• Interview with Anatolii Tabunschikov by Oleg Korytov

    Editor Igor Zhidov
    Special thanks to Svetlana Spiridonova
    Translation: James F. Gebhardt, Oleg Korytov


    — Please, introduce yourself.

    My name is Anatoliy Mikhailovich Tabunshikov, Major General of Aviation (retired).
    I was born on 1 December 1929, in Novogrigorevskaya station, near the Don River. Then it was Sirotinskiy district of Stalingrad rayon; now it is Ilovlinskiy district of Volgograd rayon.
    When I was born, Dad was an accountant on a collective farm; later he became a senior accountant at the regional level. Before the war Mom was a housewife; from 1945–65 she worked as a guard at the local bank office. I began school in the town Frolovo, where I finished 2nd grade; then we moved to the workers’ village Log, where I finished 8th grade. In 1947 I was accepted to 7th Stalingrad Special School of the VVS, which was located in Nizhne–Chirskaya station. After graduating, I was sent to Armavir Military Fighter Pilots School.

    — War broke out when you were still a child; what are your most notable memories about it?

    Our workers village was bombed, the first time by Ju-88s, which made two bombing runs. Bombs fell in carpet-bombing style – throughout the village. Several bombs exploded next to our house; windows were broken along with some glass inside of the building.
    The second bombing was severe. German FW-189 reconnaissance planes had spotted three ammunition trains at our railway station. Stukas came, I counted 50 of them, and dived in groups of 5–6 airplanes. Our station and streets parallel to it were reduced to rubble.
    Even though bomb fragments could reach our house, I wasn’t hiding. I stood behind the kitchen and looked how the Germans dove with a wail (The Stuka was equipped with a siren.). Mom was hiding in a bomb shelter with my sister. Mom swore at me for not hiding, while I tried to explain:
    - I can see everything, they are not diving at us.

    — What was so important about this railway station?

    It was a direct line to Stalingrad. There were loading ramps, where tanks and other vehicles were unloaded. This raid paralyzed the station for a whole day, but it was quickly repaired. We kids ran to the station right after planes left. Ammunition kept exploding, there were railroad ties shot through and blood stains. Soldiers from Central Asia had been unloaded there right at the moment of the air raid. I found a rifle. When I moved the bolt, a case was ejected, but four rounds still remained. I took it home, and even tried to shoot at the German planes.

    — What did your parents say about it?

    I hid it from my mother. Dad was fighting Germans near Stalingrad then. Later he fought in the 3rd Ukrainian Front: Moldavia, Romania, Austria. He was in the artillery – 122 mm cannons.

    — Why did you choose to go into aviation?

    Those air raids had awakened in me a hatred toward German aviation. I witnessed dogfights. In October 1942, a He-111 came and was intercepted by two our fighters. They shot, tracers were flying and crossing the skies, but the Heinkel made it to the clouds and escaped.
    Up until October, the Germans had the advantage. Then we received a reliable fighter cover, modern airplanes, so only single aircraft could make it to the station.

    — When you applied for a place in a special VVS school, you were specially chosen?

    Anyone willing could apply for a place there, although he had to pass some exams. My friend joined it in 1944, while I arrived later. When I told my mother that I wanted to become a pilot, she didn’t say a word, but instead she went to the head of my school. He said that the war was about to end, a large reduction of the army was expected, and that I was promising to become an engineer.
    Then I had to make a side move. I wrote a letter to my dad, who replied — “No objections.” After mom read this letter, she also stopped objecting.

    — What did you learn at the special school?

    Most importantly – good general education, but there was an aviation component as well: airplane construction, aerodynamics, dynamics of flight and some other subjects. There was an old U-2 airplane at the yard, so we sometimes were allowed to sit in its cockpit. There was also parachute training.

    — Were you given an opportunity to fly? As an observer, perhaps?

    Not as pilots. We were taken aloft in the front cockpit of a U-2 when we were jumping with parachutes. It was in 1946, at the 2nd course, similar to 9th grade of ordinary school. 10th grade was graduating.

    — Your education was planned for three years?

    Yes, but I was accepted to the second course. At the beginning I was assigned to the 3rd Company, which was equivalent to that same 8th grade, which I had graduated from before. I went to the administration, and said to girls there:
    - This is not right! Why you have assigned me to the 3rd Company? This is a mistake.
    They made the required changes, so that I didn’t lose a year. We were trained with different parachute trainers. When we were about to really jump with parachutes, it was announced that there was not enough fuel for all of us. The list of candidates was cut short by alphabet, and my letter “T” was excluded. But I still hoped that I would have a chance to jump. We were in the summer camp and living in the tents. Each morning I woke up with the rest at 3 a.m. and went to the hilltop, where there was an airfield for the Po-2’s (U-2 or Uchebniy-2 was renamed Po-2 after it’s designer Polikarpov in 1944. O.K.) which were used to drop us. The female instructor asked me:
    - Who’s next?
    But there was no one left. I stepped out:
    - I’m next.
    - Surname? Fine. Have you done a [low level] fly over?”
    I replied: “I can jump without a fly over.
    “No, no, [you must do] a fly over.
    We flew a fly over, and then we took off for the drop. My main parachute was on my back and the reserve on my chest. I sat in the front cabin, looking to the side. We gained altitude. I thought: “This is frightening. Will I jump or not? How I can refuse; it will be a disgrace.” While I thought we had reached required altitude, the pilot reduced throttle:
    - Get ready!
    I walked out on the wing and forgot about all fears. I got a grip on the extension cord, then took one step forward.
    I had made four jumps by that time. The first one was pure pleasure, as I had been told to bend my legs and pull on the risers during landing.
    - Do not try to resist, fall where parachute will drag you.
    It was very soft... I thought: “jumps are pure pleasure.” On my second jump, there must have been turbulence; before the landing [my parachute] oscillated and pulled. I could hardly breathe. My third one with automated extension was absolutely normal. During my flying career I have made 32 jumps. After I became a pilot, I was required to make one jump per year.

    — How you were dressed and fed in the school? I understood that it was permanent stay one?

    Yes. We had a school uniform, food. We had no stipend though. Our feeding norm was 600 grams of bread per day; for breakfast we had soup, bread with butter, and tea. Dinner consisted of two courses. For supper either a cup of cottage cheese or salad, which we called “silage.” During self-study time, the duty person brought some food on a tray, which was equally divided among those present. Some didn’t come to the self-study period; they must have studied at home.
    To be honest — it was not enough at first. We were young and very active. We physically trained a lot, played soccer.


    — Did you go to the town?

    No, there was no need for that.

    — What if you needed to buy something; could you get an official pass?

    We were not living in the barracks, and we were allowed to walk out on our free time. But we did not want to. Besides, the local boys were not very friendly toward us. We had uniforms, bell-bottomed trousers, and pilot caps. The girls paid a lot of attention to us. We also played soccer. Our team defeated the local team. They came from the front, and had no practice, while we had real aces of the ball… I loved football passionately, and even found time to play it in Afghanistan.

    — Your school was assigned to Armavir Fighter Pilot School?

    To Armavir Flight School and Kharkov Technical School, for those, who did not pass the flying commission.

    — Were there people who did not make it to aviation at all?

    Yes. Those who left from school were expelled in absentia, and there were those who were not allowed by the commission. Among them were those who smoked so that they would have [an elevated] heartbeat.
    The board examination we underwent in the Armavir school was much more serious than the examination we had to pass before VVS school.
    I tried to be the best in studying. Even when I was on detail, I took airplane flying instruction. When I travelled home by train, I trained “slipping eyesight”: 10–15 degrees to the left. That’s why I was one of the best cadets in school. I was first to fly solo. And I flew solo on Yak-11 first, too.
    But I remember, how I flew out with squadron commander Krupenin for my final test flight. He was very good at flying, and he was a teacher at Lyuberetskaya High Officers School of Dogfighting. So I flew with him. I landed as another instructor had shown me previously:
    - Three extra duty shifts.

    — Some kind of mistake on landing?

    No, but I reduced the angle of attack a little bit, and could potentially have lost speed. But I did not lose it.
    Because of this I was not the first one to fly solo in the Yak-3. But I still was the first to fire at a towed cone target. Sometime later, Krupenin asked the flight commander:
    - Give me a cadet with good flying technique; I’ll fly to the zone with him.
    - Here is Tabunshchikov; would you like to fly with him?
    I flew with him. When we arrived at the zone, he, instead of ordering me to begin, simply started maneuvering. I followed.
    We flew aerobatics and then turned toward our airfield, with a descent. He flew along the main road of the village below roof top level. As was required, I followed him a bit behind and above. We came back. He only said to me:
    - Fine.

    — What kind of aircraft did the school have when you learned to fly?

    Yak-18 with a tail wheel. There were airplanes that had seen war at our airfield. Our parking area was filled with aircraft. There were planes with wooden wings that were used for route and box flying. Aerobatics were allowed on all-metal ones only.
    I graduated with the Yak-3; it was the best fighter. But I was not able to push it to more than 480 km\h. Its engine was cut on power.

    — But on the other hand, its engine lasted longer. When did you begin to fly?

    In the spring of 1949. We were supposed to start in 1948, but we were postponed in favor of former gunners from Bataysk school.

    — Who were the school commander and squadron commander?

    The school commander was HSU Petr Geibo, former shturmovik pilot. The squadron commander was Krupenin, and my first instructor was Katkalov.

    — There are different instructors. Some of them shout all the time: “What are you doing, where are you going? Everything is wrong!” Others explain things calmly. Which type was your instructor?

    Mine was calm. I was a good cadet, too. There was no need to shout at me. There was a cadet, Leonid Merkulov, and there was something wrong with his landings. After my first solo flight, my instructor asked me to fly with him in a Yak-18:
    - Get in the rear cabin as an instructor.
    We took off… Leonid began to level off too early, so I said:
    - Lower, lower. Get it even lower.
    I had been placed there for his safety, but it was counted as a solo flight for him. He finally began flying Yak-18s, but the Yak-11 was too much. He was finally expelled after a series of near-accidents.

    — The Yak-11 was a rebuilt Yak-3?

    Yes, with an ASh-21 air cooled engine. It had dual controls, but otherwise was similar to the Yak-3.

    — Did you fly with a passenger or sand bag in it?

    We flew with sand bags in the Yak-18s. In Yak-11s, the instructor’s cockpit was either empty or there was somebody as a passenger. My friend Ryzhkov couldn’t master aerobatics for some reason. The flight commander told me:
    - Tabunshikov, fly with your friend; I’m afraid for him.
    He trusted me. We flew to the zone and he made turns correctly. Then he half-rolled, did a loop, and began a half-loop; but when the time came to stop the maneuver, he pushed the control stick forward and spun. I said:
    - Recover.
    He did nothing. Again:
    - Recover.
    He did not recover again. I had to take over the controls. We gained altitude once again. He spun for second time. I said:
    - That’s it, let’s RTB [return to base].
    We returned and he landed safely. Landing and takeoff were normal, but something was wrong his in aerobatics. He was afraid. The commander asked:
    - What happened? Did he spin out of control?
    I said:
    - He did.
    - He is worthless. I thought, maybe he was uncomfortable with his instructor… But if he spun with you…

    — You flew several airplane types at Armavir school; which one was the best, in your opinion?

    Yak-3.

    — Wasn't low fuel capacity a serious drawback of the Yak-3?

    Why? It had its own tasks for local defense and air superiority missions… The French regiment was given Yak-3s as a present, and they were very happy. And they fought in Yak-9s before that.
    The Yak-3 was very simple in flying, it had great horizontal maneuverability. It easily outturned the Messerschmitt, although the Focke Wulf-190 was better in vertical maneuvers.

    — I have talked to the veterans who fought in Yaks and La’s. They have interesting attitudes toward these planes. To participate in a dogfight — Yak, especially the Yak-3. To fight a war — La. It was more durable, and its air cooled engine was less prone to battle damage.

    That’s right. Once the water is gone, the engine stalls. There was such a case with one of our instructors; the water evaporated from the system, but he managed to glide down and land safely.
    The Lavochkin was much less prone to this, although not completely, of course.

    — If I remember correctly, there was no armored glass in Yak-3.

    There was none, but we did not discuss this matter.

    — Did your instructors share combat experience with you?

    Of course they did. They all had their own methods of training. For example, instructor Bubnov used to tell us:
    — You have to land an airplane by the seat of your pants. It is the most important gauge in the cockpit. Others do not show any problem, when your butt will feel it coming.

    — What did you know when you graduated from the flight school?

    Free dogfight, one on one. I could fight in pair both as leader and wingman. Shooting at cone target, strafing. Over the entire training time, I had accumulated 110 or 130 hours, of which 15 were combat training. I have my log books somewhere and I can try to check this information.

    — When did you graduate?

    At the end of 1950. On 7 January 1951 we were in Grozniy, at the Higher Officers’ Instructor Course. Only the best pilots were sent there. Officer ranks were issued to us a bit later, though.

    — Korean war broke out in 1950, and our pilots were there in November. What if you were sent there to fight?

    I submitted a request that I wished to fight there, but I was told:
    - Who do you think will train young pilots, then?
    When I was an instructor pilot in Kacha, I read all the top secret literature about the Korean conflict that was available in the library.

    — But still, if you had been sent there, do you believe that your 110 flying hours would have been enough?

    It’s hard to say. The war there was fought in MiG-15s. But I believe it would have been enough. I had a talent for fighting, and that is no exaggeration. Perhaps it came from nature. I managed to emerge victorious from training dogfights with our instructors.
    Instructor Kalinin and I went to the training fight. When we flew to the sides and then began approaching each other, I pulled on the stick so hard that I almost fainted: left combat turn. He flew below me, hoping that I would lose him. But I turned hard and came out on his tail. That was it. By no means could he shake me off. After landing, he said:
    - Let’s repeat.
    We did, and went head-on. Luckily, we just barely escaped collision. After landing I told him:
    - In a head-on attack, I have three cannons too.
    Then we fought with the flight commander in MiG-15s, gained 8,000 meters altitude, and flew in different directions. When the fight began, it took me three maneuvers to catch his tail. He asked:
    - Where are you?
    I replied:
    - I’m behind you.
    He directed his MiG toward the sun. I fell a bit behind, and did not notice how he reduced throttle. Suddenly, I saw his air brakes extend and that I had gained on him rapidly. I pulled the stick as hard as I could, and when he spun, I was on his tail again.

    — A Dogfight between airplanes of the same type piloted by similarly trained pilots is unlikely to be similar to the real fight.

    Yes, in this fight the one who gets upper hand at the beginning of the fight is most likely to be victorious. And one more thing – results largely depended on your physical training. I could hold up to 10 Gs, because I was very strong. I was good at wrestling, football and gymnastics. For example, when I came to Kachinskaya school, there were three Kacha graduates remaining at the airfield camp and two of us from Armavir — Petr Ludanov and I. They decided to wrestle with us. Two went after Ludanov, and one after me. But this one was a school weightlifting champion, taller than me, wider and so on… I kicked his butt. He couldn’t understand what had happened, and out of embarrassment clenched his fists at me. I said:
    - Alexandr, calm down, are we going to fight for real?
    His head dropped, and he went to the tent. Sometime later, when we were alone at the airfield he said:
    - What a disgrace! I can’t forgive myself!
    I replied:
    - It is not so much of an achievement for me. I’ve trained in wrestling. I can also throw a weight. It is not your fault at all, because I trained.
    We became friends later.

    — Were there air accidents at Armavir?

    There were, but not a lot.

    — What were the reasons?

    Human factors. My friend’s Yak engine caught fire on takeoff. When the fire appeared, he closed throttle and belly landed, as the instructions indicated. Everything would have been fine, if he would not have opened the cowling to look what had happened. Of course, the airplane was then engulfed in flames. The pilot received burns.
    In order to keep airplane supposedly airworthy, it was repaired. The deputy regiment commander took off in it, made a circle and landed. It never took off again, although was listed as ready to fly.
    Another case: a pair flew to the gunnery range for strafing practice. If a pair flew out, one shoots, another one covers him. They collided; the cadet hit the instructor’s plane cockpit. The instructor was killed instantly and the cadet bailed out, but perished, too – there was not enough altitude to open his parachute.
    All accidents were investigated, discussed and examined. The results were announced to the cadets.

    — After graduating from courses you were sent to Kacha?

    Yes, after half a year of studying, we graduated from the Higher Officers’ Instructor Course, and in July 1951 I was sent to Kachinskaya School as an instructor pilot. I started with the Yak-18. Then we flew in the Yak-11. In 1952 we mastered MiG-15, and began training cadets.

    — Were there problems with jet technology?

    We had combat planes built in Novosibirsk and Saratov. The airplanes built in Novosibirsk were heavier but more reliable. On airplanes built in Saratov, for some reason due to persistent vibration, the hydraulic hoses of the front gear broke, and we had to lower it by emergency crank. That’s all I can recall.

    — Some pilots recall the psychological difficulties of transition to jet planes, due to the absence of a propeller and [presence of] a nose wheel.

    Those must be GPW pilots – it was known problem for them. By the way, when we flew the UTI MiG-15 for the first time, I was surprised by the view — as if I was on a parachute. But there were no problems with transition to MiG-15s for us.

    — Did you fly the MiG-15 or MiG-15Bis?

    MiG-15Bis.

    — Did you have combat training there?

    Of course; we even flew as a flight to strafe.

    — What was your opinion regarding the MiG’s armament – 2x23 mm and 1x37 mm?

    Very powerful armament. American Sabres fell apart after a well-placed burst, while our planes returned home safely with dozens of hits by the Americans’ 6x12,7 mm.

    — There is an on-going discussion regarding which armament was better: cannons deliver a heavier punch, but machine guns can fire more rapidly and carry more ammo.

    Our cannons had great precision. I used to show cadets how to hit the target even with the gun sight turned off in the MiG UTI.

    — Speaking of the MiG-15 UTI, what is your opinion about the causes of Yuri Gagarin’s death?

    I believe that it was an unintended sharp maneuver followed by spin. There was no altitude to recover. Seryogin couldn’t eject and leave the first cosmonaut behind, while Gagarin didn’t eject for some reason.

    — Wasn’t the ejection seat paired [linked] there?

    Ejection was separate. Dual ejection was employed later.

    — There is an opinion that their plane suffered from decompression due to loss of canopy [or a portion of the canopy].

    It’s hard to say. It could have happened due to some sharp maneuver. But which maneuver – I have no idea. They were flying at low altitude; some have spoken about high voltage lines. Maybe…

    — But that is very low altitude, no more than 30 meters.

    I remember when I was a Chief of State Committee in Borisoglebsk, I was picking young pilots for transition to the MiG-17 in Pushkin there. I chose the best pilots, but firstly, they never flew routes, and secondly, they turned out to be hooligans. They were bored to fly straight for an hour, and started flying below high voltage lines. At one place the line was placed a bit lower than usual, so one pilot hit the wire with his cockpit. It wouldn’t be such a problem, but in fear he pulled the stick and completely destroyed the windscreen and canopy. So he had to eject.

    — You said that your instructor Kat’kalov flew below rooftop level. What was your school chief’s attitude toward aerial hooliganism?

    It was not Kat’kalov, it was Krupenin. I used to fly for a dogfight with Krupenin. Kat’kalov used to be an instructor on the Yak-18. By the way, he lived in Leningrad. I tried to find him, but no luck.

    — But still, what was the attitude toward breaking the rules?

    What is the psychology of flying — each pilot tries to be perfect. New maneuvers always attract real pilots; even cadets try to master something new. If there is not enough control, pilots do tend to break the rules sometimes. By no means it was welcome.

    — In real combat, flying below 20 meters may save your life. But in real life, flying lower than 150 meters is prohibited over Russia.

    It depends. In Lipetsk Center, we had a task to fly at a speed just a bit lower than the speed of sound at an altitude of 25 meters above ground level. We flew over Lipetsk and Voronezh districts, while fighters were supposed to intercept us, but they couldn’t find us altogether.

    — Ground radar is ineffective at such altitudes.

    At that time we were also given a task of intercepting a regiment of Il-28 bombers from Voronezh, which were supposed to break through our air defenses and drop bombs at our gunnery range. Not only did we intercept them, but we also intercepted bombers from Tambov School. Cadets began yelling: “We are being intercepted.”
    When you intercept a training target, you had to fly by the side, note the fuselage number and rock your wings. So, this Il-28 regiment got an “unsatisfactory” mark; we even felt sorry for them, but we had our mission.

    — How long did you work at the Kachinskaya School?

    Six years, as an instructor and flight commander.

    — And you mastered MiG-15 there.

    I transitioned to MiG-15 in the second year, and flew it until the end there.

    — Were there cadets, whom you expelled?

    Two cadets were expelled from MiG-15 training; they didn’t make it through the program. There were seven cadets in my group. I didn’t “pull” them, but never tried to expel them, either.

    — Even though the MiG-15 was considered easier in flying than piston planes?

    It’s hard to say; it must have been psychological.

    — Did you transfer them to heavy aviation?

    We did not transfer them to other aviation types. Since their service time was over, they were just demobilized.

    — How much time did you spend in the air per year?

    When I was an instructor, about 200 hours.

    — In your opinion, was it enough?

    A bit too much. We flew 5–6 days a week, depending on the situation. For example, when we rebased from Michurinsk to Stalingrad, the heat was so intense that we had to wake at 3 a.m., start flying at 5 a.m., and end by 11 a.m.

    — Flying was restricted by –35\+35 degrees centigrade?

    Yes, we flew until 35.

    — Why was this restriction applied? In war time, you would have to fly at 50, if required.

    The medics decided that there was no need to stress pilots out. The planes could withstand it, the same as pilots could; but it was not war, so restrictions applied.

    — Stalin died in 1953. What do you remember about that?

    We were very sorry and our grief was real. We listened to the radio in the club at Michurinsk. I especially remember what our NKVD chief Beria said:
    - Those, who are not blind, see...
    He repeated what he wanted to say several times. There was an interesting thing in the beginning of March at the political class. We were to discuss Stalin’s speech at the XIXth Party Conference. There was just one printed page. Our political officer, Fotinov, half Georgian, half Russian, was leading the discussion. He later worked at the political department of VVS.
    My friend Petr Ludanov spoke. I can’t remember what we discussed exactly, but he asked:
    - Couldn’t Stalin be mistaken?
    The seminar was stopped immediately; the political officer went to the regiment commander. While all the mess was stirring, Stalin died, and everything was forgotten.

    — In your opinion, were political officers needed?

    You know, at that time they were needed, but not in such an intrusive form as they were used. For example, if you wanted to have an “excellent” mark at history (we studied the history of PVO), you had to mention the Communist Party role; otherwise you couldn’t hope for a top mark. That was stupid.
    But not all political officers were dumb. They had to be judged personally. When I was regiment commander, I had an excellent political deputy, Vladimir Nikolayevich Derevyanko.
    Once he came to me and asked:
    - Comrade Regiment Commander, why does the chief of staff not obey me?
    I asked:
    - And what is the problem?
    - He refused to give me a secretary.
    I said:
    - Here is the regulation, and here is the Instruction for Conduct of Flights (NPP). The chief of staff is the first in command after me, and he has the right to issue orders. You are responsible for morale and political education, while he is doing combat planning. This is all written in the regulation. If you need a secretary, go and ask him politely. Or you should have come to me, and I would ask him: ‘Could you, please, give him a secretary.’ Why did you try to order him?

    — Most of the veterans with whom I have spoken claimed that political officers couldn’t fly at all, or were poor pilots. This was the reason why they were universally not respected by the ordinary pilots.

    My political deputy was a good pilot, but for day flying only. At night I tried to train him a lot of times. When we had passed distant approach marker, he would descend prematurely. I remember how the chief of political department Moroz called me:
    - Anatoliy, are you in need of political officer or a pilot?
    Political officers and even chiefs of political department were pilots.

    — If I’m not mistaken, they began flying again in the 1960s, when an order was issued: “everyone should fly.”

    By the way, the very good Air Army commander Krasovskiy was not a pilot, but navigator. In my time most political officers were good pilots – they were picked selectively. I was approached by the political department when I was squadron commander.
    - Sorry, but I can’t accept your offer, I’m a commander.
    - We know that you are good with your personnel.
    I asked:
    - Shouldn’t a commander be good with his personnel?
    They backed off.

    — Where, and at which rank, were you sent from Kacha?

    I was accepted to the Gagarin Air Force Academy. I was a captain then, at the age of 27 years. But I was a pilot 3rd class, so I was not accepted at first:
    - We do not accept 3rd class pilots.
    But I was in luck; not enough candidates had been accepted, and it was decided that flying school instructors with 3rd class rating could be accepted. But then I had to persuade the regiment commander. It took a lot of time. I was at the camp, it was 19 July. Exams were to begin on the 21st. The chief of the school flew, and summoned me:
    - You are allowed to apply to the academy.
    I flew to Volgograd and reported in immediately. There was a transport airplane bound to Monino, so I talked with the pilots and they took me with them. I made it to Monino two hours late for the first exam — written composition. During the remaining two hours I wrote a four-page composition without a single mistake. But I was not able to fully expound on the theme, “Typical Characters by Alexey Gorkii,” and got a “good” mark.

    — I’ll return to politics once again. What did people think about the renaming of Stalingrad to Volgograd after XX Party meeting?

    You mean the personality cult speech? Those who thought practically were not happy at all. We shouldn’t have yelled about it all over the world, shadowing our victory and history. There was a need to put the law enforcement organs, prosecutors, and so on, in order. It was not Khrushchev’s right to throw dirt on Stalin – he was one of those who orchestrated the purges. He personally sent a 35,000-name list to Stalin, who seriously shortened it, ordering not to touch the remaining. Regarding the famine? It was also Khrushchev’s direct guilt. He was all the way guilty, but started shouting “catch the crook” like the thief that is running ahead of the crowd chasing him.
    When I heard Khrushchev over TV for the first time (I was a studying at the 1st grade of the Academy then), I was shocked — the head of this state was not able to speak proper Russian language…

    — Did you meet Vasiliy Stalin in person?

    No.

    — What have you heard about him?

    I heard that he was a good pilot, that he fought during war time, and even had claimed German airplanes. He had a special regiment assembled for him, equipped with flight commanders from flying schools as ordinary pilots. There were rumors that he was removed from the front because his superiors were afraid that he might be shot down. Although I personally believe that his father would have accepted this loss soberly and bravely. What else? He was into drinking. And there was some strange story — they were fishing with grenades and somebody got hurt…

    — We have to admit it, that many of our country’s leaders lost their children at the front. Timur Frunze, Vladimir Mikoyan, Stepan Khrushchev, and so on…

    Everybody fought. War had shown that real communists fought to the last. 3 million communists perished at the front. Of course, it’s quite possible that there were among them every kind of thrill seeker and careerist, and so on.

    — What did Academy give to you?

    First of all, a general military education. Special training, of course. There was a lot of theoretical material on aerial gunnery skills and combat use of the airplanes. There also was political education, English language at a decent level. We studied enemy air forces, reconnaissance and intelligence and on, and on. There were a lot of subjects.

    — Did you fly during studying?

    We flew the MiG-17 in the summer during practice time near Taganrog.

    — What do you think about the MiG-17? By the way, was it a MiG-17 PF or ordinary one?

    I flew the PF at Lipetsk later. In Taganrog it was a plain one. Normal airplane.

    — Korean war veterans believed that the MiG-17 was worse for dog fighting than the MiG-15.

    Correct. It was more sluggish. The PF was a pure interceptor. It had a radar set in the nose. It was obvious, that it was worse in maneuvering, but was good at intercepting B-29s at night.

    — Were you informed about reconnaissance flights of NATO airplanes, that we were not able to stop?

    Of course, we had general information. For example, the MiG-19 was not able to reach them, so excess weapons were removed and only one cannon was left on the plane to lighten it and increase altitude. When the MiG-21 appeared, it was able to reach them at dynamic ceiling.

    — When and at which rank did you graduate from the Academy?

    I became Major in 1959 and graduated in 1961. After graduation I was sent to the Lipetsk Combat Operations Center. There we constantly retrained. We flew the MiG-21, then the Su-7, Su-7 B, Su-7 BM, Su-7 BKL.

    — If I remember correctly, it was a fighter-bomber. Were there problems with use of bombing equipment?

    None. By the way, with a tossing maneuver, I placed almost all bombs onto a lit target at night.

    — Was there real need to replace ground attack [shturmovik] aviation by fighter-bombers?

    What I can say about the Su-7, Su-7 B… Good armament for its time. 2,000 kilograms of bombs. Or it could hang four tanks with 800 liters of fuel in each one. But that was for ferry flights.

    — But it consumed a lot of fuel, especially on afterburners.

    On afterburners, yes. I’ll tell you one story about the Su-7. In 1965, the Yugoslavs thought about buying the Su-7 BM, and there was a need to display aerobatics at Kubinka airbase. But there was no pilot capable of doing it in this airplane. A call was made to Lipetsk. I was summoned by a General, the deputy chief of the 4th Combat Operations Center.
    - Take a wingman, and fly there in two airplanes. Congratulate the division commander with his promotion to the rank of General-Major.
    I arrived, visited the division commander, and reported. He called for some Major:
    - Fly with them on the UTI MiG-15 to familiarize them with the location. And start training, the Yugoslav delegation will be here in five days.
    On the next day I came for sorties. I took off in a Su-7 BM and flew: zoomed over the runway almost at the altitude of leveling. Then made a loop… To make things short, I maneuvered over the Volokolamsk motorway, returned and landed. My program was approved and training was allowed to continue.
    I flew in front of the Yugoslav delegation. Our VVS Commander was also present. For this I was thanked. While I was in the air, the whole arsenal was laid out on the runway. We showed everything, but the Yugoslavs did not buy it – too little fuel. But why did they need so much fuel? They had a small country; there was no place to fly. The Americans make large tanks because they fight overseas, and have to have maximum possible range. We were intending on protecting our own borders, and for that we did not need such long range.
    I remember in Lipetsk Deputy 4th Combat Operations Center Commander Yengaev, who later became a General and worked in the personnel directorate of the VVS, asked me:
    - Anatoliy, fly with me in a twin seat Su-7.
    We took off. Made one circle on afterburners, then climbed, split-S still on afterburners, a few more maneuvers, and I said:
    - Switch afterburners off, or we are going to run out of fuel.
    When we landed he announced:
    - Good machine, fine aerobatics.
    The Su-7 BM was a very good airplane for its time.

    — 1961. Reduction of armed forces by 1,200,000 men

    That was announced in 1960. I was still in the Academy. Then many Il-28 crews were reduced, while their airplanes were destroyed. A small part of the pilots were sent to Aeroflot. Frontal aviation was severely cut. Fighters were cut a bit later, but not so much.

    — What did the pilots think about it?

    Who likes to be fired?

    — On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of men returned to civilian work.

    What do you mean by “returned to civilian work”? Who thought for a second what these men would do in civilian life? It was only a matter of speech about “civilian work”. This was not the real cause. Of course, there was a need to reduce the armed forces, and there was a need for money for nuclear weapons and missiles. Missiles had to be hidden in silos, but their building required a lot of money, too. There was great need in aviation specialists, if specialists in missile technology were unavailable. A lot of officers were sent there.
    Zhukovskii Academy was shifted from VVS to missile forces.
    By the way, there is a legend about the Il-28. It claims that Stalin wished to return Alaska to the Soviet Union, because it was not sold, but rented by USA for 100 years. Legend states that by the time the lease was up, we were supposed to build strong frontal aviation with up to 10,000 Il-28s.
    There were really a lot of them. It was a pity that they were simply destroyed. Khrushchev, who ordered them to be cut up, made a huge economic mistake — money was spent on building the planes, and then on destroying them. These airplanes could have been sold; they would have been bought at a good price by many countries. It was a great airplane, especially for its precision qualities.
    I was a commander of a mixed regiment. It consisted of fighters, fighter-bombers and reconnaissance-bombers Il-28s, which were used as bombers too. Later, they were changed to Yak-28s. No comparison in precision of bombing. If I remember correctly, Il-28s took part in Afghan war; they flew with the Afghan air force.

    — 1962, Caribbean crisis. What kind of measures did our supreme command undertake? Were you placed on a higher state of alert?

    For a training center, combat readiness is not applicable, since its main task is transition of regiment and squadron commanders-pilots, chiefs of gunnery training to new airplanes.

    — But instructors could be sent to the war.

    There were enough flight crews without instructors, so Lipetsk was not touched. And we flew a lot.

    — How was transition made? Would whole regiment come, or would a regiment send its representatives, who would teach regiments at their permanent bases?

    It was done in both ways. But it was not so easy to teach a whole regiment at the same time, so usually pilots came in squadrons.

    — Did you spend more time on maneuvering or combat use?

    First of all flying technique. Combat employment was a course for regiment commanders, squadron commanders, and chiefs of gunnery training.

    — As a regiment commander, were you supposed to fly each and every type of aircraft with which your unit was equipped?

    Yes. I flew a lot. MiG-17, Su-7, MiG-21 and Yak-28. I flew them all. When I asked to be retrained to the Yak-28, Center Commander General Lutskiy tried to talk me out of it:
    - There is more than enough flying for you.
    I remember when Marshall Pstygo came with a commission.
    - So, how are you commanding your regiment? Give me your log book... You are not commanding at all! Just fly — 185 hours flown!
    I had to explain:
    - Explaining how I’m commanding my regiment. When I’m at the air traffic control post, am I not commanding?
    - You are.
    - Flying with one squadron at first shift is done by one of my deputies. I do the second shift with two squadrons. Should I fly weather reconnaissance?
    - You should.
    - I’m obliged to. What about instructor flights with graduates for allowance for new airplane types, or for instructor work? Should I check regiment commanders’ flying techniques?
    He replied:
    - Yes, you must.
    - Should I make one flight at daytime myself?
    - Yes.
    - And at night?
    - Yes.
    - That results in 2–3 flying days a week. Count yourself how many flying days that makes per year. But when there are no flying days, I have no choice but sit on the ground and command.
    - Fine. You may continue to command.
    General Pushkin checked our housekeeping and physical training readiness. We had to run for 1,5 kilometers in soldiers’ boots. I was in the rank on the right.
    - Are you going to run? There is no need for you to run.
    I replied:
    - I can’t leave my regiment.
    We started. For the first 500 meters I ran slowly, and others went past me. Second 500 meters I ran steadily faster. Last 500 meters I ran as fast as I could, and made it first to the finish. The regiment got “excellent” for the physical training readiness.

    — What kinds of new weapons did you study?

    The R-60 close range missile.

    — What about the RS-2 US?

    The RS-2 US was outdated already. We got the R-13. We studied all types of ordnance: artillery, bombs, unguided rockets.

    — Did you use air-to-ground missiles?

    We studied them too.

    — Where you were transferred to from Lipetsk?

    Marshal Pstygo came once again in 1970. He flew in a MiG-23 to Astrakhan. Chief of the Center ordered me to be dressed in parade uniform and to arrive to the airfield. Pstygo told me:
    - You are appointed to the post of Chief of Chernigov Flight School. Keep in mind, that we are not interested in your flying skills; we know that it is of good level, but you must teach pilots to the best.
    All I had to say was:
    - Yes, sir.
    Thus I became the Chief of Chernigov Flight School.

    — Weren't you annoyed that you were a teacher once again? Didn’t you want to be a combat pilot?

    I wanted to be one when I graduated, so I submitted a request. But I had no chance. Later I had a very interesting job.
    I was interested in working as a chief of the flight school. My experience in maneuvering had helped to increase the level of training for our cadets. I believe that I helped a lot. What I did – when future cadets were gathered on the right bank of the river Strizhen between Chernigov, flight school and airfield, I would fly there in a combat MiG-21 and perform low altitude aerobatics, so that those future cadets would see this “corrida”. Somebody had reported to the Commander of 79th Air Army General Skomorokhov, that the chief of the school as a hooligan. Skomorokhov sent an inspector. He took my flight book, looked through it, and found that I had an endorsement.
    He said:
    - I have no further questions.
    When cadets flew in at Uman on the earthen airfield, I took the MiG-21 and flew with such calculation as to arrive at the supper time, so that both shifts would be at the airfield. I displayed aerobatics with afterburners and landed on the earthen runway.

    — Who had given you the endorsements?

    I got them at Lipetsk Center. My higher commander was the inspector from the Center.

    — How often you were checked?

    Inspectors came from Moscow to check my flying technique. I remember that even in Afghanistan an inspector from Moscow had checked me.
    I believe that if pilot has flown successfully for 10 years in a row, there is no need to check him, and that he has highest chances to retrain to the new airplane type. It all depends on previous training and self confidence. I remember how I transitioned to the Su-25 shturmovik. A ciphered message came, that I was ordered to personally supervise transition of a whole squadron to the Su-25 in Shindand [Afghanistan]. But how can I supervise others, if I haven’t mastered it myself? I flew there, studied the theory and airplane construction, spoke to the engineers from Tbilisi airplant. After that I sent a telegram to Tashkent that I passed all exams. Based on this, they sent me the endorsement. My plane was fully loaded: 2 FAB-250, 2 FAB-500, UB blocks…

    — Unguided rockets?

    Yes, S-8. My cannon was also fully loaded. I took off, flew to the practice range, where there were some burnt mujaheddin buses. I strafed them, flew over runway, performed aerobatics, then landed. I reported to Tashkent that my transition was complete.

    — Let’s return to the 1970s, to the Vietnam war. Did you get information from there?

    Classified information came in. From the VVS’ perspective, it was sufficient.

    — Was there something interesting in their tactics?

    There was nothing interesting in their tactics. Mass use of aviation and that’s it.
    Most interesting was use of the Shrike missile. It was quite effective in the beginning. But our PVO operators found out how to fight it: launch a SAM and change position. Or if a Shrike launch was detected, they switched power off for some time. In a few seconds, the ARM would lose direction.

    — The Americans used very little precision bombing, but instead they carpet bombed the jungle. Was it an effective method, in your opinion?

    It wasn’t. Bombing areas is a pray and spray method. I remember how I argued with one Colonel-General in Afghanistan. He was an advocate of carpet bombing. Afghanistan is a hilly and mountainous country and it was full of spot targets... Carpet bombing is just a waste of ordnance.

    — What kind of airplanes did you have at the Chernigovsk Flight School?

    L-29 Dolphin. MiG-17, MiG-21. To be precise MiG-21 F-13.

    — By that time more advanced aircraft had appeared. The MiG-23 and MiG-25 were flying by this time.

    You are right.

    — In your opinion, was training cadets on obsolete MiG-21s a deficiency or an achievement?

    I believe that it was a good thing, as a cadet should become an expert in aerobatics firstly, and the MiG-21 allowed them to become confident in it.

    — Weren’t you sorry that MiG-15 UTI was phased out?

    But we were flying on supersonic airplanes by now.

    — It was a good airplane for primary training, on the other hand.

    We had the L-29 for primary training. We even flew it for combat training to the practice range.

    — By the way, at the beginning of Chechen war, some L-29s were still in Chechnya. Could have Dudayev’s insurgents used them?

    L-39s, not L-29s. They would have been shot down on sight. In theory, everything that shoots can be used. It all depends on the unexpectedness of the strike and uncommon tactics. Al-Qaida is accused of using civilian airplanes as a strike element against the WTC. It was completely unexpected. We used the Po-2 as a night bomber. The Chechens could have hung bombs and other ordnance on these airplanes, and, possibly, fly a single successful mission. There would be no second chance for them. Their planes were blown up before they had a chance. But they required regular service, checkups and so on. What did the Chechens have? Guerrilla bands.

    — But Dudayev was a pilot himself.

    I know. He got an Order of Red Combat Banner for Afghanistan; however, he did try to hide this fact later. Still, they had no chance to use their airplanes.

    — For how long you were the head in Chernigov?

    Three years.

    — And where to after that?

    In 1976 I was sent to Leningrad, as a Deputy Commander for combat training. Then – First Deputy Commander to 4th Air Army. It was based in Legnitse, Poland. There I had to supervise all kinds of combat practice, simple, complex and even weapons of mass destruction. But the commander happened to be a fool and a thief. He was caught… I was summoned to Moscow, to the military department of the Central Committee — I was transferred to Tashkent. An inspector sat before me. He asked no questions. I asked:
    - What have I done wrong, and what are my perspectives?
    - We make no claims; everything was checked and proved to be normal. But there were deficiencies in the work of the military council.
    I had to confess:
    - Yes, there were, that is true.

    — Two Korean Boeings were shot down at that time: one was shot down over Karelia in 1978, the second over Sakhalin in 1983. Both times by an Su-15 TM.

    I was in Poland from 1976 till 1980; during this time the first one was shot down. The second event took place when I was in Afghanistan. We were given brief information. No details.

    — Do you remember mutiny on board BPK [large submarine chaser] Storozhevoy in the Baltic in 1975 from Riga? Remember, when Political Officer Sablin tried to make it to Sweden?

    I don’t remember. There was something, but I haven’t got enough information.

    — How tense was the situation between the Warsaw Pact and NATO when you were in Poland?

    The situation was very tense in Germany, and combat readiness was on the highest level there. The situation in Poland was much calmer. NATO didn’t bother us a lot; we were very polite toward each other. There weren’t any notable violations.

    — Do you know what happened when a MiG-23 flew to Norway?

    I believe it was some other country, not Norway; Denmark, maybe. I know the details. The Chief of Political Department from a division based in Klyuchevskaya took off at night in a MiG-23, during minimal weather condition with afterburners. When he entered the clouds, he saw, or said that he saw, an “engine fire” indicator go off. He ejected without switching the engine off, and survived. The aircraft, on afterburners, gained the highest altitude it could, burned all its fuel, and glided down. When speed was lost, the aircraft nose was lowered and it gained speed, then raising its nose. Thus it made it to Denmark. There was a rumor that it fell on the house of some dissident, who had fled Soviet Union. The NATO folks, of course, missed it.
    (This is in reference to the incident of a MiG-23 from the 239th Fighter Division, which in 1989 flew in unguided flight over the territory of the FRG and the Netherlands and went down in Belgium, killing a local civilian. During the flight over the FRG, the aircraft was escorted by two F-15s, which decided not to shoot down the MiG-23 because it was flying over densely populated regions. Editor’s note).

    — Was there a debriefing?

    There was. Our Veterans Council Chief, General-Colonel Ivan Ivanovich Korbutov, at that time received a stern reprimand from the Minister of Defense. He recalls of it to me to this day. The Commander of 4th Air Army received a simple reprimand.

    — Did you fly in MiG-25?

    I did not fly either the 25 or the 29. I was transferred from Poland to Tashkent, where I also was a First Deputy. There I once again flew in all the planes that were available – all MiG types. And I mastered the Su-25 in Afghanistan.

    — Were you sent to Afghanistan as a volunteer or by order?

    By order, as the First Deputy Commander of 73rd Tashkent Air Army and First Deputy District Commander. By order of Minister of Defense, general command and planning of operations in Afghanistan was done by the operations group of the Turkmenistan Military District beginning in April 1980. It was like Central Committee, but an executive committee — 40th Army command. Before I was sent to Afghanistan, I went to speak with the Army Commander. He said:
    - I cannot order you, but we haven’t got enough commanding officers to orchestrate complex operations.
    I replied:
    - Boris Ivanovich, I’m ready to work at any operation even now.
    - Thank you.
    I planned and commanded 19 successful air operations.


    — Do you remember when our regiment arrived in Pakistan? Locals tried to strafe our helicopters on the ground. What really happened there?

    It happened in March 1980, but not in Pakistan… There was a representative of the General Staff, Merenskiy. He propagandized airborne operations. Not a regiment, but a battalion was dropped, with a mistake due to the difficult terrain. They were dropped in such place, where our troops could do nothing to help them. They got into a direct fight with Chinese troops. We had to arrange an evacuation by helicopters. We did it.
    We had to abandon airborne operations in the mountains altogether, because it was difficult for our troops to get there by ground in time to help… Our soldiers had difficult times walking in their mountains. The Afghans were much better at it.
    I remember captured Afghans. I took one by his hand, he seemed thin, but he had ropes instead of muscles. It was in the east of Afghanistan at the border with Pakistan. There were two canyons there. We conducted smart operations. The 180th Regiment of the 8th Motorized Rifle Division went through one canyon, while a detached motorized rifle regiment, which was based in Jalalabad, moved through the other. The operation was accomplished with great results. But we could not avoid losses altogether. We had losses… I was a part of commanding force. The infantry commander sat in a BTR, while we placed our tents at under an overhang. I was sitting there. The POWs were brought there. I looked at one of them closer — an old man, looked like he was 150 years old, bare footed, and his legs were like elephants; he had lived his life barefooted. I asked him how old he was — 42 years.

    — The Pakistanis intercepted our airplanes and even shot some down. At least, several missile launches were reported.

    They fired at Afghan Air Force airplanes only, while I was there. They were afraid of our aviation. From the PVO point of view, we had perfect organization then. For example, we had a helicopter regiment in Kandahar and a squadron from 27th Guards Fighter Regiment in Bagram. A flight was always in Alert-1 status. The Pakistanis knew about it, and avoided our airplanes altogether.

    — But still, if they fired at our planes, why we didn’t fire back at them?

    There were no opportunities while I was there. Only once did they violate the border, and as soon as I was informed, I ordered a pair of MiG-21s from Bagram, and took off myself. But we did not get there in time. What happened: Our helicopters had fired on a Pakistani border guard post by mistake. Pakistani fighters damaged one of our helicopters, but it landed by autorotation. The Pakistani fighters flew away immediately after this.
    An Iranian fighter also tried to shoot our choppers down. I will tell you about one operation. In southwest Afghanistan was a trans-shipping base. There were weapons, missiles, rockets, drugs and a lot of other stuff. It was a small inhabited locale, in a special area — 800 meters to the border with Pakistan and eight kilometers to the border with Iran. We planned to execute a powerful air assault operation and capture this base. The operation was well planned. 110 helicopters were landed southwest of Kandagar 100 kilometers away from this base. The fighter-bomber regiment was supposed to strike the target, while fighter cover was provided by the MiG-23 regiment from Shindand. Everything would have been fine, but the chief of the helicopter group by mistake dragged the whole group to Iran, where our soldiers disembarked and began assaulting some town. Iran was starting its war with Iraq then.
    What happened? Fighter-bombers hit the target precisely, we made photos. I was there onboard an AN-30. In order not to cross the border, we marked it with SABs from a specially provided airplane.
    The chopper leader saw them, and shouted:
    - That is a signal for us!
    His navigator told him:
    - Comrade Colonel, we are going the right way.
    - Stop objecting, I’m senior onboard.
    So they ended up landing in Iran.
    While the operation was being planned, I was not there. I had to go to Ashkhabad to the Military Council, because we had to plan a military exercise under the supervision of Minister of Defense Marshal Grechko. I returned late for planning, but right in time for results control.
    I asked the chopper leader:
    - Vladimir, I understand that you are in command of the chopper group, but I would like to know where will be your place in the combat formation.
    He replied:
    - I will be over the middle of the group, 300 meters above it, in order to be able to supervise the assault to three predefined spots.
    In real life, he flew ahead of the group and dragged it to the wrong location.
    I supervised the fighter-bombers taking off from Kandahar. Then I flew out on board an An-30 to make photos of the strike result. When we made it to the base, it was ruined, but there were no choppers in sight. I asked:
    - Has anybody seen the helicopters?
    My flight engineer answered:
    - I saw two choppers.
    - That’s the search and rescue service.
    I said to the crew commander:
    - Course 280.
    We flew near the border, and I noticed our helicopters on the ground. I decided that those were Iranian tanks at first, to be correct, but then I took a closer look.
    - Should we violate the border?
    I answered:
    - Of course.
    I called for “Almaz,” that was the callsign of the leader Colonel, but received no reply. No radio communication. The town Zakhidan near landing site, while our target was way off…. By this time our forces had captured some Iranian. I saw explosions in the town, but not from helicopters. We made a low level sharp turn and saw that it was our artillery firing. Finally, I established connection over radio, and yelled:
    - Stop firing, right now move to the direction 90 degrees!
    They stopped firing. When our forces began to withdraw, two Phantom II fighters came from Bender-Abbas. They appeared, flew by, and returned to base.

    — But they had the right to fire...

    And they did. A second pair appeared a bit later; one our choppers was blown to pieces, another one was damaged, but it landed safely… Our MiG-23s got to the area, locked on to the Phantoms, but ground control forbade opening fire. It was bad enough that we had attacked the Iranian town, and there was no need to escalate the problem by shooting down Iranian airplanes over Iran.

    — Was there a real possibility to shoot them down?

    Our missiles were live ones, armed and ready, targets locked, pilots good and eager to fire. Since I was not at the planning of the operation, Tkach ordered to the VVS Commander Shkanakin to loiter in the combat area and maintain control over situation. He did fly there, but due to low navigation qualities of the terrain didn’t noticed the border violation. I would have commanded the operation myself, but I flew to Afghanistan too late. When I understood the situation…

    — You were a General by this time?

    I was promoted to General in 1972, because my school was first among others by training level in whole VVS.
    I radioed him:
    - RTB and report to “01” (Supreme commander) that our troops are on foreign territory!
    The conflict was brought under control at the very top level. Two police officers were killed in that town, so our government paid pensions to their families for a number of years, and the damaged and destroyed buildings were paid for. Finally, several Mi-6 and Mi-8 helicopters were passed to Iran free of charge to smooth the situation.
    There were so many vehicles at the trans-shipping base. There were so many of them, that could have been captured and destroyed. There was a second strike by fighter-bombers later, but it was not effective, since trucks had been driven away.
    After the Phantoms attacked, we ordered return to base as quickly as possible. On the way back we lost another Mi-6. Its engine stalled, and the pilots landed in a swamp not far from the mujahedeen base. Engineers were ordered to salvage all that could be saved from that chopper, but when they arrived, the mujahedeen were already there. Since our men could be killed or captured, I ordered to blow that Mi-6 from the air. There was no sense in trying to recover it.

    — It was common, that apart from personal awards, particularly distinguished units would be given a Guards title.

    Or they could be awarded by some order.

    — But there were no units authorized Guards designation for Afghanistan?

    No. It was not a declared war.

    — What about personal awards for pilots?

    I was in favor of awarding helicopter crews more than fixed-wing aviators.

    — Why?

    Because helicopters are under constant and intensive ground fire. They provided our troops with the most effective and closest possible support. Helicopters flew all search and rescue missions and evacuated our troops when needed. I flew a lot with them. And I believe that flying a conventional airplane is safer. Of course, it largely depends on flying technique and use of countermeasures.
    For example, you know that enemy has Stingers. You dive from out of the sun, gain speed of about 1000 km\h, release your weapons and climb away. Choppers had no such possibility. They were slower… They had flares and “flash lamp.” But a lot of them were brought down by DShK (Degtyarev–Shpagin heavy machine gun) fire. In 1983 there were 15 helicopter crew graves in Jalalabad. That’s a third of standard chopper regiment!

    — Which type of weapons was most dangerous? Stingers or guns?

    After our helicopters were equipped with “flash lights” and flares, they were rarely hit by SAMs, but they were commonly hit by conventional fire. That is true for the period of time when I was in Afghanistan.

    — Strange — simple firearms were more effective than sophisticated guided missile?

    Of course. At the bottom of one of the canyons were several of our chopper wrecks. There was one experienced DShK gunner. Our crews finally busted him.

    — Which helicopter was most effective for combat in Afghanistan? I was told that it was Mi-8.

    I will answer with examples. In May 1981, I flew to Kandahar, and along with the helicopter regiment commander and PVO deputy regiment commander we drove to the commander of the 70th Motorized Rifle Brigade, Colonel Shatin. We looked at the maps in the intelligence department:
    - Insurgent movement was spotted in the the Registan desert at night.
    We returned, and I told deputy regiment commander:
    - Hang two FAB-250 on my MiG-21, along with UB blocks, and load the cannon.
    I took off at night. The whole desert was shining bright. I thought that I should strafe them with rockets, but all lights were switched off. So I dropped bombs.

    — Wherever they landed…

    Yes, something like that. I fired my cannon at some suspicious spots, then returned to base. In the morning we took off and flew a damage assessment mission. Of course, there were no signs of hits. To be fully correct, they had dragged the damaged trucks away very quickly. I started thinking, and came to a conclusion, that we should mine the route. We flew to Kabul, and I asked 40th Army engineer Kelpsh:
    - Do you have mines with timers that will detonate after a designated time?
    There were none on the spot. We sent requests to the Soviet Union, and in about one week the ordnance arrived. The Registan desert is of rocky terrain, with a few sandy patches through which trucks can drive. We mined such defiles. At sun up we flew out on a control mission. Kelpsh flew with us. We noticed one group of damaged trucks, and in another spot, several solitary trucks. We returned to base. Our paratroopers confirmed everything. We continued to mine the desert. In the end, they began to rehabilitate all roads to the nearby villages. But they kept moving deeper in the desert.
    Once we flew with a flight of choppers to take a look in the southwestern part of the desert. On the way back, when it was already dark, we located a convoy of trucks moving in the direction of Pakistan. They delivered grain there and returned with weapons. We began our approach, and I said to the crew commander:
    - We are going fine, I’ll strafe them with machine gun.
    - There is no need comrade General. I’ll fire four UB-16, 64 S-5 rockets. We will cover them all.
    - Fine, let’s do it.
    We did. All the lights went out immediately. We departed after expending our rockets. In the morning we flew there to take a look, and found out that all rockets had landed 10 meters to the right of the road. There was a wind from the left with a speed of about 10 meters per second; a rocket flew for about a second… So it was displaced by 10 meters.
    We went to Shatin. He had four BTR headlamps in his warehouse. I managed to get three out of him, and we attached them to the turret machine gun. We test fired and flew to the desert. Soon we located two trucks. With the left button I switched the light on, and with the right fired the machine gun. And it was precise enough to set the truck’s fuel tank on fire.
    That is why veterans claim that Mi-8 was a good machine. It had PKT 7.62mm machine guns in the nose. It was good to fire because it had tracers and even better when we attached the searchlights.
    I flew with the Mi-24 regiment commander Tzalko as a navigator. It was equipped with rotating 12.7mm YakB. We aimed at trucks. I aimed and fired. A stream of bullets flew toward the target. But you couldn’t fire constantly — you would either waste your ammo or the gun would jam. The stream would reach its destination, and you couldn’t correct your aim by tracer. If you fired PKT, you saw how tracers were going and could make adjustments.

    — I was also told that in mountainous terrain you had to fly high, and the Mi-24 was already overloaded with armor, while the engines were the same.

    You might be talking about early versions; later ones had more powerful engines. The Mi-24V had a more powerful engine. I flew and fired from the Mi-6 and Mi-24, but achieved the best results from Mi-8T… I even managed to hit motorcycles on the move.
    After we attached searchlights to the guns, it became excellent. In one night we shot up 50–60 trucks in the desert, and 40th Army VVS commander Lepaev said to me:
    - There must be an overclaim.
    He quietly flew to Kandagar to check the claims. He saw burnt trucks himself. What can I say? Among other things, he asked me:
    - Anatolii Mikhailovich, I need a battery for my car.
    I replied:
    - We’ll get one.
    At that time a group of eight trucks had been caught at the mines. Those who remained alive tried to fight our paratroopers; subsequently a portion of them scattered in the desert, another group were killed, and we captured eight men. There were four leaders and a mullah among them. When we went after batteries – they all were shot up. The brigade commander, Shatin, was with us; he asked:
    - Anatolii Mikhailovich, there is an epidemic in Pakistan, they might be contaminated. May be we would be better off by shooting these bandits here?
    - No, we will bring them to the Tsarandoy [Aghan secret police]. Let them deal with them. Just in case, don’t get close to them.
    So we brought them to the Tsarandoy, where they were executed, as we were told.

    — How many missions did you fly in Afghanistan?

    172 combat missions personally in a fixed-wing aircraft and over 200 as a chopper crew member.

    — Wasn’t the fact that a general officer was flying combat missions too much?

    I was good at controlling the operations and I flew missions as well.

    — But what if a General were shot down?

    In order to not be downed, one had to apply active tactics. We usually flew combat missions as a flight – four choppers. If one was shot down, another one rescues the crew, two are flying cover. If there are no helicopters available, or you are making a ferry flight, you have to take into consideration all the dangerous spots.

    — What if missile hit the chopper, and a General is gone?

    How will it hit, if all countermeasures are used?

    — Simple malfunction of countermeasure device.

    And what it has to do with Generals? We lost Generals in Afghanistan. It was war, you know.
    I flew a Su-25 once, in one of the canyons we found a building, from which we were fired on. With the Su-25 we had three types of attack: first we dropped bombs, at primary attack FAB-250 to check our aim and then FAB-500. Second – S-8. Third, R-30 cannon, 30 mm, 3200 rpm.
    I decided to use all 180 rounds in one pass. I pressed the trigger, but didn’t use up all the rounds. I pulled out at the last moment, and exactly at this time my left engine stalled. The cannon was located a bit to the left from the fuselage center, and gases from firing had gone up the engine intake. My altitude was pretty high. I throttled up the right engine, reduced left engine to idle, and waited to see what would happen next. For some time the temperature rose, then stabilized. Revolutions also dropped at first, then stopped, and I slowly increased the throttle to the max. By this time as we used to say “my sweat stank of menthol,” I was looking for a place to eject as close to our territory as possible. I was not too happy about idea that my head could be cut off…
    In 1981 I was supposed to go on leave. My place was taken for the time being by General Khakhalov. He worked as you think Generals should. If there was an airstrike, he would fly above in a MiG-21, providing PVO cover. That was important, too… I knew how to attack ground targets, and I was a master at it. I told him quite a bit about how helicopters should work. He decided to destroy a bandit bus in Lurkoh canyon. That’s 160 kilometers southeast of Shindand. But he should have examined the intelligence data — there were 11 DShKs there. He was shot down; his wingman barely returned home with holes. They searched for the General’s body for a week and finally recovered it — headless.
    When I was preparing for my leave, I took a scheduled flight. My wife came with our daughter and grandson. We were about to leave to Samarkand, to wander about the ancient city. But when we made it to Tashkent, I was met and:
    - Comrade General, pack your stuff.
    And so I returned back. I flew to the leave on 31 December. In the morning we took off from Kabul in an Il-76, landed in Tashkent, refueled, I fetched my wife, and we flew to Novgorod. Everything was fine, but before landing I walked into the cockpit and asked the crew commander:
    - What’s the weather in Krichevitsy?
    - 100 to 1. (1 kilometer horizontal visibility, 100 meters vertical.)
    - Fine.
    When the descent began, I left the cockpit, and returned just before final approach. When I glimpsed at the instruments, I shouted:
    - Recover from banking!
    He recovered. We landed. I asked him:
    - What happened up there?
    - You know, we just retrained.
    - Why didn’t you tell me?
    - I’m sorry.
    Just before New Year we arrived to Leningrad, and celebrated it at home with my daughter. But there were chances to meet it short of the Novgorod airbase runway in the wrecks.

    — Why were regiments replaced so often in Afghanistan?

    It was done to rotate as many pilots through combat as possible.

    — But you could have rotated as many pilots but not by changing the regiments, but by changing one pilot with another.

    It was not right. Each regiment had to undergo extensive training in Kokayty. A regiment was not just a combat unit, but it was an administrative and logistical support entity. A regiment should not be divided into parts in a combat situation. I believe that we were right.
    A commission came from Moscow to search for reasons for the high losses in Army aviation. I was appointed as a chief of the team. I knew the answer already: low altitudes, all the small arms were firing at the choppers. There were “flashlights” against missiles, but there was nothing against bullets.
    We came to the conclusion that flight altitudes should be increased to 800 meters. How could we hit targets then?
    So we developed new tactics on the basis of the Mi-24 regiment in Kabul. Then we arranged a display at the Bagram gunnery range; all flight commanders were invited. Bombs fell within five meters of the target center. That was more than enough to destroy targets. So we changed tactics for rocket use and gunnery. Altitudes rose, losses reduced. Senior VVS Commander Pavel Kutakhov approved our methods.

    — Which of our ordnance was most effective against the enemy? ODABs [fuel–air mixture aviation bombs , RBK [cassette bombs], NURSes [unguided rockets] or guided weapons?

    I believe in the ODAB-500. I used it. It was a fuel–air mixture ordnance; it sprayed and then ignited. Extremely effective in closed or semi-enclosed spaces. Insurgents liked to hide in tunnels.

    — What about RBK?

    Well, it was good of course, but its primary use was against armor; however, it could be loaded with fragmentation bomblets. But I still believe that the ODAB-500 was the most effective weapon in mountainous terrain.

    — Weren’t they forbidden later?

    We never announced that we were using them.

    — Did different pilots prefer different bombs?

    Of course. Choppers dropped them from low altitudes with a delay of 12 seconds. I personally didn’t really care. Bombs are bombs. A district commander summoned me once:
    - Tabunshikov, you understand what is going on. We received intelligence data that an enemy convoy with weapons is going through near the Hindu Kush from Pakistan. Could you fly a reconnaissance mission?
    We flew out as a flight of Su-25s, but found only eight camels. Our cannon shell cost more than those camels. We flew back, and at the Zurna pass, altitude 4,200 meters, we saw a large group moving along the mountain road with no place to hide. We formed a circle and began work. I dove in all guns blazing, and at this moment my wingman radioed:
    - 764, I see a stream of bullets flying toward you.
    “764” was my fixed callsign.
    - If you see it, silence it.
    It was a group belonging to the “Lion of Panshir,” Akhmad Shah Massud, retreating. We used up all our ordnance there; a lot of bandits remained there forever. Later a radio message was intercepted that we destroyed Massud’s bank there.

    — How was the aviation group of 40th Army selected by types?

    It was selected by the capabilities of the DRA armed forces. There were fighter-bombers and fighters. Initially the MiG-21 Bis, then the MiG-23. They could work against ground targets as well as against airborne targets. We expected push back from Pakistan.
    The primary disposition was a fighter-bomber regiment in Bagram, which flew against ground targets. The 217th fighter-bomber regiment was based in Shindand. In 1981 we added a detached Shturmovik squadron equipped with the Su-25, also based in Shindand. From time to time they moved to Bagram or back, depending on their missions.
    This group was sufficient enough to help Afghan aviation. The Afghans had Su-7s in Shindand, and about half as many helicopters as we did.

    — Why MiG-21 and MiG-23? Why not more modern and heavy planes? Su-24, for example?

    It was decided that these planes were good enough to support our troops. It was not so important to carry a lot of bombs, as to put them precisely on target. Generally, the present forces were sufficient to solve all tasks. Although sometimes there were not enough airplanes. I once tried to influence the briefing to our superiors:
    - Comrade General-Colonel, we do not have enough airplanes.
    - Execute [your] orders.

    — Was there a possibility to use the VVS of Turkistan Military District?

    There was, but only by direct order from the Supreme Commander of VVS. For example, a fighter regiment from Kokayty flew missions in support of our border guards in the vicinity of the river Pyandzh.

    — Were there operations when our pilots would work along with the Afghan VVS?

    No. We divided our work in time. We did not fly in the same formations. For that you had to have training and communications. The Afghans worked well with their Su-7s. I saw it myself.

    — Were there conflicts with DRA VVS about wrong timing of a strike or friendly fire?

    No, there were no such conflicts. Everything was planned well. There were such cases before 1981; in 1981 they hit our headquarters in Asadabad. But our own troops were guilty then — they did not identify themselves as it had been ordered. I gathered all the commanders of VVS and ordered that all major operations, especially those with DRA forces, should be planned and executed under the command of senior officers. I personally orchestrated operations. From that time until 1983, not a single friendly fire case was reported.

    — How would you describe Afghan aviation?

    Our advisors in the DRA VVS did not belong to 40th Army, they were on their own. They flew alongside Afghan pilots. They contacted us only to coordinate combat missions. They were of quite good opinion about Afghan pilots. They had good flying technique, they were “flown into each other,” most of them had trained at our flight schools.

    — What was the state of their morale? My friends who served in Afghanistan in the ground forces complained that there were a lot of problems with DRA armed forces personnel. It was common for them to desert and to run away to the guerrillas; then they would return, or different government units may start fighting between each other for no apparent reason.

    My impression about their morale was like this: They were disciplined when there was no fighting going on. If they had to fight without our support, they were prone to deserting. Morale fell over time. The political situation was difficult. We were not able to control all the territory. After we cleared territory of the insurgents, they would return there with time. Until 1981 they would execute those who supported us or families of those who served in the army. Then they changed tactics. They began paying those who fled the army, Islamic committees began paying pensions. They began working more carefully with the population, trying to lure it to their cause.
    Our pilot talked to an Afghan soldier who was about to demobilize. The pilot asked:
    - What are you going to do?
    - I’ll go to the guerrillas, earn money to buy a wife. Then I’ll see.
    A wife – Hanum, the cheapest one cost 17,500 afghani then. That was about 800 rubles at the time.
    Some of them were so poor, that they didn’t have even that much money. By the way, the most expensive wife was an illiterate one, who would give birth to children and look after them. The cheapest ones were educated – teachers and so on.

    — How did civilian population regard our troops?

    Our first operations were done in order to liberate them from the guerrillas, criminals, and so on. We were met cheerfully. Everything was normal. The government was established, but we had no possibility to keep troops there forever. It was not our task. So we handed territory over to the local forces. The guerrillas would return and force DRA armed forces away and establish their government. We would then have to launch another operation. But the locals would say now:
    - Why are you leaving us? You will go away, bandits will return and kill us all.
    That’s what locals thought.

    — We built hospitals, schools, infrastructure. What did the locals think about that?

    They were very grateful. We built two Soviet towns inside Kabul — five-storey apartment buildings, and they were sufficiently furnished. But we did a lot at Shahinshah time, too… Our civilian specialists were called “Shuravi” – a “friend”. We were friends with the Shakh; the situation that existed before the revolution was fine for us. People were friendly to us and slowly drifted toward our regime. The April revolution was a complete surprise to us, our intelligence missed it completely. Everything was turned upside down. There were different men, some wanted to rule, and they hatched conspiracies. Why did Amin fall? He began purges against Islamic adherents. He called a meeting of mullahs, 2 700 men were invited. His counterintelligence reported who was on his side, who was against him, and he punished a lot of them. Why would a leader provoke an Islamist uprising against himself in an Islamic country? People turned away from him. Even if we did not get him, his citizens would have busted him soon. When our troops entered, we, along with local armed forces, dispersed all the major opposition groups. In 1980 the situation stabilized. The most pacifist people of all are military men – we know what war is about, and by no means we want to start fighting. There was no need to start fighting again. In the winter of 1981, the General Staff operations group had left, while our own operations group was not too keen on starting bombing again. There were no targets to bomb. The mujahedeen were inactive then. Training camps in Pakistan and Iran were not working yet. But the operations group from the General Staff returned in August. What were they were looking for? They began an investigation into why we were not willing to fight. But why should we escalate hostilities, if there was no real need for that? Why provoke the local population against oneself?
    Combat actions, it would have been in addition to the severe financial load of the state, human losses and so on… So, who is interested in all this?
    Then, suddenly, information came that the peasants were unhappy with the government. We were ordered to begin fighting again, and hostilities were renewed… The guerrillas appeared again… The situation became more difficult.

    — Was there a real need to send troops there? We got rid of Amin, our man was installed. Couldn’t he hold power on his own?

    He couldn’t. There were a lot of those, willing to reign, and civil war was about to break out. What’s the sense… We needed to protect our southern borders. For the Soviet Union, the southern borders were the most dangerous in terms of interdiction by guerrillas, drugs and criminals. We had to have our influence there. We have no influence now, and our country is overrun by drugs, most of which come from the south. It is worse than war. Over 2,000,000 drug abusers. For all the war period we lost 14,000.

    — There are 37,000 men killed in traffic accidents each year in Russia. In Afghanistan we lost 14,000 in 10 years.

    14,000 in 10 years, and half of them unjustified. Unjustified losses — loss of awareness, for example many got drunk, set tents on fire and burned to death, went after the apples through a minefield and were blown to pieces… Of course, there were mistakes by commanders.

    — Was there punishment for losses?

    For unjustified losses, of course. Everything was analyzed, why and when. For incorrect decisions, for thoughtless, incorrect actions, and for negligence, an officer would be punished.

    — Do you know when the 50th OSAP was formed? In the end of 1979, when the decision about intervention was made, or later?

    The decision was made in the Turkistan Military District before the intervention. It was sent to us already formed up. The personnel were trained in all the units. There was a special corps in Ashkabad, where infantry was trained. In simple terms, they trained in Central Asia, in a similar climate, where there were special training grounds. For example, a fighter-bomber regiment would land in Kokayty and train there.

    — If I remember correctly, Mary [Turkmenistan] and Kokayty were the main training centers for our aviation. And all regiments were tested and trained in Mary.

    Yes. It was a testing base for fighters and fighter-bombers. There they shot at aerial as well as at ground targets.

    — Were there any difficulties with forming regiments?

    Everything was as usual, new airplanes and other equipment would come, personnel would arrive in the required numbers.

    — How were losses in pilots and planes made up? If I remember correctly, the main losses in personnel were not due to enemy action, but of hepatitis and dysentery. If a pilot was sick with hepatitis for a long period of time, was he replaced?

    I do not remember if any pilot got sick with hepatitis. It was common among soldiers. Mostly – on purpose, they would drink water from the streams without disinfection, so that they would be sent to Tashkent for treatment. A simple and effective method was found – a hospital was built in Kandahar, and the number of sick men fell drastically.

    — What did you do, if a helicopter or airplane was brought down, and there were problems with evacuating the bodies?

    If an aircraft was shot down, there always was an operation to recover the dead bodies. The aircraft or chopper was blown on site.

    — How were aircraft losses made up for?

    Each regiment was there fully equipped, plus extra aircraft. Each regiment was there for a year, and it had enough planes to work without resupply.

    — Why was the 34th Air Corps not formed within 40th Army, as had been planned?

    What for? The 40th Army VVS worked there. There was a commander, his deputy and other officers. Quite enough to command. There were not so many planes there.

    — You mentioned that helicopters were attached to infantry units.

    Detached helicopter squadrons.

    — They were under command of infantry unit commanders?

    Under command of division commanders. They had their own aviation service.

    — What was the chain of command for 40th Army VVS?

    It was subordinated directly to the 40th Army commander, and operationally to the Turkmenistan Military District.

    — And what about the General Staff of VVS? Through the Turkmenistan Military District or directly?

    Both ways, depending on the current situation.

    — Could the ground forces have given a mission that was impossible to accomplish by existing forces?

    They could. I’ll explain. Operation “Kol’tso” [ring] was carried out under the command of the Afghan VVS. But the head of the operation was our advisor General-Lieutenant Shkidchenko, who was also a deputy of the Minister of Defense for Afghan VVS for combat training. He had both DRA and our aviation at his disposal. The Deputy VVS Commander of 40th Army was responsible for our VVS. I personally instructed him and said:
    - If there will be any doubts at all, report to me at once.
    He reported, that General-Lieutenant Shkidchenko had ordered both Air Forces at full strength to bomb a possible route of movement of rebels in Bamiyan Valley. This was in the north, in front of a pass where the tunnel is; to the left was Bamiyan Valley and to the right Panshir Valley.
    I asked him:
    - Are there any rebels en route?
    He replied:
    - No.
    - The mission is forbidden.
    A report was written about it to supreme military advisor, General-Colonel Salmanov. Salmanov summoned me and Shkidchenko to his headquarters. We arrived. The General-Colonel asked:
    - Why did you not obey the order?
    - The mission was given, but what would we achieve? We will blow up the rocks, make craters and gravel. That’s all. You think that the mujahedeen will not walk through there? They will. We have to bring ammunition in by airplanes and truck convoys that are being attacked by rebels. What about fuel? It will all be wasted.
    - That’s all! Thank you, you are dismissed.
    Shkidchenko was later killed, poor man. There were several Generals in one helicopter when it was shot down.

    — After an airplane crash near Leningrad, when a Tu-104 full of Admirals went down, an order was issued forbidding Commanders to fly with their Deputys in one airplane. Do you remember that story?

    There was such directive. But these were advisors; they did not belong to 40th Army.
    Do you know why that Navy airplane in Pushkin crashed?

    — I remember from some source that there were two 1,000-kilogram rolls of paper that had not been properly secured. On takeoff, they moved to the rear of the fuselage, and the plane lost its center of gravity.

    The pilot did not take this into account, and rotated the airplane at normal speed. If he had gained more velocity, there would have been enough force on the control surfaces to keep the aircraft in level flight.

    — What was order of battle for the Turkmenistan Military District at the time?

    There were detached regiments in Turkmenistan Military District, there were no corps or divisions. But it was a powerful force nevertheless: three fighter regiments, two fighter-bomber regiments, two helicopter regiments, and a reconnaissance regiment equipped with Yak-28s.

    — They could be used if needed?

    They were used when needed.

    — Did you give orders to pilots from the Turkmenistan Military District in advance?

    Of course. I received a personal encoded telegram. The commander in chief ordered me to supervise and orchestrate an operation of airstrikes by the Kokayty regiment to help the border guards. It was the Pyanzh element from the Moscow detachment. I boarded An-30, we flew over the target and photographed it, landed in Kokayty, and talked to the flight crews. Then I loaded the leaders on board our aircraft to look at the target, route, and so on. Then we discussed with the border guards how they would do their part of the operation, and who was going to strike, when. I was supervising from the air.

    — That must have taken a lot of time.

    More than one day, because we had to prepare pilots and make photo schematics. Some training was done by pilots.

    — What if there was a need for an emergency strike?

    That was 40th Army VVS business. They were in a state of constant combat readiness, ready to strike where and when it was needed. They knew the area well; they overflew the region for this purpose.

    — How was operations planning for VVS done and how were operations commanders selected?

    In the beginning, a general operation was planned. For example, the Panshir operation. Akhmad-Shah’s “state”, which was not subordinated to the central government or anybody else, was there. This operation was planned by 40th Army Headquarters; the General Staff helped when it was needed. Everything was accounted for, how many combat missions should be flown, by how many aircraft and so on. So the orders were issued accordingly. The Panshir operation was complex, because our tanks had to move 30 kilometers along a canyon. Initially an air assault was planned, capture of strongholds and roads, and only afterward the tanks should have moved.

    — How was the operations commander selected?

    The selection was made in the General Staff.

    — Why were different commanders assigned?

    There were no identical operations. When there was a complex operation in the Gazni area, it was orchestrated by the 40th Army Commander. Aviation commanders were assigned in accordance with the expected complexity of operation. If the Army commander was supervising himself, the aviation part was either under my control or that of the commander of VVS of 40th Army, or his deputy.

    — How did you perform command and control over combat actions?

    We commanded from the command post of the 40th Army Headquarters. There was VVS command post and so on. For example, the Panshir operation. The operations group was at Bagram airfield, where the district commander’s command post was based. I controlled the aviation activities from there.

    — From the ground?

    From the ground. From time to time I took off in the airborne command post or flew combat missions.
    There was a VVS command post on the ground, airborne command post, each unit had its own command post. There were forward air controllers with radio sets in each infantry regiment or battalion.

    — Suppose, you are commanding air activities from the airborne command post.

    We established radio communications, everybody knows their tasks, and I supervise. The strike is done, I oversee that it will be on target, correct them if needed. If the target is not identified, I land at the airbase and fly combat mission in a Su-25, personally leading a flight, and we accomplish the mission.

    — Suppose, you are in command, but suddenly disappear from the radio. How will command continue?

    The war goes on. The mission was defined, targets marked and so on. The infantry landed, they still require support. Command will continue from the ground command post.

    — GPW veterans, especially shturmovik pilots, recalled that it was quite common to misunderstand directions of the forward air controller, because they see a different perspective of the battlefield. Was there such a problem for you?

    A lot depended on the forward air controller’s training, his field of view and thought; usually the best forward air controllers were themselves pilots. They would assign targets based on their own flying experience. He might say:
    - The target is two kilometers ahead of you, azimuth such and such, turn right 30 degrees, target straight ahead.
    And so on. If the primary target was for some reason not available, the aircraft would strike the secondary target, which was given prior to take off.

    — You said that best forward air controllers came from pilots. You mean ex-pilots?

    Yes, ex-pilots, written off flying duty. There were special courses for them at the 40th Army Headquarters.

    — How many forward air controllers were assigned to each infantry division?

    At the time of the active operation, about 10. We tried to have permanent ones in each division, but we could add more, if required.

    — Each one had a personal frequency?

    They all worked on one frequency. I heard them all, through a retranslator or from above. In the mountains, UHF radio range is limited by slopes, so they were not bothering each other.

    — Were there problems with strafing runs in close vicinity to our own troops?

    As a rule, close targets were hit by army helicopters. But I remember an operation near Kandahar, when I had to hit a target 600 meters away from our ground troops. There was no problem, since our troops were well identified.

    — What if you do not see the identification?

    We worked only if I personally saw identification markers clearly and if I had permission from the forward air controller.
    Each pilot had to be sure that he worked on the target, not on his own troops.

    — Did you use guided weapons?

    In my time we did not. There was no need for it. What kind of targets you would suggest?

    — Hidden ones, some hideouts in the mountain. Light it with laser, drop bombs, like Americans do nowadays.

    It was another technical era. And we did our job without lasers well enough.

    — What about hitting non-combatant population?

    It was strictly forbidden to bomb civilians. Of course, there were mistakes.

    — How combat experience was passed to newly arriving regiments?

    As I said, each regiment underwent training in Turkmenistan Military District. Then, after it would arrive to Afghanistan, they would fly observation flights and train on maps. For example, the 27th regiment was about to leave. Its commander flew a combat mission with the commander of the new regiment and made comments. Then ordinary pilots would join the 27th regiment formation on missions. It took about a week to introduce the new regiment to the theater of operation.

    — A regiment is rather complex in composition; there are pilots with great experience and novices, just from the schoolhouse.

    There were 1st class pilots, 2nd class pilots and young pilots. Example: The Bagram regiment commander reported to me that he could not allow his pilots to fly a mission, because there was a wind of 26 m\s, at an angle 10. He said:
    - I cannot allow young pilots to fly in these conditions.
    - Then we will fly together.
    We flew with him and mission was accomplished. Thanks to our experience we were able to take off and land safely…

    — In your opinion, how many combat missions should a pilot have flown to be confident? Firing at the practice range or at a real target is different.

    That’s right. I believe that to fight calmly and confidently, one should fly about 20 real missions.

    — How were units supplied?

    Everything needed was brought by air or ground; each airfield had a storage area. Food was brought through the ground forces, through their bases.

    — Why there was no railroad between the USSR and Afghanistan?

    There was short one in the north and an extension was planned, but due to the war it was not built. The terrain was very difficult for building. It drew a lot of attention from the bandits. A lot of resources were required to protect it.

    — Did provisions come from the locals or did we provide our own?

    Everything was brought in from the Soviet Union. Then pilots stopped receiving white bread, meat, chocolate. The district commander decided that special products should be brought in by special airplanes. An An-12 was planned to each airfield.

    — There is a common accusation from combat officers to rear-area officers: “thieves.” Were there such problems?

    Not on a large scale. Pilots and soldiers were well supplied. It was difficult to steal, but more importantly, there was no market in which to sell stolen items.

    — It is commonly stated that almost everybody was a thief in Chechnya.

    The combat actions in Chechnya t were unorganized. It is a disgrace to the new “democratic” government. The army was disbanded, and boys were sent to Chechnya afterward. Now, “we tip our hats to them.” Chechens served in the Soviet Army, they studied how to fight very well. Do you remember how they burned up the tank brigade from Maikop on New Year’s Eve?
    In Afghanistan everything was well organized. Some stuff was stolen at the bases, but it was on a pretty small scale, nothing even close to what was happening in Chechnya. There were thieves in the Soviet time, but they stole less, and were punished much more severely than nowadays.

    — I was told more than once that in Chechnya aviation had to use bombs produced in the 1950s. Did you use them in Afghanistan?

    What’s the difference, if the ballistic characteristics are known? You just adjust your bombsight to the bombs you will use. No difference afterward. If you are dive bombing, there is no difference whatsoever, as ballistics in this case are identical for all bombs.

    — There is difference between explosives used in 1940 and 1960 bombs, for example.

    Yes, there is a difference in power. But ballistics were more important. I hit my targets with any bombs that I used. If I scored a direct hit, there is no difference in 10 percent explosive power.
    I remember, there was a wedding in Heart; a 64-year-old warlord was marrying a 16-year-old girl. All his closest friends and subordinates were to be present. I was given the mission to hit them. I flew as a Su-25 flight leader. On our first attack run, I noticed that my sight was moving. I forgot to switch from “manual” to “auto” mode, but I still dove and hit target building with an FAB-250. On the second run I switched to “auto” mode and hit it a second time with an FAB-500. Mission was accomplished with great success, no secondary sorties were required.

    — Which bombs were most common?

    Most common were the FAB-250. We also used the FAB-500. The FAB-1000 was not used by us. Effectiveness depended on type of target and precision of strike.

    — Your targets were mostly infantry on the march or hidden?

    There were no infantry columns. Usually they were in hideouts or behind some rocks. The OFAB-250 worked well against infantry in open terrain. The FAB-500 was used if some kind of object was to be destroyed, or passage into a cavern to be blocked.

    — What about cluster munitions?

    We used the RBK-500… Which area they covered depended on the altitude of bomb release. Fragments completely covered an area of about a hectare.

    — What did you do with the bodies of fallen comrades?

    We always tried to locate and bring remains back. For example, I was in command of an operation in Jalalabad. One Mi-24 was shot down; it landed in autorotation, but fell on the slope of the valley. I sent an experienced flight commander, who kept his helicopter in touch with the mountain with one wheel, dropped paratroopers, and stayed there until almost all his fuel was used up, to bring the bodies to Jalalabad. They managed to recover them. Another one: An An-12 flew to Jalalabad from Tashkent with a load of provisions. Most likely, it was hit and collided with a mountain at an altitude of 2,800 meters. A special group was formed with infantry, armor, and artillery to recover the crew. But they did not make it there, because I landed in the mujahedeen territory and made arrangements that we will bring our fallen comrades back. They let us through in the morning, for which we gave them grain, sugar, and footwear. I remember that we collected all the boots at the base then. They led us to the crash site; we looked for it for a long time, but found it; and as promised, returned before dark with remains.

    — Was it real to make arrangements with them if needed?

    It was real. This is how I did it. We made preliminary arrangements through locals from Vaigal village. There was a Tajik Captain, who spoke their language – farsi. I left the helicopter, and said:
    - Salam Aleikum.
    They stood with rifles above me on the mountains. And what was interesting – there was not a single identical gun in the whole group! Then they dropped weapons and ran toward us with friendly expressions on their faces. These are a deceptive people. The warlord came, sat before us, said something, and all the others moved away. My interpreter whispered that we should leave, as there might be a fight. I replied:
    - There will be no fighting here.
    Before we landed, I warned our helicopter crews that if something suspicious should happen, they were to kill everybody there including, me. I landed with one helicopter and three others were covering from above. We peacefully talked and made the needed arrangements.

    — Were there cases, except that story with Iran, when due to a commander’s, mistake our troops suffered losses?

    You mean aviation commanders? I believe that the decisions of 40th Army VVS were made pretty well, without serious mistakes. There were cases of friendly fire, but due to misunderstanding in marking our troops. Luckily, without serious losses. Except when long range aviation struck in 1984…
    North of the Panshir Valley, closer to our border, is another valley, where an operation was planned. Long range aviation was given the coordinates of the rebel location. Tu-16s from the Dudaev division flew from the Baltic for several hours. Dudaev received the Order of Combat Red Banner for that.
    The commander of 40th Army VVS didn’t care to supervise the strike himself. Bombers arrived and dropped RBK-500 at old targets — our DRA allies were already there. It was a horrible affair.
    I wasn’t there by this time, because I left in ‘83, but I knew the details. It was the personal fault of the 40th Army VVS commander. I paid a lot of attention to control of the strikes, and we managed to ensure that there was not a single case of friendly fire until 1983.

    — What kind of improvements were made on aircraft while you were in Afghanistan?

    Nothing was done on fixed-wing aircraft. Helicopters received flares, equipment for dropping mines.
    We used “frog mines” on the roads from Pakistan. Soon hospitals in Pakistan were full of patients with their feet torn away. Then insurgents began to send sheep ahead of them, and they blew up. What’s interesting: they tried to send asses, but not a single one blew up. Smart animal.

    — What kind of problems did you experience in utilizing airplanes?

    Dust caused turbine erosion, and they had to be carefully monitored. Engine resources [hours] were reduced by about 25 percent. Airplanes were sent with enough hours left for a year of fighting, but if the engine wore out, it was changed for a new one and sent to the Union for repair.

    — When did shoulder-launched SAMs appear?

    At first they had the “Red Eye,” then “Stingers.” The first American “Stingers” appeared in 1980, but in very small quantities. Somehow, they got our "Strela" later. Mostly they used our SAMs.

    — And how serious was the threat?

    There was almost no threat for fast airplanes, except for Su-25s, because they were simply slower. But they were a threat for choppers. If “Flash lamp” worked and flares were used, the Stinger could not hit a helicopter. They shot down a lot of Afghan helicopters. The most effective weapon against our helicopters was the DShK. Keep in mind that I describe the situation until 1984.

    — When did you return to the Soviet Union?

    In September 1983. I was appointed as the First Deputy Commander of 76th Air Army. There I tried to pass combat experience to new crews, how to reduce risks without sacrificing effectiveness.

    — “What if” question: If we had had a direct conflict with NATO in Europe in the 1980s, could we have held our own against them?

    We could. We were very ready in 1980 to fight back any aggression. Our aviation was ready. Our AA missiles were better than American ones. Everything that was done before 1985 was in general positive for the country.

    — When troops were pulled out of Afghanistan, did you feel that we had lost?

    We, Army, did not. There was no political will to fight for victory, and the loss of economic means to support the army. How can it be supported when there were thieves in the supreme command of the country?

    — Do you believe that if the political situation hadn’t changed in our own country, we could have brought Afghanistan to stabilization and peace?

    It’s hard to say. The Islamic world is very complex. We could have achieved it by negotiations. Akhmad Shah Massoud could have been persuaded to be on our side. If we had helped him with our force and authority, he might have stabilized the country. You see, the rebels were not united. What was their ideology? The common peasant fought for money. You shot down a Soviet helicopter – here is the money; destroyed a tank – here is some more. All Islamic committees in Pakistan and Iran were against the “white faces.” If there had been no counteraction from Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and United States, the people in Afghanistan could have lived a normal life by 1983.

    — By the way, what do you think about the conflict between Khrushchev and Mao?

    What should have been done: Undress Khrushchev to the waist, and give him Cossack whipping. He should have understood that friendship with China was the basis of our own safety. And instead he made conflict.


    With twice HSU Cosmonaut A. Leonov

    — 1985. Gorbachev came to power; he initiated perestroika, new thinking. What did you think, when suddenly it was understood that government did not need the army anymore?

    It was 1988 or 1989. A party meeting was held in Czechoslovakia. Representatives from all the Eastern Block countries were there. An inspector from the Central Committee came, and began talking. It became obvious, that there was no program in the State anymore, no political will, organization or basis. The trouble was genuine. I remember how my son was swearing at Gorbachev, while I tried to defend him. I said that it was difficult to rule such a country and so on. But soon I understood that Gorbachev was a talentless person. Do you remember what he used to say?
    - The process is moving.
    What process? Where was it moving to? If you are at the head of the state, you should guide it, to bring some positivity to the people.
    He ruined everything.

    — You seem to like the Chinese way more? Capitalism under control of the Communist party?

    Of course. They made it correctly, without severe stressing the population.
    Under the social policy in the Soviet Union, they said it was egalitarian. What kind of egalitarianism? I was a pilot and a General earning 800 rubles per month. A worker at the plant earned 200 rubles. What’s so equal? A worker is working at his place, he does not risk his life, and he does not move through the country all the time. I had to live everywhere, at the hostels, hotels, rented apartments… Oh, Dear… And I fought pretty well, and was wounded in my forehead.

    — Where did it happen?

    In the Registan desert, a DShK fired at our helicopter... Only the canopy was destroyed, all the instruments kept working. I still have a bullet fragment. I remember the pilot shouted:
    - Comrade General, how are you?
    - I’m alive, don’t worry.

    — After the Soviet Union disintegrated, the US had formed a “single polar world” doctrine. We witness several wars at once, including Afghanistan, where the Americans seem to step on the same rake that we stepped on.

    Americans are holding at their bases; they are not doing any large operations there. But they don’t care about the economy of Afghanistan at all. They need influence. They need oil. They are fighting for it. Saudi Arabia is their friend. They captured oil in Iraq. “If only we could capture Iran!”
    Now, this story with Libya. People are supporting Qadaffi; if not for the NATO bombing...

    — Speaking of Libya, I have serious respect toward the bravery of Qadaffi, who is fighting like a real Colonel. Despite everything, he is fighting rebels back very effectively.

    He is supported by people. But the rebels are fed from outside Libya. Qadaffi most likely will fall quite soon, if NATO keeps feeding the opposition. He has no other choice but to fight; it was shown well in the Hussein example, that he will be simply killed in public. Once again, this is the influence for oil wealth for in the Middle East. We are being pushed out of there by the US. In terms of military art, there’s no art at all there. There is simply pushing with overwhelming force and airstrikes at an unopposing enemy. Simply a slaughter of a man lying down.
    We may guess the next one now. I think it will be either Iran or Syria. Most likely Syria, Iran is too stable yet and better armed.


    May 2011
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