Interview by Oleg Korytov and Constantin Chirkin with Kubarev Vasiliy
Editing by Igor Zhidov.
Special thanks to Mikhail Bykov, CrazyIvan, Tony Gilbert and Svetlana Spiridonova.
Photo: Kubarev Vasiliy, Bryanskiy Front, October 1943.
15.01.42 1 Me-109 Vladislavka
08.06.43 1 FW-190 West of Orel-Grazhdanskiy airfield
11.06.43 1 FW-190 Malie Golubochki
12.07.43 1 FW-190 near Maloarchangelskaya
12.07.43 1 JU-88 near Maloarchangelskaya
14.07.43 1 FW-190 near Maloarchangelskaya
17.07.43 2 FW-190 near Maloarchangelskaya
01.08.43 1 FW-190 Mayaki
06.08.43 1 FW-190 Klemenovo
24.08.43 1 FW-190 South-West of Uleml
28.08.43 1 FW-190 Bobrik
15.08.44 2 FW-190 West Virbalis
15.09.44 1 FW-190 Dimzas
Total downed planes 15 (individually)
Combat sorties: approx 300;
Actual engagements: approx 70.
Summary is based on the book «Aces of Patriotic War. Top scoring Aces of 1941-1945 yy. ?. «Yauza», 2007 ISBN 978-5-699-20526-4»
Kubarev Vasiliy Nikolaevich:What are the objectives of our interview?
Interviewer: A new generation is showing an interest towards history.
New questions are appearing and they need answers. Needless to say, there
are many questions.
Shall we begin?
— When did you enter flight school?
At first I started in medical tech school (Paramedics school) in 1936. But while I was in tech school, I started to fly PO-2 in the aero club (small, non military flight school). Only later I was accepted into a military school of pilots. After only after 6 months of being there I was appointed as a flight instructor. After that I became zveno commander and even group commander.
— On which planes did you fly in military school?
On the I-15 Bis. By the way, I shot down my first plane while flying
it - a ??-109.
I had 4 rockets mounted under the lower wings, and when many enemy planes appeared in front of us, I fired all four at once, without any pauses.
That was my first downed plane. I managed to shoot down the flight leader. Infantry saw that, as did my comrades. Later we got a telegram from civilians with a confirmation.
— Could you tell whether it was a direct hit or the shrapnel that killed it?
That I cannot say. Maybe it was shrapnel, maybe a direct hit. He went into a flat spin and didn’t come out of it till he hit the ground. I did not see it myself, but I have been told that no one saw a parachute. The remaining group of Germans turned around and left.
— You were an instructor in Armavir. Is it true that to reduce accidents before the war there was a restriction on aerobatics?
Aerobatics on the I-15 were prohibited, but not on the Ishak (I-16).
— Could you explain why?
Well, some thought that the structure of the I-15 and I-15 BIS was weaker than I-16.
— Did pilots violate that restriction?
Violated. Violated on a regular basis. We were preparing for war.
— Did the Bis come out of a flat spin normally?
Well, they all did, if you piloted them correctly.
— About the Chaika (I-153): There is writing that suggests that it was hard to get it into a flat spin, and even harder to recover from it.
Well, that is possible, everything depends on the pilot.
— The I-15 was considered an unforgiving plane, because of the short distance between the wheels of the landing gear. Was there any difficulty during take off or landing?
The I-16 was unforgiving. The I-15 was a simple airplane. Narrow landing gear didn't cause any problems. The plane is controlled by the pilot, and if the pilot doesn’t know what he’s doing, it doesn’t matter what kind of landing gear there is. He will crash the plane, regardless.
— Do you remember what kind of engines were on the Bis?
— Was piloting in groups studied in the military flight school?
No, it was not.
— How about shooting practice?
Shooting at ground targets and towed cones, yes. (Cone = conical aerial target pulled by another plane.)
— What was considered as successful shooting?
“Excellent” grade was given if of each 30 bullets fired 26 hit the target. “Good” grade was given if out of 30 bullets 24 hit the target. The same rules applied to the “cone” and ground targets.
— How did you find out that war had begun?
How? I and my friend were on leave, and all of a sudden:
— "War started!"
We dropped everything and ran back to flight school. All night we were talking about war that had just started, but we had no idea what was going to happen.
— Could the Germans reach you at the beginning of the war?
No. Reconnaissance planes flew by sometimes. They flew at high altitude
and went on further into our territory.
When a new combat regiment was formed, I was sent there by my request. I was appointed as pilots platoon commander. Back then I was a lieutenant. But later on, when we received the planes I was given the post of “zveno” commander.
— Which regiment was it?
I am starting to forget things… age, you know. Later on it was renamed
to 65th Guards, it happened in 1943. I remembered! 653rd Fighter regiment!
We arrived at the front lines in November of 1941. The regiment flew on
the I-15Bis… And later on we were trained on the Yak-1. It was the summer
of 1941, after the operation in the Crimea.
3rd row first from the right – Kubarev V. N., 2nd row, second from the right – Kudlenko. 1942. Pilots and mechanics of 653 IAP.
— When was the first time you saw your enemy “live”?
It was in the beginning of November. But I did not see them “live”, I only saw their planes.
— What were the main objectives of your regiment at the beginning of the war?
Reconnaissance, not just by single plane, whole “zveno”. Also, ground attack.
— When you flew the I-15Bis on ground attack missions, what kind of weapons did you use?
Four bombs, 100kg each and 4 machineguns PB-1, 400 rounds each. Specifically the PB-1, not SHKAS. SHKAS was on the I-16.
— Some considered machine guns a useless weapon.
They are not that useless. You need to know how to use them… Very high
rate of fire and pretty high accuracy on the strong side.
At close distances, under 200-300m they are somewhat acceptable weapons, but at long range of course, they are not that effective. Hitting power is not at all great and the spread is big.
— What kind of targets on the ground did you attack?
Mostly infantry. On tanks we used rockets, but results were not really great. On infantry and trucks the effect was much better.
— Were there big losses in the beginning of the war?
In our regiment? No, no big losses. All because all our pilots were instructors before the outbreak of war. They were skilled and with good flight experience.
Commissar of Escadrilia Anikin Petr Andreevich. 14.03.1943 did not come back from combat mission – killed. Three individual victories.
— Tell me, in your opinion, the zveno - three planes, was it a successful formation on not?
Formation - no, of course not successful. It was tying everyone up. But a pair was open for free maneuver. While we flew the Bis we used zveno formation. The Bis was weak as a fighter, but it was still possible to catch germans off guard. What could we do? We flew what we were given, not what we wanted to fly.
— When was the zveno of 3 planes abandoned?
At the end of 1942. I don’t remember for sure. Flying in zveno formation
was cancelled when we were training on the Yak. After that we flew in pairs.
After we finished the Yak program we were transferred to the Kalinin Front. I was the first one from our regiment to shoot down a Ju-88 over there.
— What types of our planes did you see on the Kalinin Front?
We were on the Kalinin Front for about two months. I have seen the La-5,
American Cobra, and then other… what was their name… I forgot.
But we, having received Yaks in 1942, only used that design. Different types, but all Yaks. It was good plane. Simple and reliable.
— How many victories do you have?
What do you mean “victories?"
— How many enemy planes did you shoot down?
Personally, I shot down 18 planes. And the regiment shot down 331 planes, but our regiment was mostly assigned to escort Sturmoviks (IL-2), bombers and reconnaissance planes.
— Were there occurrences where, for whatever reason, the mission flown was not recorded as a combat mission?
Combat missions? It happened. For different reasons, but not often.
— Did you have any victories that were not accepted?
Yes, in the first days, when we flew I-15s. Even our corpus commander
(Corpus was an intermediate level in the chain of command between Division
and Army) Milevksiy told me:
— "Why don’t you count this plane?"
— "There is no confirmation yet."
I only counted a plane that was seen by other pilots, ground commanders, etc. But I have never myself seen the fall of an enemy plane after my attack.
— Could you tell me if over claiming happened?
Yes, it happened and it was punishable… We did investigations, and if over claiming was intentional, punishment went all the way to demotion.
— Were there any occurrences in your regiment where pilots shared victories?
Many pilots have records of group and individual kills. I guess different regiments used different approaches. In our regiment each downed plane was assigned to particular pilot. But something like give away your victory to someone else, no, this thing did not happen.
— All your victories are Focke-Wulfs, and one Junkers-88…
Well, it just happened that way. I did not choose them, they were coming to me! Whoever flies to me that would be shot down, what difference does it’s type make to me? (Laughing)
— Have you heard anything about penal escadrilias? Where punished pilots flew?
Yes, I knew pilots that for different reasons ended up in the penal companies.
— I am talking about penal aviation units, flying planes?
On the planes? Pilots? No, I haven’t heard anything like this. Maybe
in infantry penal battalions? That did happen, but very rare. Usually pilots
were sentenced to their own regiments.
I have to say, that pilots were very brave people. Cowardice was very rare.
— Do you recall any occurrences of cowardice, such as leaving the fight?
It happened. I witnessed it. Well, in my escadrilia.
For example there was a pilot, Zhukov. Brave guy, flew well, but all of a sudden, every time we approached the front lines, something would happen to his plane. Engine is not working correctly, overheats. When this happens I usually command:
— "Go home!"
It happened once, happened twice… I warned him… But third time:
— "If you fall behind again, I will personally execute you in the air!"
— Did it work?
No, he ended up in hospital. The doctors gave him a break, to calm down his nerves… and then everything got back to normal.
— Were there any punishments for alcohol drinking?
No. What for? We drank after missions. Not too much, just for relaxation. Otherwise you won’t be able to fall asleep. You will be rolling in bed all night and you will have to fly in the morning without any rest. Even if someone drank too much in the evening they were OK after a good nights sleep.
— Have you heard of any friendly plane shootings, by mistake? If it happened, what kind of punishment was for that?
Well, things happen. All depends on how they happened. There was an investigation. Let’s say: Tu-2. I have never seen it before. You can say it looks like a Pe-2… and really yes, it does look like it - but it also looks like a Ju-88. In the air it is not that easy to figure it out. And a Tu-2 was shot at, and downed, but damaged planes would usually make it back home. I haven’t heard about completely destroyed ones.
— What do you think about your opponents?
No difference between them and us. We had weak pilots, so did they. They had aces and we did too. But we were killing without thinking who was a good pilot, and who was bad. Bullets don’t care who they kill… Any pilot could become a victim.
— Many veterans say that German pilots were very precise. If they didn’t have the advantage, they wouldn’t start an attack. Do you recall any long lasting encounters or fights where the Germans were at a disadvantage?
They had a particular tactic: They attack from the sun, avoid getting into a fight and then leave in a dive. In an active, “carousel” type of fight they would not participate…
— But how would they cover their bombers then?
Germans covered them differently. There goes group of german bombers in formation. And their fighters are above as a group. They are ready to strike any fighter attacking the bombers and immediately extend away. Therefore, when you are in combat, you have to look here and there in order to complete your objectives…
— And this type of tactic is better than the one we used, or worse?
I think it wasn’t the best variant, because the group was scattered and it is harder to cover.
— Have you heard of something called “Messer phobia”?
What is that? I have never even heard of it.
— Who was the most dangerous opponent: Messerschmitt or Focke-Wulf?
In general, they were both serious planes. Which one is better? As many pilots as there are out there, there are as many opinions. For me they were equal. Actually, seriousness of opponent had nothing to do with the plane type. It was more of pilot’s skill level.
— Have you heard about Germans shooting at pilots that parachuted from their planes?
Yes, it happened. Not only Germans, us too. We both shot at parachutists. At the Crimea, Germans would bail from 200 meters and our I-16s didn’t have time to fire at them.
— Tell me, your opinion: is it right or wrong to do such things?
But this is war. What rules? A good enemy is a dead enemy.
— Did the Germans go for head on attacks?
I didn’t go head on. But Germans? I did not see that.
— Have you met any downed German pilots?
No, I did not. And I didn’t have a chance to evaluate captured German equipment either.
— In your opinion, which type of plane was easier to down?
Bomber is easier, it is not as maneuverable.
— But it has tail gunners?
But gunner only defends a sector…
— But if there are twelve planes and each of four gunners has a “sector”?
So what? Someone covering down below, some on the side. They are spread out and not coordinated.
— Which plane easier to down - Ju-88 or He-111?
I never encountered the Heinkel. Junkers is not easy, but is still possible to down. Especially if you hit the cockpit or the engines, but for that you would need to be a good shooter. It is not an easy task to down the plane, and spraying it with bullets and praying that an accidental hit will take it down is senseless.
— In December of 1941, according to your regiment’s documentation, there was one downed Me109, but without information on who shot it down. Maybe it was your first plane?
I was the only one in the regiment that downed a Me-109 while flying an I-15. It is hard to say why it is not recorded, maybe sloppiness. I don’t know.
— Does it mean that person responsible for the records was sloppy and not reliable?
I guess so…
— June 8th of 1943, you downed a FW-190, west of the airfield Orel-Grazhdanskiy. Can you describe that encounter? How did you shoot him down?
We had objectives set to defend our sturmoviks (IL-2) and protect them
from enemy fighters while they were attacking that airfield.
We went to the target area separately, fighters from sturmoviks. When we came to the airfield, the sturmoviks started to attack ground targets and we were attacking fighters that were trying to take off and intercept IL-2s. That is where I shot him down, on take off.
— Did you ever destroy enemy planes on the ground?
Yes I did. But germans masked their airfields very well and air defense was very good too.
— Sturmovik pilots were getting bonuses for enemy planes destroyed on the ground. Did fighters get paid for it too?
No, only planes shot down in the air were accounted for.
— So, you attacked enemy planes that were trying to intercept ILs? How did you get confirmation of your kill?
Confirmation was gun camera. We had them installed. Also, confirmation by my comrades…
— Gun cameras? When were they installed?
Since the end of 1941. But not everyone had those. Film was available, there were no problems with that. Enough film. But who made them I cannot tell…
— Where was the gun camera located?
On I-15Bis it was installed right in the front of the pilot, on the fuselage. On Yaks, on the inside of the wing.
— Tell me, did it turn off with a delay when you released the button?
As soon as you released the button it turned off right away.
— Did you see an enemy plane that after a direct hit was destroyed in the air – fell apart, couldn’t fly, or fell down? Or you did not have time to see what happened to it?
Well, if you hit it with a cannon round and the plane is falling apart, everyone sees that. In that case you don’t have to look anymore. But even then, it was very rare when you could see what happened to your opponent. But sometimes something like this could happen: We would fire a burst, and if there was a possibility to fire one more then we fired again, and only after that we broke away. But we were always in a hurry – while you were messing with your current opponent another German could end up on your tail. There were occurrences like that.
— On July 17th of 1943 in the Maloarchangelsk area you recorded two FW-190s shot down. Was that during one fight?
Yes, in one fight. I don’t recall the details. We were in a flight of four planes… I aimed at one and attacked, then followed the other and attacked.
— What kind of optics was installed on the planes? On the Bis, and on Yaks?
On the Bis we had a long tube. Optical. And we were aiming with that, I don’t remember the name. On the Yakovlev fighter a collimator sight was installed.
— What was the convergence distance of the weapons?
Eight hundred meters. That is for the Yak. The same was for the Bis too.
— What was the tracers' color?
Tracers? Tracers were greenish, also some were yellow. You could lead with tracers, but in reality there were no tracers used. We didn’t aim by them, we used the sight. Tracer is not only a big help for you, it helps the enemy as well – if he sees tracers he is not going to wait till he gets shot down.
— How did you aim when you attacked targets on the ground? How did you drop the bombs?
As we use to say back then, “by the boot”. No special aiming devices were used.
— How were the planes camouflaged?
Very differently. Yellow-green, black-dark green, gray. Bis and Yak, all.
— Did you paint the stars on the planes?
Yes, painted on the fuselage, next to the cockpit. Someone creative once painted the “noses” of the Yaks in red color. For me they painted an eagle and a downed german plane. The painting was ok, but the “nose”… I think it was too much…
— Do you remember the numbers of your planes? On board numbers?
I remember: “2” were on I-15Bis, On the Yak was “1”. On two planes.
— Do you have any pictures by any chance?
No, all given away...
— Very often, in memoirs, we come across accounts that said: planes that came from the factories were of bad quality. And mechanics had to get them to flyable condition right on the spot…
Yes, this sounds right. Our mechanics were always given a day where they would look through the entire structure of the plane, tighten up what needed to be tightened, then control flight. The remaining defects would then be fixed by mechanics.
— Could you describe how our technicians used to work?
All our techs were from flight schools. They knew planes very well,
and therefore the repair quality was good.
The techs' work was excellent. I would build a monument for them. There was a saying: Heroes would get a monument placed in their motherland, but there should be a monument for his mechanics, right next to his…
— What were you wearing in flight? What kind of uniform?
Different. There was winter and summer cloth. Flight suit, winter fur
jackets and pants, and fur boots. In Summer, we wore the uniform with flight
suit on top of it.
In the beginning of the war we had leather jackets (reglan). And those pilots who died during first stages of war were wearing them. I received one too and was wearing it… But I survived…
— Did you fly with awards?
With awards, if you had any.
— How were people awarded? It is known that some commanders would not award their pilots until they received awards themselves?
I knew such people… Don’t even want to talk about it. Why showboat? Guys were at risk of not coming back every day… For them this award was another talisman. A Received award means more experience and more chances to survive. I, personally, have always tried to give awards to those who deserved them… If you deserve it, I will arrange an award or new rank, but if you screwed up, don’t be mad if I skin you alive.
— Were there any superstitions in the regiment?
No, there were no superstitions. I flew on number 13 with no problems, and shaved before the mission. Well, mostly shaved. And took pictures before a mission too.
— In which reserve regiment did you receive the first Yaks?
It was 8th ZAP, near Bargai-Baranovki. I don’t remember who was commander of that regiment. We received Yaks built in Saratov. Then we got Yaks from Novosibisk factory, and some other one I don’t remember.
— Were you always pulled back from front lines in order to receive new planes?
Sometimes we would get them right on our airfield. Sometimes we were pulled back - but then we flew back again to the front lines.
— Did your Yaks have 105 or 107 engines?
105 at first, then, slowly, we started to receive the 107. They first appeared in the end of 1942 - beginning of 1943, or maybe a year later… Can’t remember now. The 107 engine was powerful, but it had teething troubles. It was really ready for action only by the end of the war…
— Did ZAP give you anything in terms of battle experience?
Not in our regiment, since we all were instructors. Others stayed for two months in ZAP, training in piloting and preparing for battle.
— How were young pilots met at the regiment?
They came to the squadron, two or three men at a time, where we met them. At first we would talk to him. Then we took him to the regiment’s commander, so that he could wish him luck and so on. Then we would discuss tactics with the young pilot, and let him participate in mock dogfights and so on.
— How good were the young pilots that came to the regiment during war time?
Pretty good. I picked from them a wingman – Sergey Hitrov, and we flew together until the last day of the war.
— If you shot at one airplane simultaneously… Who would get a credit for it?
Sometimes I got it, sometimes he got it.
— How many kills did your wingman have?
Less than me, of course, about 11. As a wingman he had a different task.
— In memoirs german pilots wrote that they sometimes made as many as 12-15 sorties a day? How real are these claims?
Near Berlin, maybe, when you took off and went to land in a couple of minutes. Not on the Eastern front definitely. No more than six sorties a day, from my experience.
— How many combat sorties did you make personally in one day?
In one day… Three – four sorties. In all I made more than 300 sorties.
— How long did your plane live until it was written off?
160–170 flying hours, that’s for airframe. That was for Yaks.
The normal time would be around 100 hours, but then a commission would check the plane and give it more time or write it off.
— Did you have “gifted” planes?
Yes. Yak-1. I received it in Tushino, but it was not new, it came from repairs. What was different about it? Gifted… I can’t even recall the insignia… It was better painted, repaired… That’s about all the difference…
— What kind of armor plate did you have in your seat? With armored headrest or without?
Armor? With metal headrest.
— Did you have rear view mirrors in the cockpit?
We had one mirror on the framework of the Yak…
— What kind of armament did you have on the Yaks?
One cannon, mostly 20 mm and two machine guns - 12,7 mm.
9 HSUs with 196 + 40 kills on their accounts in front of Yak-3s – summer
of 1945, VOSHB in Lubertzy.
Kuliev (65 GvIAP 20 victories), Fedorov (812 IAP 35), Svitenko (14 GvIAP 6+9), Borovykh (157 IAP 32 + 14), Muraviov (64 GvIAP 25 + 5), Pavlushkin (402 IAP 15), Kuznetsov (233 IAP 19 + 8), Merkulov (15 IAP 29 + 4), Kubarev (65 GvIAP 15)
— Did you meet heavy Yaks, armed with 37 and 45 mm cannons?
I flew one with 37 mm cannon. It was fine, some of the flight characteristics were decreased, but not drastically. For example speed was reduced slightly, and maneuvering became slightly sluggish.
— Where did you encounter the heaviest fighting?
Most difficult fighting was in the area between Orel and Belgorod. It was about one month all in all, may be two months, and during that time I scored 13 kills.
— Which plane was harder to escort?
Escort by itself is a rather difficult task. We used to escort Pe-2, Tu-2 and Il-2. The most difficult ones were Il-2’s. They flew too low – at about 50 meters or so.
— Were you ever shot down?
Never. I did not have a single wound and I did not lose a single wingman. I did bring home some holes, though, but those were from FLAK only. I had a single wound throughout the war, but that happened in my dugout on the airdrome – a pure accident. A pistol misfired and the bullet hit my leg…
— Did you ever have a forced landing?
Never. Neither for technical, nor for combat reasons.
— During war time did your regiment lose any pilots in crashes?
Not a single case.
— In archives we found documents which state that you had 15 aerial victories.
Why 15? I should look in my pilot’s handbook! It should be 18!
— Did you have radios onboard your aircraft?
Not on the Bis’s? No, we didn’t have them. We used to weave our hands and shake our wings… When we got Yaks, at first we had only receivers, and in about a year we also got a transmitter.
— What about radio quality?
It heavily depended on maintenance. Most often problems would appear if the frequency was not well adjusted.
— Did your regiment’s commander fly combat missions? And second question straight away – is there a real need for regiment commanders to fly combat missions?
He did fly, but we mostly protected him. It would be great if he would fly, but in real life he had too little free time to be in the air. He was way too occupied on the ground.
— Was AAA a real danger to you?
To be honest… We got used to it. At first it was more than just unpleasant, but then we got used to it. We used to say – hitting an aircraft with AAA is a pure accident…
— If you lost escorted Sturmoviks or bombers, could be there any repressive measures toward you?
If a fighter pilot did something wrong and it caused losses, then yes. But I can’t recall a single case of a pilot being sent to a penal battalion or executed…
— Did you have any rest? In a resting home, perhaps?
No, of course no… We had a break when our regiment was rearming or if someone had a nervous breakdown.
— How you were fed?
Quite well, actually. Nobody complained.
— Were you paid money for planes that you shot down? If yes – did you get all sums, or some part of it, transferred to the Defense fund?
I do not remember exactly now. We were supposed to get 1000 rubles for a fighter, 1500 for a bomber and something else for reconnaissance planes.
— Did you get the money “on hand” or transferred to the account?
In cash. How we spent them? Some drank vodka, some accumulated… Same as everybody in the country…
— Who was your ZamPolit?
Prokofiev Georgii. He had 4 kills, and was killed when his plane was hit by AAA on 16.02.1944…
— What they were doing in your regiment?
Political stuff… Checked pilots' condition, moral state, talked about political situation in the world...
— Were they respected among pilots and technical workers?
I honestly think that it would be better without them…
— Who was a SMERSH representative in your regiment?
I can’t remember who he was and what he was doing… He kept quite low…
— What were the relations with locals in Poland and Germany?
Normal. But we lived separately from them…
— Did you meet allies in the air?
In the air? No. But I met them on the ground. What was my impression? Ordinary people…
— You had some women pilots in your regiment?
Yes, we had two. Lieutenant Blinova Klavdia Mihailovna. She fought very well at the Kursk battle, but she was shot down and captured. Later she managed to escape and returned to the regiment.
— Who was the second one?
Lebedeva Antonina Vasilievna. She was better as a pilot, but she was shot down quite fast and burned alive with her aircraft.
— Did they shoot any Germans down?
Yes, they both shot some Germans down. Blinova shot down 3 planes in a group. My friends, let's meet at some other time – I’m getting tired. Besides, it’s rather difficult to remember these things, although it is really pleasant that someone is still interested…
We stopped our discussions with HSU, General-Colonel Vasilii Nicolaevich
Kubarev, and we never had a chance to continue our interview – on 17 November
2006 Vasilii Nikolaevich died after a long and harsh disease.