Interview with Hero of the Soviet Union
Pavel Andreevich Galkin
Interview by Galina Wabischevich
Translation by Oleg Korytov and James Gebhardt
the Soviet Union Pavel Andreevich Galkin
Dear Pavel Andreevich: First, I congratulate you on
the 70th anniversary of Victory Day! Seccond, I also
congratulate you on the 100th anniversary of Yeisk
School, where you worked for so many years! Thank you
for everything that you have done in war and peace time!
What is the reason for
your visit? Why? What for? What do you want from me?
I would like to talk
to you about your life, service and war. I’m a historian
from the Naval Academy, and promise that I will provide
our readers all the information that you are willing to
share, without changes. Our interviews are kept in the
archives of the Naval Aviation Museum and are published
on the Internet. Many veterans that you know have their
interviews there already.
I thought that you had
more serious questions. This song is all about me? I am
not a glory seeker!
[The questions are]
about you and your comrades.
So much was written about
me, that I’m no longer interested in all this,
Pavel Andreevich, I
saw your photo at some Komsomol meeting in the museum of
Northern Fleet Aviation in Safonovo...
You have been in that
Yes, of course.
I used to contact them
2–3 times a year.
Let’s start from your
school. From which flight school did you graduate, and
do you remember your teachers and instructors?
It is quite hard to
recall all this when you are 93. And how correct these
recollections are – that is also quite a big question.
Memory fades away along with all other body functions.
But still, even if I could remember everything, my
interpretation could be incorrect.
I recall Anatolii Tomilin-Brazol, an essay writer from
Leningrad. He used to work a lot in archives, when he
wrote his essay about Fedor Soymonov from Peter I
history.1 He came to the conclusion that no one is
further from reality than an eyewitness. You are trying
to use me as such an eyewitness, a person who took part
in described events. Thus, when I speak about others, it
should not be taken…
“As the last instance
of truth.” But we are interested in your opinion about
those events. Everybody has his own little truth, and
only by using as many of these small pieces as possible
can we make a mosaic of history.
It is not so interesting.
That’s the point, that everybody has his own point of
view on the world, life, events, society and so on. That
is why I will not discuss all this now. What do you
What was the starting
point in your flying career? Let’s start from school.
All this information is
available from the Internet. My grandson wrote a
synopsis, Chronicle of a Torpedo Airman, when he was
studying in the lyceum. All my biography is written
there. It is available on the Internet. All this was
also mentioned in different books.
That is not enough.
Let’s try to talk! I saw you five years ago at the 95th
anniversary of the school, and I’m terribly sorry that I
had no opportunity to talk to you then.
The most complete
information about me was published in the book I am
Attacking. I Sank It.2 It was published in the city
Chernushka, where my crew commander, Yevgenii Ivanovich
Frantsev, came from. They had an almost equal amount of
information about both of us, about the wartime period
and our service at the Northern Fleet.
Yevgenii Ivanovich Frantsev
I saw the site of the
school named after Frantsev in Chernushka, read all the
information it has and read the book from Internet,
although it is not available on paper.
Here it is, the book
about our crew, Frantsev and Galkin, pilot and
navigator. Everything is written here, but this is my
last copy. They also published my book there for my 85th
birthday as a present for me. They printed 80 books and
gave me 10 copies; where the rest are, I cannot say.
please try not to “slip away.” Because I have to try and
follow you as a fighter, while you maneuver over “water”
in a pancake style.
If you are talking about
me, I’m no longer a pilot or navigator.
Let’s talk about
everybody. Let’s try to recall some of your teachers or
Can’t recall them.
Which aviation school
did you complete?
That I remember. I was
accepted to the Levanevskii Navy Aviation School in
January 1941. In 1940 I was enlisted to the Baltic Fleet
and served as a AAA gunner for the Coast Guard. When the
school announced that it was accepting cadets, I was,
let’s say recruited, and I was accepted to the
pilot–observer faculty. They are called navigators these
days. There was a shortage of pilots and pilot
observers. We began flying on U-2\Po-2 – “cornfield
Was is Slyvny
Yes, that’s Slyvny. You
reminded me of the name, which I already had forgotten.
After training on the U-2, we flew R-5s. It was a combat
airplane – mostly used for reconnaissance. The war broke
out and we were evacuated to Berdyansk. It was called
Osipenko then. When the front line came close, we were
moved to Bezenchuk.
By that time, there were no more R-5s; they had expended
their technical resources [engine hours] and combat
effectiveness to the limit and had became obsolete.
That’s why we were trained on the SB by crews: pilot,
navigator and gunner. But when we graduated, no more SBs
were left – they all were burned. The SB was a bomber
from the Spanish Civil war era – it was great for those
days, but it was obsolete in the 1940s.
Our backbone bomber was the modern Pe-2, which is why
after graduation on SBs, we had to immediately retrain
for the Pe-2. We mastered it by crews in 1943.
You were taught long,
but was it effective training?
The training was
excellent. We had to master combat use, mostly bombing
with dives of 30о and 60о, as we had to execute at the
especially keeping in mind that some regiments in the
active army had no idea how to dive bomb, and flew as
level bombers only.
Usually we began our dive
at 3000 meters, dove at 60–70о, pulled out at less than
Our crew graduated in the spring of 1943, and we were
dispatched to the Northern Fleet Aviation, to 29th
Bomber Regiment, which was stationed at Vaenga-1
airfield. Nowadays it is called Severomorsk. The 9th
Guards Mine-torpedo Regiment (9th GvMTP) was stationed
at this same airfield, and there were some British and
American crews as well.
Did you talk to them?
What was your opinion about them?
We had some contacts with
them as allies. They were good guys. We were in contact
as friends as well. The only difference was that we
lived in the dugouts on the airfield premises, while
they lived in the town in the houses. Vaenga was like
Yeisk – built with multi-storied apartment buildings. We
were friends with these men. On the ground our
friendship seemed nice: we smiled at each other and
shook hands. But they hadn’t flown a single strike
against enemy convoys that supplied enemy troops. We did
that, while they looked at us from above, how our
bombers, torpedo-bombers and sturmoviks [ground-attack
aircraft] attacked the enemy in the cold waters of the
Norwegian fjords and Barents Sea, and sometimes how we
burned and died.
That is why we thought they were nothing more than just
American observers. That was not something negative; it
did not cause rejection or alienation. We understood
them and they understood us. We had different tasks. We
were fighting to protect our Motherland, our people, and
they observed how we did it. At the same time, they
provided us with airplanes, trucks and tinned stewed
I didn’t stay in the 29th Regiment for long. Our crew
was disbanded. Our gunner was wounded in one of the
attacks – he was hit in the leg by a shell, and it had
to be amputated to keep his life. My pilot, Pavel
Vasilievich Serdyuk, was hit in the arm with damage to
an elbow joint, and asked the commanding officer to
transfer him to sturmoviks. There he flew alone and
didn’t have to worry about others if something happened
with his wounded hand. You understand? But it was his
personal choice of fate. Thus, I ended up with no crew.
My division commander suggested a transfer to the 9th
Mine-Torpedo Regiment, 2nd Torpedo Squadron. It was
equipped with American Boston [A-20] bombers, and that’s
why I accepted this transfer with gratitude. The
training in the regiment lasted for 2–3 weeks.
Were there problems
with training? Weren’t all the [instrument] inscriptions
Yes. I had studied German
before that, and I had to start learning English. I
mastered the navigator’s equipment fully in three weeks
time. It had a radio-compass installed. The aircraft’s
equipment was much better then what we had. It was much
more modern for that time. But it caused no troubles, I
mastered it quite soon. I had enough education for that.
Yes, as the saying
goes: a pilot has to be healthy and brave, while the
navigator has to be able to think, too.
Levanevskii Flight School
accepted cadets for pilot training with an education
level from 4–7 grades of school. The most important
qualification there was health.
Just grade 4?!
There were some guys like
that.3 At the navigators faulty one could pretend only
if he had full average education completed, because
there were a lot of calculations to be done… So, in 9th
GvMTAP, I was assigned to the crew of Yevgenii Frantsev,
who had no navigator. Before that he was ferrying
airplanes from Alaska to Moscow or to the North.
He was a handsome man.
Yes, very. And he was a
gifted pilot and nice man as well.
So you found a
Yes, soon enough. I was a
phlegmatic person and he was a sanguine person, one
might say. Even choleric, perhaps. But we had a good
relationship. Our gunner, Semen Antipichev, was a bit
older then we. We had such a good connection that we
could understand each other without words. As I told you
already, when I told the pilot to move to the left or
right on the torpedo run, he obeyed without any delay.
He was a God at that! Quite often we had a wave behind
our airplane raised by the propellers.
So, you were a
“commanding” type of navigators? 4
I do not know anything
about this typology. After the run I told him (we had to
make photos after strike):
“You are great! You did precisely as I told you, and
that is why we achieved success.”
“Sorry, I was disconnected and couldn’t hear your
That’s how we could understand each other!
How was photo control
By photo camera. Just
like the fighters had gun camera, we had an AFA-I
installed in the nose of our airplane with enlarged size
of the film 9 х 12 cm2, and it provided a panoramic
Photo shots were made
by the navigator?
It could be done by both
navigator and pilot.
Did your gunner have a
It was not needed there.
Our camera was enough to confirm strike results. We also
had fixed cameras. [planovyye (planar)]
Not necessarily, I used
it for confirming strike results at Kirkenes [Norway]
naval base. We bombed it with FAB-500 or -1000 ordnance,
aiming at vessels at the docks and in Kirkenes port
itself. I photographed the detonations of bombs with the
Thus, you had two
cameras, one planar and the other in the nose?
The one in the nose was
used during the torpedo run, while the planar camera in
the fuselage – for bombing runs. Here is an image of a
strike on Kirkenes. Here are the ships, the docks, this
is the sea, here is the town, and here is the nickel
plant; this is a fire. It was made by a camera inside
the fuselage. Here is an image made by the nose camera –
here is the detonation of a torpedo after it hit a
tanker. We sunk it deep in the enemy waters where we had
never flown before.
They were not
expecting you there. Can I make a photo of this collage?
Of course. Here are my
friends, comrades from Yeisk school made it for me, my
whole life in one board. Here are my mom and dad.
Was your father also
in the Navy?
Dad was a sailor in
Kronstadt from 1916–21. Sailors served five years then.
They made the revolution. Well, that is about everything
I wanted to tell you.
Let’s talk a bit more.
There are general tactics for torpedo bombers, but each
Theater of War had its specialties; besides which, each
crew had its own tricks to gain success. How did your
crew make torpedo runs?
It is a rather difficult
and hard science – bombing, torpedo runs or artillery
fire. Direct hit – it’s a science with its ballistics
and “cabalistics” (it’s a joke). There was a movie
Torpedo Bombers [Torpedonotsy], which I watched with
some criticism; but it was made pretty close to the
reality, especially compared with other movies. The
torpedo run was made really close.
A correct torpedo run requires dropping the torpedo at
no lower than 30 meters [above the water], no higher
than 70 meters. Otherwise the torpedo would either fall
horizontally and split in half or go nose down. Speed
was also very important, and we had to keep it no more
than 350 km\h.5
I’m giving you an approximate speed. No skidding was
allowed, only a straight and level run at the moment
when torpedo was released. Before that we had to fly to
the target at an altitude of 500–700 meters in a
formation. Bombers usually flew as high as possible,
while we – as low as possible.
When the target was located, the airplane got as low as
possible to minimize the risk from AAA. The lower we
went, the more difficult it was for them to aim at us.
Their Oerlikons [ship-mounted anti-aircraft cannons]
were unable to fire at negative angles.
On the other hand, German fighters, even though they
tried to intercept us, had a lot of difficulties
attacking low flying bombers, and usually were
ineffective. A fighter had to dive at us, and there was
not enough space to exit this dive, so we almost did not
worry about them at all.
Most dangerous was AAA. Trying to describe what it was
like is like trying to describe to somebody who never
had teeth that you have one aching tooth, another one is
aching and is about to fall out and you have an ulcer in
the mouth all in the same time.
What about water
pillars raised by large caliber artillery?
They could rise above us.
But these pillars appeared only if artillery of 150 mm
or larger was used – such guns were located as the shore
defense. For example, along Varanger Peninsula, where
German convoys were passing. They couldn’t fire at
bombers or sturmoviks, but tried to disrupt our torpedo
bomber actions by raising pillars. After a shell
exploded, the water fountain went as high as 60 meters.
But our attack run usually lasted 2–3 minutes. How many
rounds could they fire? Absolutely insignificant,
compared to the amount fired by a convoy.
Our reconnaissance airplane located and photographed a
German convoy: four merchants covered by 16 military
vessels—patrol craft, mine layers, minesweepers.
Merchants were sailing along the coast line covered by
shore-based artillery and by Messerschmitts. Combat
vessels formed three half rings from the sea side,
against our approach.6
I later took this photo and calculated, out of pure
interest, how many rounds they could fire at us. Data
about ships and their armament were already available;
they were not a secret. We even had Svede’s handbook for
all ships in the navies all around the world with all
technical data and armament description available.7 The
rate of fire for all guns was also provided. So, I
calculated, that all AA guns on board of those ships
could fire up to 300,000 rounds. That’s in theory; in
reality they had to aim, reload and so on.
But during that attack that I had described before, the
entire sky ahead was full with tracers and looked like a
spider web. That’s why we did not bother about water
pillars. In this net of tracers we had to find the only
weak spot and pierce their defense there. That’s why
torpedo bombers on average flew 4.8–5 torpedo runs
before they were shot down.
I saw something like
that in Frantsev’s diary.
A-ha; he wrote in his
notebook that no one should try to perform more then
three runs per life.
Were you frightened?
No. I do not know in
which form it comes. I can say about myself: there was
no fear when we were attacking. There was a lot of work
to do, before your bomb or torpedo will hit its target.
It’s work. It requires a lot of attention. There is no
time for fear. Like in hell.
You have read Dante’s Divine Comedy - Inferno? There you
will find these lines:
A firm spirit is required here;
Here, fear should not overcome harmony . . .
There was no fear during an attack. But later, when you
returned to base and went to the canteen and you saw the
empty tables, that’s when you were afraid. I personally
was sure after my first run that my life was wasted and
lived like there was no tomorrow, and there was no sense
to be afraid any more.
That is, your duty
prevailed over everything else, and you are simply doing
Of course. I was afraid
when there was a large explosion – look at the photo. It
was a clear sunny day. When we started our attack,
nobody fired at us. It was going on in the deep rear of
the Germans, they were still proceeding without escort.
We aimed well and dropped our torpedo. Our gunner
“The torpedo is running!”
He saw how it entered the water. I saw the ship ahead
and the torpedo wake; it went at a depth of one meter.
The sea was quite calm, no more than force 1.5 wave
height [a Beaufort scale expression; a force 1 sea has
ripples without crests, a force 2 sea has small
wavelets, glassy crests, not breaking – ed.]. Torpedos
ran on a vapor-gas mixture, and its bubble trail was
well visible. The ship was moving.
I aimed 1.5 ship lengths ahead. At the beginning, I
thought: “Ow! I must have made it too much ahead!” I
began worrying that the torpedo would pass in front of
the ship. Then the trail began moving along the ship and
was already behind it. Here I felt fear, that I had
miscalculated and that torpedo would go past the ship, I
was so disappointed! Then it blew up! Why did I believe
that it was about to miss? The trail appeared about 300
meters behind the torpedo itself. The torpedo had struck
already, while the bubble trail hadn’t appeared yet.
How did you disengage;
which maneuver did you prefer?
We would make a circle
over the ship.
That’s if ship was
unprotected. But if there were some defenses?
As soon as the torpedo
was released, we would turn toward the side where there
was less fire. If there was no obvious difference, we
could “jump” over the ship. I began describing how we
attacked a convoy with four merchants and defense. There
were six of us then. The convoy had previously been
bombed by bombers and attacked by sturmoviks, so they
took the first rounds of AAA. Fighters were engaged in a
dogfight. That’s when we arrived in a six-plane
formation.8 All AA fire was diverted toward us. We were
leading the second flight, and flew slightly ahead.
Wingmen were on both sides – they both were newcomers.
We had experience already, so we told them:
“ Stay on our wing. Do not try to fly solo!”
The leader said:
“I’m going after the leading merchant!” 9
It was the largest one. I said to my pilot:
“We will go after third.”
We did it to disperse the artillery fire.
They were of the same size, and a destroyer ahead of
them. The leader’s flight diverted to the first
merchant; we were going after our target. We should have
dropped torpedo at a 1–1.5 km distance, but no closer
then 600 m and no farther then four km. A torpedo could
run for four km, but if you dropped it from such a
distance, the commanders would get you by the neck. The
photo camera would show, from what distance you dropped
the torpedo. [Note – this episode continues below.]
By the way, I once dropped a torpedo so close, that it
hit the target but did not explode. I can describe it.
We were about 500 m away, so close that we could see men
on board. We jumped them from the landward side, and the
ship was moving close to it. We were losing altitude to
reach release altitude, but when we were in the correct
release parameters, the target was right under our nose.
This merchant was escorted by two enemy escort ships.
When I had released my torpedo, in about 12 seconds
“Oh! It blew up!”
“Let’s turn around!”
I said to my commander.
We turned around to take a photo of the explosion, fly
over convoy, and then go straight to the north. We
spotted a huge and nice explosion “mushroom.” The first
escorting minesweeper had turned around and was sailing
toward the stricken ship. A second minesweeper was also
nearby. We were getting closer, closer… the white cloud
dissolved, dissolved, dissolved; a ship’s mast was
appearing from the cloud. Escorts were firing at us,
soon we expected Messerschmitts from Nordkapp.
We turned 180 degrees and went home. We reported. When
the film was developed, everything became clear: the
merchant of about 2500–3000 metric tons of displacement
and had two escorts. A reconnaissance airplane flew to
the site and reported: a damaged ship was being towed by
tugboat towards Honingsvog port, that’s about 30–40
nautical miles away. The torpedo must have hit the
boiler of the ship, but did not explode. The temperature
outside was below zero. The torpedo hit the boilers,
they were breached, steam vapor escaped and created a
cloud. If our torpedo had exploded at this point, the
whole ship would have broken apart. Our commanders did
not credit us with this ship, neither did they curse us.
Now let’s return to that attack by six airplanes that I
was talking about before. In order to reach our third
ship, we had to fly over a destroyer and then a
minesweeper. Our target was hiding behind them. Our
altitude was 15 meters.
It was enough for the Germans to fire at us with
everything they could. While we were flying over the
destroyer, it opened such a heavy fire that all the
tracers were passing over our airplane. I saw that one
shell hit our right wingman and he disintegrated mid-air
and fell into the sea. It looked like airplane stopped
mid-air, burst open from inside and fell down in pieces.
Our left one was still with us. I told Frantsev:
“Point your nose at the destroyer!”
If they hit us, we might still have a chance to reach it
and ram. Frantsev turned toward the destroyer, and
suddenly, the firing from this destroyer ceased! We flew
over it just above the mast tops, and we saw how gunners
were running away from their guns… It seems that they
believed that we were going to ram them. We kept firing
our nose guns at them, too. Then we had to fly over the
minesweeper, but its armament was much less than the
destroyers. We flew past it, not over; we chose not to
tempt our fate.
Then came the merchant, the target. Our combat run. I
was not interested in what was going on to the left or
right from me. One can see only the sight and target at
this moment – nothing else. And maintain flight regime.
We reached the release point. The torpedo went toward
the target, and we turned away. The merchant was sunk.
We returned to base minus one airplane.
What about the
He was shot down. Their
airplane caught fire before they released the torpedo.
They dropped it and sunk the first merchant in the
convoy. Then they flew over the target and ditched into
the water and burned. The Germans kept firing at the
airplane on the water until it sank. His wingmen
couldn’t make it back to base and had to try to land at
the airfield at Rybachii Peninsula. One managed to land,
another one also burned in the air.
Who was the group
Syromyatnikov. 10 A
memorial to Hero of the Soviet Union Syromyatnikov
stands on the square at the Vysokii garrison, Olenya
airfield. He was a graduate of Yeisk Academy.
Did you fly without
fighter cover, and participate in fights against
If we flew bomber
missions, we were always covered by fighters. There was
a group of close cover, an escort, and strike group. If
it was a combined strike of bombers, sturmoviks and
torpedo bombers, we were always covered by fighters. I
can say even more – we lived in the same dugout, but in
Once, our flight commander Gnetov flew mission against a
convoy that was already departing our area of operations
– it was sailing west from Kirkenes. These transports
were to be destroyed, and the task was given to the
flight of Petr Gnetov. He was covered by a squadron of
fighters – can’t recall now, whether those were Yaks or
Cobras. So, he flew out. My crew had just returned from
receiving a new Boston.
In 1943–44, we already had enough fighters for cover; in
the beginning of the war guys often had to fly without
cover. Even so, their combat radius was still less than
So, Gnetov was getting ready to fly when we landed and
taxied to the parking area, in our shiny brand new
airplane. When we stopped, we saw that the props at
Gnetov’s airplanes were rotating. We waved our hands to
them in a goodbye gesture. We saw that they were loaded
with torpedoes, which meant that they were going to
attack a convoy. They flew under cover of a squadron of
fighters. The German convoy was getting farther away by
the minute. They reached the northern-most point of
Europe – Nordkapp. There used to be a very beautiful
mansion on the cliff. They reached a point of no return
for the fighters; their leader reported:
“We have used up half of our fuel. What is your order?”
If they to fly farther, they would not have enough fuel
to reach even Rybachii, not to speak of their home base.
By the rules, if fighter cover has no fuel to fly
farther, the bomber leader may abort the mission. But
his actions would still be subject to investigation.
The bomber leader responded:
“You may turn back. We will press on.”
He flew on. By all means it was clear that the enemy
convoy would be covered by fighters. Our reconnaissance
airplanes could fly pretty far, too; they flew similar
bombers with less load. For example, there was a
reconnaissance pilot, Verbitskii, who flew a Boston
similar to ours. There was a radio message, and our
reconnaissance airplane reported that our group had
reached enemy convoy and begun their attack. They were
fired at by German fighters and AAA, one ship went down,
one or two were damaged. None of the three crews
returned. That’s it. End of the story.
Pavel Andreevich, you
were not only crew member; you were a great teacher as
well. Could you tell me, was this mission result worth
losing three crews? They did accomplish their mission,
but all perished.
This was unexceptional.
That is my opinion.
I understand, it was
normal. But was it justified?
I’m not just a military
aviator. All my life I had a philosopher in my
character. All I can say is: war is legally justified
murder! I state: legally justified! Killing of men like
yourself. War produces nothing. On the other hand is
military industry, the military industrial complex,
production of dual-use items, and so on. Like some
people say, war has significant impact on human
development and technological progress. But I still say:
war is legally sanctioned murder! There can be nothing
good in war! That’s final.
On all the rest in connection with the fact of waging
war, I look as from the outside – philosophically.
That is, if war is
going, one has to accomplish his mission, and the better
you did it, the more justified your loss would be?
In my opinion term –
“justified losses” – is not humane. There is nothing to
Looking from a
humanitarian point of view – it is senseless, of course.
But from a military perspective? Some publications have
stated that a lot of pilots perished for the price of a
relatively few ships sunk.
There is one author, who
is called “a serious military historian,” who wrote a
book about torpedo bombers. I read it, and even began
preparing a response. But after I had filled a notebook
with remarks, Gareev and other veterans released their
responses before I did.11 12
We all do understand
that war is inhumane by its nature, and shouldn’t be
happening at all. On the other hand, all cadets in
military schools should understand that they are taught
to be highly intellectual, universal killing machines.
Will the day come, when “the Motherland calls,” and
future pilots are not just joy riding in a warplane for
You are absolutely right.
But I’m asking about
your opinion; if one sunken ship is worth losing three
experienced crews. From a plain and cynical military
point of view.
This is a rhetorical
question. Worthiness can be expressed in some form of
value or capital… Value can be social, historical,
humanitarian and so on. These questions are subjects of
the study of axiology.13 Are you familiar with it?
I do have a lot of
books about philosophy, but to be honest, I’m not
interested in it.
I have studied this
science on my own.
I still do not believe
in the correctness of judging effectiveness of torpedo
bombers by their loss rates. Yes, losses were severe;
there were a lot of mistakes, especially at the start of
the war. But it is not right to describe them as
misfits, as was said by some researchers. Eventually we
learned to fight and we won.
That is why we won. This
is the best judge, better then all those “historians”
and other so-called “prominent specialists.” The victory
itself sealed the deal, dotted the “i.” This is an
absolute factor, which showed who is who and what is
what, on which side lay the truth, on which side were
the lies, on which side was justice and on which side
was brute force, pillaging, and so on.
For example, our regiment once received an order of the
fleet commander to hit and sink the German battleship
Scharnhorst. Tirpitz was being repaired in the fjords
after Lunin’s K-21 [submarine] attack. Scharnhorst was
attacking allied convoys, and we were ordered to locate
and destroy it. No other airplane could get there,
except our regiment with Bostons. At that moment there
were only six or seven airplanes left in the regiment
and a few crews. Our crew, as the most experienced, was
designated as the lead aircraft.
When we received this order from the division commander,
our regiment commander wanted to fly as leader, but our
assembled group of officers said “No.” We wished at
least him to stay alive. That was somewhere around
December 28, 1943.14 We were lucky that the weather was
awful; a Greenland cyclone covered the entire Arctic,
the Barents Sea region, Spitzbergen, Medvezhiy Island,
Norway, and Kola peninsula. The blizzard was raging so
strong that one could not see a man 5–10 meters away.
Technicians, mechanics and engineers somehow managed to
drag our airplane loaded with torpedoes to the runway.
We crews were waiting at the commander’s dugout. I was
calculating, thinking how we should plot the course. I
looked at our friends. Some were lying down, resting.
Others were pacing from corner to corner. A third group
were playing chess. It was clear that we would fly out
at the first possible moment. It was absolutely clear
that none of us was expected to return. Striking a
battleship was a… Well, it’s not important… When I made
new calculations I said:
“Zhenya, there is not enough fuel for return. We will
fall into the sea 250 km off the coast of Kola
Life expectancy in the water was about 40 minutes. In a
warm flight suit and lifeboat, one could last for
longer. Every naval pilot had an inflatable boat with
parachute. So I said:
“Zhenya, we will fall into the sea. What we should do?
Report to the commander.”
“Pasha, we have our order; it should be executed. What
is the reason for me to ask and report? You, as a
navigator, have the right to do so.”
I picked up the phone, directly connected to
Preobrazhenskii.15 I said that my calculations showed
that we had no chance to return to base; we will ditch
250 km off Rybachii peninsula. Was it possible to summon
a Catalina to the area or send subs to the area of
But all the boats available were patrolling in the
vicinity of Varanger fjord and Nordkapp, where there was
a chance to intercept German shipping. All that was left
was a Catalina. I reported all this:
“What will be your orders?”
“Execute the order!”
What else could we expect if Preobrazhenskii received a
direct order from Fleet Commander Golovko to strike the
“Yes sir, we will execute the order! Please, give me
allied convoy coordinates.”
I was thinking that those surviving the attack on the
battleship would fly to the convoy and bail out there,
hoping to get picked by the ships. I reasoned that they
would give me the latitude and longitude of the convoy.
“I cannot disclose this information over the telephone.”
German intelligence was very effective, and sometimes
they connected to our telephone wiring and listened to
us. I hung up the phone. What else could I do? I, as the
group leader, had the most correct data. Our airplane
would be going straight, while our wingmen would be
moving, and their navigators’ calculation would be less
precise. I had much more experience and was good at
radio navigation. In addition, sailing instructions,
astronomy and astronomical navigation made it possible
in those days to become more freely orientated. I told
“Prior to the attack, I will let you know of the course
to Medvezhii Island; those who will survive can try to
Medvezhii was a small island between Spitsbergen and
Nordkapp, unoccupied by either us or the Germans, but
polar bears. You can land there, but then you will have
to survive with them or try to make it to the shore by
some other means. Got the picture?
Could a Catalina reach
Medvezhii and return?
Theoretically it could. A
Catalina could linger in the air much longer than we
did. In economical regime, it could fly for over 24
hours.16 It was an American flying boat, but it had
lower speed then we did. It was used both as a
reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
Was it equipped with
Of course. We also flew
ASW missions, by overflying convoys.17 I flew them, too,
when convoys reached our territorial waters, at
approximately Murmansk longitude. Then bombers were used
as ASW escorts. One such mission was flown in pair with
Vartanov. He had just arrived to our flight from
Levanevskii flight school. We told him to keep 200
meters away. There was no sense in getting closer. We
had to look at a wider area in search of submarines.
I made the calculations for a “box” around the convoy;
we flew at 300 meters, looking for periscopes. One loop
completed, then another. There was no sense in flying
higher, although flying lower was much more tiresome. We
were supposed to fly there for 4–5 hours. Suddenly it
became dark in my cabin. I looked up and saw propellers
right above me! That is, our wingman overflew us, got
above us and was now descending on us. The pilot
couldn’t see what was going below him!
Was his navigator
sleeping? How could he not see what was happening?
His navigator was in the
rear cabin. That version had four cannons in the nose.
They were flying a
sturmovik version of the Boston?
In that airplane, gunner
and navigator were sitting in the rear cabin and were
virtually blind. The pilot was also unable to look
below, and slowly descended toward us, overshadowing my
cockpit. We were 300 meters or even less. That’s when I
got really scared. Frightened! I thought: “What kind of
absurd death!” It’s one thing to get killed in a fight
during an attack run, but not like this, when nobody
will find out what had happened to two crews. In
general, I was not one to curse; but this time I shouted
over the radio:
“You mother f- -ker, where do you think you are going?!”
Had I said something to my pilot, he instinctively would
have pulled his stick. The most dangerous thing in these
long, low-altitude flights was the water. That’s why if
something was drawing attention, his most natural
reaction would be to pull the stick, in this case flying
right into our wingman. That’s why I didn’t say anything
over the intercom to my pilot.
But he heard that I was yelling over radio and his first
reaction was to look around. He noticed the wingman’s
nose just one meter away from the cockpit. He
immediately pushed the stick and leg and went down with
a skid. But I heard a tearing sound “t-r-r-rrrr”. When
an airplane is hit by a shell or a bullet, every crew
member can hear it clearly; the sound passes well
through the metal. I heard the scraping well, but we
were flying 150 meters from water. I asked:
“Is the airplane controllable?”
I noticed that our wingman also maneuvered behind us.
Our airplane had a large vertical tail fin, over five
meters. We had scratched his fuselage with the tip of
our fin. Immediately I directed my pilot toward home
base, and we managed to make it home. But my pilot was a
God in flying! The entire regiment had gathered to look
at our broken fin; our tail fin was broken in half into
a “T”-shape without left horizontal line.
Did your wingman make
There was just a small
scratch on his fuselage. He taxied, came out of his
airplane and walked over to us:
“Comrade lieutenant, what are we going to report?”
“I want to smack you in the face, and not report!”
Yevgenii said to him in a disapproving tone.
He calmed down then, but I still told him:
“You will last one or two combat missions, no more!”
He was shot down on his next mission, but we were not
We had told him to keep 200 meters away from us, but he
got bored and slowly closed in. Then he tried to move to
the other side. Changing the formation should be done by
crossing the path under the leader’s airplane. Instead,
he gained altitude and flew over us, trying to find us
in slow descent. In short, he was being lazy. It was a
He was a young pilot,
straight from the mint. May be he was poorly taught?
But they were given
practice in formation flying. I have no complaints about
his instructors. He was taught to think for himself.
Could you describe
your brightest memory about war? Not necessarily about
fighting or flying…
Brightest memory? I
wasn’t impressed by war at all. Besides, I felt the
horrors that our nation had to pass through. Russia was
not fortunate, not fortunate.
Our dugout, where our squadron lived, was located near a
small lake. There were several pine trees and juniper
bushes around it. We had small cast iron stoves,
electric lamps, telephones, foot lockers. We lived by
squadrons. The entrance into dugout was down some steps.
There was a wooden board over the door, so I made an
inscription with black paint in Italian: Lasciate ogni
speranza, voi ch’entrate [Abandon hope, all ye who enter
here].18 I believe I would have had problems had I
written it in Russian.
I was just 21 years old. All the free time between
flights I spent by reading. I read Hegel, Schopenhauer
[Arthur, 1788–1860], Kant, in translation, of course. I
studied German at school and technical school like the
rest, and like the rest I eventually didn’t know it. In
one of the rooms of our dugouts was a huge pile of books
brought from the political department. There was
complete set of classical German philosophy books, in
addition to which were some art, poetry, and prose
books. I threw Nitsche away, but read Kant through in
its entirety, perhaps half of Schopenhauer, and 10
percent of Hegel.
Besides philosophy, I read the usual books: Sir Walter
Scott, Dante’s Devine Comedy, the poems of Lord Byron,
Lermontov, Pushkin, and later Nekrasov, also a Yeisk
native. That’s where I got it all from. Of course, I
studied astronomy, radiotechnics and other stuff. I had
sufficient intellectual “baggage,” because before the
war I had studied to become a teacher.
But you were taught as
a primary school teacher?
Generally, yes. Teachers
for middle school were trained in the institutes. But as
a graduate from a pedagogical college, I had an almost
I remember one incident. After one of the attacks, we
returned, parked and switched engines off. I got out of
the hatch, when a correspondent from Severomorskii
letchik [Severomorsk airman] newspaper caught me:
“Comrade lieutenant, a question from editorial: What did
you think about comrade Stalin during your attack?!”
Half of our torpedo bombers fell over that convoy. So,
what do you think?
You are a polite man.
I would have told him to “Go to Hell.”
If I was a gunner – I
would have also. But our gunner was a quiet person. A
gunner from neighboring crew would have done it for
sure. I told him:
“If I would have thought about Stalin during the combat
run, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”
He chuckled, stepped
aside, and moved off. I said what I said and forgot
about it. It was during polar day [24-hour daylight], so
I can’t say how long had passed when I was caught by the
zampolit [political deputy]:
“Comrade Galkin, please, speak to correspondents and
If somebody says that people shouted “for the
Motherland” or “for Stalin” during a bayonet fight, I do
not believe it. There were people who had to say
something like that before an attack. It’s like a
drummer had to drum when the banner was brought to the
ranks. It was an element of upholding high combat
spirit. In real life people, were swearing, cursing and
growling while pressing bayonets into each others’ guts.
Did you swear or curse
in flight? Did Frantsev swear?
No. We usually said
either “navigator” “commander” or “gunner.” Or we used
names. We left ranks for the ground.
Were you supplied and
fed well enough?
Well. We had enough.
Elizabeth helped. Yes, the Queen of England. When
convoys came to Murmansk and Archangelsk, they also
brought food. For example, I remember how they sent us a
rail cart of Champagne. We went to the canteen, where we
could get small cutlets and groats, bread, and bottles
of Champagne instead of drinking water. By the way, I
didn’t drink it.
How did you bathe in
the dugouts, especially during winter? Were you taken to
Of course, a sauna was
organized. Quite often we would go by ourselves. I’d say
there were no lice in our dugout. Once our crew was in
an alert-1 status — torpedoes hung, engines warmed up,
ready to take off at any moment. We were at the
airfield, with no permission to leave it. I was doing
what I was supposed to do, the pilot was busy with his
work, and the gunners were sleeping. Then:
“Well, guys, how about a visit to the sauna?!?”
So we decided, called a bus and went to the sauna, which
was in Vaenga, not at the airfield. Halfway there, we
were intercepted by either a GAZ or Willys jeep:
“Go back! To the airplanes!”
We immediately returned. When we were arriving at the
parking area we saw that engines were working. It was
winter and snow was all around. I got into my
compartment, the pilot occupied his, ready to fly. But
to where?! We were the leaders of the flight. Where
should we go? We were loaded with torpedoes, so we were
to attack ships. I sat on my parachute. I never strapped
it on; it was absolutely worthless to us, but there was
no cushion at the seat so we had to use it as one. I
opened the map.
The chief of staff walked in front of us, took a wide
wooden shovel for clearing snow and wrote by a colored
pencil 68º 58”, for example. I signaled – understood!
That was the spot where we had to locate and attack
German ships. The order was clear. Not a single word was
said. Nothing was funny or unusual in this method.
Did you sink anything
during that mission?
We flew out, reached our
target and accomplished the mission. Accomplished it.
You were young; were
Of course; we waltzed,
danced polka at the Officers House. We had not been
taught the mazurka, which was a dance of the nobility.
But the padespan [Russian waltz based on Spanish
themes], and such common dances. Dancers danced from the
hopak [Ukrainian folkdance] to the barynya [male-only
folkdance, lots of foot stomping].
Did you dance
No, I’m a poor dancer. I
liked music. There is excellent modern music, but my
memory fails me. There is the Chaikovskii’s Capricio
Italian. I can’t remember the entire work, just separate
passages, but as powerful as if an entire orchestra were
Do you like opera?
When I received my HSU
Gold Star [August 19, 9144], our crew was summoned to
the Kremlin and we received two weeks of official leave.
I received tickets for Bolshoy Theater and Operetta
Theater at the same time and day. For starters I
listened to Prince Igor. After the first act, I departed
during an intermission and caught the second and third
acts of Silva [a decades-long favorite by Imre Kalman].
I heard Silva live five times during my life. I liked
both. Do you remember Prince Igor? I lately constantly
recall scenes from it:
In sleep, there is no rest for the exhausted spirit;
Night does not bring me comfort and oblivion.
I relive the past over and over again…
and the deaths of my all my regiments…
This does not return to me now as often. Silva, Maritsa
, Happy Widow [Leher Ferenc] have become less
important. “Sweethearts, sweethearts, sweethearts of
cabaret” – oh, well, my age is not as it was before…
Each man is an individual, a personality. How many HSUs
are still alive now?
From the Navy – You,
Demidov [Rostislav Sergeevich], Minakov [Vasilii
Ivanovich], Shishkov [Mikhail Fyodorovich], Chernenko [Vasilii
Ivanovich], Rassadkin [Pyotr Alekseevich]. That’s all.
They told me at the
museum that only five were left. Of course, many have
passed on due to, shall we say, “circumstances” which
came about in our country. For example, there were 17
Heroes in our regiment. Four were alive at the end of
the war, and now I am the only one. If you look at the
entire Northern Fleet, there remain five of 65, and now,
who can say how many survive; perhaps I am the only one.
Well, in all, more
Northern Fleet Heroes survived the war than from other
Several years ago, there
were five, and now I’m the only one.
Pavel Andreevich, the
fact that you have lived to this time and were not
alongside Frantsev on that fateful flight when he
“departed,” is yet another element of fortune.
He flew on into the next
world by plan that I had prepared for that mission, but
with another navigator. I did not go there.
But how did you endure
this, having been so close to him?
Well, that is another
Very well. Please pass along to Boris Nikolaevich that,
for reasons of my health, I will not be able to be at
the airfield under the conditions that he noted. 20 I
may be hearty in conversation, but two hours later I’m
holding on to the wall. Therefore, do not undertake any
actions to focus attention on or obligate me. Those who
wish to do so may find me there and say:
“This may be our last opportunity; we will approach
This is the best and most favorable inducement. But you
don’t have to do this; it will be difficult for me.
Perhaps we can send
a vehicle to pick you up and bring you back?
Pavel Andreevich, even
if only for 15 minutes, you need to be present at this
anniversary. They will pick you up and bring you back by
vehicle; but how can we do this without you? You are
already a talisman, a legend of Yeisk Academy!
P.Galkin and his son
It was obvious that
our Hero was not only tired was but also very tormented
by the memories of lost comrades, in particular, of
course, his commander Evgenii Frantsev. Galkin did not
even begin to recall or talk about that last flight and
the search for his perished crew. It was obvious that he
had suffered through all the subsequent years that he
was unable to fly on that day.
Ten minutes later, we agreed with Pavel Andreevich on
his travel to the academy’s holiday. When we reached the
doorway and prepared to depart, Pavel Andreeich stopped,
quickly went back for his notebook, where he had made
notes, and began to read his verses. They say that this
was a mark of great favor to his co-conversants, when he
read his own verses.
Hero of the Soviet Union Pavel Andreevich Galkin
gathered up his strength and was present at the Jubilee
of his favorite academy on July 25, 2015. Enormous
thanks to him.
Participants in this conversation included P.A. Galkn’s
daughter Galina Pavlovna and the Chief of Yeisk Aviation
Academy Museum, Valerii Valentinovich Tishkin.
1. Tomlin-Brazol, A.N.
Zhizn i sudba Fedora Soymonova [Life and fate of Fedor
Soymonov], Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel, 1991, 544 pp.
2. Gabdelkhakov, R.M., Atakuyu. Potopil [I am attacking.
It sunk] [fact-based story about the Northern Fleet
pilot Ye.I. Frantsev], first edition. Edited by V.T.
Chashkova; Afterword by E.G. Chernysheva. Omsk Gas:
Pulse (Omsk builder), 1998. 219 pp. Book re-released in
2000 with corrections and supplements. Electronic
version can be accessed on the Internet: http://agso.narod.ru/date/franz/franz_1.htm
3. During the time of P.A.Galkin’s training, they were
not accepting, of course, men with a fourth-grade
education at the aviation academy. But among the older
generation of military and polar aviators, who served in
line units during the war, there were such men. However,
subsequently all of them, one way or another, raised
their educational level.
4. This is a bit of humor; in the crew, the pilot was
always the commander.
5. The recommended speed of the aircraft during the
torpedo drop was 270–280 kmh [145–150 knots], because at
greater speeds, the danger increased of mechanical
damage to the torpedo upon entering the water. However,
at these speeds, the Boston was somewhat unstable and
had a tendency to sink, to avoid which a speed of 300
kmh [162 knots] was maintained. The crew had to maintain
a balance between these factors.
6. The account of this attack will resume later.
7. Svede, Ye.Ye., Voyennyye floty [Military fleets.
1939–1940. (Handbook on foreign military fleets), 7th
edition. Moscow – Leningrad: Voyenno-morskoye
izdatelstvo of the People’s Commissariat of the Navy of
the USSR (NKVMF SSSR), 1940. 452 pp.
8. Six-ship formation – two flights of three aircraft,
each flight attacking its own target.
9. Commander of the group was the leader of a six-ship
formation of torpedo bombers.
10. Lieutenant Colonel Syromyatnikov, Boris Pavlovich,
Commander, 9th Guards Red Banner Mine–Torpedo Air
Regiment. The incident described occurred on October 16,
1944. He was awarded HSU posthumously on November 5,
11. Shirokorad, Aleksandr Borisovich – Russian military
specialist and publicist, author of the book
Torpedonostsy v boyu. Ikh zvali “smertnikami” [Torpedo
men in combat. They called them “men on death row.”]
(2006). This book was subjected to fierce, in our view,
justified criticism from specialists in the field of
naval aviation for bias, lack of historical correctness,
12. Gareev, Makhmut Akhmetovich, Full General (retired),
Doctor of Military and Doctor of Historical Sciences.
13. Axiology – the theory of value, a branch of
14. The German battleship Scharnhorst was sunk by naval
vessels of the British Royal Navy, which were escorting
Allied arctic convoys, on December 26, 1943, near
Nordkapp in Norway. By all appearances, the events about
which P.A. Galkin has recollections occurred not on 28
December, but shortly before that. In the end, because
of exceptionally bad weather, this takeoff did not
15. HSU (for bombing Berlin in August 1941)
Preobrazhenskii, Yevgenii Nikolaevich, at this time was
serving as the chief of staff of Northern Fleet Air
16. Effective ranges: Douglas А-20G Бостон, >1650km;
Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina >4090 km. With a cruising
speed of 188 kmh [101 knots], the Catalina could remain
in the air approximately 22 hours!
17. Bostons had the capability to accomplish only visual
18. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” (in Italian) –
is the concluding phrase of text over the gates of hell
in Dante’s allegory, Divine Comedy.
19. Altogether during the Great Patriotic War, 53 naval
aviators became Heroes of the Soviet Union, among them
B.F. Safonov twice. Thirty-one (58.5 percent) survived
the war. Torpedo men from the 9th Guards Mine–Torpedo
Air Regiment included: G.S. Aseev, M.M. Badyuk, V.P.
Balashov, A.A. Bashtyrkov, M.P. Boronin, V.N. Gavrilov,
P.A. Galkin, N.I. Zaitsev, V.N. Kiselyov, Yu.P.
Kochelaevskii, S.A. Makarevich, V.V. pigogov, M.F.
Pokalo, A.I. Sknaryov, V.P. Syromuatnikov, Ye.I.
Frantsev, K.F. Shkaruba—altogether 17 men. Of these,
Badyuk, Balashov, Galkin, Kochelaevskii, Pirogov, and
Shkaruba—altogether six men (35.3 percent) survived the
20. Boris Nikolaevich Rybalko was the charmain of a
regional organization of veterans of Naval aviation and
Yeisk Aviation Academy. The conversation is in regard to
the attendance of P.A. Galkin at a celebration of the
100th Anniversary of the academy, July 25, 2015.
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