Thursday, May 3, 2012
Soviet Ilyushin 10 Heavy Attack Aircraft Pilot Chapter 3
I never failed again in my flying career to land safely if my plane was not damaged. In fact I became a much sought after instructor. For four years I was always able to find a position as an instructor where ever I was sent. Working other jobs in between but always looking for the next opportunity to fly.
Most of my students were very good and we could spend the time needed to train them. Apparently the powers that be decided that pilots were going to be needed in the future and were willing to spend both time and money on their education and practice. And practice they did. Wearing me out at times but when I look back on it I was a very happy pilot. I was able to reach for the skies almost without restriction. I just had to say that one of my pilots needed extra flight time and off we would go. I probably took off and landed more than any other person in the world during that time.
On Aviation Day we put on quite a show at the aerodrome with parachutists, gliders and the instructors flying in formation and doing some acrobatics. I found out that my Mum had been in the crowd and was trying to see me. We finally got together and she gave me the expected gifts of pierogi and other favorite foods. We feasted that night. Mum is a great cook.
The instructors were rewarded with a river boat trip from Kalinin to Moscow and we soon steamed down the Volga. It was a grand time seeing Moscow from the water's edge.
Victor Koutov , one of my old classmates, had become a fighter pilot on the Western border. We were all quite jealous but also proud that one of us had become a pilot of consequence. It's amazing how familiar we all were with each other's careers in those early years. Everyone knew where everyone was. That would change soon.
Throughout the whole winter before the war we training one class after another. Good pilot after good pilot left our aerodrome destined to become a hero in the coming months. Hundreds of them were sent to us and hundreds of them graduated and hundreds of them died.
Finally we got a rare day off and went into the woods near the town. We were just starting to relax and enjoy nature when someone heard a far off radio announce that we were at war. We all immediately ran back into town and demanded to be sent to the front. We were told that as instructors we were much valuable to the war effort training future pilots and none of us would be leaving. But war has a way of changing things.
The news from the front was increasing bad and one day we were ordered to evacuate to the deep rear. Already our friends were coming back from the front with horrendous wounds and tales of death and destruction. We were not prepared for the Germans. Not at all. They swiftly were cutting through our lines and advancing on Moscow itself.
When I got to Moscow to report I was amazed at the cities transformation. Anti-aircraft guns and soldiers at every conceivable spot. Huge balloons tied up soaring hundreds of meters over the city like upside down fishermen trying to catch a bird instead of a fish. The metro was virtually deserted with everyone staying at home or even evacuating to the East. There were even flak guns in the parks. Anywhere where there was a good line of fire. The roads were cluttered with anti-tank hedgehogs and barbwire.
Everyday Levitan's voice gave the Muscovites more and more dire news. It was impossible to avoid the reports over the radio and impossible not to get sick of and by them. It was hard to get to the Central Areoclub offices.
When I finally got there the office was full of other pilots looking to go to the front. Looking for a plane to fly. Looking for a way to fight back using his hard earned skills. But there were no planes. They had been destroyed in the first few months of the attack and we were all looking for something that did not exist at the moment.
I finally weaseled my way to the front and there I would not leave until they sent me to the front. Since the aerodromes were closed in the area he finally figured out that I wasn't going anywhere and gave into my unorthodox methods. "Stalino...you're going to Stalino. Now get out of here before I change my mind." The others where in an uproar but I grabbed my orders and pushed my way out.
I was extremely hot in the carriage and all everyone could talk about was the war. As we got near Stalino the cars started to clear out. Finally someone asked me where I was going. "Stalino" I replied.
"That's no place for you. It's been evacuated. It's only for soldiers."
"It can't be."
"Never the less it is."
When I got to the aerodrome it was indeed empty. I was devastated and started the long way back to the station. An officer ran up to me and grabbed my arm. "I saw you go into the aerodrome. Are you a pilot?"
"Yes." I replied.
"I've come to pick up pilots. Come with me."
After gathering a dozen of us in the area and we were taken to 103th Detached Aviation Signals Squadron of the Southern Front. The commander had fought and Spain and we were in awe.
My third day on the front I finally received my plane. It was not a high-speed fighter, nor a dive bomber, just a U-2. It was re-designated the Po-2 after it's designer Polikarpov. But it was still the same old U-2 I had flown throughout my career. The same plane I had always flown. It had gained a new job and it would gain glory and earn the hatred of the enemy throughout the war.