Interview by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin with Minin Alexei
Editor: Igor Zhidov
Special thanks to Svetlana Spiridonova, Igor Seidov, Ilya Grinberg, and James Gebhardt
I, Minin Alexei Semenovich, VVS Colonel, Retired, was born on February 18th, 1922, in Podboratye, which was 10 kilometers from Pskov.
My parents were peasants. In 1931 our family moved to Leningrad, and
my dad became a factory worker. Our apartment was on Chaikovskaya Street.
Here I finished 10th grade in school.
— How did you become a pilot?
How did I end up in aviation? At first I fought in the Finnish War as a volunteer…
— How did you get into that war then? You shouldn’t have been inducted,
as you were only 17 years old.
There were a lot of guys like me. All those who appeared fit were accepted. I worked at ship repair factory then. It was called «plant No196». One day I came early, and I was immediately summoned via courier:
— Minin, you have to go to the Komsomol committee immediately!
What for? — I thought. I couldn’t recall any improprieties I could have.
It was a common practice to be called there for some kind of offenses…
I was a sportsman, and did a lot of skiing. There was a whole group of sportsmen in our shop, which was led by our Master, and we were very serious at it. And that’s why their attention turned to me:
— Well, you will have to go to war!
We, volunteers, were gathered and brought by truck to the voenkomat of the Moscow district… In two days we formed up on the basis of the «2nd artillery school», were armed with rifles, and sent to the frontline… When the war was over, I returned safe and sound. My Dad met me at the railway station and we celebrated for two days and nights…
In 1941, I was once again called to the army. It was done as if I was an ordinary boy; my participation in the Finnish campaign was not accounted for. By this time I already had a primary flying education: while working at the plant I underwent training in OSOAVIAKHIM, and had received a license to fly the U-2. Because of this I was sent to the ShMAS – there were no places at the pilot schools at the time. I entered the war as an aircraft technician. In 1941 I began fighting on a Po-2 in a women’s bomber regiment. I had to hang bombs and repair battle damage. During the Battle for Moscow I even had to fly combat missions as a pilot and bomb Germans, even though I was a mechanic… Regiment commander Major Reutov was a very good commander. The supreme command ordered him to keep as many planes in the air as possible, and he allowed me to fly ten or fifteen missions. Most of our pilots were women… And most of them perished during the Stalingrad battle…
I finished Military flight school only in 1947, and ended up in Germany. There I was sent to Vasiliy Stalin’s division. He was a Colonel then, division commander. Several times I even had to fly with him. One of his duties as a division commander was to check how his pilots flew. Everything ended well, even though that I almost strayed off the runway on take off. Eventually I coped with the problem and took off normally.
— On which plane did he test you?
On a twin-control ULa-5. Later we received the La-7. They were better than the La-5. Then we received the all-metal La-9. This was a good and reliable airplane... In 1949 I began flying jet planes, in the MiG-15.
— Didn’t you fly Yak-17s and MiG-9s?
We had to fly them, the Yak-17 namely, but for a brief period of time, so I don’t remember them now.
— What was the situation in Germany?
Situation? We had to ride with former enemies from the same tram stop. We went to our airfield, they went to their work. Sometimes, some of them would shout at us “Russisch Swine,” and we then pulled out our pistols, threatening to shoot at them… Later, when I returned from Korea, we even had conflicts with DDR VVS pilots over this.
While I was flying in Germany, some of our regiment’s pilots were sent to China. They received some extra training and set off to Lyaomyao… It was an airfield about 30 kilometers from Port Arthur. When they arrived there, the 29th Regiment was already there.
We had to take all our flight clothing with us: flight overalls, trousers, fur cloth, helmets, all other stuff. We were given huge suitcases for our transfer. Huge suitcase.
Our regiment was among the first to fight in Korea. It was sent in to protect Shanghai. It needed protection. Air raid alarms were sounded there each night. It was a multi-million city, and these alarms caused havoc. Our planes began flying there, and very soon two B-26s were shot down. I have no idea where they flew from, but they were a real pain in the side of the Chinese government…
Pashkevich, our division commander, ordered them to be shot down, and in a few days two of them were brought down by MiG-15 pilots.
One of the tasks our pilots had in China was to train Chinese pilots to fly jet planes. The first to train them was Pashkevich himself. What he did was a simulated take-offs . He took one Chinese cadet into the MiG-15UTI cockpit and started to take off. When speed rose to the lift-off parameters, he would pull the throttle back:
— Get out! Was it clear? Next!
Then he gathered our pilots:
— Well, guys! We have a task. You are pilots, they are dorks… You have to carve pilots out of them…
And they carved pilots out of them. Surprisingly, the Chinese cadets were eager to learn and quite soon were able to fly more or less decently...
— Did you use the Chinese language over the radio?
Yes, we used it.
— That is, you spoke Chinese in the air?
There were several words we had to remember, like «attacking bombers», «Help!». But now I do not remember those words…
A copy of Russian-Chinese translator which was issued to every Soviet pilot to use in combat.
— Were there problems with food for Chinese cadets?
Yes, there were. They even lost consciousness in the air due to the hunger. Division commander Pashkevich called the chef from the canteen and asked him:
— How do you feed the pilots?
— The same as all other soldiers.
— Feed them as much as they can eat. Stand near them and make sure that they eat everything brought to them. They simply fade away on high-G turns. We will not be able to make pilots out of them if they don’t eat!
That’s how our pilots begun training Chinese cadets. Pashkevich was a great pilot and good commander. He was a HSU.
— Were Chinese pilots any good or were they worthless in combat?
Or did they require more training?
They could be trained to a good level… Normal pilots, and they flew well. When we were in Andun, they helped us a lot. We flew alongside them.
— Most of the MiG-15s shot down were flown by Chinese pilots. What
was the reason?
Because they had no combat experience. We were already well prepared and our commanding officers and most of the pilots had GPW experience, and we kicked the Americans’ tail. Chinese pilots simply lacked experience.
— Was that the main reason for heavy losses?
I can’t say that there were really “heavy” losses...
— For the Korean War, it is said that Chinese pilots shot down 376 UN airplanes, while they lost 352 of their aircraft.
— Why do you think so? It’s their official record.
Where from? When the Korean War ended, it was announced that we had shot down over 1000 enemy planes, while losing less then 400. But for me the most important thing was that I had managed to make it home safe and sound.
— How would you explain that the Americans claimed to have shot down
more MiG-15s than were supplied to that area?
They are known braggers. One shot down, ten reported. Who was going to check their claims behind the frontline? They always had arrogance. Sometimes, after a serious fight, when we would kick them, they simply stopped flying for several weeks...
After the Korean War, for many years I worked at the united command post in West Berlin. From there we controlled military air traffic together with Americans, Britts, and French. Our main task was to provide safety for air traffic. The commander from our side was Colonel Alexeev. I had several opportunities to see how they acted. Americans are overly confident until the first incident. When someone will step on their tail, than they will hide it under belly.
— Did you participate in dogfights along with OVA pilots?
— How did you communicate with them in the air?
They were all by themselves. They had a special training program, and they had lower demands placed on them. If I brought an enemy plane in my sight and missed, it was a matter of serious discussion. If Chinese pilots missed, there was no problem with that.
— At which airfield were you based?
Andun and later Shanghai… (To be correct – first at Suichzhow, and after that - Shanghai. I. Seidov)
— Could you describe what an average dogfight in Korea looked like?
It usually lasted for just seconds. It depends who will hit whom from the first attack. And those who overlooked it will go straight to the ground. And it was very brief. See him, approach him, strike him, and run away, because someone might be approaching you, because there always were many more enemies then us.
— What was the difference in group quantities between us and the
We flew in groups of 6 or 8, and they flew no less then 20 planes in formation.
— That is, 4 to 1 against us was a common situation?
Yes, and wherever you would turn there were Americans in the air.
— Which planes were utilized by Americans there?
I met B-29’s. «Sabres», that’s «F-86». We fought against them. But I saw them only twice and we flew past each other peaceful like. He missed me, and I missed him. We also saw a lot of «F-80s».
— Did you call F-80s «crosses»?
No we did not.
— Did you see any piston-engine airplanes?
Mostly we flew against jets, but sometimes we saw Corsairs, but there were very few of those.
— Which armament do you think was better – three cannons on the MiG
or six machineguns on Sabre?
Hard to say, I never used their armament and never was hit by enemy fighters… But I was satisfied by our armament. I think that cannons were more effective.
— You had 1 or 2 triggers? Did you fire from all three cannons at
We did not fire from all guns simultaneously. I always preserved ammo, to have something to shoot back. We had two triggers. One was for the large cannon, and the second for two small cannons.
— What was your rank and position?
Flight commander. Senior Lieutenant, and later - Captain.
— Who was your wingman?
I flew as a leader only several times, and pairs were assigned by the regiment commander.
— Were there any cases when pilots refused to fly missions?
No. Not a single case. However difficult it was, we had losses, but our fighting spirit was high. Well, war is war.
— Do you remember whom you lost?
Can’t say exactly. I simply do not remember now. (4 pilots were killed in combat: Rumyantsev, Pavlenko, Serikov and Grebenkin. Five planes were lost. I.Seidov)
— Did anyone leave duty due to health condition?
Life is life. Anything can happen. Some of us became ill.… But no one faked it. (Minin himself had to stop flying combat missions due to bad health condition. I.Seidov).
— You are credited with the downing of a B-29.
Yes, I did. Got him.
— How much you were paid for it?
Nothing. When I came to voenkomat, they told me that I should have come straight away.
And I returned home with nothing… And I still wasn’t paid a single kopek, while I was supposed to get 3500 rubles.
— Can you describe how you shot that B-29 down?
I made the first burst from a distance of well over a kilometer, but then I understood that that “barn door” was huge. So I got closer, approximately to 300 meters, and hit him good…
— Did you see the hits clearly?
Of course. I crossed him from wingtip to wingtip. I saw explosions on his wings, smoke, fire, some bits started falling off, and finally he went down.
— Did you see the crew bailing out?
I didn’t see any parachutes…
— Did they fire back at you?
Of course. And they hit. When I landed there were 2 or 3 holes found in my airplane. To be honest, they were good shooters and their gunsights were also good.
— How dangerous were enemy gunners?
As usual, 0,5. He knows that he is about to be shot down, adrenaline pumping. No one wants to die. On average only each fifth or sixth attack was successful.
— How did you maneuver to avoid getting hit by gunners?
We usually dove at full speed from above and behind, put our rounds in the target, and left.
— How exactly did you shoot down that B-29?
I fired at 3\4 from behind–above–left… And hit him.
— How did you calculate the lead? By yourself or by gunsight automation?
I did it myself. How? Floor, ceiling, and a finger. By tracer… It was really difficult to miss it, as it was a huge airplane, over 40 meters in length and wingspan. You have to try hard to miss. The only reason to miss it was when you shot from too far away.
— Some pilots said that because it was so big, they experienced psychological
problems while approaching them, and this in turn led to firing from great
Yes, it was big and dangerous. And when you approach it, it keeps getting bigger. The faster you approach it, the bigger it seems to be.
— Apart from a B-29, did you shoot anything else down?
No, only the 29.
— May be you damaged somebody?
I don’t know, but I think that I had none of such hits. May be I hit somebody, maybe not. Hard to say. I fired, but did I hit? No idea. Right after the fight I could make suggestions, but just a couple of days later I would have a slightly different picture. Now it may be totally different to reality.
— How were kills confirmed?
We had search crews, which had to find a crash site and find witnesses on the ground, who would say when and where the fight took place. Everything had to be documented.
— Was a gun camera a good enough proof?
On film it was clear if you shot at somebody and when. If you were possibly hitting – it was a probable hit. You can’t just make it up and suck out of your finger. But film was not enough to credit a kill, unless enemy aircraft had broken in bits. Because of that you had to write a report, and a search team went to look for a crash site, and even more, they had to bring some bits and pieces with BuNr on them…
— What if you hit an American and he made it to the sea and crashed
It was not a kill. But usually if we hit them, they fell straight down. And the team went searching. It sometimes took more than 2–3 weeks to locate a crash site.
— Were you forbidden to fly over the sea?
Not really, we did fly over the sea. Our airfield was not far from the shore line. There were huge swamps filled with mosquitoes which delivered us more problems then Americans…
— Which of our planes in Korea did you think to be the best?
There were no planes better then the MiG. The Yak-17 was already obsolete.
— How was your airplane painted?
It wasn’t camouflaged. Just white, Korean tactical signs and tactical numbers. I do not remember mine now, as well as my call sign. But call signs were the same as tactical number.
— Where did you live there?
We lived in barracks. Both in China and Korea.
— How did you use your free time?
Free time? We had no time even to eat! We flew on a daily basis from dawn till dusk.
— How many flights did you make per day?
Two, three, up to five.
— Did you drink alcohol there?
No, there was no alcohol there at all.
— Were there any entertainers and other visitors coming to your base?
We had one. It was at Andun airfield. They came to make improvements on our MiGs, to perform structural reinforcements and increase their combat capabilities. I don’t really remember what did they install. They hanged around for a month. It was a factory team, from Moscow.
— How can you describe a Sabre?
«Sabre» — it was an excellent fighter, no worse than our MiG. Not worse, but it wasn’t better either. It could get on your tail and it could break away from us. «Sabre» — very good fighter. The F-80 was complete crap in comparison with the Sabre or MiG. Those were two or even three steps below.
— Do you remember how long the engine life was on a MiG?
Can’t answer this question. You should ask technicians about it. If they reported that the airplane was ready, I simply took off and flew. If it was not ready, I did not fly.
— If your plane was in for repairs, did you fly on another plane?
Usually I waited for my aircraft.
— How resistant was the MiG to battle damage?
Usually there was no problem. I personally brought home a couple of large caliber bullet holes. Somebody came in with over 20 holes…
— After you came in to the airfield, how much time was needed to
prepare plane for a take off?
After landing I had 20–30 minutes to run around the airbase. There were loudspeakers, and commander would call us:
— Callsign X, return to your plane, prepare for take off.
— How did your radio work?
Radio was excellent, everything was clear with no squelching.
— Did you have G-suits?
They appeared only after that war, and they really helped. The blood did not flow out of our eyes; you saw everything and were able to shoot normally. Before that you simply passed out.
— Was there an armored windscreen?
— And seat armor?
There was one. But I have no idea how useful it was, as I was never hit from the back. Maybe it did help somebody, but this is war, and if you missed the enemy, it meant that you will go down with a trail of smoke behind you, and not necessarily alive.
— Did you use air brakes in combat?
— Which types of maneuvers did you use most commonly: horizontal
More often vertical.
— Were there cases of valezhka?
Valezhka was a serious problem. As I already said, there was a team, which tried to reduce or completely remove some deficiencies. Some problems were solved, but valezhka remained…
— What about reversing of ailerons?
I personally never had it, I don’t even know what is this. Valezhka – that I had and not once. It will turn you in such a way that you don’t know where is your head and were are your feet.
— How dangerous was the extended dive?
It was not dangerous at all. I dove, and if I thought that I was going too fast I simply reduced the dive angle. I was quite confident about airplane condition, but I looked if there was an enemy behind me. Some of our pilots even breached the sound barrier… It was possible if you shallowly dove from the maximum altitude with full throttle applied. If you went straight down it was impossible – MiG pierced thin air layer and entered more dense air area, where it could not exceed 0.95 – 0.98 Mach.
— Did American hunters try to catch you over your airfield?
Almost every day!
— Did you try to fight them?
Of course. Sometimes we brought them down, sometimes they brought us down. They quite often blocked our operations from Andun. Sometimes they even flew over our field 2–3 times a day.
— Do you remember the drop tanks?
I do remember them. But I never used them. Why? I don’t know. I was never ordered to use them. But there was a case when one pilot collided with such a tank. No serious damage was done, but it was still unpleasant.
— Did you land with no fuel left?
No. When I saw a reserve lamp flash, I skidded a bit and dove straight down to avoid enemy planes…
— That is, the MiG had enough fuel to accomplish their missions?
Yes, it had enough fuel. 30–45 minutes.
— At what distance was gun convergence set? Who set the distance?
I registered my own cannons. This was a periodic procedure. But on order of the commander. A special day was set aside and we did registration fire on a range.
— How long was an average burst?
For about a second…
— And what about excitement: more, more, add more?
I had no such disease. Hit him? That’s enough, and he will go down.
— Did our forces listen to the enemy radio communications?
Yes. We had a special group of people who listened to the radio and warned us: «Group of such planes are going toward you». And they told us possible plane types, their number and route.
— Did you know anything about American aces?
We were told about them, and even some photos were shown to us. With comments that they “shot down” our planes then and there. It sometimes caused us to laugh, as we knew that we had no losses there and then.
— Did they bring those who were shot down to your airfield?
Planes? There was such a case. Our search team brought a white Saber to the airfield. We looked at it, and later it was handed to the Koreans as a gift. But they simply tore it to pieces in a couple of days. Just like flayers…
— Did you fly reconnaissance missions?
No. And we did not fly air strike missions either.
— Do you remember how many American planes your regiment brought
No, I do not, and I do not want to lie.
— More or less than we lost?
They lost many more. They lost some planes in almost each fight, while our losses were quite rare.
— Were there cases of shooting parachutists?
I don’t know, but there was a rumor that Americans were keen to do that.
— Which maneuvers did you use to escape from a dogfight?
“Dumb-bell” roll and down to the ground. And then tree-top between bushes to the airfield.
— It sounds cute – dumb-bell. That’s a steep dive and…
Yes, half roll, dive and pulling out right over the ground. And landing from a straight approach.
— What were the most common tactics?
I liked it if I could approach the enemy quietly, aim and press the trigger. But if for some reason it was not possible, I became angry and started firing “in that direction,” even though there was no probability of a hit.
— What tactics you were taught before war?
Individual dogfight. We usually went there in a group, but as soon as a fight began, we separated.
— How would you describe our pilots in Korea?
We fought well, and shot well.
— Better or worse then Americans?
I’d say roughly the same…
— How did you leave Korea?
Just a routine. Regiment was formed up, and we were told:
— Comrade officers, you have fulfilled your duty; we are going home.
That was it…
Additional commentary by I. Seydov:
1. About the 29th GvIAP actions in the defense of Shanghai in the spring of 1950.
Minin did not participate in this operation, as he was serving in Germany then. This is why his story has some errors. Let’s turn to a participant of those days. Here is an extract from the letter of Alexandr Iosifovich Perecrest, who was a pilot of 29th GvIAP.
«We arrived in China in March 1950, to the city of Suichzhou. During the month of March we assembled and test flew airplanes, which was delayed by absence of airfield [engine] start carts [external power supplies] and parachutes for pilots, which were sent after us in another train and ended up somewhere else.
Actually, we were not combat ready, and could have become an easy target for Nationalist Chinese aviation. To cover our airfield from the air, the 351st IAP (only one squadron initially) was sent to Lyaodun Peninsula. It was right on time. A couple of days later, a B-26 reconnaissance airplane showed up (this was a B-25 Mitchell, because by that time the Nationalist Chinese Air Force did not have any B-26 aircraft, and also because the Nationalist Chinese acknowledge losses (among) of their B-25s in those days. I.S.). He flew at an altitude of 3000–4000 meters.
On that day I was an airfield duty officer and became a witness to a dogfight. There was no equipment to direct the fight from the ground. The only piece of equipment was the radio, which was used to direct take offs and landings, and a mast, which was used to raise a red flag in case of alarm. We still had no radars or even surveillance (VNOS) posts. That’s why an enemy reconnaissance airplane appeared as a complete surprise for us – we spotted him when he already was approaching our airfield.
I raised the red flag, and the director of flight operations fired a flare for two La-11 fighters. The leader was Pavel Fedorovich Dushin and his wingman was Nikolay Nikolaevich Abramovich from 351 IAP. Our pair took off when the enemy aircraft was right over our airfield. Of course, he saw that our fighters took off, and it was clear that situation was not too bright for him. To increase speed he made a shallow dive and with a tight right turn flew toward Taiwan. Dushin’s pair soon caught up to him and opened fire. The B-26 immediately was set on fire; his left engine was burning.
All of this fight was going on not too far from our airfield, and all those present were able to see what was going on until the last moment. The airplane was on fire, but kept flying. The enemy crew saw that there was no chance for them to escape and turned toward our base in attempt to reach it and land. During his turn he lost a lot of altitude, and there was no possibility for him to land on the runway. He began to glide toward the parking space of our MiG-15s. We even started worrying that he might crash into them on purpose or involuntarily. At an altitude of 50–70 meters, the enemy pilot made a slight adjustment to his glide path and landed on his belly on a plowed field.
Part of the crew was killed in the air, while others were captured by local Chinese. Apart from the crew, there was some correspondent from some news agency, armed policeman, and as rumors told, a highly positioned officer from VVS Taiwan staff with valuable documents. The aircraft was equipped with a photo camera.
After the fight was over, Slyusarev thanked the pilots for accomplishing their duty in front of a formation of all of the regiment’s enlisted personnel. The pilots were recommended for government awards. This happened in the middle of March 1950». (A.I. Perekrest. 03.08.1990.)
Dushin’s fight over airfield happened on 14.03.1950. But this was not
the first fight of the 351st IAP pilots: on the previous day, Kapitan Sidorov
shot down an enemy B-25 reconnaissance aircraft.
29th GvIAP pilots were successful three times while defending Shanghai: In April, the regiment’s navigator, Mayor Yu. Ya. Keleynikov, intercepted a Nationalist Chinese P-38 reconnaissance plane and damaged it (the pilot managed to make it to the home base, but crashed on landing). Then, on the night of May 10\11, 1950, 4th Squadron Commander Kapitan I.I. Shinkarenko, while flying MiG-15, shot down B-24. And finally, in June 1950, the pair of Sr. Lieutenant A.K. Kurnosov shot down a Chinese Air Force Tu-2 by mistake – it flew without prior information, and was considered to be enemy. The Chinese side agreed that the fault was theirs.
On 20 March, 1950, the regiment lost one pilot and aircraft: in a test flight, the aircraft of senior pilot Senior Lieutenant P.V. Prosteryakov was caught by “Valezhka” and crashed.
In September and October 1950, the 29th GvIAP passed all of its MiGs to the 10th IAP of the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army of China) and left for Lyaodun peninsula on a transport aircraft.
2. Some information about A.S. Minin
He fought in Korea up until middle of December 1950, when he became sick and stayed in hospital in China until the end of January 1951. By the time of his return, the 29th GvIAP was packing to return to the USSR, so he had no chance to fight (some) more.
It is unclear how many missions Minin flew in Korea, but he participated in 18 dogfights.
Officially on December 6 he shot down a B-29, and unofficially one F-84. KORWALD:
Date of Loss: 1950.12.06
Tail Number: UNK
Aircraft Type: B-29A
Circumstances of Loss: Major damage, unexploded shell in wing, landed at Kimpo