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Stories of Soviet Warriors: Lieutenant Pshenko
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Pilots! We are starting new section - Stories of Soviet Warriors by Artyom Drabkin, "I remember" project leader, author of  veterans memoirs and interviews collection.  


Lieutenant Pshenko, Vladimir Arsenevich


Pilot in the 3rd Squadron of the 16th Guards Regiment of Long-Range Bombers. Born on January 2, 1923. Commander of an IL-4 Torpedo Bomber.


We were on a mission to bomb the railway hub in Vilnius, and on our way back I was attacked by three German fighters. With me on the flight was my gunner – Master Sergeant Stanislav Sebelev. Stanislav usually accompanied the squadron commander because he had been fighting almost since the beginning of the war. He was very experienced and had shot down several planes that day. I only survived thanks to him. As we moved away from our target, one of the fighters opened fire and went on the attack. Sebelev directed me, “Right...Left”, and kept shooting at the fighter. Thank God his gun never stopped! We repulsed the first attacker. Then the second one approached, and he knocked it down. He shouted, “Hooray! It is on fire!” But these two had pursued us for quite some time. I was forced to reduce my altitude from 3,000 meters to 300 meters. All the while, the remaining fighters were pursuing and attacking me but without success. When we arrived home, there were 18 holes in the plane. Other crews confirmed that they had witnessed the firefight and had seen the flaming plane. As a result of this mission, I was awarded the Order of the Red Star, and Stanislav was given the Order of the Patriotic War. So I have one confirmed kill, but I also lost a plane. How did I lose it? Well, on a moonlit night the gunner is vitally important because fighter pilots will fly at low altitudes to try to see the silhouette of a plane against the sky. I had an experienced gunner, Alex Gudkov. One time, on December 20, 1944, I left him behind at the base and instead took Senior Technician-Lieutenant Anatoly Prach. He kept begging me, “Commander, let me see some action; otherwise, what will I tell people when I get home?” “The target will be close to the front line, I will take you instead of my usual gunner. Do you know how to shoot?” The Lieutenant did. Before the flight, he drank 100 grams in the mess hall – probably for courage. Sensing this, I asked, “Have you been drinking vodka?” “No, Commander, I haven't.” We took off to mark the target city of Memel in Klaipeda. The first wave dropped their parachute flairs, and then I followed with mine. After three minutes, I had to circle back and drop a load again in order to keep the target continuously illuminated. I came back around and dropped another load of flares. Anti-aircraft rounds were bursting not far from the plane so the Lieutenant shifted the gun down and began to fire. He was yelling, “Die, snakes!!” and shooting. I told him, “Stop.” I maneuvered away from the target, but apparently a fighter had already spotted us because of the gunfire and would not let us out of sight. As we approached the front line, I stopped maneuvering. I switched fuel tanks (we had a second tank which was closer to the motor in order to reduce the chances of the engine stopping because of damage to the fuel line from shrapnel or a rupture caused by a sharp maneuver), and just then rounds fired by the fighter began to explode between my legs and right behind my navigator's back. A flash of light! Everything seemed to rush up at me. I was on fire! I tried to steer back and forth but the plane did not respond – the controls were dead. I shouted into the intercom, “Hello, hello!” No one heard me. I looked for my navigator, Ivan Nikolaievich Krechetov, but I couldn't see him through the wall of fire, I began to cry out. And then I got this feeling, as if some higher power was saying, “Jump quickly! Don't forget the ring!” I grabbed for the ring, but the canvas strap of my fur boots caught on something. I pulled and pulled – at last tearing the boots. The slipstream picked me up, rolling me on my side. I pulled the ring as my hip bumped against the tail of the plane. Before this, on the ground, we had been trained, stretching the canvas under the wing, “How are you going to jump? Show me.” We had to be prepared to exit the cabin, slide down the surface of the plane, count “21, 22, 23” and pull the ring. The instructor then said, “When it gets hot – jump, you don't have any other choice!” That is true! I experienced it myself! The parachute opened. As the burning plane went down I thought to myself, “They are all dead.” However, the navigator stayed in the plane from 3,500 meters till 1,500 meters and then despite the risk jumped out and escaped. The radio operator and gunner apparently were wounded and were lost along with the plane.  


By Artyom Drabkin

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About the author:

Artyom Drabkin ( born 25.07.1971) — Russian public figure, leader of internet project  «I remember»,  author of collections of memoirs of soviet veterans of World War II,  series of veterans interviews «Soldiers' Diaries» and «Trench Truth».  Script writer of documentary movie series.













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