Hurricane O1 Z5252 which was presented to Major-General A A Kuznetzov, Soviet commanding officer in the region
Photo from Mark Sheppard collection(c)
Discovery & recovery
The loss of the Hurricane was discovered in 2001 when a research group of the ‘Federation of Aviarestoration’ found a wartime report whilst going through the Naval archives. The report indicated that a Soviet pilot had undertaken an emergency landing on a small frozen lake to the west of Murmansk. A salvage team had been dispatched at the time but before they could retrieve the Hurricane it went through the ice. It was declared uneconomical to salvage and so was struck off charge.
On 17 August 2003, coincidentally ‘Russian Air Force Day’, the Hurricane was finally located. It had taken a couple of years to search a number of lakes as described in the report, before coming upon the right one. The lake was swept with a magnetometer and a reading was obtained. The team returned in February 2004 with a side scan sonar and the images showed the Hurricane was there, complete and apparently in very good condition.
A team member completed a dive through the ice and found the Hurricane at a depth of 18m and at an angle of 60 degrees nose down. The Hurricane was covered in silt and sat in a 1.5m bed of arctic moss, a common aquatic plant found at the bottom of tundra lakes. Video footage showed the rear fuselage and tail still covered in timber and canvas after 60 years! The video was analyzed later and the serial could clearly be seen stenciled on the underside of the tailplane. On seeing this, the decision was made to raise this historic aircraft.
It would be October 2004, with the onset of the next winter, that the salvage would finally get underway by an invited group of professional divers from the city of Voronesh. They drove three trucks 1200 miles bringing along their metal pontoons and diving equipment.
On 13 October 2004 the recovery commenced in less than ideal conditions, with a temperature of only 3-4 degrees above freezing, driving wind, snow flurries and a choppy lake surface. At the bottom of the lake in poor visibility, a lifting line was connected to the centre section. The initial lift fractured the fragile fuselage structure and the tail with all the timber structure and fabric fell away. The recovery was not going as planned and the conditions were not improving. After the initial lift, the team decided to calm the spirit of the lake by offering her a bottle of whisky! Less than three hours later they were presented with perfect diving conditions with the clouds gone, the sun out and the wind dropped to zero.
The Hurricane was raised to the surface and pulled to the shoreline. Just as the Hurricane was about to leave the water, the discovery was made that she was still fully armed with four RS-82 rockets located on rails to the underside of the wings. The rails and rockets were quickly detached and left at the waters edge. Once the tail was recovered the team could finally relax.
On 14 October the team returned to dismantle the Hurricane. All of the metalwork was in exceptionally good condition and the panels had been stenciled with Z5252. She was still fully armed with the original twelve 0.303 inch Browning machineguns.
The Hurricane was complete; with the only visible damage being a hole in the upper cowling and a hole in the port wing leading edge. The Rolls-Royce Merlin XX seemed to be in excellent condition, having been protected within the silt and moss of the lake bottom.
With the wings off and all of the cowlings removed, Z5252 was loaded onto a wooden sledge and pulled back to base camp, four miles away by Snowcat.
A few days later she was loaded onto a lorry and transported back to Moscow where the final decision on what happens to her would be decided.
Royal Air Force History
Gloster Aircraft Company at Hucclecote, Gloucestershire manufactured Hurricane IIB Z5252 during the summer of 1941. The contract B.85730/40 was for 600 aircraft comprising 150 MkI’s, 33 MkIIA’s and 417 MkIIB’s. Z5252 was constructed as a Tropical variant in the fifth batch of IIB’s in the range Z5252-Z5271.
The R-R Merlin XX recovered was No40519, AM No A218807, one of a batch of 348 built at Crewe to Order No 4700A and Contract B.67950/40. This engine was tested on 26 July and was dispatched on 31 July to an unknown destination. This engine seems to be the original one even though it appears to have been dispatched after Z5252 was reportedly completed.
Z5252 was issued to 5MU (Maintenance Unit) at Kemble, Glos., on 24 July 1941, a unit not that far from the factory before heading to the RAF Station Flt at Ayr, Scotland on 3 August 1941. The last movement recorded on the A.M. Form 78 indicates she was ‘En Route to Russia’ in August 1941. She was one of the initial thirty-nine Hurricanes to be sent to Russia with 81 Sqn and 134 Sqn, 151 Wing and Ayr appears to have been the collection point.
Z5252 was not one of the twenty-four Hurricanes to have been flown off of the aircraft carrier HMS Argus, but was one of fifteen to be transported to Archangel with the convoy.
151 Wing were ordered to operate from Vaenga, an airfield 4 miles NE of Murmansk and the 550 members of the unit were ferried up from Archangel by air, ship and train. Meanwhile, on 3 September, F/Lt V. Gittens and a small team had the task of assembling the crated Hurricanes at Keg-Ostrov, which was on an island 1 mile off Archangel in the River Dvina.
On 9 September P/O R. Holmes flew in an I-153 ‘Chaika’ on a local Recce to familiarise himself with the area before later testing the first three Hurricanes. Over the next few days all were completed and air tested. P/O R. Holmes, F/Lt M. Rook, and P/O R. Woolaston did a display in front of a crowd of Russia VIP’s. Z5252 itself was air tested by P/O Woolaston on 11 September.
On 12 September, the first nine Hurricanes led by F/Lt Rook, left Keg-Ostrov and headed NW on the long flight to Afrikanda, near Kandalaksha. A Russian bomber escorted them so that ground troops and Russian shipping could not mistake the formation. After arriving at Afrikanda, they were refueled, but two could not be restarted. (Only seven and the nine flew onto Vaenga on 12 September).
On 16 September the final six Hurricanes, were ready to complete the flight. Led by P/O Holmes, the route was as before and after refueling, the group flew on to Vaenga. Sgt J. Mulroy of 81 Sqn flew Z5252 to Vaenga and on arrival she was kept as a reserve aircraft.
On 25 September Major General A. A. Kuznetsov, who was the Commanding Officer, Naval Air Forces, Soviet Northern Fleet (VVS SF) arrived to test fly a Hurricane. He was an expert pilot with many thousands of hours to his credit and nobody doubted his ability to fly the Hurricane for the first time. Kuznetsov was presented with his own Hurricane and the roundals and fin flash in Z5252 were painted over, and Russian stars and the number ‘01’ were added on the fuselage side.
Not much changed after the Kuznetsov flight, but everyone knew the Wing was to start functioning as an OTU (Operational Training Unit). Patrols would of course continue but the training of the selected pilots and ground crew by 151 Wing, was to become the number one priority.
On 11 October offensive operations for 151 Wing ceased and the last defensive flight was undertaken on 17 October against some incoming He111. For the next nine days the Squadron pilots concentrated on converting the Soviet pilots and ground crews to the Hurricane. On 20 October the order was given to hand over the remaining thirty-five airworthy Hurricanes to the VVS SF.
On 26 October a Bf110 was claimed, the first enemy aircraft shot down by a Russian Hurricane. Two days later the fighter regiment of 78IAP VVS SF was formed to became the first Soviet Hurricane squadron.
151 Wing then went to Murmansk, where they were loaded aboard a returning convoy back to the UK. Most sailed on the cruiser HMS Kenya, which arrived back in Rosyth on 7 December 1941. (For the full story of 151 Wing, see ‘To Russia with love’ – March/April 1997).
With 151 Wing leaving Russia, 78IAP began to carry out major operations. Kuznetsov, as the highest ranking officer in the region, would not have undertaken any operations himself, instead he would have flown Z5252 between bases within his area of command.
On 1 November Capt. Boris Safonov HSU (Hero of the Soviet Union) became the commanding officer of 78IAP having previously been squadron leader of 4./72SAP flying I-16’s.
On 17 December Safonov was involved in a combat in which he claimed a Bf109E of Jagdgruppe z.b.V. shot down. Safonov was forced to head home with a broken connecting rod in the engine and had to force land his Hurricane on a frozen lake near the front line. He was picked up by a Po-2 and flown back to his unit. Bf109E’s destroyed Safonov’s Hurricane on 11 January 1942 before it could be salvaged. With the loss of his aircraft, it seems Safonov then began to fly Z5226, another Ex-151 Hurricane.
On the 18 January 1942, the high scoring 72SAP were awarded ‘Guards’ status. The difficulty was that this award went to the pilots of 72SAP who had fought the Luftwaffe prior to the arrival of the 151 Wing. In mid September 1941, the most experienced fighter pilots from this unit went on to be trained on the Hurricane and in October had formed the three fighter squadrons of 78IAP. For this reason, it was 78IAP pilots (originally from 72SAP) who then transferred in March to the new mixed aircraft regiment of 2gvSAP (to join the surviving bomber squadron from 72SAP). The 72SAP fighter element within 2gvSAP then transferred out to carry on as 78IAP. It was a complicated way of moving around the fighter element to credit the ‘Guards’ status to the right team.
Around this time, Safonov asked Chief Engineer Sobolevsky to look at altering the standard Hurricane armament. On 24 February Major Kukharenko, squadron leader of 3./78IAP flew a rearmed Hurricane fitted with two 20mm ShVAK cannons and two Berezin UBT 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Additionally, by March, most Hurricanes were also fitted with two number RS-82 unguided rockets rails to the underside of each wing.
A promoted Lt.Col. Safonov took command of 2gvSAP on 20 March and on 29 March Z5252 was ‘transferred’ from 78IAP to 2gvSAP (The same redesignated unit). Two weeks later Z5252 was taken on charge with the staff flight of 2gvSAP and was probably flown by Safonov on a number of occasions.
On 15 May Safonov took delivery of one of the first lend lease Curtis P40E, serial 41-13531 and it was most likely coded ‘white 10’. His time flying the P40E was short lived; on 30 May, Safonov was killed in his P40E went down into the Arctic Ocean. It is still unclear whether he suffered engine failure or was actually the victim of Fw. R. Müller of 6./JG5 who claimed two P40’s shot down on this day. Two weeks later Safonov was posthumously awarded a HSU for a second time. The unit started to call themselves ‘Safonovtsy’ after their fallen leader and following Safonov’s loss, Z5252 was transferred from the staff flight to 3./2gvSAP.
The final reference to Z5252 was in the inventory lists of 2gvSAP stating that on 26 June 1942 she ‘failed to return from enemy mission’. To start with, this recorded date was not necessarily the actual date lost. In the archive, it was found that Z5252 had failed to return on 2 June, over three weeks earlier.
On 2 June between 14.10 and 14.50MT (Moscow Time), seven Hurricanes of 2gvSAP were involved in air combat by lake Njal-Javr, west of Murmansk with twelve Bf109E’s belonging to the eighth staffel, Jadgeschwader 5 (8./JG5). In the ensuing combat, three Hurricanes of 3./2gvSAP were shot down. Sgt. V.A. Vanjukhim was killed and S.Sgt. P.D. Klimov had to force land 2.5 miles west of Murmansk. (Both Hurricanes were listed as full loses).
Note: S.Sgt. Klimov returned to his unit on a horse and was forever joked about it. Klimov also survived the war, being made a HSU with 11+16 (11 solo and 16 shared victories).
The third loss was Lt. P.P. Markov who was flying Hurricane Z5252. In the ensuing combat, he suffered four hits to his fuel tank, electrical panel (which consequentially caused the electric circuit to fail and why the RS-82’s had not be fired), an explosive round to the port wing and one bullet hole in the top engine cowling which missed the engine. With no electrical power, Lt Markov was forced to put down on a small frozen lake 4 miles west of Murmansk. Even though it was early June, the winter of 1941 was one of the coldest on record and the lakes were still partially frozen. Lt. Markov completed a perfect belly landing on the ice, exited Z5252 and headed for the settlement of Mishukovo. He was later brought back to his unit at Vaenga by motorboat.
At 19.00MT, Lt. Markov wrote a report stating that Z5252 was still in good condition and salvageable. A salvage team was sent to recover the Hurricane but on arriving at the lake, there was nothing to be seen. The thinning ice had given way and Z5252 had sunk to the lake bottom. It was deemed to difficult to salvage and Z5252 was written off from the records.
During this combat, two pilots of 8./JG5 had three claims confirmed. Staffelkapitän Oblt. Hermann Segatz scored two at 13.20CET (Central European Time –1hr behind MT) and Fw. Heinz Beyer scored one at 13.22CET. Both were experienced pilots, scoring a final tally of (34) for Segatz (KIA 8.3.44) and (33) for Beyer respectively.
Lt. Markov did claim a Bf109F shot down in SU 5890 (8 miles West of Murmansk) but according to Luftwaffe records, no Bf109’s from JG5 were recorded as lost on this day.
Lt. Markov did not survive the Great Patriotic War. On 16 January 1943 he was killed in a flying accident when his Hurricane HL555 ‘72’ of 1./78IAP flew into a hill at Vaenga in fog.
In 1996 a Hurricane displayed in a Russian Museum as ‘Z5252’ was brought to the UK and purchased by Hugh Taylor. Although initially registered as ‘Z5252’, it was discovered that its true identity was actually Z5053. Its registration has been altered accordingly.
The current plan is to gift this historic Hurricane to Russia and restored her to flying condition. She would be restored in the same colours she operated in the Arctic Circle with 78IAP/2gvSAP during 1941-42. Having restored her, she would be based in Russia and could be seen at airshows around the world.
Currently the recovery team is actively sourcing an investor to help with this mammoth task. It would be nice to think that one of the new Russian companies might be able to finance this restoration as a tribute to the importance of ‘lend-lease’ supplies and as an active memorial to the millions who died during the GPW.
Thanks must go to Jim Pearce and Boris Osetinsky for allowing me to write about this remarkable Hurricane and to Kjetil Aakra, Vladimir Chernyshov, Peter Kirk, Dave McDonald, Rune Rautio, Gerhard Stemmer and Mirek Wawrzynski for their help in compiling the article.
Illustrations © Kjetil Aakra 2006
Photos © Boris Osetinskij 2006