Interview with V.N.Zabelin

Main >> History >> Interview with V.Zabelin >> 5. The Korean war



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 going on.
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 fighters.

— 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 example?

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 failed me.

— 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, squadron commander…

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.

— Badrudinov?

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 Ivanovich?

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. Seidov).

— 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 political officer.
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 condition.

— 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 replacement?

At the end of our presence in Korea, we received five or six pilots as replacements. But I don’t remember if they ever flew.

— 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 planes.

— Was there a problem with commanding officers?

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?

Maximum three.

— 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 commander anounced:
— 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 them.

— 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 and said:
— 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 meters.
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 airplanes.
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 there.
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.

Guncam footage

— 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. Seidov).
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 airfields!

— 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 misjudgment.

— 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 automation.

— 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 planes?

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.

Guncamera footage

— 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 survival kit?

Nothing. A parachute and TT pistol. That’s all.

— 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 happened?

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 them off?

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 the airfield?

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 down?

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 propaganda?

It’s not propaganda. Other pilots also reported such things.

— Did our pilots try to kill American parachutists?

No. We thought that it was a major war crime.

— Did their search and rescue helicopters fly into Korean-controlled territory? Did you encounter them in the air?

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 leaking?

A comrade flying by your side would tell you.

— 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 captivity.

— What was your attitude toward the enemy?

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 Americans?

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 large cloud.

— 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, Vyshinskiy answered:
— 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 dozens.

— 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 Sabre cockpit?

Yes, one shot-down Sabre was brought to our airfield.

— Wasn’t it the one that was sent to Moscow?

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 cannons?

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 traffic?

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 we did.
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 last squadron.
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.

Yermolayev, Zabelin

— 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 Korea?

Only an Order of Lenin. Even though I was put in for Red Banner and HSU. I didn’t receive a Hero, without explanations.

— That is, for 9 kills you got an Order of Lenin?

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.
He answered:
— 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 successfully landed.
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. Seidov).
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 debriefing.
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 situation.

— 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 manuevers?

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 one day?

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 flight.

— 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?

No, eight.

— 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 regiment.

— Could you tell us about your last victory?

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 Andun airfields.”

— 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 covered.
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 announced:
— 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 losses.
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 Thunderjet.

— 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 about 1/4.

— 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 away.

— 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 shot down?

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 eyes?

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 [821] 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 Soviet Union.

— The 256th IAP lost several planes in August; luckily, all the pilots survived. Were these losses caused by “hunters”?

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. Seidov).

— After June 20, 1952 did you fly other missions?

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 us there.

— 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 were hills.

— Where were the best living conditions?

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 arrived.

— Did you have any connections with Koreans?

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, Japanese, French...
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, Leningrad…

— 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 it!

— How much were our pilots paid for victories?

We were told we would receive 1500 rubles for a Sabre or a Thunderjet; for bombers, 2000. But none of us shot down a bomber.

— 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 airfields.

— 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 valuable.

— 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 impressive!

According to 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.

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

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