pans to protect themselves from small-arms fire?
No. I do not remember anything like that…
— How long could the Il-2 last?
From April 1944, until 9 May, 1945, we hadn’t changed our airplane.
— How many missions have you flown?
I made 70 sorties. There are quite a few gunners that lasted that long in combat.
— Were you shot down?
We were severely damaged and had to belly-land near the front line…
— Who suffered bigger losses, gunners or pilots?
Most commonly, the whole crew would be lost, but there were some occasions when a pilot came back with the gunner killed. In the 3rd squad, a pilot came back with a killed gunner – he got a direct hit by an explosive shell in the head. This guy was a good artist, and he used to draw a regiment stamp for us, and we even received vodka with these false documents. He was such a cheerful boy… And now he was dead… If I remember correctly, he used to fly with senior lieutenant Trusevich, who should still be living in Moscow.
— By the way; there was a color coded lamp communication system in the Il?
Yes: Red, green, and white in the middle. Before taking off we would agree on the meaning of each lamp.
— Sorry, I interrupted you story about that Fokker…
Oh, yes… That son of a bitch… I even saw his face! Frontline observation post announced that gunner of Il tactical number “24” shot down enemy plane.
When we came back to the regiment, we were seriously shot up, and when we made our approach, the landing gear did not lower, so we made a belly-landing, even though there was an order from the ground to bail out. When the propeller started to catch ground it threw some of the mud into my cabin. I always flew without a canopy…
— All your sorties?
From the first one. I was an experienced man, had fought on the ground in the infantry, and everybody accepted my decisions without any discussion.
…So we landed. An ambulance came, the regiment commander… As I was covered with mud, I was sent to the hospital for check-up, but I was unharmed and needed a bath only… But I did not get a credit for shooting down that Fokker, even though there was a confirmation from ground forces.
Photo: -,Rumyantsev,Voroncov, Zelenin
— You made 70 sorties, was it one flight per day, or 3-4 flights?
It all depended on weather conditions. Yes, some times we flew three times a day, at the Baltic for example, near Neman. By the way – we were escorted by French Normandie-Neman regiment there.
— So, how did you like French pilots? They are commonly accused of being too hungry for kills…
I don’t know… They seemed to be good at covering, at least us…
— By the end of war, had you seen enemy fighters?
At the end – I can’t recall any…
— What caused the most losses – fighters, or AAA?
From small caliber AAA - Oerlikon…
— Were you able to see where they shoot from?
Of course. You see the flashes. And I always wanted to shoot at them. My commander always yelled at me:
— I did not allow you to shoot!
—I’m shooting at the target that I see, or where your bombs blew.
I always wanted to shoot at the enemy…
— Why did he shout at you?
We had to keep ammo for aerial fighting.
— You said that you had a 180-round belt, and you had a second with you.
Yes, the second was lying under my feet, and I held it by stepping on it. But it is not so easy to rearm in flight…
— Did you have any problems with you UB?
No, I always prepared my gun myself, and thus I never had any conflict with it.
— I heard over radio that one gunner made a hatch in the Il’s belly and fired a DP machine gun from it at the ground targets…
I had a pistol and PPSh, and even took it with me to the plane… But to make a hole in the fuselage? That’s lies! For scratching the plane you might get court martialed! We only could kiss our planes! Making holes was left for the enemy.
— How many runs you could make in an attack?
When our regiment fought in Krimea, at Perekop, they made up to thirteen runs. From my memory, we would make four or five, and I remember how the squadron commander used to say:
— Gunners, do not shoot at ground, leave ammo for return flight.
Enemy fighters caught returning planes without any ammunition left. That was specifically common in Baltic area. They would not even attack groups that had not strafed enemy yet.
— Did you hear anything about German aces during the war?
— Did you know who you fought against?
No. Germans, and that was enough.
— How far you could fly into enemy held territory?
Hunters could fly up to two hundred kilometers.
— When a hunter flew out, did he choose the area of operations by himself, or he was given one by staff?
He had an area defined by staff, but had free choice of targets within it. I remember our pilot Dyubanov, with his gunner, flew a hunter mission, their plane was damaged, and he rammed some train. And he fought from the first day of the war, and was killed a few months before war ended… It was February or March, 1945…
— Could you tell us, what was the least desirable mission for you?
The worst mission was hunter mission… It was quite common to become lost in one of those. Bevelo Dmitrii Ivanovich was one of the lucky ones. AAA round hit the pilot’s cabin, the pilot was killed and the plane entered steep dive. Dmitrii was thrown out of the plane, even the cord was torn. After that he wandered for a few days , and finally he made it through the front line.
— Who was his pilot?
Malofeev. It happened in the beginning of May 1945. Bevelo also came from the infantry ranks…
— And what was the best mission?
To sit in the canteen after a flight day. To be honest, there were no missions that we would fly eagerly – death was way too close to us. But we would fly all missions that we were assigned.
— How you were fed?
Fifth norm, plus NZ – canned milk, cookies… (NZ – untouchable supply. It was stored inside of the plane, so that downed crew could have some food. It was forbidden to eat this supply unless the crew got in an emergency situation)
Photo: 1st row: Stepanenko, -, -, -, Dr Novozhilova, Dolgov, -
3rd row -, Lysenko, Lanko, Shapiro, -, Beskresnov, -, -, -, Petrnko, -, -,Turchin, Berilo, -, Rumyantsev.
— Was the canned milk Russian made or American?
Ours. I saw imported canned products only in the infantry, either German or American. We used to call it “second front”.
Because we were completely fed up with promises of “second front”. There was even a widespread joke:
Churchill came to Russian front line and asks Soviet soldier:
- If you would be lucky and captured Hitler, what would you do?
- I would take a metal rod, heat it up to red hot condition and stick it up his ass by the cold side.
- Why by cold?
- So that you, Mr. Churchill, won’t take it out!
Back to supplies… We had cigarettes “Kazbek” and “Belomor” in aviation, while in infantry we would get “Mahra” – chopped tobacco leaves.
— What did you do in your free time?
Different things. I made a set of instruments with colored handles, for example…
— What was the locals attitude towards you?
We lived in their homes, but I saw no locals at all – they either left with the Germans, or were killed during war. Later they started to return…
Photo: Grishenko, Turchin, Rumyantsev, Bartos
— Were you attacked by bandits?
Heard about it only.
— Have you heard about someone being used as gunner for penalization?
No. We had one pilot, a junior lieutenant, who flew so badly that he was transitioned to fly as gunner, but that was it.
— Where were you when the war ended?
The village of Kolomozye, in the Baltic.
— How did you find out about it?
It was a great day. Pilot Mazin came to us… By the way, he got killed in a flight accident, in peace time. He made a forced landing on water, hit the dam, his gunner Petrenko Ivan survived, but Mazin died.
Photo: Dubno, Mazins funeral.
Vorontsov, Istomin, Ivlev, Sinelnikov, Zotov, Akulov, Mazinov, -, -, Rekkonen, Kerilyuk, Rumyantsev, Shevelev, -.
— Let’s return to the Victory day.
Mazin came to our house, firing his pistol:
— Guys! War ended!
We jumped out of the window, in our underwear only, and started firing.
Photo:9th May, 1945. Official announcement of war end to 232 ShAP.
— After capitulation was signed, did you make any sorties?
Four more flights, we bombed somewhere near Klaipeda and Shaulai. Leader was Zinin, and his gunner was Grigoryev. They were shot down, the pilot was killed, while the gunner was captured by the enemy. It happened on 10th May, 1945. All planes were severely damaged that day.
— Who was the enemy?
ROA. (Russian Liberation Army, which was assembled from traitors, White immigrants, and anybody who was willing to fight Red Army alongside with Wermacht). They fought to the last man, because they knew – our soldiers may forgive a German, but not a Russian fighting against Russians… They used to shout:
— We are not Germans, we will not run away!
That was acceptable, and they were simply wiped out by artillery and aviation. In the end there were two or three flyable planes left in our regiment, so we were moved to the rear and received the Il-10
Photo: Miroshnichenko, Voroncov.
— When did you leave active duty?
In 1949, at Mlynovo. I think that’s about all I could tell you.
Photo: Mlynovo, Rumyantsev, 1949