Conversation with N.Sterlikov

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Translated by James F. Gebhardt

Dear Readers,

We present conversations with the maintenance chief of an A-20G of the 51st MTAP Nikolay Alekseevich Sterlikov. Originally they were published in Russian on the wonderful web site of the 51st MTAP and we were kindly given permission to translate and publish it here in English.

All materials and photographs here are copyrighted and can not be used without consent of their owners.

Conversation with the maintenance chief
of an A-20G Boston of the 51st MTAP (Mine-Torpedo Air Regiment),
Nikolay Alekseevich Sterlikov
(regiment commander's aircraft, serial number 43-10067, tail number 51)
Moscow, 29 December 2002

A-20G Boston

From left to right: Regimental Chief of Staff Ivanov N.I., Regiment CO Orlenko I.F., Regimental navigator Pryahin F.T., Regimental communications officer Bykov V.V, and aircarft mechanic Sterlikov N.A. Klopitsy airfield, end of 1945. Note that the Order of Nakhimov was awarded to the regiment after the war in July 1945

Photo courtesy of the 51 MTAP web site (C)

TRAINING AND SERVICE AFTER SCHOOL

Bellabs: Nikolay Alekseevich, tell us, please, about the special training you received.

Sterlikov: I was born on 4 May 1923 in the village Chernavka of the Krasilsk rayon, Tambov oblast. My mother was a peasant and my father-you could consider him a mixture. Being a Red Army soldier, he married and remained in the village. But by1927 he had left to the city. At first it was called Ternovsk, later Kaganovich. Ternovo had earlier been a village near Kashira. There I went to middle school and completed tenth grade. After this I took a competitive examination for the Molotov Perm Naval Aviation Technical School. The competition was six persons for one opening. This was in August 1940 (the author was 17 years old).

Look at this photograph-this is what I looked like when I was at the Molotov School. Here I am, and here is my buddy, Vasiliy Subbotin, from Kashira. Orlov, whom we just buried [armaments mechanic from 2d Squadron; we buried him literally one week before this meeting, on 23 December 2002], was in the same class together with us when we were in middle school, 6th grade. His father was some kind of big boss and his mother was director of the Pioneer house. Their family moved to work in Moscow. We met again in the regiment in 1944, by coincidence. It was a large regiment. My buddies and I had gone to Palanga, a "spa" town, full of wooden buildings. I heard music, and I said to my pals, "Let's go look." We walked in and there sat Orlov. He was a good accordion player and was singing a song about the defenders of Moscow, about the Panfilovtsy [soldiers of the 316th Rifle Division, commanded by Ivan Panfilov]. This was the first time I'd seen him after so many years.

I trained in Perm beginning in 1940, and in October 1941 (it was supposed to be three years), they graduated the entire class of 600, well ahead of schedule. I was in the 3d Platoon, 7th Company. Technician-Lieutenant Korolev commanded our platoon and Golubkov was our company commander. We ended up on the steamer "Stalin Constitution" and proceeded to Stalingrad. The city was already in a state of siege and by this time the Germans had occupied Rostov. They transferred us to freight cars. On the train I read in the newspaper that Stalin had spoken on Red Square and there was a parade (7 November). In Stalingrad it was a sunny, warm, clear day, while in Moscow it was snowing and winter was in full swing. On this train we had a veterinarian school and a cavalry school with horses and their food supply-it was a large train.

The railroad line went from Volgograd to Rostov, but we had not yet reached Tikhoretska. The Germans bombed us between Kotelnikov and Remontnaya stations, in the area of the Sala steppe. Nine Ju-88s. Three went for the train, three went to the left and the other three went to the right to shoot up those who fled the train. Because we were in naval uniforms, when they began to drop their bombs, all of us were in black clothes and the autumn field was gray, so it was easy for them to strafe us. At first the Germans bombed Kotelnikov station because there was such an accumulation of troops, so many tank cars [petroleum], and cars with grain and coal. It was clear that German reconnaissance was working well. When we were at the station I was a young man (18 years old), and there were older men. It was outrageous and dangerous for so many people to be in one place. Later, when we left there, we looked around. Ju-88s were chasing us. We thought that they were ours, Soviet aircraft; we had not anticipated this. Some 160 men remained from our class after the bombardment. The remainder were deat or wounded. They loaded us up again on the same rail cars.

I ended up at the Stalin Eysk Naval Fighter Aviation School. Its headquarters was in Mozdok and the training squadrons were dispersed to the outlying stations. Our squadron was at Ekaterinograd station, not from from Prokhladnaya station. There I worked until August 1942 as a mechanic on an SB bomber, though it was a fighter school. The detachment commander-they had training detachments there-was Rybinov. My senior supervisor was Technician-Lieutenant Kislyakov and I was the number two mechanic. Later they sent Kislyakov to Iran to receive Bostons and I remained as the chief mechanic of the SB training aircraft.

In August 1942, when the Germans had already occupied Mineralnyye Vody, our squadron and the entire school were relocated. Our squadron went to Bezenchuk station, Kuybyshev oblast. What happened to the others-I do not know. We flew first to Astrakhan, then Gurev, then Uralsk, and finally Bezenchuk. The Levanevsk naval aviation flight school was located there, with several squadrons in Bezenchuk and another four or five in Chapaevsk. I flew in as the senior mechanic of an SB aircraft. We flew in our own airplanes. At Bezenchuk there was a grain collective farm, "Pesochnyy" [sand]; there was a squadron, where I worked as an instructor mechanic for the training of pilots.

In August 1943 I came to the realization that they returned everyone who was not fully trained to the Molotov school. There were about 20 men, no more, from Levanevsk. But there were also men there from all the fleets, from the Northern and Baltic. It was called KUSAT-course for the improvement of senior aviation technicians at Molotov school. I had arrived there in March and we studied until November 1943, when they sent me to the Baltic. We studied the same disciplines that we had studied between 1940 and 1941. After KUSAT they gave me a certificate for completion of the Molotov school.

Bellabs: The certificate notes the training courses that they put you through. What types of aircraft did you study?

Sterlikov: I was trained on Soviet equipment: Initially at Perm I trained primarily on the SB, the I-15 and I-16 fighters, and the MBR-2. And they began to train us on Petlyakovs [Pe-2]; I worked on the SB at Eysk. It was there that I saw the Boston fly for the first time, but I did not know what it was. At Levanevsk it was the SB again. When I arrived at KUSAT, they were issuing new aircraft, primarily the Lavochkin [La-9], Yak-3, and AR-2. But we only saw its wings; we never saw the aircraft itself.

The La-9 was coming into the inventory at this time and I was prepared to fight on this machine. But when I arrived at the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet VVS, I was spotted in the corridor by the deputy chief of cadre of Baltic Fleet VVS, Stepanov. He had been the chief of cadre at the Levanevsk flight school. He said to me, "Why would you be working on fighters, when you have spent your whole life in heavies?" My response was that I was just following orders. "We will change that." He assigned me to the just being formed 51st Regiment, and I was supposed to be sent to Lavensari Island.
 

FIRST MONTHS IN REGIMENT

I arrived in the regiment in November 1943, just as it was being formed. It was based on the grounds of the Dzerzhinskiy rest home. This was Leningrad, Berngardovka rail platform from Finland station, then the village Priyutin. This was my first ever visit to Leningrad. Our train moved along the shore of Lake Ladoga, through the 7-kilometer zone that was opened up after the blockade was broken. They had laid trestles on the ice and we could move along the trafficable portion of the rail line only at night, because all of it was vulnerable to fire during the daylight.

Sometime around midnight I left from Yaroslav station [out of Moscow]. The road to Leningrad was open only through Vologda, then to Volkhov, and from Volkhov to this branch line. We arrived there, I think, on the second day. Our passenger compartment was beautifully appointed, our bunks had clean sheets-this was in 1943!-on each bed stood a bottle of Leningrad beer. We arrived at Volkhov, and from Volkhov on it was dark. We pulled into Oktyabrskaya station in Leningrad in the morning.

I saw Priyutin for the first time. We did not have airplanes yet, we had nothing. They fed us the first course [pervym blyudom] three times. Because the blockade had just been broken and, perhaps, the doctors had advised-in order to renew weak peoples' strength-to feed the first course all the time. Anyway, we liked it. We had eaten relatively well at school, but not as good as in peacetime. They issued us a bunk and clean sheets on the second floor of a dormitory. We set up a bathing facility. We were busy getting our unit established. Ivanov, the chief of staff, ordered us not to horse around. I had just arrived from a training unit and others had come from disbanded military units. From this . . . from the coast, where Fort White Horse was located, Krasnaya Gorka-one of the MBR-2 squadrons was stationed there (Major Vinogradov-see below-fought in this squadron).

Bellabs: You didn't have aircraft yet. Whom do you remember from among the personnel?

Sterlikov: There was already a chief engineer (but not Yakovlev, whom I mention below). At the time the 1st Guards Regiment was based at Priyutin, and it had not only the DB-3 but also Bostons. This is where they brought us first, to look. The chief engineer was shouting, "Mechanics! Stick your nose in everywhere, get dirty, fiddle with things! You have to learn it all."

Bellabs: During this process did you discuss things with 1st Regiment mechanics?

Sterlikov: No, we didn't discuss anything. We began studying the Boston for the first time. Well, how does one do this-blueprints. Hydraulic systems, fuel, lubrication, cooling, engine, and so on. We did not have the actual components; we could only look at blueprints.

Bellabs: Were the aircrews being formed up at this time?

Sterlikov: Regarding pilots... in as much as they were present, like in a bathhouse, everyone was still equal. Major Vinogradov was there, navigator Renzaev was there, regiment navigator Zavarin was there, Sityakov was there. And they lived in the same building. Even the regiment engineer for repair, Zakharov, was there.

Later they gave us a single aircraft, on which they began to instruct the pilots. One time we had to adjust the control system for the Boston's engine. They said, "Hey, guys, the engine control system is broken. Adjust the throttle cable." This is how we familiarized ourselves [with the aircraft].

Bellabs: When did the regiment begin to receive its full complement of aircraft?

Sterlikov: The first party of airplanes that the regiment received, 17 of them, we were to fly in from Tayncha in Kazakhstan. We went to Tayncha by railroad, from Leningrad to Moscow, from Moscow (Kazan station) to Chelyabinsk. From Chelyabinsk to Petropavlovsk in Kazakhstan (I think the train went onward to Karaganda). Tayncha was located not too far from Petropavlovsk. Now it is called . . . Tayncha was renamed to Krasnoarmeysk in 1962. We got off the train. They arranged overnight accommodations for us. There were 17 of us. We did not have full crews, but we had full flight crews and about one-third of our technical personnel. Every crew had a navigator. We brought parachutes and personal weapons with us. But no one knew why we had gone there.

Bellabs: They didn't tell you that you were picking up airplanes?

Sterlikov: No, we knew nothing. At the very least, I did not know.

We arrived in Tayncha somewhere around the 18th to the 20th of February [1944]. From Tayncha they hauled us to an airfield-look at the airplanes we have to receive. And in order to receive them, you have to sit in the cockpit! I had adjust a lot of engines but had never sat in a cockpit. We also had to listen to the engine run. Later I worked all the time on water-cooled engines, on the SB. But this was an air-cooled engine. Only our La-9 was air-cooled, but I did not work on it, only studied it. All the mechanics who were there . . . Some had used the MBR-2, which was also a water-cooled, in-line engine. Well, at the very least, rapidly, in three or four days, we mastered the control of this engine: start up, all regimes of running, refueling, and so on.

There was a mass of airplanes there. Naked steppe, wolves running about.

Bellabs: You saw wolves?

Sterlikov: Yes, packs of wolves were waiting about. Whom they were waiting for - I don't know. But they definitely were wolves.

Bellabs: But weren't you enclosed in barbed wire, some kind of minimal facilities?

Sterlikov: There was no barbed wire, nothing - empty steppe, not even a landing strip. I did not see any facilities. No command post, no . . . like normal - "kolbasa" hangs, watch tower, there was nothing, everything was virgin.

However, they did not issue airplanes to us in Tayncha, why - I don't know. They told us to go after them ourselves. From Tayncha they loaded us up on a passenger Douglas and we flew to Krasnoyarsk. The airfield in Krasnoyarsk is not the same as now, but was the so-called Krasinsk something barracks. This was on the high bank of the Enisey River near Krasnoyarsk. Because we were there so long, we walked to town on foot across the frozen Enisey. We lived in these barracks. It was an enormous structure from the tsarist period, built of brick. The airfield was large. And it was there that we received aircraft. Not only we, for the fleet, but others as well.

We arrived in Tayncha at the end of February, and only in March did we receive aircraft in Krasnoyarsk and in March did we fly out. We flew first to Novosibirsk, from Novosibirsk to Orenburg, and from Orenburg to Bezenchuk. We flew the airplanes to the Komendantskiy airfield in Leningrad for reconfiguration. We flew the reconfigured airplanes from there to Novaya Ladoga.

STRUCTURE OF THE 51ST MTAP

Bellabs: Tell us, please, more details regarding the structure of the regiment.

Sterlikov: Firstly, there were 400-500 personnel. The regiment had three squadrons and a headquarters flight. Each squadron had three flights with three aircraft in each. So a squadron had nine airplanes.

Bellabs: Approximately how many aircraft were non-combat capable due to damage?

Sterlikov: Perhaps 1-3 aircraft per squadron were disabled.

Bellabs: If you lost airplanes, how quickly were they replaced? Did you periodically fly in a large number of airframes or was there a continuous flow of smaller quantities?

Sterlikov: There was a steady flow of aircraft and new crews from flight schools.

Bellabs: How many aircraft were in the headquarters flight?

Sterlikov: There were three aircraft in the headquarters flight: the commander, his deputy for flight operations, and his deputy for operational readiness. By the will of fate I was assigned directly to the regiment command airplane.

Bellabs: OK, there should be approximately 30 aircraft in the regiment (according to data from the book Bostons in the Soviet Union, there were actually 24 A-20Gs in the 51st Regiment on 1 January 1945). Each airplane had a crew of three (pilot, navigator, and gunner-radio operator), this totals up to 90 flight personnel. Then there were the maintenance personnel. How were they divided up?

Sterlikov: At the head of the technical personnel was the regiment engineer, a man named Yakovlev. He was responsible for aircraft use-essentially for all matters pertaining to aircraft maintenance. In addition, there was the regiment engineer for repair, Zakharov. We had a regiment engineer for armaments, whose name I can't recall. And a regiment engineer for instruments and another for radio. We had a regiment engineer for mine-torpedo armaments.

Bellabs: So the regiment engineer for armaments was involved only with the aircraft rifled weapons?

Sterlikov: Machine guns and bombs. Yes, the armaments engineer was Kiselev and we had another Kiselev, not related, as the engineer for mine-torpedo armaments. The Kiselev for armaments was a "shtrafnik" [essentially a paroled prisoner]. He had served in the 1st Guards [1 GMTAP] and his specialists, apparently, were poorly trained. When they hung a bomb, they blew up themselves and the entire aircraft. He was sentenced to serve time and he actually served about six months. After this he was assigned to us. [In the Soviet military justice system, "shtrafniki" could exculpate their guilt by successful service for a specified period of time in a front-line unit. Unfortunately for many personnel, this front-line unit was an infantry or naval infantry unit whose mission was to engage enemy ground units. Many "shtrafniki" thus did not survive the war. JG]
Here is the personnel laydown of the headquarters flight. There were the aircraft mechanics. On the command aircraft, I [Sterlikov] was the crew chief, my deputy was Pavel Aleksandrovich Savin. My engine mechanic was Zhora Rudokvas, from the Ukraine, also a "shtrafnik". His father was a high-up railroad boss who worked at Sinelnikovo station.

Bellabs: What was the official title of your position-aircraft technician?

Sterlikov: I was an aircraft technician, by TOE [table of organization and equipment] the senior mechanic. I was the chief of this airplane and without my consent no one else had the right to touch the airplane. This is how we fell out - technician or mechanic, second mechanic, and engine mechanic.

Bellabs: This means that there were three maintenance personnel for every airplane in the regiment? So three times 30 is 90 personnel who were airplane mechanics.

Sterlikov: This was for flight operations. There were more. In the headquarters flight, in addition to the three A-20s, there was a Po-2 trainer aircraft. It had a mechanic - Ivan Evpatevich Rozhkov, a Ukrainian from Nikolaev, and a second mechanic - Vanya [Ivan] Pechkurov. There was a lead technician for the headquarters flight - Stepan Likhachev from Rostov.

Bellabs: Who else was there in the flight operations group?

Sterlikov: There was a squadron engineer in each squadron, who was responsible for all maintenance activity in the squadron. There were also flight mechanics for each of the three flights in each squadron. The regiment engineer responded to all technical issues through these people. In the headquarters flight we also had the PARM - mobile aircraft repair shop [peredvizhnaya aviaremontnaya masterskaya]. An engineer for repair headed up all repair efforts, both with the assistance of the PARM and with the assistance of our own maintenance personnel.

Bellabs: As we understand it, there were also instrument mechanics and armorers.

Sterlikov: Each squadron had specialists for armaments, called "master for armaments", 4-5 personnel, and another three for instruments.

Bellabs: Let's count all this up again, for each squadron: an engineer, three flight mechanics, 4-5 armorers, and three instrument repairmen. This is 11-12 persons for a squadron, approximately 40 for the regiment. So now we have in the regiment 90 [flight crews] + 90 [assigned aircraft mechanics] + 40 [special mechanics] = 220 personnel. Whom have we not yet counted?

Sterlikov: The headquarters. There was a chief of staff, his deputies for administration, operational training, political affairs, and also the party organizer. Our SMERSH [NKVD representative, whose mission was to root out and destroy traitors] officer was Major Abalakov. The clerk - Filimonov, who is still alive today, he was the regiment clerk. He was always saying, "I have submitted you for an award," when what he meant was that he was in the process of assembling the documents.

There was the photographic laboratory of six personnel. The communications center - I don't know how many people worked there. This was a mobile receiver/transmitter that was always at the command post. There was a driver, radio operators, telegraph operators, perhaps 9-10 personnel.

Bellabs: This adds up to another 30 personnel, for a total in the regiment of 250. Were there reserve crews?

Sterlikov: There were, in the squadrons. But not enough so that there was a spare crew for every aircraft.

Bellabs: How did the structure of the regiment you are describing change over time-is this the later structure that had developed by the end of the war, or was it permanent?

Sterlikov: I think that it was permanent. The only caveat on that is that in the very beginning, when the regiment was forming, not all flights were filled up right away.

CONSTRUCTION AND EXPLOITATION OF THE BOSTONS

Bellabs: Let's touch on some technical issues. Was the reconfiguration of the nose compartment accomplished at the plants or was it done in the regiment?

Sterlikov: We did none of this and were not capable of doing this in the regiment. They reconfigured the airplanes in repair facilities on Vasilevskiy Island (on the 9th line, it seems to me). We mechanics initially went there to assist in the reconfiguration.

Bellabs: This was when your own bases were close by?

Sterlikov: This was when we were based at Priyutin. When I flew to Tayncha and beyond - from where we ferried the aircraft back and landed some in Novaya Ladoga and another portion - for reconfiguration - at Komendantskiy airfield in Leningrad. They removed the nose compartment at the repair shops on Vasilevskiy Island. The nose compartment on an unmodified Boston was crammed with cartridge boxes and six [Browning .50 caliber] machine guns.

Bellabs: How many cartridges per machine gun?

Sterlikov: Somewhere around 600 per gun. Large caliber cartridges, with tracer and armor-piercing rounds. They removed four machine guns and left the two lower guns. In place of the cartridge boxes [and guns] they installed the navigator's seat and instruments.

Bellabs: Were the instruments used in these reconfigured nose compartments American- or Soviet-manufactured? Wasn't there sometimes a shortage of American spare parts?

Sterlikov: No, there was never any problem. All the instruments were American-gyromagnetic compass, magnetic compass, air speed indicator, altitude, et cetera. In general, all the instruments in all compartments were American. We did not replace any of them.

Bellabs: How many reconfigured aircraft were there?

Sterlikov: It seems to me there were approximately three reconfigured aircraft per squadron. Two of the three aircraft in the headquarters flight - mine and Vasiliy Tereshchenko's - had been reconfigured. A third aircraft in the headquarters flight was not reconfigured.

Bellabs: According to Orlenko, there were a total of five reconfigured aircraft - the regiment commander's, his deputy, and one per squadron. Could he be mistaken?

Sterlikov: No, he cannot be wrong because he had the reigns of control of the entire regiment in his hands. It means that I am mistaken.

Bellabs: Thus, the commander, his deputy, and probably each squadron commander had a reconfigured airplane.

Sterlikov: When Finland dropped out of the war... I don't know, by some connection the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needed an airplane for transporting the delegation to Helsinki. They needed an aircraft with a forward cabin and they took Orlenko's airplane. The 3d Squadron commander, Meshcherin, flew it. He says, "They took your aircraft because it was the best fitted one in all the regiment."

Bellabs: And the torpedo shackles, were they installed in the regiment?

Sterlikov: The reconfiguration of the aircraft consisted not only of the nose portion, but also installing the torpedo shackles. This was also done at the repair shops.

Bellabs: And when you were based not near Leningrad, but farther and farther to the west, did they supply you with the requisite number of aircraft to replace losses, including reconfigured aircraft?

Sterlikov: Yes.

Bellabs: Did you remake the turret for the gunner-radio operator?

Sterlikov: No, all the aircraft arrived with a spherical [ball] turret. Two machine guns. The whole thing rotated electrically - it had sensor control, just turn your hand and [the turret moved]. We loved to sit in this turret and rotate it. There were two cartridge boxes for it and another box for the pintle-mounted machine gun and a winch for raising the hatch. In general, the gunner should sit here by himself, but our gunner-radio operator could fire from the hatch if it was necessary.

Bellabs: In aircraft without the nose navigator compartment, was the navigator position as before in the area of the gunner-radio operator?

Sterlikov: Yes, they sat in the same compartment. They could talk to the aircraft commander only through the intercom system - they were separated by the three-meter-long bomb bay.

Bellabs: What did this look like? What was the approximate size of their compartment - could they, for example, stand up in there?

Sterlikov: In principle they could stand up, but bent over.

Bellabs: How did the gunner and navigator get into their compartment?

Sterlikov: There was a bottom hatch, armor-plated. You pushed up on it with your head and it opened to the inside of the airplane. To open it from the inside there was a winch, because the hatch was heavy.

Bellabs: How did the pilot get into his cabin?

Sterlikov: On the left side of the fuselage near the trailing edge of the wing were two ports: a spring-loaded -shaped step device folded out from one of them, and from the second port a hand hold. You stepped up on the step and then up onto the wing, then walked along the wing toward the cockpit. The cockpit could only be accessed from the left side. [If you look at any photograph of the A-20 with canopy open, you will see that the hinge is on the right side and the canopy opens to the right. JG] Well, the mechanic, because he was responsible for topping off the oil and fuel tanks, of course climbed up on the wing as well because this is where the filler holes were located.

Bellabs: What was in the compartment behind the cockpit, under the upper roof of the cockpit? The Americans put a lifeboat in there. Did we do the same?

Sterlikov: The pilot sat in his seat on top of his parachute. Under the parachute was a one-man raft with oars and with a compressed air canister. So you have the pilot's seat, armor back plate, and behind it lay the mechanic when he flew, and the raft.

Bellabs: Was there sufficient room to lie there?

Sterlikov: We put a piece of carpet in there. One could raise his head - the compartment was about 50 cm high and two meters long. In winter uniform, wearing fur boots, one felt himself free to move around. It was about a meter wide.

Bellabs: The armor shield was in front of you?

Sterlikov: The armor shield was in place during a combat flight. It dropped down on a spring release. One could lay in the cabin only with a stowed armor shield; it folded down to the floor of the cabin. Up in front there was still the armored glass, with a thickness of approximately 12 cm. The pilot's head was protected.

Bellabs: The side window panes were not armored?

Sterlikov: Conventional glass. They opened.

Bellabs: We haven't come to the answer yet - what was stowed in the area behind the pilot?

Sterlilov: A rubber raft for three men with inflation cylinder, oars, flare gun and flares, and rations for three days for the entire crew. There was also a hand pump. In the rubber raft under the pilot's seat there was also a hand pump and oars that you strapped onto your hands.

Bellabs: What was the normal parked configuration of the aircraft: were the flaps extended on the parking apron or not?

Sterlikov: The flaps were not extended on the apron. We secured the control sticks with clamps in a neutral position so that the wind would not disturb them. And the vertical and horizontal [control surfaces], and ailerons also, this was an absolute requirement. There was a device for locking down the rudder itself, more precisely the control stick. But the winds were so strong that a clamp was required. The clamps themselves were red in color, with red indicator flags.

Bellabs: Did you cover the cockpit with a tarpaulin?

Strelikov: Absolutely. Because otherwise the glass would be covered by hoar frost. Orlenko frequently said: What's wrong with you? When you board the plane one can see nothing... And then one idiot asked me how did I fight hoar frost and suggested to rub the canopy with salt.

Bellabs: With a salt solution?

Strelikov: No, dry salt. This was how Orlenko swore at me. He did not realize that I poured.

Bellabs: And you diddn't admit?

Sterlikov: I didn't. When the aircraft lifted off, apparently a different atmospheric condition prevailed and visibility improved. But on the taxiway and during the takeoff - it was bad if we did not cover the canopy.

Bellabs: Did you use original American tarps for the covers?

Sterlikov: Yes, the original, delivered by the Americans. A light canvas cover with thin rubber straps. It was placed over the navigator's compartment. There was no tarp for the turret.

Bellabs: What kind of covers did you have for the engines?

Sterlikov: There were padded covers, American-made, for the engines. These were good covers, apparently Egyptian. And light, canvas, with zippers. Well, we even used these padded covers when we slept under the open sky. We covered the aircraft with them only during extremely cold temperatures. And because we were deployed along the Baltic coast, we did not have extreme cold.

Bellabs: During the winter did you mount any kind of frontal louvers? [This refers to shutters or vanes that would control the amount of air moving across the cylinder fins, enabling the engine temperature to rise to normal level. JG]

Sterlikov: No, we didn't have any and didn't mount any. The only thing we installed for winter were the APLs - arctic warming lamps.

Bellabs: Were they American or ours? What did they look like?

Sterlikov: Ours, from the trans-polar. This was a type of large primus [stove] - a circular heating element one-half meter high. The heater was free standing, that is one could place something on it; we boiled water on it. It had a lid with two connections, and on the connections were flexible metallic hoses. We positioned these hoses under the engine, under the sump, the radiator, and cylinders. But, because there were pushrods that opened the valves, they were secured on collars isolated by rubber dyuritami. Hot air damaged them and broke the hermetic seal. To prevent this, we took asbestos cord, wound it around tightly, and did not remove it.

These were the lamps. When the temperature was 15-20 degrees below zero [C], it was already difficult to start the engines and we had to pre-warm them.

Bellabs: Here in this photograph is an American variant of the heating device.

Sterlikov: We did not have this type of devices with such large hoses. There, look at the large heater box, on wheels. The APL was small and was placed directly under the engine. Our normal procedure was to start one engine and then fire up the second engine from the generator of the first engine.

Bellabs: Was the modification of the auto-starter accomplished in our repair shops?

Sterlikov: The adaptor under the starter was secured to the so-called bell of the propeller. And, I think, the adaptor was installed by the Americans, not by us, because the bell was for us a very complicated technical apparatus. It automatically changed the propeller pitch; it could be feathered ["windmill" position] on command of the pilot. Sometimes they took off on one engine - these were demonstration flights. Therefore, in order for our maintenance personnel to have to drill this bell and install a ratchet mechanism... I don't think so. I think this was done at the factory.

Bellabs: Couldn't they have done this in the repair shops where the aircraft were reconfigured?

Sterlikov: I don't know. I think that all this was installed by the Americans.

Bellabs: Was the auxiliary starter ours, Soviet?

Sterlikov: Ours. We used it sometimes, but it was complicated to start the engine with it. One had to stand on the top of the vehicle (GAZ-AA), drag up the ratchet mechanism by hand, connect it to the propeller, and then climb down. After this the driver engaged the starter.

It was more common to use the electric starter. It weighed 12 kilograms. Two men uncoiled it by hand. Then someone in the cockpit engaged the clutch, the uncoiled starter began to rotate the engine, he turned on the ignition, and after this a spark ignited and started the engine. The auto-starter was simpler, of course, and less risky. No one was standing near the propeller.

Bellabs: Was the engine always started from an external starter?

Sterlikov: No, only in extreme conditions. A good engine could start itself.

Bellabs: This hand starter, how was it connected? How high was the propeller?

Sterlikov: The engine cowling was approximately head-high. There was a receptacle where the starter was inserted. You attached it and began to spin up the engine.

Bellabs: So during this procedure you were standing between the fuselage and the engine housing?

Sterlikov: Yes, in front of you was the propeller and right there were the exhaust pipes. When the engine began to fire, all the unburned gasoline and oil came right into your face. And everyone consciously knew that if he moved toward the propeller, it would chop him up.

Bellabs: What kind of airfield equipment was used?

Sterlikov: ZiS-5 - these were our fuel and oil trucks. They had their own pumps, which they used to top off their own tanks and to refuel the aircraft. The auxiliary starter was mounted on the chassis of a GAZ-AA.

Bellabs: What other vehicles were there?

Sterlikov: They provided us with Studebakers when the unit was relocated. We had to move our airfield equipment. They brought in an exceptionally well-equipped unit with Studebakers. And GMC - this was an enormously large truck that was used to tow artillery trailers. We had anti-aircraft guns in Palanga that were towed by GMCs.

Bellabs: And what were your PARM vehicles?

Sterlikov: ZiS-5. Enclosed backs, with lathes, presses, drills, and welding equipment.

Bellabs: What can you say regarding the quality of Kotelnikov's book, Bostons in the Soviet Union? [We presented Sterlikov a copy of this book ahead of time for his evaluation.]

Sterlikov: It is a remarkable book. I looked at each section. The book was written with the knowledge that everything had to be genuinely documented, and this the author managed to do. I learned many new things myself: how the aircraft was created, how and from where they ferried them (I only knew about Iran and ALSIB), how many of them there were - I never knew this at all.

It confirms one thing - among those who flew the Boston, this model established the best reputation that was completely justified.

EXTERIOR APPEARANCE AND PAINT OF THE AIRCRAFT

Bellabs: Many model builders are interested in the nuances of the paint schemes of aircraft. Were the original American paint schemes of these aircraft preserved, or did you repaint the aircraft in the regiment?

Sterlikov: We never repainted the airplanes. They were painted in a light brown color [apparently olive-drab - I.G.]on top and on the bottom side, smoke gray-the color of sea water-the Baltic Sea was the color of steel [neutral gray I.G.].

Bellabs: Airplanes were coming to you over the course of about a year. Did their paint scheme change at all during this time?

Sterlikov: As far as I can recall, they remained the same over the entire period of time.

Bellabs: Was the original paint durable, did it not wash off or fade?

Sterlikov: Generally, one had the impression that they primed the aircraft under high temperatures. [Keep in mind that the A-20 was assembled in Santa Monica, California. JG] The paint was durable. We always created a layer of paint and it came off, even peeled. This [American] paint was so durable it was embedded in the structure of the metal. It could be scratched only by our boots, where we had heel plates. The paint was worn off in those places where the crew stepped, where the mechanics placed their ladders, and on the left wing, but not badly, because we did not wear those kind of boots. And the paint did not fade.

Bellabs: Fuel spills did not dissolve the paint?

Sterlikov: No, the aircraft was not damaged. Only the exhaust gases coming from the bottom of the engine left some stains. If an oil leak developed in an engine, it would stain the lower surface of the wing. But the regiment engineer kept a close eye out for this and reprimanded us, so we always cleaned these stains up.

Bellabs: Were the distinctive American markings [roundels] painted over in the repair shops? What color were the circles under the stars painted.

Sterlikov: Yes, these circles were repainted in the repair shops - the same color as the surrounding paint - light brown.

Bellabs: How did you touch up the paint in the case of a repair? Did you use Soviet or American paint?

Sterlikov: Sometimes we patched up the airplane, even to the point of sealing the percale [doping the fabric]. We used only our own paint and painted the repaired sections the common color. Light brown, blue, smoke gray.

Bellabs: What color were the torpedo shackles? Did you repaint them?

Sterlikov: No, we did not repaint them. They were painted smoke gray.

Bellabs: What special writing and images (besides the ships for number of victories) were placed on the regiment's aircraft? In particular, were medals [in Russian-orden] and the inscription TALLINSKIY AP [Tallinn Air Regiment-honorific title] only on the command aircraft?

A-20G-36DO, serial number AF 43-10067. From left to right: regimental navigator Pryahin F.T., regiment CO Orlenko I.F., and regimental communications officer Bykov V.V. Kolberg airfield, 1945.

Photo courtesy of the 51 MTAP web site (C)

Sterlikov: I know only the command aircraft. This was done by Zhora Rudokvas (engine mechanic on command aircraft]. He was a specialist and sketched the sinking ship.

Bellabs: Sinking ship?

Sterlikov: Yes, on the tail, above the number, not on the rudder. The sea was painted in green, the sky blue, and in the waves - an upturned, cut-in-half, sinking vessel with superstructure. It was an attractive picture. When I flew the first time [with this image], the war had just ended. We were carrying Colonel Ryzhkov from Izmaylov airfield. Everyone gathered around. It was marvelous, this sinking ship painted on the tail. It was impressive.

Bellabs: In any case, these depictions were rather rare and therefore attracted special attention.

Sterlikov: Yes, this was not seen.often.

Bellabs: Was this picture sketched during the war or afterwards?

Sterlikov: Well, in any case, it was on the aircraft at Kolberg (April-September 1945).

Bellabs: Lets try to describe its essence in greater detail. This means, it was sketched on the tail above the tactical number. The general outline of the image was regular (drawn in a circle or square) or irregular?

Sterlikov: It had an irregular form. It gave the impression of having been drawn free-hand. Patches of sky and the sea.

Bellabs: Were there clouds in the sky?

Sterlikov: Initially a deep blue background, and on it white clouds.

Bellabs: The sea was greenish, the color of ocean waves?

Sterlikov: Yes, greenish. At the very least, the water of the Baltic Sea is gray, and this was more like the Black Sea.

Bellabs: And the waves were depicted? What shape-smooth wave tops or pointed crests?

Sterlikov: There were waves. Like a broken line.

Bellabs: Wher the waves depicted over alreday painted greenish background or the sea was painted as a combination of waves without any background?

Sterlikov: The waves were on the backround and were darker than the background.
 

Bellabs: The vessel was on the horison, on the junction of the sky and sea or more naturally, in the middle of the sea background?

Sterlikov: More likely down to the sea image.

Bellabs: The ship was crushed in halves, was it nose pointing to the front of the airplane?

Sterlikov: Yes, it was pointing to the front of the airplane.

Bellabs: Didi it look like a silhouette of a sunken ship depicted on the nose of the airplane?

Sterlikov: No, it was more like a real ship with superstructures on the nose and on the back.

Bellabs: So, as we understand, it was not a primitive picture of the silhouette type with clouds and waves but rather a piece of art?

Sterlikov: Yes, yes. It was exactly more as a real picture. It's a pitty, when the planes were destroyed... I don't know what happened to them.

Bellabs: You say that you do not recall images and artistic inscriptions on other aircraft. But here is a photograph of Kulinich's aircraft, and it clearly shows the order [orden] and the inscription TALLINSKIY AP.

Sterlikov: Yes, indeed. I see here that the new regiment engineer, after Yakovlev, was Medvedev. I see that the script is one and the same.

Bellabs: Did Rudokvas sketch this, or is it possible that he did drawings on other aircraft?

Sterlikov: Rudokvas, I think. Because the regiment engineer used him for this purpose.

Bellabs: And you all drew your own ships?

Sterlikov: No, he also drew them. They entrusted this job to him. It was not so easy to draw with oil-based paint, and he knew how to do it.
I tried to look up Rudokvas for my whole life after the war. He married a Leningrad girl, from the blockade. But I never did find him.

Bellabs: The circle with star, on which the number of sunk vessels was indicated - in the manner of submariners - was this marking only on your aircraft?

Sterlikov: No, others had this marking as well.

Bellabs: When and where were the tactical numbers placed on the tail?

Sterlikov: The number was painted in the regiment, above the factory number, which we never painted over.

Bellabs: Was there a relationship between the tactical numbers and the squadrons?

Sterlikov: Yes, the numbers were painted from 1 to 9, perhaps (I don't remember for sure) for 1st Squadron, and so on.

Bellabs: Did the numbers differ in color or were they all painted in white?

Sterlikov: As far as I can remember, the 3d Squadron used yellow paint. I consulted with Sasha Nikitin, the senior mechanic in 3d Squadron. The 2d Squadron used light blue. The 1st Squadron used a light colored paint. My aircraft had white numbers.
In general, because I was in the headquarters flight, the command aircraft was always parked some distance from the others, in a place close to the command post and shelter. I didn't always have interaction with the others and sometimes even lived separately. So with the amount of work I had to do, during the war I wasn't particularly close to other aircrews. The exception to this was when we were flying combat sorties, they gave us the [authorized by regulation] 100 grams [of vodka]. During these times we had greater interactions.

Bellabs: Was there a standard for painting the numbers or did this depend on the mechanic?

Sterlikov: No, they were all the same. The regiment engineer, Yakovlev, made the decision.

Bellabs: Did you place any technical inscriptions in Russian on the aircraft?

Sterlikov: No, we did none of that. Only in English. Both in the cabin, the mains [cables, lines, piping], and engines-only in English.

Bellabs: On some aircraft "caps" are visible on the tails, and the upper portion of the tail is painted in another color.

Sterlikov: This mark differentiated one squadron from another. The color was the same as used for the number [light for 1st Squadron, light blue for 2d, yellow for 3d].
The propeller: ends - yellow, and spinner-white color on my aircraft [dark paint in some photographs].

Bellabs: In some photographs of Bostons it appears that the trimmer on the rudder is a different color. But in your regiment, we understand, you repainted nothing?

Sterlikov: We painted nothing. The trimmer on my aircraft was the same color as the rest of the plane.

Bellabs: What color were the bombs and torpedoes?

Sterlikov: The bombs were black, like Kuzbass lacquer, painted in factory conditions and packed in wood. The torpedoes were unpainted, steel color because they were made from steel. They were shiny, semi-polished. This was an expensive item - they threatened us if we dropped it. Of course, the torpedo specialists, not us, hung the torpedoes. But sometimes they were dropped. [Kuzbass is the Russian shorthand for Kuznets coal basin. JG]

Bellabs: As far as we know from official archival materials, the practice in the regiment was to discard, not even on alternate targets but into the sea, bombs that were not dropped. But torpedoes were brought back.

Sterlikov: As far as throwing bombs away I don't know. But it is possible because it was dangerous to land with bombs. Concerning torpedoes, yes, they were returned. We hung a torpedo in Panevezhis and at that time were operating from Palanga. We took the torpedo with us and landed with it. And one time we landed while the airfield was under fire. On one side was the sea and on the other side was the forest. Beyond the forest was Kretinga station - and from here the firing came. The mechanics were not permitted to taxi to a safe spot in the event of an air raid [the detonation of the torpedo would damage other aircraft]. There were cases when some of us dreamt about flying and were capable of taking off. Therefore we were under threat of being shot. They were shooting at us, the torpedo was hanging, all the other pilots were in their places, taxiing their own aircraft, and the commander was at the command post receiving orders. I started up the motors and began to taxi. I looked up and Orlenko [Ivan Fiofanovich Orlenko, the regiment commander and aircraft commander] was approaching the aircraft. He was waving his arms-come on, come on, which engine to give more power, because this was a rough field with an uneven apron surface.

Bellabs: Was there some kind of external markings by which one could distinguish the aircraft of the 51st MTAP from the 1st GMTAP?

Sterlikov: I don't recall. I remember Borzov [commander, 1st GMTAP] went around in an American fur-lined leather jacket, which had zippers on the sleeves and here, so that if you fell in the water, you could take it off quickly. This I remember, but what their aircraft looked like . . .

AIRFIELDS AND BASING

Sterlikov (in writing)
Locations of the command aircraft, 51st MTAP:
1. Komendantskiy airfield in Leningrad. Replacement of nose portion of aircraft and navigator position and installation of torpedo shackles. Airfield within city boundaries.
2. Novaya Ladoga. Airfield not far from shore of Lake Ladoga and close to Volkhov River. Unimproved airfield surface, not rebuilt, but operational. Accommodations for personnel just being organized.
3. Klopitsy. The airfield was close to the Leningrad-Kingisep highway, 20-30 km from the Volosovo station of the Oktyabrskaya railroad line. Unimproved, rolled crushed rock landing field. Built during the period of the Finnish campaign. Cantonment area of ten wooden buildings, 3-4 of which had two floors. Headquarters building and dining hall made of brick. During period of occupation two hangers and several buildings destroyed by Germans. Near village Klopitsy with church and cemetery. Dugouts for cover of personnel and forest on all sides.

Bellabs: Was there a difference in living conditions for flight personnel and maintenance personnel?

Sterlikov: They were about the same. We all lived in the wooden buildings.

Bellabs: One strip was on the field and the remainder were housed in what?

Sterlikov: They herded us like cattle, simply on the field.

4. Panevezhis. Airfield was built by Russian POWs. Good concrete landing strip, taxiways, and other infrastructure. Flight crews lived in Panevezhis. Technical personnel in tents, on the street. Baths in huts and mobile baths on railroad.

Bellabs: In tents! What, right on the street, in shelters made of branches?

Sterlikov: Well, from available materials. We slept in engine covers, padded covers. Warming lamps [APL-arctic warming lamps].

Sterlikov: It was here, in a gully, [that we found] executed war prisoners (our POWs, who had built the airfield for the Germans) and civilians. Thousands of them. When we went into the dining facility here, we found tracks in the concrete - of children and adults. And someone's writing, in Russian.

Bellabs: Were your aircraft parked here?

Strelikov: Not here. Vasiliy Stalin's fighter regiment was here. When we arrived, they abandoned their damaged aircraft and were relocated somewhere else. Our aircraft did not taxi in here.

Bellabs: What do you remember about the dining facility?

Sterlikov: It was a wooden barrack. The Germans had used it to house POWs.

5. Palanga. Unimproved airfield between Palebderyu and Libava-Palanga-Klaypeda highway, 12 km from Kreminga rail station, which at the time of the beginning of combat operations from this airfield was occupied by the Germans. Personnel were distributed between Palanga, Shventoy, and Palebderyu.

Sterlikov: As a result of combat actions, Palanga was more or less a burned out shell. It so happened that they had liberated the coastline, leaving Klaypeda [Memel] in German hands, nearby Kretinga station in German hands, and Riga in German hands. A salient had thus been formed. The command (we were based in Panevezhis) was ordered to create here a mobile command post in order to cut off the German naval force at Klaypeda. We were to drop mines into the channel and conduct bombing in order to prevent the retreating German forces from getting away. So we hung torpedoes in Panevezhis and flew to Palanga, landed on an unimproved airfield, and from here conducted our combat missions. We dropped magnetic mines in Riga port, in Libava. From Panevezhis we flew-Orlenko, Pryakhin, Bykov, and Sterlikov [crew and regiment commander's crew chief]. We landed at this mobile command post. My duty was to maintain the aircraft in full combat readiness.

Bellabs: Was the remainder of the regiment deployed later?

Sterlikov: Only a mobile group was repositioned to this place; the regiment came later.

Bellabs: Approximately how much time passed between the rebasing of this group and the rest of the regiment? A week, a month?

Sterlikov: More than a week; several weeks.

Bellabs: Was this just a command and control group, or combat forces as well?

Sterlikov: No, combat, combat. A command post was created from the fleet headquarters. They sat in a dugout. I was maintaining our aircraft in warmed-up condition so that on command we could deliver mines. Night, freezing weather, winter. Orlenko would fly out with the crew and return, and we had to hang the covers again. They made three or four sorties and when they finished, they called me to the command post. We sat around. There was the representative of the fleet Zhelud [in Russian, "acorn"], either they called him that or it was actually his family name. He is talking and passing a bottle of liquor around. He gives it to Orlenko, to Pryakhin, to Bykov. And each one says in turn that he can't drink, he must remain sober!

Bellabs: Who else was based at Palanga with you?

Sterlikov: There were fighters, from the 8th Division. There were foreign fighters-Thunderbolt, Kittyhawk-we walked over to them and looked at them.

6. Grabshteyn. Unimproved airfield with landing strip of metallic mats laid out on straw. This was 10-20 km from the sea.

Bellabs: We are unable to find the location of Grabshteyn airfield on the map. Do you remember any kind of nearby reference points?

Sterlikov: I don't know why it was called Grabshteyn. There was no large [inhabited] point nearby, only German huts [before the war Memel oblast belonged to East Prussia]. The airfield was located right up against the highway. In one direction were Elbing, Marienburg, and Danzig and in the other direction was Memel. Koenigsberg was, perhaps, not farther than 50 kilometers. When they stormed it we saw the glow. On the other side of the highway was forest, where we hunted. Along with fields there were large straw stacks. Under the stacks of straw we found potatoes.

There was no stream nearby, but the airfield was located in a depression. So in the spring thaw period the aircraft chassis sank up to the hubs. Not even a tractor could pull them out. We secured slings to the chassis struts and cussed a lot. They made a landing strip from metal mats, approximately two meters long and 70 centimeters wide [Lend-lease pierced steel plate (PSP), most likely-JG], hooked together like a child's toy. The landing field was 70-100 meters wide.

We were stationed at Grabshteyn along with the 1st Regiment. I recall that in the dining facility there were poetically inclined mechanics, recitations of verse, Esenin. I asked the waitress where they were from, and she responded, "1st Guards".

7. Kolberg. Concrete landing strip on the shore of the Baltic Sea, 100 meters from the water. Well-developed infrastructure and barracks.

Sterlikov: This was an excellent German airfield, three kilometers from the town of Kolberg. We went their on bicycles. The dining facility was in a palace, potted trees, and so on.

One time we were flying with Orlenko from Tallinn and came into heavy rain and a thunderstorm. He didn't want to get caught in the thunderstorm and was all the time hedging toward Poland. I was watching the red fuel warning light flicker, signaling the end of our fuel. I told him, "That's it, it's all gone, we are going down." He responded, "We'll see." He set it down in Kolberg and the engines stopped. They had consumed every last drop of fuel.

Bellabs: Were there other regiments of the 8th Division at Kolberg?

Strelikov: Yes. Kolberg was about in the center of the division.

8. Klopitsy. September 1945-April 1946.

9. Palanga. April (May) 1946-April 1947.

10. Grosbirshkaym (Don settlement, Kaliningrad oblast). April 1947-March 1948 (the month of my demobilization). This was the end portion of Zemlyansk peninsula. Concrete landing strip. Alongside a railroad line. Well-built living area of German construction, with its own electric generating plant, water supply, and heating plant.

PEOPLE AND EVENTS

Sterlikov: No one wanted to die. Take Fedor Tikhonovich Pryakhin - regiment navigator. He fought in the north, was shot down. He went down in the water and was rescued. He lost his voice, he had such a hoarse voice. After this he very much valued life, very much. Because he had two children and a wife in Rostov.

Bykov. He was a sergeant, flew in 1st Guards Regiment as a gunner, ordinary gunner. A Messerschmitt damaged them, but when the Bf-109 came around on its second pass, his machine gun jammed. He grabbed a second machine gun from below, mounted it, and shot the fighter down. True, some bullet or debris fragment knocked out his front teeth. He used to tell the story himself. We were going on the train to Tayncha. They summoned him to the fleet headquarters, fed him, gave him something to drink, and then promoted him straight to the rank of junior lieutenant and awarded him the Order of the Combat Red Banner.

We had a navigator who did die. His name was Renzaev. At that time they were paying the pilot, navigator, and gunner money for each sunk enemy vessel. The navigator received five thousand rubles, the pilot a bit more. Renzaev's wife and two children had been evacuated to a village near Omsk. He sent this money to his wife, to the village, by mail. She went to pick up the money and was killed for it. The two children remained. They released him from the unit to go arrange for the care of the children. Later he himself was killed. He was a jurist by education. When we were in Tayncha, someone stole my fur-lined leather jacket. We went to the dining facility and when we returned, my jacket was gone. He went to the administration and petitioned on my behalf. I really felt that he cared about me. He argued that our flight crew could not fly at minus 40 degree temperatures, no one could fly without their leather coat. Well, the garrison commandant was convinced and they issued me a new jacket.

The regiment navigator who perished with Sityakov was Major Zavarin. One time we were going after aircraft. His wife had arrived in Kuybyshev with his two daughters. Apparently he had sent her a telegram. His daughters were small and his wife did not work. Imagine his state of mind! It turned out that he had an appointment at the Finnish port Kotka. Reconnaissance reported that they had discovered three vessels. They had to be "nailed" before they left the channel. There were not enough crews. They assigned him, the regiment navigator, to fly with a junior pilot, someone who was flying his second or third combat sortie. He complained to me, but how could he refuse the mission - it was certain death. It was impossible. But he returned alive. He died later, along with Sityakov.

Bellabs: We have a list of the killed in action. In less than a full year of combat the regiment lost 59 crews - about 180 flight personnel, 200 percent of the assigned strength.

Sterlikov: You have the last names? One of them was a mechanic named Slava, from Ivanovo. He was a senior lieutenant of technical service. A student of the Zhukovskiy Academy. But he dropped out, threw away his opportunity for education in order to go to the front. They sent him to this regiment and assigned him as a mechanic to the second aircraft in the headquarters flight. They were changing out some kind of instrument in the pilot's compartment, in Palanga. They made a test flight. And during this test flight the aircraft was shot down near Palanga. He shouldn't have been on the airplane, but he flew and he died. Perhaps I can find his last name.

Bellabs: There are only a few cases on the list where more than three crew members died. Here it is - Kalmykov. The crew is shown as Makhov, Rudko, Khilimonov, and a second navigator, Dybman, and the aircraft mechanic senior technician-Lieutenant Kalmykov. The aircraft was shot down by fighters on a training range in the Palanga area on 27 February 1945.
Renzaev was killed on 6 March 1945 and Zavarin on 29 September 1944.

Sterlikov: [Looking at the list of killed in action] Here is Kuchin, aircraft mechanic [19 July 1944]. An Il-2 made a forced landing on our airfield at Klopitsy. The pilot, a sergeant, said, "Hey guys, give me a hand here. The engine just died on me." Well, we inspected everything, tested it, started it up, everything worked. He took off. Right off the end of the runway, where our own aircraft were parked, his engine died again and he fell right into a Boston. Kuchin was working on that aircraft. The poor guy, he was killed instantly. The pilot died too. They tore apart his aircraft. It turns out that a mouse had fallen into his fuel tank. And when the aircraft reached the horizontal position [it was a tail dragger], this dead mouse plugged up the fuel outlet and the engine couldn't run without fuel. The pilot and mechanics who tried to help him had been unable to spot the mouse.

I remember a pilot, a Major Vinogradov. He was a genuine naval aviator. He flew an MBR-2, and carried out the taskings of the Leningrad command, personnel-related. The MBR-2 was a wood-and-fabric machine! Just the same he flew it. They gave him four Orders of the Red Banner for this work and two Orders of Lenin. When we went for airplanes they always were moving him ahead. Later we were returned, ferried the aircraft back. Initially I worked with him. He died on his very first sortie [1 July 1944]. He left a son, also a pilot, who later flew in Cuba. The engineer for repairs, Zakharov, married his widow. At the very least, I considered that Vinogradov, such a man of few words, timid, thanks to the good fortune that accompanied him, I consider that this was only good fortune, in as much as not much can be accomplished on an aircraft such as the MBR-2, but just the same he did it.

Then there was Major Kuznetsov, who later became a lieutenant colonel. He was commander of the regiment for a while. He flew the first sortie at Kotka, carrying two 1000-kg bombs [overloaded variant]. He survived much. Parting with me, he said, "Well, Kolya, you might have to write a letter to my wife." I told him, "There will be no letter, everything will work out." He returned safely. Later I was coming out of the dining facility and ran into him. "Hey, let's go get your medal. They are giving you the medal "For Combat Deeds" [Za boevyye zaslugi] for this flight. They're giving me the [Order of the Combat] Red Banner, and you "For Combat Deeds".

There was also the regiment commander Sityakov. He was a military man, smart. He was a captain, but regiment commander. Many subordinates outranked him. On his first combat sortie with a torpedo was a very important mission. It was in June and the flying weather was excellent. He returned and I looked-he had not dropped his torpedo. It was still hanging. He thought that he had dropped it. He was standing on his airplane and everyone came running over. What happened? He said, "Apparently it didn't release." They said to him, "What's holding it?" Well, in any case they carefully took it down. It turns out that in the shackle that releases the torpedo there is a small pyrotechnic cartridge. When they opened up this cartridge, there was a piece of cigarette paper between the contacts. Everyone's first thought was sabotage. But why would someone intentionally damage the torpedo and then fly the sortie? And with such an expensive munition. The torpedo handlers blamed the instrument mechanics. They were afraid that someone would carelessly push the release button [in the cockpit], and out of fear they inserted this piece of paper. The aircraft sortied at night when they weren't around. Therefore, a bad thing happened.

I barely made it through the war alive myself. I was flying to Palanga with Orlenko [regiment commander from October 1944] in the space behind his seat. He was pointing out to me, look, look-at the right engine-look at the black smoke. I said to him, "This is somewhat normal." "No, it's not normal at all." At that moment, as if intentionally, two Airacobras jumped us. The Germans did not have Airacobras, so it had to be ours. But they were making an attack-two aircraft coming straight toward the pilot's cockpit. He immediately threw the airplane toward the ground. I got nervous. If the aircraft was hit, I was going to get it, too. The right engine smoked even more. He dropped toward the ground and then turned back. We could not fly in a broken airplane. Naturally, I had to prove that everything was in order. We returned to the airfield and there encountered the osobisty [NKVD men from the osobyy otdel (special department)], chief engineer, engineer for repair - just as if we were returning from a mission. They grabbed me by the collar and I told them everything was in order. Well, let's go see! I climbed up into the cockpit and pushed the starter button for the right engine-everything was normal. Started up the left engine. Both ran normally, in all regimes.

When I was on a ferry mission, there were not enough crewmen. I substituted. Winter, cold engine, the propeller was rotating poorly, the starter did not have enough power by itself. I climbed up on the airplane and jumped down onto a propeller blade. I did this three times-to check the engine. Because mechanically speaking we could not start the engine without checking the crankshaft. Otherwise we could have a hydrostatic shock. Before every engine start it was a requirement to turn over the propeller by hand. When all was said and done, everyone stood around and waited. The commander, chief of the special department, chief engineer, and mechanics. And just as I had done earlier, in order to save the time it would take to climb down and walk there, I jumped down onto the propeller blade of the warm engine. The engine fired up. A second propeller blade struck me. It was a good thing that I was wearing a leather jacket. It grabbed me and hurled me about 10 meters off to the side. The ramp was concrete and I landed straight on my face. My forehead was bleeding profusely, my nose was pushed down, and my upper teeth were protruding through my lip. As I lay there everyone came running over to me. They rolled me over. I remained conscious. Is he alive? How do you feel? Let's pull your teeth back in and then stop the blood flow. Don't pull them out! They wrapped up my lip, stood me up, and said, "Yes, I think we should replace this engine." Well, they replaced the engine. I went to the hospital. I asked them what had happened to the engine, because everything seemed about normal. "Well, we decided to open up the lubrication system and check it. We found metal filings in the filter. But he had complained about the right engine, and they replaced the left.

Bellabs: Did the engine fire up because it was hot? How did this happen?

Sterlikov: The engine had been turned off. The ignition, the throttle shutters had been closed-these were carbureted engines. It seems that in as much as I had removed the spark, the engine stopped. But it still made several revolutions, and drew a fuel mixture into the cylinders. Because the engine was still hot, and I had induced rotation to it, this rotation worked like a starter. But the ignition was turned off and it should not have fired up. This told us that we should never rotate the propeller of a hot engine. Only one cylinder fired, but this was enough. [Perhaps what happened here was a spark-less ignition of the fuel mixture caused by pressure in the hot cylinder, in the manner of a diesel engine.]

They took me to the hospital immediately in our GAZ-AA auxiliary start truck. They cleansed the wounds and took an x-ray, but there were no broken bones. My face was covered in blood. Now I believe that I have lost vision in my left eye probably because of this incident. It didn't happen right away, but after the war.

Another time in an Estonian town, they summoned Orlenko to Pyarnu, where the headquarters was located. The entire crew flew there. They ordered all of us to remove our sidearms from their holsters when we were walking around the town, which had just been liberated, and place them in our pockets. This is embarrassing to even talk about. Before the flight I realized I needed to go to the bathroom. You know what kind of toilets soldiers used. I lost my pistol there. To lose one's sidearm was a capital offense. So I didn't say anything. We flew to Kolberg. I told my story to Major Kiselev, the engineer for armaments. "What a disaster," I said to him. "Did you tell anyone else?" "No." "Well, OK. I will write off this pistol to someone who was killed and issue you a new one. But not a pistol, a Nagant [model-1895] revolver. This is how problems were solved sometimes.

Here is a memorial photograph taken on order of the regiment command to recognize the best mechanics in the regiment. Standing, from left to right: Shevchenko Vasiliy Martynovich (deputy regiment commander's aircraft); Sterlikov Nikolay Alekseevich (regiment commander's aircraft); Khamanov Mikhail (3d Squadron commander's aircraft); Rozhkov Ivan Evpatevich (training Po-2). Sitting: Plashinskiy (1st Squadron aircraft); next (I have forgotten his name after all this time), senior mechanic of headquarters flight; Surkov (2d or 3d Squadron aircraft).


 

Photo courtesy of the 51 MTAP web site (C)

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