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Stories of Soviet Warriors: Sergeant Vaulin
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Sergeant Vaulin Dmitri Petrovich

Co-pilot of a Pe-8, in the 890th Bombardier Regiment

On my second combat sortie, I was serving as a crew member for Captain Alexander Ivanovich Sukorkin. The navigator was Major Tkachenko. The mission: bombing the enemy railway junction in Warsaw. We were carrying parachute flare bombs. In the bomb bay, we had 40 flare bombs ranging from 50-60 kilograms each. Our job was to light up the railway junction so other bombers could follow with conventional munitions. So we flew. We knew the westward route quite well: Smolensk – Minsk – Warsaw. We flew along the path. Near Smolensk, we encountered a little shooting. We flew on, and over Minsk our engine number three was knocked out – they had anti-aircraft guns without spotlights. (Usually, enemy fighters would be in the air, and a spotlight would highlight a plane in the darkness so that a fighter could come up behind it and shoot it down. But there were only anti-aircraft guns here. Apparently the Germans had radars).
The technician reported:
- Engine three is leaking oil.
At that time, our systems still did not have propellers with feathering capabilities; only the Americans had that. Propeller blades of course create a lot of resistance. The engine can jam or catch on fire. We continued using three engines. We got to Warsaw and made our approach. We released 20 flare bombs. The commander made a second run dropping another 20 flares. All the time, we were flying with only three engines. This happened in May when the nights were short. Dawn began to break, and we turned around to go home. Our altitude was 5,000 meters. Another engine went out. We kept going on engines one and four. We were barely flying and losing altitude. It was 4 o'clock in the morning. The sun was already up. You couldn't see it on the ground, but from our height it was visible. We felt like we were not going to make it. Something was about to happen.
The commander yelled:
- Navigator, head for the front line, head for the front line!
- Commander, this is the front line!
Then the navigator cried out to us in happiness:
- Operator, we have crossed the front line – the Western Dvina!
The flight radio operator sat below us.
I looked at the left engine through cracks in the shutters to see if the sun was playing tricks on me or whether the engine was on fire internally.  The exhaust from the engine nozzles was normally totally invisible because the flight technician created a fuel-air mixture that would not heat the nozzles up keeping the flames invisible. I thought, “That means it is on fire.”
I said into the intercom:
- Commander, engine number one is on fire!
He looked up, convinced himself that engine number one actually was on fire and ordered:
- Flight Technician, put out engine number one!
Our flight technician, “Uncle Vanya” (Ivan Goncharov), had four small canisters filled with carbon dioxide. There were also larger canisters on the engines. They were connected to perforated rings around the motor designed to extinguish a fire in the engine compartment. He activated the canister, but it was too late – the flames had already jumped to the wing..
The commander gave the order:
- Crew members, evacuate the plane!
But the plane had already gone into a left roll. I opened the canopy (backwards like on a fighter). I knew that I needed to jump with the spin, in the same direction the aircraft was rolling. But that was where the fire was – a wall of flames. I decided to go out the right side. I got half my body out of the cabin and tried to push off, but I couldn't. I pulled myself back in. I couldn't escape out of the right side. What could I do? The only other option was to go left, and that's where fire was. I turned that way again – in a moment I was free falling just as I had been taught.
Prior to this, I had only made one or two parachute jumps...I pulled the ring. There was no jolt. I looked – oh my god! – my straps were twisted and the top of the chute had gotten tangled. I started to pull the straps to unwind them. I was wearing gloves. I kicked one of them off. I began to turn. Nothing worked. I was plummeting down. I began to scream, like all people do before they die. My cry into the air was probably nothing more than a mouse's squeak. Making my way through the cloud bank, I saw the ground getting closer. I was swiftly, swiftly falling and there was nothing I could do.
I kicked my second glove off – I was going to die all the same. I screamed. Soon I would be dead. It was time for the impact.
I fell into a river, and in May during the floods the width was about 50 meters. It wasn't deep – it came up around my throat. So there I was wearing fur boots, my jumpsuit and headset. I crawled out of the river, rolled up my parachute, and put it in the bushes. I patted myself down – unharmed! Nothing was broken! My only injury was that I couldn't sit, stand up, or lie down. I started to look around to see if I was in friendly territory or not. I saw some kind of poles with local power lines and insulators on them. An old man was walking by. I took out my gun:
- Old man! Come here! Whose territory is this? Ours or the Germans'?
- Our front line is 15 kilometers away, he said, on a hill with village and a typhoid hospital.
- Take me there!

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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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