Yakov Ilyich Boreiko
by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin
[email protected] (remove .nospam)
Interview with Yakov Ilyich Boreiko by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin
Editor: Igor Zhidov
Translation: Oleg Korytov
Special thanks: Svetlana Spiridonova and Oleg Rastrenin
Yakov Ilyich Boreiko: I was born on 14 December 1923 in a village
Stepashki in Vinnitskaya oblast. There was no industry in our village at
all. Most important building was the mill.
My father — Ilya Fillipovich Boreiko, who was born in 1891, master-cabinetmaker, was a very good specialist. He fought during WWI, took part in Brusilovs breakthrough. Mom, Lukeria Panteleimonovna — a simple woman, absolutely uneducated, she couldn’t neither write, nor read. Her maiden surname was Slobodenyuk...
We lived in that village until 1935. After famine in 1933, dad went to work at Donbass.
At first I studied at village school, then, up till 9th grade in a town Slavyansk. There was a group of us in the school, and three of us had joined aero club. At the same time we studied at 9th grade and in aero club. Till dinner at school, after it in aero club. Aero club building was in the middle of the city. There we studied theory at winter.
— You studied at school and aero club at the same time, where program was completely different. Did it have negative effect on your studies?
Quality of studies in the school fell of course. There was no time — we had no possibility to read books…
— Did your teachers know that you studied at aero club?
At first they did not know, but later, when our grades fell, it became
obvious. We had to confess…
Teachers did not object. You see, it was a time when such activities were welcome. There was a slogan: "Komsomol member – on the plane".
We graduated from aero club, pilots from Voroshilovgrad flight school came in, they checked our flight technique, theoretic knowledge, and Voenkom had enlisted us all and sent at predefined time to Voroshilovgrad school. It happened so that when I went to the Army I did not take any documents that I graduated from such class with me. We had no idea that these documents will be asked for… In 1940 we were sent to flight school… When was it? We graduated from school, passed graduation exams, which were in May-June. We got two weeks to rest, like a vacation, so it must have been June-July…
— Was there mandatory commission?
Of course, at those days it was the main commission. Medical one was later.
— How did your service begin?
Where it usually begins? In quarantine. Our hair was cut, we bathed,
received military clothes, used one, burnt-out, badly ironed.
While we were in quarantine we were used as labor force to build shooting range: 400 meters long, a wall for a target. Airplane weapon convergence was set there. A shooting range was built, and by September we begun studying theory.
We learn on U-2 first. At winter we began flying it. Then we moved to SB, from which we graduated.
— Wasn’t there R-5?
R-5 was an intermediate airplane. Some even flew TB-1 — a prototype of TB-3. TB-3 had four engines, while TB-1 two. But I did not fly them, I only saw them from the side. We were transferred from R-5 to SB directly.
— What can you say about these airplanes?
R-5 was a reliable airplane, and its reliability was based in its engine.
I cannot recall a single case of broken M-17. But as a combat airplane
R-5 was completely obsolete.
SB was absolutely different generation. All metal. It was beautiful plane, with completely different technology of production.
— Was R-5 difficult to fly?
There were difficulties. Most important in flying R-5 was to hold direction
on takeoff, and adjust it correctly on touch down. It was strict on takeoff.
If you were late with applying leg, it would turn, with no possibility
to correct its path…
SB was different story. Simple for flying. Excellent plane.
— What about glassing quality of SB cockpits?
There was no armored glass… About transparency? May be there were some
problems, but I, personally, never noticed any problems. I could see everything
quite clearly from pilots place.
On R-5 everything obscured vision — wing supports, wings, long nose… Navigator saw nothing…
— We talked to your school graduate HSU Titovich. He also flew Shturmoviks during war time. In his memory SB was comfortable to fly and cadets liked it, while Il was not immediately accepted. Do you remember something like this?
SB was very comfortable airplane to fly, but I never flew it in combat, and my overall experience with it was limited by 52 hours. This was not enough.
— How many flying hours you had before war?
Twenty hours in aero club. I took off solo on 18th mission. We flew solo, in the zone 5 times maybe…
— What were your feelings when you began flying Il-2 after SB?
It was long process, because when in the autumn of 1941 it became clear
that we will be unable to stop Germans, Voroshilovgrad school was evacuated
to Uralsk. Officers with families were transported along with different
stuff were sent there by trains. Cadets marched to Uralsk by foot. Our
group of 12-15 men was sent to United Krasnodar Aviation School.
When we came to Krasnodar we didn’t fly at all. We evacuated from Krasnodar to Caucasus, airfield and railway station Yevlah. There we flew SBs for so called “combat use”. Crews consisting of cadets, pilots and navigators flew in a formation several times and one time we bombed at the bombing range. We used concrete training bombs P-40.
— It was filled with water or it was solid bomb?
It was filled with explosives…
The training was over… I received a graduation form where it was written that I’m a bomber pilot, graduated and so on… I received a rank of lieutenant…
We got sergeants from first school, even though previously pilots were always graduated as officers…
— Timoshenko’s order?
Yes. A uniform for us was already prepared, it was in our wardrobes... Then an order came, and we were sent to Krasnodar as sergeants. (Timoshenko’s order was issued much earlier than autumn 1941. O.R.)
— What was your attitude towards Timoshenko’s order?
Attitude? I didn’t even think about it, and there was no insult in it.
Order is order…
Be began to think only later, and it was not clear to us — similarly prepared pilots had different ranks — some sergeants, some Lieutenants.
— In our bomber aviation crew commander was pilot. In German – navigator, the one who dropped bombs. How do you think, what was more correct?
Correct was — pilot. Because commander was responsible for everything. Navigator was just navigator; he had nothing more from aviation. He can’t fly, he can’t take pilots place.
— But if navigator is dead, pilot couldn’t accomplish mission on his own.
Navigator shouldn’t be killed before target. Over or after it most likely.
— After bombs are gone there is no need in navigator…
No, he is needed, to guide crew home in complex weather condition, at
night and so on. Pilot has no time to look after everything.
It is possible that my opinion was based on my experience, because I had no chance to fly with highly qualified navigators. Half a war I flew with navigator-artillery fire corrector (AFC). So I developed my own opinion, and not too good one.
I know that there were excellent navigators, but I had a chance to fly with them only after the war. At war time I brought them to the target, showed it, he did his business, and I brought him back.
— Let’s return to your studies. You graduated as SB pilot. You should have been sent to ZAP or combat unit.
After graduating from Krasnodarsk united school, I was sent to reserve
air regiment at the little town — Petrovsk, in Saratovskaya District. It
happened in the end of 1942.
In ZAP we were met like privates — we were sent to barracks. We did nothing serious. Most important thing during the day was to get in line to the canteen first.
— You were poorly fed?
Yes. ZAPs, as a system of postgraduate training for combat units was
not too well thought through. Instructors in reserve regiments were unable
to train pilots for future battles. They did not know what war was, because
they never flew a single combat mission.
My instructor in Petrovsk, lieutenant, a young boy, who only could have trained me to make take offs and landings. But he did not teach me these things too. We were in reserve. Then Il-2s began arriving to the ZAP in replacement of SB.
— Your first impression about Il-2?
For the first time I saw it at Petrovsk airfield. I never saw it before,
had no idea about its existence at all. When a group of airplanes were
ferried in, our impression was that it was completely unknown airplane…
This 15th reserve regiment in Petrovsk prepared not sturmoviks, but reconnaissance pilots. And Il-2 came there equipped not for ground attacks, but for reconnaissance flights. With photo cameras, powerful radios and so on.
— Were there training films about Il-2 available?
No. I never saw one. In reserve regiment I was given a manual that came
with the plane, it was printed on yellow paper at the aviation plant, and
that was it. We read it, looked at the airplane, and touched it, that’s
all. No films.
I couldn’t give any remarks about this plane, because I was not an expert then. I never flew it before; I didn’t know its combat potential. We were trained to fly it like this: I had two observation flights in UT-2. We approached ground at high speed, and leveled off… If you read about UT-2, you should know that it was very light airplane. It flew another kilometer after leveling...
— You had UT-2 with straight wings or modernized ones?
With 15 degree arrow…
After UT-2 I flew in Il-2 and that was it.
— What about your impression?
Completely different story. Powerful engine, roaring, it’s weight in
your hands. I took off, made a box and landed. Instructor Lieutenant climbed
on the wing, opened cockpit, looked into my eyes and asked:
— Make another one, and that’s it for today…
I made two flights, then another two flights on the next day, one to the zone. In all I had three flight days. Two zone flights and six boxes. With such experience I went to fight in the war.
— How you were sent to the front? Regiment came to form?
That’s an interesting story.
Chief of staff summoned me. It was noted in my personal file: "Can be appointed to a flight leader position".
— You were allowed to become a commander with only 6 flights in Il-2?
No, I was recommended as flight commander in Krasnodar, while flying SB. I graduated, and such note was made. It was found in ZAP, crews were formed, we received three planes, and I was given an order: military unit with such number.
— Were you given route and airfield location?
No, I was told to land at Lipetsk for refueling, and ask there where this unit is based. Can you imagine? I wasn’t even 19 years old then.
— You flew out in a three plane formation?
Yes. Leader — flight commander, that was I. We took off, gained 600
meters of altitude, and flew to Lipetsk. We arrived early, landed, taxied,
switched engines off. I went to dispatcher, an elderly man, who looked
like he knew what he was doing.
— Where you are heading? — He asked me.
— Military unit Number...
He asked again:
— Where is that?
— Damn me if I know. I was told "Ask at Lipetsk". I’m asking you now.
He was indignant, but said:
— Fine, go to the canteen, have something to eat, I’ll sort it out...
— You were given airplanes that belonged to reconnaissance squadron?
No, airplanes were signed to ZAP, which received them from the plant. Then units of reconnaissance aviation were formed. Each Air Army had two such squadrons.
— Airplanes that came to ZAP were already equipped with everything needed for reconnaissance at the plant, or you had to equip them at the regiment?
Yes, equipped at the plant.
— Were you satisfied with Ils production quality? Or was low?
To say about quality you have to thoroughly test it.
About Il both in reconnaissance and in sturmovik versions I never had any problems in flight. Some small deficiency, maybe some instrument was lying a bit. Not a single time engine even coughed.
— That was your mechanics achievement?
And of aviation plant that produced planes and engines. Because…
Of course some problems happened, but it was technicians work to remove them. When they finished, I flew again.
There were rare problems with weapons, like badly assembled munitions belt would cause jamming. Those were expected problems. What’s so bad if throttle handle was not polished?
I mean – this plane was ideal. It was the best for those roles it had to fulfill.
— In reconnaissance version there was a large photo camera in the rear cabin?
Behind rear cabin there were two or three cameras AFA-33. For perspective and planar filming… And to increase filmed area.
— Was there possibility to carry bombs and rockets on reconnaissance Ils?
I never carried bombs. There was RSs. Mainly RS-82, four on each wing. If they were absent we hanged RS-132, two on each wing. Sometimes we flew without them, if, for example they were absent at the munitions dump…
— Let's return to your ferry flight. You went to the canteen, what happened next?
We were fed, I went to the dispatcher again, he said:
— I found it. Your unit is based near Fatezh.
— Keep in mind, you are flying after midday, sun is on the West, it will be blinding. On the final part of your flight you might have to descend a bit.
We listened to his recommendations. "Fatezh", we drew a straight line on the map.
About two hours later we took off… We came when it was light yet, straight to the airfield, at about 17.00.
— Straight to your airfield?
Of course not. I descended a bit at the second half of the route, and lost my location. When I flew at high altitude, I marked each village by finger. But here I lost orientation due to different sense of speed. I decided to fly by compass until I cross railroad that went from Orel to Kursk, and almost repeating it there was a highway. But I did not notice how I crossed railroad, found highway and turned left. I held course, but I did not know that I should have held it ten or fifteen degrees less because of Kursk magnetic anomaly. I had to turn to the left again, follow the road which went through the city, flew around the town, but did not found any airfield. It was somewhere near Fatezh. I flew around it, my wingmen were holding at my wing.
— Did you speak to them over radio?
There was no connection. I had a transmitter. But I was not given a
radio frequency. They kept silence. Everybody keeps silence in such circumstance.
I was lucky – suddenly I noticed a suspicious field with wheel marks over green grass…
I flew around it, they set a T, I ordered my flight to spread and landed. Runway ended, it was from south to the north. Soldier ran towards me with red tag – “move here”. We taxied to the forest, and then planes were pushed under the trees. Squadron that we sought for was also at this airfield. On the other side of the airfield there was fighter regiment…
That’s how we made it to the front…
— You really were lucky. Since we touched this question: did you know about cases of lost orientation? I mean such losses that resulted in lost airplanes?
No one ever studied this question. It was much easier to repport – "combat
It all depended on level of training. I personally flew and was sure that I will not get lost.
But there were cases, once whole squadron got lost. Squadron commander flew as a leader, got lost, and they had to land in the first field. One airplane was broken. A column of fuel trucks was sent there, they took off and landed at home base. There was an investigation, but I don’t know what kind of measures was undertaken. Maybe, there was no time for this… About broken plane? Who cared? New one will be sent in.
— At which unit you arrived?
It was 14th detached reconnaissance-artillery correction squadron, which was renamed after Kursk battle to 11th Guards.
— How were you met at the squadron?
No one was actually meeting us. Everything was as usual, as it can only be — "Our reinforcements came", we were introduced. Here is your dugout, here is canteen, and here is this, there is that... Absolutely new situation, no one known to us. Commander asked us what we could do. We knew nothing and had no idea how to fight.
— Who was squadron commander?
Squadron commander was Ivan Sergeevich Tishenko.
— Did he fly combat missions?
Very carefully and very rarely.
— It should be this way, in your opinion?
No. Commander should be combat pilot. But I had no respect towards him.
— When did you come to such conclusion?
When I saw how he put himself, how he was managing the squadron, how he gave orders...
— Who was your political officer?
Political officer was not a pilot. A man, who can teach me or have some
effect on me, should be at least a specialist in our work. But he was a
real Master in talking...
Attitude towards commander was not only mine, but widespread among crews. It lead to my transfer to sturmovik regiment before Visla-Oder operation in the end.
— That is, you were completely fed up?
I was not satisfied with the situation.
— Who was in charge of the missions then? Stab commander? Flight commander?
Squadron commander. But I studied from more experienced pilots, who flew a lot, who had a lot of practice. I looked after them, and listened to them with great respect, trying to catch every word.
— But each pilot develops his own principles of flying and fighting… And not every advice can be really helpful in real life situations. How did you «filter» their advices?
Yes, that is right, because if I would have repeated what he did by
word in different situation, in current situation it might be absolutely
inappropriate, his advice might be not correct. I had to add something
from myself, think about it.
Each time, in each flight everything was different. There was no situation that everything was identical, each flight was special…
Other pilots experience was useful as basis, but all decisions should be made by you. Think yourself. It did not come straight away, until you got your own experience, there is no choice but to use other people experience…
— When you began to understand wheat was happening in the air and on the ground?
This ability develops with time, for me personally somewhere within
Each mission flown was different from all others, as I already told you. We were given intelligence data that was available to the stab, where what was expected to be located or happening. When I arrived to the area, I tried to find and identify known objects.
— Were you given any photos of target area?
We did not receive any photos. I had only flight map and nothing else.
I just placed marks where it was needed.
Each one of us had a map which he marked as found fit. Marks clear to me could be absolutely mysterious to my fellow pilot… We all flew only with our own maps.
— How much time it took you to prepare for a mission?
It always depended on mission type.
— What was the average time to prepare an airplane by technical crew?
It always exceeded time needed to prepare a pilot. To rearm, refuel,
add oil, fill in compressed air bottles...
If there were no other problems found on the plane — twenty or thirty minutes.
— Your relationship with technical crew?
You know, technical crew and flight crews were like one family for me.
One family. That was my opinion, and they thought so as well.
Technicians did their work well, providing safety. This allowed accomplishing missions. How could I think of them? There were no problems.
— Did you fly reconnaissance missions by solo crews or in pairs? Did you have fighter escorts?
When squadron was reformed into regiment, there was one squadron of
fighters included which were supposed to provide escort. There was a squadron
of Il-2s, a squadron of Yaks and a flight of night reconnaissance Po-2s.
That was regiment composition. Thus, in the second half of the war there
was possibility of cover.
When we flew first missions there was no escort at all.
— But Germans hunted for reconnaissance planes? How our commanders looked at it?
They did not react. How could they, if there was no possibility to provide cover. Even our neighboring fighter regiment had its own tasks...
— Were there losses in your squadron?
During Kursk battle we lost four airplanes with crews.
— Crews perished with the airplanes?
No one returned.
— Did navigator have a machine gun?
Of course, «Berezin 12,7 mm». With about 200 rounds. (150 rounds in the belt. O.R.)
— Tell us about relationship within one crew? Between gunner-navigator and pilot?
As we touched level of navigators’ readiness… If my navigator was weak as professional, I did not ask for another one. I did everything to defend crews honor. I never told anyone if he did something wrong and so on. It was on our conscience. Sometimes I simply did not want to cause discomfort for him…
— What was the main weakness of navigator training?
Let’s take Ivan Kuzurmen, which was my first navigator, from ZAP times. He graduated from artillery school, he was an artillery officer. He knew theory of artillery fire, how to prepare aiming data, but that was it. In aviation terms he was a complete zero. He was a pure artillery officer, who had no idea about navigation at all. He couldn’t calculate and plot a course. How they were prepared? Artillery officers were taken from schools, had flown as passengers in Li-2 for a single time, and were sent to ZAP.
— That is, all navigation was your job?
I took this part from start till the end.
— Was there sense in having such navigator?
He was assigned to my crew, and in terms of correcting artillery fire
he was a true master.
I too had great experience in theory and practice of correcting artillery fire. But I made a lot of sorties for correcting fire, but not single time artillery hit target with first burst. They only hit general area of the target.
We usually corrected large caliber artillery fire, of Army artillery groups, which fired for over 20 kilometers. We had to correctly establish positions of explosions in regards of the target to provide them with enough data to adjust aim. We had to make adjustments at least three times.
— What instruments you or your navigator used to adjust fire?
Eyes and map.
— Did you have any rangefinders?
Nothing. His great specialty was that he could see range, precisely establish distance in meters, transfer them to map grid and send to artillery units.
— Did you have any training missions after arriving to the squadron?
No, and couldn’t be, because I came with 3 Il-2s, while squadron had Su-2s.
— When you flew your first mission?
I flew first mission near Orel. About ten days after we arrived to the
I flew my first combat sortie not with my navigator, but with an experienced one. From take off till landing he told me how to make a maneuver and many other secrets…
— Which airplane navigators preferred for reconnaissance and artillery correction missions, «Su-2» or «Il-2»?
Il-2 had better qualities. When they looked at it, they saw that it
provided better possibilities…
In Su-2 he sat like pilot in the rear cabin, with great view. Here he sat facing tail, view was worse, but with better protection from below — there was an armor plate (The floor of rear cabin was not armored, longer armor fuselage and repair addition of armor were introduced later. O.R.), this was very important for navigators…
— You were in reconnaissance-artillery fire correction squadron. How many missions you flew for reconnaissance and fire correction?
Approximately equally. When operation was prepared, we made photographs – photo tables at the direction of main strike, where breakthrough was planned. Army had 15-20 kilometers of frontline to break through for all depth of tactical defense. This area was filmed with scale 100 meters in 1 centimeter.
— From which altitudes you made photographs?
«AFA-33» 30 centimeters was focal distance, 100 meters in 1 centimeter — 3 000 meters.
— What if you flew higher or lower?
It depended on order. If it specified 50 meters in 1 centimeter we would recalculate altitude.
— Lens wasn’t adjusted for new altitude on the ground?
Lens focal distance was adjusted for an altitude of 3 000 meters. Photolab technicians prepared everything, armed cameras and that was it…
— Where your squadron was assigned to?
It was assigned to 16th Air Army.
— Did you receive order on the ground or in the air?
When mission was planned ahead, we received a task at home. I would fly to the ordered area, connected over radio with ground controller, he would tell me what to do exactly, and I began working. Sometimes I took off without any order, and got information via radio. But that was rare situation…
— What were your main targets?
I corrected fire only at enemy artillery. Counter battery fire.
— Could you see enemy artillery positions from the air?
Well, that was the trick that I received an area, where I had to located camouflaged artillery sites.
— When you were working with ground control, did enemy try to interfere with your radio connections?
I had been in such situation at Kursk. I came to the given area with
an order to receive further directions from the ground. It was always difficult
to establish clear radio connection. Why? Radio station was placed in the
fuselage, aft from navigator-gunner. A cable went from my cabin to the
station and back, tuner was also in my cabin.
To tune onto correct wave was a real problem. It was difficult to do every time needed. The volume went up and down. Shells exploding, engine roaring, cockpit was not hermetized, you understand?
But this time I heard clearly far from frontline:
— This is “call sign”.
— Ready to receive a task!
But they replied:
— We are not going to work today. Situation had changed, we will not work today. Thank you and good bye.
I turned around and landed at home base. When I taxied to the parking area, everybody looked at me with eyes wide open:
— What happened?
I explained. They asked:
— Did you ask for a password?
— Did you give me this password?
I didn’t even know what password is.
Airplane was refueled. I took off for the second time, this time connection over radio was as usual, with someone whose voice was known to me, I accomplished my mission. Everything ended well. For failing mission without proper reason I could be punished…
— Were there cases when missions were not accomplished?
There were such cases. Situation sometimes was so difficult, that there was no way target could be located.
— If you did not reach target, was it a combat mission?
Of course not, it was not credited and mentioned in my pilots log book. To be exactly correct, total time flown was calculated, but it was not mentioned as combat mission…
— Let’s imagine that you returned from AFC mission fully loaded. Was it normal to bring all ammo back to the home field?
I had no permition to change my orders and to show some initiative. There was one case, which happened during battle for Dnepr. I had to make photomap. After first pass I met Hs-126, German reconnaissance airplane. On the second pass I met him again. Then once again. A thought went through my mind: I have to punish you! So I showed initiative. He had pretty similar speed, maybe a bit lower…
— At which speeds did you fly? 250? 300?
320 was the cruise speed. So, after second meeting I turned around, gained on him. He was smart, and turned under me, but I repeated his maneuver, after second or third burst it caught fire and fell, with an explosion on the ground. I followed them to the ground. I went home feeling so-o-o happy…
— What kind of cannons did you have: «23» or «37»?
I never saw 37 mm cannons. Two ShKAS machine guns and 2 VYa 23 mm cannons. I used those cannons to get him…
— Do you remember when did it happen?
I had notes somewhere… I returned to base, but the end of the run was not filmed. I reported. Film was checked, and it became obvious that job was not done, it had to be finished. So who is interested if you brought enemy reconnaissance airplane down if your work has to be done? And I was sent back into the air with that same task…
— Was it noted into your log book?
There is no note in the log book, but one week later ground forces sent in a confirmation, so I was officially paid 110 rubles for downing enemy airplane (Must be a mistake – it should be 1500 rubles O.R.).
— Not 1 000?
No. That was it.
— Do you remember if pilots’ armament of the shturmoviks was used against enemy airplanes? Or it was a rare case?
In dogfight it could be used for protecting Il-2 formation only. We
had to accomplish our mission. Go there, locate target, wipe it out… And
return home safely. If we were attacked by enemy fighters we had to organize
defense: tighten formation, gunners should interact with each other…
If enemy gave us a chance, got into our gun sights for example, then… But I doubt if it was done intentionally. If enemy had twice the speed, there was no place for showing off in front of him...
— What was the most serious threat for you: AAA or fighters?
Our analysis, which was done after the war, showed that these two threats were pretty equal. But as I remember most losses were caused by AAA.
— Everyone with whom we talked claimed that enemy AAA was more dangerous.
It’s correct. Imagine, I’m a pilot and he’s a pilot. If we met in the air, we could try to fight each other. I saw him, he saw me… But I can’t see AAA gunner aiming and firing at me.
— Could you see when you were already fired upon from the ground?
There was a law, when we came to the target, formed a circle, I was
responsible for the plane in front of me. He is in attack run, I’m looking
who is firing at him. If I locate threat, I have to abandon main task and
silence the threat.
It was a law: I have to kill those who fired at the plane in front of me…
— Were you ever shot down?
I was shot down at Orel-Kursk curve once by a pair of Fockers. It was
during final stage of Orel-Kursk battle, when Germans were already retreating,
or to be exactly correct - fleeing…
We got a task of locating retreating enemy forces in order to strike it again. For one mission I was ordered to fly along certain road. I flew there, the road was soaked after the rain, and a small river with a bridge over it. There was such a traffic jam there, that I never again saw until the end of war. Tanks, artillery pieces, trucks… A lot of them.
— At which altitude did you fly then?
At 1 000 meters approximately. Just to avoid small arms fire… At 600
meters we were fired at by all types of weapons, including pistols.
I had no experience, so I began flying in circles, counting the enemy… That must have been my tenth mission. When we counted, we had to establish quantity of the enemy forces very briefly, in tenth. There is no difference, if there were 150 trucks or 200… A lot… But I began counting. One circle, second, I absolutely lost situation awareness and fear. For some reason I decided that most important thing was to establish their amount to the last soldier. My navigator was also counting.
Then, suddenly, a hit. I can’t even describe you a feeling when your airplane is hit by a shell. Just a hit and all guts go down inside you. I looked at the left wing which was hit by a series of shells and saw wing skin ripped off, landing gear extended, and earth through the holes.
Inside of my cockpit a high pressure air line was torn, so all dust from inside of the pipes flew into my eyes… «Focke-Wulf» pulled out of the attack. No one taught me to fight, all that I remembered, was that I should start veering. Germans supposedly will be unable to establish correct deflection angle.
First one hit me, and second one placed a burst in my plane… My tail was hit once again. Now I had to make decision, what to do next. Weather was about 10 degrees. I couldn’t understand where the sun was, where south or north. I was in a bank, compass was spinning. So I just half rolled my plane, made a half loop down and flew in “that” direction. I pulled on the stick, but plane was not responding… I managed to pull it out of a dive just over tree tops. I got lucky… There was serious fear that there will be not enough altitude.
Where should I fly now – not clear. There was some kind of sixth sense, just luck, I don’t know how to call it, and so I flew in generally correct direction. Finally, I established my location. Speed was decreasing, airplane began loosing speed, and I pulled control stick…
I landed off the runway on a belly… Landed, walked out of the plane, looked at the remains of the elevator, which was almost absent. All fabrique was gone. I also bent propeller blades and tore away oil radiator…
Airplane was dismantled, wings were disconnected, loaded on a truck and taken away to the aviation plant to Kursk for repairs. We received a new plane and kept flying it later. You know, Il was one of the toughest airplanes of the war era. I made it home without tail and landed.
— What was the maximum AAA caliber which Il could have endured?
20 mm — those were Oerlikons, they always were placed close to each
other. 37 mm was quite serious.
Il-2 was well judged by foreign historians. Germans called it “a scalpel that cut their army’s guts out”.
— Your squadron lost four crews during Kursk battle. How many remained at the end of the battle? What was the initial number?
10 airplanes in the squadron. There were 2 flights equipped with Su-2 and 3 Il-2s. Stab flight was assigned to the stab.
— Flights had 3 planes or 4?
We had 3, fighters had 4. But we still flew solo.
— What happened after Kursk battle ended?
Then we rebased to the new airfields, and almost without a pause a battle of Dnepr began. There were no reinforcements given to us. We kept flying six planes till Byelorussian operation.
— When your squadron was reorganized into regiment?
At the beginning of Byelorussian operation. 1944.
— During battle for Dnepr you kept flying reconnaissance missions?
Yes. During battle for Dnepr we did not fly photo recon missions. We only escorted troops, and there were almost no tasks of correcting artillery fire. Everything was on the move. So we reached Dnepr.
— How many missions you flew per day? During operation?
Two on average. Sometimes only one or none at all. Maximum that I flew was 3 missions in one day.
— In the evening you received 100 grams.
Yes. 100 grams for a combat day. Independent on how many missions you flew, 100 grams. If you did not fly, you did not get it.
— Did you add some more?
I wasn’t into it at all… Other boys did add. They bought moonshine in the villages.
— How did you pay for it?
We were paid some money.
— Did you receive money on your bank account or in cash?
How ever you wished. I arranged my money to be sent on my dads account. I had no need in money. Some of the pilots took cash.
— Did you fly with awards or they were kept in a safe in the stab?
I personally attached all my awards to my soldiers blouse and flew with them.
— How many missions you have flown during GPW?
I flew over 100 missions, but was credited with only 84.
— Weren’t you upset that you didn’t make it to 100 missions and missed an opportunity to receive a Hero title?
I didn’t think about it then. It was not polite to discuss such thing.
But in reality it is impossible to judge artillery correction missions
by number flown, and impossible to compare with any other tasks too.
In the beginning, at Stalingrad and Moscow, shturmovik pilot received a Hero title for 80 missions flown. Then for 90, and finally, 100. That’s when war ended.
But I have to say: in my regiment 90% of the pilots were of the same quality as I was. That’s in my last regiment – 59th Guards… Who of them should receive a title, while not offending others was a real problem with a lot of “buts”.
— Were there rules which should be followed in issuing awards?
There were, but they were not always followed
— Why award could have been called off?
For some foul act in combat. For braking subordination rules. For “moral decay”.
— Why did you leave your reconnaissance regiment? And how?
I just lost interest in fighting with this unit. I wrote a report: «I
ask to be transferred to shturmovik aviation», full stop. Without
further explanation. Commander didn’t even talk to me about my decision,
he was not interested why I was leaving.
When we met after the war in Gomel and Lvov, at western Ukraine, he said to me:
— You shouldn’t have left, we were about to send a presentation list for Hero for you.
— Thank you. But you didn’t found an opportunity to talk to me then?
— Eventually you ended up in shturmovik aviation. Were tasks different from those that you received in reconnaissance regiment?
In 59th Guards — like sky and earth.
It was much more difficult in correction regiment. In 59th I always was in a group, in company. Groups were different, crews and pilots were also different. I was accepted very well. There was no feeling discomfort at all.
— Pilots, who came to bomber or shturmovik regiments from reconnaissance units usually had a lot of problems. One of the reasons was their inability to fly in formations, since they were used to single plane missions.
Yes. But I didn’t experience this. I’ll tell how I was introduced to
battle. I went there, showed my documents, and gave my personal file. I
was sent to 3rd squadron. At that time squadron commander had 7 awards
on his chest.
A flight day began. Regiment commander decided to check me. Not squadron, but regiment commander.
Squadron commander asked me:
— Do you know him? Why he decided to check you personally?
I had no idea. Regiment commander checked me and allowed flying with a “good” mark. Everything came to its places. We began flying combat missions, and when regiment commander flew, he took me as his wingman. Everybody was so surprised.
I felt no discomfort. If I had to be at this position in formation, I was there. I held formation and maneuvered as was ordered. Once he chose me to fly with him, and told me, I still remember his words:
— We are going to fly now, and I will show you how to love our Motherland.
And he did show me how. We landed, he asked:
— Is everything clear?
He began fighting near Moscow, then Stalingrad, and in 1943 he received a title of HSU. Sklyarov Maxim Gavrilovich, He is buried at Novodevichye cemetery, we go there each year to visit his grave. He showed us qualities of a true shturmovik fighter: maneuvering, how attack ground targets or compose a dogfight…
— Which award was most valued by military pilots?
All awards were awards. Highest state award was Order of Lenin. It was a rare Order, maybe due to attitude of supreme commanders. My squadron commander Ivaikin Grigorii Yefimovich, bashkir by nationality, was presented for an HSU title, but he was awarded by Order of Lenin.
— To which position you came to the regiment?
Deputy squadron commander in a rank of Senior Lieutenant.
— When did you cross the border of Soviet Union?
That was after Belorussian operation.
— Were you told that you were abroad now and that you should follow special rules now?
In Germany – yes, not in Poland.
— Was there any difference in attitude towards our troops by local population in Poland and Germany?
Well, there was difference. Poland was almost like our territory. Germans
were completely different. But I had no chance to meet locals in Germany.
To be honest, I haven’t seen any poles too…
They were cautious, kept their distance. It came to its places only when some time had passed…
We were told to stay calm AND SO ON. There were people whose relatives were murdered or suffered from Germans, and they were into avenging not even to military personnel, but to civilian population too…
— What did you think of Second Front?
We did not think of it as of any kind of help. They did their job, but it was clearly a political game. When they finally opened it, we did not even feel its appearance.
— Some say that it became even worse. Because…
Well, not worse…
— …when Americans were kicked in Ardennes in January 1945, we had to begin unprepared advance in order to help our allies.
Yes, because of this situation we had to begin Warsaw operation 15 days early, when not all needed preparations were made yet. This story cost us dearly in lives. They opened second front… So what? Germans had the same amount of troops at our front as they had before; they kept fighting with the same strength.
— Did you felt Lend-lease benefits: food, cloth? Radios or other equipment?
There were Studebaker trucks that were used to carry ammunition and other supplies, they were undisputedly better than our ZiS-5 or GaZ-AA 1.5-ton truck. Studebaker had all-wheel drive and better cross-country capabilities. We saw A-20 Boston bombers, which were good and we used them to good effect. I can’t say more… Oh, we received metal airfield construction sets…
— Did you fly from them?
Yes. It was a bit worse than concrete runway, it had slight drag effect,
but still allowed to fly at any time.
We also received food and clothes. Canned sausages and meat were very good, that I still remember… It was very tasty.
— Did you have American leather coats?
We didn’t have them, fighters took all leather coats and trousers. We
had nothing foreign…
At the end of war we received a uniform made from English fabrique, light-brown soldiers blouse and pants…
— How you were dressed for flying?
There were no rules regarding clothing. At summer – soldiers blouse, pants, flight suit, which had them.
— What about winter time?
There was winter uniform, cotton-wool pants and coat.
— Not fur?
At first there were fur flight suits, warm but very uncomfortable…
— 84 missions flown that’s only in 59th regiment?
That’s total sum. About half in reconnaissance squadron.
— What kind of weapon was most effective?
— Do you believe that RSs should be traded for bombs? Or they were needed?
You know, I aimed and launched RSs at target precisely, and saw results.
When I dropped bombs I couldn’t see where it fell, so I had to turn around
and take a look…
But at first RSs had lots of drawbacks. In the beginning of my career I saw many times how RSs flew very wide of the aiming point…
It happened so that they were very sensitive to stabilizer damage – even slightest change of angle lead to large mistakes. Later RSs began arriving in special protecting cases, one in each.
— What kind of RSs you used in shturmovik regiment?
Most commonly we used 8 RS-82. There were very few 132. There was almost no difference in effectiveness. 8 RS-82 were no worse than RS-132 when placed well.
— Did you drop all bombs in one pass or in pairs?
It highly depended upon situation. Usually we dropped bombs on first pass, RSs on second and strafed with guns and cannons on third.
— What was the largest bomb that you carried?
The largest bomb that I carried was FAB-100. 250 kg bomb did not fit into bomb bays, and no one carried them externally.
— What was maximum bomb load?
400 kilograms, four 100 kilogram bombs.
— Did anyone fly with 600?
There was no real need? External load was only a problem, we were very slow even without overload.
— How many runs you made at the targets?
No less than three. You had to get rid of the bombs.
— Couldn’t you have done it in one pass?
It would be senseless. This tactics was used in 1941 and 1942 — all weapons in one pass. But that’s cheating.
— How many runs were made maximum?
Four or five, if there was no threat from air or ground, then we strafed with full pleasure.
— We heard about eight.
No way, that’s not true. There is nothing to do for eight runs.
— Your main targets were enemy logistics lines?
Area of tactical defense, that’s 20-25 kilometers in depth, depending
on how enemy placed his units.
We also received tasks to attack airfields. Airfields were also no less than 50-70, or even up to 100 kilometers away from frontline. But those were rare occasions.
— What was your favorite and most hated task?
Artillery at firing positions. That was the worst, favorite and main task. And tank concentrations.
— Why you liked or disliked it?
Enemy field artillery was the most comfortable target – it couldn’t return fire at us…
— But it always was protected.
Well, that’s another story. On the other hand tanks fired at airplanes, and sometimes even hit. We attacked tanks not from a dive but at 100 meters high level flight. We used special anti-tank bombs. Their crews had a possibility to raise tank gun bore up to 40-55 degrees, and fired pretty precisely. So it was very dangerous on approach and retreat. You had to think how to arrange your pattern. Tanks were much more dangerous than artillery.
— What about railway stations, airfields, bridges and river crossings?
Those were very rare tasks. We usually worked over battlefront.
— What was the most effective mission that you flew in terms of harm to the enemy?
Well, hard to say. Most effective? I have one example about effectiveness.
It was in the beginning of Belorussian operation. We were stationed behind
48th Army, West of Gomel, Zhlobin and Rogachev. Before Belorussian operation
we were filming area of the future breakthrough for this 48th Army. At
one of the days a courier came to our hostel while it was still dark outside,
woke me up and ordered to go to the stab. I went there and saw regiment
commander, chief of stab, some major from infantry and a colonel with red
shoulder boards – special service officer… It happened so that this colonel
was a chief of intelligence of this 48th Amy. He said:
— Today, at dawn Belorussian operation will begin. Take a look…
He showed information about enemy defenses at the map…
— Yesterday at the evening we received information that Germans had moved their troops from first line of trenches to the secondary line. Why? We had a decision of Commander to direct 70% of preemptive artillery bombardment at first line of enemy defenses. 75% here, 25% here. Suggest that Germans moved their troops to secondary defense positions, and 75% of artillery shells hit empty trenches. When artillery fire will stop, they will return, we will suffer great losses and either task will fail, or we will achieve a breakthrough but will be unable to extend it. You have to fly out straight away, find out if there are troops in the first trenches and report! This information should be checked.
How I can check it? Regiment commander sat there, but he couldn’t say a word to me, because he forgot when he flew himself…
— You have to fly!
— Maybe this Major will fly with me…
— As a navigator? Thanks, but no way...
It was well before dawn when I ran from stab to the airfield. Airplane was prepared there. Morning, summer, dew up to my knees, all boots was wet when I finally arrived.
How could I have accomplished this mission?
From which altitude? How could I have found a soldier in a trench? No way would he be showing off in front of me: "Hey, I’m here, hello!"
I had no better idea then to fly as low as possible and try to look through the trenches.
Low level flight. River, their bank was higher than ours. I made one pass… I couldn’t see anything. At the end I saw something reminding hiding soldiers. Turned around to our territory, made a second run from the other direction. Still nothing decisive. Made third run.
This time I decided to fly into the second line of their defenses. When I pointed my nose towards them, all hell broke loose!…
I flew back home, landed. Commanders were already there, with a radio station.
That was all report.
— What do you mean “no”?
— There are no soldiers at the first line. I checked second line too…
He looked at me attentively, with trust in me:
— Well, prepare a hole in your blouse.
He reported, an order was given to change aim, and a few minutes later artillery strike began… Troops successfully accomplished their task as planned.
— Did you use that hole?
No. So, speaking of that mission effect. I haven’t fired a single round myself, but information that I gathered ensured success of whole Army.
— When you were fighting in Germany did you feel stiffening defense?
On the contrary. We felt that Germans lost their spirit. Absolutely. We had full initiative…
— There were political officers. Was there a need in them?
If I was the man who organized this institution, I would have definitely created it, but on another basis. Specially prepared people were needed to fulfill this very important task…
— When political officers were needed? In 1941 or 1945?
They were always needed.
— Your political officer was from flying crews?
No. And that’s why he couldn’t teach me. We couldn’t find a common language
with him, because he was no one. What he could have given me? Regiment
commander who showed me how I should love Motherland – that was an example
of political officer! I looked after him all the time, trying to catch
his every sight or word. And learnt from him, trying to repeat all that
But that “official” one? Who was he? For 46 calendar years of service haven’t seen a single decent man at this position.
I was a regiment commander pretty long time, and all my political deputy’s were there only for career purposes.
— Your opinion about special department officers?
I understood them only when I became regiment commander myself. I never
met them before. When I became a regiment commander I finally understood
what for they were needed.
In my personal opinion: introduction of special department officer was a sign of mistrust to commander from party and government.
There was no help from him, only harm. And again, they caused harm because they were selected from wrong people. Special department should be manned by people who know what was going on in the army, in the country, capable of correct thinking and understanding the situation. But most of them were unable to show these qualities…
Regiment commander was responsible for everything. Why his reports were mistrusted, I can’t understand…
— You ended war in the vicinity of Berlin. Did you take part in bombing Berlin?
Yes, we flew last missions to Ratenau area, West of Berlin, in support of 7th cavalry corps.
— Have you seen the results of allied bombing of Berlin? Or have you witnessed those bombings?
No, I never saw them. How could I have seen them… Nothing like that
happened while we were in the air.
Maybe allies flew bombing missions at that time, but I don’t know. What I know, was that Dresden was wiped out. What was the reason to destroy it? It wasn’t even politics, it was some stupid game.
— It is your nowadays opinion?
It was similar at that time too. What for money were used, people were killed and buildings destroyed? Everything was almost over and all dots over I were placed.
— What were your thoughts about using nuclear weapons in Japan? Or you were not told about it at the time?
We used ordinary information, available to common people.
— So what were your thoughts about bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Well, it was something unusual… On one hand, it was enemy bombed. On the other hand, civil population was targeted. There were no serious military objects there. Just showing to the world that they have A-bombs? But what civilians had to do with it? It was dishonorable… It was beyond understanding of a military man.
— How did you found out that war ended?
The feeling was in the air. When it was announced officially… I can
say about my regiment, we did not celebrate, it was just a feeling happiness…
We just breathed the air of victory…
— How long did it last?
In the morning after the breakfast we were announced the news and for the rest of the day we were not touched…
— And then training began.
Well, training was becoming more complicated, than it was during war time.
— Fine. Let me ask you about airplanes. How they were painted in your regiment?
Plain green… There were some with cammo, but mostly one tone green.
— In reconnaissance squadron…
Olive. And blue from below.
— What about placing tactical numbers?
No special place, where technician found fit.
— Fast recognition elements?
In our division there were four regiments… Yellow bandages over fuselage. 79th — four bandages. 59th — 2. 58th had one bandage and yellow spinner. And a yellow cap at the fin on all airplanes of the regiment.
— Was there airplane No 13?
Yes, of course.
— Do you remember your airplane tactical number?
No, we had to fly on different planes all the time both in shturmovik and reconnaissance units.
— Were there planes with some pictures?
No. We did not do it.
— What about insignias: «For Motherland», «For Stalin»?
Insignias appeared when war ended. There was a film director Rom, he was sent to our division to make a movie “Victory”. We formed up and flew over Berlin. In some of the rear cabins there were moviemakers sitting instead of gunners. On the sides of our planes it was written: «Stalingrad-Berlin».
— That is, this insignia was for filming purposes only?
Yes, for making film only.
— When approximately did it happen?
In 1945… But after war ended…
— Lets talk about your after war experience. In 1950 you were sent to Far East? Did you fly Il-2s or Il-10s there?
Regiment was equipped with Il-10s.
— Which airplane was more effective, Il-2 or Il-10?
In order to answer this question, I would have to fly combat missions
in il-10… But I had no chance…
I only flew it in peace time. Quite a lot. It had better handling qualities then Il-2 and could perform all maneuvers.
It was faster, but thus it had less time to aim and fire. It was usual situation.
— Did you send any Ils from your regiment to China or Korea?
Don’t know about China, but we ferried panes to Koreans. 537th regiment
under my command was based just 20 kilometers away from Chinese border.
Airfield Pokrovka. I was ordered to remove all numbers and identification
symbols from planes and ferry them to North Korea to the northernmost airfield,
can’t recall its name.
First landing was in Mukden, China. Second one in Korea.
— Who lead the regiment?
I was the leader.
— How did you return?
We landed, taxied to the parking area, boarded Li-2 and flew home.
— Yakov Ilyich what do you do now?
I’ve retired, but keep up working in patriotic training of the children, cadets and young officers. I’m a member of council of aero club “Aviator”.