Libmonster ID: CN-1270
Author(s) of the publication: Yu. V. CHUDODEEV



Candidate of Historical Sciences

Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: China, USSR, Soviet volunteer pilots, Japanese militarism, Japanese Air Force

The Chinese have a saying: "Don't forget the past-it's the teacher of the future." The proverb sounds very relevant in connection with the topic of this brief essay on the combat activities of Soviet volunteer pilots in the skies of China in 1937-1940.

In the summer of 1937, the Japanese ruling circles, covering their aggressive intentions with slogans of pan-Asiatism ("Asia is for Asians"), launched a large-scale aggression against China. The Soviet Union began to provide serious assistance to the Chinese people fighting against Japanese militarism. As part of this assistance, the supply of Soviet aviation equipment to China and the participation of Soviet volunteer pilots in combat operations played a major role.

For the first time in months of combat operations, Japanese aircraft completely dominated the Chinese sky: the Japanese Air Force (VVS) outnumbered the Chinese by 13 times. On the eve of the war in China there were only 300-400 pilots. They were children from rich Chinese families: it was considered prestigious to serve in the air force. They had no combat experience and flew outdated aircraft purchased from Western countries: China did not have its own aviation industry. The low-powered Chinese Air Force was almost completely destroyed by Japanese aircraft in the first months of the war. This allowed the Japanese Air Force to bomb heavily populated Chinese cities with impunity-Shanghai, Nanjing-at that time the capital of the Republic of China, Wuhan and other centers, not to mention massive support for the offensive operations of the Japanese army. Naturally, this affected the combat capability of the Chinese army and the state of Chinese society as a whole.

The Soviet Union began to supply China with its own modern aircraft as early as October 1937 (although the agreement on the first loan was formalized only in March 1938). These were first-class vehicles at that time, not inferior to the Japanese: I-15 and I-16 fighters, SB high-speed bombers, TB-3 heavy bombers, DB-3 long-range bombers. In total, in 1937-1941, 1,250 military aircraft of various brands were delivered to China, accompanied by a large group of aviation specialists-pilots, aircraft technicians, mechanics, radio operators, meteorologists, airfield managers, cryptographers, aircraft assembly teams, and finally doctors - about 2,000 people in total.

All the pilots were regular military personnel of the Red Army, but they were not sent to help the struggling people of China by order. Everyone was called to their superiors, explained the situation in the Far Eastern region, and asked about their readiness to go to a neighboring country to help China resist Japanese aggression. During the talks, it was emphasized that the Soviet Union was interested in providing military assistance to China.

And although it was a question of a business trip to a war zone, simply put-to war, there was no negative reaction from the interviewed pilots. Naturally, the socio-psychological atmosphere characteristic of the society also affected

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in the USSR. Only after a positive response from the pilot, he was issued "on a business trip" to China. And therefore, the characteristic of our pilots - participants of the Sino-Japanese war - as volunteers, which has been established in the Russian literature, is quite legitimate.

Soviet military equipment was delivered to China under the Alma-Ata - Lanzhou automobile contract (prov. Gansu). And for the delivery of urgent cargo, a 3,500-kilometer airline was organized through Xinjiang Province to Lanzhou and then to Hankou.

The flight to China itself, often involving life-threatening risks, was a serious test of the volunteers ' courage. The route passed through the desert and mountainous regions of Northwestern China. Intermediate airfields were not suitable for receiving heavy air vehicles of the SB type or, even more so, TB-3. There was no communication between small landing sites, and there was no information about weather conditions.

Chinese airfields along the route of our aircraft are located high in the mountains, where the air is thin, and aircraft whose braking distance is therefore unexpectedly extended, often rolled out of the landing strip and crashed. At first, this led to irreparable losses. So the squadron commander Kurdyumov and a number of other Soviet pilots died.

In the difficult foreign policy environment of those years and with the ambiguous nature of Japanese-Soviet relations, the departure of Soviet pilots to China, of course, was not advertised. Being regular military personnel, they were sent as civilians. However, at the Moscow railway station they were often seen off by prominent figures of the Red Army (in particular, Yakov Smushkevich - at that time Deputy Chief of the Red Army Air Force, Pyotr Smirnov-head of the Political Department of the Red Army, etc.), which was supposed to demonstrate in the eyes of those leaving the importance of their mission for the Country of Soviets.

The USSR sent outstanding masters of aerial piloting to China. For example, the test pilot of new combat vehicles A. S. Blagoveshchensky, the prominent Soviet ace Grigory Kravchenko (later Twice Hero of the Soviet Union), Pavel Rychagov, who just two months earlier returned from Spain, where he shot down seven fascist planes, earned two Orders of Lenin and the title Hero of the Soviet Union. In the same row - pilots P. N. Anisimov, P. F. Zhigarev, F. P. Polynin, A. G. Rytov, G. I. Thor, A. A. Gubenko, T. T. Khryukin and many others. Most were around the age of 30, members of the CPSU (b) or Komsomol.

Soviet pilots had to fight, especially at first, in an unfamiliar and difficult environment. They had to camouflage their presence in the country, changing into Chinese flight uniforms before a combat flight, and putting the identification marks of the Chinese Air Force on their combat vehicles. Each pilot was provided with a so - called security certificate-it was reported in Chinese that "the bearer of this document, a foreigner, came to China to help him in the fight, and civilian and military persons should provide him with assistance and assistance if necessary."

Soviet pilots had to spend many hours on duty near their combat vehicles in anticipation of a possible raid by Japanese bombers. The lack of reliable air defense at Chinese airfields was affected.

Many Soviet pilots sent to China did not yet have combat experience, and their deaths in battle were not uncommon. They had to enter combat operations immediately after landing at the Nanjing airfield on November 21, 1937. After the fall of the capital of Nanjing, more than 200 Soviet pilots took an active part in the defensive battles for the "Three-city Fence" of Wuhan on the Yangtze River, where the Kuomintang government moved. Their group flights sometimes involved individual Chinese crews who retained their combat capabilities.

Soviet bombers were effective. So, on February 23, 1938, a group of Soviet aircraft under the command of F. P. Polynin raided a Japanese air base on the island of Taiwan, which was under Japanese occupation at that time, and destroyed more than 40 Japanese aircraft. The combat mission that then had to be completed was complicated by the lack of a convenient landing site for bombers near the sea and refueling them with gasoline.

Soviet pilots suggested following a straight line, the shortest route, because the target was about 1000 km away. Land planes had to fly over the water area. It was decided to perform the flight at a high altitude-4500-5500 m: so less fuel was consumed. To deceive the Japanese, the council-

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The Japanese pilots decided to go north of the island, then descend to 4000 m and strike immediately.

Here is how F. P. Polynin described this flight in his memoirs: "On February 22, on the eve of the raid on Taiwan, a group of 28 bomber planes flew to Nanchang. On February 23, the day of the 20th anniversary of the Red Army, 28 bombers flew to an altitude of 5500 m.

...Finally, the blue line of the Taiwan Strait flashed ahead, and the island itself came out behind it... As planned, we passed north of Taiwan, and then made a sharp turn and began to descend with muffled engines... Not a single car was left behind. There were no enemy fighters in the air.

But we met another enemy - cloud cover... Suddenly, the clouds seemed to break, a "window" appeared, and a city opened up ahead of the course, and an airfield opened up to the side. I could see the planes lined up in two rows, the gray containers that had not yet been unpacked, and the white tanks near the hangars. The main base of the Japanese Air Force looked impressive. The enemy did not observe any disguise. Apparently, he felt completely safe...

The goal is getting closer. Red circles are already visible on the white wings of the planes... The car shook slightly as the bombs went down. In the center of the parking lot, fountains of explosions take off one after another. "Hit it!" - I rejoice and take the plane with a descent in the direction of the strait. I am followed by the rest of my nine crews, and the other two groups of bombers come out to target...

The enemy airfield is shrouded in smoke and flames. Gap caps appear in the sky. This is the fire of Japanese anti-aircraft gunners. Too late! We dropped 280 bombs on Taiwan, most of them hitting their targets. Our attack was so sudden that none of the enemy fighters had time to take off. "For the company", the presenter also walked around the Japanese cruiser in Taipei harbor, although small bombs did not cause him much harm.

And now the island is far behind us. We go at an altitude of 200 m. It's easy to breathe... The brown mountains loom larger and larger ahead... The plane is gaining altitude again - there is not enough fuel left. But we definitely went to the refueling airfield, despite our fears..."

Soviet pilots made regular bombing raids on Japanese ships on the Yangtze River, on the roadstead of Shanghai, etc. The combat load was extremely large. Each fighter pilot flew 150-250 combat hours during his stay in China (5-6 months), and bomber crews made 15-20 sorties to the target.

The Soviet and Chinese pilots formed a military alliance. Chiang Kai-shek himself was regularly interested in their activities, and especially his wife Sun Meilin, who patronized Chinese aviation and even served as the official secretary General of the Aviation Committee.

Soviet pilots were sympathetic to the difficulties experienced by the Chinese people during the war. They saw firsthand the poverty of the Chinese peasantry, the hardships of their life during the war.

About 200 Soviet volunteer pilots were killed in China in battles with Japanese aggressors. Most of them were left lying in the Chinese soil...

After returning from China, the fate of Soviet aces developed differently, and not always well. So, on the eve of the Great Patriotic War, when developing a new aerobatic figure, A. A. Gubenko, who in 1938 rammed a Japanese plane in the sky of China, crashed and burned. Some of them participated in the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-1940, and most of them went through the Great Patriotic War, during which several participants in the fighting in China were killed - in particular, twice Hero of the Soviet Union Grigory Kravchenko.

The Chinese people still remember our pilots today. In some parts of China, monuments have been erected in honor of the fallen Soviet pilots. So, in Wanxian (Sichuan Province), a monument was erected on the grave of the Soviet pilot GA Kulishenko, who died in the skies of China during the anti-Japanese war.

In March 1956, a memorial complex in honor of Soviet-Chinese friendship was built in Hankou in the Liberation Park, where fifteen Soviet pilots who died in battles with the Japanese are buried. In the center of the monument is a stele, on one of its sides is inscribed in Russian and Chinese: "Eternal glory to the Soviet volunteer pilots who died in the war of the Chinese people against the Japanese invaders." Behind the monument are fifteen graves covered with slabs. The names of the pilots who rest here are inscribed on them in Russian and Chinese: V. S. Kozlov, V. V. Pesotsky, V. I. Paramonov, M. I. Kizilshtein, M. D. Shishlov, D. P. Matveev, I. I. Stukalov, D. F. Kuleshin, M. N. Marchenkov, V. G. Dolgov, L. I. Skornyakov, F. D. Guglien, I. I. Churyanov, I. N. Gurov, and N. M. Terekhov.



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Yu. V. CHUDODEEV, SOVIET PILOTS IN THE SKIES OF CHINA // Beijing: China (ELIBRARY.ORG.CN). Updated: 16.02.2024. URL: (date of access: 16.07.2024).

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