Dear Pavel Andreevich: First, I congratulate you on the 70th anniversary of Victory Day! Seccond, I also congratulate you on the 100th anniversary of Yeisk School, where you worked for so many years! Thank you for everything that you have done in war and peace time!
What is the reason for your visit? Why? What for? What do you want from me?
I would like to talk to you about your life, service and war. I’m a historian from the Naval Academy, and promise that I will provide our readers all the information that you are willing to share, without changes. Our interviews are kept in the archives of the Naval Aviation Museum and are published on the Internet. Many veterans that you know have their interviews there already.
I thought that you had more serious questions. This song is all about me? I am not a glory seeker!
[The questions are] about you and your comrades.
So much was written about me, that I’m no longer interested in all this, especially now.
Pavel Andreevich, I saw your photo at some Komsomol meeting in the museum of Northern Fleet Aviation in Safonovo…
You have been in that museum?
Yes, of course.
I used to contact them 2–3 times a year.
Let’s start from your school. From which flight school did you graduate, and do you remember your teachers and instructors?
It is quite hard to recall all this when you are 93. And how correct these recollections are – that is also quite a big question. Memory fades away along with all other body functions. But still, even if I could remember everything, my interpretation could be incorrect.
I recall Anatolii Tomilin-Brazol, an essay writer from Leningrad. He used to work a lot in archives, when he wrote his essay about Fedor Soymonov from Peter I history. He came to the conclusion that no one is further from reality than an eyewitness. You are trying to use me as such an eyewitness, a person who took part in described events. Thus, when I speak about others, it should not be taken…
Tomlin-Brazol, A.N. Zhizn i sudba Fedora Soymonova [Life and fate of Fedor Soymonov], Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel, 1991, 544 pp.
“As the last instance of truth.” But we are interested in your opinion about those events. Everybody has his own little truth, and only by using as many of these small pieces as possible can we make a mosaic of history.
It is not so interesting. That’s the point, that everybody has his own point of view on the world, life, events, society and so on. That is why I will not discuss all this now. What do you want, exactly?
What was the starting point in your flying career? Let’s start from school.
All this information is available from the Internet. My grandson wrote a synopsis, Chronicle of a Torpedo Airman, when he was studying in the lyceum. All my biography is written there. It is available on the Internet. All this was also mentioned in different books.
That is not enough. Let’s try to talk! I saw you five years ago at the 95th anniversary of the school, and I’m terribly sorry that I had no opportunity to talk to you then.
The most complete information about me was published in the book I am Attacking. I Sank It. It was published in the city Chernushka, where my crew commander, Yevgenii Ivanovich Frantsev, came from. They had an almost equal amount of information about both of us, about the wartime period and our service at the Northern Fleet.
Gabdelkhakov, R.M., Atakuyu. Potopil [I am attacking. It sunk] [fact-based story about the Northern Fleet pilot Ye.I. Frantsev], first edition. Edited by V.T. Chashkova; Afterword by E.G. Chernysheva. Omsk Gas: Pulse (Omsk builder), 1998. 219 pp. Book re-released in 2000 with corrections and supplements.
I saw the site of the school named after Frantsev in Chernushka, read all the information it has and read the book from Internet, although it is not available on paper.
Here it is, the book about our crew, Frantsev and Galkin, pilot and navigator. Everything is written here, but this is my last copy. They also published my book there for my 85th birthday as a present for me. They printed 80 books and gave me 10 copies; where the rest are, I cannot say.
Pavel Andreevich, please try not to “slip away.” Because I have to try and follow you as a fighter, while you maneuver over “water” in a pancake style.
If you are talking about me, I’m no longer a pilot or navigator.
Let’s talk about everybody. Let’s try to recall some of your teachers or fellow students.
Can’t recall them.
Which aviation school did you complete?
That I remember. I was accepted to the Levanevskii Navy Aviation School in January 1941. In 1940 I was enlisted to the Baltic Fleet and served as a AAA gunner for the Coast Guard. When the school announced that it was accepting cadets, I was, let’s say recruited, and I was accepted to the pilot–observer faculty. They are called navigators these days. There was a shortage of pilots and pilot observers. We began flying on U-2/Po-2 – “cornfield hoppers.”
Was is Slyvny airfield?
Yes, that’s Slyvny. You reminded me of the name, which I already had forgotten. After training on the U-2, we flew R-5s. It was a combat airplane – mostly used for reconnaissance. The war broke out and we were evacuated to Berdyansk. It was called Osipenko then. When the front line came close, we were moved to Bezenchuk.
By that time, there were no more R-5s; they had expended their technical resources [engine hours] and combat effectiveness to the limit and had became obsolete. That’s why we were trained on the SB by crews: pilot, navigator and gunner. But when we graduated, no more SBs were left – they all were burned. The SB was a bomber from the Spanish Civil war era – it was great for those days, but it was obsolete in the 1940s.
Our backbone bomber was the modern Pe-2, which is why after graduation on SBs, we had to immediately retrain for the Pe-2. We mastered it by crews in 1943.
You were taught long, but was it effective training?
The training was excellent. We had to master combat use, mostly bombing with dives of 30о and 60о, as we had to execute at the front.
Interesting, especially keeping in mind that some regiments in the active army had no idea how to dive bomb, and flew as level bombers only.
Usually we began our dive at 3000 meters, dove at 60–70о, pulled out at less than 1 kilometer.
Our crew graduated in the spring of 1943, and we were dispatched to the Northern Fleet Aviation, to 29th Bomber Regiment, which was stationed at Vaenga-1 airfield. Nowadays it is called Severomorsk. The 9th Guards Mine-torpedo Regiment (9th GvMTP) was stationed at this same airfield, and there were some British and American crews as well.
Did you talk to them? What was your opinion about them?
We had some contacts with them as allies. They were good guys. We were in contact as friends as well. The only difference was that we lived in the dugouts on the airfield premises, while they lived in the town in the houses. Vaenga was like Yeisk – built with multi-storied apartment buildings. We were friends with these men. On the ground our friendship seemed nice: we smiled at each other and shook hands. But they hadn’t flown a single strike against enemy convoys that supplied enemy troops. We did that, while they looked at us from above, how our bombers, torpedo-bombers and sturmoviks [ground-attack aircraft] attacked the enemy in the cold waters of the Norwegian fjords and Barents Sea, and sometimes how we burned and died.
That is why we thought they were nothing more than just American observers. That was not something negative; it did not cause rejection or alienation. We understood them and they understood us. We had different tasks. We were fighting to protect our Motherland, our people, and they observed how we did it. At the same time, they provided us with airplanes, trucks and tinned stewed meat [tushonka].
I didn’t stay in the 29th Regiment for long. Our crew was disbanded. Our gunner was wounded in one of the attacks – he was hit in the leg by a shell, and it had to be amputated to keep his life. My pilot, Pavel Vasilievich Serdyuk, was hit in the arm with damage to an elbow joint, and asked the commanding officer to transfer him to sturmoviks. There he flew alone and didn’t have to worry about others if something happened with his wounded hand. You understand? But it was his personal choice of fate. Thus, I ended up with no crew.
My division commander suggested a transfer to the 9th Mine-Torpedo Regiment, 2nd Torpedo Squadron. It was equipped with American Boston [A-20] bombers, and that’s why I accepted this transfer with gratitude. The training in the regiment lasted for 2–3 weeks.
Were there problems with training? Weren’t all the [instrument] inscriptions in English?
Yes. I had studied German before that, and I had to start learning English. I mastered the navigator’s equipment fully in three weeks time. It had a radio-compass installed. The aircraft’s equipment was much better then what we had. It was much more modern for that time. But it caused no troubles, I mastered it quite soon. I had enough education for that.
Yes, as the saying goes: a pilot has to be healthy and brave, while the navigator has to be able to think, too.
Levanevskii Flight School accepted cadets for pilot training with an education level from 4–7 grades of school. The most important qualification there was health.
Just grade 4?!
There were some guys like that. At the navigators faulty one could pretend only if he had full average education completed, because there were a lot of calculations to be done… So, in 9th GvMTAP, I was assigned to the crew of Yevgenii Frantsev, who had no navigator. Before that he was ferrying airplanes from Alaska to Moscow or to the North.
During the time of P.A.Galkin’s training, they were not accepting, of course, men with a fourth-grade education at the aviation academy. But among the older generation of military and polar aviators, who served in line units during the war, there were such men. However, subsequently all of them, one way or another, raised their educational level.
He was a handsome man.
Yes, very. And he was a gifted pilot and nice man as well.
So you found a connection quickly?
Yes, soon enough. I was a phlegmatic person and he was a sanguine person, one might say. Even choleric, perhaps. But we had a good relationship. Our gunner, Semen Antipichev, was a bit older then we. We had such a good connection that we could understand each other without words. As I told you already, when I told the pilot to move to the left or right on the torpedo run, he obeyed without any delay. He was a God at that! Quite often we had a wave behind our airplane raised by the propellers.
So, you were a “commanding” type of navigators?
This is a bit of humor; in the crew, the pilot was always the commander.
I do not know anything about this typology. After the run I told him (we had to make photos after strike):
“You are great! You did precisely as I told you, and that is why we achieved success.”
“Sorry, I was disconnected and couldn’t hear your commands.”
That’s how we could understand each other!
How was photo control performed?
By photo camera. Just like the fighters had gun camera, we had an AFA-I installed in the nose of our airplane with enlarged size of the film 9 х 12 cm2, and it provided a panoramic view.
Photo shots were made by the navigator?
It could be done by both navigator and pilot.
Did your gunner have a camera too?
It was not needed there. Our camera was enough to confirm strike results. We also had fixed cameras. [planovyye (planar)]
That’s for reconnaissance?
Not necessarily, I used it for confirming strike results at Kirkenes [Norway] naval base. We bombed it with FAB-500 or -1000 ordnance, aiming at vessels at the docks and in Kirkenes port itself. I photographed the detonations of bombs with the fixed camera.
Thus, you had two cameras, one planar and the other in the nose?
The one in the nose was used during the torpedo run, while the planar camera in the fuselage – for bombing runs. Here is an image of a strike on Kirkenes. Here are the ships, the docks, this is the sea, here is the town, and here is the nickel plant; this is a fire. It was made by a camera inside the fuselage. Here is an image made by the nose camera – here is the detonation of a torpedo after it hit a tanker. We sunk it deep in the enemy waters where we had never flown before.
They were not expecting you there. Can I make a photo of this collage?
Of course. Here are my friends, comrades from Yeisk school made it for me, my whole life in one board. Here are my mom and dad.
Was your father also in the Navy?
Dad was a sailor in Kronstadt from 1916–21. Sailors served five years then. They made the revolution. Well, that is about everything I wanted to tell you.
Let’s talk a bit more. There are general tactics for torpedo bombers, but each Theater of War had its specialties; besides which, each crew had its own tricks to gain success. How did your crew make torpedo runs?
It is a rather difficult and hard science – bombing, torpedo runs or artillery fire. Direct hit – it’s a science with its ballistics and “cabalistics” (it’s a joke). There was a movie Torpedo Bombers [Torpedonotsy], which I watched with some criticism; but it was made pretty close to the reality, especially compared with other movies. The torpedo run was made really close.
A correct torpedo run requires dropping the torpedo at no lower than 30 meters [above the water], no higher than 70 meters. Otherwise the torpedo would either fall horizontally and split in half or go nose down. Speed was also very important, and we had to keep it no more than 350 km\h.
The recommended speed of the aircraft during the torpedo drop was 270–280 kmh [145–150 knots], because at greater speeds, the danger increased of mechanical damage to the torpedo upon entering the water. However, at these speeds, the Boston was somewhat unstable and had a tendency to sink, to avoid which a speed of 300 kmh [162 knots] was maintained. The crew had to maintain a balance between these factors.
I’m giving you an approximate speed. No skidding was allowed, only a straight and level run at the moment when torpedo was released. Before that we had to fly to the target at an altitude of 500–700 meters in a formation. Bombers usually flew as high as possible, while we – as low as possible.
When the target was located, the airplane got as low as possible to minimize the risk from AAA. The lower we went, the more difficult it was for them to aim at us. Their Oerlikons [ship-mounted anti-aircraft cannons] were unable to fire at negative angles.
On the other hand, German fighters, even though they tried to intercept us, had a lot of difficulties attacking low flying bombers, and usually were ineffective. A fighter had to dive at us, and there was not enough space to exit this dive, so we almost did not worry about them at all.
Most dangerous was AAA. Trying to describe what it was like is like trying to describe to somebody who never had teeth that you have one aching tooth, another one is aching and is about to fall out and you have an ulcer in the mouth all in the same time.
What about water pillars raised by large caliber artillery?
They could rise above us. But these pillars appeared only if artillery of 150 mm or larger was used – such guns were located as the shore defense. For example, along Varanger Peninsula, where German convoys were passing. They couldn’t fire at bombers or sturmoviks, but tried to disrupt our torpedo bomber actions by raising pillars. After a shell exploded, the water fountain went as high as 60 meters. But our attack run usually lasted 2–3 minutes. How many rounds could they fire? Absolutely insignificant, compared to the amount fired by a convoy.
Our reconnaissance airplane located and photographed a German convoy: four merchants covered by 16 military vessels—patrol craft, mine layers, minesweepers. Merchants were sailing along the coast line covered by shore-based artillery and by Messerschmitts. Combat vessels formed three half rings from the sea side, against our approach.
The account of this attack will resume later.
I later took this photo and calculated, out of pure interest, how many rounds they could fire at us. Data about ships and their armament were already available; they were not a secret. We even had Svede’s handbook for all ships in the navies all around the world with all technical data and armament description available. The rate of fire for all guns was also provided. So, I calculated, that all AA guns on board of those ships could fire up to 300,000 rounds. That’s in theory; in reality they had to aim, reload and so on.
Svede, Ye.Ye., Voyennyye floty [Military fleets. 1939–1940. (Handbook on foreign military fleets), 7th edition. Moscow – Leningrad: Voyenno-morskoye izdatelstvo of the People’s Commissariat of the Navy of the USSR (NKVMF SSSR), 1940. 452 pp.
But during that attack that I had described before, the entire sky ahead was full with tracers and looked like a spider web. That’s why we did not bother about water pillars. In this net of tracers we had to find the only weak spot and pierce their defense there. That’s why torpedo bombers on average flew 4.8–5 torpedo runs before they were shot down.
I saw something like that in Frantsev’s diary.
A-ha; he wrote in his notebook that no one should try to perform more then three runs per life.
Were you frightened?
No. I do not know in which form it comes. I can say about myself: there was no fear when we were attacking. There was a lot of work to do, before your bomb or torpedo will hit its target. It’s work. It requires a lot of attention. There is no time for fear. Like in hell.
You have read Dante’s Divine Comedy – Inferno? There you will find these lines:
A firm spirit is required here;
Here, fear should not overcome harmony . . .
There was no fear during an attack. But later, when you returned to base and went to the canteen and you saw the empty tables, that’s when you were afraid. I personally was sure after my first run that my life was wasted and lived like there was no tomorrow, and there was no sense to be afraid any more.
That is, your duty prevailed over everything else, and you are simply doing your work?
Of course. I was afraid when there was a large explosion – look at the photo. It was a clear sunny day. When we started our attack, nobody fired at us. It was going on in the deep rear of the Germans, they were still proceeding without escort. We aimed well and dropped our torpedo. Our gunner announced:
“The torpedo is running!”
He saw how it entered the water. I saw the ship ahead and the torpedo wake; it went at a depth of one meter. The sea was quite calm, no more than force 1.5 wave height [a Beaufort scale expression; a force 1 sea has ripples without crests, a force 2 sea has small wavelets, glassy crests, not breaking – ed.]. Torpedos ran on a vapor-gas mixture, and its bubble trail was well visible. The ship was moving.
I aimed 1.5 ship lengths ahead. At the beginning, I thought: “Ow! I must have made it too much ahead!” I began worrying that the torpedo would pass in front of the ship. Then the trail began moving along the ship and was already behind it. Here I felt fear, that I had miscalculated and that torpedo would go past the ship, I was so disappointed! Then it blew up! Why did I believe that it was about to miss? The trail appeared about 300 meters behind the torpedo itself. The torpedo had struck already, while the bubble trail hadn’t appeared yet.
How did you disengage; which maneuver did you prefer?
We would make a circle over the ship.
That’s if ship was unprotected. But if there were some defenses?
As soon as the torpedo was released, we would turn toward the side where there was less fire. If there was no obvious difference, we could “jump” over the ship. I began describing how we attacked a convoy with four merchants and defense. There were six of us then. The convoy had previously been bombed by bombers and attacked by sturmoviks, so they took the first rounds of AAA. Fighters were engaged in a dogfight. That’s when we arrived in a six-plane formation.
Six-ship formation – two flights of three aircraft, each flight attacking its own target.
All AA fire was diverted toward us. We were leading the second flight, and flew slightly ahead. Wingmen were on both sides – they both were newcomers. We had experience already, so we told them:
“ Stay on our wing. Do not try to fly solo!”
The leader said:
“I’m going after the leading merchant!”
Commander of the group was the leader of a six-ship formation of torpedo bombers.
It was the largest one. I said to my pilot:
“We will go after third.”
We did it to disperse the artillery fire.
They were of the same size, and a destroyer ahead of them. The leader’s flight diverted to the first merchant; we were going after our target. We should have dropped torpedo at a 1–1.5 km distance, but no closer then 600 m and no farther then four km. A torpedo could run for four km, but if you dropped it from such a distance, the commanders would get you by the neck. The photo camera would show, from what distance you dropped the torpedo. [Note – this episode continues below.]
By the way, I once dropped a torpedo so close, that it hit the target but did not explode. I can describe it. We were about 500 m away, so close that we could see men on board. We jumped them from the landward side, and the ship was moving close to it. We were losing altitude to reach release altitude, but when we were in the correct release parameters, the target was right under our nose. This merchant was escorted by two enemy escort ships.
When I had released my torpedo, in about 12 seconds gunner shouted:
“Oh! It blew up!”
“Let’s turn around!”
I said to my commander.
We turned around to take a photo of the explosion, fly over convoy, and then go straight to the north. We spotted a huge and nice explosion “mushroom.” The first escorting minesweeper had turned around and was sailing toward the stricken ship. A second minesweeper was also nearby. We were getting closer, closer… the white cloud dissolved, dissolved, dissolved; a ship’s mast was appearing from the cloud. Escorts were firing at us, soon we expected Messerschmitts from Nordkapp.
We turned 180 degrees and went home. We reported. When the film was developed, everything became clear: the merchant of about 2500–3000 metric tons of displacement and had two escorts. A reconnaissance airplane flew to the site and reported: a damaged ship was being towed by tugboat towards Honingsvog port, that’s about 30–40 nautical miles away. The torpedo must have hit the boiler of the ship, but did not explode. The temperature outside was below zero. The torpedo hit the boilers, they were breached, steam vapor escaped and created a cloud. If our torpedo had exploded at this point, the whole ship would have broken apart. Our commanders did not credit us with this ship, neither did they curse us.
Now let’s return to that attack by six airplanes that I was talking about before. In order to reach our third ship, we had to fly over a destroyer and then a minesweeper. Our target was hiding behind them. Our altitude was 15 meters.
It was enough for the Germans to fire at us with everything they could. While we were flying over the destroyer, it opened such a heavy fire that all the tracers were passing over our airplane. I saw that one shell hit our right wingman and he disintegrated mid-air and fell into the sea. It looked like airplane stopped mid-air, burst open from inside and fell down in pieces. Our left one was still with us. I told Frantsev:
“Point your nose at the destroyer!”
If they hit us, we might still have a chance to reach it and ram. Frantsev turned toward the destroyer, and suddenly, the firing from this destroyer ceased! We flew over it just above the mast tops, and we saw how gunners were running away from their guns… It seems that they believed that we were going to ram them. We kept firing our nose guns at them, too. Then we had to fly over the minesweeper, but its armament was much less than the destroyers. We flew past it, not over; we chose not to tempt our fate.
Then came the merchant, the target. Our combat run. I was not interested in what was going on to the left or right from me. One can see only the sight and target at this moment – nothing else. And maintain flight regime. We reached the release point. The torpedo went toward the target, and we turned away. The merchant was sunk. We returned to base minus one airplane.
What about the leader’s flight?
He was shot down. Their airplane caught fire before they released the torpedo. They dropped it and sunk the first merchant in the convoy. Then they flew over the target and ditched into the water and burned. The Germans kept firing at the airplane on the water until it sank. His wingmen couldn’t make it back to base and had to try to land at the airfield at Rybachii Peninsula. One managed to land, another one also burned in the air.
Who was the group leader?
Syromyatnikov. A memorial to Hero of the Soviet Union Syromyatnikov stands on the square at the Vysokii garrison, Olenya airfield. He was a graduate of Yeisk Academy.
Lieutenant Colonel Syromyatnikov, Boris Pavlovich, Commander, 9th Guards Red Banner Mine–Torpedo Air Regiment. The incident described occurred on October 16, 1944. He was awarded HSU posthumously on November 5, 1944.
Did you fly without fighter cover, and participate in fights against Messerschmitts?
If we flew bomber missions, we were always covered by fighters. There was a group of close cover, an escort, and strike group. If it was a combined strike of bombers, sturmoviks and torpedo bombers, we were always covered by fighters. I can say even more – we lived in the same dugout, but in different rooms.
Once, our flight commander Gnetov flew mission against a convoy that was already departing our area of operations – it was sailing west from Kirkenes. These transports were to be destroyed, and the task was given to the flight of Petr Gnetov. He was covered by a squadron of fighters – can’t recall now, whether those were Yaks or Cobras. So, he flew out. My crew had just returned from receiving a new Boston.
In 1943–44, we already had enough fighters for cover; in the beginning of the war guys often had to fly without cover. Even so, their combat radius was still less than bombers had.
So, Gnetov was getting ready to fly when we landed and taxied to the parking area, in our shiny brand new airplane. When we stopped, we saw that the props at Gnetov’s airplanes were rotating. We waved our hands to them in a goodbye gesture. We saw that they were loaded with torpedoes, which meant that they were going to attack a convoy. They flew under cover of a squadron of fighters. The German convoy was getting farther away by the minute. They reached the northern-most point of Europe – Nordkapp. There used to be a very beautiful mansion on the cliff. They reached a point of no return for the fighters; their leader reported:
“We have used up half of our fuel. What is your order?”
If they to fly farther, they would not have enough fuel to reach even Rybachii, not to speak of their home base. By the rules, if fighter cover has no fuel to fly farther, the bomber leader may abort the mission. But his actions would still be subject to investigation.
The bomber leader responded:
“You may turn back. We will press on.”
He flew on. By all means it was clear that the enemy convoy would be covered by fighters. Our reconnaissance airplanes could fly pretty far, too; they flew similar bombers with less load. For example, there was a reconnaissance pilot, Verbitskii, who flew a Boston similar to ours. There was a radio message, and our reconnaissance airplane reported that our group had reached enemy convoy and begun their attack. They were fired at by German fighters and AAA, one ship went down, one or two were damaged. None of the three crews returned. That’s it. End of the story.
Pavel Andreevich, you were not only crew member; you were a great teacher as well. Could you tell me, was this mission result worth losing three crews? They did accomplish their mission, but all perished.
This was unexceptional. That is my opinion.
I understand, it was normal. But was it justified?
I’m not just a military aviator. All my life I had a philosopher in my character. All I can say is: war is legally justified murder! I state: legally justified! Killing of men like yourself. War produces nothing. On the other hand is military industry, the military industrial complex, production of dual-use items, and so on. Like some people say, war has significant impact on human development and technological progress. But I still say: war is legally sanctioned murder! There can be nothing good in war! That’s final.
On all the rest in connection with the fact of waging war, I look as from the outside – philosophically.
That is, if war is going, one has to accomplish his mission, and the better you did it, the more justified your loss would be?
In my opinion term – “justified losses” – is not humane. There is nothing to discuss there.
Looking from a humanitarian point of view – it is senseless, of course. But from a military perspective? Some publications have stated that a lot of pilots perished for the price of a relatively few ships sunk.
There is one author, who is called “a serious military historian,” who wrote a book about torpedo bombers. I read it, and even began preparing a response. But after I had filled a notebook with remarks, Gareev and other veterans released their responses before I did.
Shirokorad, Aleksandr Borisovich – Russian military specialist and publicist, author of the book Torpedonostsy v boyu. Ikh zvali “smertnikami” [Torpedo men in combat. They called them “men on death row.”] (2006). This book was subjected to fierce, in our view, justified criticism from specialists in the field of naval aviation for bias, lack of historical correctness, and errors.
Gareev, Makhmut Akhmetovich, Full General (retired), Doctor of Military and Doctor of Historical Sciences.
We all do understand that war is inhumane by its nature, and shouldn’t be happening at all. On the other hand, all cadets in military schools should understand that they are taught to be highly intellectual, universal killing machines. Will the day come, when “the Motherland calls,” and future pilots are not just joy riding in a warplane for free!
You are absolutely right.
But I’m asking about your opinion; if one sunken ship is worth losing three experienced crews. From a plain and cynical military point of view.
This is a rhetorical question. Worthiness can be expressed in some form of value or capital… Value can be social, historical, humanitarian and so on. These questions are subjects of the study of axiology. Are you familiar with it?
Axiology – the theory of value, a branch of philosophy.
I do have a lot of books about philosophy, but to be honest, I’m not interested in it.
I have studied this science on my own.
I still do not believe in the correctness of judging effectiveness of torpedo bombers by their loss rates. Yes, losses were severe; there were a lot of mistakes, especially at the start of the war. But it is not right to describe them as misfits, as was said by some researchers. Eventually we learned to fight and we won.
That is why we won. This is the best judge, better then all those “historians” and other so-called “prominent specialists.” The victory itself sealed the deal, dotted the “i.” This is an absolute factor, which showed who is who and what is what, on which side lay the truth, on which side were the lies, on which side was justice and on which side was brute force, pillaging, and so on.
For example, our regiment once received an order of the fleet commander to hit and sink the German battleship Scharnhorst. Tirpitz was being repaired in the fjords after Lunin’s K-21 [submarine] attack. Scharnhorst was attacking allied convoys, and we were ordered to locate and destroy it. No other airplane could get there, except our regiment with Bostons. At that moment there were only six or seven airplanes left in the regiment and a few crews. Our crew, as the most experienced, was designated as the lead aircraft.
When we received this order from the division commander, our regiment commander wanted to fly as leader, but our assembled group of officers said “No.” We wished at least him to stay alive. That was somewhere around December 28, 1943.
The German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk by naval vessels of the British Royal Navy, which were escorting Allied arctic convoys, on December 26, 1943, near Nordkapp in Norway. By all appearances, the events about which P.A. Galkin has recollections occurred not on 28 December, but shortly before that. In the end, because of exceptionally bad weather, this takeoff did not occur.
We were lucky that the weather was awful; a Greenland cyclone covered the entire Arctic, the Barents Sea region, Spitzbergen, Medvezhiy Island, Norway, and Kola peninsula. The blizzard was raging so strong that one could not see a man 5–10 meters away. Technicians, mechanics and engineers somehow managed to drag our airplane loaded with torpedoes to the runway.
We crews were waiting at the commander’s dugout. I was calculating, thinking how we should plot the course. I looked at our friends. Some were lying down, resting. Others were pacing from corner to corner. A third group were playing chess. It was clear that we would fly out at the first possible moment. It was absolutely clear that none of us was expected to return. Striking a battleship was a… Well, it’s not important… When I made new calculations I said:
“Zhenya, there is not enough fuel for return. We will fall into the sea 250 km off the coast of Kola peninsula.”
Life expectancy in the water was about 40 minutes. In a warm flight suit and lifeboat, one could last for longer. Every naval pilot had an inflatable boat with parachute. So I said:
“Zhenya, we will fall into the sea. What we should do? Report to the commander.”
“Pasha, we have our order; it should be executed. What is the reason for me to ask and report? You, as a navigator, have the right to do so.”
I picked up the phone, directly connected to Preobrazhenskii. I said that my calculations showed that we had no chance to return to base; we will ditch 250 km off Rybachii peninsula. Was it possible to summon a Catalina to the area or send subs to the area of possible ditching?
HSU (for bombing Berlin in August 1941) Preobrazhenskii, Yevgenii Nikolaevich, at this time was serving as the chief of staff of Northern Fleet Air Forces.
But all the boats available were patrolling in the vicinity of Varanger fjord and Nordkapp, where there was a chance to intercept German shipping. All that was left was a Catalina. I reported all this:
“What will be your orders?”
“Execute the order!”
What else could we expect if Preobrazhenskii received a direct order from Fleet Commander Golovko to strike the Scharnhorst.
“Yes sir, we will execute the order! Please, give me allied convoy coordinates.”
I was thinking that those surviving the attack on the battleship would fly to the convoy and bail out there, hoping to get picked by the ships. I reasoned that they would give me the latitude and longitude of the convoy.
“I cannot disclose this information over the telephone.”
German intelligence was very effective, and sometimes they connected to our telephone wiring and listened to us. I hung up the phone. What else could I do? I, as the group leader, had the most correct data. Our airplane would be going straight, while our wingmen would be moving, and their navigators’ calculation would be less precise. I had much more experience and was good at radio navigation. In addition, sailing instructions, astronomy and astronomical navigation made it possible in those days to become more freely orientated. I told the guys:
“Prior to the attack, I will let you know of the course to Medvezhii Island; those who will survive can try to reach it.”
Medvezhii was a small island between Spitsbergen and Nordkapp, unoccupied by either us or the Germans, but polar bears. You can land there, but then you will have to survive with them or try to make it to the shore by some other means. Got the picture?
Could a Catalina reach Medvezhii and return?
Theoretically it could. A Catalina could linger in the air much longer than we did. In economical regime, it could fly for over 24 hours. It was an American flying boat, but it had lower speed then we did. It was used both as a reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) airplane.
Effective ranges: Douglas А-20G Бостон, >1650km; Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina >4090 km. With a cruising speed of 188 kmh [101 knots], the Catalina could remain in the air approximately 22 hours!
Was it equipped with ASW capabilities?
Of course. We also flew ASW missions, by overflying convoys.
Bostons had the capability to accomplish only visual searches.
I flew them, too, when convoys reached our territorial waters, at approximately Murmansk longitude. Then bombers were used as ASW escorts. One such mission was flown in pair with Vartanov. He had just arrived to our flight from Levanevskii flight school. We told him to keep 200 meters away. There was no sense in getting closer. We had to look at a wider area in search of submarines.
I made the calculations for a “box” around the convoy; we flew at 300 meters, looking for periscopes. One loop completed, then another. There was no sense in flying higher, although flying lower was much more tiresome. We were supposed to fly there for 4–5 hours. Suddenly it became dark in my cabin. I looked up and saw propellers right above me! That is, our wingman overflew us, got above us and was now descending on us. The pilot couldn’t see what was going below him!
Was his navigator sleeping? How could he not see what was happening?
His navigator was in the rear cabin. That version had four cannons in the nose.
They were flying a sturmovik version of the Boston?
In that airplane, gunner and navigator were sitting in the rear cabin and were virtually blind. The pilot was also unable to look below, and slowly descended toward us, overshadowing my cockpit. We were 300 meters or even less. That’s when I got really scared. Frightened! I thought: “What kind of absurd death!” It’s one thing to get killed in a fight during an attack run, but not like this, when nobody will find out what had happened to two crews. In general, I was not one to curse; but this time I shouted over the radio:
“You mother f- -ker, where do you think you are going?!”
Had I said something to my pilot, he instinctively would have pulled his stick. The most dangerous thing in these long, low-altitude flights was the water. That’s why if something was drawing attention, his most natural reaction would be to pull the stick, in this case flying right into our wingman. That’s why I didn’t say anything over the intercom to my pilot.
But he heard that I was yelling over radio and his first reaction was to look around. He noticed the wingman’s nose just one meter away from the cockpit. He immediately pushed the stick and leg and went down with a skid. But I heard a tearing sound “t-r-r-rrrr”. When an airplane is hit by a shell or a bullet, every crew member can hear it clearly; the sound passes well through the metal. I heard the scraping well, but we were flying 150 meters from water. I asked:
“Is the airplane controllable?”
I noticed that our wingman also maneuvered behind us. Our airplane had a large vertical tail fin, over five meters. We had scratched his fuselage with the tip of our fin. Immediately I directed my pilot toward home base, and we managed to make it home. But my pilot was a God in flying! The entire regiment had gathered to look at our broken fin; our tail fin was broken in half into a “T”-shape without left horizontal line.
Did your wingman make it home?
There was just a small scratch on his fuselage. He taxied, came out of his airplane and walked over to us:
“Comrade lieutenant, what are we going to report?”
“I want to smack you in the face, and not report!”
Yevgenii said to him in a disapproving tone.
He calmed down then, but I still told him:
“You will last one or two combat missions, no more!”
He was shot down on his next mission, but we were not flying then!
We had told him to keep 200 meters away from us, but he got bored and slowly closed in. Then he tried to move to the other side. Changing the formation should be done by crossing the path under the leader’s airplane. Instead, he gained altitude and flew over us, trying to find us in slow descent. In short, he was being lazy. It was a scary moment.
He was a young pilot, straight from the mint. May be he was poorly taught?
But they were given practice in formation flying. I have no complaints about his instructors. He was taught to think for himself.
Could you describe your brightest memory about war? Not necessarily about fighting or flying…
Brightest memory? I wasn’t impressed by war at all. Besides, I felt the horrors that our nation had to pass through. Russia was not fortunate, not fortunate.
Our dugout, where our squadron lived, was located near a small lake. There were several pine trees and juniper bushes around it. We had small cast iron stoves, electric lamps, telephones, foot lockers. We lived by squadrons. The entrance into dugout was down some steps. There was a wooden board over the door, so I made an inscription with black paint in Italian: Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate [Abandon hope, all ye who enter here]. I believe I would have had problems had I written it in Russian.
“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” (in Italian) – is the concluding phrase of text over the gates of hell in Dante’s allegory, Divine Comedy.
I was just 21 years old. All the free time between flights I spent by reading. I read Hegel, Schopenhauer [Arthur, 1788–1860], Kant, in translation, of course. I studied German at school and technical school like the rest, and like the rest I eventually didn’t know it. In one of the rooms of our dugouts was a huge pile of books brought from the political department. There was complete set of classical German philosophy books, in addition to which were some art, poetry, and prose books. I threw Nitsche away, but read Kant through in its entirety, perhaps half of Schopenhauer, and 10 percent of Hegel.
Besides philosophy, I read the usual books: Sir Walter Scott, Dante’s Devine Comedy, the poems of Lord Byron, Lermontov, Pushkin, and later Nekrasov, also a Yeisk native. That’s where I got it all from. Of course, I studied astronomy, radiotechnics and other stuff. I had sufficient intellectual “baggage,” because before the war I had studied to become a teacher.
But you were taught as a primary school teacher?
Generally, yes. Teachers for middle school were trained in the institutes. But as a graduate from a pedagogical college, I had an almost similar education.
I remember one incident. After one of the attacks, we returned, parked and switched engines off. I got out of the hatch, when a correspondent from Severomorskii letchik [Severomorsk airman] newspaper caught me:
“Comrade lieutenant, a question from editorial: What did you think about comrade Stalin during your attack?!”
Half of our torpedo bombers fell over that convoy. So, what do you think?
You are a polite man. I would have told him to “Go to Hell.”
If I was a gunner – I would have also. But our gunner was a quiet person. A gunner from neighboring crew would have done it for sure. I told him:
“If I would have thought about Stalin during the combat run, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
Wasn’t the correspondent “upset”?
He chuckled, stepped aside, and moved off. I said what I said and forgot about it. It was during polar day [24-hour daylight], so I can’t say how long had passed when I was caught by the zampolit [political deputy]:
“Comrade Galkin, please, speak to correspondents and journalists ca-a-a-refully.”
If somebody says that people shouted “for the Motherland” or “for Stalin” during a bayonet fight, I do not believe it. There were people who had to say something like that before an attack. It’s like a drummer had to drum when the banner was brought to the ranks. It was an element of upholding high combat spirit. In real life people, were swearing, cursing and growling while pressing bayonets into each others’ guts.
Did you swear or curse in flight? Did Frantsev swear?
No. We usually said either “navigator” “commander” or “gunner.” Or we used names. We left ranks for the ground.
Were you supplied and fed well enough?
Well. We had enough. Elizabeth helped. Yes, the Queen of England. When convoys came to Murmansk and Archangelsk, they also brought food. For example, I remember how they sent us a rail cart of Champagne. We went to the canteen, where we could get small cutlets and groats, bread, and bottles of Champagne instead of drinking water. By the way, I didn’t drink it.
How did you bathe in the dugouts, especially during winter? Were you taken to a sauna?
Of course, a sauna was organized. Quite often we would go by ourselves. I’d say there were no lice in our dugout. Once our crew was in an alert-1 status — torpedoes hung, engines warmed up, ready to take off at any moment. We were at the airfield, with no permission to leave it. I was doing what I was supposed to do, the pilot was busy with his work, and the gunners were sleeping. Then:
“Well, guys, how about a visit to the sauna?!?”
So we decided, called a bus and went to the sauna, which was in Vaenga, not at the airfield. Halfway there, we were intercepted by either a GAZ or Willys jeep:
“Go back! To the airplanes!”
We immediately returned. When we were arriving at the parking area we saw that engines were working. It was winter and snow was all around. I got into my compartment, the pilot occupied his, ready to fly. But to where?! We were the leaders of the flight. Where should we go? We were loaded with torpedoes, so we were to attack ships. I sat on my parachute. I never strapped it on; it was absolutely worthless to us, but there was no cushion at the seat so we had to use it as one. I opened the map.
The chief of staff walked in front of us, took a wide wooden shovel for clearing snow and wrote by a colored pencil 68є 58”, for example. I signaled – understood! That was the spot where we had to locate and attack German ships. The order was clear. Not a single word was said. Nothing was funny or unusual in this method.
Did you sink anything during that mission?
We flew out, reached our target and accomplished the mission. Accomplished it.
You were young; were there dances?
Of course; we waltzed, danced polka at the Officers House. We had not been taught the mazurka, which was a dance of the nobility. But the padespan [Russian waltz based on Spanish themes], and such common dances. Dancers danced from the hopak [Ukrainian folkdance] to the barynya [male-only folkdance, lots of foot stomping].
Did you dance yourself?
No, I’m a poor dancer. I liked music. There is excellent modern music, but my memory fails me. There is the Chaikovskii’s Capricio Italian. I can’t remember the entire work, just separate passages, but as powerful as if an entire orchestra were playing nearby.
Do you like opera?
When I received my HSU Gold Star [August 19, 9144], our crew was summoned to the Kremlin and we received two weeks of official leave. I received tickets for Bolshoy Theater and Operetta Theater at the same time and day. For starters I listened to Prince Igor. After the first act, I departed during an intermission and caught the second and third acts of Silva [a decades-long favorite by Imre Kalman]. I heard Silva live five times during my life. I liked both. Do you remember Prince Igor? I lately constantly recall scenes from it:
In sleep, there is no rest for the exhausted spirit;
Night does not bring me comfort and oblivion.
I relive the past over and over again…
and the deaths of my all my regiments…
This does not return to me now as often. Silva, Maritsa , Happy Widow [Leher Ferenc] have become less important. “Sweethearts, sweethearts, sweethearts of cabaret” – oh, well, my age is not as it was before…
Each man is an individual, a personality. How many HSUs are still alive now?
From the Navy – You, Demidov [Rostislav Sergeevich], Minakov [Vasilii Ivanovich], Shishkov [Mikhail Fyodorovich], Chernenko [Vasilii Ivanovich], Rassadkin [Pyotr Alekseevich]. That’s all.
They told me at the museum that only five were left. Of course, many have passed on due to, shall we say, “circumstances” which came about in our country. For example, there were 17 Heroes in our regiment. Four were alive at the end of the war, and now I am the only one. If you look at the entire Northern Fleet, there remain five of 65, and now, who can say how many survive; perhaps I am the only one.
Well, in all, more Northern Fleet Heroes survived the war than from other fleets.
Altogether during the Great Patriotic War, 53 naval aviators became Heroes of the Soviet Union, among them B.F. Safonov twice. Thirty-one (58.5 percent) survived the war. Torpedo men from the 9th Guards Mine–Torpedo Air Regiment included: G.S. Aseev, M.M. Badyuk, V.P. Balashov, A.A. Bashtyrkov, M.P. Boronin, V.N. Gavrilov, P.A. Galkin, N.I. Zaitsev, V.N. Kiselyov, Yu.P. Kochelaevskii, S.A. Makarevich, V.V. pigogov, M.F. Pokalo, A.I. Sknaryov, V.P. Syromuatnikov, Ye.I. Frantsev, K.F. Shkaruba—altogether 17 men. Of these, Badyuk, Balashov, Galkin, Kochelaevskii, Pirogov, and Shkaruba—altogether six men (35.3 percent) survived the war.
Several years ago, there were five, and now I’m the only one.
Pavel Andreevich, the fact that you have lived to this time and were not alongside Frantsev on that fateful flight when he “departed,” is yet another element of fortune.
He flew on into the next world by plan that I had prepared for that mission, but with another navigator. I did not go there.
But how did you endure this, having been so close to him?
Well, that is another question.
Very well. Please pass along to Boris Nikolaevich that, for reasons of my health, I will not be able to be at the airfield under the conditions that he noted.
Boris Nikolaevich Rybalko was the charmain of a regional organization of veterans of Naval aviation and Yeisk Aviation Academy. The conversation is in regard to the attendance of P.A. Galkin at a celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the academy, July 25, 2015.
I may be hearty in conversation, but two hours later I’m holding on to the wall. Therefore, do not undertake any actions to focus attention on or obligate me. Those who wish to do so may find me there and say:
“This may be our last opportunity; we will approach him.”
This is the best and most favorable inducement. But you don’t have to do this; it will be difficult for me.
Perhaps we can send a vehicle to pick you up and bring you back?
Pavel Andreevich, even if only for 15 minutes, you need to be present at this anniversary. They will pick you up and bring you back by vehicle; but how can we do this without you? You are already a talisman, a legend of Yeisk Academy!
It was obvious that our Hero was not only tired was but also very tormented by the memories of lost comrades, in particular, of course, his commander Evgenii Frantsev. Galkin did not even begin to recall or talk about that last flight and the search for his perished crew. It was obvious that he had suffered through all the subsequent years that he was unable to fly on that day.
Ten minutes later, we agreed with Pavel Andreevich on his travel to the academy’s holiday. When we reached the doorway and prepared to depart, Pavel Andreeich stopped, quickly went back for his notebook, where he had made notes, and began to read his verses. They say that this was a mark of great favor to his co-conversants, when he read his own verses.
Hero of the Soviet Union Pavel Andreevich Galkin gathered up his strength and was present at the Jubilee of his favorite academy on July 25, 2015. Enormous thanks to him.
Participants in this conversation included P.A. Galkn’s daughter Galina Pavlovna and the Chief of Yeisk Aviation Academy Museum, Valerii Valentinovich Tishkin.
1. Tomlin-Brazol, A.N. Zhizn i sudba Fedora Soymonova [Life and fate of Fedor Soymonov], Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel, 1991, 544 pp.
2. Gabdelkhakov, R.M., Atakuyu. Potopil [I am attacking. It sunk] [fact-based story about the Northern Fleet pilot Ye.I. Frantsev], first edition. Edited by V.T. Chashkova; Afterword by E.G. Chernysheva. Omsk Gas: Pulse (Omsk builder), 1998. 219 pp. Book re-released in 2000 with corrections and supplements. Electronic version can be accessed on the Internet: http://agso.narod.ru/date/franz/franz_1.htm
3. During the time of P.A.Galkin’s training, they were not accepting, of course, men with a fourth-grade education at the aviation academy. But among the older generation of military and polar aviators, who served in line units during the war, there were such men. However, subsequently all of them, one way or another, raised their educational level.
4. This is a bit of humor; in the crew, the pilot was always the commander.
5. The recommended speed of the aircraft during the torpedo drop was 270–280 kmh [145–150 knots], because at greater speeds, the danger increased of mechanical damage to the torpedo upon entering the water. However, at these speeds, the Boston was somewhat unstable and had a tendency to sink, to avoid which a speed of 300 kmh [162 knots] was maintained. The crew had to maintain a balance between these factors.
6. The account of this attack will resume later.
7. Svede, Ye.Ye., Voyennyye floty [Military fleets. 1939–1940. (Handbook on foreign military fleets), 7th edition. Moscow – Leningrad: Voyenno-morskoye izdatelstvo of the People’s Commissariat of the Navy of the USSR (NKVMF SSSR), 1940. 452 pp.
8. Six-ship formation – two flights of three aircraft, each flight attacking its own target.
9. Commander of the group was the leader of a six-ship formation of torpedo bombers.
10. Lieutenant Colonel Syromyatnikov, Boris Pavlovich, Commander, 9th Guards Red Banner Mine–Torpedo Air Regiment. The incident described occurred on October 16, 1944. He was awarded HSU posthumously on November 5, 1944.
11. Shirokorad, Aleksandr Borisovich – Russian military specialist and publicist, author of the book Torpedonostsy v boyu. Ikh zvali “smertnikami” [Torpedo men in combat. They called them “men on death row.”] (2006). This book was subjected to fierce, in our view, justified criticism from specialists in the field of naval aviation for bias, lack of historical correctness, and errors.
12. Gareev, Makhmut Akhmetovich, Full General (retired), Doctor of Military and Doctor of Historical Sciences.
13. Axiology – the theory of value, a branch of philosophy.
14. The German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk by naval vessels of the British Royal Navy, which were escorting Allied arctic convoys, on December 26, 1943, near Nordkapp in Norway. By all appearances, the events about which P.A. Galkin has recollections occurred not on 28 December, but shortly before that. In the end, because of exceptionally bad weather, this takeoff did not occur.
15. HSU (for bombing Berlin in August 1941) Preobrazhenskii, Yevgenii Nikolaevich, at this time was serving as the chief of staff of Northern Fleet Air Forces.
16. Effective ranges: Douglas А-20G Бостон, >1650km; Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina >4090 km. With a cruising speed of 188 kmh [101 knots], the Catalina could remain in the air approximately 22 hours!
17. Bostons had the capability to accomplish only visual searches.
18. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” (in Italian) – is the concluding phrase of text over the gates of hell in Dante’s allegory, Divine Comedy.
19. Altogether during the Great Patriotic War, 53 naval aviators became Heroes of the Soviet Union, among them B.F. Safonov twice. Thirty-one (58.5 percent) survived the war. Torpedo men from the 9th Guards Mine–Torpedo Air Regiment included: G.S. Aseev, M.M. Badyuk, V.P. Balashov, A.A. Bashtyrkov, M.P. Boronin, V.N. Gavrilov, P.A. Galkin, N.I. Zaitsev, V.N. Kiselyov, Yu.P. Kochelaevskii, S.A. Makarevich, V.V. pigogov, M.F. Pokalo, A.I. Sknaryov, V.P. Syromuatnikov, Ye.I. Frantsev, K.F. Shkaruba—altogether 17 men. Of these, Badyuk, Balashov, Galkin, Kochelaevskii, Pirogov, and Shkaruba—altogether six men (35.3 percent) survived the war.
20. Boris Nikolaevich Rybalko was the charmain of a regional organization of veterans of Naval aviation and Yeisk Aviation Academy. The conversation is in regard to the attendance of P.A. Galkin at a celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the academy, July 25, 2015.
Interview by Galina Wabischevich
Translation by Oleg Korytov and James Gebhardt
Excellent article. Thanks.