Abramov, Yuriy Sergeevich: I was the youngest navigator in Navy aviation during the GPW (Great Patriotic War). I was lucky: I was sent to the 1st Mine–Torpedo Aviation Regiment (MTAP), which had a long and glorious history. I met a lot of heroes there.
In 1944 its commander was Ivan Ivanovich Borzov, a very famous man. He was such a great commander: he would run toward each plane returning from a mission, waiting for the crew to begin leaving the aircraft. He really was unhappy when losses had been suffered. He knew all of his men, and sometimes up to 5 men would be killed in a single aircraft.
There were few pilots of his level. My friend HSU Alexandr Razgonin talks in very respectful tones about him – they began flying together before war broke out. It is not an accident that he later became a Marshal of aviation.
—Yuriy Sergeevich, lets start from the beginning.
I was born in 1925, in Tashkent. My ancestors on my father’s side were exploring Central Asia. Dad was born in Tashkent. Mom moved there with her parents in the beginning of the 20th century. My family tragedy has to be described here – my dad was a monarchist, while my uncle, who was a lawyer, turned to the communists. He held a high post in the Red Army. One brother was “white,” while another was “red.” (The selection of the colors “whites” and “reds” was based on the heraldic significance of the color white—honor and dignity, and on the arbitrary significance of the color red—the blood of oppressed by capitalism. Respectively the “whites” were monarchists, and the “reds” were communists.)
Grandfather received a document signed by Ulyanov (Lenin), stating that he should not be touched.
Meanwhile my dad was hiding from the authorities, and only sometimes appeared at home. That’s how I was conceived. For a long time I saw my father only infrequently. Later he was pardoned by the government and was permitted to return to a normal life. When war broke out, he was drafted into the army as a private and later went missing in action. He was over fifty at the time.
My older brother was born in November 1916 and fought as a tank crew member. He was severely wounded, became severely disabled, and returned home to die. I was also wounded in 1944, and also became disabled.
— Why was your father drafted at his age?
In the first days of war, the government issued an order: in the territories that were close to the enemy, the conscription age range was set at 16–55. By the end of 1942, the area covered by this order was expanded, and my father was called to arms.
— How did you end up in aviation?
It was common at the time to try to get into aviation. In 1940 I made an attempt to apply for Chkalovsk pilots school. Later it was renamed to Orenburg School. I was highly trained and rather well built. At the age of 16 I weighted 80 kilos with no body fat at all. The medical commission passed me through, but I was halted at a “mandatory” commission. Those who lived in the city had to have passports, but I didn’t have one, as I hadn’t reached 16 years of age yet. I stole my birth certificate from my mother and changed the date of birth. But this was discovered, and thus I was not allowed to go to this school.
This did not reduce my urge to fly. I had to wait for another year. But when I grew up to the required 16 years war begun, I went to the Voenkomat [military commission] and demanded to be inducted into the army.
“It is too early to call you to arms.” was the reply. “We cannot call you. But, if you wish, we can put you on the list. Meanwhile, you can undergo some extra training.”
Soon I completed my general studies, and passed the documents to the voenkomat. It was rather easy for me – we used to have a “military training” class at school.
“Wait,” was the reply.
As I understood it, they did everything in order not to abuse my feelings. By this time our men were dying on the Volga. I was very upset that I had not been called to help. This feeling was widespread among young men. Finally I was called to the voenkomat. Mom said:
“It is a bad time; everybody must go, and so you have to go too.”
And she let me go without crying. At the voenkomat I was ordered to go to Chirchik. It is a small city near Tashkent. The first military man that I met was in uniform with a “chicken” on his sleeve. It happened that I was sent to the flying school, and everything matched. It was autumn of 1942.
For some reason I was noted, and was appointed as deputy commander for operations of my company. We spent a month or two in quarantine. Then I was sent to 2nd Squadron. Its commander was Major Popovich.
There was a movie, “Two fighting men” [Dva boytsa]. We were extras in the “crowd” as riflemen, while Major Popovich advised the director on aviation questions. I remember well, that we made friends with famous actors, and they used to come to us freely.
— Did you know that you would become a navigator?
No. We gave our oath, another month passed, and only then it was announced that our squadron was preparing gunners–bombardiers. It was formed on the basis of an evacuated gunner–bombardier school. I forgot its name. It used to be on the Dniepr River
— Were you not disappointed that you would not become a fighter pilot?
No. I was so eager to get to the front that I would have been happy to get there as a rifleman.
— We talked to Grigoriy Avanesov, and he said that men were picked by the results of the exams: those who were good at math were sent to train as navigators, and those who were not so good were sent to train as pilots.
Yes, I know Avanesov. They also tested us. Navigators usually had a complete middle education. (A full secondary education included 10th grade in school, which in principle allowed one’s application to be submitted to a VUZ [institution of higher education]. An incomplete secondary education consisted of 8 years at a secondary school and permitted one subsequently to obtain professional–technical training. Thus, navigators were associated with a higher education, and pilots with a professional-technical education.)
Pilots were normally older, but very few of them had an eighth grade education.
— In German bomber aviation, the crew leader was the navigator. In our air forces, wasn’t it the pilot, irrespective of the navigator’s rank?
Yes, the navigator’s rank did not matter. In reality, the navigator did all the work. How to approach the target, how to return home after the attack. But you know, a crew is an entity, and it is difficult to separate the pilot from the navigator.
— What were you taught?
Many things. Mostly navigation and bombing. This is difficult to explain in two words. Radio. The navigator had to be able to receive no less then 60 characters of Morse code per minute. We were taught meteorology. But the most important thing for the navigator was steering the airplane. Not piloting, but navigating.
In the flight school I first flew the U-2, then, for about a month, the R-5. After that came the SB. We flew it for about six months. The SB was considered to be a new plane. It was a great plane, but it had a serious drawback – it was slow. We passed our final test on the SB in early 1944.
— Were you given any pilot training? Did you have a chance to fly the plane during the war?
No. I fought only on the Boston, and there was no possibility to fly that plane.
— Several questions about flight school. How was it organized?
— What type of uniforms were you issued?
We were given new clean clothes of a very simple fabric. We wore the pilotka on our heads. Initially we had boots with footwraps, and later English boots. These boots were the same as ours but were lace-up. They were produced especially for the desert – British soldiers used them in North Africa, and when they did not need them any longer, they sent them to us. They were really comfortable.
By the way, we had to run for thirty kilometers with one stop, carrying a backpack loaded to thirty kilograms. “Faster, faster, don’t fall back!” shouted Senior Lieutenant Chislov. Yes, Chislov! It’s strange, how forgotten names reappear in the memory.
— How were you fed in flight school?
For those times we were fed exceptionally well! Almost flight norm. Porridge with meat, white bread with butter, and tea with sugar for breakfast. I don’t remember anyone who would be hungry.
Before we graduated, we were given officer rank – Junior lieutenant, and we were sure that we would be given senior sergeant. But a new order came out. We were issued new army field uniforms, officers’ boots, and leather belts.
After finishing flight school, instead of the front I ended up at the Levanevskiy Military-Naval Flight School. Naval pilots were in short supply, and we were retrained to be naval navigators.
— You were sent there alone?
Out of our school, 25 men were sent to Levanevski School, but we were sent to the front separately, as our commanders thought that we were ready.
We had no idea that we were going to the other school. We were given a document, and we were told to ask the military commandant at Kuybyshev, who would open our documents and direct us further.
— How long did it take for you to reach Kuybyshev from Chirchik?
We traveled by rail. On the third day we reached Kuybyshev and reported to the commandant. He had opened an envelope, and told us that our next stop would be Bezenchuk. He gave us another envelope. Everything had to be secret then.
We arrived at our destination point, and started wondering: There were a lot of naval officers there, but there was no sea near by! We asked someone: “Where is the commanding officer?”
“Go over there, and there will be a building. You will sort it out.”
We saw people there in both navy and army uniforms. I think that all aviation servicing units were dressed in army uniforms, and even in naval aviation, all supporting units were dressed in army outfits.
Finally, we came to our destination. A duty officer dressed in a navy uniform came out.
— Line up! Number!
As usual, he opened the envelope and confirmed our presence.
— You are now at the Levanevskiy School. You will study here. As you are officers by now, you will live in the hotel.
So we started studying again. We started studying the navigator’s tasks on the sea. But the closest we had to the sea was the Volga River. We were taught a theory of torpedo bombing and passed state exams.
— Did you study mast-top bombing?
Not in practice.
— How long did you study in Levanevskiy School?
Not too long — four months. We studied really fast.
— What planes did you fly there?
A-20 Bostons. We had A-20s with 6 machine guns in the nose.
— Did you have A-20s with other weapon configurations?
I don’t recall any.
— Where was your workspace?
In the school we had ordinary planes, and the navigator sat behind the pilot. He had only SPU [aircraft intercom] connection with him.
Our planes at Levanevskiy School were not specialized. We were told that the A-20 was designed as a night fighter and a ground attack plane, not as a bomber.
— Were the instruments original — American? Or had they been changed over to ours?
They were American and they were calibrated in feet. We were young, and we got used to it quite quickly. Three hundred and fifty feet is equal to one hundred meters.
— Did you have bombing practice?
Real bombs cost a lot, and they were dangerous, so we used concrete ones for practice.
— What kind of aiming device did you have?
I’m not sure… OPB, I think [optical sight, bomber]. Definitely not American.
— What do you think—was the amount of training you received sufficient, or was it not enough?
Keeping in mind that war was going on, it was sufficient. To enhance our training I had to jump with a parachute twice. The first time was from a Li-2 [license-built C-47], and then from Po-2. It was really interesting. You had to gather up your courage, get out of the cabin to the wing, and step down. It was not so easy, though I was not afraid.
— When did you complete your training at the Levanevskiy Flight School?
I finished training and was sent to the regiment in May 1944. This was exactly when the 51st MTAP was being formed. The unit didn’t take much time, and it was done on Grazhdanskiy airfield in Leningrad. The newly formed regiment was sent to Klopitsy. We placed a monument there: “From here the 51st MTAP started its combat path.” Every year I go there with my wife. This is my sacred burden that I will carry in spite of all my stupid diseases.
Part of our regiment was sent to Ladoga, and started the war from there.
Here is the photo, where I’m present.
— Is it Svirskiy in this photo?
Yes, it’s him. This is the only group photo where I’m present. There is a museum in Klopitsy, and I send all material there. Not one of them survived, they all perished. And many of those who were killed are not present even in the group photos.
— The first missions for 51st MTAP crews were strikes against Svirskaya Dam. Did you fly these missions?
No. By the time 51st MTAP was formed, the 1st Guards MTAP had suffered serious losses, so our 1st Squadron was sent to 1st GMTAP.
— By this time, 1st GMTAP had been awarded “guards” status. When did you personally become a “guard”?
It was not given straight away – you had to fly combat missions first and prove that you were worthy.
— Guards personnel received monetary bonuses. By the way, do you remember how much you earned from the flight school time?
As a cadet I received 75 rubles. But I did not take a single kopeck of it. I sent it to the Defense Fund.
— Was it done by an order, by free will, or by “free-will-by-order”?
Willingly. In the Levanevskiy School I was already an officer, junior lieutenant, and thus my salary was six or seven hundred rubles. In 51st MTAP my salary was 930 rubles. When I earned a Guards badge, without combat prizes [payment for aggregate missions flown and confirmed damage caused to the enemy), I started receiving around 2000 rubles.
— Did you receive this money to your account, in cash, or did you continue to send this money to the Defense Fund?
It was done according to one’s instructions. I sent my salary from the combat regiment to my mother. I knew that she was living in severe difficulty — my brother had been severely wounded for two years. And I did not need the money anyway: We were fed for free, tobacco was free, alcohol according to the norm – free.
— Were you transferred to 1st GMTAP as crews?
Yes. As we were formed, we were sent there. I flew not only with Krylov but also with other pilots. But there was always a serious reason for that. And if Borzov would say something – it was not a subject for discussion!
As we started flying we started losing crews. After 10 month of war, 51st MTAP had lost 67 planes and 200 men. 1st GMTAP, which fought from the first day to the last, lost 560 crew members.
— Did you fly torpedo bombing missions?
No, I only flew bombing missions.
— Was there a distinction between torpedo-bombing crews and mast-top bombing crews?
There was no real distinction, but some planes were rebuilt. All armament was removed from the nose, and the navigator’s position was moved forward. This modification required a lot of work. The main reason for these changes was the need for free-hunt missions. Though, there were quite a few such missions.
— I was unable to find any description of how the navigator would aim. But everybody told me that there were some difficulties for the navigator if he sat in the center of the fuselage, because he was unable to see what was going on in the front.
Well, I had windows and an astrohatch.
— So, you would take the aiming device out of it and aim?
There were different measures navigators used to help pilots. One of our Hero navigators would look down through the hatch in the floor of the fuselage, and control the height to the water this way.
— Who was responsible for aiming?
In this modification, the pilot was responsible.
— Were there cases when the navigator would fall out of the plane through the cabin hatch?
It happened in 1944, when we were stationed at Novaya Ladoga, and trained for the Svirskaya Dam mission. It was Grigoryev who fell out of a Boston.
[Perhaps he is referring to Junior Lieutenant Boris Vasilevich Grigorev of 51st MTAP, the details of whose death on 4 August 1944 are not recorded in the regiment history.
It happened near our airfield. There were forests and marshes all around. He was killed instantly – he fell to the forest from 300 meters. We knew approximately where he fell, and finally we found him. We buried only bones – wolves had eaten him. His body was identified only by the remains of Navy high-collar black jacket.
— At what altitude did you normally fly?
No higher then 100 meters. We could see a vapor trail behind our planes. Both torpedoes and bombs were dropped from the altitude of about 30 meters.
— How did you maintain an altitude of 30 meters above the water?
There were different methods. Apart from instruments at the Shepelev Lighthouse, there was a white stripe which was painted at 25 meters above water level.
— What kinds of bombs were used for mast-top bombing?
Usually 2 FAB-500. The FAB-1000 was used only by the most experienced crews.
— But the Boston had good payload characteristics?
It could lift up to 1800 kilos. There were many reasons to use one type of bombs and not another. It greatly depended on the vessel type we were going to attack. If we would take too heavy bombs, they would simply fly through the ship and blow up on the opposite side, not inside of it. We would discuss the situation and take the best load possible.
— Recently several books have been published about our torpedo bombers, and there are serious concerns about reality of our pilots’ claims. As an example, authors say that German U-boat crews for a kill of a merchant vessel used 3–4 533mm torpedoes, while our pilots had one less powerful 450 mm torpedo at best. And the average time of sinking, according to their claims, was 5 minutes. What is your opinion?
It could sink even faster. It depends on what was the target and where it was hit. Military vessels on average would be able to sustain more damage. We mostly attacked merchants.
— When you completed a mast-top bombing run, did you see if your bombs hit the target and the vessel was definitely sunk?
This is a good question. Yes, I saw a hit. Yes, I saw an explosion. But there definitely was no time to wait for a ship to sink. Ivan Ivanovich Borzov also asked us: “Was it so difficult to stay there and watch?”
Let’s read this note I got from the archive. A short one. It will give you an idea about what we could do there.
“…During a right turn, while attempting to fly away from the target, the aircraft was hit. One crew member was killed…”
Mast-top bombing is a very, I’d say in 90 or even 95 percent of cases it is a successful strike against enemy shipping. What is left of 100 percent – it’s your chance to return unharmed.
To be honest, we were not trained for this method of bombing. It came from the Americans.
Yes, Americans. They had great practical experience. They trained on old barges and ships. They dropped bombs from different altitudes, speeds and approach\departure patterns.
When you are leaving the convoy you have to fly low, but not so low to hit the ship. Some merchants had very high sides. It was the perfect target, but how to get away from them? We tried to turn around, and that’s when we got hit. Or you can “jump up” to 300 meters.
— But then wouldn’t you show your belly to the AAA?
But what was the option? Americans trained to attack “boxes” (ships) in peace time. We had to study in combat. And it cost us dearly. When you read books you will see three–four names. Those are mostly crew commanders. But in reality there were a lot of losses during mast-top bombing.
I was the youngest, and fought so briefly.
— But you were lucky to stay alive. How many bombing missions did you fly?
Eight. Once I flew a reconnaissance mission, and once we dropped mines. Those were not bombing.
— Eight times! Eight times you flew straight into the AAA! I think the Germans on those ships were also willing to live?
Of course! When I am asked if I was afraid, I answer: “No, I felt no fear.” I became crazy when I saw red balls flying toward me.
If we were discovered from long range, then we would come under fire as far out as 18 kilometers away from the target. When we got close, large caliber guns would fire at the water in front of us to raise a wave. Some planes would collide with a column of water and burrow into the sea. The Germans were very smart…
— What was the main task for the navigator during mast-top bombing?
I had to correctly define the distance to the target ship.
— How far from the target did you release your bombs?
It depended on many factors. For example, for the FAB-500 bomb — one distance, and for the FAB-1000 — another. You had to drop the FAB-250 really close. I keep seeing Piskunov’s crew in front of my eyes. His navigator’s name was Valya. We did not call him Valentin, but Valya. He was so young.
Their plane was set on fire near the target ship, but they managed to ram the enemy ship. It was not a collision, but a real ramming attack. Their heroism was widely broadcast, but later everybody forgot about them. Later, when I talked to Pioneers (Pioneers- organized group of children, similar to scouts) about war, I always mentioned this crew.
I also saw how Ivanov’s and Kazakov’s crews were downed.
— Could you tell us how it happened?
It is very important how you are going to depart the target after your bombing attack, because if you do something wrong, their gunners will get you. Our gunners were no match to theirs.
So, I saw how our plane was shot at. It was not burning, but went into a shallow dive. It went lower and lower and then, suddenly, it just disappeared into the water. It was Kazakov.
I don’t know the reason for this. And this is the way I reported to Borzov. He replied: “It is good that you saw at least this.”
We didn’t have any means to help our downed crews. In the second case, the damaged airplane managed to ditch. Something was burning inside of it – there was a lot of smoke, but no open fire could be seen. I just saw that they managed to get out of the plane and tried to get a life boat from the upper fuselage [a rubber raft was stowed on the floor behind the pilot’s seat] But the plane stayed afloat for just one minute. They never returned. All the crew perished. But I never told anyone that I saw them still alive – it was better to be listed as KIA than MIA. (Family members of MIA did not receive pensions for expenditures on food that were equal to the pension received by families of KIA.)
— What kinds of life-saving means did you have?
Капка. I usually say — «капка». But we actually never had those, where a Пробка (дерево) was sewn into the fabric. We had only inflatable life jackets. It was made in such manner that you would never float upside down. It inflated automatically. But if it would inflate inside the aircraft, you would be unable to get out. There also was a special hose to inflate the jacket, if for some reason it didn’t work automatically. We had jackets of different colors, mostly yellow, but I wore orange. The color was specially selected to be seen from a distance. We also had an inflatable boat with some food supply in the upper fuselage.
— Was it the LAS-10?
— How would you get it out of the plane?
If we had to ditch? On calm water the aircraft floated for no more then one–two minutes, and then sank. During this short time we had to drag the boat out of the plane. Thus, in reality all we could hope for was our life jacket. We didn’t even wear parachutes. Or to be exact – the pilot had to wear it, because he sat on one. I never wore a parachute, and the gunners also didn’t wear them. Our altitude was way to low; attempts to use parachutes were senseless, and all we had to hope for after landing was our life jackets.
— Do you remember tactical number of your plane?
No. I never tried to remember it.
— Do you remember what color your Boston was painted?
Blue from below, gray–brown from above. Our stars were painted-over American ones, but those were still visible.
— Any drawings or insignias?
— Did your Bostons come equipped with a radiocompass? Or did you use ours?
They were equipped with American ones. We also had American altimeters. They were calibrated in feet. In some planes the instruments were changed over to ours. But we mostly trained to convert feet to meters. It came to us quite quickly. One hundred feet — thirty meters.
— How many gunners were in the crew? Two or one?
In my crew there usually was one gunner-radio operator. Bostons were mostly crewed by 3 men, quite rarely 4.
— How many missions did you fly?
Only 10. But a reconnaissance mission was not even close in terms of danger to an anti-shipping strike. You didn’t fire your guns, you didn’t drop bombs. Quite the opposite – you had to get to your target as quietly as possible. Sometimes our ground forces would start AAA fire at us, since they didn’t quite distinguish who we were, and then I would launch an identification flare – red or green.
— Can you tell us, how effective were your strikes?
We never attacked as a single plane. Only in a group and our place in the group was designated earlier. Other crews were assigned to identify the effectiveness of our strikes; they would report, and then we would get credit.
Groups were formed on the basis of reconnaissance data: target group composition, ship types, escorting ships’ AA strength. All these factors were taken into account, data were analyzed, and finally a combat plan was drawn. Ivan Ivanovich would announce: “We will do this and that. Is it clear? Everybody understood? Good! To the planes!”
— A reconnaissance plane spotted the target, then it flew home; the film was processed, then an attack plan was made, and finally, you had to fly to the convoy. It was a long time, and meanwhile ships had moved, they changed order, more escorting ships could appear. What did you do in such cases?
Of course the situation could change. Then the attacking group commander would order over the radio to some crew: “Semenov, do you see the target? Attack!”
Since all crews listened to the same radio frequency, everybody heard the order.
— Did you see the movie “Torpedonostsy” [torpedo carriers]? Is it close?
Yes, I saw it. Something like that.
— When did you fly your first mission, and what was its purpose?
In 51st MTAP I made two sorties from Klopitsy airfield. For the first mission we had an order to reconfirm reconnaissance data. Two or three merchants were seen without escorts in the Gulf of Riga. Preliminary data gained from different planes were unclear, and we were ordered to fly and clear up the situation. The second mission was to drop mines.
— Was there the capability to hang mines under the Boston? Wasn’t the distance from the fuselage to the ground too small?
We used them. A-1-4 (British mine supplied via Lend-lease). But our crew in this second mission was used as a decoy: During night time we had to fly at the given altitude and fly barrage. It was believed we would distract the enemy from the real threat. We got credit for a “mining mission,” although another crew did all the work. There was a 1st Squadron navigator, Alexey Renzyaev, in that plane. They were killed in 1945, and it was pilot’s fault.
(Crew: Major Merkulov V.S., Captain Renzyaev Aleksey Ivanovich, Starshina Gribovskiy A.P, and Sergeant Rastyapin V.S. were killed in action in the plane hit by antiaircraft fire in March 1945. Renzyaev was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on 6 March 1945, other crew members – Hero of the Russian Federation (posthumorously) on 23 February 1998 – comments by Igor Zhidov).
Then our 1st Squadron was sent to 1st GMTAP.
Renzyaev was like an older brother for me. He wanted me to get the taste of everything. He also lived in Tashkent, and he used to say to me: “Tashkent! You are going to fly!”
— Out of 10 missions flown, you were downed three times. Did you ditch every time?
Two out of three we made it to the solid ground. During our last mission we came down in the water.
— Who shot you down, fighters or AAA?
In all cases we were shot down by AAA. We never saw enemy fighters. To be exact, I never saw them. We usually tried to get away from them. But sometimes they gained on us, and shot down our damaged planes. For example, the crew with navigator Gabrielyan. Fighters got them, and no one managed to bail out.
(On 22 September 1944 A-20 wit the crew: Junior Leitenant Baranov Aleksandr fedorovich, Junior Leitenant Gabrielyan Georgiy Konstantinovich, Sergeant Zakharov Aleksey Andreevich were shot down by an enemy fighter – comments by Igor Zhidov).
It was a bad day – we lost 5 crews then. We gathered together in the evening, brought cognac and vodka to the table. We couldn’t settle down for a long time. We saw it – a moment, and they perished.
— Do you remember when this event took place?
Let me think. It was when Stalin’s son, Vasiliy came to us with his fighter division. His own pilot stayed with us, and Borzov gave him our Boston to fly to Moscow.
— Tell us, what happened when you were shot down?
The first time we were shot down on a “mining mission.” We got hit, and very seriously. We barely made it, and had to make a forced landing. Luckily we all were unharmed.
The second time we were hit in the Gulf of Riga. We were in the mast-top bombing group, and we were hit just when we released our bombs.
Our right engine started to smoke…
I shouted: “Feather the one that’s smoking. It is going to catch fire!”
The group commander shouted: “Turn toward land!”
And we flew, and flew, and flew. And then we dropped to the ground. Made a forced landing.
— Did the Boston fly well on a single engine?
It would overheat very quickly. Our pilot, Petr Chistakov, also “overheated”: “I can’t keep it in the air anymore!”
I kept repeating: “Petya, a bit more, a little bit more. There is no place to land here, no place. I’m looking for a spot, I keep looking. I see one! Get there, closer!
And we got closer… “Carefully, don’t stall…”
We landed with our wheels up, and the hit was fierce. The plane stopped just two or three meters before a ditch. If we had fallen in…
I don’t remember who got out of the plane first, most likely Petr. He was a good man, and quite bulky. We took the emergency axe and started to chop through the fuselage to the gunner’s cabin. The gunner was stunned from shock, and just kept repeating: “I won’t chop, I won’t chop.”
We finally got him out, and my friends chose me to go for help. Just a couple of days before, our first troops had passed through this territory. I said that in no way will I go into the night. In the morning I went to the nearby road: our Studebakers loaded with military loads were passing by. My face was scratched, pistol hanging on my butt, and even though I had no documents, my clothes clearly showed who I was. I raised my hand, and some truck had stopped. There was some highly ranked officer.
I told them that I needed help, but he replied: “Sorry, we have such a load, that we just can’t.”
Several times I tried to stop Studebakers with the same result. Finally I stopped a ZiS. We rode a bit, and then driver told me: “Get off! I have to go the other way.”
It was autumn, and it was getting dark quite fast, and I had to go back to the plane by foot. As I got close, I heard: “Halt! Who’s there!” My friends had arranged a defensive position with a Colt-Browning 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine gun. On the second day we still had no luck. On the third day, some Army aviation truck driver picked me up. My two crew members stayed with the airplane. Luckily a flight was about to take off from army airbase to our airfield, and I finally arrived at our command post. I reported to Ivan Ivanovich. He looked at me with a worrying expression on his face:
“Are you alone?”
I replied: “Two others stayed here” — and I showed him where on the map.
“Good. Now you have to rest. Call the medics!”
And they took me to the medical ward. Ivan Ivanovich was very great leader.
— When did this happen?
When… When… Porokhnya was shot down on August 27th. (The plane was shot down by enemy fighters on 27 August 1944. LieutenantPorokhnya Pavel Arkhipovich, Senior Lieutenant Dyachuk Viktor Timofeevich, Junior Sergeant Dyrin Ivan Vasilyevich, and Senior Sergeant Korolev Anatoliy Karpovich were killed – comments by Igor Zhidov).
That means… In September 1944? I never had a chance to meet with Petr after the war. He died… After I was captured, he was shot down three more times. Khramov, who was chief of staff of our fighter regiment, told me about it. It was our fighter regiment from the start. By the end of war two more fighter regiments were added to our division.
Yuriy Vasilievich Khramov became a PhD in military science, Professor… He left a lot of notes.
— Khramov used to be a fighter pilot and a squadron commissar in the 21st fighter regiment?
Yes, I’m talking about him. He flew 600 missions. He used to be squadron commissar, and later became the chief of staff.
— How you were shot down the third time?
You know, for a long time I remember only feelings. I felt a hit, the right engine caught fire, and that’s all. I shouted: “Misha, to the left, to the left! To the left, go to the left! Go to the left!”
I saw where “boxes” (ships) were, and I knew that we had to go away from them.
But he didn’t answer, and I didn’t hear our gunner Sergey. He most likely had been wounded or killed.
I continued: “Move to the left! To the left! To the left!”
There was noise from explosions and “Tya,tya,tya” – shell fragments were hitting our plane.
I understood that we were going to die.
My comrade, Alexey Zakharovich Skryabin, watched how our plane landed on the water. He died some time ago, but he left documents. I don’t remember anything – I was thrown out through the astrohatch.
By this time my body was full of shell fragments. I was bleeding, several teeth were punched out, my tongue was cut to pieces by fragments. I even got a piece of metal in my butt. And a lot of small ones. They were hitting us good.
I can’t blame Mikhail. Our pilot was not guilty. They both perished – Mishka and Sergey.
(On 12 October 1944 the plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire from enemy ships. Junior Lieutenant Krylov Michael Alekseevich and Sergeant Kurovennyi Sergey Petrovich were killed – comments by Igor Zhidov).
— What happened next? Did the Germans pick you up?
I have to say honestly – when the security organs asked me about this, I replied: I don’t remember, I don’t know. If I just told them the truth…
The Germans picked me up, gave me some schnapps. And I came to my senses.
— They knew that you were soviet pilot?
Of course. I was dressed in our uniform.
— What you were wearing?
Ordinary naval uniform. During winter we wore winter issue: woolen underwear, high-collared jacket, trousers, and a sweater under our jacket, a down sweater. We wore a wool cap or a forage cap. I did not have a helmet. My helmet liner was white silk. My earphones were small and separate, and I wore a throat microphone.
So, they returned me to my senses, passed me to the other ship, where I was thrown into the brig, and from here began hell.
— Were you operated on? Did they manage to get the fragments out?
Are you joking? No operations! No medical aid, except for returning me to my senses. I was wounded; they beat me. Blood was pouring out of me, and no one tried to stop it. I lost consciousness again. I started shaking. I was in agony.
Then they dragged me somewhere, and some young German tried to talk to me. There was no translator, and we were unable to converse. He made a sign to take me away. I decided that they would kill me now.
I faded in and out of consciousness, and I suddenly felt that I was being dragged across the ground. I heard some noise, a yelp, and shouting in Russian. Those were POWs who had lived in German custody for 2 or 3 years. They were used as a construction team. These POWs dragged me under German machine-pistol armed guard. On the next day, when I started to see some things, I saw who were our guards – one was cross-eyed, another one had lost one hand. But they were “SS,” so there was no joke about them. For any reason or without one they simply killed prisoners. I saw how our POWs suffered from them.
Then they brought me to Koenigsberg by train. I had a high temperature, and didn’t understand what was going on. They dragged me somewhere; I felt that I had fallen down. That was the gestapo. After some time they loaded me onto the truck. Two guards were sitting across from me, but those were not SS, but ordinary Army. I didn’t know where they were taking me. I was confused. They brought me to some place where there were many tables, and someone was eating. There were pilots.
— They wanted to talk to you?
Most likely to take photographs. Those two, who brought me there took me to their table, and spoke to each other. One said, showing to me: “Fliegemarinen”
And gave me some food. One brought apples.
I never told about this before, because if I would have told the KGB, some sergeant-hohol, they immediately would accuse me: “Traitor! You sold out our Motherland for apples!”
Or something like that. That’s why I never talked about captivity.
The Germans looked at me, and they didn’t even talk to me. They returned me to the camp.
— That is, they saw that you were so young.
I was 19 years old. Juniour Lieutenant. Besides, imagine my condition. I thought that they would interrogate me, but they looked at me, and sent me to Vaiden. It is at the border of Austria and Germany. Stalag-13, personal number 19447.
— Was it a special aviation camp?
No, there were different people there. Even different nationalities, but all nations were separated. There was a special corridor for English, French, German, and Russian. The Russians were held in the worst conditions. Only German prisoners were held in a little bit better conditions, but still close enough.
— Could Russian go to, for example, the English sector?
No, never. We were separated by barbed wire. They were listening to the music, they received parcels from home, they even received new ranks… For this reason they would make festivities. They lived in totally different conditions. And they understood it.
I remember an episode. It was cold outside, and I didn’t had a hat, and once, we marched past the French. One of them shouted something, and threw something at me. It was a warm naval hat. It was a present. He still shouted something to me…
Such events immediately raise one’s spirits.
— Did you get medical attention in the end?
Other prisoners saw that I was barely alive. Luckily there was a Russian surgeon in the camp. He was working under supervision of his German assistant. They brought me to the camp hospital and undressed me. Here was something black, there was something sticking out of my body, I was covered with dirt.
— What is this! How can you hold on? You are rotting alive!
And he took all fragments out. For a long time they discussed if one fragment had penetrated my skull and damaged my brain, but then they decided to take it out. When he pulled it, it was so painful. Right after operation I felt much better. Then they applied some medication. As there were no medications for further treatment, we had to wash my wounds with urine; instead of bandages, we used dirty pieces of fabric.
No more about this… It is too hard to recall.
There are a lot of interesting episodes I have forgotten to mention. I was in captivity for a rather short time, but I witnessed a lot. I was at the place where Vlasov’s officers selected traitors.
They took me from the prison camp and brought me to some place. There was a beautiful valley, a castle and German guards everywhere. This castle was used to try and persuade our POWs to join the ROA (Russian Liberation Army). It is a not so commonly mentioned historic fact.
I don’t know where this castle was exactly. It was surrounded by beautiful oak trees. Many of our POWs went through it. I learned this when we discussed our imprisonment in detention camp at Alkino.
As we were brought to this castle, we were directed to different rooms. In each room were two-level beds, with hay mattresses. Each one of us received a basic soldier’s ration. For those who had been through concentration camp, it was more then we would even hope for. Potatoes, bread, some kind of porridge with meat. The same for supper. Each time we were given tea. Some officer came to us, and read lectures on a daily basis:
— You are now on General Vlasov’s territory. Soon our government will be established.
Then he would try to scare us: he told us what would happen to us if we did not join them. This went on for ten days. The same lectures. Then they started to call us for discussions separately. Mostly we talked to Russians, but once some Armenian came. He was well dressed, and told us that he was very rich, but then the communists came and took everything from him. Or another thing: they would give us some book, and after we finished reading it they would ask:
— What was this book about? What you understood?
Thus, by all means possible they tried to make us think as they needed. They were unsuccessful. Their lectures and discussions were so stupid, that it became irritating. They felt that we were not responding, and became nervous. They were about to start beating us; they started insulting and threatening us.
We, POWs, were afraid, and we didn’t trust each other. But one of us, more experienced, once whispered: “I’m major Kudryashov, long range bomber pilot. I was shot down. I know what is going on here: they will not beat you up. Don’t be afraid. Sometimes they try to scare people by imitating execution, but this is only imitation. Keep this in mind.”
I don’t know why he told me this, and I thought: “Is he Kudryashov or not? Was he telling the truth, or did he lie to me?”
It was a great evening. A guard came to me, dressed in German uniform but with the ROA emblem on his shoulder: “Move! — He punched me in the back — Forward, forward!”
He took me to some dark room. Then they switched the lights on, and I saw brick wall, with bullet marks on it… Someone shouted: “Line up! Load! Turn around!”
Even though I remembered what Major Kudryashov had told me, I decided that they were going to kill me. I turned around. The lights were switched off, some lamps started flashing, and then I heard shots. Some dust rained on me.
“Stop it!” someone shouted. “Stop it! Motherf…ers!”
That was some comedy: first they shot at me, and then “Stop it!” As soon as dust started falling on me, I understood that they had fired over my head.
They grabbed me and dragged me to another room. There were a dozen of us. In the morning they let us out. Soon their chief, the one who annoyed me the most, came to talk to me: “So? It was me who saved you, I gave an order to stop. I took pity on you, you are too young. So, what do you think? They will kill you like rabid dogs. You have to agree. Say yes.”
I just said: “I want to remain a POW!”
At this moment someone hit me on the back of my head. Then they sent me to another room. On the next day they stopped feeding us, and soon they returned us to the labor camp. And from there I escaped.
— Do you know if they were successful?
Perhaps sometimes they were. At times we knew that it was a “comedy.” Some people would sign up, but they clearly were set up to give an example to us. I think there were people who betrayed the Motherland because they wanted to live. Most of us knew that the war was going to an end, and didn’t want to die.
— Have you heard about Soviet pilots who flew on the German side?
General Vlasov made a speech where he named all the members of his government. There was a minister of aviation – Malnik, no, not Malnik… Maltsev.
He used to be an aviator, then he became a GVF [civilian air fleet] sanatorium director in Crimea.
There were 24 generals in German custody, but they didn’t betray our country. Some of them died in concentration camps, but they didn’t join the ROA.
I knew only one pilot, a Major Kitaev, HSU. I remember him from filtration camp. There were mostly officers, and they made a “court of officers’ honor”. What happened to him? I don’t know, but there were rumors that he was shot.
— In the filtration camp?
Sometimes we could hear shots there. Perhaps a fifth category of punishment was carried out.
— Please, explain this category to us.
I went through filtration with the first category: fully trustworthy, with a right to return to the active service. Though soon after my return, I was discharged.
Second category — those who had no right to serve in the army and had to stay under surveillance.
Third — imprisonment for terms of various lengths.
Fourth — life sentence. There were rumors that these people were sent to uranium mines. My sister was married to a truck driver, who voluntarily worked at uranium mines “Altyn-Abkan combinat”. They didn’t last long. First her husband died, then she followed. But they earned 10–12 thousand rubles each month, while the average salary was no more then 150 rubles.
— What was fifth category?
Execution for military crimes.
— Were you liberated by our forces?
No, we liberated ourselves. There was a whole group of us who planned to escape. Maybe 5 or 6 men. We escaped from the labor camp. Me, Sergey Chepyshk, an army Il-2 gunner… And I can’t recall who was the third one. We moved toward Czechoslovakia, and made it to the Mladotycy station, where some armed men stopped us. They were from Smirnov’s partisan detachment. This multinational unit controlled a noticeable part of the territory. One of those who stopped us shouted: “Hey, I know them!”
Two men were there who had managed to escape before us. I remember one unsuccessful escape attempt. Seven men were caught; we were lined up and they were beaten to death one after another in front of us. But this didn’t stop prisoners, and they kept running away. This is how I became a partisan.
At first we were properly dressed, then I was issued a rifle and 3 or 4 magazines of bullets. But I never fought, because by the time of my escape I weighted about 48 kilos, and could walk only “on the remains of my willpower”. I was used only as a sentry.
— When did you escape?
It was March 1945.
— Where you meet the Red Army?
We met the Red Army at the town Rakovnice. A tank corps or division marched in. By this time we were real owners of the town. We had a full school building packed with captured Germans. They simply came to us and gave up.
— Whom did they give up to—your unit or to the Red Army?
To our unit. There was no way for them to fight further, and they just dropped their weapons. I remembered that our Party issued an order that POWs were not to be executed without a fair trial. When our partisans, especially those who had been in German concentration camps, got their hands on German prisoners, they started taking revenge. I remember someone called me to hang an SS man: “You suffered from them, let’s hang this bastard.”
I refused – it made me sick. I always thought that abusing prisoners was a great sin. When our tank division came, they ordered the executions and tortures to stop. Not everybody understood it – Germans were hated very intensely.
— But didn’t the Germans torture and kill our POWs?
They should be tried. Germans were different. For example, I worked at the coal mines, and I still remember our master Max. He used to bring us sandwiches in the morning. A German fed us! He even shouted at me only once – when I tipped over a coal cart on purpose. He knew why I did it, but he even helped me to put it back on its wheels.
— Let’s return to the Red Army.
We were ordered to become a tank desant [assault force], and were sent to Prague. Some of our soldiers even stayed in Czechoslovakia. But I went to the filtration camp, and underwent filtration for almost a year. In 1946 I returned to the Baltic Fleet. I returned to the same division, but to the 51st MTAP. 1st MTAP was a Guards unit, and I was not allowed to return there. But in about two months an order came: discharge me from active duty. And I went home. In Moscow I met Yurchakov – a navigator from Grizodubova’s regiment. We were in the same concentration camp. And we got into some fist fights together with someone in the queue.
When I returned home the situation was grim. I had no job, my mother was 56 years old, my brother was disabled – he had been burned alive almost fatally in his tank in 1943. I also was signed as disabled, and I also had a “stamp” – I had been a POW.
But eventually everything worked out. In 1958 I was returned to the party. But until Stalin’s death, I was constantly called to the KGB and they asked questions about those, whom I had seen in captivity.
Not long ago, Putin issued an order, and at the age of 86 I received a new military rank. Now I’m a lieutenant!
In Investigative Report of the Reasons of Combat Losses of the 1st Guards Torpedo-Mine Regiment of the Air Forces of Red Banner Baltic Fleet from 12 October 1944 it is stated that on that day an airplane of the pilot Junior Lieutenant Krylov Michael Alekseevich and navigator Abramov Yuri Sergeevich was shot down over the Baltic Sea by intense antiaircraft fire during steep right turn after departing from the target. The plane is destroyed and the crew is considered as perished.
Basis: File 988, vol. 1, case 4, page 169.
According to personnel card Junior Lieutenant Abramov Yuri Sergeevich, born in 1925, is considered as missing in action over the Baltic Sea from 12 October 1944.
According to the order number 0242 from 27 September 1945 issued by the Chief of Personnel Department of the Red banner Baltic Fleet, consider Junior Lieutenant Abramov Yuri Sergeevich as being prisoner of war from 12 October 1944 till 6 May 1945.
Basis: Personnel card, form 1.
Me, Skryabin Aleksey Egorovich, being a Flight Commander and later Chief of Staff of this regiment, personally certify as an eyewitness that the crew of pilot Krylov, where navigator was Abramov Yu. , after executing top-mast bombing strike on a transport vessel in a convoy was shot down by antiaircraft fire.
The plane being on fire was brought down in emergency landing on water and for the short period of time being afloat (1-2 minutes). navigator Abramov Yu. was able to get out from the sinking plane using individual rescue gear and was able to stay afloat in water with temperature of 4-6 degrees Centigrade in October.
Due to the fact that there are no provisions to rescue crews in emergency landing on water, in this case the enemy picked sinking Abramov Yu. on board of his ship. The pilot and gunner/radio operator sunk with the plane.
A. Skryabin, Lt. Colonel of the Guard
Former Chief of Staff of the 1st Guards Torpedo-Mine Regiment
by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin ©
Editing of Russian version: Igor Zhidov ©
Special thanks to Svetlana Spiridonova, Ilya Grinberg and James F. Gebhardt