I, Vladimir Mikhailovich Mukhmediarov, was born in Moscow in 1923. There I lived with my parents and there I went to school. My parents were simple labourers. Family was large, there were five children – four sons and a daughter.
The school I was studying in was supervised by «Pravda» publishing house. From there I went to pioneer camps. Approximately at the age of 16 I entered aeroclub…
— Did you apply yourself, or were you sent by a directive?
I did it my self. When I finished aeroclub, I was younger then 18 years old, and because of this I was not accepted to a military flight school. Later, from winter 1940, I started flying in Zheleznodorozhniy aeroclub.
— What’s your education status?
Secondary school and flight school. I finished the seventh grade. I finished evening high school later, in the army. I had junior officers education and I had to have high school finished.
— What did you study in aeroclub?
There was a program in aeroclub. Theory at first, then flight practice. We flew Po-2 with instructor, take offs-landings. Then maneuvers in the zone. Loops, all kinds of combat turns, zooms. That’s with instructor. Then instructor would allow solitary flight. A bag of sand would be placed in the rear cabin in order not to change weight balance…
— How many flights did you make before your first solo flight?
About fifteen with instructor. In the second aeroclub I flew solo on the sixth flight already.
In the beginning of 1941, in February, perhaps, instructors from Chernigov military flight school came. They examined how everyone was flying, and the best were listed as candidates.
After that my file was sent from the Voenkomat to the flight school. I came to Chernigov flight school in the beginning of April.
I passed medical commission, but at vesting commission they said:
— You are not 18 years old yet. You should go home.
— I will be eighteen in the end of April.
— Fine, we will accept you.
And they allowed me to pass. I studied from 1941 until 1943. When the War broke out, we begun studying with increased speed, by a shortened program…
At first we studied on I-15bis and I-16. There also were I-5, but we did not fly them, only taxied and trained holding direction on take offs and landings. The fabric from the wings was torn away, so that no one would take off. It was done because we had no twin control I-15Bis.
— How did you find out about the war?
It was announced.
We started walking with rifles and gas masks. Airplanes were dragged away from the airfield to the forest. At first we knew nothing. Then we noticed an airplane at an altitude of about 1500 meters. We couldn’t see if it was ours or enemy airplane. Then something fell out of it. Somebody said:
— Are they dropping leaflets?
Suddenly those “leaflets” started wining… For increased effect on moral Germans made whistles it the bomb stabilizers. In order to make more noise. Bombs fell to the taxiway. Three men were killed, ten men were wounded.
— When approximately did it happen?
It was in June. Just as war begun, in it’s first days… Their reconnaissance airplanes flew over Chernigov even before the war. I remember how I-16 took off to intercept one, but couldn’t catch up. Junkers flew away – it had good speed.
Shortly after, we were evacuated to Rostov, where we were based at turf airfields. One squadron was at Mechotinskaya, another in Yegorlykskaya. And our squadron at station “Verblyud”, that’s Zelenograd…
— Were you evacuated with your planes?
Yes, with planes. Planes were at flat carts, we were in cargo carts, where beads were made…
— From many other schools airplanes were taken to the frontline units. Was that so in your case?
No, we always were with our planes. Near Rostov we flew a little bit, but when Germans got close again we had to evacuate for the second time. This time to Central Asia. Many schools were sent there. Some were sent to Baku, from there further to Central Asia. We were taking the long way: via Saratov and Stalingrad. We were going at winter 1941–1942 and it took a long time. Via Kazakhstan and Tashkent we came to Kyzyl-Arvat, that’s Turkmenia. No other schools were nearby.
Main squadron stayed in Kyzyl-Arvat and so was all school staff. Other squadrons were spread out in the field bases. We flew a lot. We were trained faster by shortened program. There was a shortage in trained pilots.
I finished the flight school in 1943. Instead of supposed four years of training in took two years. Training was weak. Only piloting, in general. At first I-16. UTI-4. I almost completed full program. In 1942 we received Yaks. They were built in Saratov. I finished Yak-1 training program, again take off-landing, and zone practice.
— Your attitude towards I-15 and I-16?
Neither speed to catch the enemy, nor to escape…
— What was your attitude towards Yaks?
Of course, Yak was much more powerful then I-15 or I-16. It could be felt even on take off…
— Which plane was easier to master? What advantages I-15 and I-16 had? What about Yak-1?
I-16 was a difficult airplane. It was very strict on landing, and in the air it could always spin out of control, when one was performing aerobatics. This spin was not a maneuver, it was rather wide.
Germans were afraid to fly them. Before the war there was some agreement and our pilots tried out Messershmitts, while Germans were offered to try out I-16. They flew, and considered it to be very tricky.
— Everybody said that it easily came out of spins.
Usually it came out easy. But sometimes it was delayed. It would enter dive, and then it would come out…
Yak was easier on take offs and landings then I-16. Yak was landing before its wings got critical angle of attack. I-16 landed at critical angle of attack. If one would pull the stick just a bit more, it would fall to one side…
— When you came to the flight school, what kind of uniform did you have?
Cadets uniform… Like a soldiers uniform, only insignia and emblems indicated that we were cadets. Oh, yes, and the “birds”.
— How you were fed?
— When you moved to Rostov how you were fed there?
Not excellently, but also sufficiently. Flight crews have to be fed well, or they will loose conscience in the air. We were fed poorly in Central Asia.
— Was there entertainment in the school: concerts, movies?
In Chernigov there was a Palace of Culture, we went there to see movies. But it was on rare occasions.
— Did you know that our bombers dropped their load on Berlin in 1941?
In 1941 cadets woke up early, gathered near radio and listened to the news broadcast. Then, in August 1941 it was announced that Il-4s bombed Berlin. It was a well-accepted news. They bomb us, why we can’t bomb them?
Il-4 is more of a crow, than a plane. But they made it, and bombed Berlin. Then Germans captured Estonia, and no our aircraft could reach it.
— Did you change uniforms in Central Asia? For example, did you get panama hat?
No, they were not even available during the war. They appeared after the war.
In Central Asia we did not get high boots, just low boots with wrappings. There was some accident somewhere and a conclusion was made that a wrapping jammed controls. It was decided that it is unsafe to get inside a plane in wrappings. There was one pair of high boots for all squadron, when it was a time to fly we would get them on and fly.
Mostly we were fed by rice. There was also a “shrapnel” as we called barley. Meat was lamb and camel. Food was in short supply. Sometimes, when flights were long, we received a second breakfast – sandwiches…
In Kyzyl-Arvat we lived in barracks made of clay, we built them our selves. The roofs were made of hay…
At the Kodzh airfield we lived in summer tents, that’s near Kara-Kum desert, railway station Kodzh. There was one water well within 18 kilometers. Then it became cold, and we installed winter double-layer tents. We made heaters with a long pipe, almost around entire tent so that the exhaust was already cold. That’s how we lived…
— Did you have at least a visiting mobile movie service?
We saw movies perhaps couple of times there. But I remember an actress Shulzhenko. For the first time I saw her performance there. It was a «Concert to the Front», I think that was how it was called.
— In the area of Kyzyl-Arvat there were no airfields…
Airfields there were 10-15 kilometers in length. There, in Turkmenia, nothing was growing. It was flat cracked earth spreading for dozens of kilometers. To the right from us were mountains, there was Iran…
— Where there salt mines?
We went there to get some firewood for our kitchen. Early in the morning, before sunrize, we went to sands to find vegetation for the kitchen. Then we were flying because it was too hot to go to the desert during day time – very hot, up to 40 degrees (Celcium) in the shadow.
There was one well. Depth – fifteen meters. Water – very cold. Then we, starting from about eight o’clock, begun flying, and flew until eleven. After that all movement stopped. It was a period of day when no one was able to do anything.
Airplanes were semi-dug into the sand. We were afraid of the strong winds, which were called “afghanets”.
On Yaks training program was very brief: takeoff – landing, zone. And a bit of formation flight training.
— Route flights?
We did not fly route training, and we did not train to shoot neither in the air, nor on the ground. I believe, never before such training existed.
— During training time, how many flights did you make?
Before I got to the front? A few. They are listed in my logbook. Here: U-2, 57 hours flown. UTI-4 – 24,5…
I finished the school in March 1943. Our group graduated. My friend I and were sent to Saratov, to the ZAP. I went there for three days, once again through Kazakhstan. Airfield was in Bagai-Baranovka. There we were supposed to be trained in ZAP… But mostly we were fooling around there, because there were no airplanes. Then we were sent to Leningrad Front.
— At which rank did you finish the school?
— When did you receive Lieutenant rank?
I received Lieutenant rank when I already was in 14th Regiment. After the war ended, I think.
— How pilots were chosen to be sent to Leningrad?
There was no choosing. Pilots were sent where there was shortage of them. In September 1943 I was sent to the headquarters, there I received a directive… I went through Moscow, then Kobona, from Kobona we crossed Ladoga Lake on a ship to Maryin Nos, and finally to Finlandskii railway station. In the Air Army Headquarters, located at Dvortsovaya Square I was directed to Volkhov.
I crossed Ladoga on another ship to Kobona. Then hitchhiked a truck from Kobona to the Plekhanovo airfield. There were two regiments stationed there: the 159th Regiment under command of Pokryshev (equipped with Lavochkins), and the 196th Regiment equipped with Airacobras. It was commanded by HSU Andrei Chirkov.
I was assigned to the ranks of the 196th regiment. I started conversion training on Cobra. It had a front wheel, it’s landing was a bit unusual… But first I flew a Kittyhawk, in order to get used to the instrument panel. It was not common in our aviation: feet, miles… we had to recalculate constantly in our minds. Landing characteristics were very close to Yak, and the only purpose of these flights was to get used to instrument indications.
— How would you compare Yak with Kittyhawk?
Hawk was crap in comparison with Yak… In terms of flying qualities Yak was better. But Hawk was well equipped, excellent radio, good view from the cabin. I made several flights in it. Then I flew in a dual-control fighter. Pilot-instructor was an Estonian. For some reason he couldn’t get to the fighting readiness, and his task was to train young pilots on a dual-control planes.
— Dual control Kittyhawk? Was it a field modification?
I don’t know the details, but if I remember correctly, they were rebuilt by our engineers. And when engine hours were exhausted, they installed our M-105 engine.
After several flights on a double-seat fighter, instructor transferred me to the Cobra.
I familiarized myself with Airacobra, performed simulated take-off and stopped, just to feel it on take off. Then I took off, everything was fine. When you land, you shouldn’t pull the stick all the way, and it will get on the nose wheel all by it self. Visibility was good; engine was behind the pilots seat. I believe that Alison was a great engine, I remember it to this day, but airframe was way too heavy. Armament: 37 millimeter cannon shooting through spinner, two sincronized large caliber machine guns firing through the propeller, and four Colt-Brownings in the wings. When one pressed the trigger, it was a firework…
— There are rumors that Cobras was prone to spins?
I’m already coming to this.
All our planes weighted around 3 metric tons. Yak weighted a bit less. Lavochkin weighted a bit more. Cobra had a take off weight of 6 metric tons. (Take-off weight of P-39 Airacobra was about 3.5 tons – I.G.) A lot of armament, a lot of ammunition, a lot of fuel. Heavy airplane. We were stationed with Lavochkins, but especially for Cobras there was an extended runway. Because it required longer runway for a take-off. (Required runway for P-39 was about 500 meters from a grass field and less from a concrete, La-5 required runway 450 meters long with a take off distance 550 meters – IG)
By the way, division commander Matveyev once came to us:
— What’s this plane like? I’m going to try it out.
He tried to take off not on the runway, intended for Cobras, but on the one used by Lavochkins. We saw that he was rolling on the strip and rolling. The strip was almost over. I thought, that was it, he will crash. But he managed to lift off, wings were shaking, but he did take off. Gained some altitude. Landed normally, taxied to the parking area, spitted to the ground and went away without speaking to anybody.
I once was going in a commuter train to Pushkin with him, to the museum of the 275th Division, and asked him:
— How did it happen that you almost crashed in a Cobra?
— You never warned me that I had to extend flaps before take off!
Chirkov didn’t tell him, he thought that division commander would know it himself. He was a subordinate and it is not a subordinate’s business to tell his superior what to do…
Cobra easily entered any kind of spins. Both into simple and into flat spins. It also had bad landing characteristics due to the fact that it was tail-heavy. (This is very unusual comment as most accounts praise Airacobra for its excellent landing characteristics due to tricycle landing gear – IG). There were two of us, who came to train on Cobras, we already mastered take offs and landings. Then they told me:
— Now go to the zone for aerobatics. And look after your tail, Germans are close by, they can shoot you down…
So I flew, sharp turns first, then half-loop down… What’s going on? Earth is so close now? But I was flying at 3 000 meters. In a half-loop I lost 1 500 meters, Yak would loose 600 meters. What a heavy airplane, I thought.
I gained 3 000 again… Zooms, combat turns, half loops, barrel rolls… Then I flew in formation with my friend, with whom we came from the flight school – Sergeant Vladimir Pavlov. He flew very well, he was an excellent pilot. But he did not make it to combat-ready status, got killed in a Cobra.
It happened before my eyes: their pair flew from Volkhov to the airfield at an altitude of approximately 2 000 meters. Leader begun diving, dove, dove, then he pulled out very sharply. His aircraft lifted its nose and then begun falling like a leaf. Chirkov shouted over radio:
— Bail out!
We heard no reply.
— Bail out!
— Bail out!
Airplane fell into the bushes…
— Who was it?
Pavlov. (TsAMO: Pavlov Vladimir Ilyich born 1922, Sergeant of the 196th IAP. Was killed in P-39 accident on 2 February 1944. Burried in Plekhanovo).
He wanted to fight so much… We buried him at Plekhanovo…
Engineers for a long time were investigating the cause of the crash, their conclusion was that stabilizer mount broke on high G maneuver. Aircraft exited the dive with extremely high G load, pilot lost conscience, further on it was uncontrolled fall…
There were a lot of accidents and catastrophes on Cobras…
— People who flew and fought on Cobras have polar opinions about this plane. What is your opinion?
It was not good for fighting.
— That is, you did not like it?
I didn’t like it. But I read a book called “I fought on Cobra” recently – a lot of other pilots liked it.
But there were too many non-combat related losses on them…
— Which fuel did you use? American?
It should have worked on American B-100, which we did not have. On our B-89 engine lost power, and airplane couldn’t give all it was built for. I never flew it fuelled with B-100, and I never fought on Cobra. I only mastered it.
As I completed training I was transferred to the 14th GvIAP equipped with Yaks.
— If you already were combat ready on Cobras, why were you transferred?
This regiment did nothing at a time. Some pilots left to Novosibirsk to bring new airplanes, which came from Alaska. Those pilots that remained at Plekhanovo were doing nothing. Meanwhile, the 14th regiment suffered severe losses, and I was sent there.
I started combat missions on Yak-7TD — it was called “Tyazhelyj Duboviy” (heavy and oak-like – Oak-like is idiomatic expression characterizing such features as being slow and clumsy I.G.). It had four wing fuel tanks and was built for escorting bombers to large distances.
I finished the war on Yak-9U with M-107 engine. Its engine life was 50 hours only. There also were a lot of accidents with this airplane. At high power connecting rods would break. We lost one pilot after the war. Engine on his airplane stalled over Ezel. He decided to belly land, Yak’s nose was long, and he couldn’t see anything directly in front of him, so he hit a large stone. Pilot’s head was smashed against gunsight.
I also had to belly land it. When I was thrown around the cockpit I grabbed gunsight trying to hold on…
— When were you transferred to the 14th Regiment?
In the end of 1943 I think. In April 1944 near Gdov, at the airfield Chernevo regiment commander HSU Svitenko tested me and allowed to combat. We then flew to Narva, Tartu. Then fighting near Narva ended. In the beginning of summer 1944, we went to Karelian Isthmus. In the fights over it our regiment was completely torn to pieces.
Not only our regiment suffered losses, but the entire Division too. Serov Vladimir also perished then. (HSU (posthumorously) Senior Leitenant of the 159th IAP was killed in action on 26 June 1944).
We covered the 943rd ShAP over Karelia. Twice HSU Georgii Parshin served there. We fought alongside with him all the time.
We were based at the airfield Maisniemi. It was a large, grass airstrip. On one side sturmovicks were parked, on the other – our fighters. Every day there were fierce fights… We lost a lot of men. When we entered the battle, there were 55 planes in the regiment. When we finished fighting, hardly a squadron – 10 airplanes were airworthy. All others were lost. We suffered losses everyday… there was too much work to be done…
There is a museum of our Division in Pushkin. I was going there on a train with a General, former commander of our Division. I asked him:
— I’m sorry, General, but why did we suffer so many losses over Karelia?
Former Division commander answered:
— We did all the dirty work. That’s why we lost so many.
That’s his words. Major losses were suffered by the 159th, 14th, 196th regiments and the 29th Guards Regiment. The 191st regiment was equipped with Kittyhawks, so they flew rarely.
— Did you fly escort missions only?
No. As the General said, we did all the dirty work there. When ground fighting begun, I escorted Tu-2 bombers, reconnaissance Pe-2 were escorted by a pair. We also flew close air support…
— Wasn’t Pe-2 faster then you?
No, it couldn’t overrun us. It could outdive us. We were returning from a reconnaissance flight.
— Well, — he said, — goodbye!
Pushed the stick — and went down… We couldn’t catch up, he easily escaped in a dive.
— Were there cases when Yaks wing skin was torn in flight?
I heard about such cases in the flight school, but not in the combat regiment.
In my opinion, and I participated in 25 fights, best fighter of WWII was Me-109G2.
Our planes were called Russfaner by Germans. Yaks were built out of wood. Only when Yak-3 appeared we got an upper hand over Messer. Otherwise Germans were always higher then we were because of more powerful engine. And if they were higher, they were faster.
— Could they be above you only because you were given precise tasks with predefined altitudes?
Yes, this too, but we always were at the limit. Even if you banked too much airplane would loose altitude. They would come in higher then we could fly, and hit us out of there.
— When you came to the 14th Regiment, how you were met?
Normally. HSU Svitenko was the Regiment commander.
— Well, let me test you in the air in a dual-control fighter.
He tested me, and made a note in my logbook – «Flights to the combat missions allowed».
— You are a Tatar by nationality. Were there cases of racial intolerance?
— You were one of the youngest pilots in the regiment?
Speaking of young pilots. I’ll describe my first combat mission. Squadron commander HSU Zelenov and flight commander Vasiliy Derevyankin took two of us, to show where was what.
We were stationed near Gdov, airfield Chernevo. We took off:
— Look here, there is one airfield, there is another one. Now we are going to the front line, to Narva.
We gained 3 000 meters, and went to Narva. We saw explosions on the ground… Most important for youngster is to keep on the tail of the leader…
— Who was your leader?
Vasiliy Derevyankin. (Leitenant Derevyankin Vasiliy Dmitrievich was shot down in aerial combat in Vussami area on 10 October 1944).
Second youngster was Gordeev, his leader was Zelenov.
We were going back at an altitude of 3000 meters. Suddenly, a radio message came from the ground:
— Go to Gdov! Gdov is being bombed!
— I’ve got two young ones in the flight.
— I order to go to Gdov!
There were a lot of planes over Gdov, Ju-87s, FW-190s… The city was burning. I remember how Vasiliy was shooting… Then I noticed a pair of Fokkers on my tail. I begun tight turn, they followed me, but Yak had a much tighter turn radius… We were chasing each others tails over Chudskoye Lake. I almost caught enemy wingman, but his leader saw it, turned over wing and they escaped.
I noticed the direction they went to, and decided that I should fly in opposite direction. You know, I simply forgot to look at the compass. I flew from the middle of the lake, it seemed that aircraft was not moving at all. Then I noticed a Yak ahead. I flew after him, while he tried to outrun me. It was known that Germans flew Yaks and shot our unsuspecting pilots down.
Anyway, I caught him and made formation. So he led me to Chernevo airfield. We landed, taxied to the full stop. I asked:
— Where is Gordeev?
— He’s over there, in a forest.
It turned out that he was shot down, all cooling liquid had vaporized, so he tried to return to the airfield. He was trying to land his plane, when an engine stalled over pine forest… aircraft suddenly lost altitude, caught pine trees tops and fell to the Ground. But Gordeev stayed alive!
That was my first mission at the front. Then everything seemed as usual…
— Zelenov once was court martialled for loosing 6 Pe-2s on escort mission. Do you know what happened exactly?
No, I know nothing about it. I know that he was sent to our 14th Regiment as a penalty.
Pilots used to say about our regiment that it was a penal regiment. If somebody did something wrong, he was sent to the 14th GvIAP for “rehab”… There were different pilots. Some of the Heroes wanted to stay alive too much…
— Have you heard anything about penal squadrons or regiments?
There was nothing close to infantry. There were no true penal units in aviation. If a pilot did something extra serious, he would be sent to infantry to a penal unit.
— What can you say about Zelenov?
He flew a lot of missions, but he became too cautious in the end of the war. What I heard about him and felt it myself: he wasn’t too keen on entering a fight, and he didn’t care about his wingmen… wingman is a shield of the leader, he covers the leader. Any shield is the first to receive a strike. Zelenov lost many of his wingmen.
— You flew your first mission with Zelenov. Who was your next leader?
Then – with many different pilots… But mostly with Maxim Glasunov. After the war he worked at LII (Flight research institute) – test-flew new Yak-25 in Saratov. He was a good pilot. I flew a lot with him. I flew a lot with other pilots too. If somebody would loose their wingman, I would be appointed to his pair.
In 1944 we experienced heavy losses. Regiment commander should take off and check, what was wrong, why losses were mounting… But regiment commander did not fly. It’s not good, people keep dying. He was a HSU, but he must have decided for himself that he had flown too much, enough is enough. Maybe he was right – they got their share of fighting.
In 1944 our flight of six had escorted Marshall Govorov to Moscow. We took off from airfield in Karelia. He was flying on board of Li-2, and we escorted him to Moscow. He went there to receive his Marshal’s Star. He received his star, we spent a night in Moscow, and then we escorted him back.
— You were still flying Yak-7TD?
Yes, Yak-7TD — this same heavy-oak-like…
On Yak-7TD and Yak-7T there was a 37mm cannon and two large caliber machine guns. That was their basic armament.
Aviation plant in Novosibirsk at first built Yak-1s (Yak-1 was built only in Saratov and not in Novosibirsk – IG), then they begun building Yak-7. Some of them were equipped with 37 mm cannons. Yak-9s also came with 37 mm cannons, for example Yak-9U with a VK-107 engine.
— Was there any visual difference to tell that this Yak was equipped with 37 mm cannon?
They were almost identical in appearance, but you could tell it: in a Yak-9U there was a radiator on the belly behind pilots seat. Yak-7 had a beard – oil radiator under the engine…
— We stopped when Germans were chasing you over Chudskoye Lake…
You mean, I was chasing them.
— You chased them. What happened after that fight?
Then we were liberating Estonia…
— Did anything interesting happen there?
When we were based at Chernevo airfield on 14 May 1944, squadron commander Ivan Baranov had made a head-on ram.
This is how it happened. Ju-88, covered by Fw-190s came to bomb our airfield. There were about 25 Junkers bombers and 12 FW-190.
Only one flight managed to take off when bombs begun falling, and fighting ensued. We, those who did not take off, were looking from the ground. Focke-Wulf was going down in a shallow dive. Our Ivan Baranov was gaining altitude. They were shooting at each other, no one willing to turn away. They collided head-on at an altitude of 100-150 meters…
It was horrible. There was a huge explosion! Our Yak burned out almost completely. The nose part of Focke-Wulf was totally destroyed and he fell into the forest just outside of the airfield boundaries (According to German records Uffz. Heinz Buschan of 6.II.JG54 flying Fw190A-5/F3 was killed on 14.05.44 while colliding with Yak-9. Had previouselly claimed only one Il-2 as shot down on 28.04.1944).
— How often did Germans attack head-on?
It depended on many factors. Some times it happened in a fight. We came in at almost 0, firing at each other, but somebody would turn away – no one wanted to die. It was much better to cut enemy’s tail in terms of rams…
— What do you know about pilot Bibin head on ram.
Yes, Georgiy Bibin. I do not know when he carried out this ram. He came to our regiment when the war ended, we were stationed at Hapsala in Estonia. He told us how it happened.
At the last moment he pulled the stick. Usually it is bad, because then you open the belly of an airplane, and it becomes a good target. Because of this usually you try to push the stick forward, just not to let the enemy see your belly…
He told us:
— I pulled the stick just a little bit, then there was a noise, engine begun shaking. Then it stalled…
He used to be an instructor pilot, very good pilot. Airfield was close to the front line, so he managed to glide from an altitude of 6 000 meters. He landed normally, technicians found bits and pieces of a German fighter in a water radiator… I do not know where he fought. Some where in Ukraine… For head-on ram he was awarded an Order of Red Banner. Georgiy had passed away already…
— What were your thoughts about ramming?
It is highly risky business, you may die yourself, but your enemy may survive. If you are in a dogfight against fighters, there is no true reason for ramming. If you are attacking a bomber, then you may come from below behind and cut his tail by propeller. Without tail control he will fall. If you have no ammo but this bird has to be shot down, you may ram him. But you should do it carefully, to stay alive yourself…
— How many missions did you fly per day?
At Karelia: five, six, even seven. We took off at sunrise and landed at sunset.
— How much time technicians required to prepare airplane for next sortie?
They worked fast. I did not note, but about twenty minutes, refueled, reloaded, and it was ready.
— Were pilots satisfied by technicians work?
Yes, they worked excellently.
— Were there cases when they did not do everything right?
No, it would be a case for court martial. With an outcome in a penal unit. No, everything was fine… By the end of the war, in winter, they all had frostbitten fingers…
— In your logbook there are notes: «Me-109 shot down, FW-190 shot up». What is the difference between Shot down and Shot up?
If Shot down – it means that there was a confirmation from ground forces. If I know where and when it fell, a representative officer from our regiment would go there and collect confirmation from the ground troops in this area. Then everything was clear…
— Was there a need to attach wrecks to a report, or was a report itself enough?
Only a document was brought to the regiment… About “shot up”: it happened like this. We flew escort for Sturmoviks. I noticed that a 190 flew past me.
I fired at him from all guns. There was a thick black smoke. No flames, just smoke. “Humpbacks” saw it all. But it did not fall right here, it went in a shallow descent with a trail of smoke. We went on at our target, so no one could say what happened to it…
— Because of this it was recorded as “shot up”?
Yes, shot up.
— Were you payed for a messer that you shot down?
Yes. A fighter cost 1 000 roubles, a bomber was 1 500. I also received a payment for 50 accomplished missions.
— How many mission did you fly?
I flew 85 missions.
— What was considered a combat mission?
A combat mission was when you had a mission to accomplish, even if there was no fight. Dogfights were accounted for separately.
— Were you paid for Focke-Wulf?
It did not fall.
— How did you shot «109» down?
It was a very bad weather. Cloud cover was at approximately 600 meters. We were flying close air support over the front line near Vyborg. There were four of us.
Messers also came in a flight of four. They flew in and out of clouds. Germans were cunning, they were looking for convenient position. When he saw that he could kill you without any risk, be sure that he will do so.
Then I saw – one got out of cloud and is heading almost straight at me. Right into my gunsight! I just pressed triggers and fired all my guns at him… I even thought that we are going to collide. But everything was quiet. Then somebody said over radio:
— Look, Your Messer is going straight down in flames.
That’s how I shot it down.
— In 1944 there shouldn’t have been Germans on “109”s in Karelia. Most likely those were Finns?
No, Germans. At spring 1944 we fought at Narva. At summer we commenced fighting to liberate Karelian isthmus. Here we met those same Germans we fought near Narva. Those same Germans on those same Fokkers and Messers. They flew over the Gulf of Finland to the bases in Finland.
— Did you meet Finns in combat?
Yes. But they did not have Messers. They had Brewsters and some other Fokkers, not 190s. They were no match to our planes.
At first, when we only begun fighting for Karelia, we saw them, then, quite soon, they stopped flying completely. They were very slow, like our planes at the beginning of the war.
— Brewster was quite close to Yak-1.
No, Yak was much better.
— Could you have told by flying signature was it a Finn or a German in the air? Finns had Messers at their disposal.
Finns had their markings: white circle and fashist swastika inside. But we never saw them. We met Germans with black crosses, yellow wingtips, yellow spinner, a bit of the tail was also yellow. Our Yaks had white spinner and tail.
— You mean rudder?
Yes, it was done to easily recognize friend or foe. At large distance silhouettes were similar…
— What was the meaning of camouflage if these yellow bits were clearly visible?
They were no so big. Yellow parts at the wingtips were about 10-15 centimeters in width, and yellow spinner. It had almost no effect on the camouflage.
— Did camouflage work at all?
Of course. It worked against ground. Which one was better: ours or German? I can’t really say.
— Germans had Gray-Dark gray camouflage by the end of war?
Yes, we had Green-Dark green. (By the end of the war Soviet fighter planes had grey – dark grey camouflage and green – black camo was standard prior mid-1943 – IG). Camouflage was needed to hide against earth. If you look upwards you will see airplane in any camouflage. It does not help…
— A lot of our pilots believed that ammo load was not enough on Yaks?
It was enough for a usual dogfight. There were 30 rounds for 37 mm cannon. Can’t say about machine guns.
— At which altitudes did you usually fly?
Combat air patrol at 5 000 meters usually. At this altitude we could fly and fight. Above it M-105 engine lost power dramatically.
— Did you use oxygen mask at 5 000 meters?
No, not yet. No one used them. We took a mouthpiece, sucked it and that was all. Oxygen mask did not allow for a good situational awareness. Situational awareness is everything… If I saw the enemy, I already had 50% chances to win the fight… You have to twist head all the time…
— Did you fly with open or closed canopy?
With closed. If you open it, you will lose a bit of speed… Some flew with open. For example Dubovik, Deputy Regiment commander. When we flew close air support, we often saw that his canopy was almost always open. It was not completely transparent, so the view was a bit obscured.
— Was there an armored glass?
Armored glass was in the front. Behind us was an armored metal plate, about shoulder high, and the rest was armored glass, for viewing of what was happening behind. Our first Yaks were produced with full metal armored headrest. Then it was decided that glass was needed. But the view at long distances was still bad – armored glass was sandwich-like, so visibility was distorted.
— Was there a rear view mirror?
We had them on Spitfires, not on Yaks.
— You flew against Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs, other pilots also recall that Messer was a better fighter.
Yes. But it would be more correct to compare Focke-Wulf with Lavochkins. They both have air cooled engine.
— But our pilots always recall that Messerschmitts were much better then Fokkers. They say that Focke-Wulf was nothing but rather average fighter… Germans, on the other hand consider Messerschmits as an obsolete construction.
But they improved it all the time.
— But it was getting heavier with every modification and lost it’s handling characteristics.
Messerschmitt was much more maneuverable. If it, for example, went upwards, it would escape. Focke-Wulf was heavy. It even had a turn radius larger then Messer.
The only serious advantage Fokker had over Messer was the amount of guns. That is, if it hit – it’s a kill. Messer had only three guns. But… If you are at the tail and shoot from 200 meter, there is no need in so many guns. Cobras had 7 guns, and that was thought to be too much. Our pilots asked to remove the wing guns…
— We broke the Karelian defense line, captured Vyborg…
Then we went to liberate Estonia. To the airfield Krikovo near Kingisepp. We were stationed there with Humpbacks, from there we flew to Narva. Then there was airfield Smuravievo. From there we also flew to Tartu and Narva. Then we were based near Hapsala – airfield Ungru. Quite commonly we were based with sturmoviks. It was very convenient to be based alongside, we always had a chance to listen to complaints, to decide how we are going to interact in the next mission. We took off and landed together, there was no need to wait for each other. Tactically it was very convenient. When we came back we met the sturmovik pilots in the canteen.
— Were there complaints that fighters abandoned the sturmoviks in flight…
We escorted sturmoviks all the time, and there were no complaints. How can I leave them, if we live together, and even eat together? Abandon sturmoviks? For that you would be court martialled.
— But, you must have heard about such cases… Zelenov was sent to you…
Anything could happen. It was war. We could have shot down many planes, Germans could shoot down many of our planes. This is war and how situation will turn – who knows?
— Have you seen how sturmoviks were shot down?
Not a single one fell before my eyes. I was returning to the base with serious battle damage and a humpback was also returning with damage. I formed up with him, and we returned together…
— How were you shot up?
We were flying with twice HSU Parshin. He flew the lead of a nine sturmovik formation. Our four fighters were escorting them. When they were flying back they usually flew at tree top level, so they would be protected from below. We flew a bit above and behind. This time we flew right over Oerlicon position. That’s small caliber AA guns. We got in such a melee! It was like in the mid of a firework, they shot at us, and there was nowhere to maneuver. Tracers everywhere… They got me. My plane turned on its back and I half-rolled back, and saw a hole in the wing. They tried to finish me off…
— How large was the hole?
I easily went through it myself. Almost all of the center of the wing was knocked out. It was a little bit to the side from the fuel tank. If they would have hit it, my plane would have blown up…
Aircraft flew sideways… They tried to shoot me down, but they did not hit me…
I came back, taxied to the parking space. I came to the earth through the hole in the wing. Well, I thought, it seems I’ll have some rest from fighting. In the morning I came to the airfield – my plane is waiting for me fully repaired. Technicians worked all night. I couldn’t even find where the hole was! As if nothing happened.
— You showed us a detonator from a shell or from a large-caliber bullet…
A Fokker hit me, this time at the beginning of fighting for Karelia. We flew escort for sturmoviks. They did their job and we were returning. Sturmoviks over tree tops, I was flying behind and above. Everything was quiet, nothing looked like trouble… Then, suddenly, fireballs appeared at the side of my cockpit. I automatically gave foot in… When I looked around, there was no one… Well, I missed them. Fokkers attacked me from the sun. I got relaxed, and they caught me off guard…
Engine was working, airplane flies, but there was severe smell of fuel…
They damaged the stabilizer, fuselage and wing. I noticed that a hole was close to the flaps.
I thought that if I will extend damaged flaps, I could roll over, and have no time to recover…
So I extended them at an altitude of 600 meters. Everything was normal, so I landed safely… Landed, taxied to the parking.
The detonator was near the fuel tank. Technician found it later and gave it to me as a present.
We were going to sleep that night. I took off my high boots – they were just issued to me, brand new. Small shell fragments pierced my wraps so it reminded laces. My foot was fine, not even a scratch! I looked attentivley and found small holes in the boot. I was still wearing it after this.
— What did you see when you missed the attack?
Red fireballs flew past cockpit side. And four smoke trails after them…
— That is, tracers helped enemy to aim and at the same time it warned you about attack. If you did not notice it they could have performed second run on you?
Germans usually attacked only once. From about 400 meters. It is almost impossible to hit anything from larger distances. From closer distance it is also dangerous – what if enemy plane would start to disintegrate. But I never actually saw how planes disintegrate; they usually went down on fire.
— Was Yaks armament of 37mm cannon and two machine guns enough?
Usually only first three-four shells would hit a target, then you saw nothing.
— At what distance would you train your weapons?
At 400 meters.
— Did you have armor-piercing rounds?
The belt was armed as following: armor-piercing, high-explosive, high-explosive-incendiary, and tracer. Tracer always, so you could correct your aim… Same as for American planes.
— A lot in a fight depends on luck… According to this: did you have any superstitions?
I had no superstitions.
— How about your regiment? May be pilots did not shave or get photographed before taking off?
Everything was a lot simpler — there was no staff photographer. You could make a photo when there was nothing to do. About shaving – nothing special…
But there was something… Yes! There was no number “13” plane! “12”, and right after it “14”…
— Were there slogans or paintings on the fuselage sides?
There were people who liked to paint. But it was done usually after the war. There was no time to do it at the front.
I remember, when I flew Cobra there was an order of Alexander Nevskii drawn on its door.
— Did you see any “nose art” on enemy planes?
I saw a heart pierced by an arrow with blood drops on a Messer. And a word KAPUT. I saw it after the war on a trophy plane at the airfield near Saratov. (Description matches Karaja aircraft)
— Did you know anything about German aces?
54th Geschwader commander was Hauptmann Fillipp. He was an ace, and Germans treasured him a lot…
— Did you fight in Estonia for a long time?
When we liberated Estonia we transferred to an airfield near Hapsala. I made my last sortie to island Ezel from there. The island was almost completely liberated, but there was a small appendix occupied by Germans. We escorted sturmoviks there. We could see Libava from there, and ships in the port. I wanted to take a look at the port, as long as sturmoviks were doing their job, and everything was calm. I turned towards those ships. Well, I was fired upon from all weapons! I immideatley rolled over and dove away. They decided that I was going to attack the ships, and their AAA opened fire from all ships…
There all our fighting was over. We were sitting in Hapsala and tried to intercept enemy reconnaissance airplanes.
— Were there a lot of reconnaissance planes?
They overflew us maybe 2 times. No one really even tried to intercept, since they were too far, too high and too fast. There was no sense in chasing them.
— Did you fire at ground targets?
We never flew to strafe, our task was to cover sturmoviks. But if everything was clear… I chose targets at will. I once saw a house and strafed it with 37 mm cannon. I clearly saw how my tracers disappeared in the roof…
There was one case.
We went to escort sturmoviks to the frontline. They strafed more or less normally. And then some wise guy from the ground radioed that everything was quiet in the air and we should descend and take part in strafing. There were a lot of sturmoviks, and then we dove… It was a mess — about 40 airplanes overall. Two our fighters collided. Gordeev and Klepikov. There were so many planes in the air, that we had to look after each other trying to avoid collision. They both died. (According to TsAMO on 28 June1944 airplanes of Junior Leitenant Klepikov Aleksey Ivanovich and Sergeant Gordeev Sergey Petrovich collided in midair over the target in Vyborg area).
— Did you end the war in Estonia?
Yes, our war ended in Estonia. Later I was sent here to protect Leningrad sky in Spitfires. I was transferred in it in 1947.
— When it became clear that Leningrad will not fall?
They lived through blockade, a Road of Life appeared. Then they captured a piece of territory and arranged train communication.
But everything was still blocked. Starvation. Pilots were also poorly fed. But they have to be fed well, or they will loose conscience in the air…
Technicians did not get enough food. I used to take extra piece of bread for my technician; I knew that they were in bad condition.
When we fought in Karelia, it was almost normal. Blockade was lifted. We had rice, technicians had barley and millet.
I was fed up with rice and asked:
— Give me «technical» millet.
— You were at the Volkhov Front, how you were fed there?
There it was normal.
I’ll tell you one more story. When we were in the Volkhov area, at Plekhanovo airfield, all of a sudden Division on Li-2 commanded by Grizodubova arrived. Li-2 was an excellent night bomber. They were conducting raids on Tallin and Helsinki. Usually they were flying at night. We came to the canteen in the morning and they all are sitting there. We have no room to eat. Than we saw one of their crews are almost crying, they were drunk. We asked what happened.
They flew to Helsinki. They took 4 bombs externally under the belly and small bombs inside the fuselage. So they reached the target and their navigator issued a command to drop bombs. They opened a door and started to drop small bombs. At this time Messershmitt 110 got on their tail, turned his lights on and started to attack. Of course, the pilot of Li-2 initiated evasive maneuver. And mechanic with bombs and without a parachute fell in the open door. Parachute was bulky and interfered with operations when dropping bombs, so when they dropped them they took the chute off.
So they where were grieving about their mechanic.
— What do you think about our and German strike aircraft, which were better?
Our sturmoviks were more effective. We used to say: they worked so much, that they got a hump. Sturmovik pilots were very serious people. But they suffered a lot of losses. Ju-87 was a close support bomber, but it was not even a close match for Il-2.
— Your opinion of bomber aviation?
German was more effective. Their most common bomber was Ju-88. It was a tactical bomber.
— Did fighters shoot down their own aircraft?
I know that Germans were flying our Yaks and I know that ours were flying Messers. I learned about it after I attempted to fly next to our Yak over Chudskoe Lake in order for him to lead me home. And he was scared of me. Cases that one of us in our own regiment will shoot down somebody of our own – no, that did not happen.
— Did strafing by fighters require formal orders in writing?
No, that was done on our own initiative. We helped. Sturmoviks are strafing, all is calm in the air. And then what? Would I bring my ammunition home? Why did I fly?
— Well, you look and there is no enemy. When you go for strafing and here they are, falling on you…
Than we will fight, what else can you do?
— And if you have no ammo, if you expanded all in strafing?
Well, it’s a risk because it is war. Otherwise I will bring all my ammunition back home. I’d better expand it on the ground targets. I can see them.
— How did you learned that the war is over?
We went after new Yaks to Kharkov. We were loaded in Li-2. We came there, and suddenly somebody announced:
— The war has ended!
Everybody opened fire…
— You ended fighting in Estonia. It was the end of 1944. Did you feel bad that people are still fighting and you are sitting in the rear, that you were not going to storm Berlin?
It was no difference, somebody was fighting, but not everybody could be there.
— Did you fly after new planes often?
No, others flew. Ivan Sclyarenko flew to Moscow. He told us that planes were at the Central airfield, right in the town, next to the Dinamo stadium. There, in the canteen he saw how Pokryshkin and Kozhedub were shouting at each other. Kozhedub said:
— All aircraft that I shot down are on the ground, you can count them with no problem. All yours – in the water. Go find them!
I later flew airplanes to Kharkov, we brought planes from there when the war was over.
— Right after the war ended there were a lot of accidents and catastrophes. A lot of planes were destroyed, famous HSUs were killed…
We begun training for a flights in complex weather conditions then. A lot of pilots got killed in such flights. Second wave begun when we started utilizing jet planes. At that time I already flew a transport plane and had to bring coffins to their home towns. Those days it was common to bring perished pilots to their relatives.
A lot of pilots got killed in MiG-15 — engines stalled, spin characteristics were bad… My former wingman got killed in a spin in MiG-15…
— In 1947 you received Spitfires. What can you say about it?
Excellent airplane. There were different versions. There were removable wingtips. If you need to go to a higher altitude a wingtip could be added, it would add about 1.5 m to wing span. We flew mostly with these wingtips – high altitude variant. And if you need to fly for manevering, then the wingtips were removed.
Then wings would look like cut.
— What kind of fuel was used?
Engine Merlin 66, but we flew on our fuel, and it did not give best results. The seat belts were of great construction… If you sit normally, they would follow you, but if you moved sharply they would hold you in place. Like in modern cars.
— Did you use seat belts when you flew Yaks?
Mostly waist belts. I did not use shoulder belts because they limited movement. Of course the risk in case of belly landing increased, but we never thought about it. Most important was that you had to see everything.
— Where was the visibility better: in Yak or in Spitfire?
About the same.
— How Spitfires were painted?
Same as Yaks…
— Did you use drop tanks on Spitfire?
Never seen them.
— What about armament in the wings being further from the center line? Was it a problem?
No, our Spitfire IXs had either 4 cannons or 2 cannons and 4 machineguns. I flew and fired at the cone target. (Spitfire LF.IXE had 2 cannons and 2 .50 machine guns – IG)
— Many pilots recall that they had a problem with propeller pitch regulator when they flew Yak…
Yak had an automatic propeller pitch regulator. If I remember correctly ARV-41 or 44…
— What about Spitfire?
There you could do it both manually and automatically.
— Spitfire had rather narrow wheel base. Did you encounter problems during take-off or landing at side wind?
Of course at strong side wind direction of take-off and landing would change, otherwise one can brake an airplane.
— You flew Spitfires. What was next?
Then a special squadron was formed to train antiaircraft gunners. I was flying at the range as a target.
— Did they really shoot at you?
Well, no. Firing was organized as follows. They aimed at me but the barrels of their guns were turned sideways 45 degrees. Therefore, explosions were on the side. But the quality of aiming could be judged based on the location of these explosions. They would ask: « How do you see an explosion?» I reply: « Saw explosions at my altitude, all is normal». I flew a lot because as one unit will complete their shooting another one will start it over again.
Once I flew to the range and was flying over it again and again. I got bored, and decided to descend rapidly. I turned and went in a dive. I had some nasal congestion. My ears were hurt during the dive. I was swallowing and shouting to clear them up as usual, but it did not help. My ears started to bleed. I ended up in a hospital. I spent almost a month there. My ear failed. I lost hearing on that ear completely. On medical exam they told me:
– You hear nothing, what kind of a fighter are you?
I went to Moscow, to specialized hospital. There I was transferred to transport aviation. I was flying as ship commander on Li-2 and later on Il-14. There were various special assignments. I was flying all over the country. I even delivered C-47 to Krasnovodsk. They brought all obsolete airplanes there, put them on autopilot and shot at them air-to air missiles from fighters.
— Where you offended that you, a fighter pilot, became a hauler?
And whom to be offended at? At myself, at my own health? And I enjoyed transport aviation. A fighter pilot is like a circus performer. They turn around, all this aerobatics and that is all. I liked transport aviation. You engage autopilot and go. I flew at various weather. I liked to fly in clouds and between them. It was interesting. Down there it was totally dark but as you get to the altitude, here is the sun and you fly and enjoy all this beauty.
In the Far East I flew over Kuril islands, Kamchataka, Sakhalin, and Chukotka..
— Which of the transport planes did you like the most?
Of course Il-14. It was not afraid of side winds. It had a tricycle gear and at take-off you practically do not feel wind. With Li-2 it was like a sale and wind influenced it trying to spin you. Il-14 had more powerful engines. It’s a pity I did not have a chance to fly turboprops. I was decomissioned for health reasons.
— What did you do later?
I completed my service in Khabarovsk, came here to Leningrad and became an apprentice for repair of photo and camera equipment. I liked it, and I still like to tweak cameras and lenses.
Interview by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin ©
Redactors: Igor Zhidov, Ilya Grinberg ©
Special thanks: Svetlana Spiridonova