3. The Great Patriotic War
91 IAP. Squadron commander – and Dvirnik
— You arrived at the front, a war is
going on there, you could be killed there, while at the rear you had warm
and quiet work. Why did you want to fight so much? Was it patriotism, a hunt
Yes, they also bombed us and artillery
shelled us. There were many reasons, but patriotism was the first. We were
trained for fighting, and we trained pilots for the war. It was already
stamped in our minds, and we thought in one direction only. At the front you
feel yourself completely differently. The relationship between people was
different, you feel yourself as a free man.
Among other reasons was vengeance; for example, German bombs killed my mom
in Stalingrad. I asked and begged for a chance to avenge her.
— What were your first flights at the
Our sorties began with familiarization
flights around the area of combat actions. We flew in groups – we four, and
another flight of four for our cover. We flew and looked where all other
airfields were located, and then we flew along the front line. There were no
enemy planes in the air – it was a moment of complete supremacy of our air
force. The Germans were flying very cautiously by this time and tried to
avoid flying in large formations. We made a couple of such flights, and then
an order came to fly to Dembica. We flew there, and from there we began
flying real combat missions to intercept enemy aircraft from an alert-1
Alert-1 means we had to sit in the cockpits with warmed-up engines. Alert-2
meant that we were sitting under the plane’s wing fully dressed with
parachute and, for example, played cards. Everything went well. We
occasionally flew on intercepts, or on a reconaissance mission toward
Krakov, which was still in German hands. There we had to look around; a
fighter pilot had to have a long neck.
91 IAP. Kudryavtsev with his wingman.
— Did you have silk scarves?
No, we did not.
— What did you wear?
It was summer, so we were dressed in
ordinary gray flight suit. On our feet we wore boots.
Several times we chased an enemy reconaissance plane. It went over us into
our rear area, but he always flew at high altitude. However I tried, there
never was a chance for me.
— Was it due to the low altitude engine
capacity or the lack of oxygen equipment?
Lack of oxygen equipment. Once I even got
quite close to the enemy plane, but it was at seven or eight thousand
meters, and there was no sense of chasing him above five thousand meters
We also flew on reconaissance missions. Right at that time, 1st Ukranian
Front was involved in the so-called Duklinskaya operation, which was a part
of Karpatsko–Duklinskaya operation. Karpaty – those are the mountains that
separate Poland and Czechoslovakia, and Duklya was a Czechoslovakian city.
Our troops were marching along the roads, while we covered them from the
air. German planes, most commonly Focke-Wulf 190s, came loaded with bombs
and tried to strafe our columns. Once we got involved in a dogfight and shot
down several enemy planes. I was also successful.
— And what do you think about German
These were not the impudent Germans of the
old days. There were four of them. One pair separated and went to the flank.
I managed to approach them from below and opened fire from point blank. He
dove straight down and exploded on the ground. I think that I shot down the
leader, while the wingman got away.
— Was it on fire or was it smoking?
I saw a lot of pieces fly away from his
tail section. As I recalled later, I must have damaged his controls – my
shells and bullets hit him in the stabilizer and tail fin… (Zabelin was
credited with 1 FW-190 southwest of Yaslo on 26.10.44. M.Bykov)
— What kind of armament did your Yak
The Yak was equipped with a ShVAK 20mm
cannon and two 12.7mm machine guns.
— What do you think, was the FW-190
that you shot down a fighter or a ground attack airplane?
There was no bomb hanger under his wings
or fuselage. I think that they were fighters. Otherwise there was no sense
for them to get to four and a half thousand meters. Ground attack airplanes
flew much lower.
— It looks like the German had missed
I also think so. I spotted them first, and
reported to flight leader squadron commander Miokov. He immediately ordered:
He, meanwhile, chased another pair that turned right. (HSU Miokov Nikolay
Dmitrievich was credited with destruction of 22 enemy airplanes. M. Bykov.)
— Were you paid for this victory?
I have no idea. There was no discussion
— You scored one FW-190. Did you
participate in other fights?
Well, there were brief dogfights; the
Germans didn’t have enough strength for a real fight.
— Did you fly strafing missions?
We flew a couple of times. The Germans
were retreating toward Czechoslovakia. A muddy road was packed with troops
and heavy equipment. We dove at them and strafed them with cannon and
machine gun fire. And we saw how they tried to run away from our fire.
— Were there bomb hangers on your
No, not on a single airplane.
— What kind of planes was your regiment
The entire regiment had Yak-3s, but we
brought the first Yaks from the Tbilisi plant – it was the last to switch to
— Was there any difference between Yaks
made in Tbilisi and other plants?
I had no chance to test them in the air.
There shouldn’t have been any difference.
— When you arrived at the front, did
you receive money for combat missions flown?
I flew only 20 missions. We flew rarely,
because there were no Germans left to shoot at.
I just recalled an interesting moment. We were spotted by German artillery.
Our runway was narrow, but about 1500 meters in length and was located near
the forest. We used to stay there for the night, after covering our aircraft
in the forest under the trees. There were no revetments. We simply hid them
under the trees. Germans shot over our heads, and shells often flew with a
whistling sound and exploded somewhere near Zheshuv. At first these shells
annoyed us, but later we got used to them and stopped paying them attention.
They shot and shot… We continued to play cards. Nearby, off to the side,
stood a church, a Polish church. And shells started exploding right over it
at the same altitude. We looked at it like at the circus. At this time an
artillery officer came to us across the airfield and said:
— Guys, drop everything, and prepare yourselves! You will be hit soon!
— Who will hit us?
— Didn’t you just see that registration? Prepare, you will have to run soon.
We did not believe him. We had no idea how it was done in artillery. But in
a few minutes: “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Shells flew low, and when they caught
tree branches they detonated. We all ran to the slit trenches, and jumped
in. They were dug behind our planes, but no one used them for what they were
planned. They served us as toilets. And our pilots jumped in there. Those
who made it first, got the most. My friend and I decided to run toward the
Germans through the forest. We ran to the area where the shells were not yet
bursting in the trees. The shelling lasted for about twenty minutes. Then
everything became quiet, but we did not want to return. When we heard our
friends begin calling us, we came out of the forest near the canteen. A few
shells had exploded there. Our regiment’s komsorg (Komsomol organizer) was
crying in pain. He always tried to raise our spirits before an operation
begun. He was not a pilot, but kept saying:
— Comrades! We will avenge them! We must…
“We, we”… Never saw a live German, but he tried to teach us to fight! So,
imagine a picture, he stands with a hole in his blouse. He had a new blouse,
but there was a hole in it, and a fragment was sticking out. And he wildly
— A-a-a-a! Help me!
The regiment’s doctor came, and tore this blouse. This shell fragment only
scratched him, like a thorn. And a little bit of blood. This komsorg had to
ask for a transfer, because everybody was bullying him after this event.
— Did political workers fly in your
In Korea political officers had to fly.
But I never saw them fly during the GPW.
— Were there losses caused by this
There were losses, but insignificant. An
alert flight was taking off; some of them got into the air, while others
received an order to abort take off. Planes that were closest to the forest
were hit, but only planes were damaged. That artillery captain understood
that someone was adjusting the bombardment, so he ran to the nearby village,
and in one house he caught a German artillery spotter.
— Who repaired the craters after the
The airfield service battalion (BAO).
Locals were not involved.
— What was your relationship with the
With the Poles? We lived at the airfield
in some light buildings, and no one would have ever allowed locals on the
airfield. After the shelling ended, we hurriedly flew to another airfield
near the small town of Zheshuv. We contacted locals only if we wanted to buy
alcohol. But we were not too eager to drink it, either.
We had already been assured that we would stay at the regiment when, at the
end of December, we were summoned to see the regiment commander:
— Guys! I could do nothing, — and he showed us a telegram from the supreme
commander of the VVS.
“To be sent back immediately…” We were loaded onto the car and sent to Lvov.
We were escorted by soldiers, because there were cases when our soldiers
were attacked by Banderovtsy [Ukrainian nationalist guerrilla group,
adherents of Stepan Bandera]. Because of this, special patrol units were
created to protect the lines of communication.
— How much alcohol did you drink in
At the front–100 grams each evening to
relieve the stress. We got up early in the morning and getting drunk was not
— And in the ZAP?
In the ZAP there was no alcohol at all.
There it was a major offense.
— If I understand correctly, finding
alcohol was not a problem?
If someone wanted more – he could get it.
But I always thought that 100 grams was more than enough.
— How did you return from your
probationary duty at the front?
By train. There were four of us: me, Boris
Fadeev, Sotnikov, and Balalaev. We travelled together from Lvov to Kharkov,
where we parted ways. I went to Stalingrad.
— You went there to find your
My mother was killed during a German air
raid. Dad was working in some PARM [mobile aviation repair facility] in
Belorussia. My younger brother, Nikolay, who was 15 at the time, was
homeless somewhere. He ran away from Stalingrad, and from time to time lived
at our distant relatives. I wanted to find him and take him with me to
Kutaisi. Well, eventually I found him, brought him with me, and he lived at
our barracks – I enlisted him as a soldier. Then I continued my previous
— That is, after finding your brother,
you returned to that same 11th ZAP?
I flew out to the front from the 26th ZAP,
but returned to the 25th, where my squadron commander was Kondratyev, and my
flight commander was Sobolev. In the 25th ZAP we flew Cobras. Nothing
interesting happened until Victory Day.
— How did you meet Victory Day?
It was in Kutaisi. At dawn on May 9, we
heard uncontrolled firing. All kinds of weapons were being fired—cannons,
machine guns, pistols, flares, rockets, everything. It was announced over
radio, and we started to fire.
— What kinds of decorations did you
receive for the GPW?
For training pilots, and I must have
trained over two hundred pilots, all instructors were awarded the Order of
the Red Star and two medals “For Combat Service.”