The Light of Memory


The citizens of Gatchina continue to honour the memory of those who gave their lives for the freedom and independence of our great homeland, who defended the achievements of the October Revolution, who, in the bitter years of the war, won a costly victory over the enemy. Their heroism is commemorated in the names of a number of Gatchina’s streets: “120th Division”, “Grigorin”, “Baltic Militia”, “Hero of the Soviet Union Kirgetov… Matveev… Grechishkin… Peregudov”, “Pioneer-Partisan Kolya Podriadchikov…”. The people of Leningrad have a fine slogan: “Love and know your city!” - a slogan followed also by the people of Gatchina. The inhabitants of the town and its region know a great deal about the aviators of the 276th, 275th and 330th divisions, about their fellow-countrymen of the “winged calling”, and about the heroes who perished in aerial combat above their district. For this knowledge they are indebted to the local historians and aerial veterans G. P Trofimov, A. P. Smirnov, L. M. Petukhov, V. T. Anisimov and G. M. Kravtsov.

… Today the plan of Gatchina aerodrome is to be found on the desks of architects and builders. Realising the great significance of the development of the aerodrome from a town-planning standpoint, Gosstroi RSFSR (the All-Union State Construction Office of the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic) instituted a competition for the development of the area as a residential district. The winners were a group of young architects and engineers of the “LenNIN-proekt” institute, headed by V. Nazarov and E. Yefanov: they had succeeded in imbuing themselves with the “spirit of Gatchina”. Now the district has a population of 90,000; its talented designers and constructors have incorporated the old runway into the plan of the area, preserving it as a unique memorial.

The authors of the project decided to extend the avenue leading from the Gatchina palace until it met the former runway. Two highways intersect at the compositional centre of the residential district; here a plot of land is reserved for the museum of the history of Gatchina aerodrome. With this in mind, the runway has been preserved for ever as an avenue possessing historical significance. Here busts of famous aviators will be set up. In the history of the country’s first military aerodrome, located here in Gatchina, we see reflected – as in a drop of water – the whole great and glorious course of Russian and Soviet aviation from Mozhaisky’s aeroplane to today’s all-weather, supersonic rocket launchers.

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…The war has receded into the past. The aerial units have been disbanded. In the centre of the airfield in the “Aerodrom” district of Gatchina stands the blue building of Secondary School no. 2, surrounded by blocks of flats. Nevertheless, it is still too early to put the final full stop to the “aeronautical annals” of the town and the region: not only to its “aeronautical” but also to its “cosmic” annals…

Many people are probably already aware that Cosmonaut-2 German Stepanovich Titov, prior to being numbered among the “star crews”, served in the aerial sections of the Leningrad military region, and was for part of this time stationed at Siverskaya. But the people of the Gatchina region know, too, the identification number of the fighter he flew in: this plane has been set up as part of a memorial to the defenders of the Leningrad skies, erected on the soil of Gatchina, so that the number - 45 - on the side of this famous fighter can be seen from afar.

German Titov was born into the family of a secondary-school teacher in 1935. In September 1957, having passed his pilot’s examination with the grade “excellent”, he graduated with first-class honours from the Stalingrad military aviation college. His final reference contains the following words of praise: “This student is well worth paying attention to; in time he will become an outstanding pilot. He flies courageously; we are confident that he will be appointed to the Air Force in the Leningrad military region. Here he has with complete confidence and knowledge begun to master the new jet aeroplane. On his first solo flight he received a commendation from the squadron commander. He takes part in ‘battles’ with full commitment”, noted the college’s commanding officer, “showing therein mastery, will, courage and quick reaction. He is distinguished by his exceptional persistence in flying under adverse weather conditions and in night flying by means of instruments.”

In October 1959 Titov was summoned to Moscow for medical tests, to determine his suitability for training as a cosmonaut. Among the candidates were: I. P. Beliaev, B. V. Volynov, Yu. A. Gagarin, V. M. Komarov, A. G. Nikolaev, G. S. Titov and others. There was as yet no “cosmonauts’ village”; the pilots lived on Leninsky Prospekt. At last the happy day arrived: German Titov was selected as one of the first group of cosmonauts. His preparation for the assault on outer space began with his first briefing by Academician S. P. Korolev.

German Titov waited impatiently for his second chance in space, which soon came…From Titov’s diary:

“Inside the vessel everything was shining, new, clean, untouched. A comfortable chair. On the left, a basic control panel; on the right, a porthole, and above this a small globe, with which one could determine the position of the vessel in flight and its possible landing point. Nothing superfluous; rationality dictated the whole set-up.” Now, books have been written - and are being written still - about Titov. “But back then, in August 1961,” he said, “you could write the whole story of my life on a single page of a school exercise book.” With both these points in mind, we will not burden the reader with detail; we will, though, allow ourselves to mention one or two facts which might be of interest to younger readers. Thus, on 5 August 1961, at 14.00, the rocket was ready; one could count the hours to lift-off. At half past two Sergei Pavlovich Korolev gave Titov his final instructions, using on this occasion the familiar “ty”. And at seven thirty-eight the following day Cosmonaut-2 closed behind him the entry hatch of the ship “Vostok-2”.

From a report by the TASS news agency:
“The prolonged space flight of Soviet cosmonaut Major German Stepanovich Titov – a feat without precedent in the history of humanity – has been successfully completed. In 25 hours and 18 minutes the Soviet spacecraft completed more than 17 orbits around the terrestrial sphere, and flew a distance of over 700,000 kilometres. Comrade G. S. Titov is in good health and feels extremely well. The results obtained on this flight will open up wide perspectives for the further development of manned space flight.”
After being given a hero’s welcome in Moscow, German Titov began a series of orbits on the ground: he visited the German Democratic Republic, the Mongolian People’s Republic, the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam. Nor did Cosmonaut-2 forget Leningrad. Not long ago Hero of the Soviet Union and USSR Cosmonaut Lieutenant-General German Titov was in Gatchina: this was in July 1986. He talked with aviators of the Leningrad military region and, in Gatchina’s famous “Cosmonauts’ Avenue”, planted a tree, which under German Stepanovich’s gentle hand soon took root.

The Main Page |  The Dawn of Aeronautics |  The Cradle of Military Aviation  |  The Shchetinin Flying School in Gatchina |  Kotelnikov’s Parachute  |  Aces of the First World War |  Red Pilots |  The Chkalov Squadron |  Leningrad’s Southern Outpost |  Gatchina’s Bomb-blasts |  The Light of Memory |  About the author
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© Historical magazine "Gatchina Over the Centuries"