Since the end of May, Krasnoyarsk Krai has been hosting the next stage of the expedition dedicated to the route along which the "Douglases", the "Airacobras", and the "Bostons" received under Lend-Lease were ferried during the Great Patriotic War. This year, the legendary air corridor between the USA and the USSR turns 80 years old – a special occasion to honor the memory of those who did not reach their destination. To discover the crash sites, sometimes you have to get old maps, beware of bears, and collect ghost stories.
The “Airacobra” of Georgy Samartsev
First of all, the expedition members went to the area of the village of Bolshoy Balchug in Sukhobuzimsky District, Krasnoyarsk Krai. On March 29, 1944, the fighter "Airacobra" of Senior Lieutenant Georgy Samartsev, the flight commander of the 5th Air Transport Regiment, crashed there. He was supposed to deliver a military fighter along the Kirensk – Krasnoyarsk route, but weather conditions did not allow him to complete the flight. The deceased pilot was found by the residents of the village of Glubokiy Ruchey, near which the accident had occurred, and buried in the same place where the plane crashed.
"On 28.07.44, the residents of the village of Glubokiy Ruchey of Sukhobuzimsky District, Krasnoyarsk Krai accidentally discovered a crashed plane in the forest, 2 km south of the village. On 14.08.44, the commission of the 5th Air Transport Regiment established that this was a ferried aircraft of the type P-39 ‘Airacobra’. At the scene of the incident, the remains and the party membership card of Sr. Lieutenant Samartsev were found. The remains of the deceased were buried there by the commission."
Central Archive of the Department of Air Transport
After many years, it was not so easy to find the place of the crash.
"In the period from 2013 to 2016, Alexander Matveev, head of the Commission for the Preservation of Historical Memory of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Branch of the RGS, organized several search trips to find it," says the head of the expedition "ALSIB" Galina Idiatullina. "In 2016, his search party 'Trassa' found several small fragments of the aircraft. Large ones are unlikely to ever be found – most likely, in difficult times, local residents used metal for household needs."
Now the village of Glubokiy Ruchey no longer exists, and the place where the remains of the pilot rest has been lost. The expedition members hoped to find him, but so far they have not succeeded – a search with ground-penetrating radar at the place of the plane crash has not yielded results. There is information that at some point a disabled Great Patriotic War veteran, Potap Saveliev, who lived here, reburied Lieutenant Samartsev at the local cemetery, but it is not known exactly where.
"We would like to ask his children – Saveliev had seven of them – but they have all died, so we will have to look for grandchildren," says Galina Idiatullina. "We do not intend to give up: we will continue searching until we find him. On May 26, we opened the Youth Club of the RGS at the Academy of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The participants are full of enthusiasm and determined to finish the job."
In the meantime, a memorial plaque was installed at the crash site of the military fighter "Airacobra". Georgy Samartsev's relatives, his grandson with his wife, arrived from Novosibirsk for the opening ceremony, which took place on June 9. Servicemen of the military unit of the Ministry of Defense of Zheleznogorsk, representatives of the Rosgvardiya, cadets of the Siberian Fire and Rescue Academy of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Russia, schoolchildren from the branch of Kononovskaya Secondary School took part in the solemn meeting with the giving of military honors.
"Comrade Samartsev was on a government business trip to China from May to November 1941, before the route. A comprehensively educated pilot. In the 5th Air Transport Regiment, since August 1942, he had ferried 33 combat aircraft along the Kirensk – Krasnoyarsk route. 5 aircraft, in extremely difficult conditions: temperature of -55°C, blizzard, low clouds, solid smoke from forest fires, heavy rains, when the ground was completely invisible, and the landing of the aircraft was made on a limited strip on the ice. Sr. Lieutenant Samartsev always made the right decision and landed the plane perfectly without a single flight accident, while showing great self-control, courage and bravery, sharpness and excellent piloting skills."
From the award certificate of Senior Lieutenant Georgy Samartsev, who earned the Order of the Patriotic War of the 2nd Class
The "Airacobra" of Arkady Koltsov
In mid-June, the expedition members moved to the vicinity of the village of Bliznevka in Yemelyanovsky District. Lieutenant Arkady Koltsov, the commander of another "Airacobra", died there on July 27, 1943. They could not find him for 75 years – only in 2018 they managed to find the crashed fighter and the remains of the pilot, who was subsequently reburied at the Trinity Cemetery in Krasnoyarsk.
"First we went to the place where the plane crashed, for reconnaissance," says the head of the expedition. "It was necessary to determine how many people would be needed to lift the preserved fragments of the aircraft, which winches we needed for this, how to organize the work more efficiently. By the beginning of the work, we had already clearly understood the alignment of forces and means."
From the pit formed at the crash site, the military, the representatives of the search party "Trassa" and the cadets of the Academy of the Ministry of Emergency Situations lifted the blades of the "Airacobra", the smaller parts of the aircraft, and three military machine guns. The representatives of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the Ministry of the Interior also took part in the work. They not only helped to dig up and pull out the wreckage of the aircraft, but also recorded the finds. It turned out to be difficult to take out what was left of the combat fighter – it was possible to get to the place of its crash only on ATVs that were not too adapted for transporting heavy bulky cargo.
"There is taiga, deadfall, and, sometimes, swampy areas," explains Galina Idiatullina. "We didn't have many ATVs, so the participants of the expedition were brought to the site and back in groups, in several trips. The blades of the aircraft and the machine guns had to be dragged. We had to be extra careful – a four-year-old bear, who had gotten into the habit of getting honey from the hives of a farmer living nearby, was wandering around the area. The last time he visited the farm was just on the day when we started working in the area.”
At the end of the work, the place of death of Lieutenant Arkady Koltsov was tidied up and a memorial plaque was installed. The materials found arrived at the Krasnoyarsk Regional Branch, the military machine guns were sent to the Ministry of Justice for examination. And the removed fragments of the "Airacobra" fighter are waiting for specialists of military equipment history.
"We will put them in order," says Galina Maksimovna. "Together with the Youth Club of the RGS and under the leadership of Alexander Valeryevich Matveev, head of the Commission for the Preservation of Historical Memory of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Branch of the RGS, we will clean, package, label each fragment. In the future, they will become exhibits at exhibitions: some will go to Moscow, some will be given to the Park-Museum of the Development of the North, some artifacts will be left at the disposal of the military unit of Zheleznogorsk. It was this unit that provided us with personnel and military equipment of increased off-road capability. They worked hard – some even went out on personal ATVs, on their weekends, no one needed to be persuaded. The cadets of the Academy of the Ministry of Emergency Situations were also very enthusiastic: the participants of our Youth Club were completely immersed in the expedition activities. Patriotism can be shown in different ways. For example, by participating in the painstaking work to preserve the historical memory of the Soviet pilots of the legendary ALSIB rout.”
Arkady Koltsov was the commander of the fighter P-39 "Airacobra", who was ferrying the aircraft along the route Krasnoyarsk – Omsk. The first flight of the fighter turned out to be unsuccessful: the plane returned to the airfield with unretracted landing gear. The engineering service did not identify any malfunctions; it turned out that it was the pilot's mistake. After that, Koltsov requested permission to continue the flight together with seven A-20G "Boston" bombers, who were preparing to follow the same route.
In the middle of the way, it turned out that the weather did not correspond to the received weather forecast, but there was no way to contact the airfield – the range of the fighter’s radio stations was too small. On the approach to Kacha Railway Station, the pilots entered a zone of solid clouds. Four crews managed to get to Omsk, three did not arrive at their destination. Among them was Koltsov's "Airacobra".
The crash site of the fighter could not be found for many years. Meanwhile, the legend of the ghost of the deceased pilot wandering in the taiga has spread among the locals. It got to the point that people were afraid to go into the forest. In 2018, Krasnoyarsk search specialists finally found the wreckage of the "Airacobra". A service was held for the crew commander and he was reburied; the stories about the frightening ghost faded away.
The "Boston" of Mikhail Ermolov
On June 22, the expedition participants will set out again – this time to the place of death of another pilot who died on the same flight as Koltsov. The approximate location of the crashed bomber was found by a group from the Krasnoyarsk Underwater Center. The search specialists relied on the materials of the crash investigations of the 9th Air Transport Regiment stored in the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense. They studied the crash report – it stated that the plane crashed four kilometers northwest of Zeledeevo Station, 400 meters north of the kilometer marker "685".
It would seem that everything was clear, but the above-mentioned marker has been gone for a long time, the numbering of kilometers began to be conducted from Moscow, so it was not possible to find the marker’s location. Search specialists consulted with specialists of the Krasnoyarsk Railway Museum, questioned veterans, collected data on the Internet. Finally, they came across an old map where, in addition to railway tracks and stations, a shed for storing spare parts was marked as "barracks 698 km". The remains of this barracks were found.
After counting 13 kilometers from it, they got to the place where the marker once stood, and began to explore the area with a metal detector. Finally, at a depth of 10-15 centimeters, debris was found under the thickness of the forest floor. It is to this location that the members of the expedition are heading – they hope to unearth what remains of the "Boston" and find the remains of Mikhail Ermolov.
Mikhail Ermolov was an experienced pilot, fought on the Southwestern Front, was wounded in aerial combat, received the Order of the Red Banner. On July 27, 1943, he, like others, was let down by an incorrect weather forecast. Due to the continuous clouds, it was not possible to see the trees, the tops of which the bomber began to cut off with the propellers. The pilot tried to lift the Boston higher, but the plane was too heavy for a sharp take off. After hitting a pine tree, the plane broke the right wing, the propellers had already been damaged. The pilot managed to lift the "Boston" over the forest, turned off the engines, cut off the fuel, and tried to glide on an almost uncontrollable bomber. Perhaps it was his self-control that saved the life of the radio operator Sergeant Yumashev, who was thrown out of the cockpit upon landing. He escaped with bruises and managed to get out to people. Ermolov was found the next day and buried next to the crashed plane.
"We are planning a number of trips this year," says Galina Idiatullina. "There are easily accessible places in our vicinity along the ALSIB route, and the pilots found there were reburied. And there are impassable ones – the remains of the dead have yet to be found there. We hope that this year we will be able to install several new commemorative plaques, but first the burial places of the crews must be found, as well as the crash sites of their aircraft. The topic of ALSIB for us, Krasnoyarsk residents, is very personal, it's not for nothing that the route of the aircraft was called the Krasnoyarsk Air Route. Igor Spiridenko, chairman of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Branch of the Russian Geographical Society, is reverent about this topic, it is always a priority for us and is under special control.”