interview by Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin
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INTERVIEW WITH ALEXEI SERGEEVICH VALYAEV, PILOT OF 180-TH GVIAP
Interviewers: Oleg Korytov and Konstantin Chirkin
Translator: Oleg Korytov
Redactor: Igor Zhydov
Interview taken on: 11.10.2006
Photo: Starshii (senior) Lieutenant Valyaev in autumn of 1944
My name is Alexei Sergeevich Valyaev, I was born in Kostromskaya District,
Village Medvezye, 15 March 1921, but the officially I was signed on 8-th
of October. The village was really small, with a single church in it. My
family consisted of two older sisters, me and my younger brother, who was
born in 1924 and is still alive too, my parents and my grand father…
— Who were your parents?
My father was a carpenter, and had four classes education, and so he was the most educated man in the village. Because of this he was made the head of the collective farm. My mother was from the peasant’s family. We also were peasants; there was some land in our property, a horse and some cattle. But it looked like… sheds…
— How did you get to aviation?
How? In Leningrad we had air clubs.
— What was your educational status and how did you get to Leningrad?
I was 9 years old at the moment. My grandfather had a private house with 3 hectares of land, not far from first Suzdalskoye Lake in Ozerki. Three rooms, a kitchen, sauna and well…
— Were there attempts to take it from your family?
— So, you went to school here?
No, I went to school at the village, and continued my education here from second class. I finished 8 classes and begun to work at the “Klimov's” plant. We used to build L-7 motorcycles and some kind of military production – gearboxes for armor… I was summoned to KomSoMol, and its secretary asked me if I wanted to participate in war with Finns. I agreed, although I wasn’t even 18 years old.
We gathered together at Orehovo. It was winter, and there were about a thousand of us. For some reason I was made a signalman for battalion commander. We were sent to a place where Ladoga Lake was connected with some river, about 30 km off the Leningrad. We were ordered to dig holes in the ground. «No smoking, no drinking, no shouting…»
There were three of us, and we made a hole, made a bed out of fur-tree branches, covered it from the top with the same branches and went to sleep. So, eventually we had quite a good sleep, although it was a bit cold. First thing in the morning we were given fur-coats and valenki’s.
Then we were sent to the front line. On the one side of the river we sat, on the other side Finns. We used to walk in the trenches, and used to have a laugh at Finnish snipers – we used to take hats and stick it at bayonet. Slowly move it upwards… and they would shoot at it. Then we were ordered to charge at the Finnish positions straight through the river ice… They killed a lot of our men there with machinegun fire; half of our battalion was killed there. One or two days later an armistice was signed, and we went to pick our fallen comrades.…
— Have you seen any killed Finns?
No, they were sitting in trenches and concrete strongholds.
- Still, they were shelled by artillery and bombed by aircraft…
Compared to our losses it was nothing. Imagine, there were 9 of our volunteers battalions advancing over ice… Basically speaking, they kicked us…
— Did you have white over-coats?
No. We were dressed in fur coats and that was it. So, when the fighting was over I was given 6000 rubles “battle money” and returned to my plant. As a reward I was given the possibility to buy a motorcycle bypassing the pre-order line.
Photo: Before Soviet-Finnish war. Private Valyaev A.S.
— So, how you ended up in aviation?
There was an aero club in Obuhovo, there I, along with my 2 brothers and 2 cousins finished primary flight education with a Po-2.
— Your brother participated in GPW?
Yes, but he was in the marines. I finished aero club and was left there as an instructor. Then I was sent to Vyadnikovskoe military flight school, it was located near Moscow. It was just organized. I was among the first. So I finished this school, and once again was left there as an instructor, but I had to do a lot of other things – I was a driver, I used to repair broken cars… When Germans got close to Moscow, a lot of people fled to Gorkii by cars, and when they run out of fuel they simply abandoned them. And I used to pick some fuel with me and brought them to the airdrome.
— What kinds of planes you flew in the school?
I flew I-16, UTI-4 that is and La-5.
— Do you remember what types of I-16 you had?
Type? We did not separate them by types, by engines only – M-22 and M-25. They were almost identical… 25 maybe a bit more powerful. La-5 was a bit larger and more powerful, while I-16 was… More fighter-like, maybe?
When you were transferred to the regiment?
First to ZAP in Arzamas, I do not remember the number now. There I underwent some battle practice. It was in April or May of 1943. This ZAP was used to retrain the sons of some high-positioned people.
— Did you have a shooting practice?
In the school yes, but not in ZAP.
— What types of planes you flew in ZAP?
Same ones – I-16 and La-5.
You know, on several occasions I was about to get killed… I remember once in the school, I was about to fly with instructor Leonov in an UTI-4. My friend and squadron commander Pavel Artemyevich came to me and told me to get out. I tried to object, but he insisted – his relatives had sent him some vobla (a dried fish), and he wanted me to join him.
So I got out of the plane and went to the canteen. As we just started some pilot run to us and shouted: Leonov crashed!
It was the plane that I was supposed to fly in. Both pilots were instantly killed.
— What was the cause of the accident?
I do not remember now… Second time I flew with instructor in an U-2, and our engine failed, so we had to make forced landing. We had broken the propeller. So, instructor went to the airbase, and mechs brought new propeller and spares for the engine to me, we fixed the engine, and I brought it back to base by my self.
— How long did it take for you to repair the M-11 engine?
It was quite easy, about 2 hours to change the cylinder…
— What was your rank after you have finished the school?
We were supposed to finish the school with a rank of Jr. Lieutenant, but we ended up as starshina… In about a years time we were given lieutenants, after Timoshenko’s order was signed off.
— What was the salary of the Starshina?
We never spoke about the money… I do not remember, there was no time for that at the time… I had some kind of salary, but we used to send it to the bank…
— Just before the war there was an order to limit aerobatics to decrease the crash-rate?
We did all the plane could do… If we flew with the old pilots, they would often make you sick from aerobatics.
— Did you work out group flights?
Yes, close formations and spread formations. I flew in all conditions, I was prepared to fly day and night in any meteorological status, and had landing clearance 2X200. During war we flew in even worse conditions…
— What were the main drawbacks of the educational program? What you had to learn at the front?
Everything! We had to learn everything, life is different there, even attitude towards death and life changes… Everything changes. School is school, and war is war.
— But was education sufficient or not?
As I see it, it was for civil life, but with no combat experience this was not enough.
— How did you get to the front?
It was so long time ago… Can’t remember clearly now… You see, I had a heart attack and two strokes, so some moments faded away, and some mixed together… I remember that we were picked by “buyers” in ZAP…
First regiment… five hundred – something… I made twenty five or twenty six sorties with it. First IAP, first flight, first kill… My enemy must have been same as me – young and inexperienced. He got lost, same as I did, and he got just in front of me, so I shot him down. It was FW-190, and I flew La-5.
— Did you have a La-5, or 5f, or 5fn?
I do not remember… Just Lavochkin. La-5.
— With or without gargrot – was the canopy droplet – like or some other? Could you see straight behind?
Well, I could not see straight behind… Yes, we had a gargrot. Then we had some mirrors installed on the outer-upper part of the canopy to increase the view.
— Did you note the difference between La-5’s of your regiment?
Some planes were “light”, some were “heavy”, even if they came from the same plant at the same time... They all were different. You have to try each plane… Some had tendency to roll to one side… There was a metal plate of 20 cm in length and 5 cm in width at the ailerons, which we would adjust how we would seem fit….
— Let’s return to the Focke-Wulf, how you managed to down it?
I do not know, it just appeared in front of me. I lost my flight leader, and was looking for him, but found FW instead. Later I found out that my flight leader was lost himself and landed at the neighbor AB. When I shot that FW, I was so happy! “I made it, I made it!”
— Was it credited to you?
This one yes. Later I did not even claim two planes, because I did not see where they went. You see – there is no time for that in a dogfight. You either look where your enemy fell, or die yourself…
Yes, anyway, I saw how shells hit him, the yellow or orange tracers were well visible. He made some wild maneuvers, and then spinned down. When I came to the base my techs said – “your Fokker had fallen not far from the base!”
— When you arrived at the IAP how you were met?
As I said – I was I two IAP’s. First one – 500 something… Can’t remember now… There I met my former neighbor… He told me that he had 7 kills already. I served with this regiment for a very short time, I was sent to another regiment due to the argument with my squadron commander. All because of my hand gun – he took it without permission, and I valued this gun a lot, because it was a trophy from Finnish war…
— How you were transferred? IAP commander gave you the order to move?
I do not remember that regiment’s commander at all, my squad commander gave me the papers with an order to move to 180 GvIAP. So I did. What was interesting – there were a lot more friends from pre-war time there.
— When you came to 180-th GvIAP you were a wingman?
Wingman at first… Guskov was the squad commander of our 2-nd squadron, good commander and very strong pilot. I remember all twelve pilots flew on a bombing mission. I was the second flight leader in his flight. So we came to that village and dropped our bombs… We used to have 2 100 kilo bombs. Of course we dropped them without any aiming, more with psychological results, then actually killing somebody.
Sorry, I got carried away again….
I was a wingman at first, but not for long... my flight leader was Sergei Maikov. He died in a crash.
— Could you tell us how and when Nikolai Gorev was killed?
They flew with Geroev on a bombing mission. He was among the first to be killed in our IAP. They went too far, and while they were absent clouds covered the airfield. Geroev bailed out of the airplane, and landed normally, but Gorev pulled the extension cord while he was in the airplane and after bailing out he got caught by the tail of the falling airplane. Second to crash was Kapadze. He was my wingman, when I was trying to land I decided to go on a second run. He tried to follow me, but lost the airspeed and fell to the ground. But he stayed alive.
— Were there radio transmitters in your La-5’s, or receivers only?
We had full sets already.
Later I was appointed as a senior pilot in our flight. At that day my squadron commander lost orientation. As I saw it – he was flying the opposite direction from our airdrome. That did not worry me, I thought that he might have had something on his mind. Then suddenly he asked: «Where we are now?»
Kuzin Nikolai, his deputy, answered: «I do not know!»
«Who knows where we are?»
I said: «I know».
«Lead the squadron!»
«Follow me!»— I said.
Well, I descended, lowered my landing gear: «Everybody see the airdrome? It is below me.». I landed first, then Glushkov, who came forward and kissed me. I said: «What’s that for?»
«You saved me! How do you orient that well?».
This was my gift – I was very good at orientation, and never lost my position even from the aero club times.
— How many kills do you have on your account?
Two. After first I shot down another one – Me-109. He also just appeared in front of me, and I simply pressed the button. I saw two burning. Then, after Lvov-Sandomir operation an inspector came from Kiev: «How many kills do you have?»
“You have twelve now.”
Everybody from our regiment was given some kills by this inspector. We gathered to discuss this situation, and decided that nothing good will come out of this. So it was. This inspector was informed from Moscow that High Command will not tolerate stuff like this. We ended up with the same amount of kills that we had before.
All in al I finished war with 2 sure kills and 2 probables, but those did not count.
— Were there any FRE on your aircraft?
No, only tactical numbers.
— Do you remember your numbers?
No, I do not.
— Were there any special planes? With signatures or pictures?
Yes, we had some planes bought and presented to our pilots. Do not remember, who presented them, though. Dmitrii Lukoshko had some drawings on his planes side, IAP commander drew roses. It was Alexei Soshenko, he was killed in the accident. He decided to check the airfield near Krakov in Poland. U-2 was not ready at the moment, so he flew in his combat plane, which turned over during landing. The cockpit got into some water, and he drowned. There were a lot of men there, but they were afraid to come to the rescue – they were frightened that it will ignite and explode. When they finally understood that it is not going to happen they went to rescue, but Alexei had drowned by the time they got him from there. The body lied near the crash site, waiting for a lorry to transport it to the morgue, but some local fellow stole the clothes from it. Of course he was found and punished. It’s a pity... He was such a good man…
— Did you fly these “gifted” planes?
Maybe I did… I flew many planes.
— Do you remember anything special about those planes?
Just the signature… Nothing special otherwise…
Photo: Alexei Soshenko next to the “Valerii Chkalov” La-5. Note 9 kill
marks above the insignia. Most likely it was his plane, since he had 8+1
kills on his account. (Thanks to Mikhail Bykov).
— At which rank did you finish the war?
Senior lieutenant, squadron commander-2.
IAP commander was Glushkov, but leading pilots were either me or Petr Panchenko.
Photo: Petr Panchenko
- What were the criteria for the awards?
For 30 combat sorties we would get an order, for 50 and 100 sorties and so on. I made 155 combat sorties, no 154, but… I still have few awards…
Orders were given by “announcement” – that is, you would be told that you were awarded, and later the order or medal would be sent to you. But I was not in good relationship with our division commander HSU Lakeev, and he did not let my awards through.
— Can you tell us some stories?
Near Lvov there is a small town – Hodorev. Near that town there was a lake, with a river going out of that lake, but that river ended soon. I was looking at that lake, and it seemed too suspicious to me:
«Why this river ends? And where water goes into this lake from? We should strafe it». So I did. I was returning from some mission, and strafed some boat on that lake… And suddenly it blew up! The fireball was far above me!
- From which height you shot?
About 100 meters… I saw well, how I shot, and how explosion begun, due to high speed I did not notice the force of the explosion, but when I turned around the flames were at the height of 220 meters – I measured it with my altimeter. So it burned for several days...
- What was it?
It was a fuel depot… Whole lake of fuel. Germans made a cammo this way – a thin layer of water above and a pump station on the shore. Who cared if people would pump water from the lake?
— Have you ever heard that some experienced pilots would present their kills to the younger pilots?
No, never heard about it.
— What was the main type of missions your regiment flew?
No specific types – we would do what we would be told. I made a lot of Il-2 escort missions, 98 if I’m not mistaken.
— What was the most unpleasant mission for you?
I do not know… I made 150 missions, and all seemed the same to me. I never could say: «Oh! This one was crap!». Some pilots did not like the Il escort. «Oh, all flack is our». Sometimes it happened. But if we flew escort we would move higher or to the side… Sometimes we would move to the wrong side – there we would have more flack there, so we would fly to the other side. But you still could get killed.
— Have you seen how our planes were destroyed in the air, or burned in flight? Or they would disappear, and that’s it?
Usually it would just go down, and you would never know the reason. There might be some enemy fighters flying down there, or pilot may be killed… In the air you do not have the time to investigate what happened.
Sometimes pilot would fly out and return… on feet. Same as Geroev. One returned by foot, other one on the horse… dead.
— How long ASh-82 would work until it would need replacement?
Around 200 hours, I think.
— And the airframe?
Until it’s broken, almost forever.
— How many planes you changed during wartime?
I could fly different planes on one day.
— You did not have your own plane?
I had, but sometimes it would be under repairs, or someone flew it, so I would take one of the available planes.
For example I flew one of the squadrons planes. And then at one moment it just rolled over so intensively, that I lost conscience. When I came to my senses I couldn’t understand what was going on, and why the plane rolled. Lavochkin’s had flaps, which were held in place by special hooks, and one of those got broken… So the flap on one side fell into the air, and I was rolled over. Luckily it happened at an altitude, so I had enough time to come to senses.
Wingman asked: «Why the fuck are you fooling around?».
Everything was cleared on the ground. We heard that in other regiments pilots were even killed due to this defect.
— Were there complains from pilots about heat in the cockpit?
Oh yes… I found old leather coat and used to put it over my legs. It was so hot, tat we used to move our legs away from pedals… But when war starts, you will forget about it, and fast…
— Did you open the canopy?
No, always closed.
— Some pilots complained about glass quality…
No, no. It was good enough. Front one was armored, very thick, and the rest was ordinary.
-How did you found out that the war was over?
Same as everybody. 19.04.45 I made my last sortie during war time. We blew up some fuel depot. I was at some girls place, when I heard shooting from the airdrome. I ran outside, and saw soldiers, that were going and shooting in the air.
«What are you doing?»
«Commander! Haven’t you heard? We won! War is over!»
So I also started shooting! Victory!
Well, that’s all about it. Sorry, if I wasn’t able to remember everything I could… But I’m very old now, had two strokes and a heart attack and my memory fails me… So, I could have mixed something…
At TsAMO for Jr. Lieutenant Valyaev 1 killed is recorded:
01.04.45 1 Me-109 south-west from Travniki 14:30-15:15
(Thanks to Mikhail Bykov)
In a period of GPW made 132 sortie
Il-2 escorts – 93
Covering ground forces – 20
Recon – 6
Ground attack – 13
Participated in 12 dogfights, shot down 1 Me-109, destroyed 14 vehicles, 23 carriages, and blew up one fuel depot.