The joint expedition of the RGS and the Expeditionary Center of the Ministry of Defense to study the crash sites of American aircraft from the period of the US Army's military operations against Japan has ended.
During World War II, American pilots bombed Japanese naval bases located on the Kuril Islands. According to documentary data, at least 30 American planes crashed or made an emergency landing on the territory of Kamchatka. The causes of crashes and accidents were difficult weather conditions, damage to equipment, a long distance from the battlefields to military bases, lack of fuel.
To examine and identify fragments of aircraft, to take out the found artifacts for display in specialized museums is the main goal of the joint expedition of the Russian Geographical Society and the Expeditionary Center of the Ministry of Defense, which started in 2021.
During the 2023 season, the search specialists explored the Vestnik Bay in Kamchatka off the southeastern coast and Vitaminnoye Lake in the southern part of the peninsula.
On the sandy shore of the Vestnik Bay in 1944, an American B-24 “Liberator” aircraft made a successful emergency landing. The aircraft was most likely damaged by air defense forces or fighter aircraft during its bombing of Japanese garrisons on the islands of Paramushir or Shumshu. The pilots were transported to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, then to America, and the bomber that could not be repaired remained ashore.
“We found part of the cockpit and other fragments of the aircraft in the sand and prepared them for evacuation,” says the head of the expedition, specialist of the Expeditionary Center of the Ministry of Defense of Russia Anatoly Kalemberg. “The B-24 is a large four-engine aircraft with a wing size of 15 m. Due to the high windage of the wing, we could not take it by helicopter to the mainland. We hope that next year we can find a way to deliver the artifacts to Elizovo, to the airfield in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Then we will decide which museums to transfer them to.”
The development of the American B-24 “Liberator” began in 1938; and in December 1939, the prototype of the aircraft had already taken to the sky. The new heavy bomber also turned out to be a fairly effective fighter (its crew shot down more than 2,000 enemy aircraft), an anti-submarine aircraft, and a long-range transport aircraft. Often the B-24 “Liberator” bombed targets inaccessible to other bombers. The crew consisted of seven people.
The weather in Kamchatka is changeable, and this season it did not favor the search specialists.
“This time, instead of tents, the expedition participants lived in two yurts, which turned out to be very comfortable, well protected from wind and rain,” adds Anatoly Kalemberg. “Felt coating keeps the heat perfectly. The structure is assembled in two hours, disassembled in an hour. Convenient for transportation.”
The mountain Vitaminnoye Lake (or, as it is also called by locals, Ulyanovskoye or Ulyana) was examined by the search specialists together with the representatives of the Russian Underwater Exploration Expedition. The oblong-shaped lake, with an area of 1.4 sq. km, is of tectonic origin and is located in the Ozernaya River basin in the spurs of the active Dikiy Greben volcano. There are no roads to it, you can get to Vitaminnoye Lake only by helicopter. It is located on the specially protected territory of the South Kamchatka Federal Reserve, three minutes of flight from Lake Kurilskoye, famous for its abundance of salmon fish. But there are no salmon in Vitaminnoye Lake. Their entry is hindered by a series of rapids and a waterfall in the upper reaches of the Ulyana River.
During the expedition in 2021, local residents told the search specialists that, according to a legend, a plane made an emergency landing on the frozen Vitaminnoye Lake. According to documentary data, in the fall of 1945, a “Kingcobra” plane really crashed in this area, as a result of which the pilot was killed. The expedition members decided to explore the lake using side-view sonar.
“We found a P-63 ‘Kingcobra’ aircraft at the bottom," Anatoly Kalemberg shares. “Indeed, it made an emergency landing, not on ice however, but on water. The blow was strong. The tail fell off, the propeller got twisted like a corkscrew, the cabin is partially submerged in silt and almost intact, but all the windows, except the windshield, were knocked out. We did not find the pilot, but it is unlikely that he could have survived such a crash, especially considering that the water in the lake is very cold. The divers examined the combat aircraft and lifted out of the water an emergency hatchet, a pot and a thermos of American production.”
The Bell P-63 “Kingcobra” fighter made its first flight in December 1942. The aircraft had a maximum speed of 655 km/h, could ascend to an altitude of 11,900 m. The P-63 “Kingcobra” was used by the Soviet Air Force in the Far East, Northern China, and the Kuril Islands. The P-63 was discontinued in the fall of 1945, and from the service in the USSR in 1952-1953. By the way, Alexander Pokryshkin fought on its predecessor, the P-39 “Airacobra” aircraft.
Ichthyologists from the Kamchatka Branch of the Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography also took part in the expedition. They explored the ecosystem of Lake Ulyanovskoye, studied its ichthyofauna. The scientists took samples of plankton and benthos, as well as samples to determine the hydrochemical background.
Next season, the searchers plan to return to Vitaminnoye Lake to lift the P-63 "Kingcobra" aircraft. The ichthyologists will continue scientific research of the ecosystem of the reservoir. In addition, the instruments showed the presence of an object at the bottom of the lake – there is an assumption that it is an airplane. Whether this is true or not, we will find out in a year.