Interview with V.N.Zabelin

Main >> History >> Interview with V.Zabelin >> 4. After the war



4. After the war

— How long did you continue to train pilots after the Victory?

ZAPs were disbanded in 1946. Our 25th ZAP was transferred to Vaziani airfield, near Tbilisi. This transfer took a long time, until the beginning of 1946. In the spring of 1946 our unit was disbanded, all airplanes were signed off, and the personnel were either demobilised or transferred to other units. I was sent to Armavir flight school, to the posting of flight commander. In reality I did nothing at that school, I didn’t even fly there. I was fed up with the ZAP, to say nothing about flight school, so I applied for transfer to a combat unit. Only at the end of September 1946 was I sent to the Far East, to the 5th IAP, 190th IAD.

— What was your rank then?

Lieutenant. I finished flight school with the rank of junior lieutenant. I was promoted in the 25th ZAP on a special occasion. I flew with a cadet in a UT-2 on a route flight along the Rion River to the Black Sea coast. In the area of Samtredia, our engine stalled. Our altitude was around 400 meters. Where could I land? The Rion River, the cliffs? Then I spotted a chain of gardens. I managed to land there and stopped just 10 meters short of a cliff’s edge. We even crossed ourselves. A crowd of locals came running toward us, and started grabbing our plane. But it was made of canvas. I thought – they are going to tear it apart. I ordered to my cadet:
— Do not allow anybody to touch the plane – if you want to, beat them with a stick.
I had to inform my commanders about what had happened, but there was no radio. A Georgian took me across the river in a boat resembling Indian boats – a large hollowed tree trunk. All the way I thought that we will turn over and kept swearing, but everything ended well. We managed to complete our trip safely and I called my superiors.
The regiment commander and engineer arrived at the end of the day. They looked over the plane, and there was no damage. The regiment commander said to me:
— For this we will promote you to the rank of lieutenant!
I said:
— I have already gone long past the time-in-grade requirement.
— I didn’t know!
And they finally promoted me to lieutenant.

— What duty position were you assigned in the 5th IAP?

To the position of flight commander. I served in the same squadron with flight commander Sutyagin, Nikolay Vasilyevich. We flew together on King Cobras.

Flight commander Zavelin. 5 IAP, 1946

— Wasn’t Sutyagin born in Leningrad?

No, he was born in Nizniy Novgorod. He has already passed away. He was a great pilot, a mature, quiet person, and a good comrade. Fate had parted us in 1947, when the 5th IAP was disbanded.

— Why was it disbanded?

I think because of the reduction of armed forces. There were a lot of reformations. It all started from the autumn of 1946, and finally the 5th IAP was disbanded in the summer of 1947. I was in this regiment for half a year, and later I was transferred to the 821st IAP, which was also in 190th IAD. Our regiment commander was Major Kryukov, and we were stationed at village Voznesenskoye. This regiment was also equipped with P-63 King Cobras.

5-th IAP. Kamen-Rybolov. Zabelin at the wing of Cobra. 1947.

— What did you do for this year?

In the 5th IAP we trained like any other combat unit. I can’t say how much we flew, maybe 40 or 50 hours per year. This is low, very low flight time. American pilots had 500 hours flight expeirience over the same time. We found out about it later. After they finished flight school, they had 450 hours of flying time.
When I was transferred to the 821st IAP, we did the same – flew route flights, gunnery practice, zone, even training dogfights.

— We were told that training flights with planes of equal capability were ineffective.

I wouldn’t say so. You see, everything depends on situational awareness; you have to train yourself to be able to see and identify targets before they see you. This means victory or defeat.

— But an airplane at long distanse is nothing more then a black spot.

But it moves, and the sun may reflect from it. We also practiced shooting at aerial targets–cones. Flying–tactical exercises were conducted in regiments and divisions. Each air army, division, and regiment was inspected annually by the VVS staff from Moscow, under the supervision of some high-ranking officer. The exercises were conducted in conjunction with ground forces. Near us, at Kamen–Rybolov, was a tank division, with a strength of 15,000 men. They had their own excercises, and we trained to cover them. We trained as much as we could.

— Which types of airplanes did you see in the Far East?

Cobras, or to be exact, King Cobras, La-5 and -7, and Yaks. Bombers were represented by the Pe-2, Bostons, B-25s and Tu-4s. The Navy had its own aviation. When war in Korea broke out, the Navy was in the first line of defense, because the Americans were constantly flying along our borders, and they kept crossing it.
And we lived such a peaceful life before the Korean War. There were no worries; we lived as we wanted, and honestly thought that all wars were over. Some of our pilots started to look for a place in civilian life where they could work after all aviation had been disbanded.

— How did you find out about war in Korea and what followed the news?

When two American Shooting Stars strafed our regiment at the Sukhaya Rechka airfield, our command immediatelly sent the 303rd IAD from Moscow, which already flew MiGs. (on 08.10.1950 at 16.17 local time two USAF F-80C “Shooting Star” fighters from 49 FBG had breached USSR air border and attacked an airfield “Sukhaya Rechka” 100 kilometers away from it. This airfield belonged to the VVS TOF, but right at this moment due to training procedure it was occupied by, 821 IAP 190 IAD. Mostly 1st Squadron of 821 IAP was hit. 7 airplanes were damaged, 1 P-63 burned to the ground, the rest were repaired. No human losses were suffered. F-80s made two strafing runs and returned to their home base. I. Seidov.).

— What actually happened at Sukhaya Rechka?

It was the end of 1950. The war in Korea was already at full scale. We were ordered to start excercises wich required working from unprepared airfields. It had become common. Our 821st Regiment was transferred to Sukhaya Rechka. All three squadrons were on the ground at the parking spaces. On October 8, two F-80 Shooting Stars came and attacked our airfield. Official reports stated that one plane was blown up and six were heavily damaged, while I saw that at least twelve planes were damaged out of a regiment of 40 planes. In the official report, they made one pass and left. In reality they made two passes. They shot up the King Cobras that were lined up.

821-st IAP. Zabelin at the wing of Cobra not long before American strafing of Sukhaya Rechka.

— Were they lost, or was it a provocation?

They were not at all confused. It was a provocation. They well knew what their target was. They flew over 100 kilometers beyond our border with Korea! They knew well. It was later made up that they were young pilots, who had become lost. Complete crap.

— Were there losses?

I know nothing about losses; at least no one was killed. After this event, the 64th IAK was formed and we started to rearm. Literally in two or three years, all Far Eastern aviation transitioned to the new airplane. Before that, the Far East was considered to be a secondary direction, and all new equipment was sent to Europe.

— We had no forces in Korea at that time?

Our forces were in Korea after the Second World War; they left in 1947, I think, but left all the equipment to the Koreans. We had no planes on their airfields.
After Sukhaya Rechka was attaked, all regiments in the Far East were placed on Alert-1, the first time since the end of the Second World War. From then on – flights in Alert-1, squadrons on Alert-2. With no excuses. We sat near our planes from dusk till dawn. A feeling of oncoming war appeared. The new 64th IAK was sent to Chinese and Korean airfields with a mission of covering Chinese and Korean troops. Later I saw with my own eyes how they marched. Their roads were awful at that time; they had no trucks, and they marched. A division walked. 15,000 men carried huge loads, and they seemed to be very small and thin, but they were very determined.
As long as they marched on Chinese territory, nobody touched them, but as they crossed the Yalu River, they were bombed, even by B-29s. These bombers tore the Korean land to pieces. On the railroads, rails were twisted like as if they were thin wires.
Korea is a mountainous country, with a lot of tunnels. The Americans dropped bombs very precisely. A figher–bomber came in at low altitude—at tree-top level—and hurled their bombs literally not at the ground, but the bombs flew right into the tunnels.
Troops could walk only at night, when they were attacked by B-26 Invaders. They initially dropped illumination bombs, and then iron bombs. Kim Il Sung and Mao Zsedun asked Stalin to provide their troops with cover, because without it they couldn’t even move. And that’s when the North Koreans almost won the war at the start. They sucessfully made it to Pusan, but the Americans landed an amphibious assault and split Korea into two parts . They made it to the Chinese border at the Yalu River.
That river was crossed by dams, and one of them was famous Suphum GES [hydro-electric station]. I never saw such a huge dam. Its height was 90 meters! Can you imagine that? It supplied electricity for all of Korea and northeast China. The Americans tried to destroy it, but our 64th IAK did not allow them to do it.

It should be especially noted, that Soviet military advisors warned North Korean military leaders about such possibility. It was suggested that the territorial waters in this area should be mined. Further more, TOF was prepared to supply the Koreans with mines from it’s arsenals. For some reasons North Koreans did not use this opportunity to defend themselves.

— Did you transition to MiGs straight away, or were you still flying Cobras?

We flew King Cobras. We had begun to study MiGs, when the 303rd IAD, under the command of General Lobov, was sent to Korea.

— Do you remember what the regiment designations were?

If I remember correctly, 17th, 18th and 523rd Regiments. They all came from Moscow PVO.

— When did you start flying MiGs?

We received first MiGs in early January 1951. My first flight in a MiG was made on January 13, 1951.

— Your first flight in a jet was made on the MiG-15, or was it some other type?

We began training by flying the P-63 King Cobra. Why? Because all our planes were tail draggers, while Cobras had nose wheels. Several hundred P-63Us were made, and all pilots had to undergo training in them. My first jet was a Yak-17. In the beginning of January we flew the Yak-17 twice. Just to understand what a jet plane was!

— Did you learn anything from these two flights?

Nothing. Not only me, and don’t forget that I had vast flight experience, and I was an instructor myself for several years. All we understood was the absence of the propeller and an extended “box.”

— How did you receive your new MiGs? Were they delivered in crates, or were they flown to the airfield?

They were brought in crates. We received airplanes built at Komsomolsk-na-Amur.

— Were these MiG-15 or MiG-15Bis?

Bises. When we arrived at Myaogou, a Chinese division was stationed next to us. Their planes were no farther then 50 meters away from our planes. Chinese technicians compared their planes and ours. They bought our planes, but it was clear that they had received another version – the exhausts on our plane were much bigger than on their planes, and they couldn’t understand why this was so. But the most unpleasant thing for Chinese pilots was the absence of hydraulic controls. Their planes’ aerilons were not hydraulically assisted.

— How was your training organised? There were no MiG-15UTIs yet.

No, there were no UTIs. At the beginning we trained how to land at the speeds at which MiGs landed. And here we saw our first problems. A pilot Maximov couldn’t get used to the high speed landings, and finally after several attempts he crashed his plane. Fortunately, he survived, and eventually he was signed off flying duty. We studied theory, construction of the aircraft, and its equipment. Everything seemed quite simple to us. But when we began flying it – everything was quite different. I still remember my first “box” flight. I applied throttle, and it suddenly started accelerating with tremendous rate. When I understood what was going on, I was already at an altitude of 500 meters. Speed was rising fast and I had to raise my landing gear and reduce throttle. There was no propeller in front of me, and it made me feel uncomfortable about reducing speed.

— How commonly did Americans breach our borders?

We were in the second echelon. In front of us were Navy pilots, also in the MiGs, and they were the first to intercept. Some of their [the American] bombers or reconnaissance planes would fly over Chukotka from Bering Strait, and then fly along our border. They flew just outside our territorial limits, where they had the right to do so. Our foreign office tried to make them stop these flights, but there was no reaction. They even started flying over our airspace and it sometimes ended with American planes being shot down. There always was a political stink about such cases. I had to study in the academy with one regiment commander, who was stationed on the Kurile Island closest to Japan (Shikotan). His name was Anatoliy Kuznetsov, and he told me many interesting stories. One time a pair of his pilots got so pissed with an American pilot’s actions that they chased him to the northernmost Japanese Island and shot him down there. It resulted in a huge political scandal. A B-29 had crossed this island, and even fired at MiGs. By Kuznetsov's words, one of them was even hit by a large caliber bullet in the trailing edge of the wing. MiG pilots made a combat turn and chased the B-29 to the Japanese islands, making couple of firing passes each, and they saw how the crew of the bomber bailed over the shore line.

The event described above most likely happened on 7 Nov. 1954 an RB-29 of the 91st SRS was shot down by Mig-15s over the Kurile Islands. This was the famous “TIGER LIL”, the aircraft which flew reconnaissance missions during the Korean War. Apparently RB-29 4000 was conducting routine photographic reconnaissance near Hokkaido and the southern most of the disputed Kurile Islands. The plane was attacked and seriously damaged, forcing the crew to bail out. Ten crewmen were successfully rescued after landing in the sea: however the eleventh man drowned when he became tangled in his parachute. The Russian reported the RB fired first, they returned the fire, downing the plane.

© Oleg Korytov, Konstantin Chirkin, Igor Zhidov 2007-2009

Дата публикации: 22.08.2010
Авторы: Олег Корытов, Константин Чиркин, Игорь Жидов

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