I was born in 1922 in the town of Golubovka (Kirovsk) of Lugansk oblast. My father was a worker, my mother - a housewife. Although the family had only three children, we did not live all that well. In the early 30’s, the family moved to Kadivka where I finished the eighth grade. In 1937, I joined a flight training club, after finishing which in 1938 I entered the Lugansk military school for pilots. I mastered the Polikarpov UTI-4 and I-16 aircraft and I was supposed to graduate as a fighter pilot, but not long before the war the whole school was reoriented to study the Tupolev SB (speedy bomber) aircraft. First, of course, we had a chance to fly the Polikarpov R-5 and the Tupolev R-6 aircraft.
In June 1941, after the post-graduation service location assignment orders had been issued, the war broke out. I arrived in Kharkov and from there moved to Bogodukhov, where the 289th Bomber Regiment was stationed. This regiment flew the Sukhoi Su-2 short-range bombers. Mikhail Feodorovich Moyseyenko was assigned to my crew as my air navigator. So we flew together from 1941 through 1943, first in the Sukhoi Su-2, then the Polikarpov U-2 aircraft. In 1943, I was retrained as a fighter pilot, and he was retrained as a bomber pilot, flying the Tupolev SB and the Petlyakov Pe-2 bombers. Such a good country boy he was, very educated. It was interesting to communicate with him. We were friends and shared everything we had.
What can I say about the Su-2 aircraft? It was not so easy, but not particularly difficult to control. To be honest with you, I had not fully explored all its flying qualities – I flew it very little. We carried around 800 kilograms of bombs. The air navigator had one ShKAS aircraft machine gun, and a little later a second one was fitted in to cover the lower hemisphere. We started being assigned to combat missions fairly quickly, as soon as we learned how to fly in formation. The novice pilots were usually assigned to fly as outermost wingmen with an emphasis placed on keeping in formation. We bombed following the leader, and to be honest with you I never saw the results of our bombing. We had to fly across the Dnieper River rarely escorted by fighter aircraft - the fighters attacked the enemy anti-aircraft guns ... In general, the regiment lasted for only one month of the war ... During that time I flew about 15 to 20 missions, and due to the shortage of planes the regiment veterans were given my plane. And that was the end of my epic career of flying those bombers.
- How were such enormous losses perceived?
- We didn’t feel like victims. You still had to fly, it was necessary to prepare for the next flight. The losses!? So what? You might be one of them lost the next day. I was not too sentimental about the losses. I either acquired such a "hard" attitude out of necessity or perhaps it was just my nature, but I never allowed myself to suffer mental anguish, I just paid no attention.
The remains of the regiment were sent to the Reserve Wing Regiment (RWR). First we walked from Kharkov to Valuyek. There we boarded a freight train, which took us to the Penza oblast. . The RWR was based at the airfield of Big Danylovka. There were so many flying crews assembled there! Even though, in the regiment there were the Su-2 and the IL-2 aircraft, we weren’t able to fly, so we just killed time. Pilots with flying experience were “snapped up” quickly, and we continued to do nothing. The town of Kamenets-Belinsky was small and we, having nothing to do there, were fed up with that idle and purposeless roaming existence. Near the regimental headquarters there was a notice posted about the formation of a regiment of the Polikarpov U-2 and R-5 biplanes with an invitation for volunteers who wanted to fly to the front to proceed to a certain room for enlistment. Frankly speaking, there were very few volunteers to fight flying the U-2 biplanes. Even though the food in the RWR was poor, it still took a week to muster enough personnel for the new regiment. So, I wouldn’t say that everybody was that eager to get to the front or even ready to "fly a stick". In particular, least eager were those who had already experienced the smell of gunpowder and realized that the Germans outmatched us both quantitatively and qualitatively, on the ground and in the air. Some knowingly, some unknowingly started to hold back and decided to take more cautious and realistic view of the situation. But my air navigator, Mikhail Moyseyenko, said: "Come on, let’s sign up!" - "OK, let's go." In that way by late August we found ourselves in the 597th Night Bomber Wing Regiment. The regiment was commanded by Captain Petrov, but in 1942 he was killed during an air raid against our airfield. A bomb hit our headquarters, killing the regimental commander and commissar. Only Senior Lieutenant Mityukha, the Chief of Staff of the regiment had survived. His orderly’s name was Zaiyeeka, who in addition was in charge of the headquarters security guard. One anecdote about him circulated around. The Chief of Staff once told him: "Zaiyeeka, as soon as an airplane is seen up in the air, please come and immediately report on its speed, altitude and intention." So, following instructions that soldier later ran up and reported: "The airplanes are up in the air with speed, altitude and intentions!" In general, that Mityukha was a disgusting man. Later on he had made some mess and was ousted from the regiment ... Then the regiment was commanded by Valentin Ivanovich Lugovoy.
I have digressed from the subject. Let's go back to the time of the regiment formation. When the regiment formation was complete, the order arrived that we should go to the city of Kuznetsk, which is between Syzran and Penza. There were about five trainers from Civil Aviation who gave us our maiden night flights on the U-2. Before that, we had never flown at night. We mastered night flights rather quickly as we were young and absorbed flying experience quickly. We underwent a specialized training program, which included a number of training flights. We didn’t practice bombing flights. From Kuznetsk we flew to Kazan to fetch our airplanes. We also had some practice flying with landing gear converted to skis, and then the order was issued to go straight to the front! We flew to Moscow, landing at the Tushino airfield. The regiment was detained and assigned to deliver personnel, pilots and cargo to airfields. In general, we were used as cargo transporters. About a month later we flew to the front. Our first airstrip was located at the edge of a village, which was located 20-25 kilometers away from the front line. At that time, the 16th German Army was surrounded near Demyansk, so generally we worked against them. We flew bombing missions at the frontline, the station of Lychkovo, the Ramushevsky corridor, the Paula river crossing. By the way, I was the first to detect that crossing. During that flight I was supposed to drop bags with biscuits to our troops, which were surrounded. I dropped the cargo and flew a little further. I flew over the river, looked down and saw in the middle of the river a vehicle with its headlights on. I returned to base and reported what I had seen, and then we flew back to bomb it for many times. It was only 5 to 7 meters wide, so it was very difficult to hit it without a bomb sight, especially under continuous anti-aircraft fire! We had to descend to an altitude of 500 meters. During the night we managed to make several sorties. One time I was able to complete eleven missions since the airfield was near the frontline, and the winter nights were long. What else can I say about those sorties? Sometimes it happened that I was knocked down and had to crash-land; the canvass covering of the wings was often shredded, but I was not wounded. Once, Mikhail was wounded in the head by a fragment from a shell that exploded close by.
- What bomb load did you take?
- Two hundred kilograms. As a rule, two bombs weighing a hundred kilograms each. One time I tried to take off with 400 kilograms from a concrete runway in Vypolzovo. But even on a concrete runaway the plane had to run a half the length of the airfield before taking off! With such a load the aircraft becomes unstable and is inclined to stall. So we didn’t overload our planes very often. The bombs were dropped by the air navigator. In the right wing there was a sighting slot, but we mainly were focused on the front edge of the wing. We had become very skillful in that! Mikhail bombed pretty accurately.
- What was the procedure for the flights?
- If our airfield was far from the front line, then in the evening we flew to a staging airfield. We crossed the front line at an altitude of 400 meters. In the summertime we maintained a higher altitude, but in general the regiment was assigned the flight level of 400 meters, to make sure that we wouldn’t run into the aircraft of other regiments. I never throttled back the engine before coming over the target, but flew and dropped the bombs at cruising speed. I did not perform any anti-aircraft gun evasive maneuvers since it was not the right speed to dodge anything. All the targets, except maybe those at the frontline, were covered by searchlights. A searchlight would catch you and lock on to you. I would bombs away, then nose dive to the ground and go home.
In addition to bombing assignments we transported partisans, food packs for partisans or evacuated the wounded from the encircled army, scattered leaflets.
As I was fond of parachute jumping, I was assigned to teach parachute jumping to scouts. At the airfield in Maksatikha, which was behind Bologoye, the regimental commander sent two aircraft - mine and that of another senior lieutenant. A group of 10 to 15 scout boys and girls arrived. All wore civilian clothes. I showed them how to jump, gave them a ride. In that case I piloted from the rear cockpit, while the scout sat in front. Before jumping the scout walked out on the wing, turned around to face me and on my command jumped. Some of them had to be pushed off as they were afraid. You would beat on their hands and push them off. This only happened in the beginning and later on everything was alright, especially after they were told that if they did not jump at the right time on my command, they could fall into German hands. I spent three months there up until the spring of 1943, dropping them to their missions. And some of them finished their missions behind enemy lines and returned - twice. They came to me so happy, with gifts – willing to be dropped again.
There were setbacks, of course. Once I was dropping a scout. But instead of jumping, he pulled the ring to open the parachute. The parachute, failed to release, hit the stabilizer and tore the left half of the stabilizer. It did not cling to the machine, but did not open either and the scout was killed. I had to perform an emergency landing on the edge of a frozen lake. One could hardly call it landing; it was rather a controlled crash. Forty minutes after the landing I was approached by my countrymen. A few days later I was evacuated by our airmen.
Up to the summer of 1942 the losses in our regiment were relatively small. We had lost no more than a quarter of our full strength. In June 1942, we were assigned to daylight recon flights over one of the enemy airfields on the outskirts of Demyansk. That airfield was the base of the enemy fighter aircraft. We made a schedule and flew there every day. Those recon missions were tantamount to death, but still I don’t remember anybody who refused. Once there I would see dust rising – they were taking off. How could I leave? I couldn’t return without the intelligence, I had to bring some. I would descend to ground altitude, poking around in the ravines, gliding, fidgeting. I would shake off the pursuers, then go up again, curse, and fly back to the airfield. Reconnoitered, arrived home and reported. And to check whether I was actually there, over the airfield, or not, another plane would be sent there to verify my data. So, I made about twenty of those missions, but due to those daytime flights the regiment had lost half of its strength.
I remember during one of the missions the plane of Junior Lieutenant Zheltkov and his air navigator Sergeant Mathis flying ahead of mine was attacked. I remember that they had crashed about 2 kilometers from the front line. The regiment commander sent me to take a doctor there. But how could I land the U-2 there? It was summertime! Landing on skis in winter was easier, but how could I do it using wheels. We had to find an airstrip ... But we had already gained so much flying experience. A stretch of ground 250 to 300 meters long was quite enough for me. I would nose the aircraft up and it would drop down. Anyway, we found the spot and landed there. We went up to the downed aircraft ... the pilot had burned right in the plane, and Mathis had gotten out of the cockpit and had crawled away from the aircraft. When we found him he was still warm. What a nice guy he was ... Such was the sort of assignments we had.
- Did you fly with parachutes or without?
- Did the air navigator get the opportunity to take control of the aircraft?
- Yes. The air navigators actually were not trained, although, of course, Mikhail got the feel of the controls. Sometimes when we were flying home from afar, I would say, "Well, come on, take the controls", but it happened rarely, because he had to stick to his own business and I had to stick to mine.
- Was the ShKAS machinegun fitted in his cockpit?
- Later on, before I left, they fitted the ShKAS machinegun on the pivot pin.
- Were the planes camouflaged?
- The regular color was green. In wintertime they were painted with whitewash.
- Was the mission for the night assigned for one target or could the targets be changed during the night?
- It happened both ways. After each flight the air navigator would go to the command point with a report, and there he would ascertain the details of the next mission. Once there was such a case. At night we returned after one flight, landed. He went away to report, and I remained sitting in the cockpit, I was reluctant to get out as there was a strong wind and it was cold outside, but inside the cockpit it was not so shivering cold. I got warm and dozed off. Air technicians were dragging in the bombs; hanging them together under the plane and refueling the plane. When finished the technician said, "All right! The bombs are hung. You may go!" I woke up and shouted: "Clear prop!" and took off. Up in the air I said, "Mishka! How soon will we be there?" - He was silent. - "Are you dumb? Say something!" I turned around - no Mikhail. Well, I took aim by looking through bracing trusses, as I remembered their location in relation to the target at the time of bomb release, and made an emergency bomb drop. I returned. He met me: "Victor, what’s wrong with you?" - "What’s wrong with you?" - "Well, have you bombed, at least?" - "Yes, I have."
- How was your daily routine organized?
- We lived in a village. After our night’s work we would sleep until 10 am, and then would do post-flight debriefing. We had lunch, and then again walked the 2-3 kilometers to the airfield. The food was mediocre, but in any case, we did not starve. We ate brown bread as the white bread was not available. In autumn we were fed potatoes; all the other times we ate mostly cereals – peeled barley, pearl barley, sometimes wheat, buckwheat was rare, canned food. There was almost no meat. Then the American canned food began to arrive, which was tastier. Butter was rationed. But sometimes certain interruptions occurred... Flight food was not supplied. Alcohol was rationed but only when the regiment was fighting. It was not if we had no sorties. The vodka was shitty because of its horrible stench! At first I did not drink it. But later I began to taste it and started smoking.
- Was chocolate rationed?
- No. Later on when I became a fighter pilot, chocolate and coсa cola were rationed.
In the spring of 1943, the rank of lieutenant was conferred on me. I was already a deputy squadron commander. Whatever opinion might exist, the U-2 was a real aircraft. And, as I had gained flying experience I was able to accomplish anything in that plane, I felt that I had become a real pilot. Besides, prior to that I had already flown the SB, UTI-4 and R-5 aircraft. I already felt that I could accomplish more in other aircraft. At that time I had the opportunity to be retrained for fighter, IL-2 Shturmovik and Pe-2 Bomber aircraft.
It was the Reserve Wing Regiment in the familiar Maksatikha. I went there. I was quickly retrained for the Yak-1 and the LaGG-3 fighter aircraft. I flew them both. The Training Squadron commander offered me an invitation to stay on as an instructor. I said, "No. I was trained to fight." - "Have a little more training and you will be a better fighter!" I agreed. For some time I taught the young pilots. Those were raw pilots. What could we teach them? Some of them did not even get any shooting practice because we had not even a single target towing aircraft. Presently the personnel allotment list arrived for reinforcement of the fighter regiment. I was first to come and sign up. Again they tried to persuade me to stay. I said: "No, besides you have already promised me that I would go to a combat regiment", and they let me go to the 5th Guards Fighter Division. It was based in Demyansk. At first, I was assigned to be an air flight leader in the 68th Guards Fighter Regiment. After a month or two I became the deputy commander of the squadron. For about four months the regiment did not fight. It was retrained to fly the U.S. P-39 "Cobra" fighter aircraft. I quickly got retrained myself and began to take the pilots of my squadron and those of the regiment out for rides. Only in the spring of 1944 were we sent to the front in the area of Vitebsk-Polotsk. A Hero of the Soviet Union Ivan Grachev was the squadron commander. He was a very cautious man and fought very carefully. Apparently, he had had enough of the war and was not so eager to meet with the enemy.
In one of the missions he happened to lead the first aircraft flight formation, and I was leading the second. A group of six enemy FW-190 fighter aircraft appeared behind us. I began to roll out a little bit, anticipating that shortly they would stick to our tails, but he continued flying in the straight line. He was shot down. He was taken prisoner. He was seen after the war in the POW camp and since then he has never been seen again...
I was appointed to his position. Generally, as a pilot, I had certain flying experience, but my shooting skills left a lot to be desired. I had often been attacked and hit, and I attacked a lot, shot, hit, but they just wouldn’t fall – I couldn’t shoot any of them down. Once I flopped – I was shot down in a dogfight, and had to crash-land in the forest. I found myself in a hospital in Yaroslavl. I had my legs broken, my face burned. Next to me on a couch lay a man, apparently, a pilot, covered with a raglan leather jacket. He kept silent and said nothing. Then I saw that his raglan jacket fallen away, exposing his chest, and I saw worms crawling on it. A nurse came. I said to her: "What do you think you are doing here? Damn you! This guy is being gnawed by the worms. Do something! “A medical attendant came: "Stop worrying about that!" - "Yes, his wound has become rotten, and these worms are eating the pus." That was the kind of medications they had there. Then that pilot came around. He told me that he had begun to fight back in the Civil War in Spain, and now he was shot down piloting a “Tomahawk” fighter. We fell into conversation with him. I said: "Whenever I attacked I could never bring down a single enemy plane!" He began to ask me what kind of weapons the "Cobra" had, how I took the aim and shot. "So you will never bring it down! Do not shoot until you see the smoke-blackened soot from the motor nozzles on the aircraft skin, or you will never get him." I thanked him for the advice. I did not stay in the hospital very long, and I won’t say that I had escaped from there, but I just asked to be discharged. I arrived back in the regiment. I did not really share the details of my hospital conversation with others. If I had, they might have laughed at me. We had come for the war. It was already the summer of 1944. There was a moment that I attacked the Germans strafing the ground targets and I clung to one of the wingmen. I began getting closer. I had already begun to wag in his wake. I made out the soot at the range of 50 to100 meters. My "Cobra" had a 37 mm gun and two 12.7 mm machineguns. I did not have control of all of them in one trigger because if I had pulled it and missed I wouldn’t have had any ammunition left. I opened fire with machine guns. I saw how the wingman’s aircraft shuddered, emitted smoke and fell. It was my first victory. And in subsequent combat I never fired at a range greater than 100 to 150 meters. But in battle, when you go on the attack almost always a German is behind you too. There you must make or break - if you attack, then go straight to the attack, and if you hesitate, you’d better not to be a fighter pilot! I had enough self control to close in and shoot down an enemy aircraft. Within a short period of time I brought down 15 enemy aircraft.
- Who was your wingman?
- In the beginning was a short Ossetian, Kolya Ziboin. He was recommended to me and I liked him – he flew perfectly. Then there was a vacancy for a flight formation leader and I recommended him for the position. The pilots arrived in the regiment from RWR (reserve wing regiment), who had a little training to fly the “Yaks” (Yakovlev fighter aircraft). They hadn’t flown the Cobras and had not even seen them. Among them was a resident of Odessa, Nikolai Podoprigora. He had finished flying school flying the Polikarpov I-16 fighter, then in the RWR for five or six hours flew the “Yaks”. He behaved disgracefully, played cards and made a rumpus. No one wanted to take him as a wingman. He got attached to me: "Commander, teach me." I tested him flying the "Yak", let him fly the "Cobra", trained him to fly in formation and stay in it on maneuvers. I must say that he was not bad. As he admitted after the war, for about his thirty first flights he had not seen anything except for the tail of my plane. He flew with his carburetor fully supercharged all the time, which was risky since doing so causes the piston rods to fail. We had no American gasoline, but we had our B-78. We used the engine at 60-70% of its capacity. To do that, we would set a supercharge of 40 pounds, would take off at 40 but then would increase it up to 65. A knock in the engine was heard, but it held on. So he flew as my wingman through the end of the war. He did not care about shooting down anybody, as long as he could stick with me, and just watch for me. Ziboin was shot down and killed.
- They say that, as a rule, whenever a fighter pilot is shot down, he never sees who did it.
- Of course, he doesn’t. At the end of the war, we were standing at Konigsberg. Near the city of Pillau the Germans raised observation balloons to adjust their artillery fire. A pair of us was assigned to destroy them. A young pilot, Rozhnev, was my wingman. I found a balloon. It was on the ground. We went about strafing it - it kindled. We made a second run. Suddenly a tracer passed by. I maneuvered – looked up and saw a pair of "Cobras" receding after the attack. I arrived home and reported: "What’s going on? It was friendly fire" I was debriefed. We sorted everything out. It turned out that Leonid Bykovets from the 28th Guards Fighter Wing Regiment had flown there. Apparently he had confused me with a Messerschmitt. How could he have been mistaken when there were only FW-190’s in the area? Later on through good connections he was conferred with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. He was a Muscovite and his aunt was in charge of the trade organizations. He used to travel to Moscow and bring back some gifts ... By the way that was my last dogfight, if it can be called so, in the Great Patriotic War.
- How did you like the “Cobra”?
- It was a good aircraft. It had a fancy and spacious cockpit and a door, like in a car. In wintertime the temperature could be adjusted to any level. No noise, no air blowing. The weaponry was good. Did it enter a tailspin easily? There was such an episode. We were covering the Shturmoviks (land attack fighter-bombers). I maneuvered from one side to the other. Suddenly I saw a German fighter aircraft turning around. I fell upon it. I reduced speed, but so did the German. Then he moved his plane into a “zoom” stunt (dive) and gave it full throttle. I followed him but did not supercharge over 40. He ascended and I followed him. We pulled up in parallel, wing to wing, about 15 meters from each other at a good angle. We continued. We were at landing speed, no more than 150 miles per hour; the planes began shaking then froze. And then bang – his plane span down. I barely left the “zoom” stunt. But he was the first to fall off, and whether he crashed, I do not know for sure.
- What was the number of your Cobra plane?
- I did not pay attention to that. The regiment insignia included white stripes on the tail and fuselage, but actually I did not pay attention to that.
- Did you paint stars to mark your victories?
- No I didn’t, I mean it. We had many other things to do without all that rubbish.
- What was more difficult, fighter aviation or flying the U-2?
- At war everything is equally difficult.
- Where were you more comfortable?
- After the war, on the ground. You know, fighter pilots also suffered heavy casualties in dogfights. The U-2 flew at night, fighting well-defended targets, which also implied certain troubles. The war, in any case, was a bad thing. One can somehow get adapted to it; get into a precarious situation, resolve sudden problems, but nobody can like it. For example, I had never been afraid and I was confident that the more a man thinks of himself, the less he thinks of what he does. I did not pay too much attention to saving my own skin – I knew that a man had to pay his own price to the war. Instead, I focused all my attention on the performance of combat missions, whether it was bombing targets or covering ground-attack planes.
I also remember how I had shot down my only "Messerschmitt". We were covering some Petlyakov Pe-2 bombers. They dropped their bombs and began to turn around for their departure. A pair of “Messerschmitt” fighters appeared out of nowhere. A pair of us fell upon them. I stuck with the lead plane. As our bombers were already turning around to depart I made up my mind: "Let me chase him as far as I can." I caught up with him near the ground. I came in close and shot him down. In general, the "Messerschmitt" was a very good airplane, maneuverable and speedy. The only drawback it had was its landing gear, on the run it could spin around, like our I-16.
- How difficult was it to master a fighter aircraft after the U-2 biplane? I have heard from fighter pilots that those who had to be retrained from the U-2 biplane struggled to master piloting the fighter aircraft.
- This depended on the individual. Even if you were piloting the U-2 biplane, you were still a pilot. Even if you had been assigned to pilot a four engine aircraft you still would have been able to pull it off. As for piloting, if a person was mentally and physically a well prepared, competent pilot, he mastered everything well.
- How were you decorated?
- When flying the U-2 biplane, we reported to the 34th Field Army air force. The air force was commanded by General Berzarin. So he handed Mikhail and me our first Orders of the Red Banner in the summer of 1942. When I was being retrained in the RWR to be a fighter pilot the Order of the Patriotic War of 1st Class arrived. This Order was on the suspension (where the medal was suspended from a decorative bar pinned to the uniform) and then it was rated higher than the Order of the Red Banner. The Commander of the 6th Air Force, Polynin, handed it to me. Later on I received two Orders of the Red Banner while serving as a fighter pilot. When the war was over the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” was conferred on me. During the Korean War, I was decorated with the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner. The last Order of the Red Banner I received was for “the development of new equipment and flying in adverse weather conditions.”
The war was over. The Hero’s title was conferred on me. I honestly had no idea, how many victories I had had - tallying them was not part of my job. If someone were to count his victories he was sure not to return from his mission. I did my job. After all, we fought not to bring the enemy down, but to accomplish a task – not to allow attacks against our bombers and Shturmoviks or to prevent the enemy bombers from reaching the front line. We had never been particularly tasked to shoot the enemy aircraft down. Even though we went out on an unrestricted hunt, I had not had to hunt the enemy in the air. On the way home we might strafe an enemy locomotive or motor column. In 1947 we started being retrained to fly the MiG-9 jet aircraft. We were based in Kalinin and this machine was far from being perfected. There were many accidents and disasters. Around 1949, when I was already a divisional pilot technique inspector, we were given the MiG-15 jet aircraft. In 1950, our 5th Guards Division was sent to China, in the area of Mukden. There we got ourselves some training first, and then received the command to retrain the Chinese pilots to fly the MiG-15. As a result I retrained two wing regiments of Chinese pilots. I can tell now that we literarily had to make pilots from nothing. Generally, they were meticulous and attentive. We communicated through an interpreter, and of course I learned some phrases. The most difficult thing was flight operations control terminology. They were taught to fly the Yak-17, and then they were immediately released to fly the MiG-15. The pilot was landing. I told him, through the interpreter to get the plane "lower", but the interpreter perceived it as if it was "too low." The pilot pulled back on the stick and stalled out. This episode forced us to give commands ourselves. I would take the microphone myself and control those flights in Chinese, as much as I could. I became so good with the Chinese language, that when an interpreter arrived for us from Moscow and he and I went to the store, the Chinese merchant understood me better than him.
Presently, we were tasked to fly to Korea. We flew over to the Andun airfield. Initially, the pilots who were not busy with retraining the Chinese were scrambled to intercept the American bombers. Later on we were also engaged with those missions. In parallel, restructuring of our armed forces was going on in China and as a result I was appointed commander of the 28th Guards Wing Regiment. More than 50% of the regiment pilots had experience of the Great Patriotic War. They, as a rule, were flight leaders. Basically we flew to repulse the air raids and to cover the land troops. The Americans initially flew the P-51 Mustang aircraft for strafing. Our mission was to chasing them away. I shot down one of the Mustangs. Then the F-84 “Thunderjet” aircraft arrived, which were followed by the F-86 “Sabres”.
- Why when you were already in command of the 28th Guards Wing Regiment, you still continued to fly and did it quite successfully?
- I had begun flying when I was not yet a regiment commander. At the end, the MiG-15 aircraft had good armament and speed. I felt that I had in me not an excess of energy, but the desire to compete. And eventually, flying was the main thing that I could do; it was my job ... Altogether in Korea I shot down five enemy planes – one Mustang, two B-29-s and two F-86-s. Once, my wingman and I flew for a reconnaissance flight at an altitude of 7 to 8 thousand meters. We looked down and saw nine bombers below flying southbound towards Ansyu. I rushed there. My wingman lost me. I suddenly appeared and there was no return gunfire. I approached them well. Of course, not as good as I had with the German fighters, but the wake wagging began sooner – given the wingspan they had. At a range of 600 meters I fired at the engine ... It worked fine; one bomber flared up. It was the first. The next one followed ... Once I got shot there but I didn’t bail out. How did it happen? We had fought the F-86-s. I assembled as many of my men as I could and led them back home to our airfield. I brought them home and they began landing, while my wingman and I were covering them. Our airfield was visited by the "Mustangs" and the F-86-s. They didn’t strafe as such, but were shooting us down while we were landing. Then I sent my wingman to land. I saw a pair of our aircraft taking off led by my deputy, Boris Mukhin. All of a sudden I felt a blow and something went wrong with my plane. I noticed that on the right edge of the wing something had come off. The front of the canopy had burst open. Well, I thought: "That’s it! It’s the end!" I flew away on sliding trajectory. I felt that the machine was beyond my control. The dashboard instruments indicated zero. I was heading to the airfield, getting closer to it. The instrument showed no speed. The canopy cover was broken, the wind blew around me. I could barely see anything. I radioed to Mukhin: "Give me a wing for landing." Good man! I stuck to his wing. He led me on my descent to the ground. He left, I started to release the landing gear; the right leg came out, the front – to only halfway, the left leg did not come out at all. I landed on the strip; I was dragging along to the ground, tail up about to nose over.... and then fell back.
There was another curious case. There was a fight. I don’t know how it happened... I was alone. I saw some plane, so I spun around and we found ourselves near each other. It was the Thunderjet. I felt that its pilot could see me, and I saw him. It was not something like I was scared, but I could not decide what to do. We split up.
- What did the pilots do during their free time between flights?
- Some of them read, others played cards, dominoes, discussed their fighting, arguing sometimes.
- During both wars did you have omens, foreboding or talismans?
- Nothing. I was an atheist. It never bothered me.
This was another case. We were being replaced by the division commanded by the three-time Hero of the Soviet Union, Ivan Kozhedub. The regimental command post was on the hill, which overlooked the airfield. Ivan Kozhedub was in the command post. His pilots did not fly, only mine did. We were scrambled to intercept a group of bombers. We dispersed them and were returning home. As a rule, the results of bombing were recorded by an enemy photographer-bomber aircraft. At the moment when we approached our airfield that B-29 aircraft was flying across the airfield. Kozhedub told me on the radio, "Do you see him?" - "Yes, I do." - "Then attack him!" I approached the enemy. "Now you’re going to get it!" - I thought. I tried once! It didn’t shoot, reloaded - nothing. My wingman approached, fired a short burst: "Commander, I’m empty." What shall we do? Shall we go home?” - I said to my wingman: "No Ammo". - "Then ram him!" I said nothing more and landed my plane. On the ground my wingman smiled: "What were you talking about?" – I replied: "Would you have rammed?“ - My wingman’s response: “What would have I rammed it with?" He cackled out loud...
- What else can you add about the Great Patriotic War?
- Well, what can I tell you about war? I had neither seen anything particularly heroic there nor did any such thing myself. We were just doing our various, dangerous, permanent jobs. In the beginning we retreated, and then slowly began to advance. We did not allow ourselves to think: "I wish the war was over soon!" We just worked. Before the final victory we flew very little. Everyone knew and felt that the end of the war was near. The men were happy to realize that the end of the war meant the end of suffering. When the war was finally over, everybody thought: “Now what?” We learned how to fly, how to fight. We learned how to squeeze everything we could out of the airplanes. “What’s next?” For about a month and a half we just hung around. Then we began to organize the flights
|Interview and literary work by:||A. Drabkin|
|Translated by:||N. Kulinich|
|Translation review by:||Charles G. Powers|