Interview with Leonid Sergeevich Kulakov
Interview was conducted by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin
Chirkin © in St. Petersburg, Russia
Transcribed and edited by Igor Zhidov ©
English translation by James F. Gebhardt ©
Translation edited by Ilya Grinberg ©
I was born on the 4th of March, 1923, in Rabotki, about
60 km downstream from Gorkiy. A ship was frozen there
for winter time, and my father lived in it. My mom came
to see him while she was pregnant; after that she was
supposed to go to Sosnovka for delivery, but as she
crossed the Volga by ice, she gave birth to me. My
father left his job as a sailor and became a handyman.
Mother was a housewife.
I was not the only child in our family; my older sister
died from typhus and a younger one died due to some
accident. I have a younger brother who was born in 1935
and now lives in Sosnovka, Gorkiy District, Spasskiy
region now. Dad passed away at the age of 68 and my
mother at the age of 95.
level of schooling did you attain?
Sosnovka village I studied through 4th grade; then I had
to go to Mary village, which was located 7 km from
Sosnovka. There used to be an unfinished middle school
there, with a hostel, where I studied through 7th grade.
For further education I had to go to Dzerzhinsk, to my
aunt’s home (father’s sister). I finished 9th grade
there and also I went through primary piloting training
in the local aero club. I have to say that although my
education was difficult and had many stages, it is only
due to the Soviet regime that it was possible at all.
During the time of the monarchy, I wouldn’t have had an
opportunity to get any education at all.
How did I get into the aero club? One day a pilot came
to our school. He was a very handsome man, senior
lieutenant, in a blue uniform, with a “chicken” on his
sleeve, and he says, “Who wants to be a pilot?”
referred to here was a bird figure, indicating
aviation branch of the Army.
wanted to be in the military service; I even played
military games while I was a child. Of course I stood up
first. “I do!”
About 100 men enlisted from our school (a class usually
consisted of no more then 40 students), but only about
20 passed the commission.
In 1940 I finished my training with the Dzerzhinsk aero
club as a U-2 pilot, and 9th grade at school. There was
an invitation to Engels Bomber School, but I was not
accepted due to my young age. So I had to wait. To speed
up the process, I sent a letter to Moscow to the
Peoples’ Commissar of Defense Klementiy Voroshilov, in
which I asked to be sent to pilot school. In the autumn
of 1940 I received an acceptance letter.
Father was against my choice of profession. Two pilots
crashed and were killed in the aero club, and it became
widely known through the “skirt radio.”
radio” is the passing of rumors from one “skirt”
(woman) to another. The term is used in
situations where the news was spread rapidly by
women, but could be very unreliable in terms of
to me and kept asking, “Are you training to become a
I replied, “No, no, dad, I’m going to be a mechanic, and
later I’ll study to become an engineer.
“Then why do you need these flight goggles?”
“Oh, those. When I work under the aircraft, motor oil
drips straight to my face and I have to protect my
When I received an acceptance letter, I finally told my
dad that I’ll become a pilot: “I’m going to continue my
He thought for a while and replied, “If it’s your
choice, go on. I won’t object!”
there female students at your aero club?
flight school did you got into?
accepted for Engels Bomber Pilots School, but when I
went there I decided to visit my aero club, and the
chief of the club said to me: “Listen! Do you want to
change your acceptance for Chernigov Fighter Pilots
“Of course! What can be better then a fighter pilot
To put it briefly, I arrived at Chernigov in the winter
of 1940. At first we had some theoretical education;
then we started to fly the UT-2.
you have UT-2 or UT-2M? UT-2M was a modification with
better spin characteristics.
really say. We did not notice any changes. The UT-2 we
had, were good enough for us.
We had made a few flights when war broke out. We were
sent to a station “Verblud” near Rostov-on-Don and
Zelenograd. We built dugouts there, made a barracks in
it with two-tier beds. One thing I still remember—there
were millions of mice.
When the Germans got close to Rostov, we were sent via
Baku and Krasnovodsk to Kyzyl-Arvat.
I was initially assigned to 2nd Squadron and conducted a
few flights on the I-15, but then about 20 of the best
pilots were assembled in the 6th Squadron to fly the
I-16. Our training was very brief—several solo flights
in the “box” [local training area], then in a flight of
three, then by single aircraft on a flight route, and
finally by paired aircraft on a flight route.
planes did you fly?
dual-seater. I completed my training in 1942. It was in
May, very hot weather. I was sent to the 13th ZAP
(reserve air regiment) near Penza.
was your rank when you left flight school?
Officer ranks were given to new pilots from 1943 on.
were you fed in the fighter school?
While this may
seem a strange question, in fact food was in
short supply throughout the Soviet Union during
the war. Military personnel and workers in the
labor force were assigned a ration caloric
intake based on several factors, among them
their contribution to the war effort. Training
units in rear areas did not eat as well as units
in combat at the front. As this text indicates,
further stratification of rations was imposed
even in units at the front. [JG]
great. But it was war. We were not really stuffed
neither at Rostov, and Kyzyl-Arvat, nor in the ZAP. We
were always hungry. Not that we starved, but we always
wanted to have something to eat. Even when we arrived at
the front, we didn’t have enough to eat.
During ZAP training, at first we were on patrol duties
and kitchen service [KP, kitchen police in US military
vernacular], but we did not actually fly. Then we
started flying Yak fighters. I made several flights with
an instructor –“box” training, then “zone,” but I did
not fly solo yet.
was “touch and go” practice in the shape of a
box; “zone” training was aerobatic flight in a
zone set aside for that purpose.
January 1943, Hero of the Soviet Union Major Ivan
Neustruev suddenly arrived to “buy” pilots.
The phrase to
“buy” pilots refers to a system of
hand-selection of pilots for a specific unit by
unit representatives. These unit representatives
were sometimes referred to as “merchants.”
He was a
very famous pilot at Leningrad Front.
Neustruev (1915–1965) completed flight training
in 1937, was a participant in the Soviet–Finnish
War 1939–40, and fought in the Great Patriotic
War from its beginning. He commanded the 11th
Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment, 2nd Guards
Fighter Aviation Corps, PVO Strany [national
antiaircraft defense]. By August 1943 he had
flown 128 combat sorties, participated in 55
aerial engagements, and had a score of 11
personal and 6 shared enemy aircraft. He was
awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on 28 September
up. Neustruev walked down the line. His face showed some
Tatar ancestry. He said, “This one, this one, this one…”
We were standing in our foot wraps (Marshal Timoshenko
thought this up—foot wraps for pilots!)
Then: “Get them properly dressed!” He turned to us, “You
are going to the front.”
It was that simple. I do not know if he had looked
through our files, but he neither asked our names, nor
spoke with us, nor tested us in the air. He selected 22
pilots for Leningrad Front.
did you get to Leningrad from the ZAP?
arrived by train at Volkhov in January 1943; from
Volkhov we marched to Kobona, where we were loaded on
trucks. We crossed Lake Ladoga on the ice. The “Road of
Life” began at Osinovets on the other side of the lake.
The “Road of
Life” is a name given to a transport route
across Lake Ladoga, by water during the
navigation season, and on the ice during the
winter. It took this name from its purpose—to
give life to the people of Leningrad through
hauling in supplies. A total of 360,000 tons of
cargo were moved by this route, primarily food
provisions and forage for animals.
were loaded into the trucks, we were told, “You will
have to go standing! Standing only! If the truck goes
beneath the ice, jump away from it as far as you can”.
The driver drove standing up on the running board and
steered through an open door. We stood in the bed of the
truck. Imagine—it was January, but we were going through
water as if it was a river. There were so many holes in
the ice from bombing and shelling. We crossed the lake
at night and I still remember those girls with lamps
that showed us the route.
Then we were brought to Baskov Lane in the Admiralty
area of Leningrad. The 7th PVO [antiaircraft defense]
Corps commander was General Erlykin, with Colonel N.D.
Antonov, HSU, being his deputy.
Dmitrievich Antonov was a fighter pilot and
veteran of the Soviet–Finnish War, 1939–40, and
completed 30 combat sorties in attack and
reconnaissance. He was awarded Hero of the
Soviet Union on 21 March 1940. During the Great
Patriotic War he commanded a fighter division
and corps. He retired at the rank of lieutenant
general in 1970 and died in 1986.
looked us over and checked our documents. We had really
low flying experience. We were divided by the following
criterion: those who had been flying Yaks were sent to
27 GvIAP; the rest were sent to 103rd and 102nd GvIAPs.
So, Vladimir Krotov, Alexandr Mikhailov, Denisenko, and
I were sent to 158th IAP, which was reformed into 103rd
GvIAP on 7 July 1943. This regiment was using “Hawks”
planes had you flown before that?
UT-2, UTI-4, I-16, and several flights in the Yak-7 with
was your regiment stationed?
GvIAP was stationed in Kovalevo, on an airfield with the
name “Smolniy.” Now it is called “Rzhevka”.
As we were passing through the city to the airfield, we
became hungry, and we were fed as soon as possible. We
hadn’t seen so much bread at one time in the rear! But
we were ashamed to take it. We had a ration, while our
techs were starving. Only flight crews received full
Vladimir Krotov, Alexandr Mikhailov, and I were assigned
to 1st Squadron.
In the morning we were brought to the airfield and saw
our airplanes for the first time. We were told what kind
of a beast “Kittyhawks” were; we called them little
bombers, because of its “beard” [radiator intake
cowling] and low speed.
We were introduced to squadron commander Litavrin and
squadron commissar Major Leshkevich. We saw two men
walking toward us: one was in a raglan coat without
shoulder straps, a young boy, very handsome; he looked
like a girl. The second one was older. We discussed
among ourselves, “This old one must be ‘Dad,’ and that
young one should be Leshkevich.”
term of endearment used for “Dad” here is
equivalent to our own expression for the
commander—“the old man.” [JG]
Demenkov said, “I will introduce you to squadron
The two men walked up to us and the young one removed
his raglan coat. And what we saw: Order of Combat Red
Banner, Order of Lenin, Gold Star! It was Hero of the
Soviet Union Sergey Litavrin.
Litavrin entered the Soviet Army in 1939 and
completed flight training in 1940. Between June
1941 and December 1942, he flew 311 combat
sorties, and in 55 aerial engagements downed 10
enemy aircraft. He received the rank Hero of the
Soviet Union on 28 January 1943. Litavrin was
killed in an aircraft accident on April 2, 1957
at the rank of colonel.
shocked! We were going to be in his squadron!
At that time neither flight leader Sergei Demenkov nor
Grigoriy Bogomazov were Heroes. They both received their
stars in 1943.
Demenkov entered the Soviet Army in 1939 and
completed flight training in 1940. Between June
1941 and August 1943, he flew 313 combat
sorties, and in 51 aerial engagements downed 11
enemy aircraft. He received the rank Hero of the
Soviet Union on 28 September 1943. Demenkov
retired at the rank of major general in 1975.
Grigoriy Bogomazov entered the Soviet Army in
1938 and completed flight training the same
year. From June 1941 to July 1943, he flew 350
combat sorties, and in 50 aerial engagements
downed 12 (plus 4 shared) enemy aircraft. He
received the rank Hero of the Soviet Union on 2
September 1943. Bogomazov retired at the rank of
colonel in 1969.
introduced to Litavrin, and he assigned me as wingman to
began to fly Kittyhawks and train for future fights. To
test my flying abilities, Litavrin took me into the air
I took off.
“OK, begin aerobatics . . .”
Well, I began flying like we were taught at school. He
said, “Who flies this way? Let me show you!”
And he sure did…
This is, I thought, some pilot, my squadron commander!
“This is how you should fly!”
I said, “Understood!”
We made several “boxes” with him, and everything was
As I was looking around the Kittyhawk’s cockpit, he said
to me, “You will fly solely in the Kittyhawk!”
you have problems with transition? For example, weren’t
[instrument] indications in feet a problem?
there were problems. And I had my first when I was
making my maiden flight in the Kittyhawk. The UTI had no
elevator trimmers. I was taking off in a Kittyhawk, and
it just lifted off; but I couldn’t hold the plane in a
climb even with both hands! It did not gain altitude,
and as it gained speed, it grew more difficult to keep
it level. What is going on? Then it suddenly came to me!
Trimmers! Still, I landed safely. I was asked, “Why you
held level for so long?”
But I did not confess. “I decided to gain a bit of
I made several “box” flights and everything went all
“Well, you have to go to the zone now.”
So I did. I gained altitude and looked at the altimeter,
but it was showing zero! It was simple – 10,000 feet or
3,000 meters and the altimeter made a “fool” loop and
showed zero; but I did not know about this. What’s
happening now? Zero! But I have altitude.
I pressed the stick away from me, and altimeter started
moving. Altitude was indicated in feet, but we soon
understood that 10,000 feet means 3,000 meters. 3,000
feet – 1,000 meters.
Abrek Arkadievich Barsht said the same thing, but he
He used to be my deputy after the war.
So I went up to 10,000 feet again and thought, "I should
try this plane out in a spin." So I started the spin as
I was instructed. We were told that Kittyhavks were
strict, but I had no problems. I did left and right
Did the Kittyhawk warn that it would spin?
Yes, it gave slight shudders. I did a right spin once
again, then a split-S, loop, and the rest of the
aerobatics. Everything seemed to be all right.
the Kittyhawk come out of a spin easily?
problems at all.
So I flew into the zone. Now I had to engage in a mock
dogfight. I flew with Vinnichenko, and I really kicked
Vinnichenko was later killed over the base; he spun, was
unable to get control over his plane, and crashed. There
was no fight; he just crashed by himself.
Ivanovich Vinnichenko, born in Luganskaya oblast
in 1920, died on 30 May 1943 at the rank of
junior lieutenant. According to archival
records, he failed to return from a combat
mission while flying a P-40.
received an order to fly to Ivanovo to pick up new
Kittyhawks. When we returned, we were eager to get into
It happened that something was wrong with Demenkov’s
plane, and he said to me, “I’ll take your plane.”
I replied, “Comrade senior lieutenant, I also want to
“draw stars” [paint victory stars on the aircraft].
“You will have a lot of time for that.”
So he took off in my shiny new plane. There was a
dogfight, but everything ended well.
The next dogfight took place on the 18th of March. I had
just turned 20 years old. We took off and Litavrin took
the lead. Arkadiy Morozov was his wingman and I was
wingman to Demenkov.
Lieutenant Arkadiy Ivanovich Morozov, born 1922,
died 17 June 1944 when he failed to return from
a combat mission in a P-39. At the time of his
death, he had 8 personal kills.
in pairs—the three-plane formation had been abandoned.
The Germans taught us well.
We had a vector to Krasniy Bor. We flew at the altitude
of 3,000 meters. Litavrin points. “Look—a pair of
They were above us, so we started a dogfight.
We used to ask Litavrin how we should act during a
“Everything is simple: If you become separated,” he
said, “the Germans will shoot you down. If you become
frightened and run away, I will shoot you down myself.
Is that clear?”
So I got a grip on Demenkov’s tail. He later told me, “I
was afraid that you would cut my tail with your
He was a great pilot, and turned with “streams” [vapor
trails]. We fought for a long time. He started to
perform a split-S; I was following him, and suddenly
"Boom!" The German hit me and my engine stalled. At
first I continued diving, then glided across the Neva
River to Manushkino, and belly-landed.
This was my first fight. I got out of the plane and saw
our soldiers, who told me that this was an AAA site
Photo was taken on the next day after he had force
you see who hit you?
I? I just felt the impact and my engine died. And that
Once I got out of the plane, I saw a large hole in my
upper fuselage, behind the cockpit. I looked at it and
collapsed to the wing. I was so tired. Arkadiy Morozov
was circling above me. I should have waved to him, but I
couldn’t think at the moment. I just lay on the wing and
looked up at him. When he returned to the base, he
reported that he had spotted me belly-landing near
Manushkino, and then saw me lying out on the wing. Since
I did not wave at him, he concluded I must be seriously
But I just did not think about it. Then an AAA battery
commander (a captain) arrived.
“How did you manage to land here without being seen by
I said, “It’s great that you did not see me, or you
would have finished me off!”
We had some laughs and talked a while. He also was from
Gorkiy. I asked him if he could arrange a place for me
to sleep. He took me to his dugout, where I slept until
a truck from Kovalevo came to pick me up.
What happened to the airplane?
It was evacuated to a repairs facility, but that was
none of my business, and I do not know where it was
When did you get another plane after your return to the
For some time I had no plane. During this time there
were some dogfights. Vasiliy Makukha came back wounded,
but his plane was also sent for repairs.
Lieutenant Vasiliy Yakovlevich Makukha, born
1919, did not return from a combat mission on 21
(from other sources 18) June, 1943. At the time
of his death, he had three personal kills.
given the airplane of HSU Ponomarchuk, our regiment
commander, who rarely flew.
Yefemovich Ponomarchuk entered the Soviet Army
in 1934 and completed flight training in 1937.
He flew a fast bomber in the Soviet–Finnish War
1939–40, and was awarded Hero of the Soviet
Union on 5 February 1940. He retired as a
colonel in 1968.
He had 1
kill. For example, he brought aircraft from Ivanovo and
we flew escorts with him at dusk.
Demenkov and Makuha discuss combat sortie.
remember the tactical numbers on your aircraft?
remember now, two digit numbers. I can’t even recall the
color of the numerals.
there any rapid recognition elements?
This is a
reference to specific paint markings placed on
the aircraft to permit pilots rapidly to
recognize each other at speed in the air.
rapid recognition elements.
remember how your planes were painted?
planes which we received at Ivanovo were of sand color
and they had some spots. The bellies were white or blue.
We were told that these planes came from Iran.
type of armaments did your planes have?
12.7mm [.50 caliber] Brownings. We used to say about our
Kittyhawks in the manner of the “Volga-Volga” comedy
movie: "America presented airplanes to Russia with six
machine guns and a very low speed."
there a practice of reducing armament of the aircraft in
order to reduce weight?
had six guns and that was good enough.
what distance was your convergence set?
meters. They were good at this distance.
what if you fired at a target, let’s say, 400 meters
will shoot at such a distance? 400 meters is way too
would you know that you are shooting at 200 meters? What
kind of gun sight did you have?
visible in the gun sight, it was good for aiming. What
the gun-sight name was, I can’t say. It was a piece of
glass with a light bulb.
there any armor installed [in your cockpit]?
armored seat backs. But it wasn’t too good at protecting
us. We also had an armored windscreen.
good was the visibility from a Kittyhawk?
what about the radios?
was excellent. It was the main thing that saved us in
you have any “gifted” airplanes?
airplane was one paid for by a group of factory
or collective farm workers or other group of
people. One of the more well-known “gifted”
Lend-lease aircraft was an A-20 Boston paid for
and donated by the American comedian Red
Skelton. It had “We Do’od It!” painted on the
had none of those.
you use American or our fuel?
there any limitations when you used our fuel?
were no limitations. I later flew Cobras, but there were
no limitations then, either.
Anyway – we got carried away. When I returned, I
thought: “How did this happen? I wanted to ‘draw a
star,’ but I did not even see who shot me down”. And
finally, on 24 March I got an order to fly: “You will be
Grigoriy Bogomazov’s wingman.”
There were six of us; Bogomazov was the leader. I flew
the regiment commander’s brand new aircraft, Demenkov
had Morozov on his wing, and 3rd Squadron commander
Shishkan, HSU, flew with someone else.
Shishkan, born in 1918, entered the Soviet Army
in 1937 and completed flight training in 1940.
By December 1942, he had flown 373 combat
sorties, and in 56 aerial engagements had shot
down 12 personally and 4 in group. He was
awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on 28 January
1943, and was killed in aerial combat on 21 June
Antonov from the observation post (OP) shouted: “Faster,
Kittyhawks! Faster, Kittyhawks!”
We flew to Krasniy Bor. I was a bit higher, and we
noticed Ju-88s coming in three-plane formations.
Antonov from the OP: “Faster! Bombers are close; they
are about to commence bombing run!”
I said to Bogomazov, “I’m attacking! Cover me!”
And I began to attack the enemy bombers head-on. I was
shooting from head-on-above and saw how tracers
disappeared into the enemy bomber’s cabin. After that I
popped up with a combat turn. I turned my head to see
where Grigoriy was, and when I turned it back to normal
position I saw a Fokker. He was at 50–25 meters, when I
saw his crosses as big as my windscreen!
I just stitched him with bullets down the entire length
of his fuselage, and while I did this another German hit
my plane from behind. My plane was set on fire and I had
to bail out.
This was my first parachute jump, and because of lack of
experience I opened my chute straight away. We fought
pretty high, and as I opened my chute wind started to
carry me toward enemy territory. I landed behind enemy
lines. My comrades reported that two planes were shot
down, a Junkers and a Fokker.
Everybody started to congratulate Shishkan, but he said,
“No, they’re Kulakov’s victories. I had nothing to do
Meanwhile, I landed near the front line, and was hanging
in a large pine tree about 1.5 meters from ground. I
started to open my parachute release clamps, thinking
the Germans must be nearby. I removed the shoulder
straps and went upside down! With severe difficulties I
managed to get free from the leg straps and run away.
The forest was full of sounds – I heard shooting. Il-2s
were strafing and AAA was firing. I ran for some time;
I’m not sure exactly how long, and finally decided that
this was enough. To make sure, I decided to climb a tree
and check the surrounding territory from above. So I
started climbing a pine tree like a squirrel, and at the
time I weighed 64 kilos [approximately 140 pounds]! So I
made it up to some branch, and thought… I knew that this
was enemy-held territory, but I wanted to be sure.
Stupid boy! I climbed down and moved toward the front
line, and suddenly I encountered some gun position.
Germans started shooting. Everything became clear now.
So I turned around and went to the rear, and came across
a small river. I was standing at the bank, when a
thought struck me: “They’ll send dogs after me! I have
to get across to shake them from my tail!” What dogs
could be on the front line? But my imagination worked
well. As I was approaching the river, I spotted two
Germans with machine pistols. I waited behind the tree,
gripping my own pistol until they passed, and ran away
once again. Then I found a place where I crossed the
river; it wasn’t too deep and went to the forest. I
found a crater, hid there, and decided to find some
partisans, as it would soon get dark. I finally found
the railroad that connected Krasniy Bor and Sablino. I
stood in the forest for some time, and watched some
woman wash clothes. After a while, some railroad
trackmen passed through, after that a hand car, and then
a train passed. I waited until everything was quiet and
crossed the tracks.
It was March and snow was everywhere. I was dressed in
calf-leather boots and a greatcoat. We actually flew in
soldiers’ blouses—the Kittyhawk had great heaters. I
just had no time to get change uniforms before we took
off, and this circumstance saved my life. I would have
frozen to death otherwise.
I found another crater, made a bed of branches, and
settled down to rest. I was not sleeping, just resting
and thinking: “No, I have to move.” That was my second
day “abroad” [behind enemy lines].
I had three 100-gram chocolate bars with me – we were
given those as “NZ” before we took off.
This is a
common Russian military acronym for
neprikosnovennyy zapas [untouchable supply]. It
is used with any type of supply, the final
remaining portion of which is “untouchable”
except in a dire emergency. [JG]
common that pilots who bailed out were unable to get to
our forces and died by freezing or hunger, so we had
some chocolate and vitamins as “NZ.” In one pocket I had
these vitamins and chocolate, and in the other I had
about 50 rounds for my pistol.
“Na strazhe rodiny” newspaper correspondent, Vasilii
pistol were you issued?
as everyone else—the TT.
were in common use during this war—the Nagant
Model 1895 revolver, and the Tokarev Model 1933
semi-automatic pistol, commonly referred to as
the TT (Tulskiy, Tokareva [Tula, Tokarev]). [JG]
I felt that I was getting weaker, I would take a bite of
chocolate. I kept walking around the forests; my feet
got frostbitten, it became obvious that I will never
find partisans, and finally I decided to try and cross
the front line.
At night, it was about 0200, I came to Sablino. I tried
to look through the windows, but they were covered by
curtains. I found a heated bath house [sauna] and hid
there. But I thought, “They have heated the place, so
they will come to use it. No, I cannot stay here.”
Near one house was a river, and I had to cross it. But I
was not happy with the thought of swimming in March. So
I had to cross it by bridge. I did not know if it was
guarded or not. I found a shed, and heard some animal
breathing there. I climbed up to the loft, found some
hay, and fell asleep there. In the morning I hoped to
determine if the bridge was guarded. I had no will power
to swim across that river in such cold weather.
In the morning I saw a boy urinating from the bridge.
Then a German soldier walked up next to him and started
to urinate as well. But I still had no idea if this
bridge was guarded. So I thought to myself: “Let’s wait
for day light and see.”
I saw kids playing soldier. I thought they would be
playing Germans against Russians, but they were playing
“Red” against “White.”
were the Communist forces during Russia’s Civil
War and the “Whites” were the opposing forces,
led primarily by former Tsarist Army officers.
heard the mother of one of the boys shouting: “Kolka, go
fetch some leftovers for our cow from the German
canteen.” He was somewhere around eight years old.
Then the women began to stoke the fire in the bath
house. I could hear what they were saying, but I could
not see who was saying what: “Wait, Nyurka, our troops
will come and they’ll show you how to sleep with
She replied, “I’m free to sleep with whomever I please.”
At that moment I had only one thing in mind—I wanted
some bread, or at least to smell it. It was my third day
behind enemy lines. I tried to preserve chocolate as
long as I could.
By the evening a heavy snowfall began, and I saw three
Germans in officers’ coats going into the sauna. My
first thought was to get inside and kill them all, but
then I thought – what good I will get of that? And so I
just ran across the bridge. As soon as I began crossing,
I saw a guard post on the other side of the bridge. But
it was snowing, I was in a great coat, and one could not
tell if I was a German or a Russian.
As I got closer to the front line, German illumination
rockets became more dangerous to me. When one would go
into the air, I would fall to the ground and play dead.
Somewhere nearby I heard a machine gun firing…
I knew that Krasniy Bor should be in our hands. I came
out of the forest, and instead of a village I found a
single building. Later I found out that in each cellar
and in dugouts there were soldiers, a whole division of
My first thought was, “Germans must have captured
Krasniy Bor, since no one stopped me.”
you simply crossed the frontline?
I did not
know that I had crossed it. I thought that I was still
in enemy-held territory, as I had not encountered any
enemy trenches. So, I was moving toward a building, when
suddenly I heard a shell coming my way. I was close to
that building, just passing a damaged tank. As I fell to
the ground, the shell exploded on the other side of that
tank. Someone shouted, “Fedorov! Guys! His leg was blown
Russians. Who are they? Some scouts? I looked out and
saw two signalers with a starshina [first sergeant]. I
jumped out and shouted, “Starshina, is Krasniy Bor ours?
“Move faster, they are about to start shelling us
I said, “I’m a pilot; I was shot down and I have
returned from the other side. Let me talk to the company
“Comrade Senior lieutenant, there is some pilot here
from the other side. He wants to talk to you.”
The lieutenant came out of the dugout and said, “Come
But I noticed there was some water on the floor of the
dugout. “My feet are frostbitten; can we go somewhere
“Let’s go to the division command post.”
It was really close, about 15 meters. We went in. There
was a colonel in a black blouse with an Order of the Red
Banner and an Order of Lenin on his chest. (A black
uniform was a special privilege given to naval
officers.) This was a real stroke of luck.
me, the divisional command post was 15 meters away from
the company command post?
was well camouflaged. I reported to this colonel,
“Comrade Colonel, Sergeant Kulakov, shot down on…”
“We saw your fight. Here, have something to eat.”
I said, “I’d like to have some bread, and I need help
with my feet.”
He gave me bread, and I moved to the stove and began to
feel my feet getting warmer. So I said, “I have
something going on with my feet.”
“Don’t worry; we will arrange a stretcher for you.”
“I’ll walk myself; it’s not too far.” As I tried to
stand up I lost consciousness! So they carried me to the
medical battalion (field hospital – looks like MASH from
the famous TV serial). They started to undress me and
cut my boots away. Some girl came forward and I gave her
all the remaining chocolate. Then I said, “Give me back
my pistol.” As soon as I took it, I lost consciousness
When I woke up I couldn’t quite understand where I was;
there were curtains on the windows. I was in an
evacuation hospital in Kolpino. I called out, “Nurse!
I’d like to see a doctor.”
The doctor came to me and asked, “Haven’t you fed him?”
“He was brought in sleeping, with a pistol in his hand.
We thought that he was dead, but he was sleeping. He was
just barely breathing, but hasn’t moved for all this
Why was I gripping my TT? Because infantry soldiers
hunted after them. But I did not give it to anybody.
The doctor said to me, “Don’t worry about your feet, you
will be able to dance.”
A colonel from the “special department” (osobyy otdel)
came to me and I described the situation to him. He told
me, “Well, let’s go to Hospital No. 101.”
My feet were bandaged, so they loaded me into the back
of a truck and brought me to this “hospital.” What I did
not notice at first – there was a guard at the entrance.
So I went in. There was a large hall, no furniture, no
“Go on,” he said, “sit down in that chair.”
still had your pistol?
given it away, and it was in my holster. I sat down and
waited for some time.
“Listen,” I said. “Where are all the doctors?”
“What doctors? You are in a special department.”
“Where? What about ‘Hospital No. 101?’ Who is in charge
A senior lieutenant came up to me, took my pistol away,
and started asking me questions. “Tell me what
I told him everything.
“You can tell this to your girlfriend.” he said. “You
had better tell me what kind of a mission you were on.”
I answered, “What do you mean ‘what kind of mission?’ I
was shot down on the 24th of March, and I returned back
on 28th. I told you where I was, I described my route.
And yes, I saw Germans, but they did not see me.”
“Think some more about what your mission was.”
I said to him, “Call General Yerlykin. Tell him that
Kulakov has returned.”
He said once again, “Think long and hard.”
“There is nothing to think about! Why are you trying to
make a spy out of me?”
“Go and think.”
So I went. They put me in the cellar. There were two
young deserters and an old man already there. It was
cold and damp...
I said to the guard, “The senior lieutenant ordered a
bed to be put in here for me.”
After some time they brought a two-course meal to me.
Later they brought a bed to me. Everything would be
great, except that it was so irritating. The deserters
got nothing. I asked the old man, “Gramps, what are you
“When we started assaulting enemy positions, I became
frightened and hid under some bushes. But they found me
and brought me here.”
I was summoned for interrogation once again.
“So, have you decided to tell the truth?”
“I told you the truth.”
“Write it down.”
I said “Write what? I told you everything. If you want –
“Go and think some more.”
As I left the room, I met an aviation captain.
“Comrade Captain, do you know General Yerlykin?”
He said, “Yes, I do.”
“Please, pass the word to him that Sergeant Kulakov, who
was shot down on the 24th is currently here.
I had access to the newspapers and read there, “Heroic
act by Junior Lieutenant Kulakov. He shot down a Junkers
and a Focke-Wulf.” There was an entire article on the
subject. I thought, “It must be some other Kulakov.” Of
course they did not write about the type of aircraft in
this flight or who else was flying. But actually I was
the main person in this article—a junior lieutenant’s
rank was given to me on the 24th, but no one told me
Two days passed, and on the third day I was called for
“OK,” he said. “Start talking.”
“I told you all I could. I was in Sablino, but I was not
“Do not worry, I will have to write everything down
Then, suddenly, a door opened, and my regiment commander
and commissar walked in. “Son!” (He called me a son, as
I was the youngest in the regiment.) We hugged.
“We would like to congratulate you—you have been
appointed to the rank of junior lieutenant.”
The regiment commander sent me to our hospital in Lisiy
Nos. I spent a week there, and I was sent to Vsevolozhsk
to a recuperation facility. I had some rest, the skin
peeled off of my feet, and everything returned to
normal. Our airfield turned into a marsh and we flew to
Levashovo airfield. It was April of 1943.
you have any contact with naval pilots?
had their own base in Priyutino, while we were stationed
in Kovalevo. PVO was based at Uglovo, Kovalevo,
Gorskaya, and Levashovo.
Levashovo was used for transport aviation?
transport aviation as well.
Grizodubova was stationed there for some time with her
NBAP [night bombers].
This is a
reference to the famous female aviator,
Valentina Grizodubova (1910–1993), who earned
Hero of the Soviet Union in 1938 for a
world-record long-distance flight from Moscow to
Siberia. During the war she commanded a regiment
of long-range aviation (ADD) and later a bomber
were stationed there in 1944, when we flew Cobras.
you came back, from where did you receive a new
some already when I returned. We started flying from
Levashovo. Then, Kovalevo dried out and we returned
Rzhevka was an earthen airfield?
there was no concrete. That’s why we were transferred
either to Levashovo or Gorskaya.
were all-weather airfields?
was made of some black cinders, while in Uglovo there
was a concrete runway. These two were all-weather bases.
were your main missions?
assigned to PVO of Leningrad, 7th IAK PVO, and our main
task was to repel bombers from Leningrad. But due to
lack of forces, we were given tasks not well coordinated
with PVO. We had to fly escorts for reconnaissance
aircraft, forward air controllers, shturmoviks
[ground-attack aircraft], and bombers. We had to strafe
ground forces, although without bombs, and we had to
fight for air superiority.
planes flew as forward air controllers?
escorted Ils from a different regiment?
regiment stationed in Kasimovo. We were given an order
to escort them very early in the morning, so we flew to
Kasimovo in the evening and took off in the morning.
There were six of us covering Ils during the strafing of
you communicating with the Il pilots in flight?
flight leader had a radio connection with the Il leader;
the rest were connected only to each other.
you see the results of the strafing run?
course. We were no higher then 2,000 meters.
Quite commonly we can see a following situation: our
pilots claimed that they destroyed, let’s say 20 enemy
planes, while the Germans claim that they suffered no
They strafed them really good – you know, they attacked
in regiment strength. I say what I saw. And there was a
last crew with a camera that showed the results of the
strike. We were there to keep our planes out of reach of
the enemy fighters.
have claimed two He-111s in one fight?
There were nine of them, and they were going to bomb
Volkhov. We met them to the south from Zhikharevo, and
attacked the last three. Our fighters attacked Fokkers,
and because of that we were free to pick a target of our
pleasure. Litavrin was the leader, I was on his right
wing, and Sysoev was on his left. We attacked them from
below and I shot my target down. Sysoev was shooting at
the left bomber. We began to fire from about 200 meters
and continued until we got to point-blank range.
Litavrin’s plane was damaged and he landed at Volkhov
airfield. Litavrin killed the gunner in his He-111 and I
finished it off. Basically speaking, it was a shared
kill, but it was credited to me as personal.
Smirnov congratulates Kulakov with downing of two He-111
tracers well visible?
you did not hit the aircraft you see how it arc
downward, and if you hit—the tracer would stop at the
plane or it would change trajectory.
you able to see explosions of the bullets on the enemy
see only the tracers. Besides, we had no time to look at
explosions or whatever—we had to look at our tails. For
example, four of us came to Volkhov and we were attacked
by six Fokkers.
I was looking out front, but then something made me turn
my head and I spotted a yellow spinner right behind me.
When he fired at me, I just made a skid and I saw four
tracer lines. I just thought that this was it, but the
German missed! As if it was not enough, he overshot, so
I just pressed left rudder and sprayed him with bullets
from no farther then 50 meters. That’s how I shot down
my second Fokker.
by the side of his airplane (Tactical number 10?) with
you notice anything special about this Focke-Wulf?
It had a
yellow spinner, and I think I saw some kind of painting
on it. It may have been a spiral. And those four
tracers. They shot down 1st pair leader Mikhail
Iosifovich Mukhin and my wingman Vasilii Makukha. They
caught him in a split-S. We lost two planes that time,
but I returned with Petrov.
often would the Germans launch an air raid on Leningrad?
I came to
the regiment in 1943, and at that time air raids were
very infrequent. Mostly they would try to sneak in at
remember any friendly fire?
above Osinovets. Denisenko was shot down on that day. A
Yak-7 tried to get behind me, but I never let anybody at
my tail. The Kittyhawk had a tighter turn, so I easily
outmaneuvered him and positioned myself behind him.
After that the Yak pilot dove down, and I was not going
to chase him. When I landed I was told that it was a Yak
piloted by Germans. I could have shot him down easily.
But I did not know who the pilot was at the time of the
engagement and was afraid to kill one of our own pilots
say that the Kittyhawk was better in terms of
maneuverability than Yaks?
horizontal maneuver? Of course! But the Yak was better
at vertical maneuver. It was a lot faster.
ZAP [reserve air regiment] you flew Yaks and after that
you switched to Kittyhawks. Was there a difference in
piloting these two aircraft?
only several flights in a Yak, so my comparison may not
be correct. In my opinion, the Yak was simpler, but the
Kittyhawk was not so difficult for me either.
cockpit did you prefer?
speaking of comfort—the Kittyhawk. It also had a great
radio, and it even had a relief tube for urination!
the war, you flew the Kittyhawk, Cobra, and Spitfire?
finished out 1943 in Kittyhawks, and on New Year’s Eve
we were sent to Vaziani airbase near Tbilisi to
transition to Cobras.
It was a long journey—at first we went to Moscow, and
after that we flew to Vaziani in a Douglas [C-47 or
left Leningrad via the “Road of Life” or the “road of
blockade had been breached and we traveled by train. We
were even warned not to light up anything in the rail
cars, or the Germans would start shelling. But we
managed to get through without any accidents.
We arrived in Tbilisi and started familiarization with
the Cobras, “box” flying. All the numbers were again in
feet and miles, but it was not a problem.
was the Cobra’s armament?
It had a
cannon and two machine guns.
cannons were in your Cobras?
ones had 20 mm cannons, and later we received aircraft
with the 37 mm.
is your opinion about The Cobra after the Kittyhawk?
you this: we had inappropriate tasks for Cobras, for
example, escort. It was a very weak airplane at low
altitude. It was good above 5,000 meters, and it had
great maneuverability there. Below 5,000 meters, it was
Americans used Cobras as a ground attack aircraft
because it was considered a low-altitude aircraft.
Therefore they maintained the Cobra in their inventory
for a relatively brief period. They dumped them on us.
had some great aces who flew cobras: HSU Andrey Chirkov,
Vasilevich Chirkov, born in 1917, entered the
Soviet Army in 1937 and completed flight
training in 1938. He fought in the
Soviet–Finnish War 1939–40, and in the Great
Patriotic War from June 1941. By June 1943, as
deputy commander for aerial gunnery of the 29th
Guards Fighter Regiment, Guards Major Chirkov
had flown 389 combat missions, and in 60 aerial
engagements had a personal score of 23
(including one ram), and an additional 9 shared
kills.He was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on
4 February 1944. He retired from active duty in
1949 and died in October 1956.
was shot down, and all because of incorrect use of the
Kittyhawk was better in these roles?
of horizontal maneuverability, yes. In terms of vertical
maneuver, and especially in a dive, the Cobra was
better. And the Cobra was a bit, but not decisively
faster. Pokryshkin fought in a Cobra, but we were told
that he had early versions with a more forward center of
gravity. [Pokryshkin flew different versions, not just
early ones. Ed.]
We received Cobras with a rearward center of gravity. We
had three pilots killed in a very short time. Three men
were killed in training, not in combat, and they were
good pilots too. And I know there were a lot of
accidents in 102 GvIAP.
In our regiment, squadron commander Vladimir Krotov was
killed in a training flight. We were sitting at
Gorskaya; he was working out aerobatics and spun to the
ground. He had no chance of recovering, and he crashed
in the Gulf of Finland. In my squadron, Vasiliy Yakovlev
also spun and crashed. Natoka from 1st Squadron… can’t
remember his name.
You know, it spun very specifically, around its own
tail. Everyone was used to normal spins, but it had a
rearward center of gravity. After a series of crashes,
an inspector came from Moscow to show us how to counter
the spins in the Cobra. Some major, I can’t recall his
surname now. He explained everything by word, and
invited regiment commander Bukhteev to try his
recommendations out. We had no double seater, so they
were flying side by side. Bukhteev was the first to try
new technique, but he barely made it! The inspector
himself almost crashed. He landed in Zelenogorsk and we
never saw him again. That’s how our “spin education”
ended. When all our cobras were used up, we got
in 1944 or in 1945?
the end of 1944. I’m not sure. In 1945 we met the column
of victorious soldiers—they were marching along
Moskovskiy Prospect, and we flew toward them at 500
meters altitude. Then we turned around above Pulkovo and
flew in the same direction.
you flew Cobras, you shot down a Brewster. Could you
describe what happened?
covering a Pe-2 which was supposed to take photographs
of Vyborg. It was somewhere around July 1944. Our leader
was the chief of aerial gunnery training, Major Savchuk.
was your rank at the time?
I was a
lieutenant at that time. By the way, I was a squadron
commander at the rank of junior lieutenant. Young pilots
arrived as lieutenants, but I was still a junior
lieutenant. General Antonov once came to our airbase and
said, “You will be commanding a corps in the rank of
And after that I was promoted to full lieutenant.
So, we were sleeping in dugouts, and I was such a heavy
sleeper that I overslept the order to take off. Then,
suddenly, I woke up. “What about the mission?”
“They just took off!”
I ran to my plane and took off with my wingman, Mikhail
Sirotenko. It is quite possible that my lateness saved
As I gained on them, I noticed four Brewsters which were
trying to attack the Pe-2. And, most importantly—my
friends couldn’t see them! I aimed and fired my cannon
from below and behind and hit the last Brewster. It blew
up in mid air! I saw an explosion and some pieces
started to fall off of him.
you sure that those were Brewsters? Finnish archives do
not confirm any losses of these airplanes on this date.
I do not
know. Small, blunt-nosed, but definitely not a
Focke-Wulf. By silhouette, it was a Brewster. But you
know what? We were not looking for camouflage or
markings. We had to shoot them down, and it did not
matter what they were called.
The Peshka made a split-S and I followed her. Meanwhile,
the remaining fighters started a dogfight behind us. But
our main task was achieved—the Pe-2 was safe. If we had
lost it, we could have been court martialed.
know of any such cases?
example HSU Nikolay Zelenov.
Andrianovich Zelenov, born in 1917, entered the
Soviet Army in 1936 and completed flight
training. Fought in the Soviet–Finnish War
1939–40 and the Great Patriotic War from June
1941. By the end of July 1942, while assigned to
the 154th Fighter Regiment, he had flown 382
combat missions and in 47 aerial engagements had
scored 9 personal and 8 shared kills. He was
awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on 10 February
1943. At the time of his death in June 1944, his
score had risen to 31 personal and 10 shared
out on a Pe-2 escort mission. I do not know what exactly
happened, but Fokkers shot several Pe-2s down. He was
sentenced to 10 years, literally. He kept fighting and
was cleared of all guilt.
Andrey Chirkov also was sentenced for 10 years for
crashing a Yak with a mechanic riding inside his
aircraft, behind the pilot’s seat. He wanted to commit
suicide, but Zelenov saw it all and shouted, “Andrey,
what are you doing!”
Chirkov shot himself through both of his cheeks and lost
consciousness. Medics stitched him up and then he was
sentenced to 10 years.
You asked about Plekhanov. Ivan Plekhanov was in our
regiment, and he lost a hand (he had a score of 14 + 2).
This happened before my arrival in the regiment.
Later he went with Bogomazov to receive awards. They
received their awards and remained in the school for
advanced combat training in Lyubertsy, near Moscow.
Bogomazov was the deputy chief of the training center,
and Plekhanov was the chief of the airfield service
battalion. I met both of them in 1943. I saw Plekhanov
there for the first time. They shot him down in his last
engagement, and severed his right hand. But he was able
to bail out; he pulled the pin with his left hand. This
happened in the area of Plekhanovo [locale]. He used to
say: “My last name is Plekhanov; that means that I
should do something spectacular here.”
When they shot me down, they send my relatives the news:
“Your son has died.” Well, later they wrote a letter
that I was alive, but my father and mother were worried.
My regiment commander, Stepan Yefimovich Ponomarchuk,
gave me 10 days of leave. And I flew to Moscow on a
routine Li-2, to Lyubertsy. There Grisha Bogomazov met
“Let’s go to the cafeteria. I’m a Hero now, and we must
Ivanovich Bogomazov, born in 1918, entered the
Soviet Army and completed flight training in
1938. As a deputy squadron commander in the
158th Fighter Air Regiment, by July 1943 Senior
Lieutenant Bogomazov had flown 350 combat
sorties and in 50 aerial engagements had scored
12 personal and 4 shared victories. He was
awarded the rank Hero of the Soviet Union on 2
September 1943. He retired from active duty at
the rank of colonel in 1969.
laid a table. Plekhanov, Grisha Bogomazov, and Valentin
Makarov, Hero of the Soviet Union and native of
Nikolaevich Makarov was born in 1919, entered
the Soviet Army in 1936, and completed flight
training in 1938. As a flight commander in the
32nd Guards Fighter Air regiment, by September
1943 Senior Lieutenant Makarov had flown 132
combat sorties, and in 51 aerial engagements
shot down 13 enemy aircraft. He was awarded Hero
of the Soviet Union on 28 September 1943. He
continued in service after the war, retiring in
1957 at the rank of colonel.
was in Moscow at the time. This was the 6th of November
1943. I remember the date because the Kremlin cafeteria
made us a special cake. We drank and ate finger food,
then decided to go see Vasiliy Stalin in the Kremlin.
Bogomazov and Plekhanov knew Vasiliy Stalin—they had
attended flight school with him.
They were captains and a major (Makarov), and all Heroes
of the Soviet Union, and there I was—a junior lieutenant
with one Order of the Red Star. I had only ten days of
leave, and I had to visit my parents. So I told them to
go to the Kremlin, and I was going home! They
accompanied me to Kursk Railroad Station, we bought a
ticket for me, sat together for a while, and I left.
They went to see Vasiliy Stalin. He met with them, and
they later told me that at the time he was “under the
supervision” of his father. “We sat in a separate room,
drank, and everything was normal. Then we left.”
touched upon the matter of awards. What awards did you
received my first Order of the Red Star for two downed
aircraft. They disapproved a Red Banner. They thought it
would be inappropriate to give out a Red Banner right
away, that I should earn a Red Star first. My next
decoration was Order of the Patriotic War II Degree, and
later Order of the Patriotic War I Degree. Then came the
Order of Lenin, and another Order of the Red Star. This
one was for mastering jet technology in complex flight
conditions. So altogether I have three Orders of the Red
Star, Three Orders of the Patriotic War, and the Order
premiership of Mikhail Gorbachev, surviving
World War II veterans were given an Order of the
Patriotic War. Some veterans did not value this
award because it was bestowed by an unpopular
political figure, while others discounted it
because it had been issued in such large
your opinion, were commissars needed?
tell you that commissars, if they were needed, should
have been flying. And not all of them flew.
We had our own Leshkevich, squadron commissar, and he
did not fly.
“I am not a pilot!” He said. “I want to fight!”
He got what he wanted. They transferred him to ground
forces, and he was killed somewhere around Novgorod.
During an offensive, I think.
Our regiment commissar was Zloy. That was his family
name. [Zloy means “angry” or “malicious” in Russian.]
But he was utterly not malicious. He was a good man, a
former pilot. He was taken off of flight status for
osobisty [special department officers] needed?
I met with them when they checked me out after my return
[from behind the lines].
I had a conversation with the Osobisty once. I will tell
you everything that I know.
The war had ended. In 1952, when I was already flying
jets, I submitted a request to attend academy, to study.
Suddenly one day, a notification comes to the regiment
navigator, Tatarchuk, and to flight commander Borya
Kravchenko. But I, the commander of 1st Squadron, did
not receive a notification. I asked Kulkin, “Comrade
commander, why no notification for me? My 1st Squadron
is the best. We have not had any flying incidents. We
are training constantly. Why?
He made a telephone call to the secret department and
asked them to bring him something. He handed me a
document case. “Read this.”
It was labeled “Personal file of Captain Kulakov.” I
read, “. . . do not recommend for higher training.” It
was signed by Major Voblikov, the chief of the special
department of the division. I had never laid eyes on
A day or so later, we had a party business meeting. The
chief of staff, Ivan Pavlovich Taranenko, the general,
and Colonel Nikolaev—the chief of the army special
department, came to the meeting. (We had armies then. It
was called the 25th Army, I think.) He was crippled—he
had lost his leg during GPW.
When they had made their reports, speeches began. I
asked to speak.
“Comrades! You know me. I flew and fought with you. Now
I am transitioning my squadron to new equipment. They
trust me to do that, but it turns out that I am what—an
American spy? I’m suitable to fight, but I’m an enemy
that can’t be trained?”
I spoke directly.
“What’s this? Why? I submitted a request to go to the
academy, and they refused me. Because I was shot down
and four days later I made my way back to our lines. I
saw the Germans. True, they did not see me. And I fought
again, they trusted me. But now, they do not trust me.”
Well, everyone began to speak out immediately, and they
disrupted the meeting. Then the osobist, Colonel
Nikolaev, stood up.
“Come see me tomorrow. Something is not right here, and
we will take care of it.”
I went to the army headquarters. I think it was on
Desyataya Krasnoarmeyskaya Ulitsa [10th Red Army Street]
in Leningrad, near Troitskiy Cathedral—the one with blue
cupolas, the only church with blue cupolas in Leningrad.
I went in there, and they said to me, “Tell us your
Well, I told the whole story again, and wrote it down as
“Go home. You will receive notification.”
The notification to report to the academy came, and I
Time passed, and once again I met with an osobist. But
now I was a division commander, a colonel. We were at
Gorelovo. There was a knock on my door. “Comrade
Colonel, may I come in?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Comrade Colonel, Major Voblikov, reporting for duty!”
It was like a blow to the head—Voblikov!
“Voblikov? Well, come in, Comrade Major; sit down.”
We began to converse. It turns out that he was no longer
an osobist, and had been sent to us as the chief of the
radio-technical section. I gave an order.
“Chimazov, Sasha. Bring me Voblikov’s personal file.”
His file told everything: where, what, when. His entire
career up to this moment was in the special department.
Beginning in 1948, special departments had been
disbanded and their officers, in order not to be
discharged from active duty, were reassigned to
conventional units in accordance with their accession
I said to him, “Do you remember Captain Kulakov?”
“No, Comrade Colonel. I have not met this person and
never knew him.”
“Well, how could we not have met? You wanted to ruin my
career. You have never laid eyes on me, and I am looking
at you for the first time. How is this?”
His facial expression changed rapidly.
“Well, all right. But if you intend to walk over more
bodies, you will be in for some unpleasantness.”
That was the end of that. These were my meetings with
I consider that checking, of course, was necessary. As
they say, “trust, but verify.” But what did they try to
do to me in the special department? There were good
people, and there were scum, who slandered other people,
who wrote denunciations. This is what I found upsetting.
I understand you correctly, commissars were necessary,
and osobisty were necessary?
course. But you know how they puffed themselves up. They
had to be deflated.
were a party member. When did this occur?
accepted me into the party in 1943, after I was shot
down. In regards to the party, now they look at it in
two ways. But in our time, the commissar selected those
who flew well, who fought well. And they recommended me.
“It’s time for you to join the party.”
I replied, “The party? I’m not ready. I’m still young.”
I was a Komsomol member. I submitted an application to
join the party, and they accepted it. Our zampolit
Smirnov—he became our commissar after Zloy—congratulated
me at the airfield.
Party members were expected to assume responsibility.
“If you are a Communist; that means you are in the front
ranks.” This is how it was. You could not shirk; you had
to be the example. And indeed it was so. We flew, and we
fought, and we did not show weakness.
are many who say that the lieutenants won the war. That
it was the young soldiers who won. Those who began and
finished flight school during the war itself.
lieutenants? I would not say that. What kind of
lieutenants are you referring to?
you yourself said that your regiment commander did not
fly. Who did fly?
squadron commander flew. Litavrin fought from the very
beginning of the war, and became a Hero of the Soviet
Union. How about Grisha Bogomazov, and Serezha Demenkov?
All of them received Hero of the Soviet Union already in
continued to fly as a Hero?
an even better pilot. Or take Shishkan, Hero of the
Soviet Union. He died in 1943, at Kovalevo over the
airfield. At that time no one had the sense to sit in an
airplane and guide him down by radio. They sat with
their mouths open and watched as Germans attacked him
over the airfield. He received newcomers to the 3rd
Squadron and led the young pilots. His wingman Plyakin
got afraid and fled. Later he shot himself over this. In
general he was a strong fighter, but on this occasion
evidently his nerves gave out. The other guys refused to
fly with him, and some said that if they encountered him
in the air, they would shoot him down themselves. He
could not stand up to this. You know, one could forgive
a mistake in combat; but cowardice—never. It would have
been better if he had simply said “That’s all, guys, I
am drained.” (Vladimir Andreevich Plyakin, Senior
Lieutenant, 10 victories, ended his own life in suicide
on 31 November 1943.)
When they shot down Shishkan, he bailed out. He had
never jumped before this occasion. He was afraid to
jump. He came out of his aircraft in disarray—he pulled
his ring while still in the cockpit, and thirteen of his
shroud lines broke. He came down in swampy terrain; but
with bad luck he fell on the driest spot. He lived two
hours, long enough to make it to a hospital. He died in
Generally speaking, was it easy to jump out of the
Kittyhawk? Didn’t you bail out twice?
was easy. I bailed once, though.
did the safety harness fit you? Did it secure you to the
seat? Did you use the shoulder straps?
I did not
use the shoulder harness. The same was generally true of
other pilots. We only used the seat belt.
Cobra or the Kittyhawk—how would you compare them with
German aircraft? With the Messer and the Fokke-Wulf? In
your opinion, was it possible to fight on a par with
first Cobras, on which Pokryshkin fought, were good. As
I said before, their center of gravity was forward, and
they fought well.
did they have a forward center of gravity? Why do you
Cobra? Because there were descriptions of them. The
first ones [that came over]—the center of gravity was
forward, and later they changed the design. I do not
know exactly how, but their center of gravity shifted
rearward. Therefore, they said, the Americans refused
them and they gave them to us. They would not give us
did you compare with the German fighters? Were your
fighters inferior to the Germans’? Were they equal?
if I had actually fought with them in fighters, then I
Weren’t you in a dogfight?
the Kittyhawk, yes. But in the Cobra—not once. Only that
time with the Brewsters. As I already told you, I only
fired at him. I hit him and that was that. But not once
was I in a genuine dogfight. In the Kittyhawk—I did
engage in dogfighting.
They shot us down in Kittyhawks when the pilot did not
see the threat. If you saw them, they could not shoot
you down. It happened many times. I flew with side-slip
and got away. One only needed to spot them in time. But
if I missed, if even for a second I did not spot a
Fokker, of course he would get me.
about your attitude toward the German pilots? How were
they as professionals?
I do not
know how they were on other fronts. In PVO we always had
to fight defensive combat. They were always above us,
and we were always below them. This was always a
But we had our Heroes of the Soviet Union here.
Karpov—Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, he fought in
Yaks.28 Even the Germans, when he took off, announced
over the radio: Achtung! Achtung! Karpov is in the air.
this really happen? Did you hear this with your own
personally did not hear this. I never met Karpov, not
once. This was said about the 27th Regiment.
Sixty-plus years have passed since that time. Give us
your personal opinion. If a German came up to you and
said that he had fought at Leningrad, would you be able
to shake his hand? Would you be able to talk to him as
one man to another?
I would talk to him. Why not talk? He was following
orders. If he was a pilot, why not talk to him. It was
different then. Back then, I would not have lifted a
hand, of course. He was an enemy.
In regards to their pilots, we did not have a bad
opinion. We thought of them as professionals. Why?
Because they frequently shot us down in the Kittyhawks.
I repeat, those who were not watchful—they shot down.
Vorozheykin, Twice Hero of the Soviet Union. He spoke a
phrase that comes to mind: He who has not felt the
drumming of machine gun bullets on his seat armor cannot
become a Hero of the Soviet Union.
a measure of truth in this phrase, but it did not have
to be on the seat armor; it could be anywhere on the
airplane. When they shot me down, Shishkan, Hero of the
Soviet Union, said, “Because they shot you down in your
first battle, but they did not kill you, you will live a
long life.” And indeed, I began to watch my tail. All
the time I watched my Kittyhawk’s tail.
Another thing about who won the war in the air. They say
that 50 percent of the victory is the contribution of
the technicians, the technical staff, those who prepared
mechanic prepares the aircraft; but he was not in the
battle. But if he prepared it poorly, then even a good
pilot cannot fight in it. And one cannot forget the
conditions in which they worked. When we returned from a
sortie, they fed us. But my technician, the flight
technician, they were not even permitted to take an
extra piece of bread. They were swollen from hunger. If
you gave them bread, they would not accept it. “It’s
inappropriate. We can’t.”
He couldn’t even rotate the inertial starter on the
Kittyhawk—he didn’t have the strength.
We snuck bread from the cafeteria for the old women in
Kovalevo, where we lived in their houses. The
technicians would not take it from us.
you have any occasions when [someone] handed off their
kills to a comrade, as if to say, “You do not have
enough for Hero; take these, and later you will get a
score and credit it to me.”
the Heroes received that rank through their own effort,
for their own kills. In the period in which I fought,
you would never hear such talk.
Later, keep in mind that in PVO the engagements were
primarily defensive. In these cases, you did not shoot
someone down in every engagement, but only engaged in a
brief dogfight and it was over. And the results were
were your missions assigned? For example, go out to
provide cover: hang around at such-and-such altitude in
so-and-so quadrant, don’t go anywhere else?
said anything, it was specific. Quadrant such-and-such,
or “to the area of Krasnyy Bor.” They gave us an
altitude, for example, “3,000 meters” there. And you
flew there at that altitude.
were a pilot—this was, we will say, your work. What kind
of monetary compensation did you receive?
I received 500 rubles, I think. I was a sergeant. Later
a thousand and some. This was when I was a junior
bonuses were available? For number of sorties? For
were bonuses for victories: 1,000 rubles for a fighter,
and 1,500 or 2,000 rubles for a bomber. I cannot
remember precisely now.
they take deductions from you for the defense fund?
almost all of our salary to the defense fund. We
received very little money. A portion of my pay went to
my parents. The rest all went into the fund. We
subscribed to it ourselves and donated ourselves.
they pay you for decorations?
decorations? No. They did not pay during the war. They
did pay after the war. We accumulated coupons and then
received payment. I received mine for the Red Star—15
rubles, I think—and for the Order of the Patriotic
War—20 rubles. They paid 25 rubles for the Order of
Lenin, I think, but I don’t remember exactly. (These
were monthly payments.) In 1947, I think, we collected
up all the coupons, went out, and spent it on drinks.
they pay for “guards” status?
for “guards.” They added an appreciable amount, not
quite half [of base pay].
were you able to buy here in Leningrad with your pay?
liter of vodka cost 600 rubles. 600 rubles!
loaf of bread?
not buy bread. We had an unlimited supply in the
was the procedure for confirmation of aerial victories?
Confirmation came from the pilots that flew [the
mission], if they survived the battle and saw anything.
Confirmation also came from ground units. I fired my
guns in the battle over Krasnyy Bor, but was not sure I
had hit anything. Right after I returned from behind
enemy lines, they informed me I had scored two kills.
when you shot down the Brewster?
flight crews that were there and saw it, including the
crew of the “Peshka,” provided confirmation.
In general, the majority of confirmations came from
ground forces, because our own units were all around the
area over which we flew.
they pay you the money for the victories right away, or
later? Or did it go on your account?
recall, they paid it directly to us.
was your most desirable mission, and what was your least
desirable mission was to intercept bombers. This was
especially ideal when they did not have any escort
the least desirable?
desirable was to escort ground-attack aircraft
[shturmoviki], or a reconnaissance aircraft, or to cover
a forward air controller. Because you could not become
separated from them, and we were PVO. We had completely
different tactics and different practices. The more so
in the “flat iron” Cobra! What kind of cover is that? We
ourselves became the target.
was easier to shoot down—a bomber or a fighter?
depended on from what position and what range you fired.
If you fired too early—it was useless. When you fired at
a bomber, if you hit the cabin or the engine, with a
solid burst, it was a great feeling. It was especially
good when you hit the cabin.
you know that the Germans called the glass cabin on the
Junkers [Ju-88] and the Heinkel [He-111] Totenkopf—dead
head? Because if you hit there, then everyone—the entire
shot up a Junkers in the cabin, and as it began to fall,
the results were very clear.
there any occasions in your regiment, when someone would
add non-existing downed aircraft to his own score?
arrived, this would have been very difficult—we had very
few engagements that resulted in kills. Everything
happened in full view.
you hear of cases when someone offered a deal, like, for
example, “I will give you a victory, and you give me
your calfskin boots.” This is just an example, I am
dressed all of us very well. The Leningraders had their
traditions. One time, Antonov [division commander] came
to our unit. He was looking around, and Kolya Galanin’s
boots were falling apart. He immediately summoned the
chief of supply. The chief of supply was wearing good
boots. Antonov ordered the chief of supply to remove his
boots and hand them over to Galanin. “And if I ever see
pilots in ragged boots again, you will go barefooted
until the end of the war.”
you wear leather?
did not issue us leather. We did not receive raglan
about leather jackets?
leather jackets. We all walked around in them. I think I
received my jacket at the end of 1943.29
did you receive this leather jacket?
It was a
supply issue item. I tell you, it was hot when we flew.
One time I took off in my greatcoat. It saved my life.
It was the first time I had forgotten to take it off.
it interfere, the skirt of the coat?
you did up the straps and sat on it. On the whole you
could twist your trunk and neck.
the silk scarf, what color was it?
them. It was white and pale blue—striped.
asked naval pilot Nikolay Filippovich Polkanov this same
question. They write this about Pokryshkin, that he
thought up the “scissors,” the “swing”—up, down. Did you
use these maneuvers?
if we had had a better fighter, it would have been
better. I used them in the Cobra. We used the
“scissors,” in horizontal plane, not in vertical. I
don’t know if it came from Pokryshkin or someone else.
But absolutely in pairs, and if you were in a pair, the
trailing pair should provide cover. We were already
asked this question because when I asked one pilot, he
replied that if the Lavochkin had carried as much fuel
as the Cobra, he would have used many tactical
innovations himself. And if the coverage area was
limited to a strictly determined time, then he was
primarily obligated to use this time in patrolling at an
is correct. You could not depart the coverage zone
before the designated time. You flew around the area,
come what may. You had to hold on and keep to the time
schedule. This was an advantage to the Germans and not
to our side. We flew at this low speed and he made a run
at us. As a rule, he came in at a higher speed. We
always had to endure such a fight.
continue. I said to him, “What did you do at this low
He responded, “I will come at him head-on. And in order
not to miss the oncoming enemy, there is a silk scarf,
which protects your neck from irritation.
because you rotated your head so much. Your head was
turning through 360 degrees. This is true!
in your opinion, did your regiment conduct its heaviest
was fighting? This was during the breakthrough in 1943,
especially in the summer. Later, it was weaker, and then
they sent us off for transition training. Therefore,
when the heavy fighting occurred here, we were receiving
Cobras. We did not have to fly—we got stuck. We flew out
of Vaziani and landed at Millerovo airfield; it had
this the Millerovo near Stalingrad?
the Salsk steppe. We sat there approximately a month.
They did not take us out of there. The airfield was
us. Could you distinguish a Finnish fighter from a
encountered Finnish fighters over Finnish territory only
one time, when we were escorting a “Peshka.” Other than
the incident with the Brewster, I never saw them.
Approximately how many sorties did you make in a day?
recall any more than three sorties. In 1943 we had to
make up to three sorties in a day. On the day when I was
shot down, and I fell in German territory, we had just
landed from a combat sortie, refueled, and the green
rocket! A green rocket meant take off.
Germans write in their memoirs that they flew up to
12–15 sorties in a day.
know. Our missions were different. Imagine—you go out on
free hunt, you pick off a bunch of scatter brains. But
this is not a battle—it is murder.
possible to shoot down 17 aircraft in one or two
Seventeen? I would say it depends on what your mission
was and what kind of aircraft. Let’s say you encountered
a group of, for example, Ju-87s. Of course it’s possible
to take them down because they sometimes even flew
without rear gunners. But if you are talking about
fighters—just try it! Try to dogfight with them! You
will have to go to extreme effort just to shoot down
one. The Germans, if they see the escort, will try to
climb to avoid confrontation.
you have earphones in your helmet?
see the earphones in the photos. They are ours–Russian
you talk to us about radio discipline? Normally they
write that radio discipline was bad—too much chatter
over the radio.
not say that. Of course, it happened, along with
cursing. But they said only what was necessary: course
such-and-such, altitude so-and-so. You responded with
“Roger!” And you shut up. Then, sometimes you gave
warnings: “Look, over there, Fokker,” or “Someone is
coming at your back.”
did you converse? By call sign, by nickname, by last
a call sign. Mine was “21.”
your aircraft number, or what?
accordance with the squadron number. Arkadiy Morozov was
“20,” and I—the deputy—was “21.” More than that I don’t
remember. But those were our call signs.
your regiment executed rams?
tactic—flying one’s aircraft purposefully into
an enemy aircraft—was frequently employed early
in the war (over 400 incidents annually in 1941
and 1942). Its use fell off somewhat in 1943 and
1944 (200 incidents annually), and decreased
markedly after the issuance of an order in
August 1944 forbidding its use (20 in 1945).
got there, in our regiment Slava Totmin and Zhukov did
Yakovlevich Totmin (1919–1942) joined the Soviet
Army in 1939 and completed flight training in
1940. As a pilot in the 158th Fighter Air
Regiment, Starshina destroyed an enemy aircraft
by ramming on 4 July 1941. He downed an
additional enemy aircraft on 20 July, and was
awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on 22 July
1941. He was killed in battle on 23 October
was the first. He did it twice, in fact.
Petrovich Zhukov (1917–1943) joined the Soviet
Army in 1938 and completed flight training in
1940. As a pilot in the 158th Fighter Air
Regiment, having exhausted his ammunition
supply, Junior Lieutenant Zhukov executed a ram
of an enemy bomber on 29 June 1941. He landed
safely, and was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union
on 8 July 1941. He was killed in air combat on
12 January 1943.
If I am
not mistaken, Zukov was one of the first three Heroes of
the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War. Zhukov,
Zdorovtsev, and a third whose name I don’t remember.
Later there was a regiment commander; his name was
Nikolaevich Kharitonov was born in 1922, joined
the Soviet Army in 1939, and completed flight
training in 1940. As a flight commander in the
123rd Fighter Air Regiment, by April 1942 Senior
Lieutenant Kharitonov had flown 281 combat
sorties and in 58 aerial engagements scored 9
personal and 11 group victories. He was awarded
the rank Hero of the Soviet Union on 10 February
1943. He retired from active duty in 1958 at the
rank of colonel.
was the attitude in the regiment regarding ramming?
general, the ram was a very serious thing. People had
various opinions about it. Some said that a “rammer” was
a Hero, and some said that one should have good gunnery
skills, and then ramming would not be necessary.
you hear anything about aviation units that were made up
of shtrafniki? Were aviators sent to penal aviation
(plural strafniki) was a soldier or officer who
was sent to a penal unit for misconduct. In the
ground forces, penal units were assigned
exceptionally dangerous and difficult missions.
Strafniki who survived duty in a penal unit had
the opportunity to exculpate their guilt and be
returned to their former unit and status. But a
large percentage of strafniki did not survive
the experience. [JG]
heard of such a unit. I know we did not have them in
PVO. We had people who were sentenced to confinement for
something, but then they flew in their regiments and
exculpated their guilt.
us, please, about the three ground-attack sorties you
are credited with during the war.
sorties? In ground attack? I don’t even remember.
must be said, that you achieved remarkable results. You
had 19 aerial engagements and six victories. Generally
speaking, such efficiency of results is very rare.
I think I
had 20 engagements. But these were such occasions that
not to shoot something down was impossible.
was your attitude toward German pilots during the war?
German pilots were very well trained and they had good
tactics. They knew not to engage when you had altitude
advantage over them. They would fly off, gain altitude,
and then come back to bite you.
engagement you shot down two bombers. The question
arises—where was their fighter cover? You said their
tactics were good.
also said that we were lucky. Because our fighters had
tied down their escorts. And we took them out with no
fired upon a minimum of three bombers Did their gunners
hinder you? In general, did they represent a danger to
They had no less desire to live than did we. When I
landed, I found bullet holes in my aircraft wings. The
other battle also resulted in bullet holes for my plane.
They offered resistance. A gunner hit Serezha Litavrin.
He landed in Plekhanovo.
deficiencies did you observe in German pilots?
Deficiencies? The fact that they conducted battles only
when they had superiority. We accomplished our mission
in any conditions, and they did not.
the Germans make head-on passes?
never happened to me. But Totmin—one time he rammed a
German in a head-on attack. He took off during an attack
on our airfield, struck the wing of a Messer with his
wing, and then Totmin zoomed upward in his “Ishak”
[Polikarpov I-16] and bailed out. The German crashed
directly on our airfield.
your regiment did you know any last names of German aces
or their call signs?
some names, but not call signs. For example, on the
Leningrad front, there was a Major Filipp.
about Trautloft? Novotny?
No, I did
not know these names.
the Cobra—you said you did not like it?
I did not like the Cobra.
not? Many praised it. For example, Ovsyannikov said that
a stall in a Cobra was nothing to fear. Only that it
was in a stall; perhaps I would have come out of it as
well. During my flight experience, that never happened
to me. But we lost people in our regiment: squadron
commander, my friend, Volodya Krotov; and in my own
squadron, flight commander Yakovlev also died in a
Cobra. In the 1st Squadron, there was Natoka.
But it happened; you stalled out but recovered. Kostya
Rozenshteyn, one of my pilots, went into a stall but
recovered at the last moment.
Overall, we had fewer losses in combat. Whom did we lose
in combat? Here is a photograph of me with my squadron
commander, Morozov (I was his deputy) alongside Cobra
bort (tactical) number 055. They shot him down in 1944.
Who shot him down—the Finns or Germans—we don’t know.
All four died. They were flying at low altitude, buzzing
the border, toward the Finnish side, toward Priozersk.
He was leading a four-ship and took Kolya Galanin and
two young pilots with him.
We had just received replacements. I had said, “Arkasha,
I’m going to fly with you, as you are going to fly with
the young and inexperienced pilots. I’m going to go with
“No, you have your own young pilots to worry about. I
will go with them and show them the battle area.”
I was also in the air; I heard over the radio that they
were in a fight. I heard my call sign—“21,” and
his—“20.” I asked, “Where are you, ‘20’? Where are you
But communications was interrupted and we never heard
from them again. We lost the entire four-ship flight.
There was no trace of them.
Later we learned that they had been shot down. They
found Kolyamagin in the bay, already after the war, in
his Cobra. They never found the other three. (17 June
1944, the following did not return from a combat mission
on P-39s: Senior Lieutenant Arkadiy Ivanovich Morozov;
Junior Lieutenants Nikolay Yakovlevich Galanin,
Kolyamagin, and Vorobev.)
Squad commander -2 Kulakov and his Squad commander
Arkadii Morozov, 1944
they raise the aircraft of one of these four near
Priozersk? His last name began with “K,” I think.
would have been Kolyamagin; they brought him up. Before
this, it was not known where they went down. I went to
visit his parents in 1954, when I was studying at the
academy. His father was Ivan, but I don’t recall his
They told me there was interest from the special
department for a year; that perhaps he would reappear,
perhaps he had been captured.
The entire four-ship flight perished on Cobras.
about the organization of time off and life support; how
was this done during the war? I’m referring to meals,
bathing, movies, and books.
began the war, we pilots lived in Kovalevo. Today this
is Rzhevka airfield. Now the “new Russians” have built
upscale housing there; the old ones are gone.
Our squadron lived in one private home. If one looked
through the forest from the airfield, our home was
immediately opposite. An old woman lived there with her
daughter. All the pilots were in one room, and the
squadron commander lived by himself.
The white nights [the Leningrad area is located at a
latitude that permits 24 hours of light for a limited
period during the summer] lit up the place, and we
curtained off the windows so we could sleep normally.
Many men were not able to sleep during white nights.
well did you eat?
us normally. When we went there, we thought Leningrad
was starving. And at first we were ashamed to take even
an extra slice of bread. But we had a limitless supply
of bread on our table. Well, after the reserve regiment,
the food was excellent. They fed us a first, second, and
third course. The menu was diverse, they fed us
normally; nothing to be upset about.
We did have a problem with the technicians. We took
bread from the cafeteria for our landlord, for the old
woman, but if you offered a piece of bread to a
technician, he would refuse it. And their caloric norm
was different than ours. They were even swollen from
hunger. As I already told you, my mechanic Avetisyan
lacked the strength to rotate the starter on my
did you occupy yourselves during the quiet times?
various ways. We played chess. I read a lot. The
landlord of the apartment where Sergey Litavrin lived
had a large book collection. She let me read them. I
loved to read.
We also went to concerts. Concerts were held in the
officers’ club. It is still located at Kirochnaya. By
the way, the pilot Maresev came to meet with us there;
this was at the end of 1943 or early 1944. When I saw
him then, he was a major.
Petrovich Maresev, born in 1916, entered the
Soviet Army in 1937 and completed flight
training in 1940. He was shot down in April 1942
and spent 18 days behind enemy lines. After
returning to Soviet control, both of his legs
were amputated at the knees. Through enormous
strength of will, he returned to flight status
in June 1943, and during the Kursk battle shot
down three enemy aircraft. He was awarded Hero
of the Soviet Union on 24 August 1943. He
remained on active duty until 1946.
Shulzhenko performed for us at Lisiy Nos, at the
airfield. And Ruslanova, but in this case at the
officers’ club. I think I went to two of her concerts.
This was amazing; I have remembered it my entire life.
We also went to see a play at Pushkin Theater.
did they select you to go to concerts? By some sort of
command-selection procedure? Or anyone who wanted to
who wanted to go. But some did not want to do these
things, and others were unable. There were also meetings
with students, with school children.
One time in 1943, with Demenkov, who was a Hero of the
Soviet Union then, we went to the opening at Nevskiy
Pyatachok of a plant or hydro-electric station. There
was a meeting there and speeches.
Kulakov, SqC -3 Demenkov
said you had a technician—Avetisyan, an Armenian. In
light of today’s events, did the nationality question
ever come up?
pilots Rozenshteyn—he was a Jew, Vasya Yakovlev—a
Russian, and Mishka Voytikhovich—a Belorussian. Later on
I had another Jew—Girdal.
No issues associated with any kind of special attitude
toward various nationalities ever came up. None. Our
commissar was Leshkevich—a Jew. We respected him.
Earlier he had taught at a university; they drafted him
from the university. He read lectures to us; he was a
highly educated comrade. Thus there were no issues with
there superstitions at the front? Before take off?
were, there were. What kind? To be photographed before a
sortie was a bad omen. Some were unable to shave before
mission. But I, for example, shaved. No one wanted the
number 13. We avoided “13.” In my opinion, there were no
aircraft in the regiment with the bort number “13.”
for example, said that he flew with number “13” for the
entire war. He picked that number himself.
Arkadevich Barsht (1919–2007) joined the Soviet
Army in 1938, and completed flight training in
1940. As a squadron commander in the 118th
Separate Forward Observer–Reconnaissance Air
Regiment, by April 1945 Major Barsht had flown
365 combat sorties in reconnaissance and
adjustment of artillery fire. He downed four
enemy aircraft. He was awarded Hero of the
Soviet Union on 10 April 1945. He retired at the
rank of colonel in 1965.
were fanatics—some adored the number “13.” But I told
you how it was in my unit. I never encountered this,
which would be the last word.
you fly at night?
did not fly at night then. We escorted some Il-2s in the
dark one time to Siverskaya. We took off very early in
the morning. We initially assembled with lights, and
then turned them off.
Approximately how many sorties did you have to make in a
say three or four. It was possible to fly five–ten in
front VVS units (we were PVO), when there was an
offensive underway or conversely an active defense in
their sector. They kept us, on the other hand, on a
tight leash, in the event the enemy should make a move
namely on Leningrad, and then they would scramble us.
The remaining sorties, for example for escort or for
ground attack, were planned in advance.
I don’t even recall how many ground-attack sorties we
have several questions about Lend-lease. Did they
deliver Lend-lease food products to you? American
Tushenka was a
canned stewed meat [pork], prepared in American
meat processing plants in conformance with the
Soviet-provided recipe. According to an October
1945 National Geographic Magazine article, some
250,000 tons of this meat were delivered to the
Soviet Union during the war.
I did not
know what tushenka was. I rarely received a dry ration.
But when we flew to get new aircraft, they issued us a
about clothing? Leather?
did you receive the clothing? Separately at a supply
received clothing individually at a supply facility in
Kovalevo, and at other airfields, also at supply
facilities. Now I don’t remember the frequency of
exchange. We walked around in calf-leather boots. They
recognized us as Leningraders when we arrived to pick up
airplanes—it was immediately obvious—the Leningraders
are coming. We wore yellow blouses made from English
fabric. The color tended slightly toward brown. In
general it was good material. And those jackets... The
trousers were fur-lined.
as the jackets. Brown, they were all brown, both the
jacket and trousers. We did not wear warm trousers,
because the heater in the Kittyhawk would cook you.
how did it happen that you took off in your greatcoat?
told you—I had no time to take it off.
what I mean is if you wore a leather jacket, then why
did you have a greatcoat?
time we had not received these leather jackets, and we
walked around in greatcoats.
Americans frequently write that they sent us various
gifts, deposited in airplanes and in tanks. Is this
never anything in an airplane. Perhaps it happened, but
we did not know about it.
possible they were already cleaned out?
receive gifts, but not in the airplane, but in parcels.
We gave them all to the technical personnel. We did not
Our gifts arrived through the mail. If it was vodka, we
kept it; but all the rest: honey and things like that,
we gave to the technicians. We had enough. Our ration
included chocolate. When they shot me down, there were
three chocolate bars in the NZ [untouchable supply].
Without it, I don’t know how I would have survived.
possible to say that Lend-lease equipment influenced the
raising of our technical culture?
have to address that question to the engineers. This
equipment was more demanding—it was not well-suited to
our conditions. The airplane took off, and the
technician trembled and worried. Like in the film V boy
idut odni stariki [The old men go to battle alone]. But
to me this was the best film I had ever seen. It was the
most authentic; of course, it contained some minor
errors, but excluding that, it was the most true to
the work on Lend-lease equipment influence the tactics
and organization of the equipment’s combat employment?
combat employment was just the same as for our own
aircraft. Well, the radio equipment was better, and as I
have already told you, the radio saved us. The radio
alone helped us to avoid many losses. You could talk
through it just the same as you and I are talking here
now. And the Kittyhawk had excellent visibility. One had
only to turn his neck.
us about Heroes of the Soviet Union that served in the
became Heroes passed through our regiment. Many.
Ivan Plekhanov—I met him in Moscow after he had already
lost his arm. Pokryshev began with us38.
Afanasyevich Pokryshev (1914–1967) joined the
Soviet Army in 1934. He completed flight school
in 1935 and served in the Soviet–Finnish War
1939–40. As a squadron commander inthe 154th
Fighter Air Regiment, by July 1942 he had flown
211 combat sorties, and in 38 aerial engagements
scored 11 personal and 7 shared victories. He
received his first Hero of the Soviet Union
award on 10 February 1943. He received his
second Hero of the Soviet Union award on 24
August 1943 as commander of the 159th Fighter
Air Regiment for 282 combat sorties, 50 aerial
engagements, and scores of 22/7 enemy aircraft.
began with us.
Ivanovich Matveev (1911–1942) joined the Soviet
Army in 1930 and completed flight training in
1933. He participated in the Soviet–Finnish War
1939–40. As a squadron commander in the 154th
Fighter Air Regiment, on 8 July 1941 Captain
Matveev, having exhausted his ammunition, rammed
an enemy aircraft while defending the skies
above Leningrad. He was awarded Hero of the
Soviet Union on 22 July 1941. He perished in
combat on 1 January 1942.
personally served with Litavrin, Demenkov, Bogomazov,
and Shishkan. There was Kharitonov, or rather the
Kharitonovs—there were two of them. I‘m talking about
the one who was later regiment commander in Tikhvin. He
received Hero in our regiment, and then was sent there.
There are also Zhukov, Totmin; they were the first to
die. They were Heroes.
Zdorovtsev. Starshina, I think he was still. They were
the first three: Zhukov, Zdorovtsev, and Totmin.
about Pilyutov and Oskalenko? Were they yours?
began with us. Oskalenko was in the 102nd.
Ivanovich Zdorovtsev (1916–1941) joined the
Soviet Army in 1938 and completed flight
training in 1940. As a flight commander in the
158th Fighter Air Regiment, and having exhausted
his ammunition, Junior Lieutenant Zdorovtsev
executed a ram of an enemy bomber on 28 June
1941. He landed safely and was awarded Hero of
the Soviet Union on 8 July 1941. He went missing
in action on 9 July 1941.
Petr Andreevich Pilyutov
(1906–1960) joined the Soviet Army in 1928 and
completed flight training in 1935. He
participated in the Lake Khasan fighting in 1938
and the Soviet–Finnish War 1939–40. As the
deputy commander of the 154th Fighter Air
Regiment, on 17 December 1941 he shot down two
enemy aircraft of a flight of six. By this time
he had flown 170 combat sorties and achieved a
score of six personal and four group victories.
He was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on 10
February 1943. By the war’s end his score was 17
total victories. He retired at the rank of
colonel in 1955.
Dmitriy Yefimovich Oskalenko
(1920–1942) joined the Soviet Army in 1937 and
completed aviation technical training in 1939.
He was a participant in the Soviet–Finnish War
1939–40 and graded from pilot training in 1941.
As a flight commander in the 26th Fighter Air
Regiment, by June 1942 Senior Lieutenant
Oskalenko had flown 197 combat sorties and in 23
aerial battles had achieved a score of 12
personal and 3 shared victories. He was killed
in action on 26 September 1942 and awarded Hero
of the Soviet Union posthumously on 14 February
Serebryakov? No, not ours.
you ever have any connections with naval aviation? Also,
any naval targets, for example, did you cover
naval aviation—no. Not at all. We never escorted them
either. They covered their bases themselves.
did you receive Spitfires?
received Spitfires in 1945, by summer, I think. The war
had just ended when we received them. We gave our Cobras
to someone, I don’t know who or where; but I never had
to fight in the Spitfire.
in his Spitfire in 1945
was the visibility like in the Spitfire?
in them after the war had ended. You didn’t need to turn
your head. There was no need.
But on the whole, the visibility from the Spitfire, in
comparison with the Kittyhawk, was just slightly worse.
I liked the Spitfire. We had not a single breakdown in
my squadron, not a single flying accident.
at the airfield. Spitfires can be seen in the
about the wing cantilever—was it rounded or clipped?
both with rounded and clipped wings.
did they differ?
non-clipped was slightly better in horizontal maneuver
(turns). Conversely, the clipped-wing version performed
a bit better in vertical maneuver.
tell me that they were sent to be trained to fly the
Spitfire, but no one even flew to you to help you
transition to it. Is that true?
true. We taught ourselves. No one taught us. I said that
I flew the Kittyhawk on my own. Litavrin checked me out
on the UTI, and I studied the cockpit. They talked me
through several of its features, and that was it. I flew
you have the UTI-4 to the end of the war?
to the end of the war. Later I received the Yak-7V.
you compare the Spitfire with the Cobra?
whole, I liked the Spitfire very much. It was very
maneuverable and had good armaments. The Cobra was very
demanding. All the time under pressure; it demanded your
were different: The Cobra had a nose wheel and the
Spitfire was a “tail dragger.”
landed normally, and the instruments were about the
Since my training days, my landings were always good,
even during examinations on the I-16. “Oh,” they used to
say. “The unit commander is landing now.”
It was me landing. I always set it down alongside the
You leveled out the I-16, you level, you level, and at
just the right time, a little bit of rudder, and then a
three-point landing. I knew that reaction was needed,
and I mastered this task. Some were fearful and landed
on two wheels.
difficult to steer when taxiing?
know; everything was normal for me. I didn’t have any
problems with landing or taking off. It did not matter
what airplane I was flying.
I took command of a squadron quickly; my courses ended
in 1945. At the end of 1945, they sent me to Penza to a
course for squadron commanders. There I said to the
chief of the school, “I’ve had enough of ‘foreigners;’
give me a La-5 or a La-7.”
did the La-5 and La-7 compare with the Spitfire?
course, the Lavochkins were better than the Spitfire.
Maybe the Spitfire could outturn the Lavochkin in zooms,
but the La-5 could beat the Spitfire in the vertical.
There was very little difference between the La-5 and
us, please, did you conduct training aerial battles with
various types of airplanes?
No. Nothing like that. I will tell you why not. It was
done differently in PVO. We flew both ground-attack and
escort missions. But our primary mission was to prevent
enemy aircraft from reaching Leningrad. This was our
task. If they assigned us the other missions, obviously
they lacked sufficient forces. So if they ordered us to
escort “Peshkas,” we escorted “Peshkas.”
was the camouflage scheme on your Spitfires?
of camouflage? That was 60 years ago! Neither do I
remember how the stars were positioned. They were on the
fuselage but I do not remember if they were on the
the bort number?
remember the numbers. We had various numbers, and after
1946, in 1947 I think, we gave them [the Spitfires] up.
I flew so many aircraft that you can imagine their
number and numbers are long forgotten: the I-16, Yak-3
and -7, La-5 and -7; then the jets: MiG-15, MiG-17,
MiG-19, and Su-9. Imagine all those numbers. Only the
devil knows the numbers now.
And how many pilots there were! I even can’t remember
all the ones I fought with.
Later I left the 103rd Regiment in 1947 and went to the
11th Regiment. I ended my service in the 103rd Regiment
as a commander, a squadron commander. I arrived from
courses, [they were undergoing] re-planning, and they
named me the deputy. Then they began to reduce the
number of older pilots. Where could they put them? They
began to replenish the regiments with younger pilots,
but even they had war experience. I was young and a
squadron commander. They named me a deputy, and as soon
as I left for Gorelovo to the 11th Regiment, I was named
deputy to Hero of the Soviet Union Yevteev.
Mikhail Ivanovich Yevteev, born
in 1920, joined the Soviet Army in 1938 and
completed flight training in 1939. He was a
participant in the Soviet–Finnish War 1939–40.
As a squadron commander in the 11th Guards
Fighter Air Regiment, by July 1943 Guards
Captain Yevteev had flown 285 combat sorties,
and in 65 aerial engagements achieved a score of
10 personal and 6 group victories. He was
awarded the rank Hero of the Soviet Union on 28
September 1943. He retired at the rank of
colonel in 1953.
there for six months, they moved him out, and I became
the squadron commander. In 1952 I became a deputy
regiment commander, and later regiment commander.
was the last type of aircraft that you flew?
time I was the chief of combat training of an air army.
We had an aircraft with the headquarters in Lodeynoe
Pole. As the chief of combat training, I flew a MiG-17,
a MiG-19, and a Yak-25.
us, please, during peacetime did you execute any combat
intercepts? In 1952 my regiment was assigned to the base
in Tartu [east-central Estonia], when incursions into
our air space began to occur. We sat there the entire
summer until fall, but not once did my pilots take off
to intercept a target. Perhaps they knew that a regiment
of interceptors with an order to shoot down intruders
was based here.
Later, in 1952 I think, or in 1953, there was a night
intercept. I was the regiment commander, and controlled
the take-off myself. A violator had appeared, and we
scrambled Semendeev and another pilot. Semendeev was
shouting, “I got him, I have him on my screen!”
He was talking about an American. The second pilot broke
in, “It might be me. Don’t shoot!”
The violator immediately maneuvered and departed into
the overcast. This happened at night.
Colonel-general Ivanov, then the commander of Sixth Air
Army, said to Semendeev during the after-action review:
“Well, how could you miss him; they would have given you
“But he was shouting, I thought, that I had acquired the
wrong target—our own plane.”
I never had another intercept or violation. They
happened in the north; they crossed [the border] up
there. I had an inspector, Hero of the Soviet Union
Sergey Aleksandrovich Skornyakov,
born in 1916, joined the Soviet Army in 1935 and
completed flight training in 1937. He was a
participant in the battles at Khalkhin Gol in
1939 and in the Great Patriotic War. As
navigator of an air regiment, Major Skornyakov
displayed heroism in the execution of a mission,
and was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on 6
December 1949. He retired in 1963 at the rank of
down a four-engine bomber in the north. What type, I
don’t remember. They gave him Hero for this
you chase any aerial balloons?
remember your last flight, and what type of aircraft it
It was in
1964, when I suffered an accident in a Yak-25. I was
checking out a pilot in complex conditions. We landed in
Veshchino, and the accident occurred there—we overran
We broke the landing gear, and I suffered a concussion.
I laid in the hospital, first here and then at the
Central Aviation Hospital, where they check out the
cosmonauts. I thought that I would return to duty, but
it didn’t happen. They took me off flight status with
the finding “Not suitable in peacetime; third degree in
I left the army in that same year, 1964, at the rank of
did you do then?
as an engineer in the office of technical information
for the plant Severnyy press [Northern Press]. Later I
was the chief of staff of civil defense for the plant.
This was more familiar to me. I commanded a squadron,
regiment, and a division, and was the chief of combat
training [of a PVO Air Army]
Results of the
sorties: 117, of which 34 were to escort bombers; 31
to escort shturmoviks; 45 on routine patrolling; 2 in
providing coverage ground forces; 3 in ground attack;
and 2 in reconnaissance. 19 aerial engagements.
Flight time: P-40, 78.39 hours; P-39, 38.29 flight
Type of enemy
In what airplane
24 Mar 43
5 Jun 43
18 Jun 43
15 Jun 44
Special thanks to S. Spiridonova and M. Bykov for