Yurii Khukhrikov

Published september 27, 2010

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I, Khukhrikov, Iurii Mikhailovich, am a native Muscovite, in the fourth or even fifth generation. My ancestors were Dorogomilovo coachmen. My great grandfather, Stepan Khukhrikov, was a foreman of the Dorogomilovo coachmen. He drove cargo and passengers in the area of the Kiev Station. There used to be a Khukhrikov Lane, End, and Market in that area. The Khukhrikov Market was before the Borodino Bridge if you walked from the MID (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), when descending toward the Moskva River. I was born in a military family. My father and uncle were military specialists. They had fought starting from 1914, and after the revolution worked in the Main Engineering Directorate of the General Staff starting in 1921. Father had the rank of a colonel, and uncle -- a lieutenant general. I was born in 1924 and lived and went to school at Chistye Prudy, opposite the Coliseum, now it is the Sovremennik Theater.

From 1930 to 1941 I went to School No.311 on Lobkovskii Lane, now it's called Makarenko Lane. I went to school with Iurii Nagibin [a well-known Soviet writer] (that's his mother's last name, back then he was Frumkin). Also with Zhenia Rudneva [Evgeniia Rudneva -- future female night bomber pilot]. She was older than me, and was already in the Aviation Institute before the war. Such were the people with whom I got to go to school.

In 1940, by fair means or foul, I joined an aviation club. They had turned me away from everywhere -- said I was too young. But I finally got what I wanted, and they let me in on the condition that I would bring a note from my parents saying they were not opposed. For the first time I took off into the air on a U-2 in September 1940, at the Kraskovo Airfield near Moscow.

In 1941 I was already 17. We had already flown from Kraskovo to Scherbinka, near Podolsk. There was a very flat field there. We organized an airfield, set up tents, and continued flying. On 1 May 1941 I, as the aviation club student, participated in the last peacetime parade on the Red Square.

In July 1941 I graduated from the club. They gave me a certificate of completion. It would help me out a lot later. All aviation clubs sent their students on to aviation academies. We were supposed to go to Tbilisi. But because the war started, all 1941 graduates were sent to Saratov, where we started flying SBs. They called it a "candle". It was completely unprotected, and besides that, made of duralumin -- any bullet or shell fragment caused a fire. I started flying it, and then an order came from the Defense Ministry: "Transfer the Saratov academy to the Airborne Forces". Soon they brought in gliders: US-4, US-5, Sh-10, G-9, "Stakhanovets". These were all sports models. There were also ones for airborne troops -- "RotFront-8" and "RotFront-11". Experienced instructors also came -- Iudin, Anokhin, and others. We immediately started flying gliders. We would be towed by U-2, R-5, SB, Douglas, and others. This way we gained experience. The plane would make a circle and at the height of 500-600 meters we would detach. We circled and were supposed to land near a landing sign. You couldn't afford to make a mistake in these gliders. For example, after making the last turn, if you miscalculated, you could fall before the landing signs, there was nothing to pull you up -- no engine! So you would fall. That's why we made our approach aiming to overshoot. And in order to descend, we banked and dived, which allowed us to lose altitude, and then landed with a minor deviation. We flew not in Saratov, but about 30 kilometers from the city, German villages were there. The residents had been deported. Villages remained unoccupied. That was where we lived and flew. Wide Volga steppe. A nice place to fly a glider.

Besides that I went through training as a diversionary group commander: explosives, hand to hand combat, fought dogs. Yes! Yes! We put on gloves, coats, and fought dogs. Like everyone, in October 1941, I submitted a request to be transferred to fighter aviation. It worked! On December 31 I was transferred to a fighter aviation academy. There we immediately began flying UT-1, UT-2, I-16. Our Belyi Kliuch Airfield was located 18 kilometers from Ul'ianovsk, not far from the Volga. Excellent airfield, good approaches.

Yes, I forgot to mention that in October I and my comrade Boria Bezrukov, with whom we had gone to school and the aviation club, and later found ourselves at the Saratov academy, had to deliver some things to Moscow. They were bales, boxes -- we came, signed, turned over the cargo. Then Boria and I decided, as patriots, to go to the front.

We infiltrated to the forward positions. Found rifles, fired them. 45mm guns were deployed next to us, real soldiers were there. Already experienced people. The Special Department worked well in that area. They found us out, that we were strangers:

"Who are you? Where from?" We told them everything that happened.

"What do you have?" That's where the certificates from the aviation club and the papers about our trip to Moscow helped us out.

"Get out and don't come back!" We picked up and ran. We got lucky with transport -- came to Saratov and no one found out about it. All of that took no more than a week, at least it went unnoticed. But I did get the "For the Defense of Moscow" medal. After I left for Ul'ianovsk from Saratov, Boria was killed. When we would fly gliders at night, 8 men sat in each glider as passengers. He happened to fly as a passenger. The glider caught up with the plane, the cable caught on a wing and tore it off. Everyone was killed.

We started to train in Ul'ianovsk -- and then an order came to retrain for IL-2.

A.D. The aircraft were delivered?

Yes. They brought in more than 30 from Kuibyshev.

I graduated from the Ul'ianovsk academy in 1943. Why so long? I was lucky! Many graduated after the war ended! They picked out only the most gifted, so they would teach us as little as possible -- there was no fuel.

The position of German 8.8cm PaK43 anti-tank guns.

Photo from the cockpit of IL-2.

So they sent us to a reserve airfield at Diad'kov, which was 18 kilometers north of Dmitrov. That's where pilots learned combat skills -- bombing, shooting. All of that took literally several hours. Possibilities were limited. A buyer from the front would come -- and we would go with him. Zhora Parshin came for us -- he was an ace! A ground attack pilot! He shot down ten aircraft in an IL! He fought from the first day of the war and to the end. Excellent man. I met him often later in Leningrad on the Liteinyi Avenue. It was 1944 when he took us. We found ourselves in the 566th Ground Attack Aviation Regiment. This regiment was the first to get its own honorary name -- Solnechnogorsk. It fought there, at Moscow. Everyone died, to a man. From 1941 only Afonia Machnyi remained, and even he lost his mind after half a hundred sorties, from 1942 -- only Leva Korchagin remained, from 1943 -- a little more, and so on. During the war the regiment lost 105 pilots and 50 gunners. 28 of us came to the division -- 15 were killed. Such were the losses.

 

 

I was put into the 1st Squadron of the 566th Regiment. Mykhlik was the squadron commander. Future Twice the Hero of the Soviet Union. We were lucky -- it was a period between operations, there was an opportunity to train, fly in formation, go into the zone. War began, and we started working at full steam in the Baltics. The regiment mostly fought in the Central and Leningrad fronts.

We fought in IL-2. It was an excellent aircraft for those times! Carried 600 kilograms of bombs, 8 rockets, 300 23mm shells for VIa cannon (150 per gun), and 1800 rounds for each machine gun -- 3600 rounds. The gunner had a 12.7mm Berezin machine gun, 10 DAG-10 distance aviation grenades for the protection of the lower rear hemisphere. If a German appeared, you would press a switch, and a grenade would fall on a parachute and explode 150 meters away. Besides that, an infantry submachine gun and grenades.

An attack on a concentration of vehicles. Photo from the cockpit of IL-2.

A.D. They say IL-2 was difficult to handle?

No. Not at all. I-16 -- yes. Especially when landing.

A.D. How useful do you think the rear gunner was?

The gunner was necessary. His usefulness is beyond question.

A.D. Did you already have all metal IL-2?

Yes. All aircraft were already equipped with radios. The only thing was that we sat on gasoline: a tank under me, a tank in front, a tank between me and the gunner. We were all in gasoline.

We started in the Baltics, went through Prussia, and finished in Wittenberg, from where we flew sorties to Koenigsberg and even Danzig.

We got hit a couple of times. A shell hit a wing on the twenty-eighth sortie. We made it back miraculously -- the hole was about a meter in size. If a bullet hits, the smell of burned metal can be felt. I smelled it. Turned my head -- there it was, a hole. But I was lucky -- the shock wave and fragments went to the gunner. His legs were mangled. Communications were disrupted. We landed in Wittenberg. I taxied, turned off the engine, jumped out onto the wing -- the gunner, Viktor Shakhaev, Siberian, born in 1926, was just lying there. Guys ran to us, pulled him out. Barely saved his legs. But it turned out that I was also hit. A fragment scratched the back of my head. Where did it manage to penetrate? They wanted to put me in a hospital, but I refused. War ended for me in Wittenberg. I had flown 84 sorties.

In the end of May 1945 men were selected from the regiments of our division for the Victory Parade. They picked out men about 1 meter 80 centimeters tall and sent them to Koenigsberg to drill. Our sergeant was a brilliant drill instructor. So he drilled us. In the beginning of June we were put on a train and rode toward Moscow. There we were formed into a combined battalion of pilots of the 3rd Belorussian Front. Our commander was General Prutkov, commander of the 1st Guards Stalingrad Ground Attack Air Division. They gave us tunics, boots, caps. It was a merry, nice atmosphere. We lived in the Chernyshevskie barracks, not far from Shabolovka. Where did we walk? VDNKh, at the Crimean Bridge, some other places. Special Voroshilov rations in the mess, even white bread on plates. I must say at the front the food was also excellent. The parade was on June 24. I also went to the banquet.

IL-2 (pointed out by the arrow) pulling out from an attack.

A.D. Did you fly as a wingman or a leader?

Everyone was at first a wingman at the front. Vasia Mykhlik and I flew about 40 sorties. He went to Moscow to get his Star (Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union - trans.) and came back only in the end of April. I was already a leader. The last two sorties I already led eight -- basically a squadron. That was May 8. The first sortie was at 10 in the morning, and the second around 2pm. To the Zemland Peninsula. We worked over its very edge. Returned. They refueled us for the third sortie. We taxied, waited for the order. The Chief of Staff Nikolai Ivanovich Borkov ran to us: "Iura, taxi back. It's over!" We turned off our engines, fired into the air in joy. The war was over! And then I flew ILs and MIGs for a long time.

A.D. They say that there were 7 killed gunners for each killed pilot, is that true?

No. Let me explain. We had 105 pilots and 50 gunners killed, why? Because the regiment fought from the beginning to the end of the war. The first half of the war in one-seater aircraft. And the second half -- in two-seaters. And most of the time, they died together. A ground attack aircraft pilot, according to the statistics, managed to fly 7-8 sorties and then died. Such were statistics.

A.D. Were you escorted by fighters?

Always. Very often during the Prussian operation we were escorted by Normandie-Niemen.

A.D. Were missions assigned to eights?

Not necessarily. Depended on the mission.

A.D. What missions did you get most often?

Usually the bombing of the forward positions. I went to reconnoiter on foot once. The infantry commander said: "You guys don't have to shoot. Fly here and show yourselves. That would be enough. And if you bomb, you'll always be welcome guests!" Sunk ships in ports, 4 times flew against airfields. That was scary business! They were well protected. Worked on armor concentrations. Well, against those targets armies -- hundreds of aircraft -- were sent, in order to wipe everything off the face of the earth.

A.D. What was more dangerous, enemy anti-aircraft artillery or fighters?

AA artillery. Of course, in the beginning of the war fighters really made the lives of ground attack pilots difficult. But by the end of the war -- AA artillery. That was scary business! Several dozen small caliber AA guns were deployed and would fire into the same spot. And all around black clouds from medium caliber AA guns. You would fly and not know which of them would... kiss you. Of course, we performed an anti-AAA maneuver.

We usually flew 50 by 30 -- 50 meter interval and 30 meter distance. When approaching the frontline we spread out -- 150 meter interval. And threw our planes side to side. Then we would get into a circle above the target and start working it. Little ones [fighters] would cover us. Those were the mechanics.

 

A.D. How many passes would you make?

It depended on the situation. There could be such counteraction -- Lord help us! Then it would only be one pass. You would use everything at once -- rockets, guns, bombs. If the counteraction was not that great, then several -- 4, 6 times. The leader would snake away, allowing the wingmen to catch up. We approached the target in formation, if weather allowed at the altitude of 1200-1400 meters, and departed after assembling, also in formation, at the same altitude.

A.D. What was the most vulnerable spot of IL-2?

The engine. Wings were fine, more or less. If a fuel tank was hit, that wasn't bad either, why? When approaching the target we opened carbon dioxide canisters, which filled the empty space of fuel tanks. If a bullet pierced the body and hit a fuel tank, the sealer would fill the hole, fuel would not leak out, there would be no vapor, and consequently no combustion.

A.D. How effective were rockets?

They were 82mm rockets. Of course, we fired them into the general vicinity. But at the forward positions targets were all over, so heavy was the concentration of forces and vehicles. A group would work -- one missed, another would hit the target for sure. We also carried RS-132, but only 2 of them. In that case we took less bombs -- only 200 kg. But usually we took RS-82, sometimes 16 of them.

A.D. And did you install 37mm guns?

We had 37mm guns, 40 shells per gun. I didn't fly one of those. They didn't work out.

A.D. Was the German infantry well covered?

They covered themselves in only one way -- concentration of AA defenses. Not single guns, but concentrated in quadrants. I would sometimes count up to 40 guns -- an uninterrupted stream of bullets. Small caliber AA artillery was especially dangerous.

A.D. Did you attack from a dive?

Always from a dive, 30-40 degrees. You wouldn't have time to fire everything at a steeper angle. 30-40 degrees -- that is the angle that provided the complete use of all weapons.

A.D. Did you use anti-tank bombs?

Yes. We took about 280 of them. There were also 25 kg, 50 kg, and 100 kg bombs -- 4 bomb hatches, 600 kg load. We would bomb from the altitude not lower than 1400-1500 meters. If there were low clouds, 400-600 meters, but then we put in delayed fuses.

A.D. About how many sorties did you fly per day?

Sometimes 3... but that was a lot. A lot.

If someone says it wasn't scary -- they're lying. The moment of expectation was the scariest and most unpleasant. For example they would say: "1400 such and such airfield". You sit there: 1400 -- nothing, 1430 -- nothing, 1500 -- no order! Or you sit in the cockpit, waiting for a rocket, and nothing. Legs start shaking. A real panic starts. After all, there was no guarantee that you wouldn't be shot down during the mission. When a rocket would shoot up into the air your head would start working in a different direction, panic would be turned off. Then there was an unpleasant feeling when we approached the target but would not be attacking it immediately. They would be prepared for us and fire. After the attack started -- that was it, the pilot was at work, looking for targets, pushing triggers, rockets, guns, machine guns, pulling the ASSh-41 (emergency bomb release. Bombs could be released by the buttons, or if you wanted to release them all at once, you pulled that lever).

A.D. How was the effectiveness of a sortie determined?

Everyone had a gun camera, which was working when you were firing the guns. If you set a vehicle on fire, it wold be recorded. If you worked a tank, that would also be recorded. Besides that, gunners could have wide area cameras. There would usually be a couple of them per group. It covered a large area, and after we landed the film was printed. Besides that, when approaching the front line we established communications with the observer, usually a representative of the air division. We could recognize his voice. He would literally aim us: "Guys, a little to the right. OK. Now." Gave us the permission to attack. Told us where the bombs were falling. On the second pass introduced corrections. His confirmations were taken into account.

A.D. And how did you break in new pilots?

The usual. After the school pilots were sent to a reserve air regiment. There they passed through a short combat course. Bombing and strafing ground targets with cannon and machine guns. Then a buyer would come in. We were considered to be relatively ready for combat work.

A.D. And in the regiment?

After the above procedure we were flown in to the regiment and allocated to squadrons. Squadron commander would fly with each one, taking measure of everyone's level of preparedness, and picked out his wingman. I immediately became squadron commander's partner. I flew only with him. I loved flying and was almost always first.

A.D. Were there any IL-10 in your unit?

Of course. But only after the war. Their qualities were the same. Same weight, gunner, crew commander, pilot. The structure was more compact. Wing area was a little smaller. Same armament. Two cannon and two machine guns. Slightly different range. But mainly it was the same thing.

German self-propelled gun, presumably StuG III.

Photo from the cockpit of IL-2.

A.D. Did you ever hit friendlies?

We had Twice the Hero [of the Soviet Union] Len'ka (Leonid) Beda, we had gone to school together. An untidy person. Although, you shouldn't say anything bad about the dead. Once a general came, we were formed up. The general noticed him:

"Last name?"

"Beda" ("Beda" means "trouble" in Russian -- trans.)

"I am asking you what your last name is!"

"Beda, comrade commander!"

Len'ka killed 118 men at the end of the war. It wasn't his fault, they told him before the mission: "Bomb that target". But he had to get there first. Maybe 30 minutes. While they were flying there, the situation changed. We captured that place, but no one reported to him. The group worked the target -- 118 of our soldiers died. He returned, they tore off his shoulder boards, but immediately investigated, returned them. Later he was the Air Force Commander of the Belorussian Military District.

A.D. Have you ever encountered enemy aircraft?

I've never had to participate in a dogfight, but the rear gunner didn't sit without work -- after pulling out from an attack he fired at ground targets.

A.D. Were there any cases of cowardice?

There were single occurrences of cowardice. There was one time, when N. was leading a large group, about 20 aircraft, he turned away before reaching the target, the entire group returned to the airfield. Court martial. Gave him seven years. But he fought well afterward -- 4 Orders of the Red Banner. There were sly people as well. A small number, but there were some. He would gain altitude. We fly, attack, but he just hangs there, then descends to 1000 meters, releases the bomb load, gets in formation. But we see everything.

A.D. Did you beat him up?

Warned him. Told him: "Sasha, you do this one more time, we'll shoot you down". He was disrupting our interaction! We flew at a distance of 600 meters, he climbed, therefore the distance became 1200. Interaction was disrupted. The warning worked.

A.D. Were there penal ground attack squadrons?

No. They would send offending officers to us, not necessarily pilots. They would fly 10 sorties as rear gunners.

A.D. What was considered a combat sortie?

Only bombing enemy targets with photo confirmation.

A.D. Did you lose aircraft for technical reasons?

Technicians worked well. If a plane didn't return for technical reasons, something happened, that was very serious. Such occurrences were investigated.

A.D. Did you have to manipulate the engine's modes of operation?

Yes, of course. It was easy to do.

A.D. Did you use any special tactics?

Yes. You would make the first pass, second one, then they would say from the ground: "Wait a little, when the infantry passes, we'll redirect you to other targets". So we work this target, stay in the air, and then we work other targets based on the commands from the observation post.

A.D. Did you fly during operational pauses?

The most intense activity was during operations. Then we flew a lot, but for that time was needed, and corresponding preparation. Crews, equipment were being prepared. During pauses between operations we flew anyway. Performed tactical missions. Of course, with smaller forces. We would be sent to support infantry or to destroy columns on the march. For example, Pokryshkin flew more than 500 sorties. Participated in 84 dogfights. Shot down 59 aircraft. I also have 84 combat sorties. But if you translate our effectiveness into money, I wouldn't be short of him. Be sure of that. Of course, ground attack pilots' hands are covered in blood up to the elbows. But it was our duty, and I think we did a first class job. Did everything we could. Well, and God didn't pass us by with "crosses".

Interview:Artem Drabkin
Translated by:Oleg Sheremet


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