V.A. Tikhomirov in a sport airplane at Bychye Pole airfield. Kronstadt. Old man holding a canopy is a former Il-2 mechanic.
How did you uphold the morale?
Difficult to answer… I just fought, and that was it! I never had a low morale. I was happy when I was told that I will be sent to the front. I think, that I always was ready for a fight. Speaking of losses – it was unpleasant, but by no means a reason to become frightened or to panic. I was very sorry when Shishikin and Barsukov were lost. I still have no idea what happened to them, we flew out in a six-plane formation, but a connecting rod of my engine snapped, and I had to return. They were escorted by Petrov Yourii and Doroshenko Nikolay. They both couldn’t even say when they lost Shishikin and Barsukov’s planes. They were really good guys. When they would come back from a mission, they would go to the dug-out, lay on the beds, and start singing kiddie songs in duette. They flew together, they singed together, and they vanished together.
What did you do in a free time?
It all depended on the airbase that we were stationed on. For example, at naval Gora-Valday airfield there was a hostel at the village Gora-Valday. There we would go to the local club for dancing. When we were moved to the army Gora-Valday airfield, we were based at the dug-outs there. Each Saturday after supper 50% of listed personnel was taken by bus to Lebyazye for the evening. There was dancing club there, and we did some interesting things ourselves.
Did you do something to entertain your friends?
I felt my self so old and serious, that I considered all such activity not fit for me. In reality I was too lazy to do something. As the saying goes – I was to lazy to go down from hill by foot.
And when you were abroad?
When we were stationed abroad there were no such things as dances or walks. At first we went to take a look at the towns, and collected german badges and awards. There was a mascot-dog which we ferried to every new place with us. We took a piece of canvas and started attaching these badges and awards. Eventually this poor dog was unable to move all “its” awards. When war ended, we had established a “Culture House” near our airbase.
How you were fed?
Very well. There were no problems. At first we were stationed at Oranienbaum Pyatachok. There were only 2 ways to get there – either by plane, or by ship. There was no ground connection with Leningrad. Imagine – we would come to the canteen: bread at will, herring fillets, cheese, American tinned sausages, not too great at taste, but eadible. What we really liked was fur-trees needles extract. It used to stand on each table in decanters. It was a measure to fight avitaminosis. Technical personnel was fed separately, and not too great at first. Each regiment had a separate canteen.
How you introduced young pilots into battle?
When they arrived to the regiment, we would check their flight technique. Then young pilot will be taken by a more experienced pilot to the mock dogfight. Next step would be to fly to battlefront. Finally young pilot would be flying with more experienced pilots at the combat mission. Same applied to the Shturmovik regiments. They would always warn us if they had young pilot in their ranks. They easily could loose orientation, and in this case we had to bring them home.
That is, you didn’t throw inexperienced pilots into battle without training?
In September 1944 6 or 8 pilots came to our regiment. At the time we were stationed in Pyarnu, so me, Belyaev and Talyshev took them to Kotly. For 10 days we trained them. We landed in Parnu on 20th… On 25th of Septenber we arrived to Kotly. Do you remember I told you about pilot who landed U-2 on a chimney?
We came to Kotly, and Talyshev decided to visit his girlfriend near Kngisepp.
She worked as a nurse in a field hospital there. He told Sergei Sergeevich:
– When we transferred from Kerstovo to Parnu I forgot a party membership card in dugout.
By that time it was a major offence. Belyaev said:
– Take U-2 and don’t return without that card.
Talyshev took U-2 and flew out with Dmitrii Lozhnikov – flight technitian. So they flew to Kerstovo, showed there their presence, and set off to Kingisepp. After a bit of relaxation with alcohol they set off. Loznikov said:
– It’s dark already! Lets stay here until morning.
– I used to be an instructor! There will be no problem!
As they came toward Kotly, it was already dark. In this case you have to do so called “crowns landing”. In this case you come in very slow, and land with an excessive vertical speed. Pilots do not like this type of landing, but sometimes it saves them. At the base there used to be several houses. This airbase was of a pre-war era, and TB-3 bombers used to be stationed there. Germans burned the houses to the ground, and all that remained were chimneys. Talyshev managed to land on top of one of those metal chimneys. The chimney bet a bit, but plane was still hanging on top of it. They jumped away from the plane, and Loznikov damaged an eyebrow. By this time people from surrounding dugout started to gather, and they ran for it. As they came across the road, they stopped a truck and fled to Kerstovo. There they went to the dug-out, as if they were sleeping all of this time. The plane was found quite soon, but where are the pilots? They flew to Kerstovo in the morning. So, a truck was sent to Kerstovo, which was 12 km away. They are in the dugout – sleepng. They were “woken up”.
– Where is your aircraft?
– At the airfield.
– Show us.
For about an hour they were “searching” for the aircraft. Eventually, they were brought to Kotly. Women there said:
– It’s those two. Check the forehead of that one – he damaged it when jumped from the plane.
That’s how they were identified. That was some show! They were court martialled, and I was an assessor. They both got 2 years postponed imprisonment with a possibility to clear themselves in combat. Talyshev stayed in our regiment till the end of war with a rank of private, stripped of all awards. When war ended he received his rank and awards back.
Did you conduct training fights among each other?
Very rarely. Most commonly we would fly rout training flights. Once I got a short-term imprisonment for one of those training flights. I flew out with Sklyarov. He was one of the pilots who brought Thunderbolts to our airbase… We were stationed at Kagul airbase, and we decided to go for a training flight. There used to be a semi-sunken ship in the sea, and we decided to shoot at it, for practice. I dowe down and strafed ships bridge. When I came out of attack, Sklyarov disappeared. When I had no more fuel left I went home. There I took U-2, Mikhail Rossikhin sat in the second cabin, and we flew out. When we arrived to the site, we found some oil and pieces of wood on the water. Everything became evident now – Sklyarov had crashed.
Was he listed as KIA or MIA?
He was listed as Killed, not as missing. There was a squadron commander Aleshin.
He told to regiment commander:
– Shouldn’t Tikhomirov be punished for this?
Thus, I was sentenced with 3 days of imprisonment. When I came to garrison guardroom, there was Ivan Rashupkin there already:
– Hey, Commander!
I think – what’s going on? He already arranged everything: got some vodka from somewhere, a truck was waiting outside, we had given guardrooms chief vodka to drink, and when he came to the “right condition” we closed him in the prison cell and left to the near by village. In the morning we returned, and let him out. As we were about to settle down, someone came, and announced that we are moving to Palanga. Rashupkin almost burned alive later – he was flying in a U-2 with someone, and when he tried to light a cigarette a lighter fell into the cockpit and set the plane on fire. They barely made it out. In the end he was signed off flying duty.
Did you swear a lot over radio?
It happened, but not too much.
Which military ranks you held?
First one seargeant. In may 1943 I received jr.lieutenant.
What is your opinion about Timoshenko’s order?
Not too good… In January 1944 I was promoted with a rank of Lieutenant, in July 1944 I got a Sr. Lieutenant. On 12th of May 1945 I became a Capitan. When I left military service I was a Lt-Colonel.
Which soviet aircraft of the war era you believe was the best?
I think Yak-1, -7, -9. They were almost identical in flying. Yak-9T was a bit too heavy for my taste. But optimal one was Yak-9. It had a good speed, range and maneuverability, and a decent armament of 1 20mm cannon and 2 12,7mm machineguns.
Was 37mm cannon excessive?
It was good against ground targets and bombers, but it was excessively powerful against fighters.
Have you seen TB-3s?
I saw them. There used to be a huge supply base at Syzran, and they flew there to change engines. When I first saw them I was very impressed. When it flies, a ground is trembling under it! But their speed was too low, and thus they were nothing more then a target.
Did you use propeller pitch control?
Rarely. Most commonly we would push pitch control all the way forward, and then only used throttle.
Were there any limitations for engine resource?
I never heard of any limitations. If an engine worked out it’s resource,
it was changed immediately. After that you had to test fly your plane for at
least 5 hours, otherwise you will not be allowed to the combat mission. In 1944
we were sitting at Kummolovo airbase, from the mid of May, I think. Then, for
2 or 3 day at the same time an unknown plane was circling around our base. Belyaev
– Tikhomirov! Either land him at our base or shoot him down!
I took off and show to the pilot – land! He shows me - no! I show him that I’m gonna shoot him down! He landed and explained everything. Between Habolovskoye and Babinskoye lakes there was an airfield, and there were some Army pilots there, who flew uncommon planes – Kittyhawks or Hurricanes, I forgot now. He got engine changed, and was flying for those 5 hours.
How much damage could Yak take?
I don’t know… Belyaev once returned with a burned hole in the edge of his wing. Incendiary bullet hit there… I had a couple of holes when I went for strafing runs… And that case when I was shot down. All I can remember was that we were going to Tallinn. It was evening. My wing was added to 13th regiment, my wingman was Gaponov. I heard over radio that enemy fighters were behind, and then suddenly some banging… And that was about everything. Someone shouted that I was on fire, but it was vapor. After I landed a team of technitians went to the crash site, but they decided that there was no sense in recovering the plane – it was severely damaged by ice spikes…
1943. Flight leader courses. Before departing to the front.
What was engine resource?
Can’t say… 500 hours, maybe? You have to ask the technitians about this question.
Did you fly night missions?
Only in jets. During war we flew during “white nights”, but they are called “White” because there is light even at 0400.
What was average life time for different airplanes?
I do not remember exactly. MiG-15 and -17 had a guarantee for 300 flying hours, and a commission could give it 15% more. After that aircraft was signed off and scrapped. I do not remember how our planes in the regiment were signed off during war time. I-16’s were simply towed to the side of the airfield and abandoned. I-16 squadron commanders surname was Kovshuk.
How long would it take to prepare airplane for combat sortie?
When technitian came to the airfield in the morning he first of all warms up
the engine. When a mission is announced I run toward my aircraft, Rubanov helps
me to put on my parachute. I settle down in cockpit and take off. If Technitians
had to start an engine, they take a note in a special book. I once had a problem
with Cobras. They had a special lever – to solve oil with bezine. After
war ended I was ordered to transfer squadron from Kolberg to Garz, one plane
made a belly landing. Investigation showed that technitians used this feature
to ease the starting-up several time, and oil lost it’s properties. By
the way, about Cobras… There was a pilot Manoshin. He comes home, and
tells his wife:
– Darling, make me a leather underwear.
– Why do you need one?
– We are going to fly Cobras, they have a transmission between legs, and I’m afraid that my “device” can be reeled up on it…
How well and for how long radio worked?
When I came to the regiment all planes had two-way radios, which covered full distance. About 100 km. I do not recall any noises. We had a very well trained radio technitian, Orlov Mikhail.
What types of parachutes you used? What was the lower deck for bailing out?
We had white cupolas, germans had blue ones. I saw one when I shot down that german, who downed Petr Maxuta from 2nd squadron 35th ShAP… Safe altitude for bailing out was no less then 200 meters…
How you used flaps on take offs and landings?
On landings only.
How stable was Yak on take offs and landings?
Yak was extremely stable. If you would take Yak and La-5 – Yak could be flown by any pilot, while La’s demanded attention.
What about spinning characteristics?
Yak was good at it. MiG-15 and -17 were very tricky. They both were good at left spins, but were very difficult to control in right spin. You at first couldn’t send a MiG in the right spin at all, but once you did it, there was no guarantee that you could bring it out.
I never tried them in real combat. But there were no problems for me.
Did you use spins as combat maneuver?
Not intentionally… Once you got in the spin, you just pressed the stick forward, and that was enough for Yak to recover.
How dangerous was high speed dive?
No idea. We never fought higher than 1000-1500 meters.
How did you land?
As usual. When a connecting rod broke in my planes engine, then I just had to land as soon as possible… When I got out of the cabin, I was soaked with hot oil! Speaking of mechanical problems - we were flying from Palanga then. For some reason a gear lock didn’t work, so when I pulled the stick my landing gear would come out. And there was a heavy fight! Whe a landing gear falls out at 400 km\h it feels like you hit the brakes. I raise them, and same thing again… Back to the landings – during winter of 1945\46 Baltic Sea became frozen, and several our ships were frozen in ice. I was given an order to find the ships, and to supply them with food. I found the ships, and started flying Po-2 from Bodenhagen. There was a bag under each lower wings and one in the rear cockpit. We would go as low as 1 meter from the ice as slow as 60 km\h, and drop our load. Just about to land.
How prone were Yaks to overturning?
Never saw how Yaks overturned. I saw how Il-2 and MiG-3 overturned. MiGs overturned
at Syzran, perhaps due to poor pilots training or poor airfield condition. Luckaly,
no one got killed. Their squadron commander once came to our chief, and asked
to let several pilots go.
I saw Il overturning in 1949. Airplanes engines were rebuilt to use B-70, instead of B-90 benzine. Deputy commander Bartashov came to us, we were stationed at Kolberg at the time. He was taking off, but due to some mistake propeller did not change it’s pitch, and stayed at high angle. He tried to take off, but fell to the ground and overturned. We tried to raise the plane by hand, but it was too heavy. So he drowned.
How effective were weapons used on our fighters?
1,5 second burst was enough to bring enemy down. That’s about 8-9 rounds.
But generally speaking, it’s all about pilots ability to use his weapon
correctly. If you do not know how to shoot, you may waste a truck of ammo and
Did recoil spoil aiming?
Not for UB or ShVAK. 37mm cannons were a bit more demanding. They had 28 rounds of ammunition, so you had to aim very precisely with it.
How often you were used for strafing?
I flew about ten strafing missions. Mostly – during blockade lifting operation. The weather was bad then, and we were used as shturmoviks. But we lacked firepower for this kind of work.
What kind of ground targets you strafed?
Ground forces, trucks, once we strafed tank column.
How you preferred to attack enemy?
From behind. At about 100-50 meters distance. I shot down my last planeat 300 meters with a Yak-9T. It happened near Konigsberg.
How did you confirm that you shot down enemy plane?
I didn’t. I claimed only 3 planes as shot down. All the rest were confirmed by Sturmovik crews or ground forces.
How dangerous were rear gunners of German bombers?
I didn’t even notice their presence.
If you lost a wingman in your flight, could you be transferred to the wingman position yourself?
Not necessarily for punishment. You have to send 8 pilots, but all you have are 8 leaders. When I was a rookie, I held a post of flight commander, but flew as a wingman… For punishment squadron commanders were used as rear gunners.
Yes. Two groups of our Shturmoviks hit our ships near Vigrund shallowness.
Both leaders were sent to the rear gunners posts. Because of this both were
denied HSU, even though both had enough flights accomplished. I was involved
in this incident. We received an information that our ships are engaged in a
fight with Germans. I was sent to find what was going on and where. When I found
then, the fight already ended, and weather was very bad. I called over radio,
– Weather is bad, it is impossible to use strike aviation. But when I was landing, I saw that Bondarenko and Pilyasov took off. They both hit our ships. It happened some where around June-July 1944.
Did you have Yak-9D or Yak-9DD?
Yak-9DD were used in 21st IAP KBF and 15th ORAP KBF. They needed long-range capabilities.
Did you fly Yak-3 on a combat missions?
I did not. Belyaev flew it, and Slepenkov.
How can you compare Yaks with Me-109 and FW-190?
If our pilot was not only flying, but using his head – we were more or less equal. In my opinion Messerschmitt was more dangerous, than Fokker. I felt confident fighting Fokkers, and not so sure when we were engaged with Messers.
What kind of sights you had in Yaks?
Collimator sights. Very good ones.
What kind of tasks Yak was best suited for?
The ones, where we would not have to climb higher than 3 thousand meters.
What you thought when you could, but for some reason did not shoot enemy plane down?
You know what… Let him go! I could be punished if one single fighter would get through and shoot one of our Ils down. Who cared if I shot someone down? If I’m not escorting, I always fought to the last moment. If you can avoid fight? It’s your decision. You know, that I needed only 2 planes to get HSU… On 8th of May 1945 I had a chance to get this rank. I was escorting Ils home from the strike mission, when I saw Ju-52’s taking off from Bronhgolm Island. War is still going, I can attack freely. But was I guaranteed that one german fighter wont take the chance? No! So I let them go.
If you were given a choice – pick any plane you want to fight in?
That would be Yak! It’s my opinion.