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Vladimir Alexeevich Tikhomirov part 1
Last modify on December 26, 2007
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Tikhomirov Vladimir Alexeevich

Interview by Oleg Korytov and Andrey Dikov. Archive research by Andrey Dikov.

(12 IAKP VVS KBF pilot, 14 kills)

Vladimir Alexeevich Tikhomirov, Lt-Colonel (Ret) 2002 at his apartment in Pesochniy-2. He is 84 on this photo

His name is Vladimir Alexeevich Tikhomirov. Here is a short compilation of our discussions.

Above: Seniour Leutenant Vladimir Tikhomirov. Autumn 1944

Right: Vladimir Alexeevich is a member of the Veterans Council Praesidium of Naval Aviation in St-Petersburg. Seen here at the Borki Naval aviation Memorial.

 

 

I was born on 14th September 1918 in Izmailovo village of Novotorzhkovskii region of Tver district. After 7-year school and FZU I worked as electrician at the plant in the Torzhok, and studied in the aero club. In 1939 I became a student at Lugansk pilot school, but after theoretical part, which lasted for 3 month I was signed off after medical commision. I suffered from red fever in childhood, and my right eardrum was punctured. I was deaf for the right ear. I was able to conceal it when I entered into aero club, but this time commission uncovered my secret. Doctor asked me:
- My friend! How did you manage to get to aviation in the first place?
I was suggested to stay as a mechanic in this school. I declined the suggestion and went back to Torzhok. By this time aviation had captured my thoughts, and I applied for a place of the mechanic in my first aeroclub. This way I could stay close to aviation. By the fall of 1939 I became aircraft engineer.
In March 1940, due to the lack of flight instructors my aero club chief asked me if I could return into the air. I couldn’t have missed such suggestion. Secondary medical commission, which I passed in Kalinin, allowed me to fly if I had a positive characteristics from commanding officer. After a week of flying in front cabin of Po-2 I was appointed to the post of instructor. Among my students was one future HSU – shturmovik pilot! At first I taught pilots in Novotorzhkovskii aero club, then in Kimrskii, Syzranskii and Melekesskii aero clubs. In 1942 on the basis of our club 1st primary education flight school VVS VMF was formed. I was enlisted there as pilot-instructor with a rank of senior seargeant.
In May 1943 I was given a rank jr. lieutenant, and at the same time I was sent to the flight leader courses, where I flew Yak-1 for the first time, and where I mastered this airplane.
To be exact I flew following aircraft: U-2, R-5, UT-1, UT-2, I flew a little bit in UTI-4 (a twin-seater I-16). That was some airplane! If you were able to fly it, then you would be able to fly any other aircraft, or even a broomstick. It was extremely strict aircraft, but it was extremely maneuverable. During war I flew Yak-1, -7b, -9, -9T, -9U. After war ended I flew Airacobra and MiG-15.
At the courses there were 3 squadrons – Fighter (Commander HSU Pokrovskii), Shturmovik (commander HSU Stepanyan), and Bomber (commander - Nikolayev).
I have to remind, that there were 2 main training systems – prewar, and wartime. First suggested that primary education was given in the aero club where student would fly U-2 and receive sufficient data of aerodynamics, airplane construction and flying. Second stage of the first system would be GVF or VVS flight school. As we are speaking of military aviation, in this school pilot would be trained to fly military aircraft, singular and group fighting, strafing and bombing. Best pilots would become instructors, while the rest would be sent to the frontline regiments, where they would finish their training – complex weather conditions flying, blind flights, complex navigation. Wartime training did not allow for a long education process, so the training program was considerably shortened. Supposedly, main training should be done in ZAP or special courses, but sometimes pilots would come straight to the regiment from Yeisk flight school. I was quite lucky, because by the time when I arrived to the front I already had several thousand flights, unlike most of the young pilots.
In September 1943 I finished education at flight leader corses and with 11 other pilots (of which 6 were fighter pilots) I was sent to the VSS KBF. I was sent to 12th red bannered detached fighter squadron (OKIAE) of 9th Shturmovic air division (ShAD) VVS KBF. Almost all of the war this squadrons, and later regiments task was to escort Il-2s, mainly from 35 ShAP. Soon after my arrival squadron was reformed into the 12th IAP.
I came to the regiment and was given a post of flight leader, but I had no combat experience at all. What saved me and my pilots, was that first flights I made as a wingman with experienced pilots Alexei Tomaev, Evgenii Susanin, Petr Kulyaga, and squadron commander. Another thing that helped, was the fact that I made a lot of flights already, even though they were made in training aircraft.
Squadron commander was Sergei Sergeevich Belyaev – he was a truly legendary person. He fought from the first day of the war till the last, he stared as ordinary pilot, but ended as a regiment commander. He was a great pilot, very brave fighter, and an excellent teacher. He flew 880 combat missions and shot down many enemy planes down {1}. For some reason he was not in the best relationship with our commander. In December 1943, when 12 IAP was formed, Valentin Vasilyevich Volochnev, who used to be a regiment commander at TOF, became its commander. It’s hard to say why, but perhaps it was made in order to rotate personnel and to introduce TOF pilots to the war. Volochnev was a good man, but he drastically lacked combat experience, and eventually, his now deputy commander Belyaev was the man in charge of everything.
Chief of staff was Umanskii. Nice and wise man. He was sent to us from SF from the post of regiment commander. He was celebrating the birth of his daughter, and several pilots were poisoned by methyl spirit. All in all, regiment commanders were not bad, and I once again proved that I was lucky.
At that period main reason for high losses among young pilots was a complete tactical unpreparedness and stupidity of squadron and regiment level commander. A lot of young pilots were thrown into the battle without training. They simply did not know what for to look at the air and on the ground, how not to loose orientation… But I was lucky. When I arrived to the Gora-Valday airfield, Belyaev personnaly checked me in the air, and only after that I was allowed to fly on a combat mission as an ordinary pilot.
When 12th IAP was formed Dmitrii Petrukhin was appointed as a 2nd squadron commander{2}. He was a highly professional pilot, participated in the Winter War, and was awarded by Red Banner Order and by golden watch. After checking me once again, he told me to be ready.
Thus, when I flew my first combat mission I was well prepared for it. Apart from anything, in each regiment there was supposed to be 2 trainer fighters – we used to have Yak-7U (Meaning Yak-7V. O.K.) and dual-control I-16. once in a three month period each pilot was supposed to undergo piloting technique check by superior officer, and if he was not satisfied, pilot could be ruled out from combat mission list for rest and additional training.
After several flights as a wingman I was allowed to fly as a flight leader. That is when I participated in my first fight. Petrukhin lead a flight of four Yaks on an escort mission for 5 Il-2’s, which were searching for enemy shipping in the Gulf of Finland near Gogland island. Weather was bad, squadron commander flew by pair of Yaks as a close support, and sent me, as a second pair leader above the clouds layer. I kept asking, if I should go down below clouds, but Petrukhin replied:
- Stay where you are!
At some moment cloud cover was breached, and I saw right at this moment how singular Messer shot at Petrukhins aircraft. His aircraft started falling with a big trail of either smoke or vapor. Enemy fighter pulled out of attack right through that breach in the clouds where I was, and ended up in about 25-30 meters in front of me, and I just had to press the button. My shells hit his right (if I’m not mistaken) radiator, and he went down into the clouds with a large trail of vapor. I had no idea if I shot him down or not, so I did not even mention this episode in the debrief. What is interesting – no one saw where Petrukhins wingman was at the moment of the attack, but he landed with us {3}. Petrukhins death lead to some serious problems. He was squadron commander at the time, and there was no deputy for him, but someone had to take command. For some reason regiment commanders decided that I was fit for this duty. This was not good at all. Imagine, I was placed in charge of 10 pilots with their aircraft, but all I could tell them, is that I had less then 10 combat missions? And there were pilots more suited for this post…
When operation for lifting the blockade of Leningrad begun, we were among the first to participate in it. At the morning of 14th January we were raised very early and brought to the airfield. Ground forces were supposed to start assaulting on 15th, but we were assembled on the airfield on 14th. Our tasks for tomorrow were given out. Valentin Poskryakov as given a task to loiter in the area of tank attack and to direct tank crews from the air where they should go and point targets for them, for example {4}. We were very proud that we will be first to fire our guns at the enemy.
It was rather cold during this operation – minus 10 to 15 degrees Celsius, there were a lot of mists in the morning, and clouds were really low. Most difficult part was the ice on the runway. For some reason it was building up on some of the parts of the runway. For the whole operation we did not loose a single airplane to enemy fighter action (we did not see a single german fighter in the air), but there were some losses to AAA and there were some crashes.
Our aircraft did not suffer from low temperatures – we had our own special methods of starting up cold engines. It was rather difficult and tiresome business, but we did all we could to fight the enemy. Yak’s weapons was also placed in the engine compartment, and thus they were kept warm, so there were no problems with malfunctioning of the weapons due to the cold.
During that winter I remember Kingisepp liberation operation. It was already announced that Leningrad was deblockaded, when our forces came to the Kingisepp. It was very well fortified and stuffed with german forces. Enemy tanks and self-proppelled artillery was camouflaged as housing... Our 9th ShAD was given a task of strafing the city. I actively participated in fighting, and I have to say that never before I had seen so many planes in the air at once! Kingisepp was fiercely bombed. Just imagine – it was February, but the city looked like a big black hole in the blanket of snow. Ground from explosions was all over the snow.
While this operation was underway we were also used as ground attackers. Usually we would fly in a four-plane, sometimes in eight-plane formations. During the first days of operation the weather was bad, an overcast with a cloud level of 50-100 meters, but we still flew strafing sorties. For example, I remember how we strafed enemy forces near Ropsha. Our four-plane formation was led by very experienced pilot and commander Susanin {5}. We attacked a column of german trucks on a Narva highway. Several truks burned, and I think we killed several soldiers.
My first aerial victory was achieved in February 1944. I was given an order to cover our forces and river crossing over Narova river by four-plane flight. I don’t remember who was my wingman, but second pair leader was Vorobiov. At that period our forces had difficult fights with Germans, the weather over our bases and on the route was very bad. No fighters could get through cloud cover to that river crossing. But I did. I don’t remember now why, but Viktor got separated, so I was barraging above crossing site by pair. Suddenly I heard a radio chatter:
- I see enemy airplane!
But where? Then I noticed AAA puffs – it means that someone is under ground fire. I flew in that direction, and there was it – twin-engine bomber, He-111. It was completely alone, with no cover. We saw some papers fly from it. At this moment Viktor appeared from somewhere, and we started attacking this bomber. I made a pass on him from behind-below, and hit his right engine, which immediately caught fire and the propeller stopped rotating. My wingmen finished this plane off. When we landed, we found out that this He-111 was throuwing propaganda leaflets. A few stuck on the radiator of Viktors plane, and we handed them over to SMERSH representative {7}.
Once, our command ordered a strike on Estonian airfield Rakvere by 7th GvShAP (Commander HSU Mazurenko) covered by 13th IAP (Commander Mironenko). To build up fighter cover strength 1st squadron under command of captain Paramonov, built up by my flight was sent to 13 IAP. First strike was very effective we damaged and destroyed about 20 enemy planes, and lost only one Shturmovik.
Commander of 35th ShAP received an order to repeat the strike in order to increase the effect. But they were met by enemy fighters, and a lot of planes were shot down, what was even worse – weather had changed drastically in the target area, and several planes were lost in the clouds. From our 3rd squadron pilot Poskryakov had to belly land in Estonia and returned several days after. 35th regiment commander Suslin also did not make it home {8}.
My best wingman was Petr Gaponov. When he just came to the regiment (we were stationed at Gora-Valday AB), on one of the training flights he damaged his plane while landing. Volochnev wanted to transfer him to Il-2:
- This is no pilot! We don’t need pilots like this! Send him to 35th ShAP.
Then Belyaev found me, told me the story and asked:
- Tikhomirov, will you take Gaponov as your wingman?
Why not? So I did, and he was transferred to our 2nd squad. Petr turned out as an excellent wingman and pilot {9}. But on 18th March 1944 I still was shot down – it was the first and last time during war. 13th IAKP need help once again, and Belyaev called me. I with my flight flew from Gora-Valday to Kotly. We flew out with 13th IAP pilots on 7th GvIAP escort mission, and not only didn’t loose any Il,s but I shot down Messer. When we were coming home I got relaxed, and did not pay much attention to the things around me. Then I heard over radio:
- Enemy airplanes behind you!
I decided that it was a message to someone else, when suddenly I felt banging on my airplane, and it started to raise the nose. Il pilots shouted:
- Small one on fire!
But it was water from the water radiator coming out as a vapor. I tried a stick, and felt no response to my movements. If I will not be able to gain control over plane, it will lose speed and fell down. I still don’t know how, but I made a correct decision, I pulled throttle back, and plane lowered it,s nose. In a shallow dive I went towards ground. I did not make several hundred meters to the shore, and had to belly land on ice. Just before landing I pushed throttle forward, and it raised planes nose. Whole bottom of the planes cabin was torn away, but I had only several bruises. Thus I picked my TT hand gun (I always had 9 rounds instead of 8 in it) and went to the shore. Eventually I came across some border guards post at Gakkovo. I ordered them to bring my parachute, radio and NZ, we sat at their post and discussed this event. Meanwhile they informed my commanders that I was alive and well, and an ambulance came after me, it brought me to Lipovo AB, from where I was delivered by squad commander Alimpiev by U-2. I got 3 days rest, received new plane, and started flying once again {10}!
Once, a pair of our pilots, Shishikin and Barsukov were sent to recon Rakvere AB. Two pairs were supposed to cover the flight: mine and Yourii Petrovs. Before that special recon planes from 15th ORAP flew there, but they were intercepted by enemy fighters, and were very close to being shot down. This task was passed to our regiment. Right after take off my engine blew, and I had to return straight away. As usual, my wingman Gaponov landed with me. We had a harsh rule – no one flies without flight leader or wingman. Recon pair did not return. Petrov lost them in the clouds, and we still don’t know what happened. This is how pilots disappeared. May be they were shot down, or may be they collided in clouds… {11}
Most difficult fight for me was in June, when our forces were assaulting finn at Karelskii Peresheek. That time we were covering group of Il’s from 35th ShAP, that were attacking shipping in Gulf of Finland. 18 FW’s bounced us, but we were able to repel first attack from above-behind, and one FW was damaged by Il gunners. After that a turn fight begun, and I went head-on with one FW for three times. Last time he passed above me just by centimeters – we almost collided. I had a feeling that a stone fell from my shoulders. That time we lost one Il, but it’s pilot, Sherbak managed to land on Seskaar island. When I returned to the base my knees were still shaking from that head-on attack {12}...
Somewhere in june-july our shturmovik aviation was used for breaching minefields in Gulf of Finland. Il-2 pilots would fly to designated area and start bombing general area. Surprisingly, this method worked well. Germans, of course, tried to make everything they could to hamper our activity. In one of such flights (It was one of a few rare situations when we flew in large formations – most commonly we would fly cover in 8 Il-2s:6 Yaks or 12:8 ratio) we lost not only several fighters, what was not welcome, but acceptable, but also several Il-2s. Simutenko was shot down that time, but he was picked by our trawler, which was strafed and sunk by german aircraft half an hour later. He was picked up by another ship, and returned home safely. After our return Volochnev started shouting at us:
- How is it possible to loose so many Ils?!
But I, as a fighter pilot, can tell you that if I will need to shoot enemy bomber down, I will do it, regardless of the amount of fighters covering him. I will gain altitude, go down in a dive, and I’ll shoot it down. I might loose my life in this attack, but I will get results that I want. Germans were no different from us, and they were good fighters with great experience… So, Volochnev told us:
- Tomorrow I will lead the regiment! I want to see all squadron commanders in the air!
He decided to show us a lesson. Second squadron commander was Evgenii Nikolaevich Alimpiev. He also came from TOF, but by this time he was “dried out”. When we flew out this time and dogfight begun, he pressed radio button and started yelling at Fokker that was attacking him:
- Why are you attacking me?! I didn’t attack you, and I didn’t even have an intention! Please, brake off! Go after someone else!
That was a matter of jokes for a long time{13}… But back to realty. That time also lost both fighters and Ils. But at least Volochnev stopped yelling at us. He wasn’t often seen in the air, but still flew combat missions. Once, he took me as wingman, but he forgot about me, and started flying at full throttle. Leader should always remember about his wingman. That time I had a difficult time trying to follow him, and eventually I burned my engine…
24 of July my best friend was shot down. He was a 7th GvShAP pilot Matveev Mihail Alexeevich. We started at the same time in aeroclub, we flew together at flight school and we studied together at flight leader course. By that time he was a regiment deputy commander. He was an exceptional pilot, and a very brave man. He made a second attack run on the target, and was shot down by AAA {14}. A lot of Shturmovik pilots were killed because of “second run”. You want to ask why? I will tell you – Shturmovik pilots had hardest job of all pilots. There was a joke:
- Shturmovik, why are you called Humpback?
- Because I had full load of war on my shoulders!
As an example, in march or april 1945 we were sitting at Elbing AB in Eastern Prussia. There were also some VVS fighter pilots, and they started teasing us:
- You got so many Red Banners! How many asses you had to lick for those?
I had three banners at the time, and all other pilot had quite a few also. Soon afterwards Rokossovskii started assaulting Memel and Danzig. VVS fighters arranged a Il escort mission for them, since they thought that it is going to be easy, but when they came back after seing how a convoy attack looks like they said:
- No,no,no! We don’t need awards, we want to leave!
The point is? Every cargo ship had at least 4 AA guns. While destroyers had up to 20! Now imagine what a fur ball they could cause when there is a convoy of 5 cargos was covered by 4 destroyers and a couple of trawlers… And how it looks like when cover is twice as strong! Land based flack was also quite an unpleasant thing. I remember most difficult one was near Danzig and Konigsberg – it was connected to radars, as we found out after war ended, so that first shot could bring down 3-5 planes. You are looking at the formation of sturmoviks, and suddenly there is a flash of a huge explosion, and you see that some planes are missing… When this happened the first time I had something bothering me – some feeling that it was not going to end up good. Then I felt an urge to move, and I shouted to my wingman “away from Ils, FAST!”. I pulled my stick, and then it happened – one shot from all guns at once. The sky was boiling. My plane was damaged – some bits of wing surface were gone, but my wingman was shot down. He did not understand why I was flying away, and stayed to cover them. We discussed this matter when he got back from opposite side. We were less affected, but Shturmovicks got it all. I still remember how AAA shells would perforate Ils wings and tails. Sometimes I saw how shells were reflected by Ils armor. Our turn came when Ils went below horizon, and were still visible. There was only one thing that could save you from AAA – maneuver.
I remember one Il-2 pilot from 35th ShAP who did fly drunk, but sometimes it lead to some funny stuff. I had to cover him once on a search and destroy mission in Vyborg Gulf. Il driver had a task for the day and he was free to choose time and route of flight. We took off at the midday, and started to fly towards Finnish border. I could not understand where he was going. I passed in front of him, then I tried to lead him but he was not responding. I was piloting a Yak-7, so I finally shot at him. Then he turned and followed me back. When we landed I saw that he and his gunner were totally drunk! We let them sleep for a while, and when they woke up I found out that they both were sleeping in flight, and that my shots woke them up. The task was not completed, and in the evening we started in the air once again. We were going over Baltic Sea, and found a ship convoy. I saw it first; as I was 500 m higher and let Il pilot know. He asked for directions. I oriented him, so he made his attack at the large transport with rockets. It was all ablaze, and I thought that he was going to go home now, but instead he turned around and went in with cannons. When we came home we found a piece of the mast stucked in his wing. Now it is exhibited in naval museum in St-Petersburg. Of course he would see it if he did not have a hangover… A few weeks later he was awarded HSU.
In july 1944 our regiment was rearmed to Yak-9. No special training was done, since Yak-7 and Yak-9 were very similar. What I can say about these planes? Yak-7 was a good plane, although a bit underarmed. Yak-9 was really great – fast, maneuverable, with a bubble canopy. Although late series Yak-7 also had bubble canopy. Reliability of both planes was decent, but sometimes M-105 engine could be cooked, if not monitored carefully. Fuel tanks on Yak-7 and Yak-9 were the same, and we could fly for as long as 1,5 hour, if there was no dogfight, of course. Yak-3 had less fuel, but it weighted less as well. Fuel was 92 octanes. Armament was sufficient, most commonly I would fire from 100 meters or less, and at this distance no armor could save enemy airplane. Most commonly we would shoot by short bursts. We had great 20mm ShVAK cannon, and on my plane I had 2X12,7mm UBS machine guns. We also had Yak-9s with 37mm cannons. They were a bit heavier for dogfights, but I managed to shoot down 2 airplanes in it. This weapon was not the best choice for fighter – 28 rounds of ammo, no more then 3-4 rounds could be fired in a row and high dispersion.
By the way, there were 2 Thunderbolts in our regiment. They were brought to us by Ruchkin and Sklyarov, but no one flew them on a real missions, and eventually they were transferred to 15th ORAP. I remember, there was one interesting thing about this plane it had 10 liter tank for ethanol… I also flew Airacobra, but after war, when I served with 21 IAP, in 1948. I didn’t like it at all, it was much slower then Yak, had worse both horizontal and vertical maneuver. Perhaps it happened because it was worn out.
In august our forces begun crossing Teplii Gulf, which connects Pskovskoye and Chudskoye lakes. Our infantry had established a beachhead on the other side, and our regiment was given a task of covering crossing site. I was just coming to the area of our patrol, when I saw some planes. They resembled somehow our UT-1. After giving them second look I understood that those were Ju-87s. There were 15 or 18 of them, plus fighter cover, but we still engaged them. For some reason I separated from our group, and chased one Ju-87 above Estonia. I closed in to point blanc range and started shooting at him. Junkers caught fire and went down falling to pieces. I turned around, gained altitude, and shot down second bomber. In a few minutes I managed to get into firing position behind Fokker. But, as I pressed the trigger only a couple of rounds left my guns – I wasted all ammo on those two. And I’m definite that I hit that Fokker with those two rounds, but it was not enough...
In September several groups of Il-2s were send to Hara-Laht Gulf to strafe small boats. First were pilots of 11th ShAD, and we were following them. I was covering 5 Il-2s of HSU Alexei Batievskii by 8 Yaks. While we were flying towards our target, I heard over radio that there is a serious fight ahead. I called Batievskii and said:
- Gain speed, don’t ask, just catch the front group!
And really, above Hara-Laht we were engaged in a very difficult dogfight. As we gained on leading group we managed to avoid serious losses. But the group next to us was hit really bad. Second group consisted from 5 Il-2s lead by HSU Banifatov and 8 Yaks lead by squadron commander Markov. They lost four fighters, including Markov, and 3 Shturmoviks {16}.
Our group did not loose a single Il, but two Yaks were lost – my wingmans Simutenko, and Doroshenko. His plane was with low capacity fuel tanks, and I had to dispatch him home earlier. Unluckily, he flew at 2 000 meters, even though I told him to keep low, so Fokkers intercepted him and shot down.
Covering Ils was a rather difficult job, but to compare it with first years of war… By 1944 La’s and LaGGs from other regiments had shot down a lot of German pilots, and there were very few really good ones among them. It was uncommon for Germans to fly in large groups, but it was also uncommon for them to attack us if they had no numerical advantage. Quite often they would trail us, waiting until other fighters will come to help them, and only after that they would attack. Of my 40 fights about 35 I had in numerical disadvantage. Another tactics used was a brief attack by pair of hunters. This one pair of fighters was very difficult to intercept. And our pilots were still disappearing… Any single one of us could become next, and we all wanted to live, and taste life to the full… But we all were ready to sacrifice our lives for our country and friends. I don’t think that German pilots were different to us.
In October 1944 we were sent to Parnu to participate in liberation of Dago and Esel islands. Once a group of Ils was attacked by FWs at the height of 500 meters… And I have to say at this point, that defence of Il was quite good. Experienced gunner could shoot down anything in 300 meter radius, and sorry German that will pass in front of Il! Three or four 23mm from VYa cannon could disintegrate any airplane, not to mention 37mm cannons. Although Shturmovics did not actively participate in dogfights, they would open fire on every opportunity.
That time Fokkers went below Ils and started pulling up in front of them. Shturmovik pilot just had to pull the trigger. Leading German got several rounds in fuselage and wing, and his aircraft blew up. The largest part of the aircraft was a tail section with rear wheel. His wingman got hit straight into the cockpit, dead pilot must have blocked the stick in climb position, so that plane made couple of loots, and then spinned out of control and fell to the sea… {17}
After liberating Ezel island we were stationed at Kagul AB, and we finlly got some rest. In Latvia other regiments flew against Libava naval base and suffered a lot of losses, while we were flying reconnaissance over Baltic sea. Aprocsimately at this time we received our only Yak-3. It was a Division commander Slepenkovs airplane, but it was signed for service at 12th IAP. We had to ferry new fighter to Kagulfrom Tallin. Sergei Belyaev took me, and we flew out to Lagsberg on a Yak-7V. Belyaev returned on Yak-3, and I flew on Yak-7. It was the first and last time when I flew drunk. For starters I couldn’t find a landing strip to land on… So, I decided not to experiment with alcohol in the future.
Weather during winter of 1944\45 was rather bad, and our shipping search mission became rather difficult, and we did not like them at all. In order to be able to see even periscopes we flew as low as 100 meters. The route was from Ezel to Turku, then towards Sweden, and then to Lithuania. About 20 kilometers off Libava we would turn towards our home base Kagul. And all of this flight we had to look at the water through haze, mist and snow! When we were relieved of this duty we were very happy! In spring we flew to Elbing, and shortly after to Marienburg, from where we flew to Danzig and Konigsberg. There was very effective AAA system – with the first shot we could loose several airplanes. You looked at several Il-2’s, then suddenly a flash, and a few Ils are missing.
When we arrived to Marienburg, we found several Focke-Wulfs on the airfield, there was an aircraft plant that built FW planes. They used to install liquid-cooled engines and a tail section there. These planes were repainted by stars and flown to Luberezkaya training facility. I didn’t have a chance to fly them. After the war I was told that several regiments of Baltic fleet flew FW, but I haven’t seen any in the air, and didn’t know about such use of captured aircraft. There was a division flying La-9 and La-11, and second Division flying Yaks.
For the last day of war I was absent. 25 of April I was sent to Lugovoe AB near Konigsberg to receive new aircraft Yak-9U with a M-107 engine. Weather was bad, and I couldn’t leave for a week. 2 May I flew to Marienburg, but our regiment moved to Kolberg. Last combat mission I made on 8.5.45 on Yak-9U to escort Il-2s from 7th GvShAP and 35th ShAP.
9th of May I was given a task to fly to Marienburg and escort commanders plane to Bodenhagen. After commander landed we were announced that war had ended. As a result of war I made over 200 sorties, more than 150 escort missions, participated in over 40 dogfights and shot down 13 planes - 12 personally and 1 in a group.

– What were you relationship with your colleagues from 1st Guards Fighter Division VVS KBF?

Good ones. We were doing our job, they were doing their. They mostly flew La-5 and La-7 and were engaged in offensive fights, while we escorted strike aircraft. There was nothing strange in the fact that they had more victories then we did.
In July 1944 Germans bombed our forces at Ust-Luga, and lost several planes there. After interrogating a downed pilot we found out that Germans were planning a strike on Lavensaari island. During that time Vasilii Golubevs plane was stationed there. A group of our fighters under command of Sergei Belyaev was sent to enforce them. Usual pilot talk started – who flies better, which plane was faster and more maneuverable… They called us whistler for the sound of Yak engine, and we called them growlers for bobbling sound of ASh-82. There is only one way to solve such argument. So we were called in the air. “Who among You, whistlers, can challenge our pilot?”. Whistler in Russian can be translated also as liar, so this was an insult. Belayev called me and said “take anybody you like and kick their butt!”. The rules were simple: simultaneous take off, then flight in 2 circles over base, then separation in opposite directions for 30 second and engagement. Winning pilot is the one who stays on the others tail for at least 30 seconds, as this is more than enough to aim and kill. Wingmen were to provide top cover against any German attacker. We took off, and started dogfight he tried to go below me and get me from there, but I made Nesterov’s loop, and we started horizontal fight. There was no way to win it, same as to loose it, so at one point I broke off into the sun, and waited for him to loose me. Then I aligned myself behind-below and won. We were circling for 15 minutes, and I couldn’t get out of cockpit without help. We met with my opponent, and I said, “Is it clear who is a whistler now?”. It really wasn’t a machine that won, it was the pilot, if he would heve lured me to 3 000-4 000 I would have lost the fight. I was with Smolyaninov, and fought against Arkadiy Selyutin. Do not remember who was on his wing {18}…

– Some historians state that 4th GvIAP pilots shot down less airplanes then they claimed to. What do you think?

It is hard to discuss such delicate matter. But it mostly depend on pilots, how they turned it. I, for example never stated that I shot down enemy airplane, unless I saw him crash. If he went out of my vision I called him “damaged”, even I he was all ablaze. When we arrived to our AB I would announce my claims to our adjutant, who will report our claims to division command, who will look for further confirmations. Quite often they would not agree to accept victories, and sometimes confirmation would come weeks later. In VVS you could claim airplane “shot down” (sbit) or “damaged” (podbit). In the first case you showed the place where enemy plane fell and present witnesses, in the second case your commanding officer will start a search procedure, and by the results this claim can be confirmed or not. Paper work was not a matter of pilot, there was a special men in the regiment to do it.
There was no time to look where enemy plane fell, and we didn’t have gun cameras either. Most commonly you will hit him, see the smoke or flames, and start after another enemy. I can definitely say about only three aircraft that I shot them down – He-111 (planes do not fly without engines), Ju-87 that fell apart (they also don’t fly without wings), and Fokker, whose pilot I saw bailing out in a fight on 21 June 1944 in Vyborg Gulf. That day we lost Maksyuta’s Il. I was covering Il’s on an anti-shipping strike, and during a fight I attacked a Fokker that just a second or two before shot down Maksyuta, and shot at him. I was about to give him second one, when he jettisoned his canopy and bailed out. He was quite tall, and had a blue parachute {19}.

– I heard that money were paid for victories?

Yes. If your victory was confirmed, you would get the prize. But we send all money, including most of our salary to the Defense Fund.

– How did population of Baltic states and Germany felt about your presence?

Civilian population in both, Germany and Baltic states was fine. When we moved to Parnu, we didn’t communicate with locals much, but while we stayed at Ezel island in Kihelkonna village we lived in local Estonian houses. No problems. I have no idea why nowadays in Baltic states they turned towards Nazism so much.
Germans also were good neighbours. They were extremely disciplined, and if they lost a war – so be it. When I served in germany after the war, I could be sure – if german promised something, he will do it exactly at given time.
It was all different in Poland – poles were a lot worse, then germans. There was always some kind of tension between us and them. Same picture was in western Ukraine.

– Could you tell us about regiment airplanes?

All of our planes were gray from the top and blue from below. We had no practice of overpainting them at winter time. We received our Yaks mostly from Novosibirsk, and we only painted white numbers half of the fuselage high. I flew on “12” (I was shot down in this one), “21” and “75”, on the last one I flew final missions. If my airplane was under repairs I flew any other available aircraft.
Victory marks were on the left side of the cabin, slightly behind of the cockpit. Usually they were white, except Yak-9T when they were red. But it was not my concern – my mechanic was more eager to paint them, then I was. Sometimes, I would just come from a sortie, tell him, that I shot one down, and when I would return from our command center, a new star would already be on my cockpit.
Spinner and rudder were painted in the squadron color – 1st squadron had red, 2nd – white, 3rd – blue or green, don’t remember now. I also do not remember any drawings on our planes. Sergei Belyaev was not into this stuff. In 14th guards Kovalev had a crocodile drawn along side of his LaGG.

– Were there airplanes with insignias in your regiment?

There was one – Yak-9 “Red Osetia”, tactical number “100”. North Osetian kolhoz workers presented it to Klimenko Mikhail Gavrilovich, who was Belyaevs deputy.
He was a honored Shturmovik pilot, flew from 1941 and earned a HSU. He came from civil aviation, and he had a “million kilometers” badge. He was a very nice man, but not a military type of guy. Purely civilian person. And I do not remember seeing him in the air too often. Mostly, his aircraft was flown by other pilots, as a substitute for their aircraft.
When this aircraft was presented to Klimenko, a whole delegation of kolhoz workers came to us. Belyaev called me:
- There is a kolhoz chief in the group, show him the air.
I took Po-2, and I flew out for a show. I remember, that kolhz chief immediately became sea-sick and vomited fiercely in the front cabin.

– It is commonly thought that our air regiments had high losses due to inexperienced young pilots crashing?

Not exactly so. You see, crashing most oftenly had nothing to do with pilots youth. And there was an element of luck in it. One would be killed in the simpliest situation, another would have stayed alive in the worst possible situation. For example, HSU Yumashev, fell from 30 meters in a UT-1, and got killed {20}. It happened during summer of 1943, when I was mastering Yak-1. In other case a young junior lieutenant from 3rd squadron crashed a Yak-7, which exploded on the impact. Airplane was torn to pieces. I was checking my pilots in a Yak-7V for piloting technique at that time, and my Yak was standing at the refueling post, so I was the closest to the crash site. When I ran there, I thought that pilot was killed, but he was sitting in the chair, holding a piece of control stick! He opened his eyes, and asked me:
- Comrade senior lieutenant, is it you? What happened?

– Does it mean that most common reason for accidents was to high esteem of the pilot?

Usually, yes, if there was no some kind of technical problems. Besides, some planes, like Yak or Il-2 would forgive a piloting mistakes, some? Like I-16 and MiG-3 won’t. At Syzran, during winter 1941\42 our aero club was stationed with a PVO squadron, which was armed with MiG-3. In a month they lost 7 airplanes out of 12 – and there were no combat losses, landing mistakes only.

– Were there cases of cowardice in your regiment?

Not really. There were two pilots, who were not too eager to fight… We would take off in a group, but when a dogfight starts – they would go missing. When the fight would end – they would reappear and fly home with us. We had a “serious” discussion with them, and they started flying normally. One of them was killed in 1944.

– How aircraft were rebuilt after emergency landings?

If airplane was damaged on our airfield it could be repaired, like that time when I blown an engine, or in the beginning of 1944 I had a flight accident – for some reason one “leg” didn’t come out, so I landed on two wheels only and slightly damaged wingtip. In other cases we would report to the high command that aircraft is lying there, and just write it off from our balance.

– Which airplane was more dangerous – Me-109 or Fw-190?

«Messer» was faster and more maneuverable. «Fokker» was a lot heavier and way less maneuverable. In both cases they would be successful if they gained surprise. If we saw them first – we had almost no problems. There was no difference to us in fighter or ground attack versions of Focke-Wulfs.


– Do you believe in kill tolls by Germans?

Difficult to answer. We had an Il-2 crash landed 11 times. It fell, German could note it as kill, we restored it the next day, it is flying, we think it is battle damaged. But of course everybody lied. Not always intentionally – most commonly you simply did not have time to see what happened to the enemy you shot at. But once one of our pilots shot down German pilot who had pilot log with him. There were 7 kills on a day when the entire front was on the ground due to the mudded runways. It was later shown in air units over the front.

– What is your opinion about shooting a pilot going down on the chute?

Everybody who came to the squadron from ZAP was full of ideas that war in the air was something like a knights tournament. I was the same, but quite soon we were shown that it is not so. Germans attempted to kill all parachutists when they had a chance. I saw once how after a big fight reinforcements of 4 Me-109 came, and instead of attacking us (we were low and slow, sitting ducks practically) they started attack run on the chutists. What they did not know is that they were their own pilots… We gained speed and altitude, and they refused to fight. We were low on fuel and had to leave engagement area. If we will speak openly – yes, shooting at enemy going down on the chute is not such a bad idea. But we did not – you have to get close and hitting the chute by your plane was not a welcome idea

– What was most common tactic for German attacks?

It was always the same: high speed attack with an attempt to extend upwards. That is where we caught them. They dove steeply, at this moment we started to gain altitude in a shallow climb. They would start steep climb, and finally we met at the same altitude with the same speed about 200 m apart. Now it was time to kill! Their first attack usually was fruitless, they were too fast to aim correctly and too afraid to dive real low, so our job was not to let them have a second chance. If a dogfight started, we usually were engaged with Messerschmitts, while FW were above, trying to pick those who were damaged or careless. If we were with Lavochkins, they would attack FW-190s from the sun, and Messerschmitts would disengage. The problem was that flak from both sides would shoot in the fur ball trying to pick anything they could regardless of the nationality.

– What tactics you used to protect Ils?

We flew in scisors, weaving from side to side. We had to maintain speed, otherwise I couldn’t do anything to repell german attack. Usually we flew in small groups, no more than 20 aircraft in all – ground attack and escorts, good ratio was 1:1.

– As a fighter pilot, weren’t you frustrated by the need to be always on Il’s wing?

Of course it was not a best decision. We were like dogs on a short leash. There was a conference on a topic “fighter escorts”, and I said there that it is rather senseless to always stay on the Il’s wing. I need speed and maneuver. I shot down most of the planes while on escort missions, so I do know what I’m talking about.

– Did you become tired during flights?

Not during flights. During fights - yes. One could loose several kilos in a two-minute fight. We were dressed in accordance with weather – kitel during summer, special coats during winter. It was considered a good tone to wear all the awards. We also had NZ, yellow life vest, LAS-1 boat and skiis in the fuselage during winter. We could do up to 4 flights per day, I had 5 once: reconnaissance flight, escort mission, reconnaissance flight, escort mission, reconnaissance flight. There were no fights, so I can’t say that I was tired. On average it took half an hour to prepare the plane to next mission.

– Did germans bother you at the airfields?

Three times: First time German bomber dropped a load of small bomblets on Gora-Valday airfield, and burned all of our alcohol supplies. Several airplanes were also lightly damaged.
Second time German bomber entered the “box” at Kerstovo, and dropped a 500kg bomb at the runway. It did not explode, so we were diverted to another airfield.
Third time again at Gora-Valday single Me-110 dropped two bombs at the airfield with no effect. My friends told me that a Pe-2 is going to land, but it turned out to be a Messer.

– What can you tell me about German pilots?

I always respected them. Those who didn’t care perished. You remember I told you that 6 of us came together? Well, I’m the only survivor. At some point you start to believe that other one will die and forget about situation awareness. At this point you are killed. I was lucky to live through this moment. They had a lot of good pilots, but their quality drastically deteriorated by the end of 1944. But you never could tell how good your opponent was until you get involved in dogfight.

– What can you say about Finnish pilots? They also had a swastika, but a blue one.

Nothing. I can’t say who was a pilot in Messer or Fokker. I saw a silhouette, and started to attack. I once almost shot down one of our airplanes. I went through the cloud, and found myself on the tail of some airplane. I was ready to press the trigger when I understood that it was a Hurricane with a star on the side. I fought Finn only on one occasion – he was flying a blunt-nose fighter, but not a Fokker. We turned for some time, and then went home with no effect. I didn’t even fire my guns that time.

– What you thought about Finnish and German pilots during war?

They were enemies. Good pilots, no worse then we were.

– And what when war ended?

Nothing. When war ended we became normal people quite fast. We fought, they fought.

– If we would bring a German pilot to you, could you have talked to him?

Why not? I met some of them after the war.

- What do you think about war as such?

It was the happiest and saddest time… Sad because there was too much anger and grief, and happiest… I was doing what I wanted to do! No flight plans, only winning counted, I had real friends, and most of them are dead by now… We knew what we were trying to do, and why! War for those who fight is a test of what they are made of… It gives you experience which you will never get other way. For civilians war is the hell, for soldier it is hard, dirty, stinky and dangerous job… When war ends civilians start to say this and that about things that were done by the soldiers, some don’t have any excuses, but it all must bet left in the war. My hands are in blood by elbows, but I’m still proud of what I have done, and would have repeated everything if I had chance! This is why I can’t see Hollywood films about war… Americans did not win that war. Their war was with Japan, not Germany. That war they won, not our. Neither Russians, nor Germans were cretins, how they are described.

.Your word for those to come?

Keep peace, in time of war do not hesitate, but be a man, not a beast, when war ends, stop, do not take anger with you, forgive, but forget nothing!

Notes:

{1} – S.S. Belyaev had 12+3 victories.
{2} – Had 3+2 victories, including Hauptmann Franz Eckerle from I./JG 54.
{3} – According to archives it was a sortie at 10:20-11:50 by 6 Il-2 from 35 ShAP KBF and 6 Yak-7 from 12 IAP KBF. At 11:20 at the South-eastern part of Gogland island group was attacked by a pair of Me-109, capitan Petrukhins plane fell smoking to the area of Nansy shallowness. A pair of La-5 from 3rd GvIAP was sent to search for crash site, but they were able to find only three oil spots and pieces of the airplane on the surface of the water.
According to Finnish archives (SArk T19283/103) Dmitrii Petrukhins plane was shot down by Olli Puhakka from 3./LeLv 34.
{4} – Poskryakov Valerii Afanasyevich had 9+6 victories.
{5} – Susanin Evgenii Ivanovich had 2+0 victories.
{6} – Vorobyov Viktor Ivanovich had 3+3 victories, MIA 02.09.44.
{7} – Fight took place on 8 February 1944 at 11:55. Shared victory was credited to Tikhomirov, Gaponov, Osadchii and Vorobyov.
{8} – The described events took place on 26 February 1944, when Rakvere airfield was attacked. On the first mission (14:10-14:15) 13 Il-2 from 7th GvShAP KBF covered by 26 Yak-9, Yak-7 and Yak-1 from 13th IAP KBF and 6 Il-2 from 35th ShAP KBF covered by 10 Yak-7 from 12th IAP KBF in three attack runs hit airfield and railway station Rakvere. 9 enemy aircraft were considered to be destroyed, 7 damaged and 2 shot down.
At 16:42 a second strike group was launched, consisting from 6 Il-2 (35th ShAP KBF) covered by 10 Yak-7 (12th IAP KBF). Near the target airplanes entered cloud and became lost. Only one Il-2 hit the target and came back. 5 Il’s were lost. There is a mistake here – Suslin was not a regiment commander at a time, he succeded this post afte capitan Akaev on 6 September 1944, and commanded until war’s end.
{9} – Gaponov had 5+6 victories.
{10} – On 18 March 1944 at 17:30 a group of 17 Il-2 from 7th GvShAP KBF covered by 10 Yak-7 from 13th IAP KBF and 4 Yak-7 from 12th IAP KBF (6 La-5 from 3rd GvIAP and 6 La-5 from 4th GvIAP KBF were sent to swipe the skies from german fighter presence) hit enemy shipping 3 rm north of Verga. During attack at 17:34 group was jumped by 4 Me-109, which was fended off by Tikhomirovs flight. On a return flight at 17:40-17:50 near Kurgalskii peninsula group was attacked by 4 Fw-190, 3 of which were claimed to be shot down by 13th IAP pilots.
It is still unclear who could have shot down Tikhomirovs aircraft (aircraft was sighned off from regiments balance on that same day, and appeared on the ARM (aviation repair facility) on the next day. It was finally signed off on 10th of June). There is only one confirmed claim for german on that day - La-5 of jr. Lietenant Boris Mamin from 3rd GvIAP KBF, shot down south of Lavensaari by slashing attack by ober-lieutenant Horst Ademait (Stab I./JG 54) at 17:45-17:50.
{11} – Nikolai Georgievich Shishikin (had 0+1 victories on his account) and Nikolay Ivanovich Barsukov were listed as MIA on 16 June at 20:20.
{12} – Unluckily, only one case when an Il-2 from 35th ShAP made a forced landing on a Seskaar Island was found in archives. The plane of jr. Lieutenant Nelidov was damaged on 21 June 1941 at 10:25 in the Ristiniemi area. At the same fight Petr Maxiuta was shot down, and Vladimir Alexeevich scored his 9-th victory at 10:23.
{13} – Squadron commander Alimpiev ended war with no kills on his account.
{14} – Capitan Matveev from 7th GvShAP was shot down at 8:20 while attacking enemy forces in the Narva area.
{15} – At 19:00-19:21 on 16 august 4 Yak-9s intercepted 28 Ju 87 and 8 Fw 190 in the Rudnica area. They managed to shoot down 3 Junkers (seniour lieutenant Tikhomirov and Lieutenant Doroshenko) and 1 Focke-Wulf (Jr. lieutenant Parafienko) with no losses.
{16} – On 15 September 1944 at 18:10 a group of 16 Il-2 from 35th ShAP KBF and 20 Yak-9 and Yak-7 from 12th IAP KBF attacked enemy shipping. Group was attacked by at first 6, and later 14 more FW-190. 12th IAP pilots claimed 4 enemy planes shot down, and lost 1 Yak-7 from AAA (Jr. Lieutenant Lipaev), 1 Yak-7 and 3 Yak-9s, shot down by fighters (squadron commander Markov, Deputy squadron commander Teplinskii, Doroshenko, Simutenko). Only one plane from 35th ShAP was lost – pilot Stepanov.
German pilots from II./JG 54 claimed: 1 Il-2 and 1 Yak-9 Helmut Wettstein, 2 Yak-9s – Herbert Koller. 1 Il-2 was credited to Erich Knaubel. Airplane of Doroshenko was shot down near Kunda by Oswald Unterlerhhner.
{17} – It is possible that events described here took place on 24 October 1944 at 12:37-15:46. Pilots Gavrilov (personaly), Bochkarev and Soloviev (group) from 35th ShAP shot down 2 FW-190.
{18} – By the end of war Selyutin would have 16+0 victories, Smolyaninov had 4+4.
{19} – Most likely Vladimir Alexeevich shot down aircraft of uffz Erich Knaubel from 5./JG 54, who was listed as MIA north-west from Koivisto.
{20} – Yumashev (previousely commander of 8th IAP VVS ChF, which later became 6th GvIAP) was killed in flight accident at the post of flight school chief. But he was not a HSU, although some of his former students recall that he wore a Gold Star.

 

V.A. Tikhomirov's victory list:
no. date sharing type place note
1. 08.02.44 1/4 He-111 Mal. Rhozhkky  
2.
18.02.44 1 Fw-190 Pimostyku  
3.
09.03.44 1/2 Fw-190 B.Tyuters  
4.
18.03.44 1 Me-109 Vergi  
5.
02.04.44 1 Fw-190 Kunda  
6.
02.04.44 1 Fw-190 Narvskii Gulf  
7.
10.04.44 1/2 Fw-190 Azeri  
8. 13.05.44 1 Fw-190 Azeri  
9. 21.06.44 1 Fw-190 Tiurinsaari It seems that this victory is over uffz Erich Knaubel from 5/jg54.
(Big thanks to Andrey Dikov)
10. 30.07.44 1 Fw-190 Kunda  
11. 16.08.44 1 Ju-87 Rudnica  
12. 16.08.44 1 Ju-87 Rudnica  
13. 25.10.44 1 Fw-190 Zerel  
14. 24.03.45 1 Fw-190 Pillau  

 

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