In the days leading up to October the Germans switched from day to night flights over Leningrad. The Soviet front command set their forces the task of carrying out a detailed reconnaissance operation from the air. When the aerial photographs were deciphered, a significant number of German He-III and Ju-88 planes were found to be stationed at Siverskaya and Gatchina. At Siverskaya were accommodated 40 “Junkers”, 31 fighters and four transport planes. It became clear that the Germans were preparing to launch a massive attack in the next few days. In view of this, the Soviet command decided to forestall the enemy’s actions. An attack on the airfields of Siverskaya and Gatchina was carefully prepared. Reconnaissance revealed that the enemy did not consider themselves to be in danger; life at the airfields was continuing calmly as usual.
The first blow to the “Junkers” was delivered at Siverskaya by Major Sandalov’s bomber group. High-explosive bombs and anti-personnel bombs rained down. The explosions threw up mounds of earth on the aerodrome and it was wreathed in smoke. When the assault was over, Sandalov’s “pawns” turned for home, and immediately met with a group of Il-2 low-flying attack aircraft and fighters, which had arrived hard on their heels to storm the aerodrome. A second group of planes carried out an attack on Gatchina aerodrome.
The war history of another group is of some interest. In the documents of the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence there has been preserved a report of its achievements: “The 12th Guards’ air corps ADD of Gatchina, bearing the Order of Suvorov, third class, …from 1 June 1942 to 1 January 1945 carried out, in support of the partisan movement, more than 500 aerial missions. In that time it carried to the partisans 308 tons of supplies and 198 parachutists, landed 22.5 tons of arms and ammunition and 20 senior officers, and evacuated from the partisan detachments 218 severely wounded persons and 2.9 tons of valuable material.”
“When the 42nd Army was carrying out an attack on Gatchina,” recalled Nikolai Grigorievich Bogdanov, “and the fliers of the 13th Air Army and the Baltic Fleet Command were supporting it, the bombers of the ADD, including our group, in the course of two nights – 24 and 25 January – carried out attacks on the enemy’s reserve forces, bombed the railway stations of Siverskaya and Volosovo, holding up supplies to the German forces coming from Narva and Luga.”
During the war the 12th Guards’ air corps ADD, bearing the Order of Suvorov, third class, carried out a total of 8,903 military flights, dropped 90,412 bombs on the enemy, landed 1,198 parachutists, delivered to the partisans 330 tons of ammunition, evacuated more than 300 wounded and children, delivered to its forces on the battlefield 2,145 tons of ammunition and fuel and evacuated 2,554 wounded. All the personnel of the corps were awarded military decorations and medals, and Guards’ Captains P. P. Savchenko, A. A. Kriukov, T. K. Gavrilov and M. K. Navrotsky were named Heroes of the Soviet Union.
Alexandr Petrovich Andreev was appointed commander of the 276th Bombing Aerial Division. He had joined the Party as early as June 1919, had helped Afghanistan to defend its independence, and had served with the Republican forces in Spain as an international volunteer.
The daring feat of Major V. N. Grechishkin, squadron leader of the 34th Guards’ Corps, and squadron navigator Captain A. I. Peregudov is well known: a repeat of the immortal feat of Nikolai Gastello. On 30 September 1943 the squadron received an order to destroy an enemy long-range gun battery in the Gatchina region. Grechishkin and Peregudov, handling their dive-bomber with practised ease, soon discovered the battery. But as they ascended to start the bombing manoeuvre, their plane was struck by an anti-aircraft shell and caught fire. They could have left their mission unaccomplished: but then the commander decided to neutralise the enemy’s fire-power at the cost of his life. Like Gastello, he steered his burning plane directly at the German gun battery which had been shelling Leningrad. For this exploit, accomplished on Leningrad soil, the commander and navigator were named posthumous Heroes of the Soviet Union.
The aviators’ feat is commemorated by two of Gatchina’s streets, which now bear the names of Heroes of the Soviet Union V. N. Grechishkin and A. I. Peregudov.
On the roll of veterans of the 276th Bombing Aerial Division, among the large number of men’s names those of women are also to be found. In the spring of 1942 the Central Committee of the VLKSM (the All-Union Leninist Communist Youth League) resolved to direct the best Komsomol members towards aviation. They worked at meteorological stations, as armourers, as electrical and instrument engineers, as parachute packers. But there were several girls who flew on military missions. In the summer of 1943 Maria Malkova and Vera Degtiareva, who were serving at a radio station on the ground, started - in their spare time – assiduously to study the armament and radio of the Pe-2 plane. In response to their persistent requests, their divisional commander let them take the necessary tests, and soon they were enrolled as members of dive-bomber crews. It was at Gatchina that Maria Malkova flew her first mission, on 26 January 1944, the day the town was liberated from German occupation. “The bombers flew so low,” Maria said later, “that I could clearly see our soldiers, who were pushing forward into the northern part of Gatchina. They were firing rockets from the ground towards the south of the town, from where the enemy were resisting our advance. Our bomber unit came up behind and dropped bombs on the enemy’s gun batteries, forcing them to fall silent.” Then Maria’s Pe-2 bomber unit made a hedge-hopping flight over Gatchina. From a height of less than 200 metres Maria showered lead on Hitler’s troops, who were fleeing in panic along the road.
But Maria did not live to see the victory. On 25 February 1944 her crew – consisting of L. V. Saltykov, V. M. Mikhailev and lance-corporal M. K. Malkova herself – received an order to destroy enemy mat?riel. In an unequal combat with enemy fighters, her plane was hit and the crew perished. In the village of Druzhnaya Gorka in the Gatchina region stands an obelisk inscribed with the crew members’ names.
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