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Stories of Soviet Warriors: Lieutenant Khukhrikov
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 We started combat missions in the summer of 1944. On the 28th mission, I was almost shot down when a shell hit the wing of my plane. Miraculously the plane kept flying even though the shell made a hole a meter wide. I was lucky – the shock wave and shrapnel went towards my gunner. It crippled his legs and set off the alarm. Returning to the airfield, I taxied down the runway, turned off the engine, and jumped onto the wing. The gunner, Viktor Shakhalev, an 18 year old man from Siberia, was laying there unconscious. Some guys ran up and pulled him out of the plane. They managed to save his legs, but he never flew again. In total, I had to replace four gunners during the war, but he was the only one due to injury. It turned out that I had been hit by some shrapnel. A fragment struck my back. Did it pass through? Of course, I refused to be hospitalized. One day I would be feverish, and the next it would pass. Why not check into the infirmary? Because we went to war to fight. Besides, the weather the next few days prevented us from flying so I had some time to heal. Moreover, everyone tried to go on as many sorties as possible. The most important thing for a ground attack pilot on the front was the number of combat missions they had flown. Of course, we understood that the more missions you flew the greater chance you had of receiving an awards, but no one fought for awards. Awards would come themselves; most probably there was a norm. We didn't even discuss them – if you had an award, well then you had an award. Today you might receive a Red star, but tomorrow I might be awarded the Red Banner. By tradition, an award was doused with vodka – it was an unwritten law to wash government awards.... No, no, there were completely different reasons which caused us to consider each other comrades. We had to finish off this beast. All relationships between people on the front were built on this basis. The main goal was to win, to help bring this war to an end.

We got up in the morning before sunrise a few hours before we had to be at the squadron command post. We washed but never shaved – we only shaved in the evening. We started that tradition after Petya Govorov shaved during the day after the all clear had been given. Suddenly an alarm sounded. He didn't even manage to shave, just wipe the foam off his face with a towel. He never came back from the sortie....so shaving before a mission was considered a bad omen. We wore summer clothes and went to the mess hall to eat. If the weather was not good for flying, that was one thing - everyone was relaxed and joking. But if the weather was good, they said, “there will be war”, and no one ate breakfast or mingled about! You drank half a glass of tea, and you were good. At lunch, you still didn't have an appetite

German anti-tank guns. Photo made from Il-2

 

After breakfast, we walked or rode to the squadron command post which was usually located in some cabin or bunker. If it was winter, we took off our outer coat, and waited to receive our mission. The commander of the squadron received the mission from the regimental command post, after that if time permitted he came to the squadron. He discussed the objectives, weather conditions, determined the order for taxi and take off, the assembly point, our location in the air, “Climb to 1400-1500 meters, approach the target, attack on my command. Aerial gunners monitor the surrounding airspace. We will have 4 or 6 fighters covering us (usually we were covered by Normandie-Niemens).” He decided how many passes we would make. However, it really all depended on the situation over the target. If we encountered some resistance – God forbid! In that case we would only make one pass. You immediately launched everything – rockets, bullets, bombs. If the resistance was weak, you could make a few passes. We arrayed ourselves in a circle at a 30-40 degree angle to the ground with intervals of 500-600 meters between each plane and struck them four or five times. We always made a few passes along the front edge.

 

 


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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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