Solving the Mystery of a Crashed Messerschmitt Bf 109: The Story of two Opposing Pilots

Solving the Mystery of a Crashed Messerschmitt Bf 109:

The Story of two Opposing Pilots

By Sergey Katkov and Sergey Sadovnikov

(Original published in Journal “Military Archeology” # 2 (23) 2013:

What is revealed by the Werk-Number of a Messerschmitt-109) (copyright by Sergey Katkov)

Translated by Michael Barrentine

 

 

PROLOGUE:

For many years we have been establishing the names and fates of the fallen defenders of our native land, among which are the pilots of the 1st Air Army. Through research in the military archives and interviewing eyewitnesses of these distant events, we are trying to fix any detail in the establishment of the crash sites.

The crash sites of more than 30 flying machines – fighters, assault aircraft (Shturmoviks), bombers of both sides have already been investigated previously. It was established, that almost all the losses of aircraft at the inspected sites occurred in the first half of August 1942, that is for the period of the Pogorelo – Gorodishche offensive operation. Active combat operations were carried out on the ground, and in the sky. Considerably increased was the loss of aircraft from both sides. Here are some figures: “…Porgorelo – Gorodishche offensive operation (20th and 31st Army of the Western Front), conducted between the 4th to 23 August 1942, became part of the Rzhev – Sychevka strategic operation. The combat operations in the air space conducted by the units of the 1st Air Army (hereafter VA) and the aviation regiments subordinate to the army. From the combat composition of the 1 VA in August performing combat service were 62 air regiments (18 fighter, 19 Shturmovik, 9 short range bomber, 6 night bomber, 1 long range reconnaissance, 3 special and 2 air squadron). Soviet aviators confronted the units of “Luftkommando Ost”.

   On the Zubtsov – Sychevka sector from 4.-8.1942 to 15.08.1942 there were 438 aircraft in the composition of the 1 VA (133 fighters, 158 Shturmoviks, 93 night and 54 day bombers). Losses of the 1 VA consisted of 133 aircraft shot down by fighter aviation (hereinafter- FA) and antiaircraft artillery (hereinafter-AAA), and 95 – did not return from combat mission. The enemy aviation during August dramatically increased activity. According to Soviet data on separate days performed up to 1100 – 1200 – 1300 aircraft sorties in the zone of the 1 VA. Overall was recorded 14913 aircraft sorties flown compared to 6276 in the month of July, or 236% increase. In the sector of Zubtsov – Sychevka for the first half of  August the pilots of the 1 VA conducted 251 air battles, wherein was shot down 148 enemy aircraft (from these – 60 Me-109 and 7 Me-109F), damaged 77 aircraft (from these 22 Me-109 and 1 Me-109F)” [1].

 

New information about the crash site of an aircraft to the southeast of Zubtsov (near the border of the Tver and Smolensk Oblasts) to our comrades was reported the local residents. The crater, according to them has been dug more than once by metal hunters, and more recently, with an excavator.  As with other excavation sites, we are methodical and are diligent with careful inspection of each find.  Our experience has shown that we are still able to identify the serial number of the aircraft or the number of its engine even in the absence of large parts or fragments of the aircraft.  On one of these trips in the Spring of 2012, the recovery group consisting of representatives of the public search organizations in the Moscow and Smolensk Oblast at the annual all-Russian “Memory Watch” will discovery more about this mystery aircraft at the crater.

Since the daylight hours are short, we start before dawn. The twists and turns of a rural road is soon replaced by the bouncing on a bumpy dirt road through a snowy forest to the small settlement areas.  One of our fellow searchers from Smolensk is already waiting for us. The field of snow has greatly melted and we can see a short distance three grazing deer on the hill. The vehicles the deer do not fear and do not run into the forest – we take it as a good sign. Winter is coming to an end, already the sun warms the afternoon, though at night the frost does not let go, lowering the mercury to minus 15 degrees. Just right for the formation of a snow ice crust – we will not sink deeply into the snow. The tracked ATV easily navigates the snow-covered logging roads and dives into the swampy lowlands, where the trail at once swells with water, already sensing the approach of Spring. Our “iron horse” is pulling a trailer with a dozen “soldiers” and winter equipment. Going. Stopping. Jumping out. We drag equipment through the fallen trees and again we travel. But here the caterpillar is thrashing in a rut of slush – meaning everyone has to get out of the trailer, leaning on the sides, pushing the vehicle on to solid ground. Rescuing the “horse” is repeated over and over again. Finally, we are there!

Snow covered dumps, almost human in height, a huge flooded crater, constrained by a thick layer of ice. In most of the pit it is, probably, very deep, thus not possible to work, there only remains the piles. Having cleared the snow, it is possible to breakthrough a frozen layer of clay 20 cm thick. Using a crowbar, then a shovel, then an ax bites into the ground. Places, where it is impossible, we leave the dumps. The frozen ground is not yielding to digging, as the soft-thin blue clay-like putty sticks to the shovel – it is almost impossible to clean off. But gradually from the oil and gasoline-soaked chunks of soil are extracted more and more parts of an air machine. Fragments of the wing skin and fuselage skin in green, black, purples and even light green colors – small remnants of spotty camouflage, rods and rollers with cables, hose and electrical remnants, scraps of a sling with buckles to the crotch system. Something falls out from out of a shovel packed in rubberized fabric – a German (!) individual dressing package with a stamped date of manufacture – 1942. It has a quite strong bandage with a strong smell of petroleum. Here there are fragments of machine gun belts, the steel links are well preserved in the oil preservative. Next, we came across the crumpled casings from ammunition of a 20-mm MG-151 cannon, which consisted of three types of shells – armor-piercing, incendiary and incendiary tracer. Immediately, we find the protection of the fuel tank of sheet aluminum. This “layer cake” was supposed to reduce the effectiveness of incendiary shells and bullets. Finally, we are convinced, that before us is, what remains of a German “Messerschmitt – 109” fighter. This type of fuel tank protection appeared on the Me-109, starting with the modification G – “Gustav”. The first “Gustav” appeared in numbers in late Summer 1942, hence, this loss could not occur before this time. Immediately, there was wreckage of the shattered armored backrest from the pilot cockpit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Occasionally, someone would come across a nameplate on electrical equipment. While we pecked the frozen piles, a diligent caretaker made a fire, cooking a delicious pilaf and brewed a thick black tea “with smoke”. The smells beckoned us to the fire, however the separation of the piles continued unabated. One of the crumpled scraps of duralumin we came across was a small plate with the numbers: Bf 109 G-2, Werk-Nr. 10388. Here it is! The serial number of the combat machine, which, no doubt, will launch our new investigation. Once again, we see the truth: “seeking – yea shall find”. Now we feel, that we can have a meal.

By the end of the daylight hours neither personal effects, nor uniform fragments, nor scraps of a parachute were found. We assumed, that the German pilot might have left the machine while still in the air.

On the discovered plate, in addition to the serial number of the aircraft, is its place of manufacture – in translation from German: “Erla Machine works. Leipzig”. This plant in 1942 was producing 2-3 aircraft a day. We focus attention to the fact that a Bf 109 G-2 fighter with the similar number “10390” was released by the Erla plant on 30.06.1942 and directed to the front to 2./JG 54.  By the winter of the same year, Stalingrad would be a trophy in the hands of the Red Army at Stalingrad. [2]

As we prepared for departure, we contacted fellow historians from Germany, clarifying the German losses in the prospective zone of our search. Among other data, they reported the Werknumber of the aircraft is attributed to Feldwebel Willi Büchner – # 10388, shot down somewhere in these parts on the 11 August 1942. Now we were holding the nameplate with this very number. Therefore, and conclusively, we have discovered Bf 109 G-2, Wnr. 10388 issued 29-30.06.1942. Prior to aerial combat on the 11 August 1942 it was in service for with JG 54 just over a month.

 

 

 

According to the service reports of the Luftwaffe General Quartermaster, aircraft Bf 109 G-2 Wnr. 10388 was shot down the 11 August 1942 in the region of Zubtsov – Dugino airfield. [3] During an aerial combat with 16 Soviet Yak-1 fighters, a “Messer” pilot, Feldwebel Willi Büchner from 6 Staffel II Gruppe Jagdgeschwader 54 “Greenheart” (6./JG 54), was declared missing in action. According to other crews, the pilot bailed out by parachute. [4] About his fate the Germans knew nothing.

Who was the shot down German pilot – ace or a young pilot with no combat experience? Additionally, we received photographs of Jagdgeschwader 54, there is a group photo of 6. Staffel. Third from the left – strong dark-haired guy in a flying suit. This is Willi Büchner. In identifying documents later there was his verbal portrait: height – average, build – normal, brown, eyes – gray, nose – direct, face – oval.

Pilots of 6. Staffel Jagdgeschwader 54 (left to right): Uffz. Fieber, Fw. Schleinhege, Fw. Büchner, Uffz. Wolff, Uffz. Nickel, Haupt. Sattig, Uffz. Klopp, Lt. Beisswenger, Uffz. Runge, Uffz. Wernicke. 

The Sixth Staffel (6./JG 54) did not have its own emblem, and on board the aircraft was applied the tactical sign of the Second Gruppe (II./JG 54) – showing the head of a lion on a red field with a white cross.

So, what happened to Feldwebel Büchner after the jump with the parachute? Searching for information about him was conducted by us in the archives: TsA FSB, TsAMO RF and RGVA. Excerpts from the data is given below.

In the “Short report on combat activities of the units of the 1st Air Army for the month of August 1942” in the section “Military activities of the enemy air force…” there is evidence of a shot down Me-109 in the region of Annino (south-east of Zubtsov) 11.08.1942: “…According to the testimony of prisoners, shot down 11.08.1942 in the region of ANNINO (s-e ZUBTSOV) a part thereof in January and February 1942 was based one group on the Leningrad Front. On the site there was one group, two others redeployed to the CRIMEA, where they remained until the month of July. In July one group transferred to the central area, based on the airfield NE of DUGINO. In service with the fighter of Me-109. The squadron consists of 12 troops and 12 aircraft in the unit and 6 staff aircraft. Total or 150 Me-109 aircraft of the latest issue…” [5].

From the initial questioning the pilot Büchner stated he served in Jagdgeschwader 28, but that does not correspond to reality. He arrived at the Eastern Front recently. According to him, he shot down only one Soviet fighter because he is a good pilot, but a poor marksman. With Soviet aircraft in battle he tried not to engage, because he values life. According to his assessment – Russians are good, desperate pilots. He’d been awarded the Iron Cross for previously shooting down one Soviet aircraft, but the award now required at least 4 victories.  He declared his 109 aircraft was damaged not from combat with Russian aviators, but from a technical malfunction. In the cockpit a fire broke out and he received burns. Furthermore, the captured pilot listed posts and the ranks of his commanders. An opinion was also expressed on the characteristics of Soviet fighters in comparison with German aircraft. About the Russian offensive above Pogoreloye Gorodishche nothing was known, although there was a local concentration of human forces and technology. He believes that Germany will win the war.  And in six months there would be Stalingrad, in a year the Battle of Kursk, and as a result – the Red Banner over the Reichstag and the Russian soldier under the salute of Victory.

Prisoner of War Wilhelm “Willi” Büchner, was born in 1917, German by nationality, from a family of workers, a graduate of the school in Wittenberg in 1931, graduate into the civilian profession of “mechanic”. Non-partisan, by Religion – Evangelist.

His military career began in April 1935 when he was called up for aviation. From May 1935 to February 1936 a member of the Organization Todt, like all recruits, he studied from 1939-1940 at the flight school at Klagenfurt, Austria. From December 1940 to April 1941 he served in France. By the end of February 1942 Büchner was transferred as a pilot to the Soviet-German Front, to Siverskaya, where was based Jagdgeschwader 54. Last place of residence – Sankt Ulrich, Feldkirchen District (Austria). At the time of his capture, Willi had a 22-year old wife Maria Büchner (housewife) with a one-month old daughter.  The first three months of captivity Feldwebel Büchner was detained in prison camp # 27 at Krasnogorsk near Moscow. All of the prisoners of war that were the responsibility of the Western and Kalinin Fronts were sent there.

From the Moscow region, the captured pilot was transferred to Camp # 84 at the city of Asbest in the Urals, where he was kept for 5 years. The name of the city itself speaks of the nature of the mining industry of the region. In the Summer of 1947, Willi Büchner was sent to Camp # 523 in the Urals at the city of Rezh, known for Nickel mines. It seems that the captured pilot did not become a “Stakhanovite”, which were first released, nor did he become a saboteur, who was kept in the camps until Stalin’s death. He was a “middle peasant” who was sent home with the bulk of prisoners, transferred on the 22 June 1949 (a symbolic date!) to Camp # 69 (city of Frankfurt on the Oder).

Abroad the reparation train was prisoner of war # 98478 Willi Büchner returning to his homeland. [6]

Having found out the fate of the defeated pilot, we became interested in the fate of the winner. Who was he and what became of him after the battle? What was his front-line fate?

 

“ 5. 20 IAP during the day performed the task of covering the combat formations and the crossings of our forces in the area of Zubtsov, Gnezdilovo and escorting Shturmoviks in the area of Ovsyannikovo. 9 Yak-1 aircraft made 36 aircraft flights, with a total flying time of 43 hours and 20 minutes. Engaged in 2 air battles, as a result was shot down 1 Me-109. Expenditure: ShVAK shells – 145, ShKAS cartridges – 3050.

8:20 at an altitude of 3000 meters in the area of Zubtsov 6 Yak-1 met 8 Me-109, as result of engaged in an air battle and have shot down 1 Me-109 in the area of Annino.

11:00 at an altitude of of 2000 meters 4 Yak-1 in the area of Zubtsov met 2 Me-109, performing several attacks, after which the enemy aircraft went into the clouds.

Losses: In the air battle Serzhant Maksimov received damaged to the fuel and oil system and made an emergency landing on the airfield at Chertanovo. Aircraft LaGG-3 # 1281.”  

        (Snippet of Operational Report # 67 Staff of the 203 IAD from the 11 August 1942)

 

These questions were answered after a visit to the TsAMO RF. From the archival documents the following was reported, that was shot down a Me-109 aircraft on the 11 August 1942 in the area of Annino, that the pilots of the 20th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the 203rd Fighter Aviation Division (further – IAD) 1st Air Army (further – VA). [7]

In Operational Report # 67 the staff of the 203 IAD for 11.08.1942 noted that there was an air battle with 8 Me-109 and 6 Yak-1, but not on the 16, as according to German history. The pilots of the Luftwaffe could take for Yaks the 3 LaGG-3 from the 509 IAP, which reported an air battle in the area of Zubtsov at 08:20. It turns out, that 9 Soviet fighters in German reports multiplied into 16 Yaks.

Among the documents of the 20 IAP is the file – “List of shot down enemy aircraft”, in which reflects the air victories of the regiment, indicating the date, place and the data of the shot down. For the 11.08.1942 there is a record: The name of the pilot, shooting down the aircraft – Safonov; aircraft – 1 Me-109 shot down in an air battle in area of Annino. [8] In the staff registered list of the 20 IAP for 1942 – 1943 is listed: section commander Leytenant Vasiliy Spiridonovich Safonov, born 1922. [9]

The record keeping card of Officer (UPK) Vasiliy S. Safonov reflects, that he was born in 1922 in the village (stanitsa) of Boguslavskaya, Libknekhtovskiy District of the Stavropol Krai territory. Since 1939 a member of VLKSM (Komsomol) education 8 classes of high school. In 1941 he graduated from the Krasnodar Military Pilot School, with the rank of “Serzhant”, and on 26 March 1942 was appointed to the 8th Reserve Fighter Aviation Regiment. Since the Summer of 1942 he has been serving as part of the 20 IAP. There was a mark on the card, “Dismissed to the reserve on st. 43 (illness) was sent to Krasnodar GVK 23.3.1946”. Below was another note “Copy [of UPK – appox. Author] was sent to the Krasnodar Regional Military Kommissar… 28.9.50.” [10]

About Safonov the fighter pilot, also was information in the file cabinets of TsAMO RF of awards. Indicated are the Order of the Red Star and the Red Banner, also a medal “For Victory over Germany”. On the card there is a handwritten signature of the awards and date of filling – 29 August 1946. [11]

For the search of the pilot Vasiliy Safonov, we sent a request to the Krasnodar Regional Military Commissariat. Thanks to the sensitivity and efficiency of the military enlistment office staff, we very soon received an answer, the text of which is given here: “I inform you, that the personal file of Starshiy Leytenant Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich is stored in the social security center of the military Commissariat of the Krasnodar territory.

   Unfortunately, in his personal file of achievement list, no information about the awards. In a personal file, documents were filed: an extract from his service record, certificate of injury and death certificate. Photocopies of the extracts from the service record, a certificate of injury and a death certificate will be sent to you.

   Also information, that the closest relatives of V.S. Safonov live in the city of Krasnodar at the address …

   Acting Military Commissioner of the Krasnodar Territory A. Kravchenko [12]

From the documents sent, the data of the TsAMO of the Russian Federation and the materials of the Safonov family archive, kindly handed over to us by the children of the pilot, a picture of his military biography was formed, including quick maturity in the harsh everyday life of the war, physical and mental endurance and devotion to the Motherland and chosen work of a lifetime.

Vasiliy Spiridonovich Safonov was born 10 February 1922. Service in the ranks of the Red Army Air Force began for cadet Safonov on the 17 January 1941 in the Krasnodar Military Pilot School.

In 1941, Cadet Safonov gained experience flying on the aircraft Ut-2, Uti-4 and I-16, having completed 276 flights with a total flight time of 38 hours 44 minutes. [13] In the archives of the Safonov family was preserved the front-line photographs of the pilot. On one of them, probably made at the “graduation” from flight school, is the portrait of Serzhant V. Safonov with a colleague – Serzhant A. Markushev, Ml. Leytenant G. Plotnikov and instructor Ml. Leytenant D. Ischenko. 18 July 1942, Vasiliy Spiridonovich by order # 082 to the forces of the 1 VA and from 20.07.1942 was transferred to the 20th Fighter Aviation Regiment 1 VA Central Front. Since August 1942 he was participating in combat sorties.

Cadet V.S Safonov, 1941

11 August – shot down first enemy aircraft. 14 August during a combat sortie Serzhant Safonov on a Yak-1 fighter made an emergency landing because of malfunctioning equipment and that same day, unharmed, returned to his regiment. [14]

 

Snippet of Operational Report № 70 Staff of the 203 IAD from the 14 August 1942:

Pilot, Serzhant Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich on aircraft Yak-1 # 4581 made an emergency landing with retracted chassis in the area of Krasny Kholm, the cause of malfunction of the material; stalled engine, the pilot unharmed arrived in the unit by the end of the day. Technical personnel are sent for evaluation of the aircraft.

 

Soon the pilot won a second aerial victory. From the presentation award: “…23.8.42 conducting an air battle with 4 Me-109 skillfully shot down one Me-109” [15] This battle took place in the area of the villages of Veyno and Gryn near Kozelsk. [16] German data confirmed, that on the 23 August 1942 in the resulting air battle in square Qu 54411 (area of the village of Dolgaya, Ulyanovsk District of the Oryol Oblast, from 1944 the area became part of the formed Kaluga Oblast – approx. author) underwent the aircraft crash of Bf 109 F-2 WNr. 12939 from II. Gruppe Jagdgeschwader 51 (II./JG 51). The aircraft was wrecked and the pilot escaped by parachute. [17] The village of Dolgaya is located exactly between the villages of Veyno and Gryn. Consequently, both claimed victories of V. S. Safonov are fully confirmed by German archival material.

In the award list on the Order of the Red Star from 26 November 1942 it stated, that Safonov V. S. “Since the month of August 1942… made 34 combat flights… engaged in 10 air battles, in which was shot down personally 3 Me-109, damaged 1 Ju-88 and 1 Me-109 finished off by AAA… In the air battles, fights boldly and confidently, showing fortitude and courage”. [18]

Yak-1 from 20 IAP Spring 1942

During the departure to cover our forces on the 14 November 1942 a section of Yak-1 of Starshina Safonov met with 18 Ju-88 and Ju-87 under escort of 10 Me-109. Despite the opposition’s numerical superiority, V. S. Safonov attacked four Ju-87 from out of the sun and set fire to the engine of one of the dive bombers. The machine guns of his fighter at this time jammed, and firing was carried out only by cannon. A second attack became impossible – as he was upon pounced immediately 4 “Messers”. At this moment, despite the danger, he rushed to the aid of his comrades in arms. This fact is reflected in the award list: “… seeing, that his commander was attacked by 6 Me-109, rushed to his rescue without paying attention to the enemy aircraft, with which he fought. In the air battle the commander was lost, but Comrade Safonov continued to conduct an air battle with 4 Me-109. In this battle was shot down 1 Me-109 and, despite expending all of the ammunition, fought until he passed out. After this Comrade Safonov was shot down and seriously wounded and only by sheer luck survived…” [19]

In a later presentation of this award, there are refinements to this battle: “…Risking his life and neglecting the attacks of 4 Me-109, that hit him in the tail, he rushed to the rescue of the commander and helped him take an advantageous position in the battle. But the four Me-109 stubbornly pursued Safonov. The courageous pilot, fighting off numerous attacks, used up his entire ammunition, but despite this, did not leave the battle. Only serious damage to the aircraft forced the pilot to make a defensive battle, in which at a level height his aircraft was shot down, and comrade Safonov was wounded. By a lucky accident, when the pilot struck the ground the pilot was thrown from the cockpit, the aircraft burned.” [20]

Another perspective about this flight comes from a fellow soldier and leader of Safonov – Anatoly Grigorievich Mashkin, who became General-Leytenant of the Air Force: “…14 November 1942 above the airfield of Slabtsovo in an air battle he collided with a Me-109 (in fact, rammed it), together with the aircraft fell from a low altitude, and was pulled from the wreckage. He received a head injury and the Doctors wrote him off from flight service, but the Germans bombed the hospital, where he was lying. Vasiliy miraculously survived, and his medical history burned up. So he managed to mislead the “fate” of the Doctors and started flying again.” [21]

It should be noted that in the German GKL report there is no data about the loss on 14.11.1942 of a Bf-109 in the indicated area. In the documents for accounting for shot down aircraft of the regiment and the division neither the 14  nor 24 November (as indicated in the award list) of shot down Me-109 as is not fixed. [22] Probably, in the military whirlpool, the shot down “Messer” was not included in the list of victories, but in 1970 Anatoly G. Mashkin wrote in a note: “Comrade Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich, being a fighter-pilot in the 20th Fighter Air Regiment in the period of the Patriotic War on 14 November 1942 in an air battle rammed an enemy aircraft… I confirmed the data, since during this period I served in the same regiment with Comrade Safonov…” [23]

 

Leytenant Safonov, February-October 1943

For courage and heroism, shown in air battles, Starshina Safonov on 26 November 1942 was presented the award of the Order of the Red Banner. But 203 IAD commander Polkovnik Baranchuk considered it right to award the pilot with the Order of the Red Star. (Order 203 IAD # 01/n from 3.12.42) [24] Soon the pilot received the well deserved award.

Not yet healed after the first serious wound, just a month later Vasiliy Spiridonovich again was with his regiment and flying combat missions, showing “even more courage and perseverance”. After the hospital, pilot Safonov made 22 combat sorties, made 6 air battles, in which he personally shot down 1 Me-109 and damaged 1 Me-109. [25]

24 December 1942 he is appointed to the position of section commander with the rank of Mladshiy Leytenant (Order # 0486 in the 1 VA), and 7 February 1943 by order # 060 to the 1VA rank promoted to Leytenant. [26]

For 1942 the pilot V. S. Safonov made 228 sorties with a total flight time of 157 hours 50 minutes. From these 168 flights on the Yak-1 aircraft, having spent in the air 147 hours 22 minutes. [27]

17 April 1943 the Yak-1 of Leytenant Safonov in composition of four escorted a group of Shturmoviks, operating on against the well-defended enemy airfield – Sehcha. On the return route a pair of Fw-190 attempted an attack on the Shturmoviks. Vasiliy Spiridonovich “…repulsed one attack of enemy fighters, but at the same time on a frontal [attack] by Fw-190 cannon burst was seriously wounded – struck in three places in the left hand. Despite being seriously wounded, Comrade Safonov showed courage and physical perseverance. Bleeding, he brought the damaged aircraft to his airfield, made an excellent landing, then turned into a neutral strip and lost consciousness.” [28]

From a letter of General-Leytenant Anatoly G. Mashkin to their same eskadrill’e comrade Ivan Mikhailovich Ananyev: “…I remember this departure. We assaulted the airfield at Lubinka on 6 May 1943 (stood on the airfield at Vasilievskoye). Flew together with the French. There was terrible antiaircraft fire and the French pilot Guy Mann was shot down during the attack (he was captured, returned to France, and died three years ago, as a test pilot, Colonel [there is in view Mahe Yves 11/21/1919 – 03/29/1962]). In this same flight, the entire side of the fuselage was smashed of the plane Volodya Yakovina [Yakovina Vladimir Ivanovich 1922 – 07/13/1943]. Vasya Safonov mentioned, that he was wounded. When landing, in my opinion, he [Ivan]covered their pair (or Mishа Мyashikov with you). But after landing, Vasya managed to taxi from the runway, without taxiing to a parking space, lost consciousness and was pulled out by Doctor Miranovsky and an aircraft technician.” [29]

In the card registration of the wounded and sick # 794 from the Evacuation Hospital EG-1708, located at Sverdlovsk noted the following: “Leytenant 20th Fighter Air Regiment V. S. Safonov, born 1922, at the front of the Patriotic War 17 April 1943 received a bullet to the left shoulder with damage to the bone and ulnar and medullary nerves, about which from 10 July to 15 September 1943 was on treatment at EG-1708. Regarding ankylosis of the left elbow joint and traumatic injury of the ulnar and median nerves, the Military Medical Commission declared him unfit for military service with re-examination after 12 (months)” [30]

Leytenant Safonov (second from right) in hospital at Sverdlovska. July – September 1943

Again in the hospital, semi-annual treatment. Incomplete recovery and disability… Air Force Sanatorium, cannot bend at arm joint…

What did the pilot do in this situation? 25 September 1943 he again returned to the unit and “burns with the desire to re-enter the air force and ruthlessly smash the fascist vultures until they are completely destroyed.” [31]

General-Leytenant Mashkin wrote in a letter about Safonov to their fellow military comrade Ananiev: “…It is sad… hand wound and six months of treatment. The hand never bends. But here Vasil is seeking, to be allowed to fly the Yak-3 to the front from the factory. Do you remember, [Ivan], at the end of July 1944 we met him at Khimki…” [32]

Thus, starting from the first battles in in August 1942 to 6 October 1943, Leytenant Safonov made 56 combat sorties, conducted 16 (according to other sources 19) combat battles, in which he personally shot down 2 (and according to award submissions – 4) enemy Me-109 fighters (11.081942, 23.08.1942, 14.11.1942 and 1.4.1943), damaged 1 Ju-88, 1 Me-109 and finished off 1 Me-109, damaged by antiaircraft artillery. [33]

In the personal flight book of Vasiliy Safonov, notes on the flights of 1943 are stored. Here are some excerpts: conducted 38 flights over 25 hours 26 minutes, from these on the Yak-1 aircraft – 32 flights (21 hours 35 minutes) and on the Yak-7 – 6 flights (3 hours 51 minutes) [34]

After an incomplete recovery from January to June 1944, he was appointed as the escadrille’s adjutant of the 18th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment in the 1 VA, in which fought with the French Escadrille “Normandie – Neiman”. Native 20th Aviation Regiment and 18th Guards Aviation Regiment were part of the same Division, supporting each other in the sky and were considered “fraternal”.

From June 1944 to April 1945 Vasiliy Spiridonovich served as section commander in the 851st Aviation Regiment on ferrying fighter-aircraft to the front in accordance with Order # 81 of the 3rd Reserve Fighter Aviation Brigade (KZIAB) from 12.07.1944. [35] For 1944, the pilot flew in 6 types of aircraft: Po-2, Ut-2, Yak-1, Yak-3, Yak-7 and Yak-9. He participated in 78 flights with flight time of 35 hours 40 minutes. In April-May 1945, active ferrying of the combat aircraft Yak-3 on the route of Bagai – Baranovka – Borisoglebsk – Voronezh – Kursk – Zabrovka – Bobruisk – Belostok – Lench[izha].

Vasiliy Spiridonovich was constantly at the helm. In June 1945, he trains in flights for the Victory Parade and from June to August participates in filming, making up to 4 flights a day which also appears in his flight book. For June – 13 flights (8 hours 58 minutes), July – 16 flights (12 hours 16 minutes), August – 10 flights (6 hours 20 minutes). [36]

Aviation mechanic Starshina Shepelev reporting to Deputy AE Commander St. Leytenant Safonov about the readiness of the Yak-3 aircraft for flight April 1945 (signature on back) [15]

17 November 1945 Vasiliy Safonov was appointed Deputy Commander and Eskadril’i navigator in the same 851st  Aviation Regiment (Order PriVO # 01594 from 17.06.1945). While in a responsible position, the pilot continues to participate in the ferrying of aircraft and makes 69 flights, mainly on the aircraft Yak-3 with a common time of 44 hours 41 minutes. [37]

23 March 1946 Starshiy Leytenant Safonov was dismissed under Article 43 paragraph “A” (for illness). After six years of service in aviation, the 24-year old pilot returned to his homeland in Stavropol and soon moved to live and work in Krasnodar. He married, raising his son Aleksandr and daughter Lyudmila. He worked as a graphic designer and painted pictures for the soul – but he loved the sky indescribably. He really missed and complained that he couldn’t fly, as if his wings had been cut off.

Already in his advanced years, the front-line soldier came across with an impenetrable bureaucracy while trying to get a veteran apartment in Krasnodar. He had to seek volunteers for support. Here is how one of them recalled this time: “…Now Vasiliy is very embittered, that he couldn’t get an apartment for a long time, and curses everyone (I think, that he was offended at me, I did call everywhere, but in Krasnodar it is difficult to get)…” [38]

Two serious injuries had taken their toll. Seriously ill, the veteran Safonov destroyed some of his documents and photographs, summing up his life, believing his story is no longer of interest to anyone. The earthly journey of the Brave fighter-pilot Vasiliy Spiridonovich Safonov ended at Krasnodar on the 23 April 1988 at the age of 66. In our memory, he will remain in the same “flock of cranes, that disappeared into the blue-gray haze”.

Thus, due to a small artifact found at a place repeatedly dug up, this investigation made it possible to fill in another page of the Great Patriotic War, as well as reconstructing the front-line and post war fates of two enemy pilots, almost the same age, who met each other in combat on that fateful day of 11 August 1942. In the showroom of one of the archives of Moscow is planned to prepare an exhibition “Serzhant Vasiliy Safonov – Feldwebel Willi Büchner: searches, finds, archival research”, to which would be invited the children and grandchildren of both pilots.

 

Vasiliy Spiridonovich with daughter Lyudmila. 

 

The authors are grateful to Aleksandr and Lyudmila Safonov, Galina Mastipan, Leonard Kachan, Aleksandr Kazakov, Mikhail Bykov, the employees of the Krasnodar regional military and registration office, the employees of the TsA FSB, TsAMO RF and RGVA for assistance in our investigation.

Photographs:  S. Katkova, Bundesarchiv, from the Safonov family archives, the books of Held W., Trauloft H., Bob E. JG54: A Photographic History of the Grunherzjager. Schiffer Publishing. 2004. 185 pages.

Aircraft Profiles: Alexander Kazakov

Sources:

  1. TsAMO RF F. 1 VA. RO
  2. Medved A.N., Khazanov D. B. Fighter “Messerschmitt Bf 109”. Moscow “Eksmo”. 2008. 224 p.
  3. Luftwaffe Quartermaster General Loss Service Summary (GKL) Imperial War Museum, London, copies
  4. Jochen Prien, Gerhard Stemmer, Peter Rodeike, Winfried Bock. Die Jagdfliegerverbande der Deutschen Luftwaffe 1934 bis 1945, Teil 9/III
  5. TsAMO RF. F. 1 VA RO.
  6. Archival transcriptions # I-1665/2 from 04.10.2012
  7. TsAMO RF. F. 20056. Op. 1. D. 4, L. 85
  8. f. 20 IAP . Op. 219949, D. 14, L. 4 ob.
  9. Archival references TsAMO RF # 4/88053 from 30.05.2012 and # 4/P-46616 from 18.06.2012.
  10. TsAMO RF. Air Force Officer Record File. Air Force officer record cards Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich. Born 1922.
  11. Card file of awardees. Registration card of Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich. 1922.
  12. Archival certificate of the military Commissariat of the Krasnodar territory # 4/4/2134 fro 28.08.2012.
  13. Safonov family archives. Pilot flight book of Safonov V. S.
  14. TsAMO RF. F. 20056. Op. 1. D. 4. L. 88.
  15. F. 33. Op. 682526, D. 172. LL. 122-123.
  16. Zverev V. G. Mу call sign – “Taran-21”. Minsk: OOO “Mzdzhik”. 2010. 192 p.
  17. Lufthansa Quartmaster General Loss Servive Summary (GKL). Imperial War Museum, London, copies
  18. TsAMO RF, F.33, Op. 682526, D. 172, L. 122-123
  19. Ibid F. 33, Op. 686044, D. 1787, L. 74
  20. Ibid F. 33, Op. 686044, D. 1787, L. 74
  21. Data of Leonard Kachan
  22. Data of Mikhail Bykov
  23. Safonov family archive
  24. TsAMo RF, F. 33, Op. 682526, D.172, L. 122-123
  25. TsAMO RF, F. 33, Op. 686044, D. 1787, L. 74
  26. Military Commissariat Krasnodar territory. Personal files of Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich. Extract from service record.
  27. Safonov family archives. Pilot flight book Safonov V. S.
  28. TsAMO RF, F.33, Op. 686044, D. 1787, L. 74
  29. Data of Leonard Kachan
  30. Military Commissariat Krasnodar territory. Personal files of Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich. Archive certificate of the Military Medical Museum MO USSR # 8532B from 14 August 1969.
  31. TsAMO RF, F. 33, Op, 686044, D. 1787, L. 74
  32. Data of Leonard Kachan
  33. TsAMO RF, F. 33, Op. 686044, D. 1787. L. 74; Safonov family archive. Photographs, documents
  34. Safonov family archive. Pilot flight book Safonov V. S.
  35. Military Commissariat Krasnodar territory. Personal files of Safonov Vasiliy Spiridonovich. Extract from service record.
  36. Safonov family archive. Photographs, documents.
  37. Pilot flight book Safonov V. S.
  38. Data of Leonard Kachan

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