5. The Korean War
— When did you find out that you would
be sent to Korea?
We were told nothing about it. But we
received more planes, and we began to fly more hours. We had to undergo many
more mock dogfights. Not only one-on-one, but also squadron-on-squadron.
Some new pilots and technicians appeared, and we started to think about it.
Once I reached a very high altitude – around 13,000 meters, and suddenly I
heard over the radio:
— Ah, bastard, shot him!
And Russian swearing. It was like during war time – the ether was filled
with brief commands and swearing. “Shoot him!” “Vanya!” And cursing. When I
came back, I told what I heard. It became clear that something serious was
During the last two months of our training, it was almost clear – we trained
more and more, and the training was done mostly in dogfighting.
Anyway, our regiment was sent to China, and on February 2, 1952, we arrived
by train through Andun to Myaogou. Our entire division was transferred:
821st, 494th, and 256th Regiments. We arrived without airplanes,
technicians, and services. The 64th IAK had a logistics division assigned to
it, which supported the entire corps. It was based at Andun. Later Myaogou
became the main airfield. I saw how it was built and how the runway was
extended. Several thousand men, like ants, carried earth in baskets hanging
on a wooden pole, which served as a yoke.
We received all the personnel and airplanes from the 18th IAP, 303rd IAD. We
took their place. The 494th IAP was based at the same airfield, but on the
other side, and we took off in different directions. Landing depended on the
direction of the wind. The 256th Regiment was based in Anshan, near a large
steel mill, which was built with help of Soviet specialists. This regiment
had a task of clearing the airspace around Myaogou and Andun of enemy
— How did you receive the new airplane?
I didn’t receive it, and I didn’t see a
single pilot from 18th Regiment. They had already departed and left their
planes behind. The aircraft were built not in Komsomolsk, but in Kuybyshev.
A technician came to me and said:
— Take my plane! It’s a very good one, easy to fly; the pilots liked it.
I believed him and took the MiG with tactical number 233.
— How was it painted?
Silver. Tactical numbers red in colour.
All our planes were of the same appearance.
— Any extra paintings? Red noses, for
Not a single plane with red nose. Plain
silver with red tactical number and KNDR [Korean People’s Democratic
Republic] identification marks.
— Did your regiment receive new planes
or did it continue to fight in the same airplanes?
For all time that we fought, we didn’t
receive a single new plane.
— Why did you so specifically note that
the airplanes were built in Kuybyshev?
Airplanes that were built in the European
part of the Soviet Union were easier to fly and in general more reliable. It
was said about the aircraft built in Komsomol-na-Amur that they were
“wooden” [sluggish, heavy] in the controls.
— You fought in one airplane only?
In the 821st Regiment, on 233 only. When I
was transferred to the 256th IAP, I flew in other aircraft. But I still have
a warm feeling toward 233. It was my true friend in the sky which never
— What if your plane was under repairs?
Repairs were done at night; while we flew
day missions only.
— I’ll read a roster of your 3rd
Squadron upon your arrival in Korea in February 1952.
Lazarev, Vladimir Alexeevich, captain,
Not captain, but major. He was promoted
when we were still in Voznesensk.
— Is it true, that your squadron
commander scored the regiment’s first kill on 1 March, 1952, when he shot
down a Sabre?
It must be a mistake. But I don’t remember
who was the first. (According to archival data of
821 IAP on 01.03.1952 Major Lazarev V.A. shot down F-86. According to award
documents Squadron commander Lazarev by July 1952 accomplished 33 combat
missions, participated in 18 dogfights, and shot down 2 F-86, for what he
received an Order of Lenin. I. Seidov).
— You – Zabelin, Vladimir Nikolaevich —
captain, deputy squadron commander for flight operations.
— Batkunov, Alexey — senior lieutenant, political officer.
Batkunov was not in our squadron, if he at
all was… (Batkunov Viktor Sergeevich fought in the
1st Squadron of 821 IAP, credited with one kill. I. Seidov).
— Veshkin Petr Nikolaevich — senior
lieutenant, flight commander.
He took my place when I became a regiment
commander in 256th IAP.
Viktor Sergeevich. Flight commander. Tatar
by nationality. By the way! When we were fighting at war there were no
tensisons on a national basis. If you fight like it is needed, I don’t care
if you are a Russian, Jew or a Martian…
— Lieutenant Chernikov, Nikolay
He was my friend, a Belorussian.
Unluckily, he was killed in one of the first fights.
(Was killed on 01.04.1952. I. Seidov)
— Vyaznikov, Georgiy?
Yes, he was…
— Yermolayev, Mikhail?
Yermolayev was my wingman from the start
till the end. We came together, and we left Korea together.
— Shmagunov, Vladimir Vasilyevich?
Lieutenant. He was killed in action.
— Nikiforov, Mikhail Vasilyevich?
He was a special case. Young lieutenant.
Blonde, very handsome fellow. He somehow met a Russian woman in Harbin. She
was the daughter of a “white” immigrant .
White immigration is a
common name for the refugees from Soviet State, who fled from the Soviets
during and immediately after October Revolution. Traditionally they were
meant to be members of the former high society and reach people, but in
reality majority of White Immigration consisted of former soldiers of White
Army. As any civil war, Russian Civil War was characterised by immense
atrocities, so, naturally, soldiers of the defeated army chose to flee away
from possible punishment abroad. Main areas where Russian White Immigrants
settled down were Berlin, Paris, New-York and Kharbin. A lot of refugees
returned back to Soviet Union when a repatriation program was announced by
Soviet Government in the early 30, and a lot of them (but by far not even
“most”) were punished for war crimes.
There was an insane love, and he wanted to
marry her. But marrying at wartime to a white immigrant descendent – it was
a major problem… And he stopped flying.
A court of officers’ honour was organized. Especially political officers
were pressing him:
— Do you want to sell out your Motherland?
He cried, and then he was forbidden to fly. (Sr.
Lieutenant Nikiforov M.V. fought until the end. Was shot down on 04.07.52,
ejected and had to be sent to hospital, but later returned to the unit. I.
— Who among the pilots of your squadron
was sent back to the Soviet Union prematurely and for what reason?
There was one pilot, who wanted to become
a political officer. In Voznesenka he kept teaching us how to fight, how to
be disciplined. Since Batkunov did not go with us, he was assigned to be our
When we arrived, we saw that the entire sky was covered by vapor trails left
by Sabres. And you always could say that those were Sabre trails. It was
easy to do – its trails were sharp on the turning points. It had a great
high-lift devices and large air brakes. And they used them often, when they
needed to dive straight down.
When they made a sharp turn, they left a trail that resembled a fishing
hook, while our MiG left very rounded trails. It was not too good at
horizontal maneuvers. We got distracted…
So we had to fly our first mission. We flew for a familiarization flight.
That was something strange. During WWII we were introduced to battle until
the battle actually occurred; more experienced crews covered us until we
actually tasted the battle. There was nothing even close to that here. There
was not a single pilot from 18th IAP. We had somebody as cover, but we
didn’t even know who they were. I saw how one flight escorted us well beyond
any reasonable distance. We flew two such missions. One was flown by a
squadron, while the second was flown by the whole regiment in a couple of
days. We flew at 12–13000 meters. I have no idea why we had to fly that
high. Most likely our escorts dragged us up there to be sure that Sabres
wouldn’t be able to attack us. Sabres couldn’t fly that high. Usually we
fought at an altitude of 9–10 kilometers.
That was our introduction to battle. After that we flew by command of our
command post to intercept incoming enemy. And here is the first mission for
our political officer; he immediately broke away from us and started
shouting over all Korea:
— Help! They are killing me!
In real life there were no American fighters in the air… Yes, he disgraced
us… We tried to make him fly another mission? But the result was the same.
Then, commanders sent him back to the Soviet Union.
— He was the only one who was sent back
to the Soviet Union?
Someone also left due to their health
— How was Chernikov killed?
Our group was ordered to land, and they
started to descend over the hills. Chernikov was a wingman, but he lost his
leader. Sabres always waited for us to land, so that they could strike us on
final aproach. And they caught Chernikov. We tried to find his remains for a
long time, and finally some search group found him in his plane’s wreckage.
— Do you remember who came to you as a
At the end of our presence in Korea, we
received five or six pilots as replacements. But I don’t remember if they
— That is, your squadron was not
complete? One pilot was sent home while two pilots were killed?
Yes, two: Chernikov and Shmagunov.
— Then you must have had seven pilots.
For the first time our squadron flew in an
8-plane formation, and then its strength decreased. Finally we flew with six
— Was there a problem with commanding
You are right. There, in Korea, some
squadron commanders had to fly as ordinary pilots. They didn’t loose their
shoulder straps, but they had to fly as ordinary pilots. The commander of
256th IAP, HSU Lt. Colonel Semenyuk, was relieved of his command, and I was
transferred to his position from the post of deputy squadron commander. It
was an interesting situation: when I became a regiment commander, General
Krasovskiy lived for several days in my regiment. He commanded the entire
OVA (United Air Army – included VVS KNR and VVS KNDR).
— Did Krasovskiy fly himself?
Of course he was brought by his personal
plane, as he was rather old for flying. We talked, and I used to tell him:
— We can’t fight like we used to do it during the GPW. Combat formations of
that era are not suitable for these days.
— Why not? You fly in full regiment strength? The regiment is a fist! And
the division is a hammer!
I replied to him:
— We fly by the regiment in a frontal formation. Or a regiment flies, let’s
say, with a strike group of two squarons and a cover group. And just the
same, we fly in a frontal formation. The interval between aircraft is from
50 to 100 meters. The front of our fighters is over-extended; pilots on one
side can’t see the other side. This is a bulky formation. Sabres wait for
us. They know that we have already taken off, as they also have radars. They
gain altitude, and on command attack our planes on the flanks. When a
dogfight begins, there is no way that we can fight in a regiment formation.
This solid formation breaks first into squadrons, then into flights, and
finally into pairs. That’s how we fought our first battles! Somebody is
under attack somewhere, but the rest can’t find them and help them.
Inevitably, all planes start to fall back to our airfield as the only
assembly point well known to us!
— When did you become a regiment
commander? And how did that happen?
In July 1952, I was sent to the recreation
facility on the Laodun peninsula. I left my regiment expecting to return in
a couple of weeks. I just rested there, after almost half a year of constant
battles. We fought during the day, and there was no rest at night either.
For the first time we suffered some losses. Not every day, but it happened.
It wasn’t important, in which regiment the tragedy happened; all the pilots
of our division attended the funerals. Our political officers organized
them, they made speeches: “We will not forget you, we will avenge!” And so
on. In reality, nothing was done. For example, Chernikov had married just
before his temporary duty, and his wife gave birth to a baby. He [Chernikov]
perished. Later, when we returned to the Soviet Union, our comrades visited
his family. His wife had no pension, no work and she had no place to live.
Abitkovskii and Zabelin are
swimming in Yellow Sea near Dalnii city
— How many sorties did you fly per day?
— Why were you unable to rest at night?
We were brought to the airfield at 0400.
We ate breakfast at the airfield canteen. Even if there were no missions,
being at the airfield is a tremendous pressure. Right after we were brought
to the airfield, maybe in ten minutes, a Sabre would fly a low level pass
over the runway. When he flew at tree-top level, his engine screeched. It
seemed like metal scraping on metal. Then he turned on his afterburner; it
was reconnaissance flight, sent over to see what we were doing.
We left the airfield only when it was getting dark. We would have supper,
drink our 100 grams, and a bus would come after us. Each time we did not
know where we were going to sleep. We were brought to different places.
Sometimes we just settled down, when an alarm would be sounded:
— We have an information that a B-29 a heading this way. We have to move you
to the other place!
Americans constantly flew bombing missions at night.
— Did they bomb the Chinese side?
They mostly bombed Korean territory, but
no one could say that they would not make another “navigation mistake.”
That’s why we had a drastic lack of sleep. There was an idea to land us on
Korean territory. They started building new airfields there. When it was
finished and we were about to fly there, B-29s ruined the runway at night.
So, I was sent to rest. On the first night there was a thunderstorm. For
some reason I decided that it was B-29s bombing, and I ran out of the
building half asleep, even with closed eyes. In a couple of days a plane
came to Dalniy, and carried me and my wingman Yermolaev to Anshan. No one
discussed anything with me in advance. I was told when I boarded the plane:
— We are flying to Anshan; you will fly with the 256th IAP now.
We arrived there, and I was met by division commander Kornilov; he was a
colonel then. I was a major. The regiment was formed up, and the division
— From now on you are the deputy regiment commander of the 256th IAP. The
regiment commander was sent back to the Soviet Union. Of the staff there
remain only the political officer and the chief of staff. Your task will be
to command the regiment, and organize clearing missions when a call is made
from Myaogou and Andun.
That was not an easy task at all. By this time the Sabres were not those
Sabres that arrived in 1951. Then the MiG-15Bis could easily fly away from
them. American designers increased thrust to 3,600 kg. And it was not easy
at all to fight them. The E- and F-model Sabres had become so impudent that
not only did they block our airfields, but also tried to shoot us down on
takeoffs and landings. Although, I have to say that they never attacked
parked airplanes and people walking at the airfield.
When we were transferred to the 256th IAP, we had to change our planes, and
I took an airplane from command flight. I don’t remember its number now.
— How was the regiment organized?
Three squadrons, 12 planes each, plus four
planes in the command flight, 40 planes in all.
— Did you have a MiG-15UTI in Korea?
Each regiment had no more then two of
— It is known that at first the 821st
IAP was commanded by Colonel Vasilyev, but after his tragic death in a
training flight at the end of February, his place was taken over by HSU
Major Dmitryuk. Where did he come from?
(Vasilyev Alexandr Nikitovich perished in an airplane crash on 24.02.1952.
Dmitryuk Grigorii Fedoseevich had 10+26 enemy plane kills during GPW and 5
more in Korea. I. Seidov).
He came to our regiment from command of
the 190th IAD. He received HSU for fighting over Murmansk. He was afraid of
nothing and flew confidently and bravely. His courage at times approached
recklessness, one might say extravagance. For example, he came to me once
— We are going to fly to Gensan! Your pair and mine.
That’s on the other side of Korea. I asked:
— What are we going to do there?
— There are a lot of Navy airplanes, They crawl there like turtles, so we
will try to increase our scores there.
I was not in a position to argue. He was a regiment commander, while I was a
deputy squadron commander. We took off. In order to have enough fuel, we
flew there at high altitude, then we descended. There was not a single
airplane over Gensan. We had to fly back emptyhanded. Just as we approached
our airfield flight control warned us:
— Landing forbidden! There are 24 Sabres over airfield. Land at Anshan.
We had very little fuel left, and when we were on the final aproach we were
already flying on fumes. We met our friends there from the 494th IAP, and
talked to them for a bit. I called Yermolayev to go to sleep in the other
room, while the others kept talking. In the morning we got up and, not
consulting with meteorologists, took off. The overcast was down 150 meters
altitude, and there were hills around us. Due to the bad weather, the
regiment commander’s wingman, Bushnev, crashed [but survived]. Major
Dmitryuk took off alone and we formed up on him. He ordered:
— We will go into the clouds!
And we went into the clouds in a tight formation. I worried about
Yermolayev, as he had no experience in blind flights. We broke out of the
clouds at an altitude of 12,000 meters. It was our luck that clouds were
above land, like a wall, but the sea was clear. We descended above the sea
and flew to the home base below the clouds. That’s just an example.
— Did you see American Navy planes?
Not in this part of Korea. They fought on
the western coast, and we did not see them here.
— When and how you did you shoot down
your first Sabre?
It happened on 16 March, 1952, in a clear
sky. Our regiment was sent up to intercept enemy aircraft. We met them in
the area of Suphum dam. When we saw them, it became evident that there were
over 100 Sabres and Thunderjets. Thunderjets were below, strafing the
ground. They were called fighters, but they were more of a fighter–bomber.
That is, they carried not only guns but also bombs. All the Sabres were
above them with the task of keeping us at an altitude of 10–12 thousand
Our regiment flew in a front formation. It was this episode that I discussed
with General Krasovskiy. 1st and 2nd Squadrons were in a strike group; our
squadron was in the covering group and flew with a modest interval, about
600 meters above, and about 1000 meters behind the strike group. I flew in
the covering group with Yermolayev.
Sabres were above us on both sides. Perhaps on command they simultaneously
attacked us, opening fire from ridiculous distances at our outermost
1st Squadron began fighting with the left group and 2nd Squadron started
fighting with the right group. A dogfight began. Our squadron also entered
the fight: one flight broke away to fend off Sabre attacks on our planes.
Soon I dove into the mess, and ended up below the main fight.
The Sabres were unsuccessful. They didn’t hit anyone (and opening fire from
1.5 kilometer they couldn’t even hope to scratch anyone). As our group
entered the fighting, they started to fall back toward the sea coast. They
always flew toward the sea if things turned bad; they knew that we were
forbidden to cross shore line. In the worst case there was a rescue group
Someone kept fighting and I saw: About 1000 meters above Yermolayev was a
pair of Sabres. But I’m not gaining on them, and I had to get higher. But I
wanted to attack so badly... I looked around and saw that there was no one
nearby, only this pair. An idea crossed my mind – even if I don’t shoot him
down, I’ll scare him. I moved the aim mark in front of him and fired a short
burst from all weapons. Fireballs crossed their path. The result was
completely unexpected. Usually they departed by half roll and steep dive. In
this case, the flight leader turned around toward me and started a shallow
descent. His wingman turned to the right and dove steeply toward the sea.
As a result, the one that remained ended up at the same altitude as I was.
And he started to make a new turn. But he was right in front of me. I set my
aiming reticle around him and fired a long burst from all cannons. And hit
him. He half rolled and started falling down in an inverted flat spin. I
lost him from view. This plane crashed — it was confirmed. There was our
search group, which traveled across Korea and searched for crash sites. (On
16.03.52 Americans confirm a loss of a single F-86 from 16 AS 51 AW, but
there are 10 claims by soviet pilots for that one aircraft. It is impossible
to clearly identify the real winner. I. Seidov).
A comission from Moscow had arrived in Korea, including General Savitskiy,
who commanded PVO aviation.
— Is it true that Savitskiy had issued
an order that there was a need to re-confirm the kill counts of our pilots?
There was no such order. He was trying to
teach us to fight, but then he saw how our squadron commander Motorin tried
to evade American attack right above our runway. It was really scary to
watch. They chased him from 0 to 4000 meters. He climbed, they shot, he
dove, and again a Sabre was near. In the end, they shot him down at low
altitude, but he ejected and survived. I never saw anything like he did this
time again. Perhaps, it was the only reason why he managed to survive.
(1st Squadron commander of 148 GvIAP 97 IAD captain
Motorin Petr Petrovich was shot down over the airfield on 04.05.1952. I.
Americans flew over the sea near the coast line, which was not far from our
airfield, but we couldn’t attack them there. At the Anshan airfield, 200
kilometers away, we had the 256th IAP, which was used to clear our
— On April 6 you shot down two Sabres.
Did it happen in one fight?
During one day, but not in one engagement.
It happened in the first half of the day. We flew out in a regiment
formation. We noticed two groups of enemy fighters on the crossing paths,
eight planes in each group. They were a little bit lower. When we got near
each other I engaged one pair.
It was easier for them to fight in high-G turns, as they had G-suits. Plus
their plane’s aerodynamics helped them – its wing with slats. They fought
exceptionaly well in the horizontal plane and dove down.
I followed them, managed to get the leading Sabre at 2/4 in my gunsight, and
opened fire. We were at almost the same altitude. I fired in long bursts. I
saw that my 37mm shells hit him right in the fuselage. It looked as if you
hit a dusty bag with a stick – you would see a cloud of dust. It slowly
banked to the left and started falling to the ground with an increasing
angle of a dive.
The second one. It was in the second sortie on the same day; the situation
was identical, but in the different area — Sensen–Keidzio.
We had 24 aircraft and the Americans 30. We met them near Bihen. The Sabre
that I attacked began a maneuver that we called a “combat turn.”
I gained on him rapidly and opened fire from all cannons from a range of 300
meters. I saw with my own eyes as its tail section desintegrated into small
bits and the airplane fell to the ground. It was my fourth Sabre.
(6 Soviet pilots clamed to have shot down a Sabre on
6.04.52, but Americans do not confirm these losses. È.Ñåèäîâ.).
— Did you aim at a specific point or at
the airplane as a whole?
I don’t know. I always fired at the whole
plane with a “moving grid” mode. Some pilots, including our regiment
commander Dmitryuk, always fired from a “locked” mode of the gunsight,
establishing correct lead by themselves. But this often led to serious
— Did the “moving grid” really help?
Many pilots complained about it.
Yes, I know. But I always fired aiming
with it. I have no idea what gunsight types were in other airplanes, but I
had the advanced one. Once, a team of engineers from Moscow came, and
brought a few new gunsights with it. I was serving with the 821st IAP then,
and by this time I already had a couple of planes shot down. Because of this
they asked me:
— Would you like to try our new gunsight?
Who wouldn’t? And they installed it in my plane. For some reason, I believed
in it straight away. When I sat in the cockpit, I constantly kept training.
I switched the gunsight on, and trained the moves with my left hand. I moved
the grid to all visible objects near the parking space. In the end I could
feel the distance to the objects. And even when I maneuvered later, I did
all the aiming automatically.
Perhaps the gunsight was really better. Maybe I trained my self to
— May of 1952 was very productive. On
May 17, our pilots from 821st IAP fought an effective fight against
F-84Thunderjets, in which they claimed five fighter–bombers, one of which
was credited to you. Is it true that four of our planes shot down five enemy
We flew an intercept mission against F-84s
in a flight formation to the Sensen area. I really liked that fight. That
day our regiment took off for another mission, but we left four planes from
my flight on the ground in alert-2. It was common for us that if an alarm
was sounded, we were putting on our parachutes, and a technician would start
up an engine. Both I and my technician worked quickly. I jumped into the
cockpit. Our mission was anounced over the radio when we were already in the
air: “In Sensen area, near bridge over Yalu, Thunderjets are strafing
Chinese volunteers. You have to help them.” We made it there quickly; we
even overflew and had to turn around. When we turned I noticed a large cloud
of smoke and dust. There was one of our forward air controllers, and he
called us in Russian:
— Attack! Please, faster! Attack!
So Yermolayev and I went right through that smoke cloud, but the second pair
decided to fly above it. I dove right through the smoke, and sometimes I
couldn’t see the ground.
The Americans had caught Chinese troops on the rest. They moved to the front
only at night and rested during day time.
As I came in at low level, I saw American fighter–bombers that tried to
escape to the sea. I attacked the closest one, and he tried get as low as
possible. He flew so low as to almost catch the water. I broke the standing
order and followed him out over the sea, and caught him already over the
water. What I did not like in this situation was the altitude above water –
30 meters. I had no experience in such flights, and there also was bright
sun. When I gained on him, he understood that he couldn’t run away from me.
The F-84 had a turn rate even greater than the Sabre. He rolled to the right
and tried to turn, and I cut him off and opened fire. He began pulling
toward the coast. I kept firing at him. I saw explosions on his fuselage,
tail section, 1/3 of the right wing was torn away, and he fell at the coast
line and exploded.
— Yes, we saw that in the photo.
He kept flying toward land. He made it to
the coast line, and spun at the low altitude. Then came the explosion, and
almost nothing was left of him. It was the sixth airplane that I shot down
in the skies of Korea. (17.05.52ã. pilots of the
821st IAP claimed 5 F-84s. Americans confirm a loss of 4 of theirF-84s that
day from the 49th and the 136th Wings. Since Zabelin’s victory is confirmed
by wrecks found by the regiment’s search crew as well as the perished US
pilot found in the cockpit, it is most likely that Zabelin shot down F-84
48-760 from the 154th Squadron of the 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing. The pilot
of this plane was missing in action. This confirmed victory over F-84
Thunderjet on 17.05.1952 was Zabelin’s sixth victory in the ranks of the
821st IAP. I. Seidov).
— Why do you think he veered so tightly
at first and later he just flew straight? His controls were jammed? Or you
had killed the pilot, or may be he was simply scared?
No. He was in a really bad situation, and
of course I can’t say what he thought. But he made it to land, and I shot
him down there. Our search team was nearby; they were there in a couple of
hours, but his airplane was torn to pieces. Instructions required that a
part of an airplane with a Manufacturers Serial Number should be aquired. In
this case there were no arguments, everything was clear. The leader of the
search team was Garustovich, our squadron adjustant. He brought with him a
full rescue set – parachute, inflatable boat, provisions, and even fishing
hooks. The American pilot had it all in his survival kit. The boat that
Americans were equipped with inflated by itself when the pilot landed in the
water. Our team had also brought me the pistol of the dead pilot. It was a
huge gun, with a caliber of 11.25mm [M1911A1 .45 cal.]. There were a lot of
rounds too. We thought that it should kill anybody it hit. As soon as we had
free time, we took a common spade, stuck it in the railroad embankment,
which was not far away, and shot at it. The impression was great, but the
spade was never pierced.
We decided that this pistol’s bullets had a very low muzzle velocity, much
lower then our TT. Later I found a book in English at some Chinese library,
where it was written that this gun was made for close combat, and it was
required to have more stopping power then piercing. Later my superiors took
this pistol away from me together with all other stuff “for objective proof
of shooting down an enemy F-84.”
— What did our pilots have for a
Nothing. A parachute and TT pistol. That’s
— Chocolate or something else?
No chocolate, nothing. It was not common
then to think about downed pilots!
— You scored two victories over Sabres
on May 20 and 21. Do you remember these victories?
On May 20, in the area of
Sakusyu–Deguandong at an altitude of 10,000 meters in a fight with four
F-86s, I attacked the wingman of the second pair and opened fire from a
distance of 400 meters. I saw explosions on the tail section of the fuselage
and subsequent falling of the Sabre. On May 21, in the area of Bihen at an
altitude of 9,000 meters, our squadron met six F-86s at the same altitude.
— Do you remember exactly how it
As cosmonauts say: “Everything as usual.”
We once again had a quick dogfight. Yermolayev and I tried to attack the
last pair of Sabres. I caught the wingman. Most commonly it was the wingman
who gets shot down. He lost his leader and ended up in my sight. A long
burst from all cannons – and he left this world. That was the eighth
American airplane that I shot down. (20.05.52 – on
this day only Zabelin shot down one F-86. No other victories were recorded
that day. Therefore it is most likely that this day he gained victory over
F-86A serial nuber 49-1255 from 336th Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing. The pilot
of this Sabre John Lein – also was missing in action. On 21.05.52 our pilots
claimed 3 victories over F-86s. American side confirmed the loss of 2 of its
F-86s from the 4th Fighter Wing and one F-84. Some of American historians
credits the victory over F-86 serial 50-0689 from the 3334th Squadron to
Zabelin. Pilot of this F-86 Charles Kerr was captured. I. Seidov)
— There is an opinion that Sabres shot
our planes on takeoffs and landings with no opposition. Did you try to fend
Basically you are right. Part of the
Sabres covered their bombers while another part tried to block our
airfields. They constantly loitered nearby, as General Savitskiy said:
— Why they are hanging around there?
They criss-crossed the sky at twelve kilometers in eight-plane formations.
— Did you try to patrol the sky over
Of course we tried, but we had no planes
or men to oppose them. There were a lot more Americans.
— Did you see the difference in Sabres?
In most cases Sabres were quite dark. When
you got close, you could see yellow stripes around its fuselage. Some Sabres
were shiny, silvery, straight from the aircraft factory maybe? They
reflected the sun.
Because of these unusual paint schemes, I once was tricked. To be brief: we
were returning from Phenyan area, where we flew in two-regiment formation.
We flew there with the task to engage a large group of bombers. When we
arrived, we found no bombers there. We turned around above Phenyan; the
494th IAP returned ahead of us and our group fell apart after the turn.
Yermolayev and I flew over Phenyan, and saw that it was reduced to rubble.
The picture we saw was horrifying – the city was totally destroyed .
During bombing of
Phenyan in 1952 over 10,000 liters of napalm and 697 tonns of bombs were
dropped to the city, what lead to 8,000 deaths.
Then we went home. We noticed two
eight-plane formations above. They were silvery, and we decided that those
were MiGs. There was not even a shadow of a doubt; we thought that it was
the 494th IAP – and decided to join formation and fly home with them. They
flew at 12,000 meters, and we were 2,000 meters lower. Yermolayev was
lagging behind. I shouted at him:
— Come on, gain on me, what are you doing there?
At an altitude it is difficult to catch them and even even harder to
decelerate. I noted that Yermolayev started to gain on me:
— Now let’s get higher.
We started gaining altitude. When we were almost under them, I suddenly
noticed an insignia at their wings: USAF. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
“What!? This isn’t the 494th IAP?” I had no idea what to do, and all I could
think of was getting in their formation. Then I felt an urge to strike them,
but as I was a bit faster, I began to overshoot. To avoid this, I started
gaining altitude. In the end I was looking inside the enemy plane’s cockpit
from above. The leader of the enemy left formation was looking somewhere
toward the bay. And he was looking in the other direction. And I can’t lose
enough speed to get behind him! Suddenly, another pilot must have told him
what was going on, and he turned his head in a painted helmet toward me. We
looked at each other from a distance of 10 meters. Never again did I see an
expression of such pure, unadulterated fear on anyone’s face! His eyes
almost popped out, as he started shouting something, and all the flight
immediatelly dove to the left. The second group dove to the right. We scared
them to death. I tried to attack them, but couldn’t gain on them. As there
was no chance, I decided to return home… If Yermolayev hadn’t fallen behind
so far, he would have shot that leader down. Oh, how we cursed after our
return . . .
— Two pilots perished from 3rd Squadron
– Shmagunov and Chernikov. How did it happen?
It’s hard to say. Chernikov lost the
group, and was returning alone. He appeared from the left side of our
airfield. Four Sabres attacked him there. They disappeared behind some hill,
and only the Sabres appeared again. Chernikov did not return. It was a long
time before we found him – he crashed into the hillside.
Smagunov’s story was totally different. I think it was on July 4. We got
kicked on that day. We lost planes and pilots. Americans had organised a
large raid on Suphum GES [hydro-electric station]. Never again did such a
raid take place—there were over 250 Thunderjets and a lot of Sabres, also
over 100. They flew in from the northeast and flew along the river valley
between the hills. There were no radars there and we missed them.
I wasn’t in the regiment at the time. I was resting at Laodun Peninsula
then. Our entire division and a second one were also scrambled. I heard that
we lost about 10 airplanes in all, including Shmagunov. I don’t know what
happened exactly. This was perhaps the hardest day of all. Thunderjets
managed to lightly damage the (GES) power plant…
(Strafing of the Military Academy of the Chinese Army in Sakchu was
accomplished by 50 fighters F-86 from the 4 FIW and 51 FIW,as well as 70
fighter-bombers F-84 from the 49 FBG and the 58 FBW. All five regiments of
the 190 IAD and 97 GIAD were fending this attack. As as result of this
aerial battle 11 MiGs were lost including 10 from the 190 IAD and 1 from
97th IAD. American losses were 2 F-86s and 1 F-84. The 821st IAP lost 3
pplanes and one pilot – Senior Leitenant V.V. Shmagunov.I. Seidov).
— Who else from your squadron was shot
I can’t remember any cases. But I saw how
Pidunov was shot down right above our airfield. He was in 256th IAP. Pidunov
overshot on landing and went for the second pass at an altitude of 400–500
meters. He was attacked by a pair of Sabres. The leader fired at him, but he
slid to the right. The American made a left barrel roll, and ended up right
on Pidunov’s tail. And he fired with all guns at point blank. Pidunov’s
engine smoked and he ejected. (In the 3rd Squadron
of the 821 IAP the following pilots were shot down and ejected: Leitenant
G.M. Vyazikov (25.03.1952), Senior Leitenat M.V. Nikiforov (4.07.1952), and
senior pilot of the first Squadron of the 256th IAP V.V. Pidunov
(4.05.1952), who returned to the regiment.I. Seidov).
— Do you know of any cases when
American pilots tried to shoot at the ejected pilots?
I heard about such cases. Someone from our
regiment control was caught in such a situation. He ejected, and a Sabre
made two passes at him firing guns. Sergey Kramarenko from 324th IAD was
shot at by an American fighter when he was descending with parachute.
Luckily, the American was a poor shot. (Nobody was
shot in combat from the command element of the 821st IAP, as well as the
command element of the 190 IAD. Perhaps the mention is about deputy
commander of the 494th IAP Captain B.V. Lavrinovich who was shot twice in
Korean skies and both times parachuted to safety. I. Seidov)
— So, you think that it was not
It’s not propaganda. Other pilots also
reported such things.
— Did our pilots try to kill American
No. We thought that it was a major war
— Did their search and rescue
helicopters fly into Korean-controlled territory? Did you encounter them in
Our search teams saw them quite often. For
example, our pilots downed a Sabre in the Sensen area, and the American
pilot ejected near the coast line. Their helicopter came in and carried him
away right before the eyes of Koreans. Our division navigator told us about
such cases – he witnessed them several times. There were attempts to shoot
them down, but they usually made it away very quickly.
— Did these search and rescue (SAR)
helicopters try to capture our pilots?
Their main task was to rescue their own
pilots, but it is possible that they had a secondary mission to capture our
pilot and deliver him to the UN Command. There was even one case when our
pilot was captured in the area of Ansu, closer to Phenyan, but Koreans or
Chinese shot that helicopter down and rescued our pilot. This was not a
pilot from our regiment, but it happened when we were there.
On another occasion, an officer from the ground crew was kidnapped from
Andun. He went outside of his house at night and someone attacked him. They
even managed to get him across the Yalu River in a container of grain, but
someone decided to check it and he was found.
— How often did you use drop tanks?
We used them on every mission we flew. And
we always dropped them, regardless of if there was a fight or not. There was
no problem with quantity of drop tanks, but their quality was horrific.
Kerosene simply leaked in streams. Sometimes these tanks would snap due to
the air pressure in midflight.
— How did you find out if a tank was
A comrade flying by your side would tell
— But if you dropped tanks before they
were fully expended, you might not have enough fuel to return.
You are right. We often landed with a zero
fuel left. I once landed, taxied to the taxiway, and my engine stalled. It
was not due to the bad tank quality, but due to the overall situation.
— Did you see American pilots and
wreckage of planes that you shot down?
Search crews brought me some wreckage. I
also saw other crash scenes – for example a tail section. By the way, I
personally shot down several Sabres by cutting their tails away. I saw it
with my own eyes. A burst of cannon shells hit the rear fuselage and made it
look like there was no tail at all.
We never saw American pilots – they were considered to be in Korean
— What was your attitude toward the
Nowadays, as I understand, each year
fighter pilots veterans gather together in America. Pepelyaev used to go
there. They say that there was no hate, and they thought of fighting as a
sport, like a knights’ tournament.
How I thought then and how I think now? America is still enemy No 1. I think
that says it all.
— During WWII we were allies, and just
five years later we were fighting each other. You flew American planes, you
taught other pilots to fly them. Did these Korean War events change your
attitude toward Americans?
I remember how during the GPW a
four-engined Liberator broke off from its formation and began flying along
the frontline. We were sitting at Dembice, just four kilometers away from
the frontline. The Alert-1 flight under command of Kozin took off and
intercepted him at an altitude of 4,000 meters. He attacked that bomber, and
as a result its tail was severely damaged. The Liberator began falling to
the ground, and we saw ten crewmembers bailing out of it. They all landed on
our side of the frontline. Meanwhile Kozin landed.
(Kozin Grigorii Semenovich was credited with 9 German airplanes shot down.
No mentioning about American bomber being shot down was found, but this also
does not surprise the researcher. M. Bykov)
It was their misfortune that we were unable to determine that they were our
allies. The rescued American pilots were brought to our canteen, where we
tried to atone for our sins, and they were just smiling. We organized a
dinner, where all our pilots were present. They smiled, drank, and
eventually got totally drunk. We became such a friends. They told us where
they came from: Detroit, San Francisco…
— Kozin did not see that those were
No one expected to encounter a bomber here
at midday, let alone an American. We thought: “What is it? Dornier? No. But
it is definitely not one of ours.” Kozin was arrested for ten days by Konev
for this incident.
So, we fed them, drank with them, and then we let them go where it was
ordered. It was quite a friendly meeting.
In Korea we had a completely different attitude. We knew that war there had
claimed a lot of lives; it was actually in the second place after WWII.
Millions had died. You can’t imagine what it was like!
— Did you know about it then?
Not in numbers, but we saw it all from the
air. We knew what was going on, because the Americans made it to Chinese
border, and when they were pushed back a lot of atrocities were uncovered.
They killed defenseless Koreans and Chinese. An incident at No Gyu Rie
bridge as an example.
Over 300 Korean
refugees were found at No Gyu Rie bridge. In 2001 US government confessed,
that on June 26 1950 US Army soldiers robbed, raped and killed over 300
refugees, declaring that they were “guerillas”. Another 100 refugees from
the same group were killed during a strafing run by USAF ground attack
airplanes. This incident was widely presented as an “act of unprecedented
and unprovoked aggression by North Korean Army”. In reality it was a result
of a direct order issued by American Army commanders to open fire at any
group of refugees “as NK guerillas may infiltrate with them”. South Korean
Ministry of Defense had registered no less then 40 incidents of mass (over
50 deaths in each) murder by US soldiers.
It became known that they used biological
and chemical weapons; our chemical warfare units had identified it in Korea
and China. No one knew how it was going to end, and WWIII was not excluded.
— Let’s return to American pilots.
My opinion always was – they were enemies.
And strong enemies. On one occasion I fought with one American ace in a
“knight style.” His wingman broke away, and I had to let Yermolayev go.
And we fought one-on-one in a vertical engagement. I do not know what was
the modification of his plane, but it was not a second slower then MiG. It
must have been F or E modification. Plus he had an afterburner. He used it
without limitation. The Sabre must not have had the Valezhka (wingdropping)
that troubled us in MiGs.
We tried to finish each other off several times. Then I decided: “Well, you
win. I’m leaving the fight.” Not because I was afraid, but because I had
become exhausted by the high-G maneuvers without a G-suit. Besides, I
spotted a flight of Sabres coming to his aid. So I just escaped through a
— If we would have introduced to you a
pilot, who fought on the other side, would you shake his hand?
Now – yes. Then – no.
— Did you see captured American pilots?
Not one time. We were forbidden to talk to
Americans. Everybody knew that we fought there, but we tried to keep it a
secret. When Americans cried at the UN that Russians were fighting in Korea,
— What are Americans? They are French, English, Poles… In Korea there are
Chinese citizens of Russian descent fighting. For example, there are a lot
of Russians in Harbin.
And he was right in political terms… Although it quite strongly insulted us.
— Did you meet Chinese and Korean
pilots? What was your opinion about them?
We met their commanding officers at our
canteen. In Anshan, when I became the 256th IAP commander, on the same
airfield there was a Chinese division in MiGs. We flew combat missions,
while they trained. If they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, we
could have landed them at any moment.
Their division commander, a general, used to call me by my first name and
patronymic, even though I was just a major at the time. He told me how many
flights, when and where he planned and asked for my permission. When they
began flying combat missions, they showed a complete lack of understanding
of combat tactics, and because of this the Americans shot them down by the
— Could you compare the Sabre and the
MiG. I know that there was a high speed problem – valezka (wingdropping).
Yes. Weak wing. You should expect it as
you passed 900 kilometers per hour. A lot of pilots were killed by it, but I
wasn’t afraid – it was sufficient to give opposite rudder. Then you had to
reduce throttle. If we are speaking of strong points – our plane was very
light. It had great vertical maneuver. In the MiG-15Bis we easily climbed
away from Sabres. If a Sabre tried to climb away, I got my crosshair on him
immediately. “You are finished!” Sometimes I even broke into a smile, and
thought to myself, “What a fool! Where are you going? You have three seconds
left to live.”
Our airplane could have been improved. For example by installing a better
engine. Solve the problems with valezka. Even the MiG-17 suffered from it,
although on a much lower scale. There was another problem – the airplane was
sluggish during the pullout from a dive. And of course horizontal maneuver
was worse in the MiG. I already told you that it was visible even from the
ground who was fighting.
— Did you have a chance to sit in a
Yes, one shot-down Sabre was brought to
— Wasn’t it the one that was sent to
One was sent to Moscow, but it happened
before I arrived in Korea. It was shot down by Pepelyaev. The other one
crash landed in the rice field just outside of our airbase boundary, and was
barely scratched. It was brought to the airfield, so we had a chance to look
it over. The equipment was much better then ours, the gunsight was far ahead
of us. Even the gun camera was better then we had.
(Probably it was a plane of the 51st FIW commander Colonel Walker M.
Mahurin, who was shot down on 13.05.1952 and made an emergency landing on
North Korean territory and became POW. His plane was moved to Andun
airfieldwhere it was studied by the pilots of the 64th IAK. Later it was
delivered to one of the research institutes near Moscow. I. Seidov).
— Did you like our 37 mm and 23 mm
I was satisfied by our armament. But the
ammo load should have been increased.
— You said that you fired in long
bursts. What does that mean?
It’s a long burst if you fire half of the
ammo load in one trigger pull.
— How did you account for that? Did you
count the seconds?
I felt it. I never used short bursts. Once
I led squadron commander Lazarev at one Sabre, and told him to fire a long
burst; but he pressed the trigger for just a second. It was not enough. Our
armament allowed us to break the enemy into little pieces. If it was
correctly used, that is.
Major Lazarev, SqC-3 of
821-st IAP, Zabelin
— What do you think about the Sabre’s
six machine guns?
Six machine guns gave a tremendous rate of
fire, but it was weak weapon. It did not guarantee a kill even if a hit was
achieved. There were cases when pilots brought home over 90 holes; one even
managed to belly land with over 100 hits! Plane was later repaired and pilot
was still alive and not seriously harmed.
Which one was better? Our armament with increased load… But they had a
better gunsight. My ideal plane would be MiG-15Bis with increased ammo load,
with the wings and the gunsight from the Sabre.
When the war broke out, the Americans began to improve their Sabres right
away. They made a tail protection system—a small radar that warned if
someone got behind them—with a buzzer and a flashing lamp. He does not see
you, but already begins to maneuver. It is possible that the first one that
I shot down came down not because he saw my shells, but because a lamp
flashed in his cockpit. He thought that a MiG couldn’t catch him in a dive,
but he was wrong.
— What were the main combat maneuvers
that Americans used against you? And how did you counter them?
We began flying like we used to in the
GPW, in a wide front with an interval between airplanes of 100–200 meters,
to see where and when the enemy attacked.
They did not come in a large formation, rather in columns of eight. Each
group came in in a tight formation. They knew the combat area well, and they
gave each object a nick name. One of the bays was called “sausage”. The
names were easy to remember.
— Did you listen to their radio
Yes, we did. We said: “Ahead–higher, group
of Sabres, ten.” Apart from that, our pilots constantly, illiterately
cursed, it could be heard even in Japan. They made miracles in swearing.
American radio conversations were brief: “twelve o’clock high.” Briefly.
Like barking. Everything was clear. In all they used the radio better than
What else about tactics? They came in in an “intestine” formation, as we
called it, eight after eight, at a predefined distance. Not like us – in a
spread out formation. Their style did not make maneuvering difficult. Their
groups could leave or enter combat at will. If we suffered losses at first –
it was entirely due to our cumbersome formation.
I told you about our discussion with Krasovskiy. We tried in the regiment to
make an “intestine” formation. It was a column of squadrons. They got used
to it quite soon, and counted: first squadron, second, third... And they
usually attacked the third squadron. All their planes began to attack the
I was in the third squadron, and all the time we had to endure the most
difficult fights. I discussed this situation with Dmitryuk, and we decided
that my pair should fly separately behind the entire formation. They
attacked the third squadron, and at this moment we came in. They usually did
not understand what happened and left the battle scene. It was a punishment
for pattern tactics.
— You said that there was no
introduction into combat, but what were you told?
When we arrived there, the corps and
division commanders talked to us. They gave us an insight into the problem,
who our neighbors were, and so on. We were told about awards. The Red Star
was not mentioned at all. For three airplanes shot down – Order of the Red
Banner, for five – Order of Lenin, for six – HSU.
— Which awards did you receive for
Only an Order of Lenin. Even though I was
put in for Red Banner and HSU. I didn’t receive a Hero, without
— That is, for 9 kills you got an Order
I wasn’t satisfied at all – you see, even
though Order of Lenin was considered to be the top award, it could be given
for shooting planes and for kolhoz workers for milking cows, while Red
Banner or HSU was an award given only for military actions…
My documents were submitted for HSU when I had to fight for my life in front
of General Lobov’s eyes. We were returning to Korea, and we were close to
our airfield. Fuel was expended almost to the last drop; Yermolayev
especially was in a difficult situation. The wingman always used much more
fuel than the leader. When we were closing, I said to flight control:
— We have no fuel left, provide cover.
— Sending out a flight to cover you…
And he called a name. A flight took off and disappeared. At that moment we
were attacked by two eight-ship elements of Sabres.
It was a ferocious fight… One group attacked my pair, a second one hung
above us. Looking for a chance to kill us. I asked the duty officer:
— Where is our cover? We have to land! They are going to eat us alive!
No answer. Then I lost my temper, and begun swearing at all world.
— Send help, or we will have no choice but to eject.
We were in deep crap! Yermolayev cries:
— A fuel lamp is flashing!
I ordered him:
— Immediatelly land! Get below me, I’ll cover!
He crossed my path below me and dove to ground level. The Americans did not
notice his maneuver and lost him. Then they turned their attention to me. I
made a countless number of wild maneuvers. When I climbed, they got behind
me. As I lost speed, they gained on me. And they fired at me. I saw that the
sky was filled with tracers – not streams of tracers, but the sky was full
of them from all sides. At this moment I recalled that the MiG-15 was good
in skids, so I gave right foot in. They tried to hit me from the left. A
pair fired while another covered. I had no will to fight anymore. I swore at
the ground control. I swore, but then I heard that Yermolayev had
I pressed right pedal, and it seemed that their gunsight was not able to
calculate this skid. But tracers were getting closer and closer. I looked at
the ejection seat handles, and suddenly I spotted a small cloud ahead. It
was a miracle – clear sky, and the only cloud in a thousand kilometers! I
went straight into it. The Sabres lost me there, but one pair decided to
check the airfield – and they were right, I had no other choice.
When I saw them, I became mad! I forgot about everything, even about fuel…
The wingman must have felt my presence and abandoned his leader. I looked at
him and thought: “I’m going to kill you! Even if I’m going to die, I’ll kill
you!” I got him into my gunsight. I had a great speed advantage – he flew in
front of me, looking where I would appear. I pressed my trigger, and he fell
at the airfield boundary. I turned around, landed, and when I cleared the
runway my engine died – there was no fuel left.
(Likely this happened on 02.04.52, as it is mentioned that he conducted
combat in the area of Myaogou. According the the American records, that day
they lost one F-86 and 4 F-86s received various degree of damage. It is
assumed that some of these damaged airplanes were written off for spare
parts. Interestigly, nothing is known about who piloted these planes and
about their destiny. One was shot down and rescued by USAF resue team. I.
Corps commander Lobov was at the command post and heard everything,
including my swearing, and he personally came at the end of the day for the
Our flight that was sent up under the command of Badrudinov went north, and
disappeared from the radio.
— Was it a mistake?
Most likely – he played chicken. He heard
everything over the radio, but did not interfere. All our pilots said that
he was a coward. After the debrief Lobov ordered:
— Division commander! Immediately prepare materials for recommendation of
Major Zabelin for Hero of the Soviet Union!
I had 7 kills by this time, if I remember correctly. It was during my last
days in the 821st IAP. In the end I received an Order of Lenin, which was
the top award.
— Were you disappointed that you did
not become a HSU?
Of course. Back then and now too. If I had
a Gold Star, I would have become a General. I would have had a decent
pension now, and a free [cardiac] pacemaker.
— Lobov announced in 1993 that our
pilots shot down 1107 enemy planes. In your opininon, is that a real number?
I know that the Americans claimed to have
shot down over 2,000 of our planes. They cadmitted the loss of approximately
3 000 combat airplanes, of those 100 F-86s. Americans shouted that they won
that war with a kill ratio of 10:1, which should be 30 000:3 000 then. But
these numbers are ridiculous, aren’t they? They shouted that for each Sabre
lost they shot down 50 MiGs. That makes 5 000 MiGs:100 Sabers… We never had
so many MiGs in Korea even if we combine VVS and OVA! I think all factories
built less MiGs by the time war had ended… Then they began to reduce this
number, especially when Lobov announced that we had material evidence for
1107 planes. What is also incorrect – is that of all their losses in Korea,
the Americans count only Sabres, when they were NOT our main target. We
mostly hunted after strike aircraft, and my 8 Sabers are really an uncommon
— There are arguments about our claims
even during WWII.
It was generally accepted that during the
GPW we shot down almost 60,000 enemy airplanes. But I know that there were
overclaims. I know it from pilots and their commanders. A lot of mistakes
were made when there were no gun cameras and we were in retreat, so that
there was no way to check the claim. When we fought in MiGs, we already had
cameras, and what was more important – we had search teams that confirmed
our claims by parts with Serial Numbers. All arguable situations were
adjudicated in favor of the enemy, although about my claims I can say: I can
be sure about four of them: One Thunderjet, two Sabres that fell next to our
airfield, and the last Sabre, whose pilot ejected right before my eyes.
— As far as I know, photos did not give
confirmation of a kill, only confirmation of damage...
I don’t know… Have you seen my photos?
Here they are. In the corner is No. 233 – that was my MiG-15Bis.
— There is no doubt about them.
It’s a pity that the film was short,
because the most interesting part goes undocumented.
— Where did you get your film?
We were not allowed to bring them here, so
I “found” a piece of my four films.
— You said that you shot all your
planes in horizontal maneuvers?
When I talked to the pilot of the division
that replaced us, if I remember correctly it was 97th Division from Baku
(97th IAD returned to the USSR simultaneously with the
pilots of ther 190th IAD, therefore it was 216th IAD that arrived from Baku
in August 1952. I. Seidov), I told them:
— However strange it may be, I shot them down in horizontal maneuvers.
But what was it exactly? There is no way to make me fight them in sustained
turns. Then he easily would have made it to my tail. When I made it to their
tails, they knew that their only escape was in horizontal maneuvers.
Everybody knew that this type of maneuvers was much better in Sabres than in
MiGs, and the Americans used it very often. Another choice for them was to
make a half roll and go straight down – the MiG couldn’t catch them. I knew
that they were going to use these maneuvers and waited for them to initiate.
I usually chased them from behind and a bit below. Their rear-looking radar
identified us at a distance of about 2 kilometers. It warned the pilot of
our presence in his rear sphere, and I almost felt that he was going to
start turning. There was no other option for him. When he began to roll, I
tried to intercept him. If I did not shoot him down during his first 1\3 of
a turn, I had to abort the attack and zoom away.
— Was there any preference in
I liked left turns; they are somewhat more
comfortable. As he begun turning, I caught him in my sights and opened fire.
I told you that I made using a gunsight almost automatic.
— Did you see how your shells hit enemy
planes and how they fell?
I saw it many times. Both hits and
airplanes going down. If you shoot at 0\4, then rounds hit right at the
exhaust pipe or tail. And then you would see the bits of metal falling off.
I sometimes even tried to duck and cover from them – it seemed that they
were going to hit me. But there were cases when you couldn’t see the results
of your hits, then he starts smoking or falling. It was almost like that
when I shot down my first Sabre – he half rolled and fell down in an
inverted flat spin without any forward momentum.
— You said that you had seen a pilot
eject from your target plane?
It was the last plane that I shot down,
and he was the only pilot that I clearly saw ejecting. And what a view that
was! He was kicked out of his plane and he went 10 meters above my plane,
turned around several times sitting in his chair, and then separated from
it. I was afraid that I could collide with him, and because of this I
pressed right pedal and went past him.
— You told us how you shot down your
first Sabre, Thunderjet; in one day you shot down 2 Sabres…
When I fired in the first fight that day,
I clearly saw how shells exploded on both airplanes. The distance was less
than 200 meters in both cases.
— That is, you shot down 3 Sabres in
There were 2 sorties, and 2 fights. In the
first fight I shot one Sabre down, and fired at a second. The first one was
credited to me, while it was decided that there were no shells left for the
second. A special comission was assembled to discuss my claim, but they came
up with a conclusion that it should not be credited.
— And what about gun camera?
I don’t know. I was told that it was not
credited, and that was it! It happened on April 6, 1952, in the morning
— Lets account for this one also.
I do not count it.
— Did you score all nine kills in Korea
while serving with the 821st IAP?
— When you were transferred to the
position of 256th IAP commander, you achieved only 1 kill?
Yes. I was sent there in July, and that
was almost the end of our deployment. I flew only two missions with this
— Could you tell us about your last
I think it was the 20th of July, in the
second half of a day. Our regiment was in an Alert-2 status. A flare was
launched, and we took off. First we two – Yermolayev and I, and all three
squadrons behind us. In the air we received an order: “Clear Myaogou and
— How much time was required for a
regiment to take off?
Four minutes. As we built our formation, I
listened to the radio: over sixty Sabres above both airfields, all altitudes
I decided to clear Myaogou first with an attack right from approach. We went
up to 12,000 meters to have advantage. I thought: if they are at all
altitudes, they can be at this altitude too. So I changed tactics – I
approached Andun from the sea. When we came to the required position, I saw
that most of the Sabres were below us, and eight planes were in front of us.
— I’m attacking!
And I began chasing the upper flight. The entire regiment followed me, and I
had to tell them:
— Attack! Attack all you can!
I followed those four planes. One pair turned to the right and then dove. A
second pair was in a sustained turn to the left. I liked the leader as a
target more—first of all he was closer to me, and secondly I always had a
passion for leaders – they always are the better pilots, and he has to be
shot down first. I had him in my gunsight from a distance of 500 meters. He
was in a very shallow left turn, and at this moment I fired a burst of about
1/3 of my ammo load in length. He shook and his engine started smoking. At
first there were white pillows of smoke coming out of his engine, then they
changed to a gray solid trail of smoke. I understood that he was hit in the
right spot – in the engine. He came out of his bank and flew straight. There
was a feeling that he was stopping in mid air — his speed fell drastically.
My speed was greater, and after I fired a second burst at him from 300
meters, I thought: “What should I do in order not to collide with him?” I
decided that it was better to fly past him on the right side and a bit
above. I was 10 meters above him, and when I flew past him he ejected. He
flew out of his plane, turned around several times, and then his chair
separated. If I flew above him without right pedal he would have ejected
right into my plane. Meanwhile the Sabres left the scene, and we had no
The Koreans caught that pilot on the other side of Yalu River, brought him
to the POW camp, and interrogated him. There was a standard set of questions
they had to answer, and these answers were sent to us. This pilot worked in
some large aircraft production company as a test pilot. For some reason he
decided that he needed more money, and applied for the USAF. He trained to
become a fighter pilot, and in a year he had 450 hours of flight time. He
signed a contract with the Department of Defense for 100 combat sorties.
They had wings, and other formations in the USAF, that they gradually filled
up from their schools and academies with single crewmen. These pilots signed
contracts, I think, not for a time period but for a number of combat sorties
over a specified time period. Of course, such a pilot earned a significantly
higher salary. He received money for kills, and for sorties on Sunday, and
for sorties on holidays, including religious holidays. They had a fair
number of holidays. And for returning with their drop tanks. They had two
pure aluminum drop tanks. If they were jettisoned, they were not destroyed.
Just the same, they had tail fins and did not simply fall vertically. They
were dented in the process. The Koreans and Chinese scavanged these tanks.
They were pure aluminum, and the local population made pots and pans out of
them, which they used themselves or traded. I don’t know where the metal
from downed aircraft went, because it was duraluminum. But they say that the
drop tanks were not duraluminum, but aluminum, soft. They received a bounty
for downed pilots. How much they received, I don’t know, but they received
it. They received time off on an individual basis. Not with travel to the
United States, but to Japan. They rested there, not on their bases but
anywhere they wanted to in Japan. Tokyo or anywhere else. By the way, he
described how our weapon impacted on his plane: my first shell exploded
right behind his cockpit and destroyed all engine and plane controls. It
damaged his seat and he had some difficulty ejecting. That’s what I found ut
about this pilot. (20.07.52 our fighters claimed
victories over 4 F-86s. American side confirms the loss of two of its F-86s
and one damaged. Zabelin mentioned that the pilot of F-86 shot by him was
captured, therefore it is apparent that this was Patrick Ellis of the 16th
Squadron, 51 FIW who was the only one captured that day. I. Seidov).
— Do you remember his name?
No, I did take note, but I either lost it,
or it was taken away from me when we left Korea. If I knew that someone
would be interested in it, I would have kept it.
So now I have described how I shot down all planes, 8 Sabres and 1
— What kinds of combat maneuvers did
you use against Sabres?
Combat maneuvers? Hard to tell. I liked
when I was a bit lower than they were. In this case I was sure about his
actions – he would always try to escape by climbing. I’m talking about newer
versions—each subsequent version had better engines. When he lifted his
nose, I knew that I was about to increase my score. If he went down, I also
could try and catch him. Perfect position was below and to the side, at
— When did you work this tactic out?
Form the first plane that I shot down. I
couldn’t catch him, so I fired. The distance was over 1 kilometer. When I
fired, he did what was standard for them, and ended up right in front of my
eyes. And I liked this method ever since.
When I chased that Thunderjet, I couldn’t get below him, because we were no
more then 30 meters above the water. He tried to fly as low and fast as he
could, but I was still faster; I followed him and fired. He understood that
there was no escape in straight flight and started turning right. When he
lost speed on the turn, I got closer and fired again. I saw how pieces of
fuselage broke off, 1/3 of the right wing was cut off and the tail broke
— When did you cut off his wing? When
he was in straight flight or when he was turning?
In the turn. Right wing. The wing simply
flew away. Even I was surprised – I never expected that it could be cut off.
I simply chopped it away with shells. His plane was flying sideways by now.
He made it to solid ground, where he finally fell and exploded.
— Did you see Shooting Stars?
We called them “crosses.” But I only heard
about them, and never actually saw them.
— How did you identify that it was a
Thunderjet and not a Shooting Star at distances of over 300 meters?
There were no Shooting Stars in our area
of operations. They must have removed them due to high losses. There were no
claims for them in our regiment or division.
Let me tell you about another one.
— You recall some other plane that you
It was on April 2, 1952, when I shot down
the leader of a Sabre pair near Myaogou. It was the second one on my
account. Four Sabres were flying above our airfield Myaogou. We were
returning from a combat mission and everyone was trying to land. Yermolayev
and I were among the last. The Sabres broke into pairs and were flying
nearby. Those were the “hunters.” I was in a right circle when I heard:
— Sabres! Sabres!
Someone called over radio. What? Where? I understood that Sabres were coming
in to try and kill someone who was landing without ammo and fuel. Like
jackals, they tried to catch us in situations when we could not fight back.
I noticed a pair coming in at low altitude, and at this same moment AAA
opened fire. There was nothing else that I could do. I was already flying on
fumes, but I still pressed the attack in on their leader. Wingmen usually
broke off and escaped, unlike our pilots who stayed and protected the leader
to the last on most occasions. Eventually I quickly fired at him, and the
Sabre fell to the ground just 2 kilometers away from our airfield boundary.
— It happened in front of everyone’s
Yes. I think that those were the hunters,
who came here to increase their tolls, but increased mine. It’s not the same
fight that I described earlier.
— And what about the pilot?
The pilot was killed; there was almost
nothing left of him. And there was no need for a confirmation. That’s an
answer for your question about “hunters” attempts to shoot us on landings
and take offs. They sometimes shot our planes on landing, because you lose
situational awareness, you see your airfield, you feel that you are already
home, and they can’t kill you there. I saw how they killed the navigator of
the 256th IAP, Kolmanson. He was shot down in front of our regiment’s
pilots. We were already on the ground, when 256th IAP came in from a
mission. Kolmanson was landing last. We noticed the attackers when he was
leveling off. We even thought that he would make it to the ground. But he
did not. At an altitude of 15 meters they hit him, his plane shook and fell
to the ground and exploded. Kolmanson was a good pilot and a good man.
— When you became a deputy commander of
256th IAP, who were the other commanding officers there?
I do not remember who the navigator was. I
had no deputy, I had no regiment commander. There was a chief of staff and
the squadron commanders.
— Before your appearance in the 256th
IAP, the regiment was not quite successful in Korea and had suffered large
losses. What was the reason for that?
I think it was because regiment commander
HSU Semenyuk fell apart. For some reason he decided that as a regiment
commander, he could do whatever he wanted. Everything began when a couple of
times he returned with smoked cannon ports. Everyone thought that the Hero
had returned with a victory. I’ll explain: Before each sortie technitian had
to clean and polish not only the weapon but weapon ports also, so smoked
cannons meant that he shot at something. Technicians saw the condition of
the cannons when the airplane was still on final approach, and could say if
there was a fight. Semenyuk claimed that he had shot something down, but no
methods of control could prove it. Eventually he lost interest in flying
combat missions. Then the losses began – our pilots were shot down on
takeoffs and landings. It is very hard when you are attacked in such
situation. You can do nothing to avoid being shot down. In a real fight you
can make some maneuver and escape. In a fight everything depends on your
piloting qualities and situation awareness. If you are coming in without
fuel, what can you do in this situation? Nothing depends on you. The
Americans were eager to use this method, not only against the 821st, but
against the 256th IAP at Myaogou. Semenyuk began drinking. Rumors about the
regiment commander’s degradation and alcoholism came to the supreme command
and even ordinary pilots in our  regiment were discussing the
situation. When he damaged his hand and lost the ability to fly, a question
was raised about replacing him. In short, he fundamentally ran the regiment
down. Soon it was announced that some colonel from Moscow had been appointed
to the post of regiment commander. It was expected that he would soon arrive
and take full command. Meanwhile I was his deputy, and commanded the
regiment. But he never arrived. Despite several inquiries, he never arrived.
In the end I was approved as a regiment Commander after our return to the
— The 256th IAP lost several planes in
August; luckily, all the pilots survived. Were these losses caused by
In August? In August we had already left
Korea… (In August 1952 the 256th IAP lost 2 planes.
Pilots Mandrovski and Khalitov were shot down but successfully ejected. I.
— After June 20, 1952 did you fly other
We flew, but we were transferred to Dapu
airfield. Before us it was used by Koreans and Chinese, but in the end the
Chinese regiments were moved away from there. It wasn’t far from Andun.
— Which airfield was better equipped
and more comfortable?
I think the best one was Dapu. It had long
taxiways for dispersion. In general, after a combat mission we were
dispersed some good distance from the landing strip. The refueling post was
better organized. But with mountains around, it was quite difficult to get
— Many pilots recall that it was a
common problem in the Far East, that hills and mountains caused a lot of
crashes. Was it the same in China?
At Andun we took off and landed in the
same direction – it was open toward the sea, while on the other side there
— Where were the best living
When we were stationed at Myaogou, we were
brought to some palace… Not from Andun, only from Myaogou. Dapu was the best
of them all. It had excellent equipment, airplane parking spaces, refueling
posts, and the food there was great. There were Koreans there when we
— Did you have any connections with
No. We were there for a very short period
of time. We did not get used to them.
We lived in some red building. I can’t say if there were 2 or 3 stories. It
was long and rectangular.
We lived there when we were not disturbed. It did not happen each night, but
fairly often, when data was aquired that B-29s were flying in our general
direction. Then we were gathered together and taken to the shelters. We came
from the airfield and dined at the local canteen. Everything was good. We
even received our 100 grams. If someone wanted more – he always could get
some, but usually everybody was satisfied by this dose.
If there was no seeking shelter during the night, we headed to the airfield
at about 4 o’clock in the morning.
Our return in the evening was allowed after dusk; that’s about 8 o’clock in
the evening. The airfield was about four kilometers away, and our trip was
brief. We ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the airfield canteen. Only
supper was at our living quarters. The cooks were mostly Chinese, and you
could eat whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. There was anything
imaginable. Chocolate from all around the world. British, American,
If we were in an Alert-3, we rested in the airplane shelters. There were
beds made inside and we slept there. If there was no possibility of a flight
due to the bad weather, we went to the movies. But there was a huge problem
– only two films were available. One was Volga–Volga, a comedy. We watched
it a million times, and we learned it line by line. We ended up looking at
it backwards… There was some other film, but it constantly disappeared.
Before films, we watched a newsreel for 15 minutes… There we saw Moscow,
— Were there newspapers?
Newspapers… I saw them a couple of times.
Those were Chinese newspapers printed in Russian.
— Your political officers did not work?
There was nothing to entertain us with.
— Football? Volleyball?
Football [soccer] was categorically
forbidden. It could lead to us getting injured. Since there were no spare
pilots, we were worth our weight in gold.
— What about dominos and cards?
Domino and cards were not popular. Our
pilots were mostly young, and they were not into these games.
— What did you do in your free time?
You couldn’t be sleeping all the time?
Slept, dozed, fooled aroud, told tales...
There was one more entertainment – a monkey. This monkey was called Martyn.
It was passed along that when a zoo was destroyed by bombing in Phenyan, all
the animals escaped, and one of the sergeants from the crash-site search
team picked it up in near-dead condition, treated its wounds, and brought it
to the airfield. The sergeant was the only man whom it listened to. And he
did not even need to tell it anything – he just looked at her, and it sensed
his attitude and acted accordingly. When he left to search a crash site,
this monkey went out of control. It walked along our line in the morning and
pulled each of our pilots at the trousers… Or we rested in the aircraft
shelters, and it came to us. No one treated it badly, but almost nobody
really wanted to have anything to do with it. It was such an awful animal!
It saw through you, and if you did not like it – you could be sure it would
bite you, or at least pull your ear. We lay in rows, and it walked from
pilot to pilot. It stood on you, held your ear and looked straight into your
eyes, and if it felt your fear it kept pranking you until you ran away from
— How much were our pilots paid for
We were told we would receive 1500 rubles
for a Sabre or a Thunderjet; for bombers, 2000. But none of us shot down a
— Did you receive the money you earned?
Yes, after our return to the Soviet Union.
Our salary was paid in following way: 25 percent of our salary was converted
into yen and was paid on site.
— What did you do to those yen?
We spent every single one. We went to
Andun… I was in their shops only twice during my temporary duty. There was
stuff from all around the world. You walked through the street, and on both
sides there were small cramped shops. If they saw us, they knew that we were
going to buy. As we came close the owner stood up and opened a door in front
of us. We went in, and the owner arranged coffe or tea for us, we started
smart talks. They spoke poor Russian, but understood it quite well.
Meanwhile he showed his merchandise. I wanted to buy a small caliber rifle,
but it happened so that I was awarded with one. At a regiment formaiton, the
regiment commander presented me a small-caliber rifle of Czechoslovakian
manufacture for some sortie that he liked. It had an inscription plate. It
was later taken away from me. The militia kept pursuing me, and finally I
gave it up.
— What can you say about the Chinese
and Korean pilots?
I never saw Korean pilots in action. There
was a division consisting of two regiments when I was the commander of the
air garrison at Anshan. We flew combat missions while they trained. Kim Il
Sung did not allow them to fly combat missions, because he understood that
they would be torn to pieces in one week. They were organized and trained to
have their own Air Forces after we withdrew our forces, as a basis for the
NKAF. They had one more division flying Tu-2s, somewhere in the rear of
Chinese territory. Chinese pilots were sitting with us at the same
— Did they fly combat missions with
you, or separately?
— If they got into a difficult
situation, did they call you for help?
No, if our planes were in the air, we were
redirected to help them.
They were kicked mercilessly. Once I saw how they fought. They had just
crossed the Yalu River and still were trying to gain altitude when the
Sabres caught them. The Americans shot them down one after another. And the
reason for that was total lack of tactical training. We taught them how to
fly, but what was their mentality? They knew that a Sabre was their main
target, and they knew that they had to shoot Sabres down. At any cost. And
that was all they knew. I am speaking of young pilots of the workers’
generation. We called them “rickshaws.” Among them were some experienced
pilots of the Chaing Kai Shek period, those who sympathized with Chaing Kai
Shek. Despite this fact, these men were taken in because pilots were in such
short supply. They had decent preparation. But, as far as I know—so they
told us, every young pilot had a veteran for his wingman. He covered the
young pilot; the young pilot was loyal to Mao Tse Dung, and therefore more
— How many sorties did you fly and how
many engagements did you have?
I flew flew 72 missions, participated in
39 fights, and shot down 9 enemy aircraft, of those 8 Sabres and 1
Thunderjet. Time spent in the air during the Korean War – 60 hours.
— For 39 fights, 9 shot down – very
Operational Summary No.00202 of the 64th IAK Headquarters in Andung, on July
20, 1952 between 1612-1620 hours, Maj. Zebelin's group (256th lAP), flying
at an altitude of 7,000 - 13,000 meters over the Uiju/Bikhen region, engaged
a total of 24 F-86s in separate groups of four. Maj. Zabelin shot down one
F-86E, No. 15/24001, which crashed 12 kilometers southeast of Sinanju. The
pilot of the F-86E was killed and the aircraft completely destroyed.
Conclusion: CILHI could not identify an F-86 with the registration number
15/24001. 1Lt. John C. Ellis Jr., for example, who was shot down on July 20,
1952, flew F-86 No. 492828. The Russian side of the USRJC should be asked to
clarify this case.