Interview with Alekseev Dmitrii Dmitrievich
Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin ©
Transcribed by Igor Zhidov ©
Special thanks to Svetlana Spiridonova and Ilya Grinberg
Alekseev Dmitrii Dmitrievich. 1948
Dmitrievich Alekseev: I was born on the 25th of December
1914 in Kuryanovo village, Kirillovskiy district,
My father enlisted in the armed forces in 1914, and as
there was no news from him, it was believed that he had
perished. I was named after him. But he was a sailor,
and served in the 1st Mine-Torpedo Company of Baltic
Fleet; he was captured and held as a POW in Poland. He
returned in 1919, when Soviet regime was already
established. I was 5 years old at the time, and I can
recall it even now.
We lived quite well; we had four cows and a garden. We
had our own pigs and sheep. We would go pick berries and
mushrooms in the forest. There were six children in our
family, and my dad provided us with food, clothing, and
footwear. My older brother Anatoliy was born in 1912; I
was the second, and after 1919 four sisters were born.
After his return, my dad worked as a lumberjack, and at
the same time he built us a house. He would go to the
forest on a horse for a week or 10 days, and then he
would come back and have several days off. It was
“socialism” time. I do not know anything about
“capitalism” time – I do not remember that time, except
what my grandma used to tell me. Then collectivization
Kolkhozes were organized?
remember correctly, it began in 1930. I remember this
episode (I was 14 years old at the time): Mom’s brother
sent us a coach. It was so well polished, that there was
no need of a mirror – you could see your reflection in
its sides. It even had rubber tires, which provided a
very comfortable ride. They used to produce them in
large quantities in Danilov, like cars are produced
My father and I came to Kirillov, and the local militia
— Father (Father: respectable way of addressing to males
40 and older), will you sell us this coach? With horse.
We are ready to pay you good money for it. If you won’t
sell it – it will be taken by the kolkhoz without
Dad thought for a while, and sold it. And it was the
right thing to do.
did you study?
at Nikolskiy Torzhok village, which was located around
2.5 kilometers away from our village. There was a
4-grade school. After that I studied at
professional-technical school at Nikolskoye village,
which was ten kilometers away from us. I studied there
for three years. I was taught rather well and got a
profession—“mechanic, fourth level.” My brother also
studied there, and he later left to be with my uncle,
who lived in Moscow.
I finished professional-technical school in 1933, and
with seven other graduates I was sent to Leningrad. It
was February or March. Near Pushkin Theater was a
management office, where we were given our orders. We
were sent to Kingisepp. When we arrived at Kingisepp, we
lived in “Peasants home.” It was a hostel, where for a
small fee one could get a bed and food. We started to
work at the workshop – we had a military order, and made
“Finnish knives” for the army. For some reason, in about
a week’s time we decided to go take a look at the
Estonian border. We were caught by border guards:
— Where are you going?
— We want to take a look at the border.
He took us to the headquarters, where a report was drawn
up and sent to our workplace. We were immediately fired
and sent back to Leningrad. Five men left for home, but
I, along with another guy, stayed in Leningrad. He used
to have some relative, who worked in a “Big House” and
wore four rhombuses. (The NKVD building at Liteyniy
prospect is called the “Big House” because “from its
cellars you can see Kolyma.” Rhombus – a rank
identification sign in RKKA before shoulder straps were
introduced in 1943.) He arranged free food for a month
for us and allowed us to stay at his home. He used to
live with a wife and a small child in a three-room
apartment, and he let us to stay in one room. There was
one huge square bed. We lived there for a month. I still
can remember the address: Gorokhovaya street, building
6. For a month we looked for work, and as we had no
money, we traveled through the city on a “sausage.”
It was a
rod, used for connecting tram wagons. After one month we
were asked to leave, and we had to live on the streets
and railway stations. But I did not want to go back home
– life there was not easier. So, through May 1933 I
lived on the streets. At the same time there was hunger
in Ukraine, and a lot of Ukrainians fled to Russia.
Each day I used to go to the labor exchange office,
which was located near Sytnoy market, but there was no
job for me. The problem was that I had no registration
in Leningrad. Finally, a place for me was found in
Sovkhoz Priyutino, which was located four kilometers
away from city toward Vsevolozsk. There was a place at
the hostel, and I got a job as a mechanic. There were
six tractors “Fordson-Putilovets,” the metal wheels of
which were taken off and replaced by tires, and a
“Polutorka” [1.5-ton truck]. Drivers courses were
organized, and getting a drivers’ license at the time
was even more difficult than becoming a cosmonaut these
days. There was even an electro-station in our village.
I had to do all kinds of work there – I had to operate
the electric power plant. I almost died in the fuel
tank, which I was cleaning from inside. I was even a
cashier, and this specialty almost landed me in the
I was a stupid kid at the time, and my first vacation
was closing in. I thought: “When I go home, I will have
to bring something with me; they are living rather
poorly.” When kolkhozes were organized, all of the cows,
pigs, and sheep that my family owned were taken away
from them—only one cow remained. So I started collecting
money. I was selling different things to the kolkhoz
workers. Our Sovkhoz was a very rich one, and everything
cost very little money. The Sovkhoz fed both the “Big
House” and the Artillery school. When my time for
enlistment would come, I wanted to go to this school.
But I was caught on the “fraud.”
Money that I received from selling things I had to give
away to the chief cashier, and he would give me the
receipt. This time he gave me the receipt in advance,
and when time came to pay salary to the workers, there
was not enough cash in the main cash department. There
was a rumor that someone stole the money, and it
happened so, that just day before I was in the
restaurant in Vsevolozsk with my comrade. And he told
someone that he saw a lot of money when I paid for food.
Thus I fell under suspicion. My apartment was searched,
and they found a lot of money in my room. I should have
kept the money in the bank, but I thought that it would
be safer in my room. All the money was confiscated, and
I was fired and sent to the “Big House.” I still
remember that I went into some office on the third
floor, where inspector Kozhevnikov interrogated me. I
thought that I was going into the prison for sure, but
he just laughed at me, called me an idiot, and set me
they return the money to you?
I was so
happy that I avoided imprisonment that I didn’t care.
But here I was again—no job, no money, and on the
street. I had one friend, who worked in the cultural
department. I asked for help:
— Can you help me? There is no way I will get a job by
He arranged a possibility of education for me. I studied
to become a film-mechanic. The courses were located at
Fontanka 3, while my hostel was at Ligovskiy 93. It was
still 1934, perhaps the worst year of my life... I
finished my education and started working on a
truck-mounted cinema. I used to go to different villages
and show films there. Already there were movies with
sound, but I still worked on silent films. I worked
through 1935 and the beginning of 1936 in this manner,
until I accidentally burned a part of a movie. 112
meters of film was damaged, and I had to repay for the
damage. 1 meter cost 1 ruble, and my salary was 65–80
At this situation the army saved me. In May 1936 I was
inducted into the army. To be exact – the navy. I was
called to Baltic Fleet Crew, which was located at
Gertsena street, 69 (Fleet Crew, it is more or less like
barracks for Navy junior ranks, where sailors await
further directions). We were given all that a young man
would need, beginning with combs.
For further education I was sent to ShMAS (junior
aviation technical personnel school) which was located
at Vasilyevskiy island at Kozhevennaya street. We used
to go to the “Sevkabel” factory’s canteen for dinner,
and there was a great view of the Finnish Gulf from the
second floor. I remember we were dining there, and
suddenly a TB-1 bomber fell into the water. It was
rather shallow place, and the plane’s tail was sticking
above the water. I still can remember the number painted
on the rudder: “blue 8.” The airplane was there for
about a month, and it seemed that no one was interested
in its fate; then, suddenly, it disappeared overnight.
After studying for four month, I was graduated as an
aviation motorist (engine mechanic), and was appointed
to the 20th Squadron, which was stationed in Oranienbaum.
The squadron commander was Kuznetsov, a famous pilot and
a very nice person. We had wheeled R-5 planes and both
wheeled and float versions of the R-6.
Here are a couple of episodes of that time. I had to
change the magneto on the plane, and we were rowed
towards it, when a motor boat went past us and our boat
overturned. I barely made it out of the water – I really
can’t swim. The magneto sunk, and I thought that I would
be made to pay for it, but no. Everybody was happy that
I made it out, and there were no consequences to me.
Second episode. When there were Baltic Fleet maneuvers,
we lost six R-6 bombers in one flight. There was a big
investigation, and a rumor went around that there was a
mechanic who would damage the controls so that they
would endure takeoff, but would snap later. How it was
found out? They raised a couple of these R-6s from the
bottom of the sea. We were not told the results of the
investigation, but it is a fact – there were acts of
In 1937, at Bezzabotnoye, the location of “Rote Fahne”
kolkhoz, a new regiment was organized – 1st Mine-Torpedo
Aviation Regiment (1st MTAP), and I was sent there. The
village was very small, and we had to live in Strelna,
which was six kilometers away. Everyday we used to go
there and back by foot.
There were a lot of famous pilots in 1st MTAP, and there
were “international crews.” For example, one pilot was a
Gypsy, navigator – Ukrainian, and the gunner could be
there any “tensions” based on nationality?
No, we used to live like a family.
Technical crew of 1st MTAP, 1937
did you live?
barracks, but officers lived with their families in
their own houses, which were built especially for them.
At approximately this time my father came to me. He was
very sick, and I arranged for him to be treated at the
Military Medical Academy, but he still died in 1938.
airplanes were in 1st MTAP when it was formed?
R-6 and small ones – U-2 and UT. The R-6 were on floats,
which for winter would be changed to skis. It was a time
when aviation was just getting on its feet. I saw with
my own eyes how airfields Ropsha, Klopicy, Koporye,
Kotly, and Alexandrovka were built. I live longer, then
these airfields, last one of them was closed twenty
I was a mechanic in a command flight, and mostly I
serviced the planes which were used to train
parachutists and pilots. Conveyor flights – touch and go
practice. I got used to my work quite quickly, and
wasn’t thinking of it as of work any more, but as
pleasure. But there were a lot of things to do,
actually. For example, if something went wrong, we had
to move the plane from the runway.
My U-2 was flown by Preobrazhenskiy and Babushkin—not
the Babushkin who saved the Cheluskintsy. Our Babushkin
became squadron commander. But once, when politicians in
Estonia started something against Russians, he led about
20 or 30 airplanes over Tallinn on a low-level flight.
They asked him:
— Why did you do this?
— I wanted to show them that we can punish them, that we
— You scared ordinary people by your flight.
So, he was thrown out of the army. I remember, he used
to walk around the airfield with a small white dog.
Everybody thought that he was unjustly punished. He was
a very good man. Later he returned to us.
But work was interesting. Something happened on a daily
basis. An airplane would miss the runway and land
somewhere else, lots of accidents. We used to bring SABs
to Riga by our planes. When a plane would land and our
man would start to unload it, all the local girls would
run to the fence and start showing us all of their
“beauties.” And they would start to turn this and that
way, so that we won’t miss a thing, and shout to us:
— Hey, Russian, want some?
We were young boys, of course we wanted! All work would
stop as long as we enjoyed the show, until our commander
— You bastards! Return to work! We came here not for f…g
with locals, but to unload these bombs!
Servicing M-11 engine, 1943
often, but it happened. Either because of incompetence,
or because of recklessness.
what about “showing off”?
off? Pilots always want to show off in front of each
other, but our commanding officers didn’t allow it.
pilots punished if they crashed a plane?
could be. But there always was an investigation. For
example, there was one time with Kurzenkov during war.
We had “Hawkers” (Hurricanes) then. These planes had
common problem – if a pilot would press the brakes too
hard, or would hit a bump while taxiing, it would tend
to overturn. Most commonly a propeller was damaged in
such cases, but if the tendency to lift tail wasn’t too
great the rear wheel would be torn away. And here is a
situation: pilot fought in the air, was shot at and shot
at the enemy himself, returned to the base, and while
taxiing he tore rear wheel away. The regiment commander
ordered: write a report! And he wrote: I am guilty, I
broke the airplane…
We told him:
— Write: broken because of metal fatigue.
Those Hawkers were really old even when they were
received from Brittish, so when he wrote: “Broken
because of metal stress,” the commanders preferred to
believe him. And there was no punishment for him.
There were three brothers – Kurzenkovs. One flew in our
first squadron, the second flew on Pe-2 at Black Sea,
and the third one was studying in flight school to
become a Shturmovik pilot.
return to the time when you received DB-3. What can you
tell us about this aircraft?
remember exactly, but if I’m not mistaken we received
them in 1938. The DB-3s were the newest airplanes at the
time, and when we had lessons about this plane’s
construction or servicing, we were told not to make any
records. It was feared that some of the notes could get
into the wrong hands. It had a crew of four: pilot,
navigator, gunner-radioman, and gunner.
the extra gunner appear only during GPW time?
pilots demanded an extra gunner already in the Finnish
campaign. Very soon pilots refused to fly without one:
— I will not fly without one; I’ll be a sitting duck up
At first anyone who could shoot from the machine gun
flew, but later gunners underwent serious training – for
example they could tear a cord which was used to tow
target cone by bullets.
Sometimes only gunners were killed. In December of 1939
or January 1940 we were based at Bezzabotnoye. An
airplane came back, but both gunners were killed. Their
wives were wailing over dead bodies. They saw that a
plane was coming in to land, and ran to meet them, but
they were dead.
well was DB-3 in pre-flight service?
pretty good and easy plane to service, but the main
problem was that we had no special tools and instruments
and how did you meet Finnish war?
not mistaken, we were based at Klopici at the time.
Right before that war my time in the service came to an
end, and as we were suggested to continue serving on
professional terms, I agreed. Before the service, my
civil life was less than easy, and I wasn’t too keen to
get back on the street. I really liked the service – I
was fed, dressed, had an interesting job, I had a
separate room in the hostel.
Technical crew is practicing at the firing range
was your rank at the time?
I had four gold bandages on my sleeve and a “chicken.”
We had beautiful black Navy uniforms. We used to install
fabric pieces in the lower part of the pants, it was
called klesh. Patrols used to cut them out right on the
street. We also had white jackets for parades.
Alekseev (with the guitar) and tecnitian Zuev
remember tactical number of the plane that you serviced?
No, I do
not. There was “9” and “3,” but there was no “13” in the
was the color of the tactical numbers?
many squadrons were there in 1st MTAP?
remember: in 1938 we had four squadrons. The commanding
flight was removed, and Babushkin was appointed as
squadron commander. I had a lot of pilots who flew on my
planes. Efremov flew, then Zelinskiy. Later one never
tried to jump with a parachute; they tried to make him,
but he always replied:
— It’s better to be called a coward once, then to become
a cripple for the rest of my life!
I remember how he surprised me during a party meeting:
It was discussed, if I could be accepted as party
member, when he suddenly stood up and said:
— No, he is not ready yet. We should not accept him; he
has a lot more to learn.
And I was not accepted! Only one was against – and that
was it! I thought then: “I work for you, prepare your
plane, and you turned out to be such a SOB!”
I was accepted as a party member in Safonov’s regiment.
kind of losses did your regiment suffered during the
MTAP had 60 planes in four squadrons, 15 aircraft in
each squadron. At the end of war we had only 40 planes
left. There were no official conclusions, but there were
there any reinforcements?
1 MTAP 1940, Bezzabotnoye
you should be able to see, if a new airplane appeared on
regiment was based on different airfields. During the
Winter War we lost 20 planes. But these are all losses,
not only combat ones. Before I forget – there was an
accident on our airfield with one of our planes. It was
attempting to take off with three FAB-500s on board. But
the pilot lost orientation, and began takeoff heading
toward the bomb storage.
didn’t even raise the tail. There was a huge explosion,
or to be exact – a series of explosions. I didn’t hear
such an explosion even during the GPW. Thirteen fighters
were damaged—eight were blown to pieces and the rest
were damaged by shrapnel. Human losses were somewhere in
the range of 25–30 men. A starshina who was issuing
bombs out was killed, and all that we found from him was
a leg in the sock. Surprisingly, one of the weapons
officers survived the explosion, even though he was in
the epicenter – he was covered by the wooden bomb
package. Several houses that were built in the forest
not far from the airfield were damaged. Not only the
window glass was broken, but even doors with door-casing
were torn away. At the Volosovo station, which is about
15 kilometers away, school boys were injured by
fragments of broken glass, and they were brought to us
for first aid.
the bomb storage facility surrounded by an earthen wall?
wire only. We started to build walls around fuel and
bomb storage facilities after this accident.
the DB-3 lift 1,500 kg in the first place?
if less fuel would be taken, and take off on skis
required extensive training, which our pilots lacked.
remember who the pilot was?
remember what he looked like, a rather short guy. But
not his surname. His wife worked as a doctor at the
ambulance, and when explosion happened she came to as,
and kept asking:
— Did my husband take off?
— He sure did.
What’s his name? No, I can’t recall. There was a lot of
damage done to the regiment, but we never discussed this
matter – we were afraid to talk about it.
During the Winter War there was a lot of strain on us.
It was –50 degrees, but we had only moleskin coats to
From Accident report at units of 8th Air Brigade
“3. Fatal accident. DB-3, 1st Air regiment, 30 November
During take-off with bomb load of 3 Fab-500 senior pilot
of the 2nd Squadron Lieutenant Chiryev deviated to the
right. He failed to terminate take-off, headed 120
degrees to the right, and collided with bomb dump. The
airplane exploded on its own bombs. The crew Lieutenant
Chiryev, navigator Lieutenant Krepets, and gunner-radio
operator Cherenkov perished. Three more people standing
nearby were killed and five more received heavy
Two DB-3 airplanes, one R-5, and one U-2 were damaged
from the blast.
Reasons: Pilot Chiryev did not terminate take-off after
deviation from the runway line. Commander of the 1st Air
Regiment who cleared a sortie with full load (bombs and
2500kg of fuel) with ill-prepared young pilot”
type of coats?
They were made from cotton-wool, and that is not
something like a fur coat. You couldn’t bend the
sleeves; it didn’t keep you warm at all, you walk like
in a snow-pile. We used to dry them around metal
heaters, and when we were at Koporye, they once caught
did you keep engines warm?
Kuznetsov had a motorcycle engine, so we would start it
in the building, and then we would carry it to the
parking space. As long as we carried it, it would work,
but when we were about to leave, it would stall. It was
the only way to warm up the engines at first. As I said
earlier, there was no equipment for the DB-3 at the
Then we got “APL” lamps for warming engines, but there
were not enough of them, and we still had a lot of
We were completely unprepared for the Winter War, and
later everyone just “forgot” about it. As if nothing
happened at all.
But I still remember how cold it was, how the chief of
staff used to come to us with a teapot full of spirit –
you can drink as much as you can. That is the answer for
your question: how well we were prepared for Winter War.
remember which engines were used on the DB-3? M-85 or
I remember correctly.
you take notes, for how long you would warm up the
a special journal, where we would note everything –
which engine, when started, when shut down, when it is
supposed to be changed. But sometimes it was all
different – the engine was worn out a long time ago, but
there was no spare engine to replace it; we worked
miracles to keep them running. Our PARM was at
Bezzabotnoye; we changed engines there.
was the engine’s anticipated life?
written, that our engines had a planned life of no more
than 200 hours.
beginning, engines came with a useful life of 50 hours;
later they managed to raise this number to 600. Some
engines worked for more then a thousand hours. But the
Winter War was short, and we didn’t change a single
engine for wear-out reasons. August of 1941 was a time
when we had to change a lot of engines simultaneously. I
— The engines are completely worn out. I cannot allow
this plane to fly.
We were stationed at Kotly, and for an engine to be
changed we had to fly this plane to Bezzabotnoye. There
was an order – no take offs without a bomb load. We had
10 FAB-100 in the fuselage. I made a “nest” above the
bombs, tied myself to the airplane with a rope, and we
took off. Smirnov was the pilot. We took off, crossed
the battle front, he opened bomb bays. We were no higher
than 300 meters above the roads. Trees were cut on both
sides of the roads, and I could see everything “like
they were on a plate.” Germans were running away from
the road, trying to hide. There were a lot of tanks,
armored cars, trucks, carriages, horses, and soldiers.
The road was completely clogged with troops; there was
no need to aim – you would still hit something. AAA
started firing, and our plane started “jumping.” I felt
that this bomb run will never end, but finally the bombs
left our plane, and you could feel that it became easier
you see where bombs fell?
course! It was like in the movie. Explosions covered the
road. Then, suddenly, three Me-109s appeared out of
nowhere. They hit our engine; the second one was old and
not working well. We were going down in a shallow dive.
We barely made it to Pulkovo and landed near Voronino.
When the landing gear of DB-3 was raised, a small
portion—about 15 centimeters—of wheels are still
outside. Smirnov managed to put the fire out by diving,
and landed so smoothly, that the underside of the plane
was not damaged – we only bent the propellers. There was
a big cloud of dust, and the gunner decided that the
plane was on fire and was about to blow up. He jumped
out of his cabin and ran away. He forgot about me, pilot
did you make it out?
We looked at the damaged engine, and there was no fire.
It was covered with oil from a damaged cylinder. We
radioed to our home base and let them know what
happened. A truck with engines and technicians came the
next morning. For two weeks we were repairing airplane,
and all I had for food was milk.
flew out when you repaired the plane?
returned and took off alone. He flew to Bezzabotnoye,
and we went home by truck.
return to the Winter War. How were your planes painted?
kept silver. We had no time to repaint them. We tried to
cover them with tree branches. During the GPW we were
trying to raise a DB-3 after belly-landing at Kotly
airfield. We dug trenches under the landing gear, to
release them, and roll the plane out. In order to hide
our activity we covered the plane with branches. Soon a
German plane flew above us, so that we decided to hide
in anticipation of a bombing. We spent the night at
Kotly village, behind the cemetery. In the morning I was
returning to the airfield, when I heard:
Seven men approached me, and they took away my pistol,
two grenades and my gas mask:
— Who is your commander?
But I couldn’t answer – it was forbidden by the law. I
— Let’s go, it’s not far from here, I will introduce
— We are not going anywhere.
— There is no reason to talk to him, he’s a spy, let’s
“Hey, that’s me they are going to shoot!” My hair stood
up! I thought: “And what will be the reason for my
death? If these bastards will really kill me, what did I
live for? And the war has just begun.”
One of them turned to be reasonable enough. He took two
soldiers and walked with me, and the problem was solved.
had a personal airplane to service, or you worked on all
a special order issued, that stated, that no one should
be allowed to enter the plane after the mechanic left
was this order issued?
before the Winter War. Once the mechanic had sealed a
plane, it was passed to the guard, and after that he
wouldn’t allow anyone to enter the plane. Why did this
happen? Because you would prepare the plane for a
mission, and on the next day you would come to the
plane, and during night time someone would cannibalize
the plane for spares.
kind of weapons was used during the Winter War?
honest – I do not know. There were special weapons
they hung bombs under your plane?
no time to look at it – I had my own work. When aircraft
would return from a mission, we would start
simultaneously servicing it. Each one of us would do our
Weren’t you responsible for their work?
had their own commanding officer, who was responsible
for their work.
you see air-dropped mines?
remember how the Winter War ended?
really. It started quietly, and it ended also quietly.
We were assembled at late spring and had a week’s rest
1MTAP, Razliv. 1939
1st row 2nd from right - Alekseev
what about the parade in Leningrad?
Winter War? Never heard of it! There was a parade after
the GPW ended.
happened during the period between the wars? Was there a
feeling that a new war was coming?
no shadow of a doubt that war would be coming soon.
There were a lot of spies. Flight crews came from
restaurant, and told us:
— We are simply tired, we are constantly asked: Where
are we located, who is our commander, what types of
planes we fly, what kinds of flight characteristics they
Eventually they stopped going to the city in uniforms.
you receive new airplanes after the Winter War?
received new planes. The actual difference between
“Cigars” (DB-3f) and “short nose” (DB-3a and b) planes
was in their looks.
pilots told you which planes they preferred? For
example, Razgonin used to tell us that he preferred
short versions, since long versions were “heavy”.
saw “Cigars,” I didn’t work on them. But I liked my “Bukashka”.
did you learn that the Great Patriotic War had begun?
time we were in the summer camps, at Kotly, about 120
kilometers away from Leningrad. We heard Molotov’s
speech over the radio. The first bombing raid was on the
5th of July.
bombed, or you were bombed?
bombed. Before that our planes flew reconnaissance. When
aircraft returned, we all would run to the plane, to
hear the latest news. Once, right at the moment when we
stood around an aircraft, a German reconnaissance plane
flew over us. It was clear that our airfield had been
discovered! We expected the air raid, and we moved all
the planes to the sides.
Kotly, in my opinion, was the best airfield of all I
saw. It was clear, and planes could take off or land in
different directions. Bombing raids happened from July
4th to 5th. The first victim was a waitress from our
canteen; she was going to the canteen and was killed.
the bombing raid only a waitress was killed?
were some casualties, but only the waitress died. We
woke up early in the morning. Planes were moved as far
from each other as possible. Suddenly bombs started
falling. Everything was covered by either smoke or dust.
We couldn’t see what was going on. Two mechanics and
technician Galitskiy were working on my plane, when a
bomb exploded near it. Two fragments hit Galitskiy in
the back. I crawled inside of the plane, took bandages
from the first aid kit, and started bandaging him.
there first aid kits in the plane?
there be an airplane without first aid kit and NZ
[untouchable supply]? There was even a special man, who
would go around the airfield and hand chocolate bars to
crews that were about to take off. The raid ended and
the ambulance came and took the wounded away. Motorist
Moroshkin was thrown up to two meters by explosion, and
had broken his nose when fell on the ground. He bled
like a fountain. But I didn’t see any dead; no one
discussed that someone besides the waitress died. After
the war we met once again, and Galitskiy recalled that
bombing raid. He used to live in Taganrog, and he should
live there now.
many planes were damaged?
was slightly damaged by fragments, but I can’t say
anything about other planes – I was busy with mine. I
didn’t see any burning planes, though.
did you repair the bullet holes?
metal – there was a PARM for that. In percale – we would
glue a piece of percale and paint over it with emalit
(type of a dope).
the fuel tanks on your planes protected?
metal, at first plain metal, and later – with rubber
did the anti-icing systems work?
learned that from the Americans. Alcohol would be
applied by syringe to the propeller blades and
windshield. Portion – one hundred grams. The tank had
fifty liters’ capacity. On the wings there was a
“Goodrich” system – there were rubber tubes, and warm
air would be applied through them, and ice would fall.
Alcohol was also used in hydraulics – a mixture of
glycerin and alcohol.
this mixture flammable?
burn; we tried to experiment. More experienced
technicians used to go round the flask with alcohol,
trying to get some. For a long time I couldn’t
understand what they needed it for – I didn’t drink
alcohol at the time.
did you end up in the SF [Northern Fleet]?
“horseless,” and I was taken out of 1st MTAP. But before
that all planes were cross-checked, and 15 planes were
selected. They were used on retaliation strikes on
Berlin “for Moscow and Leningrad” during the night of
7\8 August 1941. They were led by Preobrazhenskiy
By the way, what was strange about Preobrazhenskiy – he
could be dressed in Naval, or Army uniform.
did they fly from? Saaremaa?
really say. It was done in such secrecy. A special
mission by government order. Where they flew – we did
not know until the article appeared in a newspaper.
said “15 planes were assembled.” How is that? Planes
were cannibalized to bring these planes into best
possible flying condition?
managed to get 15 planes. Otherwise our regiment was
almost completely destroyed, and this mission required
putting greatest strain on technical crew.
These planes were loaded with ZABs, and they flew to
Berlin. As our crew members recalled, it was clear
weather, Berlin was all in electric lights. They picked
military objects and bombed them.
what is your opinion?
returned without problems. That they bombed Berlin we
heard over the radio and read in the newspaper. But it
wasn’t told, that it was our crews, so we just decided
that it should be our crews. We cheered that we didn’t
work for nothing. Later, throughout the war, I heard
rumors that all crew members that bombed Berlin were
declared as Hitler’s personal enemies, and that under no
circumstance they should be taken into captivity by
did you prepare the planes?
written that they flew from Esel.
bombs on the planes, flew to Esel, refueled the planes
there, and took off again. They had to fly for several
thousand kilometers above water in a plane that had worn
out engines and an overload. It was a big risk, but they
made it. Goebbels announced:
— We were bombed by British! There were 150 planes; 15
made it to Berlin, and dropped their bombs. Five planes
were shot down over Berlin. Russian aviation is
completely destroyed, they have no fuel, they have no
But we had announced that it was our planes. There
actually were 12 that made it to Berlin, and they all
returned to base. The British announced that none of
their planes took off due to heavy overcast.
these missions were complete, what happened to the
remember. By this time I was “horseless.” Soon I was
sent to Saransk, where pilots and technical crews were
assembled and later sent to different Fleet air forces.
When they sent me to Saransk, I said:
— My mother and four sisters are dying in Leningrad. I
want to return to the Baltic Sea.
— We know where to send you.
This city was very dirty, when a rain would fall, ground
would turn into a marshland. Meanwhile, on almost a
weekly basis we went to the theater! For the rest of my
life I visited theater less times, then in Saransk.
Sometimes we were used as workhorses - we used to unload
cargo from trains. There we lived in a club that had
been converted into barracks, but we were fed in the
restaurant! Eventually, we got tired from living in
barracks, and seven of us moved to a rented apartment.
Krasnaya street, 1. An order came – I was supposed to be
sent to Moscow, to the front. But at this time we were
playing football, and they didn’t find me. Right when
the train was leaving, I came running to the train
station. So I was asked:
— Where were you? Why did you miss the train?
They decided that I had done it on purpose, that I
wanted to desert. I said:
— I would be happy to go.
I told them that we moved to another apartment, and that
I wasn’t informed in time.
— Well, you will have to wait for several weeks, and you
will have a chance to taste English chocolate.
Within two weeks, 22 men were selected; among them were
I and Petr Sgibnev, who became regiment commander after
Safonov was killed. We were given warm clothes, some
food, and weapons, and we were loaded on a train.
long did it take you to get there?
us one month. Once the train left the track, and we had
to wait. And that’s when all military personnel were
moved with highest possible speed. We arrived by New
Years Eve 1942 to SF, to the 78th regiment.
This is how I ended up at SF. I arrived when the 78th
regiment was disbanded, and on its base two new
regiments were formed: 9th and 2nd Guards. The 9th
remained on the old airfield. There were two airfields
not far from each other – Vaenga-1 and Vaenga-2. I was
sent to Safonv’s 2nd Guards. It was based at the small
sea airfield, opposite from Gryaznaya Guba. When I
arrived, the regiment had only two Hurricanes almost
airworthy. Two Hurricanes.
you arrived Hurricanes were already in the regiment?
Hurricanes were already on the airfield.
spoke to pilots. How did pilots refer to the Hurricanes?
Hurricanes? They had good engine, Merlin XX. Good
engine, reliable engine. You could start it with
of pilots complain that its engine was not too good – it
was delicate and capricious.
Incorrect. The airframe was rather poor – it was prone
to fires and rather poorly constructed. But engines if
serviced well were great.
There were no planes left to fly in the regiment. What
did we do? We gathered a team of technicians, and we
went to collect fallen planes in the hills. Germans
would shoot them down, we would collect them and send
them in for repairs. MiGs were good fighters, but there
were very few of them, and thus we collected only
Hurricanes. Pilots knew where they lay, and we would
take a tractor and a sled. We picked up those planes
that could be repaired. Wings would be disconnected from
the fuselage, we would put plane on the sled and the
tractor would take it to the ARM (Aviation repair
put the plane on a sled and carried it or you dragged
tractor would drag plane to the road, and we would put
the fuselage on its wheels there.
many planes did you collect?
know, we never counted. Maybe ten? I remember that all
of the time we were pushed to the side – our tractor
interfered with other troop movements.
easy was the Hurricane to repair?
varied. We repaired without any problems. It was
basically of the same construction as Po-2 – it was made
of canvas. We would apply patches with emalit.
There were some kind of sight-seeing tours from Molotov
technical school. In the spring of 1942, closer to May,
my plane was on Alert-1: with warmed up engine, I had no
permission to leave the plane, waiting for a green
flare. If one was fired, the pilot would run to the
plane, and I had to help him to put on his parachute.
One of the students came to me:
— Could you show me the plane?
— Here, get in and help yourself.
He got in the cockpit, and took the flare-pistol. I told
— Be careful, don’t fire it!
It was armed with a flare with two colors – red and
green. And of course he pressed the trigger. The flare
fired and start jumping across the cockpit. Eventually
it stuck under pedal, where the hydraulic line was
placed. The copper tube broke from high temperature.
Somehow we managed to put out the fire. I said:
— See what you have you done. What if take-off will be
What should I do? Not far from this place there was a
plane graveyard. I said:
— Keep silent. If anyone comes, tell them that I’m about
I found a matching tube in the wrecks, disconnected the
old one, connected the new one:
— Keep silent, or you will have problems. You are young,
and you don’t need problems.
Luckily, there were no alerts, and I had time to repair
you tell us, that plane graveyard you mentioned, was it
a place where signed-off planes were dragged? How many
planes were written off due to plane damage?
I do not
remember a single case when a plane was signed off. They
were either shot down, or we would repair them.
you took detail from signed-off plane?
was the reason for signing it off?
know the story of this plane – it was there already when
I came to the regiment. It just lay there.
there many planes?
really, but I didn’t count.
remember the Hurricane’s armament?
six machine guns on each wing. It wasn’t sufficient
armament at all, so our technicians tried to change them
for two ShVAK cannons. At first it was done in the ARM,
and then in the regiment.
did they take the cannons from?
They had their own base, where there was armament.
gun ports in the wing covered with paper before take
did… They would make a “condom” on a barrel, and then
they would glue thin paper on the wing leading edge.
Merlin XX was water-cooled, while the M-85 and M-86 were
air-cooled. Wasn’t it a problem becoming accustomed to
to. When I arrived in the regiment, I knew two words in
English: “ON” and “OFF”. I was issued a plane to
service, and I had to service it. With time I got used
long were the Hurricanes used?
they all were shot down.
Guards regiments were formed, did you became Guards
year, but later.
you paid for Guards?
rubles, if I remember correctly.
gave us a P-40 handbook. When did they appear?
Kittyhawks were brought to us in big crates. They were
assembled at Yagodnik airfield. The crates were made in
such manner, that they didn’t sink in the sea. Later we
used them for houses. When I was at Novaya Zemlya, we
used to live in such crates, but there was a fire and
they burned down. For several weeks we had to sleep in
the snow. We would put a flag near us, so that our
friend would dig us out in the morning. I got several
frostbites then. What else could we do? There was no
wood there; the winds were so strong that they blew all
tents away on the first night. It was 1944.
when did the [Kitty]Hawks come to the regiment?
pilots began combat missions in May 1942.
did you become a Kittyhawk mechanic?
came to SF, I was given two Hurricanes. We began
studying the Kittyhawk in January 1942.
They were identical, and we called them Kittyhawks.
1942 they were flying?
will tell you how Safonov died. On the 30th of May 1942,
four planes took off: Kukharenko, Pokrovskiy, Orlov, and
Safonov. He had a star on his rudder as a symbol, and no
number. Pokrovskiy flew on “number two,” “number one”
was Kukharenko’s plane, and “number three” was Orlov’s.
Colors? I’d say planes were green and brown in color.
The numbers were red, same as the stars.
plane did you service?
Orlov’s. He was Pokrovskiy’s best friend.
squadron were they from?
only one squadron left. In the morning, somewhere around
8 o’clock, we prepared their planes, and they took off.
They were supposed to find a shipping convoy, about 15
ships, and protect them from enemy air attack. Soon
Kukharenko announced that he felt bad, and his engine
was not working properly. Safonov ordered him to return
to base, and Kukharenko left. There were three planes
left now. Later we checked Kukharenko’s plane – it was
fine, we found no problems.
So they met the convoy and everything was well. Soon a
few planes appeared, possibly Junkers 88s. There were
about five planes incoming. They attacked these planes,
and Safonov shot down the leading plane. Orlov and
Pokrovskiy also shot down one plane each. Two remained.
Boris Feoktistovich shot down one more, and started
chasing a third. We heard over the radio that he said
something about his engine, but we couldn’t understand
clearly. He fell somewhere about fifteen nautical miles
away from the convoy. Some sailors saw how he fell.
Orlov and Pokrovskiy see what happened to Safonov?
landed, I asked Orlov:
— Where is the commander?
— Didn’t he return?
It was clear that he was frightened. The commander is
lost! Pokrovskiy came to us, and said:
— Pasha, let’s go. — and repeated, — Let’s go!
They went to the command center. In about ten minutes
the entire regiment was lined up:
— The commander did not return. Sailors reported that
they saw one fighter fall into the sea. Let’s hope that
he was picked by an Allied submarine.
Pokrovskii by his plane (Hurricane?)
confirmation about Safonov’s two kills and Orlov and
Pokrovskiy’s one each come from the convoy?
I have no
idea. It was not my area of expertize.
remember what engine was in the Kittyhawk?
Kittyhawk? Not sure. Allisons?
remember when the Hawk’s engine needed replacement?
don’t… Usually they either came in with a damaged
engine, or were shot down. Engines didn’t live that
did our pilots like the Kittyhawk? As I understand it,
they didn’t like Hurricanes.
didn’t like Hurricanes. The Hurricane was very slow
plane. But its Merlin XX engine was rather powerful; it
had a two-stage supercharger. There was a WEP [war
emergency power], but it could be used for no more than
five minutes. When I flew on Catalinas, the WEP could be
used for up to 15 minutes.
about the Allison’s quality?
were good engines.
a widely held opinion that they commonly blew when
installed on Cobras.
don’t remember such cases. But I serviced Allisons on
the Cobra for a rather short time. My commander (pilot)
then was Bokiy. Once he came from a mission, and I saw
that it was him by the number. He couldn’t lower his
landing gear. After three circuits he managed to lower
it by hand. He came out of the plane completely wet—it
was a very tough job—and announced to me: “Six days in
confinement.” We started to look for a problem – and we
found it. He accidentally switched the accumulator
[battery] from recharging, and it went to discharge.
There was a fight, he shot, and the accumulator failed.
We couldn’t figure out whose guilt it was. Our armament
officers checked synchronizers. It was a procedure to be
done after each flight – there were cases when our
pilots shot propeller blades off, and to avoid
accidental engine start, they turned this switch off. It
was impossible to start the engine in such cases. Cobras
had two synchronous 12.7mm guns and either 37, or 39mm
cannon. I can’t remember now [37mm].
Airfield Rogachevo, 1945.
wing machine guns were removed?
were not installed when we assembled planes. So I went
to our garrison confinement facility and spent a night
there. In the morning someone came after me:
— Come on, you have a plane to prepare.
Bokiy shot down one German ace, who had 96 kills on his
account, including some from the Spanish Civil War.
There was a rumor that Hitler had only nine such aces at
the time, and that they were in a special position. No
one could order them where and when to fly. If he wanted
– he flew, if he didn’t – even Hitler himself couldn’t
order him to go to battle. It was rumored that Germans
had only nine such aces. One of them was shot down by a
MiG pilot, and they landed on some lake… I don’t
remember which one exactly. It happened during winter
somewhere in the area we called “Norway”. (Petsamo area)
This ace flew with a dog. Our pilot also had to
belly-land due to the battle damage at this same lake,
and suddenly he noticed that a dog was running toward
him. He got back to the cockpit and closed the canopy.
When the dog approached, he slightly opened the cockpit
and killed it with his hand gun. Germans had skis and
some food in their planes in case of emergency landing,
and this ace fled on skis. He left a parachute behind
with a name on it - Muller. An order was issued to find
and capture him. Border guards caught him 32 kilometers
away from the plane, when he settled for a rest and fell
asleep. He was brought to our airfield Vaenga-1.
— Show me the pilot who brought me down.
At this moment, some pilot came in, and they shook
hands. Straight away this Muller announced:
— I was shot down twice, but I managed to get away. If
you will keep me alive, I will teach you our tactics.
He was sent to Kuybyshev, I think.
pilot, who shot down Muller according to your tale, was
flying MiG. And what about Bokiy?
time I read this story in 1942, the pilot’s name was
something like Zakharov, and he flew a MiG. In 1943 this
story turned to Bokiy and this time he was flying a
were at Novaya Zemlya?
that I was at Yagodnik airfield.
did you end up on Novaya Zemlya, and when did that
It was in
But let me tell you what happened during the autumn of
1943. The technical staff got some rest, and we were
sent to Yagodnik. Something happened to my stomach
there, and I spent a month in a hospital. Meanwhile, our
regiment was sent to America after new planes. (Most
likely pilots only “showed off” in front of their
subordinates about visiting America – combat unit pilots
were likely to receive their aircraft at Ivanovo in the
ZAP) The senior officer was Saenko, but our technical
crew was left at Yagodnik. There were huge workshops,
where planes were repaired, some pilots were training.
After the hospital, I had to service two Kittyhawks for
training flights all by myself.
Our pilots told us that on the way to America, they were
invited by Stalin to the Kremlin, and he wished them
luck. But on the way back they had a problem with
weather, and one plane fell into the taiga. They dropped
a saw and an axe to the pilot. I still have no idea if
he made it.
Training flights, 1944
you seen how English four-engine bombers (Lancasters)
landed on Yagodnik?
think I was at Novaya Zemlya then. But I heard about it.
English planes, I remember – it was in 1943. Hamptons.
Those English pilots landed with total disrespect of
ground control commands, and several almost crashed
because of crossing paths. I should have a photo
somewhere. I used to be a regiment photographer – I
bought a camera before war and made a lot of photos for
pleasure or when someone needed a photo for documents.
When journalists came to us, they sometimes even took my
photos for their articles. I can give them to you, but I
can’t tell you who’s on them – I’m almost completely
Hampton of VVS SF.
At the background captured Ju-88.
When it was repaired and an attempt was made to test-fly
it, it crashed and all of the crew was lost.
how did you end up at Novaya Zemlya?
Germans wanted to capture Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, and
for that they needed Novaya Zemlya. We were brought
there with a fighter squadron. There also was a bomber
squadron; our planes were based at Rogachevo airfield. I
serviced fighters. There were such fierce winds that we
had to tie the airplanes to special poles which were
hammered into the ground. There used to be Beluzhye
port. Waves there were as high as 20 meters. We used to
have four Catalinas there. To prevent them from being
thrown to the shore, they were tied to special anchors.
They were thrown to the shore with those anchors, and
the planes were smashed into each other. Out of four
planes we managed to assemble two. Here is a photo.
PBN 6 Y in flight
PBN 6 Y.
exactly. It had a very good Goodrich de-icing system.
Near PBN’s wheel – Alekseev, to the right from him -
these Catalinas equipped with radars?
We had them, but we did not know how to use them. The
crew consisted of seven men: two pilots, navigator,
radioman, radar operator, two gunners in blisters with
two M2 [.50 caliber] machine guns. And a flight engineer
– that was me.
Airfield Vaskovo, Shlenskii, Bryzgalov, Alekseev,
Agafonov, Baryshnikov, -, -
long were you at Novaya Zemlya?
I met the
war’s end there. We heard that the war ended over the
radio, and to be honest – we were disappointed. We had
spent almost a year with no action. There was no
celebration there. In June–July we were sent to the
continent. I placed all my belongings in the plane’s
fuselage and never saw them again. The airplane was sent
not to Yagodnik, but to Murmansk, where it was handed
over to the Americans.
We were sent to continent by ship, and we saw three
mines on the way back. They destroyed the naval mines by
hand: They embarked in a small boat, rowed to the mine,
attached a fuse to it, rowed away about 100 meters, and
then detonated it.
you were fed?
a canteen, and we were fed well. If one wanted he could
go hunting – there were millions of geese there.
you spent your free time?
to Beluzhye, there was a club. But we had to walk for 18
kilometers from Rogachevo. No actors came , there were a
lot of talented fellows there. Nikolay Troilin, pilot
from our squadron, was a good accordion player…
there films or newspapers?
and very rarely newspapers.
eventually flew on Catalinas?
the end of war I serviced fighters. After the war I flew
Nomad as a flight engineer. I once again signed a
contract, and served until 1956. By this time I had 20
plane was the best for you to service and repair?
repair them, we serviced them. «DB-3» were good planes…
But we didn’t have other planes to compare to. We were
not ready to war.
I also liked «PBN-6». I flew as a flight engineer. It
could land on water and at the sea.
Archangelsk, airfield Lakhta. Alexeeev (first from
right) with his comrades by the side of PBN.
what about Cobras, Kittyhawks and Hurricane?
a good plane with a reliable engine. Hurricane had
excellent engine, but it demanded careful monitoring… It
was started by compressed air… But the plane as a whole
was a piece of junk.
compressed air, but it could be also started by electric
starter. Hurricane was not that easy – you always had to
have a full compressed air bottle. We even had to build
a compressing station.
I remember like now: I was carrying a compressed air
bottle, and Safonov was passing by in a polutorka (1.5
ton truck)… Suddenly it stopped, he ordered me to get in
the cabin, while he stayed in the truck bad. He was a
Yes… It was a long and interesting life. I can say – I
didn’t live for nothing.
1 MTAP, 1939, Alekseev.