interview by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin
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Interview with Archangelskii Sergey Alexandrovich by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin
Redactor: Igor Zhidov
Special Thanks: Svetlana Spiridonova, Oleg Rastrenin.
Photo: Archangelskii after demobilization. 1947.
Archangelskii: My name is Sergey Alexandrovich. I was born on 10th of October,
1922, at Sokol, near Vologda. My parents had very respectable professions at
the time: my mother, Anna Vikentievna was a nurse, father, Alexander Viktorovich
was a teacher.
At Sokol I went to school. It happened in 1930. There I finished 4th grade. After that we moved to Syasstroy, near Leningrad. I lived there until the beginning of Winter War. When it broke out I moved to Leningrad, and finished 10th grade here. After I finished school, at autumn 1940 I was enlisted into the army and sent to the Krasnoyarsk. There was a 52nd ShMAS – school of aviation specialists. In May 1941 I finished education there, and after that I was sent to Kansk, which is located east of Krasnoyarsk.
— What types of airplanes you were taught to service?
I was taught to service SB — fast bomber. We were studying the construction of the aircraft and repairing possible damage. After I finished ShMAS I was sent to Kannskaya School of navigators and gunners. We serviced R-5 training planes. There I stayed until august 1942.
Photo: 52nd ShMAS, Archangelskii on the left.
— Were there problems with servicing R-5 after SB?
No, not really. Basis is the same, so we just had to remember where which switch and device was located.
— What about repairs?
There were PARMs – field repair stations, and most difficult repairs were made there…
— How did you find out about wars beginning?
We used to live in Kansk. At the morning, at 7 o’clock maybe, we were
gathered by alarm and an announcement was made that war had begun. Everything
was as usual in several days. There was no panic or anything…
In 1942 school was disbanded, and all technicians, pilots and students were sent to Chelyabinsk. There we underwent forming into motorized infantry. Stalingrad campaign was coming…
— You were a technician, and ended up in motorized infantry? And how you were trained?
We went to the shooting range, we were trained to dig trenches and dug outs,
and so on...
In November we were sent to Stalingrad. We went to Volga via Leninsk, and just before November festivities we were sent to cross Volga. When we arrived to the other side of Volga we were hit by bombs. They blew by the side of our boat, and it overturned. We all ended up in the freezing water. Luckily it was very close to the shore, so no one got frozen or drowned. We got out to the shore and ran to Krasnoarmeysk. A new moto-mechanized brigade was forming there. Later it earned a name 12th Guards brigade. We were sent where they pleased. I was appointed to the sub-machine gun company with a rank of sergeant.
We had T-34 as tank component of our brigade. We advanced from Krasnoarmeysk to Novocherkassk, and then to Miuss. At Miuss we were forced to stand in defense. It was not a matter of German defense, but due to logistics problems – all the roads became muddy, and there was no way to get supplies. So we were in defense for half a year or so. Germans were on the Western bank of Miuss, and we were on the Eastern bank. In March an order was issued by Stalin: all specially trained personnel to be returned to their intended type of armed forces. I had a note in my personal card that I was an aviation technician...
— Let’s return a little bit: during Stalingrad battle you rode on tanks or on trucks?
In the rear we were moved by ZIS trucks, and sometimes on Studebakers. In combat we went on tanks.
— Did you help tank crews to rearm and refuel tanks?
— Did you ride on the outside of the tank, or inside?
Outside only. By the way, I was taught to drive a tank. Right before I got into infantry I was sent to Chelyabinsk tank school. There were three pilots and me – a technician. We applied a report that we did not want to be tank crewmembers, and as my companions had pilots logbooks, they were transferred to aviation, but I was sent to infantry…
— Germans state that there were very low temperatures that winter?
Yes, it was very cold. When we were crossing Don in November-December. In January 1943 it was even colder, but by the end of January temperatures had risen, and roads became muddy.
— How you were dressed?
Simple. Soldiers greatcoats and cotton-wool trousers. It was cold, but we were young, and we made it.
— Germans, and especially Italians complain, but our soldiers do not. Why?
We did not complain. What for? We came there to fight, not to complain… It was cold, so we got our 100 grams…
— Were there frostbites?
Of course there were. I had hands and legs frostbitten myself. Up until now my fingers don’t work properly. What was strange – such a huge mass of people were gathered together, and no epidemics… And there were no doctors to prevent them!
— Did Germans provide stiff opposition, or did they just flee?
In the beginning they fought fiercely – we lost somewhere around 70% of personnel. Second difficult time was when they tried to breach our blockade. After that we mostly chased them.
— How you were fed?
At first it was good. Each way we had some hot food, and we also had some “dry ration”. We would march or ride several kilometers, and then we would stop. A field kitchen would come, and we would eat. Then we marched again. Everything changed with mud. When we came to Miuss, we did not eat for 5 days. There was nothing left. Then we would make a “soup”: 200 grams of hot water with some flour per day. Then we got some fish, and we were given porridge with fish. And not a single gram of salt! Up until now I can’t withstand the smell of porridge with fish…
— Were German bombing a problem to you?
— And was there a fighter cover present for our forces?
Of course. Fighters were often barraging.
— Most of infantry men told us that up until the last days of the war they haven’t seen our aviation.
Yes, near Stalingrad there was not a lot of aviation, but it was present, and helped a lot.
— In archival documents it is quite common to see the investigation reports: fighters did not get involved in fighting with Germans, bombers and Shturmoviks attacked wrong targets... Have you seen actual dogfights?
Very few, to speak honestly. Most commonly we saw I-15s and I-16s. They were no match to Messer, but if they appeared, German bombers quite commonly dropped their bomb load anywhere except their target and fled the battle field. We, infantry men, were grateful for that.
— As you described your advance it looked like a nice walk in a park...
Not at all. There were some strongholds, which cost us dearly. As a matter of fact, I tried to find somebody who fought there in the infantry after the war – and I found no one! It was pure luck that I made it through…
— Did you attack before or after tanks?
After tanks. We would ride them to some point, and then a command would come to dismount them. Then we would run…
— What if tank in front of you was damaged?
It happened… Bad luck. We would keep advancing…
— Please, tell us, did tank crews suffer a lot of losses?
They lost a lot of tanks, but not necessarily in destroyed tanks. If a tank looses a track – it’s also lost for the time of attack.
— What was the main reason for tank losses? Artillery? Aviation, tanks?
As far as I remember their aviation did not even damage a single tank in our brigade, although they tried. Main loss reasons – artillery and tanks. They had better tanks at the time. Their SPGs also fought well…
— How do you think – it was German weapon better, or German tactics?
I think their tactics was rather poor, but they had excellent weapon systems…
— So, by the order of Stalin you were sent to aviation…
I was sent to Shturmovaya aviaciya, to 7th ShAK, which was based near Salsk,
and division was stationed at Proletarskoye. We would get there by different
trains. At this time I became blind. My friends woke me up during night, and
said to me:
— Come on, there is a train leaving for Salsk.
I came outside… And understood that I saw nothing! So called “chickens blindness”. I was lucky to be with my friends. We boarded the train, and arrived to Salsk. As I walked into the train station building, I felt that I was waking on something bumpy. As I could see nothing, I found a place on the floor and went to sleep. In the morning I woke up, and saw that the floor was covered by sleeping soldiers. I stepped on them during night.
My friend had already arrived – their bomber regiment was stationed in Salsk, but I had to go to Proletarka. I arrived there by the evening, and again became blind. I knocked at the first house, and they allowed me to sleep there. In the morning I found regiment’s commander. He looked through my documents and said:
— No, this is 7th UTAP, and you need 7th ShAK.
Finally I arrived to the ShAK, and was sent to 232nd ShAP. Regiments commander was colonel Avakumov, much respected man. He sent me to 2nd Squadron, commander of which, Major Kuritsin, ordered me to be his plane mech.
I was working, but I told no one that I couldn’t see during dark time. Why I kept silent? I was afraid that I will be sent to infantry again. For about a month I was working blind.
Photo: Major Kuritsin, KIA in 1943 while strafing tank formation in Polog
— What was your first impression of Il-2?
After SB there was nothing to surprise me.
— But still, what was your opinion? Did you like it?
It was totally different to all the other planes I serviced before. Pilots
adored its armor… But armor saved pilots, and at the same time it was
a punishment for mechs. But all the procedures were the same…
When I came to the regiment my teacher was Anatolii Beleckii. He showed me what I should do. At first he did everything by himself, and then I started to help him rearming and refueling the plane. For about one month I worked this way. When I had to work at night – it was a problem. For example I would stick my finger into the fuel tank and switch the pump off when benzene would reach my finger. In about one month I started to see something during dark time, and finally came to our doctor – Capitan Larkova. She let all the dogs loose at me:
— It is not a problem! What were you trying to achieve? Get killed?
And so on. All of the treatment took about one week. There was an interesting story with her. She asked regiment commander to be present at the take off, and as usual, everybody was swearing over radio, cursing… She listened for this no more than for two minutes, blushed and ran away… In the evening regiment commander assembled all pilots, and announced:
— Guys, we have to do something about swearing… I was so ashamed of you!
— How you were fed this time?
It was a responsibility of BAO (airfield service battalion). We had a ration different from pilots, but it was fine. Once we were fed by rice only for about a month, and we were about to raise our voice, when it was finally changed.
— There were at least a dozen of different Il-2 variants. Which ones you had? Single seat, double seat? Wings straight or with “arrow”? What types of cannons?
When I arrived, regiment was just rearming. During Stalingrad campaign regiment and corpus flew old version.
— Single seated?
There were self-made double-seaters. Technicians flew in them trying to fend German pilots with all they got – even flares.
— Did it help?
It helped. Enemy pilot sees the ball of fire, and he does not know what it is. So he turns away.
— How this cabin looked like?
It was a hole in the upper fuselage. There was a DA or ShKAS machine gun there. Later serial planes came with UBT machine guns. Ils also had 2 ShKAS machine guns and 2 cannons in the wings. We had 23mm versions, not a single 37mm plane. Under wings there were pylons for RS.
— Did you also service the weapons systems?
There were special people for that.
— did you repair the damage?
Yes. There was an example. There was a tech Torovnik, very good handyman. An
aircraft returned, with a huge hole in the wing. It was needed to repair this
plane by next morning. PARM chief came, and told him:
— We have to repair this damage. Start to dismantle the wing!
Torovnik disagreed. To dismantle a wing – it would take at least three days. So they argued with PARM chief:
— You are nuts! You have to be repaired your self! I’ll show you how to give out stupid orders!
He grabbed a hammer and started chasing PARM chief, but he managed to get away. Regiment’s engineer came:
— What’s going on?
— That moron tried to make me to dismantle the wing.
— You think, there is another way?
— Everybody, get lost, I’ll do it myself.
By morning aircraft was ready.
— You said that you were rearming with new planes. Does it mean that new pilots came with new planes?
No. Planes were usually brought in by special ferry teams. Pilots came separately.
For one month we were training, and then our regiment was sent to the front.
Photo: 1943, sergeant Archangelskii
— How well built new Il-2s were? Did they demand some finishing?
We practically rebuilt planes as soon as they came in. It was all different between us and Americans. In 1944 we were stationed in Chuguev on the same airbase with Americans. There were bombers and fighters, Mustangs, if I remember correctly. (Judging from official documents it was a common practice to completely rebuild the new Il-2s after they were received by the fighting units. Especially it was a problem during spring-summer of 1943. – Oleg Rastrenin)
— And they really participated in battles?
When we were there – no. We flew, they – didn’t. After that
we were transferred to Baltic…
Our pilots started flying new airplanes, and some problems appeared. Our mech would disassemble all of the faulty part, but he will find where the problem is. Americans worked in easier conditions – they would simply throw away broken part and replace it with new one. The other thing – they had excellent instruments! We had instrument of very poor quality, with wrong sizing, made from soft metal. On Il to take armor off you had to unscrew a hundred screws, and rare screwdriver lasted more then 2 screws…
— That is, quality of the airplanes was poor?
Very poor, unexpectedly poor…
— What were the main problems?
Engines and landing gear… Pneumatics did not hold air. We had pilot Yermakov – he landed plane with no landing gear or on one leg at least five times…
— Were there investigations made in such cases?
May be, may be… But there were no problems for us. If pilot came in with no landing gear we would inform him that there was some problem, so he would work fuel out, and then he would belly-land on the soft ground.
— How severe Il would be damaged by belly-landing?
Propeller would be bent, engine could be broken… What else… Oil radiator would be torn away. If belly wasn’t damaged we would restore the plane to the flying condition, if it was broken – plane would be signed off to PARM, and I have no idea what happens to it then. Sometimes we would salvage spare parts from these planes...
— How long could engine work?
Airframe had a warranty for 100 hours… Engine would work as long, as pilot uses it. If he does not fly on extremes it could work for 300 hours, if pilot “raped” it – it could be broken in 20 hours.
— How your aircraft were painted?
We had planes painted by two greens. Paint schemes depended on the aircraft
origin plant. We got our Ils mostly from Kuibyshev.
— What kinds of tactical numbers you had?
On the tail fin, there also was a star… Stars were located on the fin, fuselage and lower wing surface. Just red star, no outlining.
— Were there fast recognition elements?
We had spinners painted in yellow.
— How long would it take to replace an engine?
We did it by hand, usually there were 3 or 4 of us, and we replaced an engine by morning light.
— Were gunners effective?
They mostly scared German pilots, but there were a few gunners with kills. For example Kolesnikov had some kills on his account.
— What is your attitude towards political workers?
Not too good. We had a deputy regiment’s commander for political work Major Lanko… He was enlisted in Ukraine, and for no reason he was given a rank of Major. Of course he did not fly, and he was hated by personnel from the bottom of their heart. When we celebrated Fifth anniversary of our regiment three of our four HSUs had something to drink… It was in the Baltic already…
— Do you remember HSUs surnames?
As a matter of fact – I do. Piskunov was in our squadron, Hitalishvili
– in first, Kolesnikov in third, and Chernov was a regiment’s navigator.
(By official reports Hitalishvili was the top expert in hunting German armor
– Oleg Rastrenin)
So, they got drunk, caught this Lanko, chased him and made him hide under the bed. When he tried to get out of there they threatened to execute him with a pistol. We heard that Lanko did something that was against “officer’s honor”…
When division political department members colonel Smotrikov and colonel Korovin found out about this they came to rescue their comrade. Lanko was saved, and all of the HSUs were removed from their posts. It was a scandal! But Heroes were not subjects for court martial, so they simply exchanged them for other HSUs from other regiments. Major Lanko stayed at his post long after I was demobilized…
Photo: unidentified, Regiment commander Tkachev, HSU Piskunov. Photo from war-time newspaper.
— And what about SMERSh?
They were not flying crew, and had no idea about aviation. This lead to some
funny incidents. You know, that bombs for safety reasons are transported with
plastic corks? When detonator was installed, these corks were thrown away, and
often they lay around the aircraft parking stand. The SMERSh representative
came to the parking space, and found this cork. He picked it up, and said:
— What’s this?
One of the weapons officers replies:
— We had thrown away the detonators… Who needs them anyway…
In about half an hour regiment commander calls us in:
— I received a report on you! Why you had thrown away good detonators? Are you crazy? You will be court martialled!
— Comrade commander! How could you think something like this about us?
He called SMERSh representative and started to shout:
— Do you understand what you are reporting? You can’t see the difference between cork and detonator?
— So, they were not a problem?
No, of course not…
— In your opinion, was there a need for SMERSh and Commissars?
Commissars were needed in the infantry, if they went with us to attack the enemy. But there was no need for them in aviation. I still have no idea, what for they could be used.
— What about alcohol?
When we were at Crimea, not far away from us there was an airfield where fighters
were based. Adjutant of one of our squadrons studied at the flight school with
Glinka brothers. These brothers quite often would fly in their Cobras to our
airfield, and drink for the duration of the night. In the morning they would
leave. Regiment commander got tired of this, so he announced:
— It is not right to fly missions after drinking. I will not allow them to take off in such condition next time.
In the morning they went to their planes, but guard did not allow them to board the planes.
— Regiment commander did not allow letting you in the cabin.
There was a big scandal. Our regiment commander called their regiment commander… So they never flew drunk from our airbase again.
On other occasion we were stationed wifh Vasilii Stalins division. He was a “party animal”! After flight day they would gather in the canteen and have dances until morning.
— What is your opinion about Vasilii Stalin?
He was not too good towards people who were not under his command, and at the
same time he would do anything to help any of his soldiers. In the autumn of
1944, for example, he ordered to redirect warm clothes from our regiment warehouse
to his. But his officers loved him:
— Vasilii? He did for us more, then our fathers would!
— What is your opinion about Josef Vissarionovich Stalin?
You know… We were too far away from the politics. Stalin was somewhere “beyond clouds”. He wasn’t good or bad – he was God. Gods actions are not a subject to discussion.
— What was your opinion about Order 227?
It was a blow… Before that we thought that we have a lot of population,
that we had a lot of space to retreat… But this order made everything
clear. And it alone stiffened the defense. It was the last measure, and Stalin
used it at precisely appropriate time. Immediately all cases of insubordination
or friendly-fire were subjected to investigations. There was an occasion (we
were based at Pologi, Ukraine) when Major Kuritsin and his 5 pilots hit our
forces. It was announced over radio, and Vasilii Piskunov turned his group away…
Kuritsin was signed off flying duty and court martialed.
I told you already that I serviced his plane, so we waited for about 10 days about the outcome. Eventually everything was cleared out – he was given wrong coordinates. He was given a permission to fly combat missions, but as an ordinary pilot. This means that he will have to fly in the end of the formation, and his personal gunner was taken away from him. He came to me, and asked:
— Listen, I was given an order to fly as an ordinary pilot to strafe tank division command center, but I do not have a gunner. Would you like to fly with me?
— Comrade Major! No one will allow me to fly, let me call some one from the gunners dug-out.
— Call some one, who would like to fly with me.
So I did. They flew out, and they both did not return. (TsAMO: Pilot Major Kuritsin Sergey Aleksandrovich, born 1904, and gunner sergeant Bakin Georgii Tikhonovich, born 1916, were shot down on 28.9.43)
— Was there an intention to fly as a gunner?
We were tired from our own work on the ground. Some of us died, and not only
in battle. There were two brothers – Artemyevs. One worked in a staff,
and second was a mechanic, and both died…
Artemyev-mechanic was killed in March 1945 – a Studebaker driver run him over while backing up…
The one who served in staff asked to become a gunner. He arranged it with HSU Chernov that he will become his gunner. They both died in May 1945. By this time Chernov was supposed to receive second Gold Star for accomplishing more then 200 missions.
— Losses of aircrews were large?
Yes, quite a lot… There was a pilot Boronenko. For some reason he did
not drop his bomb load. He was coming in on landing last, and at 10 meters bombs
dropped. Four FAB-100 blew under his plane, and he was killed by the blast and
There was Yermakov, very brave guy, and an excellent pilot, several times he made a belly-landing… He also was killed. (Pilot Yermakov Viktor Nikolaevich born 1922, and gunner sergeant Nikitin Nikolai Mikhailovich, born 1922, MIA on 07.02.1944)
— Did you loose more gunners or pilots?
— But someone could have bailed out?
They flew low, so there was no sense in bailing out, besides, Germans commonly shot our parachutists in the air.
— During cold periods did you work in gloves, or by bare hands?
We were issued fur gloves, but it was impossible to do anything in them. I remember one mechanic – Pronin. He was a huge man, one his palm was like mine two. So I came to him to ask for instrument. Right at that moment he was trying to put a nut on a bolt at the rear part of the engine – there was one very tricky one… He did not hear me coming, and lost the nut! He almost killed me! Eventually I had to remove lower armor, look for the nut, and put it in place.
— Who caused most losses? AAA or fighters?
Mostly from fighters.
— How many planes you personally lost during war time?
Three. One was lost with Major Kuritsin. One was shot down, but pilot remained alive. Third flew 150 combat missions and was written off as “worn out”.
— How many planes lived until signing off?
Very few. When I came to the regiment, it consisted of 25 or 26 planes, by the time we came to Chuguev we had only 2 planes left. They were Tkachev’s plane and Chernov’s. Regiment commander and regiment navigator.
— Did they fly combat missions?
Commander didn’t fly too often, but Chernov was very eager to fly. He
could fly as a regiment leader, a six-plane formation leader, or he could fly
They all flew differently. Squadron commander-1, Hitalishvili always flew on average heights. Piskunov Vasilii, Squadron commander-2, flew to target on average height, and flew home at tree-top level. Kolesnikov, Squadron commander-3 would wait for his pilots to assemble in a group after strafing run, and only then he would fly home. It was clearly visible who was coming home, and we all of the time counted returning planes, hoping that everyone will return…
— Germans write in their memoirs that the weakest spot of Il-2 was an oil radiator.
— Have you seen such damage?
No. Unlikely they shot at it. It was just too small. Most commonly they shot from behind-above. I also never heard about an attack from the front. Pilots never missed an opportunity to use their guns and RSs against aerial targets. They had 8 RS-82 or RS-132 under each wing.
— How many bombs Ils carried?
4 FAB-100 – 400 kg. In overload – up to 600. If supposed target was tank column they would take PTABs...
— Did you have Ils with 37mm cannons?
We had only 23 mm cannon version.
— Did you service Il-10?
Yes, when war ended we were sent to Kuibyshev, and received an Il-10 there.
— Which plane was better? Il-2 or Il-10?
Speaking of servicing Il-10 was much better. I do not know about how it would endure in battle, though.
— Could you tell us how you found out about wars ending?
We were sitting near Shaulai, and we received an Il-10 to familiarize us with
it, Part of flight crews left for Moscow to study, part was still flying combat
missions. On 9th of May we suddenly heard fire from all kinds of weapons. At
first we decided that Germans had breached our lines, and ran to the airfield.
There we were told that war finished! I got into the Ils cabin and fired all
guns, and then I ran to another Il, and started firing again! Gunners from the
neighboring 947 ShAP got drunk. Suddenly chief of political department of Division
colonel Smotrikov came to the airfield. He lined up all of the 947 ShAP crewmembers,
and arrested all of those, who appeared to be drunk. When he was leaving, he
noticed me, called me to him, and as I just drunk a glass of beer, I also was
arrested for three days. So, I met Victory day under arrest!