Home Articles Interview with Aleksandr Vasylyevich Dudakov, Hero of the Soviet Union, Major General of aviation

Interview with Aleksandr Vasylyevich Dudakov, Hero of the Soviet Union, Major General of aviation

by Oleg Korytov

Aleksandr Vasylyevich Dudakov: On 7 March 2009, I will celebrate my 90th birthday. I was born in 1919 in a village Soglasovka, Berkovskii rayon, Penza district where I spent my childhood. My mother was a peasant, father was a laborer, and an old soldier: he fought in three wars: WWI, Civil war and this one (GPW). During GPW he did not fight as a soldier with a rifle, but as a carpenter with an axe, he built railway stations… Right before I went to school, our family moved to Rtishev in Saratov district. By the way, I hold a title “honorary citizen of Rtishev”.
In Rtishev I graduated from 10th grade, and was sent by Komsomol to Engels VVAUL (flight school).

— Did you learn to fly in aeroclub?

No. In 9th grade we all were called to raikom (regional committee of Komsomol) and sent to medical commission. A lot of boys in Rtishev were called in. Almost every one… But only six were found fit.
After finishing 9th grade I went to Soglasovka. But when I came there I received a letter from my father: “Return, you are called to raikom”. When I returned, all six of us were sent to Saratov. There we went through another medical commission, even more rigorous then previous one. There also was a mandate commission. I didn’t understand the difference between pilot and technician. At mandatory commission they asked:
— Would you like to become a pilot or a technician?
I replied:
— Technician.
— Why technician? You have only 5-s? (In Russia grades are numerical and 5 is the highest one). Go to the pilots!
I agreed – there was no difference to me.

— What year it was?

It was 1936. We were sent from Saratov to Engels. Once again we were checked by medical and mandate commissions. Then there were exams. Russian language – written dictation and written exam in math. We had three hours for math. I finished it in one hour. They checked it and I got five.
I was sent to the most advanced class at 111th department. It consisted of only 30 men. No one was asked to be a navigator, we all were accepted as pilots. Transition period started, so called “grinder”. We were told:
— You will not go to kitchen duty, you will study: eight hours with a teacher and six hours by your self.
It was tremendous pressure. As I remember now, the most difficult subject was “aerodynamics” or “theory of flight”, as it was called. Captain Krashevich, our instructor in aerodynamics, introduced himself and familiarized himself with each of us. So we started. We finished “the grinder” in one winter. At spring we started flying.

— How aerodynamics was tought to you? Was it all in theoretical sequence or applied one related to specific aircraft?

In aerodynamics there are plenty of formulas, but Krashevich called his subject “theory of flight” and the emphasys was on what is needed in practice.

— Which airplane you studied first?

Along theory we studied U-2 — very nice, simple for primary training airplane. We studied it and begun flying. Flight program was called initial flight training. First flight was with instructor, but we flew together. First, second flight… From now on cadets flew and instructor would only correct them when needed.

— Did he correct you by word or by action?

By both. There was a communication device; it was attached to the ear. Instructor told how we should act. We both had a stick. If there was something wrong — instructor would interfere immediately. He helped by both, advice and by showing what to do.
I can’t help but to admit that I flew the best in my flight unit. Out of thirty men several cadets were expelled as they were unfit to fly. As I remember now, one was expelled, so he returned to the third course of Saratov Economical Institute, from where he was drafted. Four more people were transferred from our advanced course to a regular one. Only 21 most educated and best cadets remained in our class.
I was ready to fly solo, when I suddenly got sick with malaria. You know, I already had suffered from malaria in my childhood. Not a single other disease. Now I got sick again. We were in the field, when body temperature rose, they sent me to hospital and begun to stuff me with quinine. I was there for over one week, before I could return. I was very worried, since I thought that I might be expelled. Vladimir Kukarskii, my instructor, suggested a “box” flight to me. I made it. Then he ordered a second flight. I made it as well. Flight commander Lushik came:
— Well, Dudachkov, lets make a box.
He said Dudachkov instead of Dudakov, affectionate form of pronouncing my name— he liked me for good piloting.
I made another “box”.
— Make one more.
I made it again. Instructor came. Kukarskii and Lushik talked among them. Kukarskii then orders to technician:
— Borodulin, bring a sack.
That’s to keep center of gravity in place, they put a bag of sand in the front cabin instead of instructor. I made two flights, and reported. Instructor and flight commander congratulated me. It was a tradition to buy a box of “Kazbek” (cigarette brand) and to present it to all on such occasion, starting from instructor and flight leader. One box was not enough and I bought one more. By the way, I wasn’t smoking then yet.
It was such a joy! I was the second in class to fly solo, only Aleksandr Maksimov flew before me. It was an unbelievable joy!

— How many training flights did you make before you soloed?

I don’t remember now. But I remember that I haven’t flown a single extra flight. The program consisted in some 20 training flights.

— Was it in 1936?

It was at the beginning of 1937. Then, when I still was a cadet, I completed training in R-5.
Actually, training time those days was three and a half years, but I studied for two years. Our course contingent was very special. We all – 21 men, were left to work as instructors, because we were most educated theoretically and flew better then the rest. Aleksandr Maksimov was signed off flying duty because of poor vision later, even though he flew well. They promoted him to a rank of lieutenant, and he became physical training teacher. He was good sportsman. He was a good lad.

— During those days a war was going on in Spain. Some of your instructors might be…

Absolutely correct, one comrade came from Spain, and he became a commander of our unit (there were 3 flights in the unit).

— Who was he?

It’s getting difficult to memorize. Captain Perlov was a company commander… No, I forgot the name.
Of course he told us about Spanish war, but I have very little in my mind: our I-16 fighters were there, and that our aviation kicked the enemy well, including the Germans. But then Germans sent Messers there. Those Messers got even. And that we needed another aviation. That kind of talks stays in my mind.

— While you trained did you master two or three airplane types?

As a cadet I mastered U-2 and R-5. Then I worked as an instructor for a year. I graduated a group of 10 or 12 cadets on U-2 and not a single one was expelled. Then I graduated a similar group on R-5. One cadet was expelled.

— Could you have trained him?

Some were completely expelled; some were transferred to the main course. I think, that one was completely expelled. When I was an instructor for the third year, the war erupted. I was training my cadets on SB.

— How did you find out about the war?

It was a weekend. Youngsters went where they wanted, I went to Saratov. I heard: “WAR”, and quickly returned. We kept flying as usual. I kept training my cadets on SB…
We were seriously beaten in 1941.
All instructors, who were not married, demanded to be sent to the front, I also asked to be sent. But I was not allowed, and I kept flying as SB flight instructor. A group was formed, and they left for the front. Another group was formed on R-5. I again asked to be sent with them, and again I was not allowed. That group also flew away.
By the end of 1941 B-25 Mitchells begun arriving at Monino, and at the beginning of 1942 several instructors were sent for training on them. We came to Monino and started training in new airplanes. We all previously studied German language, but here equipment was American. We made inscriptions with translation. Some instruments were as usual: artificial horizon — is artificial horizon everywhere.

— Were there problems with altimeter, it must have been in feet?

No problems. It was twin arrowed.

— Was B-25 equipped with American guns?

Yes, American and very good too. At first we had B-25C. It was the same airplane as C, D or G, but C had the following armament layout: lower extendable turret with two large caliber machine guns, upper turret with two .50 caliber machine guns. I have to say it – good guns.

— What about four machine guns operated by a pilot and a gun in the nose for navigator?

Not on every plane. Most commonly there was only one gun for navigator in the nose.
When we started flying, it became clear that the lower turret was completely blind, and useless. We asked to move the guns to the tail. Americans reacted quickly, next type – D had a machine gun in the tail. (Version D-25 and D-30 were equipped with such gun arrangement – IG)
Somewhere in 1944, I think, it was G type, they placed two guns in the tail, completely removed the lower turret and added two waist guns. Gunners could fire them to the sides. That was the armament. And crew consisted of six men instead of five…
There was difficult situation. Battlefront was near Moscow then, at the Gzhatsk area, now it is called Gagarin. We bombed, for example, Vyazma or Smolensk, searchlights caught airplanes, AAA begun firing at them, but they rarely actually shot somebody down. Germans used to have twin-engine airplane Me-110. It had good range and its armament consisted of 2 cannons and 2 large caliber machine guns. It was crewed by a pilot and navigator. So, our airplane is caught in the searchlights, AAA fires. Meanwhile Messer gets behind it, tracking it by exhaust flashes, and follows it. We were based at Chkalovsk, Monino and Serpuhov. He followed us there. Just imagine: our airplanes are coming to the home base, situation awareness drops, and machine guns are put in transport positon. Me-110 comes close and shoots them down. They downed several airplanes this way. Can’t say exactly how many, but no more then five. We were informed about new tactics. Thanks God I was never attacked.
After the war ended I was the 22nd BAD commander, I had 4 regiments under command, three flew Tu-16 and the fourth flew Tu-22. This regiment commander was Alexei Grigoievich Gomola. He was one head taller then me, wider in shoulders, handsome man. He also flew during the war.
We sat and talked, and then he told me:
— A was shot down near Serpuhov. Right after the fourth turn the enemy fighter approached us and gave us a burst of fire. Our gunner was killed right away. Thanks God bullets and shells passed me. I had to force land. I lowered landing gear, but it collapsed on touchdown, so I made belly landing…
I told him how I shot enemy fighters during return. There were cases. There were three regiments in our division. Our regiment was sent to Chkalovskoe…

— What were division and regiment numbers?

Ours 125th regiment later became 15th Guards (in March of 1943), and even later became 15th Guards Red Banner, Sevastopol. The 37th regiment became 13th Guards. Another regiment, I forgot it’s former number (16th BAP – IG), became 16th Guards (14th Guards – IG). (From July 1942 they were part of the 222nd Bomber Division of Long-range Aviation (4th Guards Division from 26 March 1943).
If we returned from the North, we overflew Klin, Zagorsk, and then some went to Chkalovsk, some to Monino. If we returned from the South, we flew over Serpukhov, then along Oka River, and once again back to our fields. I do not remember now, where we bombed, Vyazma or Smolensk… Here (at Monino) the ground level is about 400 meters above sea level. So we were returning to base, passed Klin. Gunner- radio operator reports:
— Commander, below-behind an airplane trails us.
I replied:
— Ye-e-e-es?! Daddy, look out!
Vasiliy was seven years older then me, so I called him “Daddy”. I switched-on radio altimeter. 450 meters, 420 meters, I cant descend lower then that. I asked:
— What’s behind us?
— He is at the same altitude as we are, and closing.
I said:
— Ye-e-e-es?! Look out. I’m going to play “Suliko” now. (Suliko is the title of a popular Georgian song with a rather slow rate)
And I extended flaps. Minimal speed, at which I can stay in the air is lower, then the fighter’s one. In order not to overshoot me, he banked to the right, The moon had lit the fascist symbols on the wing. Daddy couldn’t contain himself, and fired a long burst. I asked:
— You didn’t fire at one of ours, did you?
— No, commander. It was Messer, and I clearly saw swastika. There he burns, on the ground!
I told to the navigator: “Mark the spot”.
The fighter was very close, and the long burst must have killed the pilot. The pilot fell on the stick, but the earth was too close and he fell and caught fire. We returned and reported about this.
The regiment commander took our navigator and the gunner, and they flew to Klin in Li-2. They took a Jeep to get to the crash site. Upon their return they announced:
— The 110th was shot down.
The gunner was decorated with an order and I received a citation. That’s how it was.
Later we shot down the second one, I saw it myself. We were told that we shot down the third one, but I never saw it myself, so I do not want to talk about what I did not see. I saw two myself.

— Let’s return to SB. This airplane had good handling characteristics, was considered to be easy and nice in handling. Would you agree?

SB was nice in piloting characteristics. It had a good speed too. When it was used in Spain, even Messers sometimes couldn’t catch up with him. But it became obsolete.

— Did you fly Pe-2?

No. throughout the war I flew on B-25 Mitchell.

This aircraft was flown by Aleksandr Fedorovich Popov

— Standard bomb load for Mitchell was 1,500 kilograms, if I remember correctly. Is that true?

We carried 2 tons all the time. Normal load was 2X500 and 4X250. We also carried small bombs in containers, instead of FAB-250s. When container was dropped, it opened and small bombs were spread over large area.

— How long did it take you to master Mitchell?

I was appointed as co-pilot to Deputy Squadron Commander Karasev. He was already experienced in flying it. We made one flight. Taxied to the parking. Our regiment was based in the forest. We came to canteen, had something to eat. Then I heard:
— Dudakov, regiment commander summons you.
I arrived to the Commander.
— Where did you come from?
I replied:
— From Engels. I was an instructor there for 3 years. Flew U-2, R-5 and SB.
— Really? Tomorrow we will go together for inspection flight.
On the following day that same Karasev flew with me to the zone, we made one or two box flights, and he allowed me to fly solo.
B-25 was such a nice and simple airplane, that I think it was easier to fly than U-2 trainer. Two engines and two tail fins. It was an obidient aircraft. And it had tricycle landing gear too. I loved this airplane. It was my luck that I was sent to fly it.

— Americans recall that there was a severe vibration?

I never felt any vibration.

— Wasn’t it uncomfortable at first to fly a plane with nose wheel?

I didn’t feel myself uncomfortable at all. Nose wheel simplified the handling. On take off: push throttles, gain speed, pull steering wheel, cleared from the ground, raised landing gear and off you go! On landing: touched down, it runs, nose wheel touches the ground, slightly apply brakes and that’s it. It was so simple to pilot it that I have nothing else to say.

— How tolerable was B-25 to the quality of a landing strip?

We flew from ordinary concrete runway. I never flew from grass strip, but there was a regiment that did. It required larger distance to take off then. It was much easier to fly from concrete strip.

— As an ADD pilot were you under command of Golovanov?

It’s good that you remember this man. People have forgotten him by now, while he is the one to be remembered. He did a great job: organized 18th Long Range Air Army, became a commander of long range aviation. (18th Air Army was established in December 1944 and was subordinate to the VVS Commander, while disbanded ADD (Long Range Aviation) under command of Golovanov was a separate force reporting directly to Stavka – IG)
Golovanov was reporting to Stalin, and due to heavy losses he suggested to him to reassign Long Range Aviation to night actions. Stalin had agreed. The crews were transitioned and retrained to night missions on B-25 and DB-3F, which was later renamed as Il-4. Losses were immediately reduced. Golovanov should be credited for this.
Apart from that he wanted to be subordinate not to VVS, but to Stalin personally, and to receive all orders from the Supreme Commander. However, VVS Commander did not like this. I think that Golovanov went too far with this.
(It was not Golovanov who wanted to report directly to Stalin, but it was Stalin who made this decision and was in sole control of this strategic arm untill he decided otherwise in December 1944 and changed the status of Long Range aviation from an independent force to one of the Air Armies subbordinate to VVS Commander – IG)

— Did you begin to fly night missions straight away, or day missions?

Thanks God, I did not fly day missions. I did make several flights, but not combat ones. Some of us flew reconnaissance missions during day time. It was good when the weather was bad. B-25 couldn’t outrun Messer, so they returned back with holes. They escaped in the clouds. Then we retrained to fly at night. First combat mission was to Kursk. There I got it all!

— What was operational range for your regiment sorties?

Mostly we flew for about 5-6 hours. Then, when we added extra fuel tank in the bomb bay, we could fly for over seven hours. Usually we flew at about 200-220 miles per hour. One mile is equal to 1,6 kilometer. When extra fuel tanks were used we carried 4X250 bombs on external hard points. But we did not like it, and begun flying with 4 FAB-250 or 2 FAB-500 in bomb bays with this tank. And we flew for more then seven hours.
Very long missions were for “special assignments”. What’s that? This is for parachuting agents in the enemy’s rear. We were not allowed to talk about it before, but now everybody talks about it, not knowing what actually was done, they even publish articles in newspapers.
Regiment commander summoned me:
— Choose five crews, yours will be sixth. You will be parachuting agents.
We got extra fuel tank, so I could fly for about 14 hours without landing. I carried agents from Ramenskoye airfield.
I dropped an old man with a big belly and very beautiful young women 16-17 years old 12 kilometers east of Mzensk-Mozarezkii, that’s near Warsaw. I got an order to drop them only if I will have a signal – 3 bonfires. I took this mission myself. We flew there, and I dropped them precisely — they landed just at these signals.
Then we dropped them all over Poland, Germany and Baltic from an altitude of 300-400 meters so that they will not get carried away to far by wind.
When we started dropping agents to the deep rear of our enemies and allies, we received briefings and drop-off points from some General from Chief Intelligence Directorate of General Staff. Once he told us:
— We have very important agent — SS Major, that same one, who guarded Paulus during the war and when he was a POW in Suzdal.
I said:
— Give this mission to me.
This general took out a large scale map of Berlin:
— You have to drop him 80 kilometers West of Berlin. Into this forest, here is a small glade.
I said:
— Give it to me.
I asked my navigator:
— What do you think, will we be able to find it?
— Commander, it’s a full moon night, the only thing to wish is for no low clouds. I will find it, no problem.
We arrived, Berlin was lit by electricity, and trams were running. We made one pass, another one, and from the third pass we dropped him. How we did it – there were two hatches in B-25, inner and outer. When we were going to drop agents, the outer hatch was removed completely. Then we opened the inner hatch, an agent would sit with parachute, a co-pilot would get out of his seat, attach the extending cord and push the agent out. He would fall, parachute would open, and that is all. That’s how I dropped him. I transmitted by radio:
— Mission accomplished.
They replied to me:
— He already communicated with Moscow.
Just imagine: he had to hide his parachute, set-up a transmitter… But he already had sent a message. Very efficient! Maybe because of his SS background… When I dropped him and returned to base, the General met with me. He thanked me.
Can you imagine, how many agents did we drop? Let’s say we made 12 flights each. I made a lot of these missions myself. And I picked best crews too, because we dropped people, live people, instead of bombs. It was not an option to drop them somewhere else.
We were thanked for this SS Major, for those poles. Hungarian beauty with gorgeous eyes, I dropped east of Brno in Czechoslovakia. I took this mission for myself too. I said:
— Well, darling, goodbye!
— Goodbye. — She shook my hands — We will meet after the War.
— Where?
— Near Lenin mausoleum.
For four years, while I studied in the Academy, I used to come to Moscow and wait there. For two years I studied in the General Staff Academy in Moscow. Almost every day I came to Mausoleum. But we never met. Ten or fifteen years ago my friend, General Silovoy , Chief Navigator of Long-Range Aviation, called me:
— Aleksandr, Slovaks invited us. We are assembling at 10 o’clock at metro station.
We gathered together, and went to the Embassy, where the Ambassador and some girls met us. Oh, and there were 10 or 12 civilian people with us, including 3 women. It was a reception. They served met us with cognac, champagne, white wine, hor d’evres, some other stuff. I got myself a drink. For the first time in my life I was called “Mister”. The Ambassador announced me:
— Mister General Dudakov!
Speeches begun. Chief Navigator Fedor Stepanovich Silovoy gave me the word. So I said:
— Besides what Mister Ambassador said as well as our Chief Navigator, I will add a bit.
And I told them what I said to you…
One woman looked at me, and turned around, looked again, and turned around. Slovak officer, a Captain, who stood besides me said:
— What if she is here?
I replied:
— Maybe she is here, but over 50 years had passed, I might be unable to recognize her.
When we were about to leave, I wanted to talk to that women, but the Ambassador stopped me and we talked a little bit. When I left him, I couldn’t find her. I wanted to talk to here so much, I believe that she was one of those I dropped there. She couldn’t hold herself and left. I left too… Can you imagine this? That’s how it was.

— Let’s return to your first combat mission, when you “got it” over Kursk.

Oh, that was frightening. We bombed Kursk. My navigator was Aleksandr Popov. Before the mission we received an order, where it was stated from which altitude we should drop bombs. 3000-4000 meters, I do not remember now. We were coming close to target, when the navigator said:
— Commander, you know, the altitude will be about 500 meters lower then required.
So what? Not so critically lower! But I pushed throttles forward. Sound volume increased, and searchlights immediately caught us. Antiaircraft artillery commenced fire. Shells were exploding around and we could feel the smell of explosives in the cockpit. Can you imagine? For the first time in my life my hair stood up. I pushed throttles fully forwards, speed increased, and I begun to make small turns. The gunners reported:
— Commander, shells explode above-behind, again above-behind…
I increased speed, and, thanks God, made it away. I escaped, engines were working fine. From Kursk I set course straight to Chkalovskoye. When I returned, everybody kept asking:
— How come they did not shoot you down?
It was my luck they didn’t. And what was the difference from which altitude to bomb, three, three and a half or four?
The target was about three kilometers long, 500 meters wide. Get over it, open the bomb bays and drop the bombs.
But I was frightened. There was another frightening mission. All of our missions we flew at night. But by the end of the war we had to fly day missions. We had complete air supremacy by this time. Regiment commander never actually flew, such a dumb. I can’t even think of him calmly. Only because of him I received a title of the Hero of the Soviet Union (HSU) only after the war. He ordered me:
— You will lead the regiment.
So I did… We bombed Wroclaw in Poland. The altitude was about 3 000 meters. Near the target a small caliber AAA hit me. One shell hit me in the left engine and exploded there. Gunners shouted:
— Commander, left engine and fuel!!!…
But it was my luck – fuel pipe was fractured, but on the opposite side from the exhaust. The fuel leaked, but on the opposite side. Oil and hydraulic fluids leaked too. I gave full throttle to another engine and switched the damaged one off. The airplane loaded with two tons of bombs flew with a descend. We were descending more and more… AAA kept firing. I said to the navigator:
— Do not drop bombs on our troops, or we might get shot.
Navigator shouted in reply:
— Commander, a few more seconds.
Then AAA fire stopped in an instant. Our troops on the ground saw that I was going on a single engine, and they shelled the German AAA sites. The altitude was 1000 meters by this time. Minimal altitude of bomb release was 500 meters. Then I finally saw that bomb bays opened, a lamp flashed. Thanks God, bombs away… I turned in a “pancake” manner, and went to our territory. I flew on one engine for almost an hour and landed in Chenstokhovo. My wingmen, Alexei Fadeev and Petr Bobrov asked for a permission and landed too. I checked a pressure in hydraulic lines, extended landing gear and landed. A thought appeared that I had to clear landing strip, so I pressed right brake and left the runway. Can you imagine such luck! Both, the airplane and the crew were safe! No one was shot down and I made it back too!
I switched off the engine, left the co-pilot and the gunner to guard airplane. All others boarded Fadeevs airplane and flew with him back to our home base. On a second or a third day I flew my airplane back to base.

A.Dudakov and regiment commander (in a Jeep). Uman airfield, 26.08.1944.

— How well B-25 flew on a single engine?

It flew well without bombs. When bombs were loaded it couldn’t maintain level flight and flew with descent.

— Were there problems with spares for B-25?

I can’t really say, they sent us all we needed. I have to admit that it was a very reliable airplane. Our best engines worked for 300 hours, Wright-Cyclones on B-25 had a life up to 500 hours.

— Your crew consisted of…

Five or six men. Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, radio operator-gunner and one or two gunners. Six men were enough. There was no need to increase or decrease the number of crew members. Otherwise there would be not enough people to operate machine guns.
Two pilot cockpit was a good decision; we also came to this later. The one who sat in the right seat was studying. I, as an instructor pilot believe that it was easier to teach the co-pilot from right seat to fly in poor weather conditions, blind landings… It was really important thing.

— During the war did you fly according to the flight manual? Were there regular checks of flying technique?

Of course, before I certified any pilot, I checked him in the air personally and checked how he flew. If I, as an instructor, was fully satisfied with his capabilities, I would let him fly combat missions. If I was not happy I kept flying training missions with him.
I couldn’t let fly a pilot, who was not ready, if I felt that he might perish. Then I will be not a squadron commander but a dumb. How can I let my comrade to get unprepared and get killed?

— Did your regiment suffer large losses during war?

Our 125th regiment flew SB from the first day of the war. In one month it was totally wiped out. I do not know how exactly they flew, most likely day missions. After that our regiment was sent to Samara and received Pe-2. It went to Leningrad, there it lasted longer – it lost all it’s planes in 3,5 month. When I arrived at Monino and crews were training to fly B-25, it was the third set of crews. We did suffer losses on B-25s too, but very few were shot down, most of them crashed on landings in complex weather conditions. Up to 10 crews were lost this way.

— What about the airplanes?

Who counted them… New airplanes would arrive when needed…

— What else do you remember from Lend-Lease program?

Nothing. We had everything ours.

— Didn’t you have American leather coats?

We had no American clothing at all, everything was our.

— Fur-lined overalls? Or cotton-filled jackets and trousers?

Fur ones, very warm. But we did not like them. They were heavy and somehow restricted movement.

— What did you fly in during summer? In overalls or regular uniform?

In summer we flew in blue overalls.

— Did you receive American food? Usually canned meat is remembered as a “second front”

Can’t recall anything. I believe we had everything ours.

— Did you eat anything during long flights?

We had rations. We also took tea with us and a sandwich. That’s all.

— Did you have chocolate to boost your concentration?

We received chocolate for long range flights. But for very long ones.

— Flights were long, and you had to relieve yourself? How did you solve this problem?

Without leaving our seats. Each had a device. Of course there was no way to solve “big” problem.

— Where the relationships within a crew friendly or business-like?

Usually the crew becomes so cohesive that relationships were very good, closer to friendly. Each one clearly understood that his mistake could cost lives of all crew. You must understand that everybody went over the top. After landing we discussed how everything went, I would say who made a mistake and which one exactly. But without too much noise.

— We talked to the HSU Titovich, he said something like this: “The State erected a monument to me, but I would like to have a monument for my crew chief nearby”. Could you agree with this? That is, heroism of the flight crew is not possible without heroism of the ground crew.

I wouldn’t say so. Relationships between commander and technician are good, because he looks after the airplane like after himself. But to make such a statement is an overshoot. Not every hero gets a monument.

— You told that you flew on a B-25 with 75mm cannon?

A sole airplane with such cannon was given to me for experiment. The cannon was placed where navigator used to sit. I flew day mission to the shooting range and tried to fire from it. Then I flew at night. I usually gained 3000 feet, that’s 1000 meters. (One foot is 32.5 centimiters). Then I entered a steep glide, looked for a target and pressed a trigger. When I pressed it for the first time at night, a muzzle flash appeared, 15-20 meters of flame. I got blinded by it. On the right seat there was a navigators working place. I pulled the steering column, the earth was very close. I pushed throttles forward, switched landing light on, and noticed tree tops. Another second or two and we would crash.
I made a second run, again gained altitude, entered a glide, found the target, aimed, closed my eyes and pressed the trigger. When I opened them back I could see the tracer from the shell. I got used to it…

— Did you like it?

Not really.

— What kind of shells did you have for this cannon?

I do not know, there were 24 shells for one mission. A Corpse engineer (4th Guards Air Corpse of Long Range Aviation – IG), a Colonel, flew with me. He was loading the cannon. And here we made a mistake. He loaded the cannon and I fired. He hurried to insert another round while I pulled the trigger of the machine gun. The breach struck his lag. Thankfully, he was hit at soft tissue, otherwise he could end up with broken leg.
Test flying is a very dangerous work. There are so many test pilot graves in Zhukovskii… It’s terrible. It is a result of this dangerous work.

— Did you test this cannon in real combat?

After I tested it at shooting range, I received an order to try it out in combat conditions.
Our troops were getting close to Dnepr. We received a mission to block a railroad that went from Kiev to South-East, to Dnepropetrovsk, and went parallel to Dnepr. Train movement there was very intense. It was a train on each section. I had four machine guns and a cannon. I aimed at the locomotive, pressed a trigger… It was a sea of fire, and – Pshhh – steam was going out of a locomotive. So I kept flying and shooting trains. In all I made four such flights, in two of the trains I shot at there were powerful explosions, they must have carried ammo or fuel. When I accomplished four flights, I was asked:
— What should we do with this aircraft?
— Send it to the naval aviation, to use against ships. Its armament is excessive to all kinds of ground targets.
In final report we made a conclusion: “Could be sent to Navy for use against ships”. And that was the end of the story.

— Did you fly strategic reconnaissance missions?

We always made night photos to fixate results of our strikes. But we couldn’t do it some times. For example at the end of war I bombed Berlin two times, at the beginning of Berlin Operation on April 20th 1945 and on the 26th. When we bombed Berlin there was no time to make photos.

— Did you fly over sea?

Many times.

— Did you experience discomfort while flying over sea?

No, never, because I flew in B-25 – very reliable airplane with two engines. Probability of loosing two engines at the same time was quite low. Then I flew over sea in a Tu-4. It had four engines, so if I would loose one engine there were 3 more to go. There was not even a thought in my mind, not to speak of fear… I flew over Northern Sea (after the war). In general, I flew from Moscow to North Pole, and to the South to Africa, and from the West to the East from Atlantic Ocean to Alaska. I never thought about any fear flying over water.

— Did you fly missions against Helsinki?

I bombed Helsinki five times.

— What was special in those missions against Finland?

Our supreme military and political command has to be credited. After Stalingrad and Kursk it was clear that Hitler’s coalition was shattering. To speed up Finland’s decision to leave it we were ordered to bomb Helsinki. But our political leaders were very wise. All targets for the mission were given in Helsinki suburbs.
When the Finns left Germany our special commission visited the town. All Helsinki was safe, meaning that kids and elderly people were also safe. The suburbs were severely destroyed. I remember we bombed them three times and they asked for peace talks. Meanwhile we bombed towns at the Baltic Sea coast. We bombed those to pieces.

— What could you say about Finnish artillery?

Helsinki had good AAA artillery, but it was located inside of the city, so we flew just outside its bounderies.

— Did you choose yourself how to get to your targets, or you were given the route?

We were given a route. Usually we flew from East to West along coast line.

— Did you fly with cover?

What, fighter cover? We flew at night.

— Did you fly from Leningrad, Pushkin?

We flew these missions from Novodugino near Smolensk.

— Weren’t such long flights too expensive? Longest part of the route was our territory, you could fly from closer bases…

For B-25 500-600 kilometers was not a long route.

— Did you fly bombing missions against Berlin and other German cities in 1943-44?

I can’t say exactly. I bombed not only Berlin, but Warsaw, Konigsberg, and cities around Berlin… I bombed Port Hel in the end of war. But I did not bomb Berlin in 1943. Then we most commonly bombed our own towns. I bombed Kiev three times, Minsk. Hitler flew to Minsk, and we were ordered to drop bombs straight at the city center. I flew as a target illumination crew then. When we bombed Kiev railway station, one bomb fell right into the restaurant, where a lot of German soldiers and officers were killed. Our people also got kileed. You understand how it was. We bombed a lot of our own railway nodes. We destroyed Bryansk, Orsha, Orel ourselves.

— Did you bomb Vienna, Budapest, and Sofia?

We flew against Budapest five times and I bombed Sofia only once, if I remember correctly.

— What about the Austrian capital Vienna?

No, we did not bomb Vienna, not a single time. We protected Vienna as as Center of music, Straus…
We also never bombed Krakow. Warsaw was bombed many times.

— It is known, that when the British bombed German cities they bombed the whole town without any actual targets. Did our long-range aviation bomb towns or targets inside?

When we bombed Berlin and Budapest there were no precise targets. But when we bombed Bryansk and Orel, we tried to hit railway stations precisely.

— Did you receive special missions to destroy some small targets?

Yes, we had. It was a bridge over Dnepr near Kremenchug. Our troops were getting close to Dnepr, and Germans were fleeing. Our task was not to allow them to cross the river. We destroyed the bridge. We were coming in at low altitude and hit it. I was given a task to make photos of the damage. That was perhaps, the smallest target of them all…

— Did you fly anti-shipping missions?

Specifically against ships I did not. When our troops got close to Sevastopol, Germans were escaping by ships. We were ordered to bomb both the town and ships. There I not only bombed the ship, but even got so angry that turned around and strafed it with machine guns. I have no idea why I did so, but I hit it hard…

— What made you so angry that you decided to return?

I can’t explain really. I was extremely angry at Germans in general. I used to live in Engels, that’s German Volga Republic. We lived alongside with Germans very peacefully, without a single fistfight between kids. Just imagine – not a single one! Soviet officials were standing at celebrations together with German officials. Germans always thought good of us, sometimes, if some of our young men, a cadet or an officer would drink to much, they would pick him up and bring him to the garrison…
Newspapers wrote that the Nazis had killed a lot of Jews. A lot of them were shot. And not only Jews. I wasn’t introduced to my wife, Lyudmila Sergeevna then, but her family was lucky to be evacuated. If not, they would all be executed for sure. Her father was a communist party member from 1919.

— Were there cases in your regiment when shot down crews would return from the enemy held territory?

Yes, you know, there was one case. But it happened in the end of the war. A crew of Bochin was shot down over Budapest. (According to TsAMO, Bochin Aleksey Alekseyevich, whose plane was shot down on 20 January 1945, returned to his unit on 18 May 1945. Other crew members: co-pilot Korolev, N.F., navigator Bander G.I., gunners Shatskiy M.F., and Pulkov V.A. are consodered MIA). Bochin bailed out, Germans captured and interrogated him. He then told me:
— Germans wanted to execute you.
— Me?!? — I asked — What for? What so special did I do to them?
It appears he told them how I strafed German trains from the cannon, that it was a squadron commander Dudakov. They said:
— We will execute him, when we will get our hands on him.
That how it was. And they did not execute him, Bochin.

— Is it true, that Golovanov personally asked Stalin not to filtrate, that is, not to send for checking ADD crews returning from the enemy territory, but to send them to the regiment straight away?

No filtration? Never heard about this. But knowing Golovanov, I’m ready to believe it. Golovanov was a very modest man. I remember how he shook my hand when we met…

— How your airplanes were painted?

Brown… And blue or gray from below. I begun to forget it all, and I can be incorrect…

— Where tactical numbers were painted?

Both on fins and fuselage.

— Serial numbers were left in place or were overpainted?

I do not remember. We kept tactical numbers, but I forgot them already.

— Was there nose art or insignias on the airplane sides?

Anything you wish. It was not prohibited, and we painted if we wanted.

— What about “Sevastopol” insignia?

“Sevastopol” was written on all our airplanes.

— When airplane came to the regiment how tactical numbers were assigned to it? Was it common to re-paint it?

Airplane came to the regiment, and it received tactical number in it. In my first squadron the numbers were from 1 to 12.

— Can you recall your personal aircraft number?

I flew them all, and I can’t say which one more often. I had to teach all pilots. I made 2 or 3 combat flights with him and when he was ready I would leave this airplane to him, and switch to a new one…

— How missions results were confirmed?

We took a photograph…

— Who made it? Did each crew make his own photo?

No. I flew a lot of missions making photos after our regiment bomb run. I brought photos, they were deciphered and checked how many bombs exploded at the target area.

— Was a target illumination crew always provided?

Almost always. I flew many target illumination missions myself. It was the hardest job… But commanders trusted me.

— Why was it the hardest job?

You are flying first and it is your task to locate the target. When you found it, you drop SAB and searchlights usually locate you soon.

— What kind of SABs did you have?

I do not know. 100 or 50 kg.

— When you flew target illumination missions did you carry ordinary bombs?

No, only illumination ones.

— Did you make photos too, or was there a separate crew?

It was a separate crew, they made photos.

— Which job was harder?

Both were complex. Photo crew had to bring a photo at all cost, target illumination crew had to illuminate a target at all cost.

— If a photo crew was shot down, would this mission be considered complete for all other crews (without photo confirmation)?

If it was really important, a second photo crew would be sent. By the end of the war there were cases when we bombed without photos…

— Were there pilots who didn’t want to fly?

I had one such pilot – Ivan Blakitny. I arranged his transfer to another regiment. I barely got rid of him, such a … Coward! But apart from Blakitny I heard about no one like this in the regiment.

— How a pilot would explain his refusal to fly?

He did not refuse, he flew. We were given a task to bomb some town. For example – Smolensk. He never refused, he flew missions. But he dropped bombs long before the target.

— How this fact was uncovered?

It’s not a pilot who drops bombs, but a navigator. So, we always knew those who were afraid.

— Was there a political officer in your regiment?

Yes. He flew. They usually flew.

— What was their position? Were they pilots or navigators?

Both, navigators and pilots. But more commonly they where navigators.

— Were they good specialists?

A navigator like a navigator, a pilot like a pilot. He was an ordinary man, like the rest of us, but then somebody ordered him to become a political officer.

— Was it some sort of a prejudice towards political officers?

Not to those who flew. All of ours did fly. And we liked them.

— How did you find out that the war is over?

We were in Litza, Poland. Poles found out before we did. I was sleeping, and woke up because my pilots started shooting in the air.
— Why do you shoot?
— The war is over!
I said:
— So what? And stop pulling my leg!
— Don’t you understand? The war is over!

— Did you celebrate a lot?

You mean drink alcohol? I’m still alive by now, and I’m almost 90 years old because I almost never drunk or smoked. During the war we were given “Belomor” (brand of cigarettes) for free. But there was no place to spend it, so I smoked. When free Belomor ended, I stopped smoking. During the war after each mission we received 100 grams of alcohol…

— How many flights did you make per night?

Usually we made one sortie, rarely two.

— Did you receive 100 grams for a sortie or for all sorties during that night?

Once after the first sortie we received our 100 grams, and then the second mission was announced. You know, when I gained altitude my eyes kept closing. I took oxygen mask and breathed. When I returned back I told the regiment commander:
— Do not issue alcohol if second mission is expected.
And all this stuff had ended almost in an instance. We flew the second mission and only after it ended we received our 100 grams. That’s half a liter of alcohol for a crew.

— What if somebody wanted more?

There were those who added up. But they either had to buy it or ask for it. In my crew no one ever bagged and never asked for more.

— Your gunner shot down a Me-110, did he receive monetary prize for that?

I can’t say.

— Did your crew shoot down 2 fighters?

I saw those myself.

— How did you shoot down the second one?

The same way we shot down the first one. We were in a good position – enemy fighter couldn’t stay with me…

— Did your gunners draw victory stars for shot-down fighters?

It was common for fighter pilots. I did not draw that.

— What for and when did you receive a HSU?

For all my work in summary. There was no singled-out heroic act.

— When did you receive a title, and how did you find out about it?

I knew when the documents were sent. It happened in 1944. But there was a real story. When the nomination for the HSU was sent, the regiment commander Major Sergey Alekseyevich Ulyanovskii was promoted to a higher position (in September 1944). Another one was sent in. (Lt. Colonel V.S. Tsyganenko). At this time my soldiers went AWOL and beat-up some civilian. The new commander decided to delay my nomination. My friend Silovoy received a HSU, then he became Chief Navigator of ADD. I did not get the title then. The regiment commander received an order to submit a nomination for me by the end of April 1945. However, the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was issued on 23 February 1948. Why did it take so long, I do not know.

— Which award was treasured most at your regiment?

Order of Lenin and Order of Combat Red Banner.

— A lot of pilots told that Order of Lenin could be given for military achievements and for milking cows, and for this reason they preferred the Red Banner.

The Order of the Red Banner was a highly valued award, but I also value the Order of Lenin.

— A few questions from our colleagues-historians. During the night of February 6 – 7, 1944, a crew consisting of commander Kokin, navigator Kotenko, and Dudenko had force landed two kilometers away from the town of Belev in Tula District. Were Chernenkov or Romanenko in this crew?

I do not know. I do not remember. Ivan Kokin was in my squadron. I taught him to become airplane commander. I do not know how high he rose later. He graduated from the Academy. I was studying there when he also came to study. He should have become at least a deputy squadron commander by that time, if he was accepted there.

— How did Lieutenant Orlov crew perish, the crew where Hohlov was the navigator?

I do not remember the navigator, but I knew Nikolai Orlov well, he was already a flight commander. We were supposed to bomb Helsinki, I do not remember now, which flight it was, first, second or third… We told him:
— The engine life of your airplane had come to a limit, so take another one.
He replied:
— No, I want to work the engine life out completely.
I remember this discussion as if it took place just now. Who needed it? By this time he was not in my squadron, but in the second one…
He took off, can you imagine: he took off, one engine fails, and the airplane loaded with 2 tons of bombs fell to the ground and exploded. I took off right after him, and when I flew over the crash site I saw how the ammunition from his plane was exploding… Can you imagine… Oh, God, Nikolai perished! I took off, went on my mission, but he perished…
Nikolai was a very nice guy. Why did he do such a foolish thing? His engine had almost completely used its service life, only a couple of working hours were left. It was such a tragedy! (According to OBD Memorial, Lt. Orlov A.P., flight commander, was killed in an accident on 16 February, 1944 and is burried in Novo-Dugino, Smolensk distric).

— Couldn’t it be a situation when a pilot got so used to his airplane that he did not want to fly a new one…

Of course they got used.

— I understood that there were several extra airplanes?

I had a squadron of 10-12 airplanes. The regiment had 30 + airplanes. Extra airplanes? Yes, there were. New airplanes arrived. Some of them were given to our regiment. When a young pilot was ready, I test-flew him in a new airplane, and then allowed to leave this plane for himself. I took a new one.

— On March 9/10, 1944 an airplane of Lieutenant Dolmatov was shot down by Me-110 during a raid on Tallinn. What happened to the crew? It is not clear from available documents…

Dolmatov, damn him, I wanted to court-marschall him, but did not do this. It was somewhere over Ukraine, after accomplishing a combat mission he decided to fly at low level. Youngster! He had no experience… His navigator was Druzhinin. They hit something on the ground and turned over… The airplane was destroyed, he and his navigator stayed alive, while the rest of the crew were killed. It was somewhere in Ukraine. But I do not know what happened over Tallinn.

— So he was alive after March 1944?

Well, it appears this way. I am condeming this Dolmatov! His navigator and himself survived and the guys were killed!

— Was he in your Squadron?

Yes, he was.

— Did you fly low level yourself?

There were cases when I did.

— Maybe he tried to follow your example?

I never talked about it, but I also had such a case in Ukraine. I was returning from a mission, when I saw a hay pile in front of me, and some men were working on it. One of them was standing on the top of the pile with a pitchfork. I pulled the column sharply, and blew him away from the pile. The gunner reported:
— Commander, he flew off the hay pile.
But I never talked about it. I usually didn’t violate the discipline…

— Did you drop agents to Finland?

I dropped one or two times north of Riga. There were three agents in one mission.
But I do not remember that I dropped agents to Finland.

— Only bomb raids?

Yes, bomb raids. Turku, Kotka, Helsinki. I personally bombed Helsinki five times.

— How many missions did you fly?

225 missions flown, 218 noted in the flight book.

— What did you feel when the Americans dropped A-bomb? What were your thoughts?

I can’t describe. They dropped, so what? I understood, even knew that we were not going to be too far behind…

— Was there a feeling in the end of the war that we will become enemies?

Yes, I felt it. Capitalism is Capitalism. I lived in another state, and it was clear that we are together until we have a common enemy.

— For how many years did you fly?

I flew for over 30 years. During the war I commanded a Squadron, after the war for five years I commanded a regiment, then the 22nd Air Division — Two years deputy commander, then 6 years as a commander. The division consisted from 4 regiments. Three regiments flew Tu-16s that could drop bombs or launch missiles. I was the first to launch a KSR-2 missile that directly hit a naval target 152 kilometers away. Another regiment flew supersonic long range bombers Tu-22. This regiment sucked all my blood from me, damn it! We were rearming and I rearmed all our VVS. You see? That is it, I flew for over 30 years.

A.Dudakov’s Flight Log&Record book

Interview by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin ©
Editor: Igor Zhidov ©
Translation: Oleg Korytov and Ilya Grinberg ©
Special thanks: Svetlana Spiridonova

Monino, Russia, December 2008

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